Freelancer, contractor, solopreneur, entrepreneur, or simply part of the gig nation.

However you describe yourself, you’re part of a huge economic and cultural shift. It’s been estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that nearly 1 in 3 derive some income from something outside the traditional 9-5. For some, it’s a side-hustle or passion project. For a growing number of people, though, it’s becoming their main hustle and it seems that’s not likely to change soon.

When I kicked off my career in 1999 I made 487,000 mistakes in the first month. Since then I’ve started and sold businesses, incubated other entrepreneurs, spoken at conferences, written blog posts and read hundreds of books.

Here is the advice I would give myself, if I were starting now:

  1. Get clear on what work/life balance looks like.
    The first thing I learned is that work will expand to fit the space allotted. If I wanted to work 20 hours a day, I could. Conversely, if I wanted pool time with my girls, I needed to get focused on priorities for the day and stick to them.
  2. Figure out your hourly rate and stick with it.
    This was one of the hardest things for me to figure out. I consistently undervalued myself in the name of gaining a portfolio. What I found was that it was easier to add value to something than it was to drop my prices. I calculated what I wanted to make annually, added in a good percentage for overhead and taxes and used that as a base number. Then I broke it up into the number of weeks I wanted to work per year, days per week, hours per day and that became my hourly rate. Whether I created proposals using a per-project rate or an hourly rate I knew I had my bases covered.
  3. Find Your Tribe
    Since the Internet was relatively new I didn’t have resources like the Texas Freelance Association. Webinars weren’t a thing, and neither was Facebook. Now, those are the first things I reach for to receive support, advice or just a mental health break. It’s also important to have some offline groups that you can use so you’re not a hermit. Meetup.com is my go-to for like-minded freelancers to hang out with.clock
  4. Get Dressed and Get Out
    If you’re like most freelancers, you have a tendency to lean toward being an introvert. Let’s face it, the fact that you can work without pants and have anything delivered hasn’t helped. Here’s a pro-tip: Consider a co-working membership. Not only will you be rewarded with sunshine, fresh air and a new perspective, you might also meet some people that can help you grow your business.
  5. Schedules Are Your Friend
    I used to say I was deliberately ADD – flitting from task to task in the name of multitasking. What I came to learn later was that I was more productive by using a time blocks and staying on task until it was complete. That required a lot of dedication and some tricks to limit distractions, but eventually I knew my own rhythm and scheduled around it. I’m useless in the mornings, so no phone calls, for example.

 

These five tips are at the top of my list. Given a time machine I’m sure that the 487,000 mistakes could be cut by 10 or 20. Some mistakes are worth it, because that’s how you learn. I wouldn’t trade on the experience I’d gained, but I would definitely pay attention to the five. Those would have made a huge difference, and if you’re just starting out I hope they help you.