How to Thrive When You Work for Yourself


Before becoming a full-time freelancer, I admittedly romanticized the whole notion. Where I’d look longingly at those individuals in hipster coffee shops and coworking spaces, busy typing away at their laptops, and find myself envying their insouciant attitude and ability to set their own hours. Not to mention the very idea that they could pack up their stuff at a moment’s notice and jet off for a few days (without asking for permission first) had me secretly wishing for that kind of freedom, too.

Well, as the adage goes, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” As sheer will and blind luck would have it, I’m now happily settled back in Europe (Germany this time around), where I’ve established myself as a full-time freelance writer, working with a steady mix of American and European clients.

And although these last twelve months haven’t exactly been a walk in the park (securing my German freelancer visa this summer was particularly harrowing), I can say now that the perks of working for myself far outweigh any of the downsides. Sure, it took me some time to settle into a groove (and thankfully, I had steady work at the start) but once that happened, I realized how important it is to take care of yourself.

Because after all, when you become your own boss, it’s entirely up to you to make sure you’re being properly looked after.

Stick to Reasonable Hours

Whether sleeping in late or burning the midnight oil, there’s no denying that one of the most desirable aspects of full-time freelancing is the ability to choose your working hours. (I won’t lie, this was something I was looking forward to most, having spent my entire career working corporate as a copywriter.)

Curious to see if I could wean myself off the traditional 9-to-5 schedule, I briefly dabbled in this lackadaisical approach. My days would go a little something like this: waking up quite late and moseying around the apartment, only to begin working in the mid-afternoon. My boyfriend would then arrive home from work, ready to prepare dinner for us and there I’d be, chained to my desk, realizing that I had at least five more hours of work ahead of me.

Needless to say, my night owl stint didn’t last very long. These “abnormal” working hours not only physically exhausted me but were also mentally exhausting, too. I found that sleeping in too late and going to bed even later realigned my entire day, and not for the better. My advice? When you work for yourself, try sticking to natural working hours (meaning, the hours you used to work in an office).

Take A Break

Unfortunately, a common misconception when you’re a full-time freelancer is that you have all the time in the world—time to cross off all those little things on your to-do list, time for long lunches and phone calls with friends and family, time for spontaneous trips, etc. In fact, you might be surprised by how little time you have to do anything else but work, let alone take a vacation.

When you work for a company, however, it’s perfectly normal to receive a paycheck when you take your allotted vacation. It doesn’t matter where you go, whether that’s a faraway place or a staycation, you still get paid. And that’s a glorious feeling.

Deciding to go full-time freelance and later planning a vacation somewhere may result in one of the following scenarios: 1) your clients aren’t totally fine with you being OOO and expect you to work some of your vacation, 2) they’re cool with it but you’re gently reminded you won’t be getting paid while you’re OOO and 3) your clients may approach someone else who is available to work during that time, leaving you one client less to work with when you arrive home.

Although I painted a pretty dire picture here, don’t let these potential scenarios deter you from taking a vacation. Full-time freelancers, just like full-time employees, are absolutely in need of some quality time off. Vacations are what keep us from feeling too overwhelmed and stressed, giving us an opportunity to reset our mental and physical clocks. Pulling off a “successful” vacation, however, one where you can relax and not fret about your freelance clients, is to inform them way ahead of time and budget your finances accordingly so you can fully enjoy your days (or weeks) of R&R.

Get Moving

Trust me, keeping fit can be a real challenge when you’re a full-time freelancer. In my experience, I found it’s all too easy to forget about being healthy when you’re glued to your chair, swimming in work and the fridge is just a few steps away.

Since my boyfriend and I are currently based in the German countryside for his job, there aren’t too many gyms around that cater to English-speaking people like myself (sadly my German isn’t good enough yet to get through a whole yoga class).

So, in lieu of going to a gym, I now work out in the comfort of our apartment. My app of choice? Asana Rebel, which takes an at-home approach to getting in shape, combining yoga moves with high-intensity training. Luckily all I need is my iPhone, a dedicated space to do my downward-facing dog and a few minutes of my time. Namaste, indeed.

So, if you plan to do the same (i.e. working out at home) and your work really starts to creep up, don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a day or two of exercise. Even if you only have 10 minutes, take that opportunity to go for a brisk walk or run, maybe even squeezing in a short workout on your mat. Meditation also helps. I highly recommend INSCAPE, which provides lovely guided meditations for reducing stress, working smarter, sleeping better, etc.

And remember, you’ve already made the commitment to work for yourself so making the commitment to stay healthy—body and mind—should come quite naturally.

Engage in Social Environments

A harsh reality, but one I would be remiss to not mention, is that working for yourself often means working by yourself. And while I’ve always been one to relish my alone time, I definitely didn’t realize just how isolating the freelance life can actually be.

While the distractions became far fewer and the conversations far less frequent when I started working from home, I recognized very early on that in order for me to truly succeed at the freelancer life, I would need to immerse myself socially from time to time.

Now, whenever I leave the German countryside and travel to other cities in Europe to visit friends, I make it a point to work from coffee shops or cafes. Just being around like-minded individuals, even if there are no words exchanged, helps to further renew my decision to work for myself. And while I haven’t had too much experience with coworking spaces, I know they are a great alternative for freelancers who prefer a more communal and creative space to work in.

As you can imagine, the freelancer life differs for everyone and depends on so many factors: what industry you’re in, what your living situation is like, if you’re an introvert or extrovert—the list goes on and on. What doesn’t differ is the idea that every full-time freelancer needs and deserves some proper TLC. Doing so is just as important as invoicing, prospecting or marketing. And, when you start viewing it as a core part of your business, you’re already well on your way to a happier (self-employed) future.

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Erin is a freelance writer with over 7 years of creative copywriting experience.  A self-professed storyteller with a serious case of wanderlust, she has a penchant for all things fashion, beauty, food, and film.