Advice for Freelancers - A Guest Post from Coach Sarah Fox

A guest post from Sarah Fox, Coach and Founder of “Do Good and Do Well”. Sarah talks about some of the main issues freelancers face and provides relevant advice and resources.

In January, I thought of writing a post about freelancing and mental health and as I only had opinions about it, I wrote to people I could learn from. January, as even that famous freelancer Sisyphus knew, is the time that the rock starts to roll downhill on top of you, with tax bills and the quiet work month of January. 

Sarah wrote to me with so much knowledge of the subject and value that I am just going to get out of the way and let Sarah talk. 

Sarah concentrates in the post on things that are in a freelancer’s control. She also makes the point that some of these things are easier for certain individuals than others. Those who are often excluded in some way might feel it’s much harder to set boundaries or have a conversation about money.  Sarah herself says “as a woman freelancer with strong working-class roots, I have had to work very hard on my feelings of imposter syndrome and beliefs around money and people in positions of power.”

Sarah is the founder of ‘Do Good and Do Well’, who are on a mission to increase positive social impact and improve personal wellbeing. They offer 1:1 and group coaching and run training for individuals and organisations who want to do good and do well. 

Sarah and I met whilst on a Coaching Course run by Relational Dynamics 1st. This is an amazing course. Sarah is a great coach. I will now pass things over to her.

Sarah Fox : I’ve been running my own freelance business for 5 years now and in that time have coached, mentored and delivered workshops to 100s of freelancers. Here are the issues I see coming up time and time again…

“I’m just a freelancer” – this mindset comes in part from how individuals feel but also in my view it’s impacted by how we value freelancers particularly in the creative sector. This shows up in how freelancers often don’t feel that can have a say in how much they can charge. The power dynamics at play mean you often feel at the mercy of the organisations you work with or the funders you apply to. And if we don’t feel we have a sense of autonomy, we’re unlikely to feel motivated. 

Saying yes to everything – there is so much fear of not getting other pieces of work. We create stories in our head – if I say no they’ll never ask me again or I won’t get any other work ever! I have many examples of coaching conversations where people are frustrated at the work in front of them – it’s not exciting or what they really want to do but they said yes out of fear. And often the reality is that they have too much work to do in the end and that’s just not sustainable and can lead to burnout. 

A good question to ask: If I say no to that, what am I saying yes to instead? 

Not working on the big picture. So many freelancers I work with are too often in the doing. What I mean by that, is that they are so busy doing the work, they’re not spending any time looking at the bigger picture and being clear on the actions and priorities that will help them create a financially sustainable career that they love.   

Undercharging and overworking – just like saying yes to everything, when I hear freelancers tell me what they charge I sometimes want to cry under my desk. We need to charge what we feel comfortable with and that align with our values. AND also, we need to charge so that we can work sustainably, and the fee reflects the value of the work not just the time it takes. Wouldn’t it be lovely to get rid of day/hour rates and charge based on the value for the work we deliver instead? 

There are more challenges of course but I better stop there! What I think works instead? 

If you’re a values-led, pro-social freelancer (i.e. you’d love your work to contribute positively to the world somehow) then you might find this useful:

Vision and purpose – what do you want to achieve with your work and what gives you meaning? Getting really clear on your direction will help you say yes and no to the work that will increase your wellbeing and help you thrive. If we feel we’re working towards our mission, we feel more able to cope with the tougher times. 

Leadership and Influence – just because you are a freelancer doesn’t mean you’re not a leader. You lead your business, you lead your vision, and you lead yourself. Lead your business – know your numbers inside out, set priorities and goals and keep reviewing – what’s working and what’s not? 

Influence others – how can you bring people on board with what you have to offer and contribute? How can you influence your sector or the people you work with? How do you promote yourself and your work? Is social media for you or would you prefer to be a ninja networker?

Lead yourself – I might be biased but I really believe that working on personal development is key to running a successful freelance business. Not being able to say no, people pleasing, or overworking all come from our own stories and how we feel about ourselves. Working on you and being the best boss to yourself will help you have a much nicer time!

Wellbeing – you are your biggest resource in your business – your wellbeing must feature in there somewhere! The things I have found to help my clients are:

Creating healthier boundaries – I tend to work a lot with people pleasers (recovering people pleaser myself) so working out what boundaries you want to put in place is essential. For example, do you want to place boundaries around the time you spend on a piece of work? (We’ve all been there where we charge for one day of prep when in reality it takes at least three) or do you want to set a boundary with an organisation you’re working for? Do you want to stop giving away for free? Boundaries can also be harder to assert if you feel excluded in some way. The freelance world is far from being removed from racism and ableism, for example. 

Money – I put this under wellbeing because poor financial wellbeing is one of the biggest challenges I see for freelancers. My advice – increase your prices right now (even if by a small amount for now). If someone doesn’t have the budget to pay you your fee, offer to do less (do not reduce!). Work on your money beliefs and stories that might be keeping you stuck. 

Rest – this isn’t just about napping and physical rest. Are you getting enough creative, emotional, or mental rest? 

Other tips - If you feel able, hold organisations to account – show up quickly when they don’t pay you, call them out when they are being unfair. The more of us that can do that, the more things will change. 

Find your people – find the people who lift you up, who you can call to hold you to account (I said I wouldn’t reduce my fee….!), who can have a good old whinge with, who you can celebrate your wins with. Freelancing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Low-cost resources:

Review and planning workshop – great for freelancers who want to get perspective on 2023, be more intentional in 2024 and work out their next best steps for the year ahead.  

Do Good and Do Well Workshops 2024 –a series of workshops for freelancers who are time poor, and who want to explore how they do good and improve their wellbeing.

Free resources

From 'Do Good and Do Well' - subscribe to their site to get the following:

A free guide to saying no without feeling so guilty and a free video series called How to stop undercharging and not feel guilty. There is also a Do Good and Do Well podcast.

And here are some great blogs from other freelancers talking about this stuff:

Ruth Singer - Hearing Artists' Voices (Website)

Ruth Singer - Working for Free (Website)

Emma King Consultancy - Just a Job? The power of 'no'. (Blog Post)

Emma King Consultancy - Freelancing in a Crisis (Blog Post)

Thanks for reading.

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