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The secret most will not confess to about the fear involved in freelancing

(Editorial) Freelancing and entrepreneurialism can be scary, but most tell you the upside and rarely address the pit of fear in the stomachs of freelancers everywhere and how to use it to your advantage.

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Fear and freelancing

I recently spoke on a panel at an event for women in the communication field, and I sat in on the session before mine since I personally knew some of the panelists. One of the final questions was about their insecurities and fear. The first panelist was a well known photographer who said she isn’t wired to experience fear. The next was a creative director for a famous jewelry designer, and she expressed that she does not self doubt, she journals through her feelings. The third was a local reporter I’ve been friends with for years who laughed and said he doubts everything he does at every second, in fact, he had doubts about being on this very panel (in jest).

When I was on stage and we got the same question, I actually stated that I was shocked at the previous panels’ answers (aside from the journalist’s), and laughed as I expressed that I am in a constant state of fear (did I phrase that email well enough? did that story flow properly? is that upcoming event in the right venue? and so on). The other panelists laughed and all instantly agreed.

Why had the last panel expressed fearlessness while the panel I was on was open about their fears? Fear. When one person says they’re fearless, you fear looking weak by being honest, so you instinctively preserve your standing in the community and share that you’re fearless as well.

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And that brings us to freelancing and entrepreneurialism. A few years ago, we published a piece outlining the 10 advantages and disadvantages of becoming a freelancer, and the advice stands for most entrepreneurs as well. We noted that the advantages include flexible work hours, control over jobs and clients, being able to work wherever you want, you’re the boss, and you keep the profits. On the downside, work is not necessarily steady, there’s a lot of legwork, professional time bleeds into personal time, there may not be benefits, and you don’t always get paid.

It’s all sound advice, but there’s a dark secret in the pit of many freelancers’ stomachs, and that is a fear not quite outlined in the list above, but touched on at the aforementioned conference. Before quitting your day job, I’ll tell you that secret, because no one else is going to.

Every day as a freelancer is fueled by that pit of fear in your stomach

It isn’t always consuming, and you don’t always experience it in the form of nail biting or anxiety, but it’s always there and never goes away. As a freelancer, you wear many hats, and as an entrepreneur, you often do as well. Mentioning the advantages and disadvantages is accurate and helpful, but mentioning in passing that you’re the boss and in control doesn’t quite relay the fact that the eternal pipeline cycle is terrifying. You market to get clients, then get busy with the clients and need more hours in the day to keep marketing to get your next clients, but your project ends, and you ran out of time for sales to land that next client. You wear all of the hats.

Tommy Landry, Founder at ReturnOnNow said that becoming a freelancer is “all based on your ability to take on new work, build relationships, and outsource intelligently for the tactical stuff. While the risk of financial downside is definitely there, it’s worth it to avoid capping your income with a “salary plus bonus” structure, where an employer gets to choose if you make more money or not.”

So the dirty secret no one will tell you is that freelancers and most entrepreneurs feel a pit of fear in their stomachs every day about the future, about what they’re doing in that moment, and about their past moves. So what do the most successful do with that fear? They acknowledge it, they embrace it, they become disciplined by it, and they are fueled by it rather than consumed by it.

If you’re not questioning any of your moves, you’re either stagnant and not making any moves, you’re crippled by the fear, or you’re oblivious to the fact that you’re in charge, and every move you make impacts your company’s future, down to the last email you sent.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Fran Stephenson

    November 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Yes! The trick as a freelancer is let the fear fuel positive action and not feed negative paralysis.

  2. Gail

    November 14, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I have been a freelancer in marketing for more years than I care to remember. Throughout that time the fear in the pit of my stomach has been ever present. The constant marketing and the increased competition finally led me to pursue another path – real estate – which has increased my fear 100 fold. Perhaps it is the fear that motivates me.

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Opinion Editorials

Shady salary transparency is running rampant: What to look out for

(EDITORIAL) Employees currently have the upper hand in the market. Employers, you must be upfront about salary and approach it correctly.

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Man holding money in the dark representing false salary transparency.

It’s the wild wild west out there when it comes to job applications. Job descriptions often misrepresent remote work opportunities. Applicants have a difficult time telling job scams from real jobs. Job applicants get ghosted by employers, even after a long application process. Following the Great Resignation, many employers are scrambling for workers. Employees have the upper hand in the hiring process, and they’re no longer settling for interviews with employers that aren’t transparent, especially about salary.

Don’t be this employer

User ninetytwoturtles shared a post on Reddit in r/recruitinghell in which the employer listed the salary as $0 to $1,000,000 per year. Go through many listings on most job boards and you’ll find the same kind of tactics – no salary listed or too large of a wide range. In some places, it’s required to post salary information. In 2021, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act went into effect in Colorado. Colorado employers must list salary and benefits to give new hires more information about fair pay. Listing a broad salary range skirts the issue. It’s unfair to applicants, and in today’s climate, employers are going to get called out on it. Your brand will take a hit.

Don’t obfuscate wage information

Every employer likes to think that their employees work because they enjoy the job, but let’s face it, money is the biggest motivator. During the interview process, many a job has been lost over salary negotiations. Bringing up wages too early in the application process can be bad for a job applicant. On the other hand, avoiding the question can lead to disappointment when a job is offered, not to mention wasted time. In the past, employers held all the cards. Currently, it’s a worker’s market. If you want productive, quality workers, your business needs to be honest and transparent about wages.

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Opinion Editorials

3 reasons to motivate yourself to declutter your workspace (and mind)

(EDITORIAL) Making time to declutter saves time and money – all while reducing stress. Need a little boost to start? We all need motivation sometimes.

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Clean work desk representing the need to declutter.

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few years. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to identify and minimize ‘invisible’ work in your organization

(EDITORIAL) Often meaningless, invisible tasks get passed down to interns and women. These go without appreciation or promotion. How can we change that?

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Women in a meeting around table, inclusion as a part of stopping gender discrimination representing invisible work.

Invisible work, non-promotable tasks, and “volunteer opportunities” (more often volun-told), are an unfortunate reality in the workforce. There are three things every employer should do in relation to these tasks: minimize them, acknowledge them, and distribute them equitably.

Unfortunately, the reality is pretty far from this ideal. Some estimates state up to 75% or more of these time-sucking, minimally career beneficial activities are typically foisted on women in the workplace and are a leading driver behind burnout in female employees. The sinister thing about this is most people are completely blind to these factors; it’s referred to as invisible work for a reason.

Research from Harvard Business Review* found that 44% more requests are presented to women as compared to men for “non-promotable” or volunteer tasks at work. Non-promotable tasks are activities such as planning holiday events, coordinating workplace social activities, and other ‘office housework’ style activities that benefit the office but typically don’t provide career returns on the time invested. The work of the ‘office mom’ often goes unacknowledged or, if she’s lucky, maybe garners some brief lip service. Don’t be that boss that gives someone a 50hr workload task for a 2-second dose of “oh yeah thanks for doing a bajillion hours of work on this thing I will never acknowledge again and won’t help your career.”  Yes, that’s a thing. Don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be surprised when you have more vacancies than staff. You brought that on yourself.

There is a lot of top-tier talent out there in the market right now. To be competitive, consider implementing some culture renovations so you can have a more equitable, and therefore more attractive, work culture to retain your top talent.

What we want to do:

  1. Identify and minimize invisible work in your organization
  2. Acknowledge the work that can’t be avoided. Get rid of the blind part.
  3. Distribute the work equitably.

Here is a simple example:

Step 1: Set up a way for staff to anonymously bring things to your attention. Perhaps a comment box. Encourage staff to bring unsung heroes in the office to your attention. Things they wish their peers or they themselves received acknowledgment for.

Step 2: Read them and actually take them seriously. Block out some time on your calendar and give it your full attention.

For the sake of demonstration, let’s say someone leaves a note about how Caroline always tidies up the breakroom at the end of the day and cleans the coffee pot with supplies Caroline brings from home. Now that we have identified a task, we are going to acknowledge it, minimize it, and consider the distribution of labor.

Step 3: Thank Caroline at the team meeting for scrubbing yesterday’s burnt coffee out of the bottom of the pot every day. Don’t gloss over it. Make the acknowledgment mean something. Buy her some chips out of the vending machine or something. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact when coupled with actual change.

Step 4: Remind your staff to clean up after themselves. Caroline isn’t their mom. If you have to, enforce it.

Step 5: Put it in the office budget to provide adequate cleaning supplies for the break room and review your custodial needs. This isn’t part of Caroline’s job description and she could be putting that energy towards something else. Find the why of the situation and address it.

You might be rolling your eyes at me by now, but the toll of this unpaid invisible work has real costs.  According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report* the ladies are carrying the team, but getting little to none of the credit. Burnout is real and ringing in at an all-time high across every sector of the economy. To be short, women are sick and tired of getting the raw end of the deal, and after 2 years of pandemic life bringing it into ultra-sharp focus, are doing something about it. In the report, 40% of ladies were considering jumping ship. Data indicates that a lot of them not only manned the lifeboats but landed more lucrative positions than they left. Now is the time to score and then retain top talent. However, it is up to you to make sure you are offering an environment worth working in.

*Note: the studies cited here do not differentiate non-cis-identifying persons. It is usually worse for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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