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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

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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

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, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three 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 ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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