Freelancers: Could You Earn More by Being a Good Employee?

Carol Tice

Happy employeeBy Beth Skwarecki

I had a phone call I didn’t want to make.

That’s nothing new — I’m phone-phobic, and I’d been shirking this one for weeks. But it was Monday, and my boss had given me a new schedule with “Scary Phone Calls Hour” at 1 p.m.

Who is my boss? Well, it’s me.

I used to put my “boss hat” on and write amazing business plans and schedules and productivity schemes … then, as an employee, blow them all off and play hooky.

Turns out I was missing the other half of running a successful freelance business: being a good employee.

Having a sit-down with yourself

So, I sat down with my boss (still me) and together we agreed on a schedule.

She insisted I put in time for everything I needed to do, including the stuff I would end up doing anyway — like a “continuing education” slot for online classes — and the stuff I hated, like the scary phone calls.

When the time came for the call, at first I tried to get out of it.

Me: I’m not gonna do it.
Boss: You wanna get fired?
Me: I’ll do it tomorrow.
Boss: Do it today.
Me: But this is really hard for me!
Boss: Well, is there a way to make it easier and still get it done?

I came up with a counterproposal: I would delay the call by an hour, and in the meantime write up a script for the call. And I would make that call at a time when my target was less likely to be in the office, so I could leave a voicemail. And I would follow up the next day if I didn’t get a call back.

My boss, impressed by my professionalism, said OK.

So I called, and got my target in person anyway.

Guess what? I got two big paid assignments off that one phone call — and she told me that if I hadn’t called that day, she probably would have given them to somebody else. Thanks, boss!

How to win employee of the month

You’re a professional. If you had a “real” job, you’d have no problem showing up to work on time and setting up an office (whether that’s in your home or elsewhere).

You wouldn’t blow off work because you have an errand to run, or because your kid doesn’t feel like going to day care that day.

But sometimes, as freelancers, we let our work life and personal life mix a little too much. If you’re a procrastinator (I am!) that’s a deadly combination.

The tough part isn’t being your own boss – it’s being your own employee.

Do you have a day job now? Did you ever have one before? Then you probably already know how to take your job seriously.

If you need a reminder, here are some tips:

Respect your boss. I would never treat a “real” boss the way I used to treat myself! Clock in on time, do the tasks you were assigned for the day, and if something didn’t work out, prepare to tell your boss why not and how you’ll make it work next time.

If you really need that human element, recruit a writer friend – or anybody, really – as an accountability buddy. (Freelance Writers Den is a great place to find one.) We often give others more respect than we give ourselves.

Stick to your assigned schedule. Sit down and write out a schedule. Make sure to include everything that needs to get done, not just writing — a realistic schedule might put assignment writing in the mornings, reserve an afternoon each week for querying, and so on.

Maybe you need to work on one project per day. Decide on the best time slot to schedule interviews and appointments, and offer those times first when you talk to clients or sources (”I’m free Tuesday and Thursday afternoons…”).

I have Scary Phone Calls hour every Monday after lunch and I highly recommend it; for one thing, it means I don’t have to make scary phone calls any other time (unless there’s an emergency). I just add it to the list for Monday.

The funny thing is, it’s easy to do those calls when your boss is making you do them! You pick up the phone, say what you need to say, put it down again.

Then you’re done for the week. You may want to schedule your favorite part of the work day for right after Scary Phone Calls Hour, as a reward.

Present counter-proposals if there’s something you don’t like. Remember, you respect your boss, so you’re not going to weasel out of her assignments. Come up with another way of meeting the goal, maybe by rearranging your schedule.

Make sure you tell your boss how the counter-proposal will benefit her, and the business — and she just might say yes.

Bring value to your company. Because, after all, you are a business. Ask yourself, “what will make my boss proud of me?” Sitting down to pound out that assignment you just got — yes.

Using company time for errands you could easily do on the weekend? Heck no.

How do you know if you’re making the right choices? Try this: make a report to your boss at the end of each work day, noting what you did.

You won’t want to write “surfed Internet all day” on your report, so this helps keep you on task during the day, plus gives you a list of accomplishments to motivate you tomorrow.

Now that I behave like a professional in my freelance business, I’ve become a lot more productive. I’m thinking of instituting an “employee of the month” award … and giving it to myself. I’ve earned it!

Beth Skwarecki is a science writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She covers the weird science behind health at The Messy Machine and Public Health Perspectives.


  1. Lindsay Scheerer

    I love the “Scary Phone Calls hour” idea. I used to have to make a ton of scary phone calls for a previous job and I used to stress about them all day at work, and even when I left work! If you can compartmentalize them, it makes your whole day so much less daunting. Thank you for a great analogy in thinking of yourself as your own boss and employee. It is very easy to forget you are a business when you are at home supervising yourself all day.

    • Beth Skwarecki

      My first ever freelance assignment, I had to make FIVE scary phone calls for the same article. Actually six if you count the editor. Trial by fire, right? But I survived. Now I get to say “whatever, I’ve done this before.” Sometimes I have to say that over and over to calm the nerves…

  2. Okto

    Hi Beth,

    What an experience you have there. I like the message you have that we all need commitment to be a good (if not best) freelancer (or whatever we do). It’s bit harder to get that kind commitment than if you are the boss and the employee at the same time.

  3. Darnell Jackson

    This is an excellent story Beth,

    I’m not the only one who sits down and has discussions with my self, that’s good to know.

    Hey at least your KNOW your boss is really after your best interest.

    Sometimes we can get too hard on ourselves so its best to focus on what MOST important especially if you are the perfectionist type lol

  4. Debra Stang

    Hi Beth,

    Thanks so much for sharing this story. I’m like you…I’ve gotten the “boss” piece down okay, but sometimes I still struggle with the “employee” piece.

    (By the way, my dad has been successfully self-employed as an attorney for more than fifty years. When people ask him the secret of his success, he always replies, “Well, I work for the meanest S.O.B. in the state.”)

    Thanks again for a great article.


  5. Willi Morris

    Oh, my goodness! You got me, Beth. I am a terrible employee. :-/ But, I do write blog posts on laziness and procrastination. I don’t think treating myself like a boss would help all that much, but I am going to try and take these tips to heart. Great post!

  6. Helene Poulakou

    I totally, totally understand you, Beth! Phone calls make me cringe too.

    But, if you come to think about it, being on the phone has an advantage: the other person can’t see you. If you care to “dramatize” it a bit, you could visualize the office you’d like to be in, talk like a busy professional (I guess you are, anyway) accustomed to making business calls, etc.

    It’s more than “faking it ’til you make it” — it’s living it in your mind’s eye. Very fun!

  7. Lisa Baker

    Beth, this is one of my favorite posts ever on MALW! Maybe it’s my inner multiple personalities, but I love this concept. I am totally going to make that scary phone call TODAY. Why? Because I can’t wait to tell my boss that I got it done.

    Here’s to winning employee of the month! 😉

    • Rebecca Klempner

      One of my favorites, too. I recognize my own procrastination, avoidance and laziness in the “employee” side of Beth’s personality. Thanks for the little wake-up call.

  8. Heather Villa (

    Such a timely post. Thank you. I sometimes feel like I don’t get anything done during the day. But, you know what? I proved to myself (my boss) that I work hard. Just yesterday, I took out a notebook, and jotted down what I did during the day. I contacted an editor (saying that I’m free to help), rewrote a pitch – when an editor clued me in to what she needed, and set up an interview – all before lunch. Now it’s time for me to “clock in.” After lunch, I continued to jot done what I did. I’ll refer back to the list (today) to finish up what I didn’t complete.

    • Carol Tice

      I often have that feeling too, that I did “nothing.” I like your idea of writing down what you did.

      Because we work on things often as freelancers that will pay off down the line.

      I find I get that “I did nothing” feeling if I work on anything that wasn’t on my top priorities list for that day…if I end up doing something else, even if it’s something valuable. Which is a bad mentality I just need to get out of!

  9. Rachel Rueben

    Thanks Beth! I really need to have a talk with my “employee” she’s totally out of control; coming in late, not returning calls, and falling behind the rest of the pack. 😉

    • Beth Skwarecki

      Do it! But remember, don’t be too harsh on her. I bet she’ll be a great asset to the company if you can help her get her act together! 🙂

  10. Erica

    Awesome post! I hate scary phone calls too and often have to take the Nike approach: “Just do it.” And that goes for a lot of stuff I don’t like to do (bookkeeping, doctor appts, etc.)

    I could definitely be a better “employee” and a better “boss.” Right now, I’m pretty soft in both areas. Excellent list of tips. And spot on.

  11. J'aime Wells

    I never thought about it before, but being your own employee IS the tough part, not being your own boss. huh! 🙂
    Good post, Beth!

    • Beth Skwarecki

      Funny how we always forget that part!

  12. Peter D. Mallett

    Hello Beth,
    I absolutely love the idea of this article. I wish I’d thought of it, but I’m glad instead that I had the chance to read it. Well done, and well said. If you’ll escuse me now, my boss is telling me my break is over.

  13. Anita

    Well put.
    I think I need to schedule a “scary phone calls” hour as well.

  14. Savannah Caden

    Great article, Beth. I loved your idea of a daily report. I’ve often done them and find that they’re a great way to see if I’m staying on track with my freelancing goals.

  15. Holly Bowne

    Ha, ha! This was great!! You are so right, Beth. When I think about my behavior in terms of boss/employee, I would never blow off work to switch a laundry load, or search the cupboards for stashes of chocolate when I’m feeling stressed. (Although now that I think about it, I might make a vending machine run.) Thanks so much for your tips, especially regarding Scary Phone Call Day.

  16. Steve

    Beth —

    Excellent! Oh how many times “the boss” could’ve terminated me!

    Seriously, when I follow a schedule, things get done.


  17. Christina

    Here is my greatest revelation about working for myself: I must take myself seriously. I know that sounds strange, but fear works in sneaky ways! I would never blow off my boss, so why should I blow off my dream?

    I asked myself what I wanted and needed:

    A workable schedule: Check
    A realistic plan of attack with attainable goals: Check
    Solid research about marketing and potential clients: Check
    Networking: Check
    A lovely work space complete with candles and music: Check
    Fabulous lunches: Check
    Supplies: Check
    Fresh hot coffee: Check
    An upbeat attitude: Check

    I am now almost done building my website. I have business cards coming. I sent out a solid query letter to a regional publication two weeks ago. I am already writing for a return client–who paid me in advance, thank you very much! I have had two publications appear in local newspapers. Numerous community members have congratulated me on my great writing.

    All this happened in only two and a half months. My business is not a goldmine yet, but writing down what has happened shows me that serious efforts do make a difference.

    Self respect is a wonderful asset.

    I cannot wait for tomorrow.

  18. Kirsty Stuart

    Great post – so true! This really resonates.

    I like: ‘you are a business’. Freelancers ARE business owners and entrepreneurs and it’s important to start thinking about our work like that if we’re to make any headway!

  19. Rai ROse

    You mention in this post that, “I got two big paid assignments off that one phone call.” Can you explain 1) How you found that client; 2) How you found the right contact person; and 3) What you said on the call that got you the assignments?

    I really want to start making calls and marketing, but I don’t know where to start finding clients. Everyone says, “Target people in your niche.” But for my niche – mental health and writing as a form of therapy – those people are hard to find. Do you have any suggestions?

  20. Andrew Healey

    Hi Beth, I love your post. As a freelancer, I understand exactly where you’re coming from. I am an excellent boss, but a little too much of a push over. I make detailed lists of things to do and then my employee (me too) rarely completes them and often procrastinates over the unpleasant tasks. I think I’ll get him (me again) to write that daily report you mentioned.


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