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.

25 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

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