20 tips to help you achieve success every day from a freelance copywriter
If you’re reading this then let’s face it – you probably shouldn’t be. Clicking on this headline means you are probably a class-A procrastinator who should actually be working, not reading self-indulgent articles on the internet. Chances are you’re just like me: you’ve recently started working for yourself from home and you’re looking for genuinely helpful advice. Or a few sympathetic words. Or both.
Yes, setting up your own business from home can be daunting, lonely, stressful and financially bumpy. Especially if you possess that very human inclination to procrastinate. If your work happens to be writing, then on top of procrastinating you may also find yourself suffering from writer’s block, which is just a more specific form of procrastination anyway.
But being your own boss and working (occasionally) in your pyjamas can, not surprisingly, also be incredibly freeing and rewarding.
A big step in the right direction is to identify your capacity for procrastination, learn a few tricks to overcome it, then find your work rhythm and carve out your own path to success.
Here are some things I’ve newly learnt working as a freelance copywriter after years spent in full-time office employment. I hope they prove helpful to you too.
- Don’t set crazy goals. Be realistic. If you’re like me, a compulsive list-maker, you might feel the urge to list all the dream jobs you’d like to achieve with your new-found home time (write novel; landscape yard; refinish dining table; build e-commerce side business). But the greatest burden to a procrastinator is to have this kind of list constantly in view, taunting you with all that you haven’t achieved yet. By all means, write down your big goals, dreams and ambitions in a journal, date it, and close the book for now. This brings us to point 2.
- Keep a daily to-do list. This list should comprise one or two necessary, actionable and achievable things you need to – and can – do that day. Write them down (my preference is to use paper and pen) so you can physically tick or cross things off your list at the end of your day. Trust me – it will feel like the best pen mark you’ll ever make.
- Recognise your priorities and then prioritise them accordingly (see to-do list in point 2). This should be a logical process. Need to get paid ASAP? Then do actual paying work first and forget everything else until it’s complete. The sooner you finish, the sooner you get to send an invoice, and the sooner you see the money in the bank. Next, you should apply for jobs and actively solicit new work from your contacts. Third in priority: market yourself via marketing, content marketing, an up-to-date website, great collateral and more. The second and third priorities are what I call “proactive” work, which can be hell for procrastinators as there isn’t even the burden of a deadline to push you into action. This brings us to point 4.
- Schedule/diarise your proactive work just as you would your regular deadline-driven paying work. Proactive work is where the bacon starts its smoking (or curing?), so if you don’t take this part seriously, you won’t be bringing any home. Set up job alerts to your inbox, and set aside 5 minutes every morning to check if anything new has popped up. Freelance job applications sometimes need to be addressed quickly so you don’t miss the boat – so be sure to reprioritise accordingly, so long as you’re still meeting your bird-in-the-hand paying deadlines.
- Avoid using overworked and mixed metaphors in your writing. See point 4 for why.
- Be a writer: write. Writer’s block is overwhelming sometimes, yes. But as I’ve already mentioned, it’s really only another form of procrastination, and something that everybody suffers from at some time. The only real way to overcome writer’s block is to write. Not compose a script in your head, or trace letters onto the shower screen. Type words into the computer and keep going, editing and reworking and rewriting until your ideas start to come together. Or, if you must, pick up a pen and scribble sentences into a notebook until you get to the same point. Writing out thoughts and ideas will eventually lead to that great hook or angle you’re looking for. See point 7.
- Trust yourself, your skills and your talent. You can do this.
- Separate ‘work’ work from regular house work. Schedule in time for both. Unless you have someone else to clean up after you at home like you would in a workplace, you do need to take the time to keep your surroundings pleasant, clean and organised. Otherwise you’re hardly going to feel inspired to work there. That said, procrastinating can work wonders on your housekeeping skills. Folding laundry never looked as appealing as it does when there’s a tricky deadline looming.
- Change your scene once in a while. If a messy house is getting you down or distracted but you don’t have time to tidy, then get out. Take your laptop to a café and lose yourself for an hour or so in the white noise of coffee grinders and other tables’ conversations.
- Minimise digital distractions. Moderate your social media notifications. Unsubscribe to time-wasting (or money-wasting) emails. Even turn off the data or WiFi on your phone if you really need to focus for a while.
- Don’t turn on the TV. Ever. For any reason. Ever. And it’s not just because daytime television is an abomination. The same goes for streaming and binge-watching of anything at all.
- If you can’t bear to be at home in total silence, or need to drown out noisy neighbours, then listen to music. Just don’t turn on the TV. Did I mention that?
- Bookend your working day just like you would with an office job. Maybe your day starts by taking the kids to school, or driving your partner to the train station, or maybe it’s gym in the morning or dinner prep in the evening. Whatever it is that’s going to mark the start and end of your “work day”, it’s healthy to build a routine.
- Try to schedule all your social time in advance. One of the best things about being your own boss is being able to enjoy a cheeky mid-week catch-up with other available friends. But similarly, one of the biggest pitfalls for a procrastinator is having people close to you who are happy to play distractor. You really don’t want to set a precedent for spontaneous drop-ins and outings.
- Be organised. Along with your diary, daily to-do lists and routine, staying on top of essential business tasks like invoicing and bookkeeping is really important (you don’t even want to imagine how much worse a procrastinator becomes around tax time). The good news is that mundane jobs like digital filing and bookkeeping are excellent tasks to pick up when writer’s block hits.
- Be busy. The more you can pack into your day, the more productive you are likely to be. If you really, really feel like you can’t start a project right now, or things are a little quiet on the work front, then start something else you’ve been putting off (like decluttering your wardrobe or weeding the garden). Don’t do nothing (refer to point 11 again). I find the more I do in a day, the more I want to do, and the more I get done. This is where that big-picture list from point 1 comes into play.
- Squeezing in 10 minutes of work is better than none at all. Really. If you only have half an hour before you have to be somewhere, set an alarm (so you don’t end up losing track of time) and sit down and pump out a few emails or an opening sentence or two. The adrenaline rush of a short countdown of time can be surprisingly effective for some people.
- Don’t be afraid to work out of hours. Just like you would in an office job, make up time lost during the day with after-hours work. So you spent from 10am-12.30pm having coffee with friends or watching a made-for-TV movie (never!). Make up the time by working later that evening or on the weekend.
- Be a generous boss. When you do meet a big deadline, or pick up a new client that you’ve been after for a while – reward yourself. If you don’t, who will?
- Treat every day like a new one. Forget about yesterday’s inefficiencies, mistakes, procrastination or time wasted. Or even better than forgetting about them – learn from them. Today will be better.
Make sense? Good. Now get back to work. No really. It’s time.