The Importance of Work-Life Balance When You’re Freelancing

By Felicity Kay, All This Content’s CEO 

I know what you’re thinking, as you stare out of your office window at 4pm on a weekday. You’re hastily planning your triumphant breakout from the slavery of a desk job, aren’t you?

You might long for the day when you could leave behind the 9-5 life, and be your own person – by becoming a freelancer.

I was one of those people. And I’m one of the successful ones who managed to not only leave the job, not only become a freelance copywriter, content writer and editor – but I ended up scaling my freelance business into an all-out awesome content agency.

Yet, with the freedom and excitement of doing your own thing, there will always come the pitfalls: namely, finding and maintaining that all-important work-life balance.

Let me tell you: it’s much harder than it looks!

Here’s some friendly advice to help you find, set and stick to your boundaries.

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Being a ‘Freelance Copywriter’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Open All Hours’

I think it’s important to emphasise that freelance copywriters and becoming a freelancer anything is still a job – a sometimes highly unconventional job, where you either sink or swim pretty fast.

But, it’s still a job, and without the luxury of externally imposed time and personal boundaries, it’s much easier to feel unmoored, desperate and altogether lost.

The first thing I did on becoming a freelance copywriter was delineating my working hours and times. Initially, I worked the same hours that I always had – 8AM – 6PM – and for a time, this worked well for me.

Until I suddenly had too many clients, all of whom wanted things done ‘as quickly as possible’ (obviously).

Until I started working with clients in other time zones, and suddenly my day was starting a whole lot earlier and ending a whole lot later.

Until I almost collapsed from the lack of sleep, and developed some very strange medical issues, all related to my lack of proper nourishment.

It was at one night at approximately 3AM where I realised that enough was enough – I wanted to be the best freelance copywriter I could be – and that meant I needed to be healthy and functioning. You know, like normal people. This was beneficial to both me and my clients – because how could I be expected to produce work to the best of my ability when I was barely functioning?

And that is when I set my working hours, and stuck to them. Of course, in certain extenuating circumstances, I might bend the times a little – but only at my discretion and only according to how respectful a client is of my time.

Which leads me to…

Setting and Respecting Your Boundaries, Part 1: ‘I Need This Done Right Now/By the End of the Day/ASAP’

Clients come in all shapes, sizes, budgets and characters. As a freelance copywriter, I quickly sussed out the types of people I’d like to work with and help achieve their business aims, and the ones I wanted to steer a hundred miles clear of.

Now, when I hear demands like this one, what would I like to say to the client?

‘That’s good to know. I need to eat/sleep/pick up the kids/do work for other clients/wind down’ etc.

What do I actually say?

This one’s tough; I think it all comes down to several factors:

  • What the client is asking for
  • How beneficial/what value it will bring to the client
  • Any extenuating circumstances the client might have (e.g. a last minute conference)
  • Any extenuating circumstances you might have (e.g., illness, an event etc)
  • How much you’d like to retain the client
  • How the client treats you

Personally, I have a massive soft spot for clients who treat me and my team respectfully and professionally – and for them I’ll go above and beyond, each and every time.

For others, I seriously consider if this actually is an urgent task, or if they’re unnecessarily applying pressure. I also take into account whether or not this is a regular occurrence, and how big the job is. Then I’ll calculate if what they’re asking is achievable and we have the time allowance to make it happen.

Back in my days when I was a lone freelance copywriter doing my thing, I realised it was a bit unfair if I just took the ‘super-urgent’ requests from my preferred clients, and not everyone. For one thing, I would be losing money; for another, it’s just not nice or professional.

So I introduced a 24-hour turnaround fee: a 30% surcharge on urgent requests (needed within 24-hours) and subject to my approval. This way, I have a premium on my and my team’s time, and there are no nasty surprises: it also means that anyone who wants something last minute is forced to consider if it truly is ‘urgent’ or not, and I still get to eat, sleep and have relaxation time.

Speaking of which…

Setting and Respecting Your Boundaries, Part 2: ‘You’re a Freelancer – You Can’t Say ‘No’.’

I’m fairly certain that freelancers of all breeds and creeds have heard this little gem at some point in their freelance careers.

When it comes to having an effective work-life balance, there’s more to it than just the times and days you end up working: quite often, it’s also a question of your mental health.

Being a freelance copywriter, I was suddenly very much on my own. And I don’t mean ‘alone in the house’ – that too, but I was completely without a safety net. Without any of my work colleagues and lunch friends. Without a direct manager to go to for chats, or with whom to strategise any professional concerns with.

Therefore, when a client says something that can be construed as any way disrespectful or unprofessional (and believe me, this is the very tip of the iceberg), it seems like a personal attack.

Telling a freelance copywriter or any freelancer that they ‘can’t say no’ is troubling in several ways.

  • It pushes the freelancer to really think about whether they should say ‘no’ or not, and if so, would it cost them the client? What it damage their reputation? Can they even afford to say ‘no’?
  • It pushes the freelancer to consider the implications of accepting this kind of behaviour, and therefore an ongoing client relationship on the same, unequal terms. The client demands, the freelancer bends the knee.

This really embodies the old maxim – ‘you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’.

Happily, I had enough self-confidence and confidence in my abilities as a freelance copywriter to stand up for myself: I’m happy to report that each time I told a client that I could – and would – say ‘no’, I made the right choice.

That, and – about 90% of the time, the client was bluffing. Once I told them that I make my own choices as to what work I accept and don’t, their tone (usually) changed dramatically – and mostly for the better.

But, for those who don’t change their tone, or are disrespectful in any other way, there’s always a horde of your freelancer colleagues….

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Setting and Respecting Your Boundaries, Part 3: ‘That Other Freelance Copywriter Can Do It Cheaper’

There are two ways of looking at the freelance lifestyle: either you’re surrounded by colleagues who you can learn and benefit from, or you’re surrounded by competitors with whom you are in direct competition.

I prefer the former approach, as it’s a more positive way of looking at things – after all, just because you both offer the same or a similar service, it doesn’t mean you actually fulfil your offer in the same way.

As far as your work-life balance goes: sometimes, clients just aren’t the right fit for you. Perhaps their budget won’t stretch to your pricing; perhaps you don’t believe in (or understand) their product or service, or even you just don’t gel well with them. Either way, there is always another freelancer out there who will be the right fit for them.

From my own freelance copywriting experiences, I remember a time when a potential client asked for a price quote for a service they were selling to the US.

I produced a price quote (something that was so ridiculously low that I now look back on and scold myself for not knowing my worth, but the past is the past), and the client baulked, before declaring that their English was ‘good enough’ and they would write the website’s copy themselves.

That website – to this day – has terrible copy. Regardless of the grammatical mistakes, it’s just lacking in any type of copywriting know-how and skill that I’d be very surprised if succeeded in getting conversions.

My point here? I could have sacrificed my beliefs and principles in favour of some extra money…but I could tell from the first interaction that that client wasn’t for me, and I was all the happier for it.

The Freelance Copywriter Work-Life Balance – Use Your Experience

Ultimately, when it comes to establishing and maintaining your work-life balance as a freelancer, the best way to see what makes you comfortable (and not) is to experience it for yourself.

See the sort of people who contact you. Have the experience of working with them. See which hours are your most productive, and schedule your most heavily creative tasks for that time.

Because you’re your own (awesome) boss, it’s you who needs to set the times, schedules and boundaries – and it’s only you who can make you stick to them too.