Productivity 101 for Creative Freelancers

For me, the best thing about being a freelancer is that I can work in my pyjamas if I want to. The second best thing is that I control my own hours. Since the pyjama thing doesn’t need further explanation, let’s jump straight to the hours.

When starting out, controlling your own hours can be more of a burden rather than an advantage. We all know the trope of the freelancer who ‘burns midnight oil’ to complete their project. Some even find pride in it (where there is none).

I do acknowledge that very often the creative doesn’t have a choice in this matter due to the warped demand-supply world we live in. That’s a whole other matter to discuss another day. But I also see that there are times we can orchestrate a healthy work-life balance by making a few good choices early on in a project.

Over time, through discussions with fellow creatives, I realized there are some overlapping areas where we can all improve. While these seem obvious and basic, it takes time and experience to understand the ‘why’ of each point. So I’m hoping these tips will help at least some creatives from having to re-invent the freelance wheel.

So here are five tips I have that helped me work more efficiently.

  1. Take on the work that you actually like.

Your motivation to work on a project really comes from liking what you are doing. This means liking the work and seeing eye-to-eye with the client. I have experienced that sometimes the client’s attitude might make a bigger difference than the work itself. But overall, it’s a balance of these two elements and of course, what you would be really proud to see as part of your portfolio. The motivation provided to you by the project itself gives you that great headstart that little else can.

2. Stay honest with your client. You’ll be surprised.

I have seen freelancers going to great lengths to escape telling one little truth to the client. Many feel that if they reveal a small vulnerability, a little sign of being human rather than ‘professional’, the client will lose respect for them and refuse to work with them. I too was afraid of this at first. But the more I started opening up to my clients, the more I realized we are on the same side. We have the same interest at heart: to create a good product. So when there is a problem, we can put our minds together to solve it. It’s so much more efficient to discuss problems rather than try to second guess what’s on the client’s mind.

3. Negotiate your worth

Yes, in the beginning, it felt sinful that someone was going to pay me to do what I love. It took me a while to realize that if I wanted to keep getting better at what I love to do and build a life around it, I have to charge what I and my work are worth. I am not embarrassed to admit anymore that money is a definite motivation even when it comes to the work I love. And a client who respects this is a client worth working with. Don’t let anyone intimidate/awe you into agreeing to a price you are uncomfortable with.

Also remember that a bigger budget allows you to add more hours which in turn gives you the freedom to research, explore, develop and refine the project to realize its maximum potential.

4. Keep track of your time

No matter what kind of pricing you offer the client, it is most important that you keep a private log of the hours spent on specific work for specific projects. Also, consider the time spent on emails and communication. Tracking time helps you with several things:

  • Estimating the number of hours you will spend on future projects.
  • Figuring out improvements to your productivity.
  • Charging a better rate as you get more efficient.
  • Checking if what you charged is actually working out for the time you are spending on it. And the list goes on…

5. Make contracts

While some people simply don’t want to bother drafting them, others feel that contracts imply a lack of trust. What a contract actually does is that it makes sure both parties have communicated to the fullest possible extent before commencing on a project. Drafting or signing a contract makes you think of the details you may not have discussed yet. Have you agreed on points such as:

  • who retains the copyright?
  • How many revisions the client is allowed to ask for?
  • Who pays for the assets or the software you may need to buy for the project?

Having all the cards on the table helps you discuss all the pain points before they really become painful to either party. So if your client is an amazing human being whom you completely trust, that’s all the more reason to make a contract and avoid misunderstandings later in the course of the project.

So these are my core tips at his point in my journey.

If you are starting out as a freelance creative, I hope these tips help you stay productive and save those precious hours of your life you can instead spend picking the perfect pyjamas for work! I’d add a pair of monster-paw shoes to go with them ;)

Good luck and keep creating!

Visual Storyteller