If you’re a freelancer, you are going to work with companies a lot of the time. Maybe you’re a writer contributing to a website. Or you’re a photographer working for a magazine, or a graphic designer contracted with an advertising company. Within that structure, you will have to work with full-time employees and probably have a temporary boss.
It’s true: Despite your absolute best efforts not to have a boss or work within the confines of a traditional office-y situation, here you find yourself, with a boss and co-workers who are using terms like “circle back” and “deep dive.”
That’s because while freelancing allows you some wonderful freedoms — no set schedule, no obligatory small talk, no requisite pants — it only pans out if someone is actually giving you assignments. And more often than not, those assignments come from inside a company.
So, how can you be your best self in this situation? How can you be a good freelancer and work within what is now known as a blended workforce? How do you prove your worth, and most importantly, how do you prove that the company should hire you again (and again and again and again)?
1) You Are Now Tethered to Your Phone
Man, I’m starting to feel like a real Debbie Downer, and we’re only on the first bullet-point. Alas. You thought that freelancing was going to be like a beer commercial put through an Instagram filter, long hair blowing in the wind and all-American Chevy trucks pulling up to beaches that you never even knew you were headed towards.
You were wrong. Since you’re not tied to your desk or your schedule, you are indeed free to roam like the buffalo that you are. But if that roaming means that you miss time-sensitive emails, you have just cost yourself a job. So, go ahead and take advantage of the fact that you can grocery shop at 2:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, the time that God intended, but you must bring your phone, you must turn on your email alerts, and if an email comes through from a client, you must answer it immediately. And you must do this all the time, with all emails.
Freelancers unfortunately have a reputation for being flakey, and it’s because too many people take too many liberties on this particular issue. One important missed email — an editor with an urgent question, a client with an urgent fix or even a moved deadline — and you can count that client out of your future roster.
2) Be Respectful to Everyone
Okay, you’ve finished the job! Nice work! Now you’re going to start getting emails from copy editors, or from accounting, or from your editor/client/creative director’s assistant. Answer them, and be nice. Be polite, be respectful, and speak to them in the same tone you would use to speak to your boss.
It’s easy to get annoyed with these multiple emails, because you are an artist, and you’ve done your creative work, and now you must recharge. But there are two problems with that: One is practical. If you ignore an email — or even worse, fire off a nasty/curt reply — you are likely speaking to someone who is much closer in line to a promotion than your sorry ass, which means that next year, should you be so lucky as to still be working with that client, they might be your new boss. The second is a question of sheer humanity, man. Just because there’s a screen between the two of you, and just because you’re a fancy designer, you don’t have the right to talk down to anyone, ever. Check yourself, please.
3) Don’t Be That Annoying Freelance Braggart
Listen, people have lots of reasons for staying at 9-to-5 jobs. Maybe it’s for the health insurance. Maybe it’s for the comfort. Maybe they really, truly don’t want the instability of being a freelancer (it’s no picnic, and you know it). So don’t be that guy who writes to a full-timer within a blended workspace and rubs in the fact that you slept until 11 a.m., or that you’re going to leave early to go to the beach, or that you’re still in your pajamas. Newsflash: You sound like a douchebag.
Also, they don’t care. You don’t know their life, and they no doubt have good reasons for doing the office thing. Maybe they like getting up and getting dressed in the morning. More power to them. If you want your clients to like you, don’t try to set yourself apart by irritating the full-time staff.
The bottom line is, just because your lifestyle has gone back to resembling that of your college years doesn’t mean that your maturity has to follow. If you want freelancing to last for the long haul, market yourself as a professional, behave like a professional at all times, and generally be a pleasant, reliable, responsible adult who gets her work done. The point of freelancing isn’t to not-work; it’s to work in a slightly more flexible way. With and without other people.