“Are you working or are you just playing?”
I work from home and have a houseful at the moment. My husband is a remote worker, the eldest teen has finished university for the year, and the youngest is on revision leave in preparation for his A’ levels. The comment above is the kind of thing I hear from my family on a regular basis, generally when I’m posting to social media or researching a topic online for an article. There’s no malice in the question – it usually accompanies a request for help or a chat – but it still niggles me. It makes an assumption about what ‘work’ looks like.
In certain jobs, it’s obvious when someone is working, for instance, laying bricks, working on a till, or writing code. But for many jobs – often creative and/or senior roles – it’s not always easy to tell when someone is actively working.
The worst thing is that, on occasion, I catch myself judging ‘me’ for carrying out tasks that don’t directly earn money. Those tasks support my business, raise my visibility, and increase my following, but nobody is paying me to do them.
There are all manner of tasks that are productive in a hidden way, such as improving your appeal as an expert, but might not look like work to anyone who doesn’t live inside your head.
Here are four areas of your business that may be hiding your productivity as a freelancer:
Creating content for your business
Content for your business might be:
- blog posts
- social media posts
- training materials
- downloadables and lead magnets
- promotional material
- videos and graphics
While these may not directly make you money, each piece of content should have a purpose that drives/serves your business in one way or another. This might be to drive traffic to your website, build your social media following, grow your mailing list, attract new clients, or generally increase visibility.
Time spent creating content for your business is time spent supporting your business in the now and with an eye on how you want your business to develop in the future.
Social media can gobble up your time – scroll, scroll, scroll, click, scroll some more – but handled well, it can be used to grow your following (including prospective customers) and promote you as an inspirational, well-informed, and relevant brand to follow. It’s that ‘handling well’ aspect that causes the problems.
If your audience is active on social media, be that LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or wherever, then it makes sense to open a conversation with them there.
The key to a healthy social media habit is planning, purpose, and self-discipline (sorry, couldn’t think of a third ‘p’).
Building a network of like-minded freelancers
One of the joys of working as a freelancer is the community of content creators I’ve discovered. They’re a supportive lot, providing information, inspiration, and often a shoulder to lean on. But here’s the thing: building a network means actively going out there to find people who share your trade, industry, and mindset. It doesn’t happen unless you show up.
You might be happy to turn up in person or prefer online events. Either way, networking catch-ups require a portion of your time. There’s no getting round it.
While it might look like you’re just having a chinwag over a coffee and biscuits, what you’re actually doing is making contacts who will support your business. That support might be to:
- keep you up-to-date with developments in your industry
- act as a sounding board for your ideas
- clarify the legalities of freelance life
- make you aware of freelance project openings
- provide inspiration
- collaborate with you on a project
- become a client
There may only be you in your business but building a network of like-minded freelancers can help you to feel that you’re not doing this alone.
It took me a while to land on a planning ahead process that works for me. This is what it looks like:
- yearly vision board
- yearly bullet journal
- calendar on my phone
- income and client spreadsheets
My yearly vision board – saved as my computer wallpaper – acts as a reminder of my main drives for the year. It’s a quick visual reminder of what I’m doing all this for.
At the end of every month, I note the progress I’ve made in my bullet journal and set up the following month with to-do lists, appointments, and my social media plans. My bullet journal is my freelance bible that I can use as a reminder of, well, everything to do with my business.
I guard the calendar on my phone as the precious creature it is (thankfully saved to my email account too). The notifications, though annoying, are noisy enough to drag me from the depths of my writing or research.
Finally, my spreadsheets (yes, I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea) are an easy and ideal way to keep track of my income and client projects.
I’m all for mindfulness and living in the moment but for a freelancer, planning ahead is a must. My process helps me to recognise when I need to take on more client work, when I can afford that business purchase, when I can fit in a holiday, and so much more.
But yes, it takes time. My family have learned to step away when I’m filling in my bullet journal each month. Grrrrr…
Whether it’s a family member, fellow freelancer, client, or your own monkey brain that prods at how you spend your working time, you now have the answer for their criticism. The drive to be productive in your business isn’t always about the tasks that directly make you money. Like the vast underwater portion of an iceberg or the rapidly-paddling legs of a swan, much of your productivity will be hidden in the tasks that support your business – and you – to keep going.
Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash