Earlier this year, my freelance business felt stuck. It was doing well, but stressing me out, not making me happy, and I knew I was capable of so much more.
I was anxiously waiting to be “ready” to take it full-time and quit my day job, but something felt off.
What was missing?
I tried to do a kind of audit of my business to figure it out:
- I’m obsessively organized, so it wasn’t that I didn’t have good systems in place.
- I got along great with my current clients, so it wasn’t that I was serving the wrong people.
- I had the skills to maintain my business, so it wasn’t an education issue.
- I was getting more client inquiries than I could take, so it wasn’t a “not enough work” problem either.
I spent months trying to figure it out.
Then, after stumbling across the teachings of Denise Duffield-Thomas, the mindset and manifesting queen, it hit me: my business wasn’t “off,” I was. My business wasn’t in a rut, I was.
If I really wanted to level up my business, I needed to focus on my business less and myself more.
Yup, it sounds backwards, but it worked. Six months later, I’m in the middle of my first month as a full-time freelance business owner. I made a lot of changes in that time period, but very few focused on business strategy. My services, marketing, systems…they’re all pretty much the same.
What changed? My mindset and how I looked at it all.
As a freelancer in the hustle-loving gig economy, it’s way too easy to develop unhealthy attitudes and habits. And you might even be praised or admired for them!
Be totally honest with me: have you ever bragged about how long of a day you worked, or how little you slept, or how much you’ve sacrificed for your business?
That kind of attitude has got to stop if you want to go from hustler to the owner of a stable, fulfilling business. So let’s talk about why and how to adjust your mindset as a freelance business owner, and look at some resources to help you along the way.
Why mindset matters
Right now you may be thinking, “What does mindset have to do with anything? I show up and do the work, then I get paid, my freelancing is going fine.”
No, no, no, no.
There’s tons of evidence and research proving that negative company culture and poor employee morale are like poison to larger corporations. It can impact interactions with customers, between employees, and the quality of work produced.
Well, the same is true for your business. And since you’re the heart, soul, and main employee, your morale impacts overall business results even more. Just a few bad days or weeks can take months to recover from.
But here’s how I did it:
Mindset tweaks to fix your business
1. Ditch the employee and freelancer mindsets
It may seem like just a small difference in wording, but there can be a huge difference between “being a freelancer” and “owning a freelance business.”
Just because you’re providing freelance services doesn’t mean you need to fall into the trap of the “freelance hustle,” where you’re constantly chasing after new clients and bending over backwards to make them happy.
You need to treat yourself like a business owner, and interact with your clients accordingly.
You are the expert in the situation, and your clients are paying for access to you. You don’t need to quote them pennies to “win” the job. You don’t need to be at their beck and call all the time. You don’t need to do whatever your client says without discussion.
You’re the expert they’re looking for. Feel free to take control, speak your mind, and demand to be compensated fairly.
2. Set times to unplug from your work
I know, how cliche. Someone else telling you to unplug. But it’s so necessary that it’s worth becoming cliche.
You don’t even need to completely unplug from the internet or technology, but do set times to set work completely aside.
It can be easy to fall into the “always on” mentality when your online business is so accessible at all times. You probably have your email accounts on your smartphone, keep your inbox open in a browser tab most of the time, and are connected with “work people” on social media.
So even if you’re not working, when you’re online, you’re constantly being reminded of work and clients and all you have to do. You need to figure out a way to block those reminders when you’re off work and still want to go online.
This may mean creating a separate Google Chrome profile or user on your computer (one for work and one for personal use), it may mean taking email off your smartphone, or it could be as simple as just closing out of your inbox tab and opening up a computer game instead.
But you should be able to go online or social media without being reminded of your to-do list. Whatever you need to do to make that happen is a move in the right direction.
3. Know when to call it a day (or week)
Finally, you need to start monitoring your energy, body, and mental health. Think of it as taking care of your business’s office and plumbing, since your business is you.
You can’t work – not well, at least – if you’re sick, tired, and stressed all the time. Believe me, I tried. And it becomes a slippery slope.
Because the first time you push yourself past your limits, not only are you postponing that rest and self-care, the extra work and energy you put in will increase the amount of rest you need later, when you’re just as unlikely to take it.
For example, let’s say you worked an eight-hour day and feel like you could use a few hours of stress relief. A night on the couch or out to dinner with friends, a short two-hour break, could have been all the recharging you need. But if you push yourself and work an extra few hours before falling straight in bed to do the same thing tomorrow, you’re letting that needed self-care accumulate.
Instead of needing a two-hour break at the end of the day, you’re now so overworked and tired that it would take a much longer recovery period to get you back to 100%. But if you weren’t willing to take that shorter break, what will it take to make you take a longer one?
It’s a quick road to burnout, that’s for sure.
You need to know when your brain’s telling you, “That’s enough for now.” It’s better to let yourself recharge a little bit every day than to wait until you’re gonna crack if you don’t take a week’s vacation.
In fact, it can let you work more in the long run. Now there are days when, at 3 p.m., I tell myself, “I’m wiped…done for the day,” even if I really should work a few more hours. But pushing myself in that scenario won’t create great work, and I often find that stopping early to relax gives me a big boost of creativity later in the night. Most of the time when I stop work early, I’m running back to my laptop to finish what I was working on later that night. Only then, I’m energized and inspired from that needed break in the afternoon.
Those three attitude adjustments will help you get into a mindset to grow your freelance business in a way that’s built to last.
But it may require completely changing the way you think about work, and I don’t want to underplay how difficult that can be. It took me a long time, with the help of some important resources.
Below are a few of my favorites.
Resources to rely on when adjusting your mindset
1. Pursuit With Purpose Podcast by Melyssa Griffin
Melyssa Griffin is an amazing online entrepreneur who went through her own “mindset realization” about a year or so ago. Her business had never been more successful: her annual revenue had hit seven figures, her community-based Facebook group was ginormous, and she seemed to be doing and launching all of the things.
But she wasn’t taking care of herself, and was completely miserable.
As a fan and follower of hers, I can guarantee this isn’t something you’d notice from the outside – she looked like the definition of success. But as I’ve watched her brand evolve, she now looks like the definition of success and happiness.
Look at that happy face:
Her new podcast, Pursuit With Purpose, is all about how smart entrepreneurs (remember, you’re a freelance business owner, not a freelance hustler!) can align their businesses with the rest of their passions and goals.
It just launched a few weeks ago, but some of the topics so far have included:
- “How to strive for huge goals while staying grounded in who you are”
- “It’s okay to change your mind (about everything) and live the life you really want”
- “The 3 most important factors to having a great life”
And in all of these episodes, Melyssa interviews other entrepreneurs with amazing mindsets around their businesses.
2. 10% Happier Meditation App
There are a ton of meditation apps available, but with 10% Happier’s slogan being “meditation for fidgety skeptics,” it’s probably the best place for beginners to start.
It takes away the pressure to completely clear your mind and reach “total peace,” or whatever meditation experts do when they close their eyes and “just breathe.” Instead, 10% Happier lets anyone take small steps, to just become 10% happier at a time.
It’s not about completely clearing your brain. This app recognizes how impossible that is, especially to someone super stressed with a short attention span. Its focus instead is to help you notice when your mind starts to wander, and getting it back on track.
3. You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Finally, You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero is a New York Times #1 best selling book about how to stop doubting yourself. It’s billed as “the self-help book for people who desperately want to improve their lives but don’t want to get busted doing it,” which like 10% Happier, makes it relatable to those of us newer to mindset work and self-help.
Through Jen’s stories and lessons, you’ll have help understanding your own thought processes and how they may be holding you back. You learn about self-limiting beliefs, how to bust through them, and how to adopt an attitude that makes self-improvement more realistic than a lot of the other books in the genre.
The book does have some chapters that could be triggering to those with clinical depression, so if you choose to read it, please remember that you don’t need to take and apply every chapter to your own life. I personally skipped Chapter 17.
A similar mindset book that helped me just as much was Lucky B*tch by Denise Duffield-Thomas, however it’s written for a more specific audience of female business owners. If that’s you, I definitely recommend it as well.
Take it step-by-step
There you have it – the steps and resources I used to adjust my mindset from struggling, side-hustling freelancer to the full-time owner of a freelance business.
The most important thing I want to leave you with is this: do not dive into the deep end. Don’t immediately cut your working hours in half, ditch all your bad clients at once, and try meditating for hours per day.
For one, all that’ll probably add more stress. But beyond that, making one small tweak to your mindset at a time helps you identify which changes make the biggest differences in your life.
Instead, choose a few days per week to take a longer lunch break, or an extra break in the afternoon. Or choose one weekend per month to unplug and start meditating for five minutes at a time here and there. An important part of mindset is self-awareness, so it’s important to start small and learn what works for you.
Have you spent time focusing on mindset and self-help? I’d love to hear what worked for you in the comments below!
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This article was originally published on August 22, 2017 and was last updated on July 20, 2020.