Freelancer mindset hacks: Why they don’t work for your best content

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Freelancer mindset hacks.

It’s a term that sits just a little uncomfortably, because my view is mindset isn’t something to be hacked. Rather, the freelancer mindset should be approached with an awareness that like any muscle we’re trying to grow, there’s a level of discipline involved. Like working on it deliberately every day.

A search for information about freelancer mindset reveals a Google encyclopaedia of ‘hacks’ intended to simplify and short circuit the difficulties for life of a growing cohort of working professionals around the world.

No longer the choice of select group of creatives, it seems a ‘freelancer’ is anyone who works solo.

Although the recent global situation may have accelerated the growth in freelancer numbers, the trend was well and truly underway pre-2020.

Whether it’s the preference for a more flexible lifestyle, a necessity due to corporate downsizing, or both, it seems freelancing is here to stay. Estimates on freelancer numbers indicate they currently make up about a third of the US workforce. By 2027, this number is expected to grow to around half the total. That’s a big number right there.

As with any type of professional, there are freelancers, and, well, there are freelancers.

Reasonable questions we might ask are:

How can a freelancer distinguish themselves among other comparable professionals?

How does a business owner who needs to engage a freelancer make the distinction between those offering the same services?

How can I avoid ending up with the freelancer equivalent of a lemon?

I mean, I love lemons, but when it comes to paying good money for a freelancer, I’m guessing that like me, you want more than a hack. You want substance, reliability, diligence, care, intelligence and creativity.

The questions above are difficult to answer when there are few or no ready measures against which professionalism or skill can be evaluated. Which leaves the task, in large part, to the freelancer themselves and that’s slippery territory. It means we must rely on the our freelancers being sufficiently aware that working as such demands more than a handy creative or technical skill or two. Indeed, it requires much more.

So, I’m going to make a bold statement here and point out that simply saying you’re a freelancer isn’t enough. You need a certain mindset, and that mindset definitely shouldn’t be hacked.

Although I’m no expert, having worked as a freelancer for better and sometimes worse, I’ve acquired a certain mindset that could be deemed useful, not only for other freelancers, but for the business owners they work with, so let me share.

Have a clear process for how you do your freelancer work

The first freelancer mindset hack I want to address is that taking a hack’s approach to your work isn’t in the best interests of your business or your client’s. This is one of those useful things a freelancer should know.

While the myth of the quintessential freelancer life as relaxed and location-independent is perpetuated virtually by Insta-influencers and Facebook famous alike, there is a reality reality (not a typo). Because I’m neither, I can share the cold hard truth. And you and I know we can only build from Truth (thank you, Mum).

It’s true, freelancing does offer many benefits. Working from home (although hardly a novelty now), flexible hours, and the ability to choose your own client adventure. In many ways, you are just like the name implies: free.

However, working as a freelancer is not a licence to go free range. Especially not with your approach to your work and people you serve. On the contrary, it’s an invitation to muscle down on exactly how you do things – and even become masterful at them (more on this below).

Without a clear, repeatable process, approach, or framework, it’s not only confusing for clients, it’s frustrating for you too. How the heck can you ever know where you are?

Instead of being totally focused on creation and delivery, your time on projects is spent trying to figure out how you do your freelancer work. Hello precious time and energy wasted. You can probably forget repeat business too, unless your client is a total sucker for punishment because confusion is likely to diminish any confidence they may have in you or project outcomes.

So, for a long term sustainable business model, think through your delivery process. This may actually require you apply more than a fleeting moment or two between projects to this exercise. In all likelihood, if done correctly, it will necessitate some form of documentation too. Otherwise, how else will you explain the way you move from A to B on projects? This kind of information is immensely helpful for the client (remember you’re here to serve) because they gain an understanding of what’s involved in the process. And they’re more likely to come onboard in the true sense of the word.

Approaching projects and supporting clients this way requires a certain mindset. One that’s committed to professionalism and doing things well, which leads me to the following point. It’s also a demonstration that you care and are interested in a relationship based on trust.

And here’s a note for business owners: If you’re looking to engage a freelance ‘anything’, ask about their process or approach. Remember, it’s your project too and absenting yourself of responsibility is the super shortcut to disappointment, rework, and frustration.

Be committed: The freelancer mindset shows they care

Commitment is one of those things you cannot do by halves. Ask anyone who’s been in a crap relationship. You’re either committed or you’re not.

Didn’t get the commitment memo? No problem. Let me explain it in really simple terms. There’s no compromise on this one.

As a freelancer, commitment is required. Period. It’s needed to:

  • Get started
  • Finish projects properly
  • Deliver what we say we will
  • Consistently show up
  • Nurture enduring client relationships
  • Keep evolving as humans and professionals
  • Take our clients on a journey so they evolve as humans and professionals too
  • Make a difference to the world by creating content that’s different.

Approaching any of these with half a commitment is likely to bring a whole headache.

Every freelancer should ask, “Am I willing to commit like this?” And unless you are, I’d suggest work as a conscious content creating freelancer is not for you. Having seen clients’ disappointment and frustration because a freelancer has left them high and dry, and then completed the rework necessary to bring a project back on track, I know that commitment counts. So, if yours is anything short of a hundred percent maybe a job is the way to go.

On the contrary, when you demonstrate commitment, you’ve struck professional gold. Although we might think of commitment as an intangible, it is definitely seen and felt by clients, and it’s rewarded with more work and professional relationships that grow.

And the note for business owners on this one? Here’s a useful thing you should know. Before engaging a freelancer, consider what’s important to you in people you work with. Alignment in values is pretty important. Maybe not quite up there with oxygen, but in a business sense it’s close to the top, right? Choose wisely.

Create consciously: The ultimate freelancer mindset anti-hack

A quick scroll through any social media feed and you’ll soon see content for the sake of it is ‘normal’, but here’s the thing, normal doesn’t always mean healthy or good or useful or purposeful.

Behind many posts is a freelancer (some kind of content creator like a writer, virtual assistant, or graphic designer) who’s creating content purely for the sake of it.

Long posts aren’t popular because they take time to read and truthfully, many of us now engage with content like Dory in Finding Nemo. Under the spell of algorithms, our attention is fleeting. Unless of course we’re impacted by a burning issue that’s really important to us. Then we search for and read everything we can on the topic. Ironic.

It’s true (that old Truth thing again), people will read meaningful content, absorb impactful design, be moved by deeply considered videos, and listen intently to a podcast with purpose. They will. When it’s important to them, when they care enough. And if it’s important to them, it must also be important to the person who created it (and the business owner behind the creator). And by design, that requires that we still ourselves for long enough to allow time and space to think deeply. It’s no mistake that Eckhart Tolle called one of his most popular books Stillness Speaks. Eckhart is right. Stillness does speak to us, it we allow it.

Not only is it unsatisfying as a professional to flutter across the top, shallowness by it’s nature is at odds with the concept of assigning meaning to our work or our product or service.

A suggestion? Shift the focus from shallow to deep, just as Cal Newport does for readers of his book Deep Work. And shift your content creation to a place of stillness, at least until you’ve created a solid foundation and done what I call the all important ‘digging for gold’.

Doing this requires an acceptance and willingness that work is involved in the creation of purposeful content, and even a level of difficulty. Yes, folks, it might even be ‘hard’ and stretch your mind as you wrestle with more complex considerations that are significant to you and your clients or customers.

However, as with all worthwhile things, it’s worth it. The ability to attract a higher calibre of client is a natural consequence of this approach to a freelancing business. The opportunity to work with a freelancer who is dedicated and diligent to their craft is too.

Work like a craftsman

In Deep Work, Newport refers to craftsmanship, specifically in relation to knowledge workers, but a reference here to freelancers isn’t out of place.

As a freelancer, it’s worth considering how you might apply craftsmanship, rather than hacks to your own work, regardless of your niche. The rationale? It’s simple. A high quality service can demand a higher price, and therefore fewer clients to sustain a profitable business.

In terms of a sincere desire to create conscious content, whether it is written, visual, video, or audio we’re able to deliver what is not only different, but importantly, also makes a difference. Even if the subject matter doesn’t excite you, your work can still reflect the hallmarks of craftsmanship with its ‘rarefied approach’ (a quote from Newport’s book). This is vital if the quality of your work is important to you and your clients. If you’re read this far I’m assuming it is.

What about the flip side?

The flip side of this equation involves the business owner.

As freelancer numbers grow, there’s every chance you’ll engage on, two or more in your business lifetime. If that’s a reasonable assumption, it would be wise for you to develop an approach that gives you confidence in the selection process.

You might ask the freelancer whether they have a clear process, prepare a detailed brief that outlines the scope of work, and provide a contractor agreement.

That way, you’re owning 100 percent responsibility for your 50 percent of the professional relationship, which is as it should be. You are also more likely to get what you expect and identify and address small issues before they become expensive, frustrating problems, and you reach the end of a project wondering where it all went wrong.

To sum up, there are many aspects to working as a freelancer and mindset is one which affects every other part of our business and life. It deserves daily deliberate attention to strengthen, rather than shortcuts or hacks that detract from who you and what you do. Through this application, a mindset built around commitment, craftsmanship, and conscious creation can be forged, ultimately becoming how we do things.

Long before I commenced work as a freelancer, I had a strong sense this was not only important for me and my clients, it was also essential for deriving meaning and satisfaction from my work.

Maybe it’s the same for you too. If it is, best avoid the hacks.

Macushla Collins is a content coach, located in Brisbane, Australia. She helps business owners, content creators, freelancers, and  technical professionals create content that supports clear and conscious marketing communication in business. If you’re looking for ways to bring more meaning to your work as a freelance content creator, dive into the guide on how to write content for business or reach out for a chat. And if you’re still in searching mode, why not access one of the free downloads for business owners and freelancers and start digging for your content gold today.

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