You can’t explain it. You worked hard today. Your clients are happy. You’re doing really well. But you feel anxious. Worried. You don’t even know why.
Perhaps it's because you spotted a larger business boasting about their latest awesome project or winning another award. You might have seen something on Instagram by a competitor and thought, "holy moly - how can I compete?" Consequently, you stress about your skill set and fret over whether you’re good enough.
You feel inadequate. Hopeless. Frustrated. You think, “why can’t my business be as good or as big as others?" Well, let me tell you something. Everyone feels this way. Even the most successful. It’s what drives them. The constant need to improve.
To put your mind at ease, we've put together the following tips on why you don't have to stress and how you can combat that freelance anxiety.
Don't worry about the competition
Henry Ford once said, "The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time." And we couldn't agree more. Ignore what others are doing and focus on self-improvement. Consider those gaps in your skills or expertise. Sign up for a new course. Buy a new book. Go to a talk. Anything to help.
Don't ever think you're not good enough
"Often, in the real world, it’s not the smart who get ahead but the bold," said Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad Poor Dad. So the next time you think you're not clever enough, or feel intimidated by those who are seemingly more successful, remember that business is mostly about confidence and taking risks. And heck, think of all the people who never dared launch their own business? You did. And you're surviving. That's a pat on the back right there.
Don't be afraid of failure (or what others think)
Don't fear messing up. There will be many who don't believe in you. Many who think you'll fall at the first hurdle. Those same people might be over-confident or they could be threatened by you. Whatever. It's of no consequence. Allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them and keep pushing on. "How many people are completely successful in every department of life? Not one. The most successful people are the ones who learn from their mistakes and turn their failures into opportunities," said American author and salesman, Zig Ziglar.
Give yourself a break
As a freelancer, you'll often make big decisions on your own. There'll be no one to brainstorm with or share ideas. It's just you. It means you won't get that much-needed reassurance from a team and things will take a little longer. Take the pressure off and realise you're not a superhero. Which leads me to my next point...
You can't do everything, so focus on what you enjoy
Being a jack of all trades comes with the territory when you freelance. Admin, accounts, marketing, pitching, copywriting, networking – that's all before you've done any paid creative work. But when it comes to your actual profession, you have to realise that you can't do it all. And that's not just because it's wise to specialise; your work/life balance and sanity depend on it. Instead, do what you love. What makes you jump out of bed in the morning? What gets you excited? Do that.
Build a great network
Get out and meet other freelancers. Easier said than done if you're busy. But it really does make a difference. There are heaps of events you can attend. Pecha Kucha, Creative Mornings, Glug, Ladies Wine & Design – whatever exists on your doorstep, go to them all. Make friends, people you can work with.
You never know, you might start to build a small, collaborative team and win bigger projects together. Heck, you could end up sharing an office and then you won't be alone anymore. Relationships, after all, bring work and opportunities, as our friend Robert Kiyosaki said, "The richest people in the world look for and build networks; everyone else looks for work."
Understand there's a place for everyone
You might be a freelancer, you might be alone, but that's not a bad thing. Everyone has something to contribute. We can all deliver value to our clients, even if we're small. We certainly don't need to be a huge agency with 100 staff (more on this later). Be confident and keep reminding yourself that you've got skills and experience people want to pay for. As Jason Fried of 37Signals and author of Rework once said, "Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination itself."
Remember, big doesn't necessarily mean better
A friend of mine recently lost a project to a client she'd supported for nearly a decade and helped make successful. The client wanted to "shake things up" and get a fresh perspective on its business. It happens. They had more budget, they thought, "let's hire a bigger agency instead of a freelancer!"
My friend humbly thanked them for their business and gracefully handed things over to the larger agency. That was 12 months ago. Do you know what happened? The agency didn't deliver. In fact, they were dreadful. They did everything she predicted: took ages to respond to anything, had four different people dealing with the account, charged ridiculous money for small jobs... They've re-appointed my friend, who gladly took them back.
Of course, I'm not saying all agencies behave this way. It's just disappointing when they do. It's a good reminder of why freelancers are a good choice: they care more, they respond faster, they're the only person to deal with.
Know that all is not what it seems
On Instagram, people tend to only show the best of everything. They want to impress. In business, that might be awards, polished projects or beautiful shots of their office space. But what you're not seeing is the tough times. The struggles. What people go through and they don't want you to know about. Instagram isn't real. So there's no reason to suffer anxiety because of it.
Consider your limitations
When you freelance and work for larger agencies, you might have to sign NDAs, so you can't talk about any projects you're involved with. Which is a real shame, as we all need to add work to our portfolios to attract and impress clients of our own. Clients might also ignore your advice, so you deliver work you're not proud of. It's tough being small – you often don't get the same opportunities as larger firms to demonstrate your breadth of skills.
Find a way around this by developing your own side projects – a magazine, a podcast, a concept of a brand you'd love to refresh. There's always a way to show off.
Remind yourself often that we're all in the same boat
If anxiety is still hanging about, give it a good kick with this final, reassuring thought: everyone is suffering. The successful agency owner. The marketing director. The client. The MD. The account manager. All of them. Every single person. A little anxiety is actually healthy – it'll stop you resting on your laurels, encourage you to keep innovating and – most importantly – keep you enjoying everything that comes with being a freelancer – the challenges, the highs, the lows... why else do we do this?