The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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I HATE letting people down. It weighs heavy on my conscience and bothers me until I can set things right. Does this sounds like you?

Because if it does, it’s probably what makes you such a diligent, conscientious freelancer. Yet fear of failure can also make life unnecessarily hard for you, as well as your clients. And it might even be a symptom of perfectionism: relentlessly striving for unrealistic and thus often unachievable high standards.

Here’s an example to explain why.

Last week I won a deal with a dream client. It’s a retainer to photograph events for a company who ‘get’ the independent, creative, freelance work ethic. They want me to come along, watch, learn and be a part of what happens. There’s a good chance of cake too. IDEAL.

So we’re now in the process of booking dates in for those events. Fortuitously most dates work, but inevitably, some are already reserved for my other engagements. Like a holiday we’d booked earlier this year.

Yet when the request for that unavailable date came through, my stomach sank. A hot sense of urgency swept over me, compelling me to rearrange our holiday travel plans – anything to avoid letting a client down.

I’d short-circuited, leaping mentally from a minor, easily-resolved setback to full-scale failure and loss of livelihood, squatting in a Biffa bin and troughing dog eggs.

That’s not a very helpful response though, is it?

Rationally – my other commitments deserve priority because they came first. But there’s still an irrational preference to inconvenience myself, rather than my client – because they pay my wages and we have an agreement, so I’m beholden to them.

In fact, I was almost ready to pay a penalty to book new train tickets, and traverse the country, then London, after midnight to get to Gatwick so we could fly the morning after the client’s event (which would finish late the evening before).

That was until I realised that my decision to sacrifice myself would be bad for both me AND the client.

Why? Because I’d be extra flustered about getting away from the event on time, so less focused on taking photos. Chances are I’d have insufficient time to finish processing the photos to my usual standards too, meaning the quality of my work would suffer – which is bad for the client.

Also, isn’t it better that a client gets the truth rather than rosy unreality, so they can arrange for another freelancer to cover their event?

In the end I took the honest route. I was upfront about the risk and offered to rearrange my plans if they couldn’t find a replacement. And they were totally comfortable with that, even going so far as to say they didn’t want to spoil my holiday!

The moral of the story? Be honest with clients when there’s a problem, accept that problems are bound to happen and offer to resolve them as soon as possible, if you can.

Like most things in life, letting people down is never as bad as you imagine it to be. Sometimes these things just happen, and do you know what? they don’t really matter; everything works out in the end and you’re fucking brilliant for accepting setbacks for what they are and growing in spite of them.

Especially if you’re a reforming perfectionist, like me.

The Human Freelancer book

LOOK! There's a book full of this shit and more!

Self-help business books perpetuate the myth that success is relentless growth and more of everything means progress. They preach about bookkeeping and market research: things you might need to do of course. But let’s face it they’re fucking boring.

The Human Freelancer book is your antidote: stuffed full of emotional support and insightful advice for vulnerable newbies to self-employment like you.

Buy it now