The pervasive thought “I should be doing more” runs rampant among the freelance community. It’s usually accompanied by its evil twin thought “if I don’t keep hustling, I’ll end up broke.” As a freelancer, you’ve traded in stability and certainty for freedom and uncertainty. Despite the tremendous upside, this lifestyle comes with its unique set of fears and worries.
Whether you're just getting started or you've been independent for a while, it's critical to learn to take breaks without thinking that you should be doing more to hustle and keep looking for projects. There's always that nagging voice – I could send a few more emails, finish that last piece, reach out to that person... Let me assure you that you are not alone. If you're going to succeed solo, you're going to have to learn to tackle this question.
I met recently with a freelancer who, even though she was scheduling networking coffees diligently every week, felt that she wasn’t doing enough. My very first response was “what is enough to you?” She was stopped in her tracks - she couldn’t answer that. She was only focused on the fact that she should be doing more and more and more.
There’s a very critical benchmark that often goes uncharted - enough. Feeling like we’re not doing enough often stems from the fact that no one actually knows what “enough” is. The worry creeps in and we begin to question everything. Without establishing what enough is, we can’t ever truly measure whether we’re doing not enough, enough, or more than enough.
What’s worse, when we don’t articulate what enough means to us, we often end up measuring ourselves by other people’s standards. If you want to find someone who is doing more than you are, trust me, you’ll find them. They’re everywhere! And unfortunately, you’ll most likely feel inadequate each and every time you find them. Trying to measure up to those who seem to be doing “more than you are” is a surefire way to put you on the endless quest of trying to play “catch up” to what others are doing.
Make It Real - Make It Tangible
I encourage my freelance friends and clients to define their own measure of enough.
It starts by really thinking about what matters most in their business building efforts. For some, it’s about building a network of new connections. For others, it’s about deepening relationships and staying relevant and top-of-mind to existing connections.
Start by taking an inventory of what is important and effective: What matters most? What do you need to do to build your business?
- Email introductions
- Follow-up emails or calls
- Networking coffees or event appearances
- LinkedIn connections
- Branding/marketing efforts
- Thank yous
Like any goal, it’s helps to break it down and make it really tangible. So, I ask my clients to make it measurable. Here’s an easy format that works:
I’m going to make (goal here) happen every (measure of time).
I’m going to send three new emails every week.
I’m going to attend two new industry events every month.
I’m going to do one networking coffee a week.
You get the idea...
What standard do you want to hold yourself to? Daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly. I’m a big believer in baby-steps. Setting smaller windows of time (daily, weekly) are easier to hold yourself accountable to.
This, my friend, is the basis of your “enough” business-building plan-of-attack. Before you go all-in on committing to this plan, do a quick gut check. Does this feel doable? If it feels stressful just putting this down on paper, that’s an immediate sign that you’ve already covercomitted! The point here it to give yourself a benchmark that’s doble and exudes confidence (not fear). You can always do more than enough, but don’t set a goal that you already feel is unlikely.
Once your gut says “wahoo, we can do this,” then lock it in. Get your plan in writing. Refer to your plan daily or weekly. Find a way to track your progress, be it a spreadsheet, notebook or something else.
And importantly, know that this is what “enough” looks like for you. You can always choose to do more. But the point here it to know that when you’ve hit enough, you can choose to feel good and at ease.
The Power of Looking Back
Being a freelancer requires a lot of diligence and hustle. It’s not easy to blaze your own trail and create your own network of clients and projects. Most freelancers I talk to are so focused on thinking about what’s next that they rarely look back to see what they’ve done.
So, from time to time, look back. Soak in and appreciate all the work you’ve put into this. The networking emails, the introductions, the follow-ups. Like any athlete, it’s the work you put into it every day and every week that will pay dividends down the road. It’s easy to lose sight of, but it’s important to celebrate your “enough” - even the small stuff you’re doing to hustle and build your business. That appreciation will build your confidence and remind you how much more than enough you did to get you where you are today.
The fear of “not doing enough” is widespread among freelancers. It might get easier with time and business success, but I’m not sure the worry ever completely goes away. Defining what enough is and creating your own measure of success can help you move from wondering to working towards your plan. But knowing how to face this fear and being willing to work on it is the first step to be able to move to move past it.