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Self Employment Lesson #1

I’m self-employed. I have more time (and less money) on my hands now than I used to. But I love the schedule and the flexibility. I love my job and I’m proud of my work. This is part one of a self employment lesson series, made up of my first-hand experiences as an independent contractor. I’m no expert on this, but here are some lessons I’ve learned for myself.

How you do one thing is how you’ll do everything.

Cat sees a lion in the mirror.In a nutshell: if you look like a slob, you’ll feel like a slob. Feeling like a slob hurts your confidence and your attitude (if you’re like me, anyway). Without a strong, positive attitude, it’s easy to get distracted or apathetic. I’ll talk about motivation below, but here’s a preview: you need it. Anything you can do to improve your own motivation is a good thing.

For me, that means I should act like I’m still working at the office. I shower, shave, and get dressed to be presentable (ok, most of the time). I wake up early, usually around 7:30. I eat right and I think about how I should exercise more. Just like I did when I was in the cubicle club.

Each day is different, but I find that the days on which I get my creativity and productivity going first thing in the morning are the days when I accomplish the most. I aim to knock out 2 solid hours of productivity between 8 and 10am. If I nail those two hours, the rest of the day is a breeze.

Motivation is hard. Do what works.

Peter Gibbons has no motivation.Maybe you’re a night owl. Maybe you need absolute silence. Or maybe you need other people around. Experiment with your work environment and find what works for you. All music all the time? TV on in the background? Comfy chair at your local Starbucks?

Don’t let your environment be a scapegoat, however. If Starbucks is crowded or you didn’t shower this morning, that can’t derail your whole day. A large part of motivation is identifying obstacles and flipping a switch—simply deciding to overcome them. Easier said than done, I know. But I’ve been on both sides of that coin in my few months of independence. The lesson is clear: plan ahead and be on the right side of the motivation fence.

Find the things that motivate you and pursue them relentlessly. Plan to include them in your day and week. In my case, that’s deadlines. I don’t do well under the “get it done when we get it done” model. I prefer weekly milestones to track progress. I don’t always hit those milestones, but just trying to hit them is very helpful for my productivity.

Be prepared to struggle for a while.

MTV Cribs.Not everyone earns the big bucks right away. These things take time. This one was tough for me to swallow. I had visions of charging a healthy hourly rate and finding a thousand clients willing and eager to pay my rate. So far, that has not been the case. Couple that with an expensive home improvement project, and the finances don’t look as comfortable as they used to.

I’ve taken to the depths of Craigslist to find gigs. I’m always cruising Authentic Jobs and the like. I still hear from recruiters all the time. The pursuit of the next contract is unending and it can be exhausting. A little savings in the bank and a little willingness to tighten the belt for a while may go a long way.

I have no doubt that, if I keep working hard, I’ll bring my income back to where it was during my cubicle club days. It may take a few months or a year to get there, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice for now. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind in the future if need be!