Photo of red geranium petal cells
Red geranium petal cells – because I love red geraniums. Image source: Umberto Salvagnin. Creative Commons license.

It’s a slow week. Friday is the Fourth of July, and many people (including clients and editors) have scarpered to vacation destinations. When I check my email inbox, I swear I can see tumbleweeds rolling across the screen.

I know many freelancers would take this as a sign to swan off on an unscheduled shopping excursion. After all, my clients don’t need me, so why not take a day off??

The problem is there will be many, many days (especially if you’re just starting out as a freelance writer) when you will not have any client work on your calendar. If you take a day off every time that happens, you’ll quickly be out of business. Using the term ‘flexible schedule’ to mean ‘whenever there’s no client work, I can take the day off wooohoooo!’ is NOT good for your business.

YOU are the mitochondrion of your freelance organism

Hearken back to biology class, my nurse colleagues, and envision your writing career as an organism. Like all organisms, your career moves through several stages of growth and development before it hits maturity. And then, even in maturity, the freelance organism continues to generate life-sustaining processes until eventually it dies.

YOU are the freelance organism’s mitochondrion. (Yes, it’s singular because presumably there is only one of you.) YOU are the factory that generates the life-sustaining processes of your freelance business and career.

Just because your freelance organism currently has enough ATP (that is, your business is flush with cash), it does not mean you — the mitochondrion — can decide to stop working. If you do, your organism will die.

The freelance mitochondrion performs several key functions to support the organism’s health. These functions follow a predictable cycle:

  • Marketing
  • Completing paid writing assignments
  • Engaging in activities that support cellular growth in other ways

Thus, if you’re not writing, you should be marketing. Actively marketing your services always should top your priority list after meeting deadlines.

If you’re not marketing, you should be engaged in other career-boosting activities

Some of these ‘other activities’ could indeed be considered marketing or promotion. Let’s not be fussy here. No need to split hairs.

When I talk about other activities, I mean:

  • Engaging in discussion groups
  • Reading publications, blogs and other material that contributes to your knowledge base within your specialty
  • Catching up on what your clients are doing by following their corporate news
  • Working on larger projects, such as books
  • Networking

As the mitochondrion, you can decide which activities your freelance organism requires to thrive in its environment. Then engage robustly in those activities on an ad hoc basis.

What ‘schedule flexibility’ really means for freelance writers

When I say ‘a flexible work schedule’ is one benefit of the freelance lifestyle, what I really mean is this:

  • You can better respond to true emergencies by taking time off at a moment’s notice
  • You can decide when (what hours) you want to work
  • You can structure your work day to suit your preferences (to a large extent, though I’ll talk another time about setting personal boundaries while remaining responsive to clients)
  • You can schedule vacation at your convenience without the bureaucratic hassle of going through an approvals process

I definitely do not mean you can simply work when work’s available and go shopping the rest of the time. Freelancing doesn’t work like that. If you choose that approach, your organism will die.

This week looks to be a little sluggish for me on the client side, but as the mitochronion of this freelance organism I’m not slowing down. Instead, I plan to:

  • Follow up on some letters of introduction I sent a few weeks ago
  • Finish a presentation on using tech to market to baby boomers that I promised a group of people
  • Start outlining my book

Those three things will keep me busy all week and definitely will provide a robust environment in which my freelance organism can thrive.

Remember to always assess the health of your freelance business and deploy resources to cells that need shoring up. If you do that, you’ll be very successful.

Wishing you well!