Don’t let your business break your heart.


“It’s not personal. It’s just business.”

Oh yes. That’s right. I just quoted “The Godfather.” While that classic film provides the jumping off point, it’s not entirely helpful in terms of guiding us along the bumpy road of freelancer feelings.

Don’t worry, though, because I’ve learned a number of lessons over the years, and I’m sharing some of them here with you.

1. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and accept that no matter what you say or how you say it, someone will completely misunderstand you. Many people assign their own meaning to your words regardless of your intent or perspective, and that’s just part of human nature. While some people learn to evaluate their responses through the filter of that awareness, just as many people never pick up that skill.

2. They don’t call it ‘mad money’ for nothing. Discussions about money should be settled before other issues are tackled. Money is at the heart of every business transaction, and it’s also the biggest source of stress in many people’s lives. If things aren’t right in that department, everything else will remain askew. Set your rates and income goals based on real world information, rather than what you think you want.

3. Openly discuss expectations with freelancers and clients about work flow and communication to whatever degree of detail is necessary to all both parties comfortable. When expectations are clear and detailed, there are fewer opportunities for uncomfortable questions or misunderstandings, and you set a precedent for collaborative problem-solving. Consider putting these expectations in writing, even if it’s just a confirmation email as a follow up to a verbal agreement. This becomes a substitute for the unspoken social contracts in place in traditional workplaces.

4. If you’re stressed out about your work, take action. Waiting for things to improve on their own rarely goes well, in my experience. So, take your deep breaths, pour your favorite beverage, and pro/con it out. Focus on the aspects of the relationship or project that are causing the most stress. If it’s the work itself, brainstorm possible solutions and list whose help would be effective. If your stress stems from other problems within your working relationships, consider actual things you can do to work through them. Do this before your stress level becomes intolerable because, by that point, you’ve turned a business problem into a personal problem.

5. Know when to fold ’em. Sometimes, despite all resuscitation efforts, the best solution is to walk away. If you’re working on a project that has grown way out of scope and your client isn’t receptive to your pushback on your rate, it might be time to end it. If a client’s work style clashes with yours in a way that hinders your output, ask yourself if you would have accepted the gig if it had been described that way in the beginning. If a negotiation starts making you sick to your stomach (and that’s not normal for you), check in with yourself about what it’s really worth. Unlike the first four lessons, that last one is absolutely about you.

And that’s the point. There is an awful lot about business that isn’t personal, even a little bit. Yet, we stress and we hurt, we lose sleep, and we waste time on things far outside our control. In order to do your best in business, you have to identify the line between it and you when it comes to how you process what happens on both sides of that line.

Reminding yourself that business itself isn’t personal is a good first step.

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