I began my freelancing journey a few years ago, motivated by the arrival of my first baby and the idea of being my own boss. I always liked the idea of working for myself, so I jumped right in! I’ve learned a lot along this journey of self-employment—some things the hard way.

Here, I share the tips that have helped me the most to find balance between my professional obligations and my familial responsibilities. Yes, balance is possible!

Work and family balance illustration

1. Create a schedule and stick to it

Mother working and son playing illustration
Illustration by Fe Melo

As I launched my freelance career, I quickly discovered that it’s essential to create a work schedule—and make a commitment to stick to it. When you are your own boss the day never ends, unless you say it does.

To keep your work/life balance in balance it’s a good idea to design your ideal work day, deciding how many hours you’ll work and when you’ll work them. Be sure to factor in family obligations (when do your kids get home from school? Will you be making dinner for the family? Will you have any outside help? ), self-care (you’ll need to exercise to stay strong for all of your responsibilities) and your prime working hours (do you produce your best work in the early morning or later in the evening?). I usually work when my son is at daycare, so I can give him attention when he comes back. Some days, I also try to get in a few extra hours when he’s gone to sleep.

It’s important to work during the hours you have set aside for work. Even if you don’t have many projects, keep the professional energy flowing—that means avoiding distractions like scrolling Instagram or catching up on household chores—use the time to network or pursue marketing or branding projects that will help to grow your business.

99designs animation
Animation by by Konstantin Kostenko

Communicating your work hours with friends and family is also essential. When you work for yourself it’s easy for your loved ones to assume that you’re always available to socialize. They may ask you to meet for lunch or coffee or to engage in a big conversation during your work day. Let them know that work time is work time. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, and say, “no.”

2. Know when enough is enough

I’m still mastering this one, and probably will be for years to come. Setting limits on the amount of work you take on—and how often you communicate with clients— is absolutely essential. When you work for yourself, the workday never technically ends. But trust me, checking emails in the middle of the night will leave you exhausted. It is important to know when to stop.

Don’t overload. Projects often come in waves, in a when-it-rains-it-pours surge. Try to schedule your projects wisely. Don’t be afraid to tell a client you can’t take on their project if it conflicts with your already full plate. Go for quality over quantity—in the long run this will increase your value as a professional.

And it’s easy to become isolated when you are freelancing, so make sure to set time aside for your friends and family.

Stylized t-shirt design
T-shirt design by Rockrose ☮

3. Stay organized

Using your time wisely is a major part of working for yourself and organization is a major part of using your time wisely. When you organize your computer files, create folders by subjects and then name every archive and file accordingly. This helps create a database that will come in handy when a client requests a file or if you want to use things you created in the past for new projects.

For example, I applied to loads of 99designs contests throughout the years. And for those that I didn’t win, I would recycle my entries, so I could use them for a different contest with a similar briefing down the road.

4. Communicate professionally and effectively with your clients

When working with a client learn to communicate clearly. If you don’t understand exactly what a client wants, make sure that you ask them for clarification at the beginning of the process—it will save you time in the long-run!

Show interest in their project and business, and ask them clarifying questions like “do you have any visual references that could help me understand your vision?” and “is there anything in my portfolio that you really like?”

If you get the sense that the client doesn’t know what he wants or that you’re not the right person for the project, don’t take it. There are lots of great projects for you out there!

Typography design for T-shirt
Typography design for T-shirt by diwaz

Before you begin working together, be sure to set clear boundaries around how many changes clients can make during the project. If you think they are asking for too much, communicate your feelings.

If you are not available to work on the weekend, or your kid is sick and you won’t be able to do the work in time communicate that as well. Chances are strong that your clients also have family obligations so they will be able to relate.

Whatever you do, never ignore a client. Even if you have to have a hard conversation, it’s better to address the issue directly rather than pretend it’s not happening. Lack of communication can lead to bad reviews and a negative reputation in your industry.

5. Use your interests as inspiration for your work

When I was pregnant, I started buying all the gear I needed for baby’s arrival.  As I researched the best products I got really inspired and started working on loads of contests for baby patterns, clothes, and other kiddo-themed projects.

I’ve also always loved coffee, and now that I have a family to look after, I drink loads of it! I have set an alert for coffee contests, too. I really enjoy designing cool graphics for anything java-related.

If you’re working on 99designs, you can set notifications for your favorite subjects and everytime a contest with the same specifications appears on the platform you will receive an email. Even when I don’t have time to participate in the contest, I really enjoy seeing what people come up with. You can learn a lot by monitoring contests.

Spiritual t-shirt design
T-shirt by BATHI
Baby pattern
Baby Pattern by Fe Melo

6. Outsource home tasks

When you work for yourself while attempting to maintain a happy home life, time really is money. Investing in a weekly (or bi-weekly) house cleaner can buy you time to focus on what really matters. You may also want to splurge on prepared foods once or twice a week for dinner (especially useful if you’re raising young children) so you can spend more time with your loved ones.

Illustration of mother working
via Lifehacker

7. Become a savvy marketer

Illustration of father and child
Illustration by Fe Melo

Today you can’t avoid social media. The more your work is visible on sites like Instagram, the more chances you’ll have to secure new clients. 99designs has an awesome blog post about it—be sure to check it out. It’s important to keep your website or portfolio up-to-date and to share your favorite works in across the social platforms you use.

8. Challenge yourself

The only way to cultivate versatility and confidence is to stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone. I often take projects that give me the opportunity to practice new things. They may take me more time than usual to finish (and I may have to watch some tutorials to get there), but in the end I end up learning another skill that enhances what I have to offer clients and improves my portfolio. Someone once told me if you don’t do something because you’re scared to fail, you have already failed.

Two Mouths book cover
Book cover by Fe Melo
Wall Stickers for beauty salon
Wall Stickers for beauty salon by Fe Melo

It’s also important to get comfortable with rejection. I have lost so many design contests at 99designs. I now know that losing doesn’t mean that I’m less capable than another designer. Sometimes the client’s taste is different than what I’m offering or sometimes it’s clear that I need more practice.

Don’t put yourself down in these situations. Cut yourself some slack, be gentle and consider what you could have done differently and apply what you learned next time.

9. Take breaks

Family illustration
Illustration by Fe Melo

Taking breaks can feel scary. You may worry that you’ll lose work or make a client unhappy. But breaks are essential—especially for creatives. They allow you to refresh your energy and come back more inspired and ready to work. (Basically, regular breaks make you a better designer.)

I recently went on a month-long vacation with my family. Of course Murphy’s Law had numerous project invites flowing into my inbox while I was away. I stayed the course and refused each one. My time away from my desk was truly inspiring. I came home fully recharged and ready to dive back into work. And it took just one month to recover a full roster of clients.

With some thought and planning, anyone can build a freelance career on their own terms. Take it step by step and enjoy the ride. By being present in each moment, you actually can have it all.

Want to fire up your freelance career?
Start designing on 99designs to connect with more clients on a safe and secure platform