Beware of The Buffer

The decision is made. No more working for The Man—a freelance life beckons! Blog posts and books consumed, podcasts devoured and opinions collated. Everyone says the same:

Ensure at least 3 months savings to cover the initial financial uncertainty.

Sage advice and clearly the responsible thing to do but consider the case against The Buffer; laughing in the face of adversity from the off.

Enter Parkinson’s Law

This popular nugget of wisdom hits the nail on the head:

The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.

If you’ve three months to get on your feet as a freelancer, chances are, it will take three months to get on your feet as a freelancer. If you’ve only a month before the shit hits the fan, you cut through the crap to achieve the same goal in a third of the time.

I took the three months option.

Self-employed for the first time with money and time to burn, it’s surprisingly easy to develop a distorted view of what needs to get done. Bad habits from your previous life are hard to break as you get caught up in the triviality once paid for by someone else.

After all, you don’t need clients just yet do you? There are more pressing concerns:

  • craft and fine-tune the portfolio website
  • hone the business identity and stationery design
  • research ideal clients and business strategy
  • write that epic blog post on how you’ve finally ‘stuck it to The Man’
  • enjoy a well earned period of introspection and disconnect

It’s Only a Matter of Time (and Money)

Inevitably, time passes and money gets spent. Reality rears its smug head and is more than willing to deliver a friendly slap.

My freelance life began in 2013. A couple of months had passed and I was only just getting going with bits and pieces of client work. Friends joked that I’d retired and ‘living the dream’. It was starting to dawn on me that I’d just bankrolled a self-indulgent getting-to-know-me-and-my-business holiday. The Buffer was no more.

Panic Stations

If you can get past the panic of imminent financial meltdown—oh, how you’ll panic—the mind will focus, priorities shift and only the essential tasks come under consideration for today’s to-do list. It’s amazing how in the heat of battle a presence of mind and clarity can come to the fore and reveal the vital steps to win that next project, finish the work and get paid.

In reality, if no-one’s paying for your time and services, you haven’t got a business.

On reflection, I didn’t have a business in those first few months and my bank balance had the wounds to prove it.

Whether you have a month, three months or even longer to establish yourself, it pays to get to the heart of the matter as swiftly as possible. Get yourself in business and worry about the bloat later (if you must).

It’s Personal

The psychology surrounding The Buffer will differ from one person to the next but it can be difficult to enforce the mindset of scarcity knowing you’ve time and money on your side.

That said, if money worries are likely to paralyse you with anxiety, you may struggle to achieve your freelance dreams without the financial security of money in the bank. Get saving in that case; just don’t put things off for too long!

Me? I would have had a stronger start to freelance life if my survival instincts were in play from day one.

Having broached the subject with successful business owners, it’s clear that not everyone waits for financial security to begin their adventure; whether forced by circumstance or simply by choice. They did what they had to do to get their head above water as quickly as possible and kicked on from there.

It’s worth questioning how an initial buffer of money will affect you and your future business, especially if your freelance dreams are on hold while you grind through another unhappy day working your 9-5. Penniless from the start may just be the motivation you need to become the successful freelancer you know you can be.