You’ve said YES to independence. But are you running your business, or is it running you?

When you’re a traditional employee, your “no’s” are limited. There are tasks you have to complete, meetings you have to attend, people you have to work with, and company goals you have to execute—all on someone else’s timeline.

As an independent worker, that script is flipped.  There is absolutely nothing you “have to” do. Every commitment on your plate is one you chose to make.  

That’s an awesome freedom, and it’s what most independent workers crave. But once you’re in the driver’s seat, it’s important to have a point on the horizon that you’re aiming for. Otherwise, it’s surprisingly easy for that freedom to lead down roads you never intended – resulting in stress, overwhelm, or disillusionment with the freelance life.

While most seasoned freelancers have already learned this lesson, if you’ve just left a corporate role or are new to freelancing, it’s important to fully grasp the responsibility and power that comes from saying no.  

Know your “yes.” Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head with this one: “You have to decide what your priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”  What is the burning “yes” that led you to become your own boss? Was it better work/life balance? Only doing work you love? Freedom to travel? Remembering why you chose independent work will help you honor and protect that choice by saying no to anything that jeopardizes it.

Say no to work you don’t want to do. Sounds obvious, right? But the allure of a lucrative assignment, or the fear of your work stream running dry, or the pressure to help out a friend can lead you to rationalize taking on projects that you know aren’t a good fit. Remember you only have so many hours in a week – and one of the biggest perks of being an independent worker is that you don’t have to say yes if your heart’s not in it.

Say no to clients who don’t respect your time or talent. This can be especially tough when you’re just starting out and every “no” feels like a missed opportunity. But there is real danger in taking on clients who pressure you to lower your rates, ignore your professional advice, or expect you to tack on additional tasks at no additional charge. Take the time to do your homework and know your worth in the marketplace. Avoid freelance platforms that award work to the lowest bidders. Join local or online communities and compare notes with others in your profession. Turning down a client who doesn’t value your work can free up time to spend with those who do—making you a happier (and more profitable) freelancer.

Say no to 24/7/365 availability. Thanks to technology you’re just one email, IM, text, or phone call away from your clients at all times—and they know it. Learning to set healthy boundaries with your time is crucial to preventing burnout and living a life that aligns with your “yes.” Remember that as an independent worker, your business demands attention as well. You need adequate time to work on sales, marketing, invoices, expense tracking, professional development, networking, and goal-setting…all in addition to getting the rest and exercise you need to stay healthy and do your best work. While some professions are genuinely time-sensitive, most are not. Carve out time to be true to your personal priorities and your business goals, and protect that time like the valuable resource it truly is.

Saying yes to independent work is one of the most rewarding choices you can make. Learning to say no is one of the best ways to keep you and your freelance lifestyle going strong for years to come.

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