3 Ideas to realign your attitude and make freelancing work


By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I faced a terrible burnout about a year ago. I had obsessed with my work, neglecting friends, family and my health. By working all night and ignoring life, I wasn’t getting much done.

After a decade of digital freelancing, and a dark night of the soul, I changed the way I work online. I had to fundamentally realign my attitude, becoming more humble, nicer, and more appreciative of my time with real human beings.

I want to be open and share my biggest personal lessons from this difficult time. Perhaps they will inspire you to become a better AND healthier freelancer.

1) Mix digital with local

Five years ago, and I would have PROUDLY proclaimed: Screw the offline world. You can get all the work you need from the internet.

(Insert younger and foolish ‘me’ flipping off the physical world).

Then I discovered the downside of my digital-only freelancer existence.

freelancingThe online economic system is built to disadvantage gig economy entrepreneurs like me. The most popular way for my U.S. clients to pay is Paypal, which consumes your profit with hidden fees. The company charges a transaction fee, an international fee, and a currency exchange fee where they even pick a bad exchange rate that’s not up-to-date.

Every time my healthy US selling price shrunk into its final Paypal form, my heart twitched.

However, with my IRL clients and artwork sales, I get paid in my local currency, sometimes even in cash on the spot. Working offline is like getting a raise.

The second downside of a digital-only is loneliness.

Allowing pixels to glow at your eyeballs for eight hours or more just isn’t healthy. Especially not when you’re working from home, where it’s you versus your four walls.

You’re surrounded by things, not people. Online video calls help you connect with folks you can’t physically meet, but nothing, NOTHING, beats human-to-human interactions.

This hit me hard during my art exhibition opening where dozens of folks, including clients, talked to me about my art and my plans IN PERSON. They asked for more samples and potential collaborations.

Since then, I’ve been working on two bigger projects involving traveling and collaborating with my carbon-based familiars.

The mix matters.


2) Kindness matters even more

Back in my early online days, I acted like a snarky gremlin at times.


freelancing gremlin

When a client took too long to reply or didn’t pay me on time, I shot back with passive-aggressive remarks.

And it’s so easy when you’re separated by screens, perhaps even thousands of kilometers apart from each other.

I thought I was expressing confidence, taking crap from no one, but I was just immature. After a decade of working online, I’ve become a part-time diplomat.

When your goals depend on other people — which is almost always the case — kindness gets you the best results. I don’t know anyone who likes working with, or for, a bully.

Mark Schaefer wrote a powerful post about whether to take a stand or be likable. I think it’s true –controversial people attract immediate attention and sometimes get quicker results, but they burn their bridges. Adios, future collaborations.

So how do you deal with “difficult” clients?

A creative peer of mine coined the term “friendly forward.” It means you reply swiftly and get to the point while always staying friendly. Because you never know what the person on the other side of the screen is dealing with.

So whenever a customer is not paying you on time, or not replying, or writing in a way that triggers you — assume nothing, because you don’t know.

Write again, get to the point; the friendly forward way.

3) Gaiman’s freelancing laws apply

I’ve recently bought a little inspiring book Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by the famous comic and fantasy novel writer Neil Gaiman. He shared his three principles on how freelancers keep getting work:

  • Their work is good
  • They’re easy to work with
  • They deliver the work on time

Neil also states that if you fulfill only two of three principles, you will still get work.

So clients can overlook your unpleasantness if your work is good and delivered on time.

They can forgive your lateness if you’re likable and your work is good.

And you don’t have to be as good as your competition if your work arrives on time and you’re a pleasure to work with.

Speaking from personal experience, points two and three matter a lot. If clients can rely on you AND like you, they keep coming back.


I feel healthier and more aligned with friends and family since changing my mindset and tactics. Online freelancing is a rich ride if you know how to compensate for the downsides.

What’s a healthy tip that you can share as a digital freelancer?

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at www.marsdorian.com and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

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