how to adopt a freelancer's mentality for more independence at work

I’m sure you’ll agree with me on this: everyone wants a little more flexibility and independence in their work life. For some, that means joining the growing movement of full-time employees transitioning to freelance and consulting work. That’s what I did, and it’s been an amazing adventure. But the truth is, that path isn’t necessarily for everyone. Like it or not, some careers require you to be part of an office environment. 

Or, you might actually like your corporate gig and not want the responsibility (or potential risk) of working for yourself. That’s totally okay, too. Even if you love your desk job, I’m sure you still wouldn’t mind injecting some of that freedom and flexibility associated with freelance work into your day-to-day.

And so, that’s what I’m going to show you how to do here today. This post shows you how to adopt aspects of the freelance mentality into your corporate job to create more independence and give you more ownership over your career.

freelance mentality independence at work

First, let’s take a look at what I actually mean by “freelance mentality”:

how do freelancers think differently about work than corporate employees?

I’ll admit: before I made the jump to working for myself, I naively thought the freelance life was going to be a lot less work than my corporate job. I pictured myself with all this free time, but what I realized pretty quickly was that freelancing isn’t less work - it’s just a redistribution of your time, effort, and focus. Here are 3 noticeable differences between the freelance and corporate mentality:

1. you can work from anywhere, at any time.

On the surface, the idea of stretching work outside of the normal 9-to-5 hours seems like more of a burden than an opportunity for more freedom and flexibility. If you read my recent post on how to work from home with a toddler, you saw that my schedule has me working often until 11:30 PM. Adopting a flexible work schedule has afforded me two huge luxuries most corporate workers miss out on:

First, I’m able to spend chunks of time away from work in the middle of the day when my toddler is most active. That means quality time with my kiddo, like this gem of a moment:

Second, I can work from anywhere in the world. I’m writing this post from my apartment for the month in Hvar, Croatia, and have spent the majority of the summer bouncing around Europe. Maintaining traditional work hours would have hurt my ability to collaborate with North American clients (who are, at a minimum, 6 hours behind me) and would have stopped me from exploring and enjoying the new cities I’m visiting.

And it’s not just the employee that enjoys the flexibility of remote workers: companies actually appreciate the flexibility, too. In fact, a recent report from Randstad shows that after the diverse skills and knowledge contingent workers bring to businesses, the next two most appreciated attributes have to do with loosening the constraints of the standard 9-to-5 worker.

But it’s not just the idea of where and when I work that has changed since making the leap to freelance. It’s also how I approach (and embrace) new opportunities.

2. an opportunity to learn something new is an opportunity to grow my business.

I’ll tell you, before I launched my writing business, you couldn’t have forced me to sit through an “Introduction to Inbound Marketing” webinar. It wasn’t my field, wasn’t an area I was particularly interested in, and therefore I had little incentive to learn about it.

Furthermore, in a corporate environment, learning new skills might benefit your career, but they also likely mean you’re taking on more work (possibly for no extra money). But as a freelancer, I look at that same webinar as an incredible opportunity to learn something new that may help my business succeed.

And that’s another big difference between my mentality as a corporate worker and how I operate today: Now, I thoroughly embrace (and actively seek out) new opportunities to learn something outside my actual job description. And that leads directly to the third shift in a freelancer’s mentality:

3. confidence makes a world of difference.

I’m sure you’ll agree that it takes confidence - in yourself, your skills, and your eye for opportunity - to launch a career as a freelancer. (After all, if it doesn’t work out, there’s no boss or colleagues to point the finger at and blame - it’s all on you.) But that confidence has a place in the corporate environment, too.

Even if you never plan to leave your corporate job, instilling a freelancer’s confidence into your career can have a lasting impact on your ability to grow your career. With that in mind, let’s explore how exactly you can bring that confidence  - and an overall freelancer mentality - into the corporate environment:

what it means to act like a freelancer in your corporate gig

There are a number of different ways you can bring a freelancer’s mindset into your day-to-day office gig. Here are two you can try now:

1. negotiate a partial work-from-home policy with your boss

One of the best ways to feel the freedom and flexibility of freelance work in a corporate environment is to actually negotiate for you to spend part of your work week outside the office.

Now, before you start booking your mid-week flights to Miami, know that successfully convincing your boss to give you the freedom of remote work might not be easy. And while there’s no guaranteed formula for how to make it happen, here are a few recommendations:

build a data-driven proposal.

Leverage data from Randstad’s “Workforce 2025” report to build a data-driven case for why your employer should embrace a partial work-from-home policy. For example: did you know that by 2025, employers believe nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce will be virtual or remote?

start with small chunks of time and then build up.

If your boss seems hesitant, start with small increments - like Friday afternoons or Monday mornings - and build up from there. Once you’ve proven yourself productive during those smaller periods, slowly ask to increase the time to your desired amount.

once approved, work your butt off.

If your boss green-lights any amount of time, make sure you do everything to prove they made the right decision. Work twice as hard and save tasks with high visibility (like responding to emails that may include your boss) for the periods you’ll be at home. 

2. treat your job like it's your own business

Corporate employees benefit from a freelancer’s mindset in a number of ways, but perhaps the most impactful is how you look at and approach your job each day. For many in an office environment, a job is just something you do to earn a paycheck. They clock in at 8:59 AM, clock out at 5:01 PM, and never give more than the necessary level of effort to stay in good standing. Of course, if a freelancer adopted that mentality, they’d be out of work in a week.

By treating your job like it’s your own small business, you uncover new opportunities to expand your career and open doors to growth. For example, let’s say you’re working as an individual contributor on a sales team. As part of your goal to adopt a freelancer’s mentality and treat your job like it’s own business, you start spending an hour each week on leadership courses online.

Who do you think leadership might recognize the next time a team lead or entry-level management role opens up on the team? The person who took the initiative to learn outside their day-to-day responsibilities, that’s who.

wrapping up

The truth is, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more you can do to bring the mindset of a freelancer into your day-to-day life.

But if you’re looking for something with an immediate impact, these two strategies can go a long way toward giving you the flexibility and independence of a freelance worker in your corporate gig.

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