Patience: The Creative Freelancer's Virtue

Patience may be a virtue, but it's one that is sorely tested by freelancing. If you've recently made the move from the corporate realm into the world of solopreneurship, you've likely discovered a huge difference in the pace of the work. (In fact, you may have made the leap in order to escape that corporate rush.)

Working within a large company, particularly one with ever-shifting business initiatives and constantly expanding workloads, the pace is frenetic. Emails fly, new projects fall in your lap and requests to "drop what you're doing and focus on this instead" come frequently. And generally, everyone within the organization – or at least everyone on the creative team – moves at that same rapid clip.

Then you move to an independent role, and you're on the outskirts of that busyness. Whether you're cultivating a client relationship, working on a project or simply staying in touch with a prospect, you find your contacts don't respond to you as quickly as you'd like because they're occupied by putting out internal fires. And that can be frustrating.

That's where patience comes in. Here are some tips on keeping calm when you're anxious to pursue new business or communicate with a client about a project:

Put yourself in their shoes. If you've worked for an organization, you know how busy people are – especially now, when companies are operating lean (a boon to freelancers, by the way). Resist the urge to think, "Well, they just aren't interested" or "I guess they hate it" if you don't get an immediate reply to a prospecting follow-up or project update.

Acknowledge your impatience. The freelance workload tends to ebb and flow, and our impatience rises when we're less busy and eager (maybe a little desperate) to land new business. Recognize that, while a response from your prospect about beginning a new project is a high priority for you, it may not be for him or her.

Perfect the follow-up. Marketing experts say it takes at least three "touches," or communications with a prospect, before the person will decide to buy. When you're promoting your creative freelance business, understand that it often takes months for a new client relationship to develop. Consider implementing a contact-management system so you can plot out when and how to stay in touch with prospects. Look for opportunities to stay in touch. Try, "I've just returned from a conference with a ton of great ideas, and I'd love to talk with you about starting the project we discussed."

If you have to nag, do it artfully. Try, "I hate to bother you again, but …" or "At the risk of being a bit of a nag…"

Know when to move on. Recently, I encountered one of those projects that just didn't want to end. What was supposed to be a quick-turn, one-month assignment stretched out over three months. And while I'd delivered most of the work I'd contracted for, there were a few loose ends still hanging and I was eager to submit my final invoice. I proposed this to my client: "Why don't I invoice you for all but $XXX, which we'll set aside to cover the few last tidbits you may need from me. And if you find you don't need those items, then we're all square." She was happy with the arrangement, and I was glad to move the project from "active" to "completed." 

Have you encountered situations as a freelancer that have tested your patience? Please share what you learned in the comments section.