5 Things That Keep Freelancers up at Night


How one freelancer manages stress, scheduling, and a work-life balance behind the camera

Natalie Tromburg is a freelance photographer and a TSheets Customer Support extraordinaire who someday wants to practice photography full time. Tromburg learned photography from her dad, who used their laundry-room-turned-dark-room to teach her how to develop photos using film. Tromburg’s love for landscapes and portraits grew with the rise of digital photography, and upon graduating college with a degree in business management, she decided to make her hobby a part-time job. She started taking photos of family and friends and began to love the art even more.

But even with her evolving passion, natural aptitude, and the academic knowledge to get off the ground, Tromburg still felt like starting her photography business was a leap of faith. She said she found herself looking to other entrepreneurs for inspiration.

“It was both motivating and also a little intimidating because there is so much competition out there for photography, especially in [Boise],” Tromburg explained.

She realized that in order to make her photography business a success, she’d need a lot more than a camera and a website. It’s going to take skill, a niche, and a unique offering. She’ll admit she doesn’t have all the answers yet, but Tromburg is hopeful her photography business will grow and develop over time. “That’s what I’m still working on,” she said.

There are plenty of challenges that come with starting a freelance project of any kind, and Tromburg says her work is often dependent on the season and typically varies greatly. In general, though, she says she works on her photography about 10 hours per week. Beyond that, her challenges are pretty typical for the majority of the self-employed workforce and include work-life balance, sleep, and stress.

In fact, TSheets latest “unproductivity” study found that 1 in 5 workers doesn’t get enough sleep, and 80 percent report insomnia.* The study also revealed data about common problems for the typical worker, like pay and quality of life outside of work, which are similar to the five challenges Tromburg’s photography business faces.


1. Creating a defined schedule

“The funny thing is,” Tromburg explained, “I think I heard someone say once that if you’re a freelancer, you have the worst boss — yourself.” She’s found this to be particularly true in areas like creating a defined, effective schedule for herself and staying disciplined about practicing her art. It takes a ton of organization, and without the right tools, projects, and pay, it can be difficult for Tromburg to motivate herself to give it her all.


2. Prioritizing tasks

“I’m not super good at prioritizing,” admitted Troburg. She says setting deadlines for herself and sticking to them can sometimes be a challenge. “I feel like, especially if it’s something you’re doing in addition to your full-time job, you’re trying to squeeze in time to do different things you work on, so there might not be consistency or continuity in your work.”


3. Balancing family and work

Of course, another challenge of working two jobs is trying to strike a healthy balance between work and relaxation. “It’s hard with your own business,” said Tromburg, “because your work is never done, and there’s always more to do … I kind of feel guilty if I am technically done with my workday at my day job, but I want to spend time with my family or do something fun.”


4. Anticipating the next project

When she thinks about her photography business, Tromburg said another major stressor is simply anticipation for the next project. “If I know I have [a shoot] coming up, the anticipation of ‘I don’t know how this is going to go’ might impact my sleep a little bit. After the fact, it is what it is, and there’s not a lot you can do.”

Tromburg admits that she worries a lot about maintaining focus at a shoot, especially if there are kids who require a lot of attention. It’s easy, she said, to worry so much about getting a young subject to smile or look at the camera that she might miss the fact that dad’s looked away or someone has started crying.


5. Wearing all the hats

Tromburg said her business requires her to be familiar with many different roles. “I have so many different hats to wear, and I carry different roles in the management of the business,” she said, noting that even if she’s not super familiar or proficient in every role, she does what she can.

For example, if marketing is not her strong suit, she might become less productive in other areas as she tries to juggle the roles of several people herself. But even if she’s not a Jill-of-all-trades, she gets the work done, even if it means losing some sleep over it.


Managing stress and sleep when you work for yourself

It’s no shocker that stress affects sleep, and sleep affects stress. Our unproductivity survey found that 3 out of 5 workers say they can sometimes function at their best without a good night’s sleep, but 25 percent of those who said they never sleep well also never function at their best. They also said they’re more likely to get distracted by their co-workers, noise, and meetings.

When it comes to freelance work, Tromburg says sleep definitely contributes to her stress levels. “I think if you’re tired, you are less able to focus, and you’re slower to get things done. Being tired can make you less productive because you get distracted easily and your brain wanders,” she said.

So how do you deal with the stress of starting your own photography business? Tromburg says it’s about focusing on what you love about your work and seeking help in the areas you’re less skilled in.

“The business side can be stressful, but when I’m actually doing a shoot or editing photos, I actually really enjoy doing it,” she said. “So when I’m able to set aside time to focus on those activities, it makes everything else worth it.”

Right now, Tromburg says going full time with her photography businesses is the ultimate, long-term goal she’s still trying to navigate. Two of her short-term goals are to better prioritize tasks and focus on a niche audience, like family and high school senior portraits, rather than simply staying afloat.

Tromburg’s words of advice for aspiring freelance photogs? “When you’re doing something you love as a business, allow yourself the time to just enjoy it and focus on that.”


*Methodology: TSheets commissioned Pollfish to survey 500 anonymous employees (age 18+) from businesses throughout the US, asking them about their productivity habits and common distractions. TSheets designed and paid for the survey, and welcomes the re-use of this data under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium provided the original source is cited with attribution to “TSheets.”