Why did I start freelancing?
In December 2016, after 12 years of working in permanent, full-time marketing roles, I left my job following a redundancy process and entered the world of freelancing.
In the months leading up to this point, I had considered lots of different options. These ranged from staying with the company but moving abroad to going back to work for an agency. Out of all the opportunities available, the one that appealed the most was setting up on my own as a freelancer.
Freelancing has been a positive but scary experience. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned.
Freelancing tips picked up in the first six months:
1. Having some cash behind you helps
Let’s start with the obvious. I’d considered going freelance before but never gone through with it. Being responsible for a family and mortgage brings its own very real collection of pressures. The perceived lack of security related to a freelance career (and bringing financial ruin to my family) was the main thing that held me back.In my case, the redundancy provided me with a small security deposit to get started and pay the bills while I sorted myself out. Without it, I would have got another job and built the freelance business up on the side.
In my case, the redundancy provided me with a small security deposit to get started and pay the bills while I sorted myself out. Without it, I would have got another job and built the freelance business up on the side.The other side to this is to keep things as lean as possible in the early stages and don’t get fancy. Learning to manage my cash flow has been a key lesson in the first few months.
The other side to this is to keep things as lean as possible in the early stages and don’t get fancy. Learning to manage my cash flow has been a key lesson in the first few months.
2. Know your value and be confident to say no
Linked to the first point, these are two things which were important for me to learn. Having no urgent financial pressure gave me the confidence to say no to work which was not a good fit. It also allowed me to stick to my guns when negotiating prices for jobs. I had worked out my rates before speaking to people which helped me discuss the price for a job openly and transparently with people.
3. Be strict with your time
Cliches abound here, but I found planning my time to be the most important thing I do. In the beginning, the days drifted without the fixed structure of my previous role. This added to the discombobulating effect of the freelance culture shock I was experiencing.
Taking a few minutes in the evening to organise my time for the following day really helps. It ensures things move forward, but also to helps keep the fear at bay.
The fear, in this case is the intermittent, gut-twisted panic that you’ve made a terrible mistake/aren’t good enough/don’t know what you’re doing. To deal with it I gave my head a shake, clung to the plan and worked through the next steps.
Going through this exercise also helps you to draw the day to a close, freeing you to think about other things. Working at home can be a trap of your own making. With no home time work life easily blends to personal life. One of my goals behind going freelance was to achieve a better work-life balance. It would be ironic if I lay the foundations to make it worse and working to a plan helps to keep this in check.
4. Because you could, doesn’t mean you should
My 12 years experience has given me a wide range of skills and knowledge. At the start, I sat with a large shopping list of services I could offer to my clients. This was a list of everything I had done over the years which I thought could be relevant to clients now. I quickly realised I was setting myself up for a fall and cut it down to a few key areas.
The criteria I used were:
- Is it interesting to me?
- Do I have a sufficient level of expertise?
- Do people want it as a service?
Everything else I crossed off the list and made a note of people in my network who I can refer people to. This allows me to have a focussed product offering while being able to meet clients’ needs.
5. Your workspace/workspaces are important
Working from home with a young family is not always the best environment to get stuff done. Being able to shut myself away in a room has really helped. Although in the spirit of the first point this has been at a makeshift desk on top of my son’s cot.
Drop-in workspaces have been useful to me. Also, taking advantage of offers of spare desks in friends offices has proved invaluable. One of the benefits of being freelance is being able to work from anywhere. Choosing the workspace to match the task is something I’ve got better at as the months have gone by. A change of scenery can help get things done and get you out of a rut.
6. Know yourself
A level of self-knowledge is essential to successful freelance career. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I believe maximising your strengths while covering your weaknesses so they don’t impede you is a critical early move. A good example of this is getting an accountant in place or partnering with someone who has a complementary skill set. Think about how you best want to spend your time. Can you outsource a task where you’re weak to better focus on your strengths? Again, just because you could, doesn’t mean you should.
7. Look after your network & foster new relationships
Working for yourself can be lonely and having a network of other freelancers to chat to helps. Before working for myself, I never truly appreciated the value of the network I had built. This was a massive oversight on my part as it is this network which has helped me over the last six months. It has been the main source of business, as well as support, advice and offers of help.
Needless to say, I now pay close attention to it. I’ve made myself get out and attend different networking events. I’ve met some great people and I’ve found that repeatedly explaining what you do to others helps to firm it up in your own mind. This is especially useful in the early stages.
My advice would be; don’t go to every network event but go to enough to find out what type of event you like (I think this is different for everyone). After an event make sure you follow up with the people you’ve met and see if you can help. This is not a sales pitch but a genuine offer of help.
8. Look after yourself
If you’re not well, you’re not making money. Make time to look after your physical and mental health. Working for yourself can be stressful. I’ve found that building time into my schedule for exercise (& occasionally taking some) helps. When I’ve done some exercise, I feel better and the quality of my work is maintained for longer.
9. It’s going to be ok
As with everything I try to mitigate the downside and turn a situation into a win-win. If you ‘fail’ as a freelancer you’ll be fine. You can re-enter the world of employment with new skills and something interesting on your CV.
If you try it and don’t like it, great! Get it crossed off the list and move on to the next thing. We live in a time of opportunity.
If you have points from your own experiences I’d love to hear about them in the comments.