Eight months after setting up my own PR and Communications business, I thought it a good time to take stock of my first forays into freelancing and provide some pointers for people looking to follow a similar path.
Needless to say, you will face unfamiliar obstacles when moving from in-house to ‘going solo’.
For me, this was learning about the pending impact of GDPR, the trappings of IR35, and the crushing tonnage of imposter syndrome that occurs after five minutes on LinkedIn.
Then there is the uncertainty on the horizon. You can prepare all you like, but know that you live with a smaller safety net than you had in-house.
In February I managed to get ill during a city break to Copenhagen. It was the worst bout of flu I have ever known, the sort that makes you know that you will never complain about the common cold again. Even my cat shunned me for a week.
Suddenly, you start to see sick days in terms of lost earnings. You worry you will be bedbound for weeks. You wonder if your clients will look to move on if you fail to reply with 24 hours.
But that same uncertainty, and heightened respect for airborne viruses, makes the victories all the more sweet.
Waiting for a proposal to become something more concrete can feel like an age, but the pay off of sealing a contract is a buzz without compare.
That is down to the sense of ownership that you will get. I have found that not only can I be myself, my clients have chosen me precisely because they want me to be myself.
There are deadlines, perhaps even more than before, but that is off-set by the creative freedom, the range of subjects, and the confidence that comes from working in a driven community of like-minded people.
Perhaps the most telling trend is my tendency to work some evenings and weekends. I never feel forced to, but actually enjoy doing so. Whisper it quietly, I like my job.
So, here are six of my top tips for happy freelancing:
Be patient – things can happen very quickly, and sometimes it can be glacially slow. Trust your plan, trust your talent.
Expect to fail - I worked on a proposal that I thought was really interesting. The people I pitched to disagreed! But that is ok, because I enjoyed the creative process and learned a lot from doing so.
Know your finances – It can feel terrifying without regular patterns to your income. Try to keep it simple, know what your quarterly targets are and, if you are nervous, it is worth getting professional guidance to help you to look after your finances and taxes. It takes a weight off your shoulders and allows you to focus on your work. Fees vary, but only you know what you are prepared to pay for that peace of mind.
Build your network organically – Some networking events are great, some less so. Many of my most fruitful conversations have come about from unusual places. Start saying yes to opportunities, follow up on events that interest you, and you will start to broaden your network more naturally.
Be honest – Be true to yourself, but also be honest with your client. With good clients, your honesty will always be rewarded. If you think something is a bad idea, tell them (nicely). You are the expert and they will thank you for your guidance. You will feel valued, and you avoid feeling frustrated that your voice is being overlooked.
Say thank you, properly – the freelance life is far from lonely. You have clients and collaborators and plenty more beside. Yes, it makes good business sense to build strong relationships, but doing what you love – and doing it for yourself – is something to be grateful for. Make sure you show that to the people who help make the dream a reality.