6 years. Wow. Before this I think my longest job had been for 18 months. I knew from day one of freelancing that self employment was my way forward, I sometimes wish I’d made the leap earlier. If I had, I probably wouldn’t be any more successful for it. I believe I’ve learned the lessons I’ve gained at the right times, and found communities as they became available. If I’d started earlier, it would have been a prolonged version of the flailing months spent getting off the ground, and quite possibly a retreat into employment. I’m glad it’s worked out the way it has, here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Always, always, go with your gut feeling. Even if that gut feeling isn’t quite shouting from the rooftops, listen to its whisper. It’s right.
2) If you ignore no.1 and make the wrong decision, find a positive to learn from it and move on. Do not hang around, especially not emotionally. Better things are always on the horizon.
3) It’s ok not to niche, but niching is better. When I started out, my only niche was my postcode. I approached businesses to work with locally and expanded outwards. It was fine, it got me off the ground, but I didn’t work on anything I was excited about until this changed. My next niche was working with other female, service-based business owners. Now, I’m moving into charity and humanitarian copywriting. Which takes me to…
4) Your niche doesn’t have to be permanent. This is one of those key ‘You’re the boss’ reminder moments. If business changes, your mood changes, something inspires you, etc, etc, there is zero pressure to carry on doing what you’re doing from anyone except yourself. Let it go and follow whatever path is drawing to you to.
5) Don’t freelance alone. When I started out, the closest thing I found to a freelance community was a local business network. It was full of men in suits with firm handshakes and badly designed business cards. You know what I did? I dressed smart and ordered business cards. I still have 99% of them. Freelance communities are plentiful now, and there’s no excuse not to find one or several that fit who you are. Never change your personal dress code.
6) Put your rates up. Yes, even you.
7) Invest in your business, when the time is right. I added the second part of that sentence because I’m not sure I’d have been comfortable enough to spend money on my business before this year, but as soon as I did I got the bug for it and worked with several other freelancers. Every one of them gave my business the lift I’d hoped for and I think I’m a totally different business on the face of it now.
8) Take time off. This is one I’m still learning. I did this brilliantly at the start of the year and funded my longest break yet, but after that I’ve skipped more breaks than I’d like to admit, Christmas included. I have some holiday plans for this year that I’m protecting with an iron shield, or a vaccine, whatever comes my way first.
9) Don’t limit yourself with your natural mindset. Yes, it’s a bit of a buzzword and I feel a bit uncomfortable writing it down, but I have done because as it turns out, it’s a gamechanger. I didn’t know what my mindset was before this year, nor had I ever given any thought to it. Since I’ve worked on figuring out what mine was though I saw the ways I’d been holding myself back. A big one was my location. It sounds so stupid I’m almost scared to admit it, but when I started out I genuinely never considered looking for work further than my home town. Now, 95% of my clients are not local, and some aren’t even based in the UK. My mindset has shifted in a few other ways too, all beneficial to my business, so it’s worth taking the time to discover what your inner truths are and challenging them.
10) Always push yourself. This is especially relevant to finances I think, especially when freelancing depends on making enough money to live off, but it can be applied to loads of areas. One of the best lessons I learned was to double your targets. Why? Because once you get close to a target, you start to relax, knowing you’re nearly there. Make it a bigger challenge and you’ll double your efforts. Even if you don’t hit those targets, you’ll be far further on than you otherwise might have been. This isn’t just about what you earn though, it’s about having business sense and imagination. If you have a challenging income target, you’ll get creative in order to reach it. As a result, you’ll learn more and have more resources up your sleeve for staying successful longer term.
I feel like I could probably write a list of 100 things I’ve learned, and the temptation to write a lot of sensible points about savings and cashflow is definitely there, but I’ve tried to keep this succinct. If you would like more tips though, or just a general chat about how to start a freelance business, just send me an email or find me on Instagram. I’m always chatting to people at the start of their journey and it’s great to pass some knowledge on where I can.
For the more experienced of you, what tips would you add? Do you think mine will vary greatly in another few years from now? Hit me up with your blasts from the future.