I have been working as a freelancer now for the past 2 years, I often get asked if it’s easy and what it is like to be self-employed so I thought I would tell my story.
I love my freelance life and I couldn’t be happier that I made the decision to go it alone, but it hasn’t been easy and there are definitely pros and cons to both kinds of lifestyle, whether you succeed in one or the other I think comes down to what you want to achieve and what kind of person you are.
I’ve always been a very self-motivated person and found in my first ‘corporate’ job that my commitment and dedication to my career were not being rewarded adequately or quickly enough. I stayed late and worked extra hours and was very involved in the corporate mission for greatness, but for me the time frame on offer in this environment just didn’t cut it. I saw no direct reward for the extra effort I was putting in and being told I would be up for a pay review in 6-9 months didn’t motivate me to stay. For some people I understand that the security of a regularly paid job, coupled with the more standard career route of rising through the ranks is a dream come true, but it turns out I wanted something different.
I don’t think I fully appreciated that I actually wanted to work for myself until I quit my job and went for it. I’ve never been as scared as I was when I made the decision to quit. I had worked my whole life to land that corporate city job… nearly 20 years in education! So you can imagine my despair when I realized a year or so in that I was not as happy as I had envisaged being.
After a week of difficult conversations with family and friends I quit. I had some savings behind me, and the intention of finding a more rewarding and higher paid role. I spent a few weeks enjoying my newfound freedom and the city but naturally got a little bored, so I started helping some friends with various projects, while interviewing for full time roles.
A month or so after quitting I was involved in several freelance projects and actually being paid for most of them! I decided that I would push back finding another full time job and see how I could get on with self-employment. I had accidentally become a freelancer.
Over the first few months I taught myself a lot of new skills, while doing projects at the same time. I spent hours networking, learning and building my personal brand and I’ve never been happier.
Finding work can sometimes be difficult but you have to have a balance between the work that you are doing for others and the time you spend on your own business development. At least one working day a week should be spent on building relationships and sourcing new work to make sure that you don’t end up finishing a project with no new work in site.
One of the biggest perks of the job for me is that I can carry on learning while I am earning. I put a lot of my cash back into my education, as a business would with its employee training. This is another really important thing to remember to make sure you stay ahead of the curve in your industry.
It is also important to get into a good work/life balance routine, it can be very easy to work all hours of the day, especially as you see more and more money coming in, but taking a break will mean you perform better and ultimately will get more work in the long term. It took me a while to figure this one out but now I work normal working hours, just from the comfort of my own home.
I can get up slowly, exercise, have a healthy breakfast and watch the news. I don’t have to fight with angry commuters and so I save about 2 hours a day of travel time (which I use for personal development). And the best thing…? I can work anywhere in the world! Right now I am writing this post from an airplane on the way to Miami. So long as I keep in touch with clients and the work gets done, they don’t care where I am.
So now you know my story, here some top tips for becoming a top notch freelancer and kicking ass at life:
- Learn how to sell yourself… Don’t give your work away for free. Friends and clients will always ask for favors but know your day rate and stick to it. If you don’t value your work, others won’t either.
- Know what your time is worth. Here’s the simple math that all freelancer’s use when they are offered a job: first decide on your hourly rate (it might be £20 for someone starting out, £100 or more for someone more established). Then divide the payment offered by how many hours you think the job will take. If it doesn’t match or exceed your minimum rate, consider taking a pass.
- Find the right workspace. If you have the perfect home office, then problem solved. If not, consider a table in a library (if you crave quiet) or a perch in a favorite coffee bar (if you need people around). A co-working office space like those offered by WeWork is the best of both worlds: a professional environment filled with other creative people who are just as passionate about their work as you are. Personally I love sitting in Starbucks ☺
- Be an expert in something. Sure, you can be a jack-of-all-trades, but the best way to break into freelancing is to impress clients with your knowledge of a particular subject. If marketing is your bag, consider which elements you prefer i.e. PR / Social Media etc. and pick a specialism, niche is easier to sell.
- Be pleasant to work with. Almost as important as taking deadlines seriously. Freelancers who get hired again and again are the ones who make a clients life easier.
- Work your network. It is who you know that matters, or more importantly, who knows you! So get out there and get connecting.
- Know, and USE social media. Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LINKEDIN —any social media platforms, really—to get the word out about work you’ve completed. It doesn’t just get the word out about that one piece, it helps promote you as a freelancer and might help get you future jobs.
- Keep on top of business admin. Record your projects and deadlines. Include when you sent your invoice, for how much, and when you were paid. You’ll thank me for this one later.