Being laid up with a sprained ankle has given me time to reflect on my business. I’m just about to hit the two month anniversary of my new freelancing life and boy, has it been a steep learning curve. Two months ago, I thought I knew it all. I was thinking
“I’ve financially managed million pound projects, I can sort myself out fine.”
“I’ve worked in marketing for years, I can figure out my own marketing fine.”
“I used to work in IT, I can figure out my own website fine.”
You get the drift. Two months on, I’ve learned so much about freelancing and making my own business work. I’ve also found other people’s websites have been invaluable in enabling me to feel like I’m finally in control of my own destiny. So, here are my lessons learned so far and the fantastic resources that are out there to help you get your business off the ground.
I don’t know everything
I’ve had a portfolio career. I know something about banking, local government, IT, publishing, corporate video, indie film, health, education and broadcasting. Gaining experience in all of these industries have led me to where I am today and every career-stop along the way has built my knowledge of management styles, project leadership, office politics and all round different ways of working. This does not mean I know everything about everything. I’ve invested in training and keeping up to date with industry news. We are all lifelong learners.
I used to work in IT but I don’t know everything about websites!
Creating my own website sounded easy in theory, practice was a whole other ballgame – one I stumbled in to and didn’t know all the rules to (kinda like cricket). Trying to be ethical as possible almost fell at the first hurdle when a friend pointed out that my web host could be viewed as very unethical! The process of changing completely over to an ethical and green web host has only just been completed, two months on from my initial mistake of just putting my domain name into a random domain registrar. Thankfully, I think my new web host is fabulous (and ethical, hurrah!). Lesson learned – if you register a .com, make sure it’s with who you want as you’ll be stuck with them for 60 days!
Learning WordPress was another big step in my website learning journey – now, I’m almost happy with my site but am still tweaking it quite a bit. Once my new logo is finished, I’ll be making sure my brand colours are reflected on my site. Thank goodness for the WordPress support forums and Knowledge Base (known as Codex) where you can find the answer to just about anything to do with WordPress.
Book-keeping takes on a whole new meaning when it’s your own books
I’m a naturally frugal person but I’ve learned that money can be very well spent in the right places – decent IT equipment (though that did bring me out in a cold sweat!), a good accountant that will save me money in the long run, memberships to several industry associations. However, the frugal side of me has meant a weekly check on the state of my finances and a detailed financial plan with projections – financial routines that will help me even if they feel time consuming to start with.
Carry business cards at all times
Freelancers market themselves in different ways or many ways. Some like to email prospect only, some enjoy cold calling, some have the cojones to ask people for work at any given opportunity (would you ask a fellow sauna goer for work?!). I don’t consider myself to be a hard seller but I always carry business cards with me as you never know what conversation you’ll get in to next (at parties, at the corner shop, at lunch) and what business opportunity could arise from it, either immediately or stored away for the future.
Managing my time
Time management is just as important in freelancing as it was when I was working for other people.
I now section my days as I used to do in an office environment:
• 50 to 10 – Work for my optimum thinking time of 50 minutes and then make sure I take a 10 minute break, either away from my desk or working on administrative tasks;
• Lunch breaks – working from home has meant I’ve got a natural lunchtime notification – my whiny cat! I try to take a decent lunch hour, including a homemade meal and a walk around my neighbourhood. Not sitting at a desk and eating from office vending machines has meant weight loss and a sunnier disposition!
• Different tasks in morning and afternoon – trying to do one task all day leads to zzzzzzz;
• To-do lists don’t work for my creatively minded brain – post-it notes according to subject or theme, all on the front of my ever present writing pad, do. Mind maps are my friends.
I cannot work seven days a week. I don’t mean actively working on copywriting projects; I mean checking emails, twitter, and other websites – the web connections we all get involved in on a daily basis. Freelancing should mean a better work/life balance for me. This equates to all signs of work being confined to my home office at the end of each day. As soon as I get an alarm clock, the mobile phone will also be banished to another room at the end of the workday – checking the time inevitably leads to ‘oh, I’ll just check that retweet went out okay’ which leads to ‘oh, it’s two hours later and I’ve forgotten to eat breakfast’. The goal of working four days a week and working on my novel on the fifth day is still a goal yet to happen though.
Networking is key
Freelancing networking is networking I can really enjoy – I’m meeting new people, I’m meeting potential new clients, I’m building relationships. I’ve discovered that the town I live in has got a huge number of networking opportunities for freelancers and, as is the nature of my town, none of them (so far!) are competitive in nature. Other freelancers have welcomed me into their community and I’m deeply grateful for this kindness.
Take social media seriously
I now have a Facebook company page that is separate from my private profile. I have a ‘business’ twitter account which has been great for relationship building and a ‘personal’ twitter account where I mostly follow handsome country rock singers, film stars and S.E. Hinton! Twitter has become my daily conversation maker and Buffer has helped me time my tweets and retweets. I didn’t get along with Tweetdeck and I’m about to opt out of Klout completely. Meanwhile, my Facebook company page is a prompt to my blog posts and I’m starting to use it for research, through the Questions option. Finally, LinkedIn is proving a fantastic business tool, making meaningful connections through Group discussions.
(Haven’t quite got the hang of Google+ yet, I’ll get there!)
Google is my friend, though I wouldn’t necessarily invite them to dinner
Analytics for keeping an eye on my website statistics, Adwords for making sure my website hits great keywords, Reader for keeping me up to date on all of the websites below, Docs for, well, docs and Calendar as it syncs with my phone and keeps me on top of my life.
I am a valuable commodity
It takes time to be able to say, with confidence, “I can do y and z for you and it will cost x amount”. I am a business and I have to value my time and work accordingly. Just because I now work for myself, doesn’t mean I work for free!
Some great freelancing and writing resources
All of these websites have been useful in my first couple of months as a freelance copywriter. I’m always interested in new recommendations so let me know if I’m missing a fabulous freelancing or copywriting site that is an absolute must read for you.
31 days to start freelancing
I didn’t quite follow the timescale set out but this list made sure I didn’t forget anything on my way.
Organiser of terrific freelancer parties and great freelancer advice
Freelancer inspiration and forums
How to make a living writing
Carol’s tips have been very helpful as I start to blog more.
Everything social media, tech and small business.
I’m already thinking of way more than ten lessons I’ve learned from starting as a freelancer, including not to get caught up in the latest trends and keep my feet firmly on the ground as well as keeping things simple – not everything has to be explained by white hat, vertical responding or SEO. There’s also the great lesson of don’t be afraid to ask for help from other freelancers.
Did you have a learning curve when you first started freelancing or has it all been plain sailing? Let me know your top lessons learned and we can all gain from our experiences.
Photo credits: 50s clock by geishaboy500, ladies chatting by visualthinker