I warn you now, this is a long post but, hopefully, one that will resonate with some people.
I’ve not ‘made it’ yet. I’m not the ultimate freelance copywriter – there are others out there – but I have learnt quite a bit since I’ve been working as That Writing Chap (and from copywriting prior to that).
Freelancing can be hard. It’s an odd and often lonely world, working for yourself, but here are a few things that I’d like to share with anyone thinking of ‘taking the plunge’ or who’s just set off on their solo journey:
1. Get up early. If you freelance, it’s really easy to let waking up at 8am, creep to 9am, then to 10am. Try to avoid this.
Yes, you can work any hours, but you’ll feel better for getting up early. 7.30 is fine, that’s still before what would be ‘the working day’ if you were in an office job.
2. Get some exercise in, each day, early on (if so, get up a bit earlier). It’ll clear your mind, maybe even open up some ideas, and it offsets the fact that you may be sedentary, sat at your desk for the rest of the day.
3. Set the working pattern that best suits you/your circumstances: find out when you get your very best work done (for example, I now know that I work particularly well between 5pm – midnight). You are not working any less hard by not keeping to ‘normal hours’, and clients don’t care at what times you did the work – just that it’s delivered to the deadline you promised, is within budget, and is exactly what they asked for.
4. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for payment: you’re offering a service, you’ve worked hard for that money, you’ve spent a lot of time on the project – you’re not requesting payment for nothing in return.
Not only that, but a client is paying for your expertise; the training you went through to make you good at what you do, the extra research you added on to that, the mistakes you’ve made to become much better for each piece of work you take on, all of the creative references you’ve spent time collating to know more about what you do than the average person on the street or A.N Other person on ‘Fiver.com’ – value what you do.
5. Know that going freelance is no ‘easy option’. If you’re going to do it properly, you’ll have to work long hours and work hard to build a reputation, build trust, and find clients: there are a million and one freelancers out there – why should someone trust you in particular?
Also, you are not within the comfort of a company now: you are the planner, the account handler, the new business department, the client retention department, the finance department/debt chaser, the marketing officer… everything is down to you. Be prepared to juggle ‘hats’.
In addition, you have to consider tax, paying for your own pension, paying for any medical insurance, gym etc… out of your own pocket, not as part of company ‘perks’.
6. Have a strategy/business plan – even a loose one: how will you grow? What type of clients do you want (both size of client and industry)? How much do you need to make, each month to a) survive b) grow? What are your outgoings? Are they all necessary? Would you take on an extra person at some point? Where will you be in five years time?
7. Develop a thick skin: no matter how hard you work, how many hours you put in etc, some people will always doubt you. Some will believe – no matter what you say or do – that you simply sit around all day in your PJs, watching Jeremy Kyle, getting very little done. This is very hard to take, particularly when you know that you’re working your b*ll*cks off.
You almost want to have a camera on you all day, to film what you do and send it to those that doubt you.
You just have to develop a thick skin and get over this. You cannot worry about all the views and negativity of others – it will simply impede your thinking and slow your work down.
8. Criticism of work: don’t take it personally (as long as it’s constructive) – I welcome criticism. I want to know what I haven’t quite got right, why, and how to rectify it.
I don’t need the praise (well, maybe when the piece of work is complete …). What’s the point in praising what’s already right? I’m already doing those bits well, without thinking about it – don’t make me consciously aware of those bits!
9. Learn to accept responsibility, and say sorry where necessary, and rectify things. No-one is faultless. Mistakes happen and – if they’re clearly your fault – show a little humility, apologise, and sort it out. You’ll be respected a lot more for doing this… but don’t be a patsy – be prepared to defend your work too, particularly if you’re being labelled with the errors of others.
10. Try to spend time around other humans, even if what you do is very solitary. Plan seeing friends into your week, go to co-working spaces… we all need human company, and you can go a little funny in the head without it. Human contact frees up your mind a little, gives you new ideas, and – well – it’s just nice to see friends.
11. Equally, go out and see things – a play, a film, an exhibition… anything to feed your mind. Again, you’ll come back with fresh ideas that came from outside a 13-inch screen, and you’ll feel much better for it.
12. Network – get your name out there. Get known. I started networking a year ago, just to ‘see what happened’. It was supposed to simply be a ‘bolt on’ to what I was already doing. However, it’s been really helpful in finding work, finding collaborators, passing work on to others, and even making friends, and (referring back to previous point) seeing other humans.
13. Give talks, blog, go to business shows. Anyone can say they’re an expert in something: show that you’re an expert – get out there and talk about aspects of your work that show you ‘know your stuff’ and leave your audience with useful snippets of information, and maybe, just maybe, a reason to come to you in future.
14. Celebrate your victories. If you’re having a good day or a good week, then bloody shout about it, pat yourself on the back, have a drink! There’ll be bad times as well as good, so make the most of the good times. Not only that, but the good times don’t come along by accident. People don’t just randomly pick up the phone to you and say ‘let’s work together’: good times come along as a result of the hard work that preceded them. Bask in the glory of these moments while you can.
15. But…. plan for lean times, during the good times. Remember: you do not have a constant PAYE monthly income. Some months will be phenomenal, some less so i.e August. Plan ahead to cover for this.
16. Do what you do for the love of it as much as for the money. To my mind, as soon as it becomes more about the money than enjoying what you do, then – to be frank – you’re f*cked.
17. Enjoy your work and have fun. It’s hard work, going solo. You’ll get told ‘you’re mad’, that what you’re doing ‘isn’t very secure’ (which it isn’t, at times), that maybe you should just ‘join the real world’. You’ll have tough times with little income, and it’ll be hard getting people to know you – your ‘brand’ – from scratch… but the journey (twee, I know) is so much fun.
Every success, every recognition of what you do, every new client will come from your own hard work, and your own hard work alone… and that’s a great feeling.