It’s now been two and a half years since I set up my copywriting business and officially began working for myself. And while the whole ‘freelancing’ gig is sold as the dream with all copper desk trinkets, motivational quote-adorned notebooks and the free time to work on upping your Instagram game, I’m loathe to agree with that for the most part.
As a business owner, freelance writer and hobbyist blogger, I’ve learned some tough lessons in the last 18 months that I’d love to share with you today, especially as recently my most frequently asked question is ‘how can I go freelance and successfully make a living?’ and ‘what are some of your tips if I were to go freelance?’. From the highs to the lows and all that’s in between, let me share a handful of what I know thus far…
1. Be careful of what you share.
Top of my list is to be careful of what you share.
Of course this comes from a privacy perspective, but also to protect your business model. You might think that somebody stealing your business model goes completely against ‘becoming your own boss’ but I could tell you otherwise! I’m very wary of divulging too much about what I do and how I do so, or even sharing behind-the-scenes photos, simply because I’ve experienced first-hand what it’s like for somebody to borrow my biz model, packages, pricing and even client names and set up their own business.
Imitation is the best sort of flattery… until it means your clients are being poached without them knowing.
2. Keep a realistic grasp of your finances.
You know that whole ‘treat yourself’ mentality, where you endlessly pop things on your debit card all weekend and don’t check your bank balance until payday? I highly recommend you don’t do that.
While I felt like I was sensible with my finances, it wasn’t until I ran my year-end accounts that I realised there were SO many times that I could have cut corners in order to turn a higher profit. I really recommend joining something like Crunch Chorus or hiring Julia from Easy As VAT so you can get to grips with not only the jargon, but how to manage your finances as a small business owner. Depending on whether you’re setup as a sole trader or a limited company, you’ll need to budget in saving some of your income for paying income tax in January. You should also sit down and calculate your ideal fees on the basis of what you’re hoping to earn annually. There’s a brilliant step-by-step guide to this in The Working Woman’s Handbook by Phoebe Lovatt, which I totally swear by!
3. Yes, you have to do everything.
4. No, you don’t have to do everything.
In the same vein, also remember that you don’t have to do everything. While I’m in charge of admin, bookings, marketing, The Work, and networking, I outsource my accounts to my brother who is, handily, a qualified accountant. OK, so that doesn’t alleviate my working week much, but it’s good to remember that help is always available should you want it.
5. You’ll never change the world by trying to be like it.
Lastly, I’ve learned that in order to really grow your business, you have to ensure your offering is unique. It’s a total cliche, but having a niche will change the game. For absolutely months, I simply did what I used to do in-house without changing the formula. I’d sit at my desk, begin with 30 minutes of email catch-up, check in with my client(s) to see what needed to be done, write, edit and file the copy, and then move on to smaller tasks. And while it allowed me to survive, I didn’t truly thrive and elevate my business until I decided to take charge, target small businesses that I was genuinely passionate about, and create a bespoke offering for my incredible portfolio of clients.