Two years in: Things I’ve learnt as a business owner and freelancer

Earlier this week, I celebrated two years of being in business by meeting a fellow freelancer for a coffee. (Sadly, no birthday cake was consumed, as I am calorie counting ahead of my wedding later this year.)

To mark the occasion, here are a few things that I have learnt since launching my business, in case helpful to other freelancers and those starting up in business…

1. Don’t wait to have a polished plan in order to get started

This might relate to starting up a business or working on a project – know that any plans or intentions you begin with will likely change along the way. So have a plan but don’t obsess over the detail and wait for perfection. Take the agile approach and get things moving. And know that you can refine as you go.

My business looks incredibly different now to how it did when I first set up on 1st May 2017. My service offering and the types of clients that I work with have evolved. I have found that only through doing, have I been able to refine, to build something that works better for both me and my clients. This means that my website has been rewritten several times and my marketing has changed along the way.

2. Trust your gut

Learning to go with your gut instinct is probably something that gets easier with time (and age!). You’ll get clearer on what works for you and your business and what you should probably steer clear of.

I am learning to trust my gut more and more. When it comes to working with new clients, knowing who to work with is definitely a two-way thing that’s got to be right for both me and my clients.

3. Experiment with different working environments and settings

A lot of freelancers can feel lonely when they first set up. So knowing yourself, how much interaction with other people you need and your preferred working environment itself, will have a huge impact on productivity and your wellbeing. Do you need to get a permanent space in a shared office, or could a mixture of working from home with occasional periods at co-working spaces or coffee shops work better? Experiment!

I realised early on, after going freelance, just how much of a negative impact that open-plan office working had on me. As an introvert, working in a busy environment, with constant noise and distractions was draining. Now, I prefer my cosy and quiet little office of one. I will however sometimes change up my environment to work from home, from my local library or a coffee shop.

4. Find out what makes you happy and what drives you

It is important to know yourself and why you do what you do. Why did you set up in business? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What are your values? What brings you joy and happiness? Remember these. You’ll need them on this roller coaster ride of freelance life.

For me, setting up in business was partly a lifestyle choice – to have less stress and more flexibility – but to also have the opportunity to grow something. Plus, I was jealous of my fiancé who was already self-employed! And there have been no regrets. I am happy. Oh and I really don’t miss the daily commute in to Bristol’s city centre.

A simple thing that brings me instant joy and calmness is getting outdoors and walking. Seeing green, feeling the warmth of the sunshine, looking and listening. I’ll often pop out for a walk during my working day. And what I appreciate is the freedom to take a walk, when I want to and not to be restricted to a specific time/lunch hour.

5. Don’t forget to take a break

You are your own boss, right? So why let email “own” you? You’re no longer confined to someone else’s working hours (hurray!) so take a break when you need to and feel refreshed for the next item on your to do list. You can also choose to work at the time of day when you’re at your best.

My mind is clearer for doing work, like copywriting, first thing is morning so I’ll try and do some deep work then. Every day, I aim to take a short break and if I’m having a manic day and don’t have time for a walk, I’ll at least eat my lunch away from my desk. I’ve also learnt to take holidays, when my clients and their clients take them. School holidays and December-January are often quieter so I’ll take some time out then.

6. Finding great clients takes time

Depending on what services or products you offer, the sales process can be painfully long. Be patient. Be consistent. Your efforts will more than likely pay off. Track your marketing and prospecting efforts. If you’re a fellow freelancer, you don’t need a fancy CRM system. A spreadsheet does the job well. Monitor what has worked and do more of this. Try new stuff and evaluate whether it makes more sales. And when you’ve found amazing clients, hold on to them for dear life!

Because of how I have set up my business, I only need a handful of clients (any more than this and I’d need to start outsourcing myself!)… I am fortunate to work with brilliant PR consultant and marketing consultant clients on some really interesting projects but it has taken time to build these relationships. For me, I have found that a mixture of “online” marketing (having conversations on social media) and “offline” marketing (attending business events) works well.

7. Find out what networking and business events work best for you

Try as many events as possible to figure out what your prospective clients are going to or what is going to be valuable in a different way – for example, do you want to connect with other freelancers in a supportive capacity or do you want to go to events to expand your skill-set?

Most people cringe at the word “networking” and I am one of them. I now take a different tact when it comes to events. My primary objective is to attend events to learn and my secondary objective is to have conversations – and if these happen to be with my target market, then this is a nice extra. Over the last few months, some of the events I have attended include:

  • Evaluation excellence: tools & techniques to excel at measuring your comms (CIPR)
  • Unlocking the power of social influencers (Charity Comms)
  • Gaining coverage in a digital media world (PRCA)

8. Work with a coach

Working with a coach can be an excellent investment for your business. A coach will help you work through any issues, keep you accountable and push you when you need it. Take your time to find someone who has the right level and type of experience to help you and your business. Having respect for and liking this person is a must too.

I am fortunate to have found a great coach who I meet with on a regular basis. Luan Wise has a wealth of experience in the marketing industry and offers valuable insights for my target audience, as well as growing a business itself. 

9. It’s good to talk

It is easy to think we know our clients, what they like and what drives them but have you actually asked them? Having regular chats with your clients, in addition to the usual status updates, will bring additional insights so that you can better help their businesses to grow. And it’s a win win because it will likely also help with how you position your business and may even provide some ideas for additional services that you could offer.

Through having regular phone calls with my clients, I know what is on their plate, what their immediate goals are and where they want to get to longer-term. In speaking to some of my early clients, I was able to ascertain what their motivations are – and these sometimes surprised me. For example, while there is a financial benefit to working with me and outsourcing work, often the primary benefit is actually gaining more time and headspace to service their clients.

Final note

The last two years have flown by and I’m enjoying the ride! I love working as a freelancer and I’m excited to see what happens in a year’s time and beyond. Onwards…

A smile not to be forgotten: A former work colleague and wonderful person, who left us far too young, helped me to make a big change in my life. I quit my former employed position to become my own boss. To go for it, to feel scared but to do it anyway. Simply because life is too short. I won’t ever forget her big smile and laugh ♥