In 2019, I took a casual freelance side hustle and transformed it into a full time role. I invested in a good quality computer, bought myself a great desk chair, designed and printed my very own business cards and even set up a business bank account to help me keep track of my finances. I began making endless spreadsheets of expenses, invoices, tax deadlines and VAT. I sat for hours and hours in the middle of the summer heatwave building this very website, sweating over the keyboard until late into the night. I grew as a person and as a business woman and whilst I am so proud of where my career has gone, I still learnt some incredible lessons in 2019. So in my very first post of 2020, I wanted to share some of those lessons, to see if they can help anyone else who is considering heading down the freelance path.
Lesson 1: It pays to be organised
From the moment you wake up in the morning to your final cup of tea before bed, a good freelancer must be organised. As a one-woman band, you and you alone are responsible for every aspect of business. For some people, myself included, this means having multiple calendars and diaries to help me keep track of my schedule, setting appointment reminders on my phone and organising endless Trello boards to help me stay focussed. For others, this means having folders and files scattered around their desk, apps to help them manage their finances and daily mantras to stay on top of their paperwork. Everyone works differently, but every freelancer must stay organised to stay afloat. There’s so much to remember, both from a client-facing perspective and from an administrative insight. You have deadlines to meet, emails to respond to, meetings to attend, check ups and catch ups coming out of your ears. You’ve got to draw up contracts, make invoice templates and check in on your Self Assessement account every month to check if your tax is due yet. Staying organised as a freelancer really does help you to stay focused, professional and calm when dealing with the everyday stresses of the job. Even if you end up surrounded by to-do lists at the end of the day, as long as you’re on top of your workload — you’re doing ok.
Lesson 2: You have to be hard sometimes.
With self-employed influencers clogging up our Instagram feeds with shots of their busy schedules, coffee dates and colour-coordinated diaries, it can feel like you’re the only freelancer in the world who might be struggling. But the truth is, sometimes being a freelancer is really tough. Whether it means recieving negative feedback on a project you’ve poured your heart into, having a client end their contract with you or even being told that your work simply isn’t good enough, you have to have a hard outer shell to cope with these lows. It takes practice and strength and a lot of self-confidence to handle brutal feedback in a calm and collected way and it’s never ever going to be nice to hear. But over time, it does get easier. You can go from crying into your keyboard at the slightest blunt email to brushing off a criticism with a quick cup of coffee over lunch. Not all clients will be nice and not all of your work will be perfect. As soon as you can accept these lessons, your life will get a whole lot easier.
Lesson 3: Empathy is your biggest business strength.
When you work for a client, it can be easy to forget exactly who that person is and what they really want from you. In my line of work, I tend to meet with small business owners, who struggle to understand digital marketing, and just want to know how to make their business known. After three weeks of rejected content ideas and struck off blog posts and frustrated email chains, however, it can feel like they’re simply there to make your life harder. This is where empathy will become your biggest asset and it really does help to take a step back and see it from their perspective. They know their industry inside out. They loved their industry so much that they decided to start their own business within it. They’re doing all they can, investing their hard earned money into someone else to reach the audiences they’ve spent so long cultivating. You can understand why they care so much about getting it right. Obviously, empathy does also work both ways and hopeful the clients will also understand your perspective too. But regardless, it really does benefit you to step into someone elses shoes for a change.
Lesson 4: It’s ok to feel left out
For the larger part of this year, I spent my days feeling lonely, isolated, conflicted and low. I had gone from a busy working environment to the silence of my flat, with no one to talk to besides my friends online. I would be desperate for my boyfriend to get home from work just to have a real human interaction for the first time in 8 hours and I was struggling to stay focused because of it. Every day when he left for work, I would feel like a failure because I wasn’t going too. I hadn’t chosen the traditional path, I wasn’t going to be sitting in an office every day and I probably wouldn’t be earning as much as he did that day. It played on my mind and made me question if I’d made the right decision. I liked the work and my flat, but had I made a mistake by forgoeing the common workplace? This year, I learned the hard lesson that it’s ok to feel like this. There are ways to feel less lonely and less isolated when working from home and it’s always going to take a while to adjust to working alone. Other peoples jobs and workplaces aren’t better than yours, they’re just different. Plus, it’s important to remember that there are so many people in those very offices who would much rather be working in your position instead. The grass isn’t always greener, and it’s good to remind yourself of these lessons sometimes.
Lesson 5: Take advantage of your freedom
Coming from a 9–5 office background, for the first few months of freelance work I simply stuck to the same routine I had always known. Up at 9, work until 1, then lunch, then more work, then at 5 it’s time to switch off the computer and relax. But as time went on, I was finding that having so much time dedicated to working meant that I was procrastinating more and focusing less. Rather than working at the times I felt the most pro-active, I was scheduling my day around an invisible timetable that didn’t really make any sense. I’ve always been an early riser and I love working through the sunrise — it makes me feel creative, inspired and peaceful. But at 3pm, I tend to crash and need some time away from the screen to work on crafts or art projects instead. The biggest advantage of working for yourself is that you get to make your own decisions. You set your own hours and you work to your own schedule. Use this time to get the best out of yourself and find the routine that works for you — ignoring whatever your old boss would have told you to do.
Freelancing is both a fantastic career move and a scary one, and I understand that it won’t be for everyone. There are always going to be lessons to learn, experiences to have, highs and lows, and so many challenges to face as you go, but if you can turn each and every one of them into a series of teaching opportunities for yourself, you’ll be so much better for it.