Lessons From Freelancing

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I started my business in photography, copywriting and social media in 2016

...and it truly feels like a lifetime ago. In case you didn’t know, I work freelance for independent businesses around Northamptonshire and cannot believe how much my business and I have changed since I started out; learning curves don't come steeper than this, let me tell you.

Lots of you folks ask me about my experiences in freelancing and I so enjoy sharing what the realities are really like. For those of you who'd like to read more, these are my freelancing posts; there's also a free guide to deciding your hourly rate when you sign up to my email newsletter.
 

Today however, we're kicking back and talking about aaaall the lessons I've learned lately;
some were picked up from advice, but many were learnt the hard way... Let's go.

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SET YOUR BOUNDARIES

When I started out, I was sure that the hours I put in were what counted most. I had to be at my desk at 8 am, forego breaks throughout the day, and I would regularly finish well into my evenings too. Add in the weekends I'd put in when clients got in touch, and it's little wonder I found myself burning out in such a destructive way. I tried to make myself available at every hour I had and it, of course, meant that I ended up being able to work none of them.

I now ensure that clients now know exactly the days I am free and the days I am not,  and I make sure that I don't check my work phone on evenings or weekends. It makes life easier on my clients' end and on mine too, reflecting my realisation that I couldn't work creatively and efficiently while burning the candle at both ends.

 

IT'S A THOUSAND LESSONS A WEEK

I low-key enjoy looking back at pre-business owner me... There were so many facets to the world of work I had never considered, which meant coming across them during my freelance career really did feel like a thousand lessons a week. I had to understand tax returns, that expenses were a thing, how to pitch to prospective clients, how to welcome and accept feedback, that many of the struggles I was experiencing were universal... all aspects (and many, many more) that I had never dealt with in the previous roles I had worked.

Not every lesson was easy to learn; in fact, many were precisely the opposite... But I'm a big ole cheesy believer that mistakes are – sorry for this one – opportunities to grow. The advice I'd give to those considering becoming self-employed is, essentially, buckle up, and don't be afraid if it's a bumpy ride.

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FIND YOUR TEAM

One of the things I missed about being employed was being around people I got on with all day; it's amazing what something as simple as a mid-afternoon chat with a colleague – or a co-worker bringing you a cup of tea – can do for your mood. I'm a natural introvert and was used to working solo at uni, so initially I was unfazed by the change to my working environment. I now know that my obsession with flying solo ended up becoming very unhealthy, so it's been a pleasure to connect with friends who are also running creative businesses. I'm in love with my co-working space in Northampton (Co-Work Engine, for those of you who are local); it's helped me find a great community who inspire, motivate and support, with the added (major) benefit of having friends who can forward me for work opportunities too. If you're able to find a co-work space near you, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The internet is a further space to find likeminded creatives for mutual support; Instagram has led me to so many amazing women, who have become online and offline friends. It's a brilliant place to meet your team – you can find me here, if you'd like to buddy up too! (That shameless plug tho...)
 

WORK TO YOUR RHYTHM

In typical employment, most of us are used to spending our time doing the specific tasks we've been asked to do, without room to pivot and plan our own way. One of the upsides of running my own business is that I can concentrate on working effectively, rather than simply "working hard". It means that I prioritise tasks that are simplest to achieve when I need to; Monday morning planning sessions ease me into my week, and I know that Fridays aren’t the day to go all out on pitching. If I’m feeling in the zone, I’ll crack on with the jobs that I like least (expenses, I’m looking at you), but I don’t beat myself up if I need to pick the low hanging fruit too.

FINALLY: DON’T COMPARE YOUR JOURNEY TO ANYONE ELSE’S

My illness last year meant I took six months off work altogether; as well as this period, the three months prior and post-episode were naturally slower than other times. Initially I was frustrated that I’d lost so much time that could have been spent building my business… In fact, it felt like I was starting all over again. Later down the road, I’m learning that there is absolutely no point in letting the paths of others make me question my own. Instead, I look to be inspired, while recognising that I love what I have and that it’s leading me to where I am supposed to be.

Would you ever consider going freelance — and if so, what would you like to do? And if you too are a business owner, I would love to hear about the lessons you have learnt since starting out in the comments below…