The great thing about working for yourself is that everything is up to you. The bad news is… everything is up to you. Who you work with, how much you feel your work is worth and how you treat other people.
There’s tons of advice out there on things such as ‘beating isolation when working from home’ or ‘getting on top of your finances’. Both a lot easier than coaches or consultants would want you to believe. When I went freelance one year ago, it was the uncomfortable stuff no one wanted to talk about I found trickier to understand.
To help you make decisions confidently, I’ve put together some advice on awkward truths that’ll make weird situations a total breeze to deal with. Whatever stage of freelance life you’re at.
Ethics are everything
As freelancers, we’re free to run our businesses however we’d like. Unfortunately you’ll find out pretty quickly – some people take that more literally than others.
It may feel like a super-sassy #GirlBoss move to download the email list of that agency you’re freelancing for. Or perhaps that cool brand your friend has a meeting with would like to know that your price list is cheaper? And interning for that interior designer means surely it’s okay to pitch their clients your marketing services? Nope, nope and nope.
When you don’t have the security of full time employment, your reputation can make or break you. So as I embarked on my freelance career, I prioritised long term growth over short term gain – instead of doing the dodgy stuff to make a quick buck.
And after coming across people that seemed to think bolshy means brave, I recommend avoiding pulling lame Wolf Of Wall Street style business moves and instead, practice being a part of the kindness economy.
Essentially… don’t ‘steal’ clients. Don’t break GDPR rules. And don’t work for someone else if you can’t show discretion and be honest about your intentions. There’s enough work out there for everyone, so make sure your brand values reflect that.
Put yourself first
It’s important to be tactful, discreet and open – but don’t be a doormat. Especially, when it comes to seizing opportunities. As women we’re often conditioned to be smaller and nicer and more selfless. This is known as imposter syndrome, which can be a huge career killer…
Early on in my freelance career, I was interviewed for a contract with the same brand a friend was keen to work with. It was a rude awakening on how business can become personal when you’re a one person band.
Rather than spend the meeting discussing the content strategy I’d outlined, I weirdly spent most of my time trying to convince the brand to work with me and my friend. This was purely motivated by awkwardness and guilt and totally unprofessional of me.
The brand owner stopped me and said: “Abi, we want to work with you. It’s not about what your friend wants, it’s about what you want.” Life changing advice, am I right?!
So now, what do I do when I see a brand who isn’t being served by their current service provider, spot a spelling mistake in a friend’s blog post or see an opportunity to upsell to a client? You’d better believe I do something about it, rather than worry about how ‘nice’ I seem. Respectfully and ethically, of course.
And in case you’re wondering? The friendship didn’t work out. I guess that proves the point that people who can’t be pleased for you (even when it’s hard) aren’t real friends.
You’re only as strong as your network
After developing my brand values and realising that personal friendships and business don’t always mix, I started my quest to forge genuine connections. It was less about getting out of the house and more about developing inspiring, useful relationships with different types of people.
Put off by stale and corporate networking events (and in line with my Big Introvert Energy) I started to ask people I admired out for coffee, one on one. This was not only great ‘practice’ for pitching to clients but it also allowed me to get to know fellow business owners on a deeper level.
Once I’d met up with a few people I connected with (and a few I didn’t) we decided to create our own informal co-working group. This has been a lovely and affirming experience, that has not only benefited me professionally but enriched my life personally too.
Bolstered by support from my new ‘squad’ I then felt more confident to attend some non-traditional networking events such as the Mama Meet and Market events and the Flock and Form events. Perfect for when you need a little TLC as well as handy contacts.
Old methods won’t bear new fruit
Feeling confident due to my new friendships, it was then time to turn my attention to…myself.
Chatting to fellow freelancers made me realise we’d all entered this new world with some emotional baggage. From tales of workplace harassment and maternity discrimination to the lovely mix of gaslighting and unprofessionalism I’d personally experienced, it’s clear that office life has negatively affected most of the people I know. Yikes.
Therefore the next awkward lesson I learned was… Let. That. Sh*t. Go. To truly thrive in freelance life, you need to find a way to process your previous experiences that enables you to move on. Whether that means weekly therapy sessions, journaling or sniggering at your previous workplace’s social media posts (okay, maybe don’t do that).
One of the best coping mechanisms I’ve developed is a positive, ‘can-do’ mindset. Instead of constantly moaning about my old workplace, I’ve made the conscious choice to learn from what happened there so that none of their methods or approaches creep into my business (for example, I was told by my old boss to ‘flirt’ with clients. Yep, really).
And after chatting with a friend about mentors, I now love the concept of learning from your ‘anti-mentors’ too. Don’t let a clueless boss or horrible manager from years ago impede your judgement today. Instead, ask yourself: “What can I do differently to them?”.
Embrace the unexpected
Shaking off the past, I was then able to look to the future. It was then I learned my last awkward lesson – going with the flow.
Once you’ve acknowledged that you will lose clients, have clients that won’t pay, earn more one month and less the next and won’t ever work a ‘normal’ day again… you’ll learn to fully embrace (and love) this way of life.
Understanding the fluidity of this lifestyle has been the one thing that always enables me to be kind to myself. So what if you decide to take on part-time work alongside your freelance work? Or switch up your service offering to increase your turnover? Freelance equals freedom and we wouldn’t have it any other way, right?