It has been just over a year since I hung up my 9-5 hat (such that it was) and gave the crazy world of Freelancing a go. It has been a wonderful and rewarding experience and I don’t regret it for a minute. However, one year on, I am starting to reflect on what my big learnings have been – the things I wish I’d known before I started (although truly, I think I’d been told a few of them – but there’s nothing like experiencing it first hand to bring the point home!). So to celebrate one year on, I thought I’d share a few of them with you.
1. Working by yourself is lonely
Having worked most of the last 8 years in an office of 70 + people the switch to sitting alone in the house all day was a bigger change than I expected. This was always one of the first things people asked me when I told them I was planning on going out on my own. “ppfft!”, I’d say, “I’m introverted, I think I’m quite going to like it”.
And I do. I’m extraordinarily more productive when left to my own devices. It takes me half the time to get through things when there is no one around to distract me (although, in fairness I was much more often the ‘distractor’ than ‘distractee’ when I worked in an office). But at the same time, I also began to crave human interaction. Twitter and emails helped to some extent, but soon I became a bit hard to live with. As soon as my Husband got home from work I’d be there, ‘How was your day?’, ‘What happened?’, ‘Who’dya see?’, ‘What did they say?’. Similarly, whenever I went to visit colleagues in their offices, I found it very hard to leave (‘Oh, I’ll just pop over and say hi to so & so’). I became a bit clingy – not a good look for an independent freelancer.
I began to realise the importance of building my network – other freelancers, colleagues, clients – and going out and making contact with these people. My involvement with AMSRS also helped – both in meeting new, great people but also in keeping me connected with the outside world. It’s a network of friends and support I’m still building – but I’m certainly becoming a little easier to have around.
2. Balancing work and personal lives
Oh the freedom! For the first time in my working life, I was in control. It was OK to have a sleep in if I had groups late the night before. If I needed to go to the post office, or the bank – I could avoid the lunch hour (which, believe me, makes the whole process much more enjoyable). No longer was I a slave to my working life. Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest benefits of working as a freelancer – but lately I’ve come to realise that this comes with a little give and take.
You often hear people who’ve given up work say ‘I don’t know how I ever found the time to work – I’m so busy’ and this can also be the case when freelancing. You have all this new-found flexibility to get those annoying life things done during work hours – but it is important to remember you need to get work things done in work hours! This is another one that I think you have to learn the hard way – It’s not until you let your personal responsibilities get in the road of your work ones do you realise the trap you’ve fallen into. I now know that in certain situations work must come first – but I’m still thankful for the flexibility that allows me to juggle the shifting priorities a little more evenly than I did before.
3. Your learning and development become your own responsibility
I think there is a real danger in becoming stagnant when you go out on your own. You get set in your ways, and ‘your ways’ have got you this far – so that must be all you need. I can’t think of anything further from the truth. If you’ve ever had a glance at my website you’ll see that I place huge importance on learning and evolving my skills and practice. In the past I’d been lucky, working for companies that placed a huge emphasis on learning and development. A big danger of going solo is losing access to that drive to develop. Continual learning – through reading, professional development programs, your networks or even higher education is vital. This has been a central part of the last year for me, but the big learning has been how you do need to make this a priority. I need to make time to read articles, follow-up on things I see in Twitter, LinkedIn, make time to read, prioritize getting to training events and conferences. The other big thing is that there are so many more avenues to learn out there than I’d ever realised. By getting outside my big company shell and getting involved in things like social media I’ve discovered a whole new range of events, people and texts that I can learn from. That has been truly enriching.
4. It is OK to stay in your PJs all day
It really is – if all I need to do is write a report, do the book-keeping or other desk based tasks – then it is absolutely fine. But I don’t recommend doing it everyday – it is a seductive habit!
5. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch + a little bit of “Que Sera, Sera” will save a lot of stress and worry
I can remember in my first months as a freelancer (which was right around the end of financial year – or silly season), I’d get calls and bookings. Of course, everyone wanted to work with me in the same week! I was shifting this, changing that, juggling this and re-arranging that to make sure I could fit it in…and freaking out that I was potentially going to have to turn down work…. but then… it all got moved. And moved again… and again….
I know now that nothing is certain until it is certain. I don’t count anything as ‘booked in’ unless I’ve received formal confirmation in writing, or venues have been booked, participants organised or some other gesture of confirmation. Until that point – the time is up for grabs! There is no point stressing about how you are going to fit it all in until it is confirmed, and believe me – the time-lines are always shifting! The two phrases above have saved me a lot of heartache and stress!
6. Pay it forward… do unto others… karma, baby
Do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you. Simple as that. I try to run my business as I do my life – if you do good things for other people, good things will happen to you. If someone asks for help – give it, and do it willingly. You’ll sleep better at night, and karma-wise – your business will be better off!
7. Gather a squad of cheerleaders
This goes to point one – but also goes further. It is a lonely road, and you don’t have the comfort of a big business behind you – who will pay you, even if you haven’t been busy. It is easy to get discouraged. I talked about my network of friends and other freelancers (in market research and in other fields). They have been a big part of maintaining my sanity. They provide me with a reality check when I start worrying about slow times, they provide encouragement and support – and I try to do the same for them. Your cheerleaders are vital – identify them and treat them well (and most importantly, cheer for them too!!)
8. Separate your finances
Before starting up I went to an accountant for business advice. I specifically asked if I should set up separate business and personal accounts and was told no. Trying to reconcile my credit card with business and personal expenses ever since has been a complete pain in the proverbial. I’m not an accountant, but I’d strongly suggest keeping everything separate (and applying for the new credit cards BEFORE you’re self-employed!)
9. What’s next?
I started this business very much with the attitude of ‘we’ll see how it goes’. I was not planning global domination. I was not designing a scalable business that I could sell down the road and fund my retirement. I was building a life that I could live with and that I would find enriching. And that has been wonderful. But one year on I’m starting to think – what’s next? When I first started out, one of my mentors suggested that I write a business plan – I rejected the idea at first, thinking that there was no way my business would be that complex – but now, one year on, I’m glad I did it. I’m now in the process of planning and exploring new avenues for growth for the business, revising the plan and looking to the future – so watch this space!