Back in mid-2012, I was stuck doing a 9-2-5 desk job and wondering where on earth my life was going. I didn’t hate my job, really I didn’t – it wasn’t too taxing and it was convenient, but it certainly wasn’t setting my world on fire. My brain had become so sluggish and lazy that despite knowing I needed something more, I couldn’t figure out how to change my situation.
It was completely by accident that I stumbled across a blog created by a guy who had left his job and was earning pretty good money by writing online content. He was a similar age to me, had a similar background in terms of education and experience, and was actively reaching out to encourage other people to take a leap of faith and try something new. I read all of his posts in one sitting, learned this new way of working was called ‘freelancing’, and pretty soon I was hooked and intent on trying it for myself. It was completely out of character for me, as I’m usually ridiculously cautious, but within six weeks I had given in my notice at work and had started building my own online business.
Fast forward to 2016, and here I am making a real go of it – and having success too. Sounds a bit fantastical? Well, truthfully, it’s been WAY harder than I could have ever imagined or planned for, and there were a few occasions where I almost gave up. But I didn’t (thanks to a few very amazing people) and I’m so, so glad about that.
I want to share all the (bloody stupid) mistakes I made, as well as all the things I got right, because I know if you are reading this you might be thinking of making a change, and you’ll need a bit of help with that.
If at first you don’t suck, carry on!
After setting up several profiles on freelancing sites like Elance, I was awarded my first ‘job’ working with a really well known travel company. It was getting this lucky break so early on that definitely spurred me on to bigger and better things, and I will always be grateful to them for giving me a chance.
However, as I mentioned in my last post, when I first started out I was a bit like a puppy on speed. I was willing to take on anything and everything I could find just to get myself out there. The results weren’t great. After just eight weeks going it alone, I was working around ten hours a day, six or seven days a week. About 80% of the work I was doing was dull. And monotonous. And mind-numbingly painful to get through.
After about six months I was exhausted, miserable, lonely, and had completely lost all enthusiasm for freelancing. I started considering going back to a ‘proper job’. And then I met a truly inspiring couple who were travelling the world and building a business at the same time. They called themselves digital nomads and they introduced me to a completely different way of working. They shared their knowledge with me (without even knowing it), and by working on their projects I learned where to go online for inspiration and pointers created just for people like me. It was invaluable and I love them for it.
So I carried on. I had a few hiccups in between which meant taking a very short break from things, but now I’m back full-time and loving every minute.
Here are the things I did wrong (a lot) and how to avoid them!
- Not being clear about what you want to do – have an ambition to write blogs for fashion websites? A desire to do the books for catering companies? Want to manage the switchboard for an international charity? Know your strengths and make a list of what you enjoy doing and what you absolutely detest doing. And stick within those parameters. Take it from someone who once spent 8 hours testing links on a foreign dating website; if you don’t enjoy it, it will suck more than anything has ever sucked before.
- Underselling or undervaluing your talents – many freelance sites will have people looking for people to work for the equivalent of £4-5 per hour. Okay, do one or two small jobs at a low rate to boost your profile, but DO NOT make a habit of it. Once you higher your minimum rate and believe you are worth it, no one will question it. The same with your skills. You HAVE to believe you are providing a valuable service or no one else will.
- Casting your net too wide – this is something I learned from the lovely digital nomads. Finding your niche is absolutely crucial if you want to, a) become an authority on something, b) be able to increase your rates, and c) spend time doing work you love. Last year I finally came to the conclusion that I mostly enjoyed writing and research, and that I loved working with creative people. So I had a mini re-launch and now that’s what I do. Every day! And it’s just super thanks to the amazing people I get to work with.
- Thinking you have to put up with shit – you will at some point meet a total dickhead (or 5). But you need to have the confidence to walk away from people who treat you negatively and unprofessionally. (This is something I will revisit in another post, as getting client relationships right can be tricky.)
- Not staying on top of your own admin – I’m not a huge fan of admin, and in fact I’m positively rubbish at staying on top of my own, but spending just an hour or two at the end of your week sifting through invoices and tax stuff (ugh) will save you many headaches (and numerous episodes of crying/screaming/throwing things), believe me.
I’ve got so much to share with you all, but I’ll keep some more for next time! Please do share your own experiences, and if you have ANY questions, don’t be afraid to ask them!