3 top tips for your first year in business

1st birthday cakeThis week I celebrated one year in business as a freelance copywriter.

With only a snoring pup, an Excel spreadsheet and some very scary self-assessment forms to keep me company, I took a few moments to reflect on my first 12 months.

As a relative newcomer to the freelance world, who suffers regular attacks of imposter syndrome, I tentatively share with you my 3 top tips for your first year in business.

1. Don’t undersell yourself

My first sales letter sold for a pittance. It took me days to write it. I agonised over every word and even lost sleep waiting for the feedback. I was so relieved when the client finally confirmed that they loved the first draft that I got carried away, agreeing to write a modified version for a separate target audience (at no extra charge).

The result was some very happy clients. So happy that they recommended me to their friends and I was subsequently inundated with requests for cheap sales letters. My initial elation turned to frustration and resentment.

So I got brave. I started to pitch higher and guess what?  Nobody laughed (to my face). Some even hired me, and paid up (on time)!

If you’re starting out on your own copywriting journey, know your own worth. The Professional Copywriters’ Network has a useful guide which sets out suggested rates for copywriters. It’s a great bargaining tool when speaking to clients and a useful reminder for you to value your own expertise and time.

2. Trust your instincts

MeerkatIt’s okay to turn work down even if you don’t know where the next job is coming from.

I’m not talking about working outside your comfort zone, which is a good thing. I’m talking about those projects (and clients) that don’t feel right. Despite hearing this advice many times, I still had to learn it the hard way.

When a client asked me a favour, to write an urgent piece of work with a midnight Sunday deadline, I tried to resist. It was a Friday night and I wasn’t feeling great. I also had an uncomfortable feeling things would not go to plan.

In a feeble attempt to deter the client, I priced it high. They knocked me down. I started to falter. That voice of self-doubt started to kick in once more, taunting me. I had an underlying feeling I should be grateful for the work.

The client sensed my weakness. The brief changed, the fee got even lower. As I finally caved in and signed away my soul to a miserable weekend, I already knew I had made a mistake.

My health and confidence took a knock and all I had to show for it was a wasted weekend, a forgettable fee and a nasty cold. I didn’t listen to my own instincts.

If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Turning work down shows strength, not weakness. There will be more work. There will be more clients – great ones. Keep the faith.

Finally, my top tip of all:

3. Do not get a puppy!

Black labrador puppyWhat better way for a freelancer to avoid loneliness? Get a dog! Although this wasn’t the primary reason for welcoming a four month old black Labrador into our home this year, I was convinced that he would play a major part in living my freelance dream.

But I need to let you into a secret. Brace yourself, this might hurt.

Puppies are evil.

I know, they look so cute – that’s the hook.

He’s very fluffy isn’t he? He knows how to play on his best features, but try removing that fluff from your cream carpet, your sofa and (the shame) your bedroom floor. When you do, be prepared for your furry friend to follow you from room to room, his sad puppy eyes boring into your soul; willing you to love him.

Do not be fooled!  He’s not sad, he’s making plans.

Looking forward to a quick outing to the local coffee shop for a latte and a few moments of puppy-free time? Good luck with that. Ten minutes is all it takes for him to perform what is affectionately known in my house as ‘the fur baby dance of destruction’. Expensive cushions, your favourite comfy slippers, cherished books – they’re all on his hit list.

But you mustn’t tell him off, because he’s not the naughty one. It’s your fault. He has separation anxiety. He needs to be closer to you; much closer. Now he has your attention, it’s time for you to take action.

So you move him into your office. Before you know it, your teething pup has snatched your latest brief from your hands. Like a bull in a confetti factory, he gets to work on deciphering your handwritten notes, triumphantly ripping them to shreds as it slowly dawns on you that someone else in charge now (and it’s not you).

It doesn’t end there. His takeover bid has only just begun. You start to feel like an imposter in your own office. Your style guides and copywriting text books are interspersed with puppy training handbooks. Your printer churns out copious internet articles as you desperately seek answers to questions you never knew existed, wistfully reflecting on the innocent days when you believed licking his rear end would be his most unsavoury habit.

So where are the benefits? Does he have any redeeming features? Of course! We may need to work on his manners, but he’s a loyal member of my team and what better way to cure writer’s block than a walk in the local countryside with my four-pawed business partner?

He’s also helped my family in more ways that I can mention here. He’s worked his way into our hearts, overcome our objections and closed the deal; he’s here to stay.

So forgive me if I lied. Puppies are great!  If you’re up for the challenge, you should get one but take good care of him – your fabulous, freelance friend is for life.

I’d love to hear your top tips for newcomers in business and especially, how you have combined freelance life and dog ownership!

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