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My big fat freelancing life

Helen Say

CBL Services Ltd

PRO

I am finally living my dream. Writing for a living, that is.

For decades I was a fully paid-up member of the rat race, working full-time as a marketing manager, getting up at silly o’clock, commuting long hours, working like a dog to create wealth for someone else, then coming home and starting my other job as a Mum.

All that time I thought that’s what I needed to do to survive, contribute to the household, pay the bills and be satisfied.

Then 18 months ago, losing my mother to a heart condition made me think, screw this, this is NOT the way I want my life to be. So I took my considerable marketing campaign management expertise, my strong work ethic and my can-do attitude and struck out on my own.

It’s been quite the transition, and this is what I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: perceptions aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be

Calling myself a freelancer – although accurate – comes with its share of baggage. The term “freelance” has suffered from a negative shift in perceptions recently, thanks mainly to the media’s constant references to the “gig economy” like it’s a bad thing.

But consider this:

  • in 2017 the UK had 2 million freelancers – 41% of the total self-employed population
  • in 2016 freelancers contributed £119 billion to the UK economy

I am now part of something significant and vital, more so than when I was on the payroll of a multi-national corporation. “freelance” is not the throwaway livelihood that some sections of the media like to make it out to be.

Lesson #2: it’s empowering AF

I’ve learned that only having myself to answer to is incredibly empowering. I get to choose who I work with and what work I take on. Any and all decisions are mine and mine alone to make.

I’m don’t answer to anyone else’s agenda, nor am I at the mercy of a capricious management team.

Gone are the days of trying to operate within flat hierarchies where everyone has the word “Manager” in their job titles, yet no-one’s in charge.

It’s super rewarding to realise that I can also make a decent living as a freelancer while enjoying myself enormously.

Lesson #3: it’s up to me to expand my knowledge

Working for myself has re-awakened my love of lifelong learning.

I’ve learned that I’m incredibly resourceful and if I need to teach myself something new to add to my expertise and credibility, I can usually find the right course or the right person to talk to.

It’s up to me to make the time to absorb new information and use it to enhance my work or turn it into a marketable proposition. I then have the opportunity to share that expertise with my clients.

Lesson #4: networking beats team meetings all day long

I’ve discovered the joys of networking. For me, this has replaced going to the office every day – and it’s far preferable.

I’ve become bit of a serial networker. The contacts and the relationships I make through that process is one of the best things about working for myself, and are the backbone of my business. Networking’s also provided me with an unexpected social life.

Lesson #5: I have the freedom to explore new horizons

Being freelance means that I’ve been able to explore a vast array of local cafes, coffee shops and – yes – sometimes pubs. It’s my way of supporting local enterprises.

For example, I can give them my custom and spread the word by checking in on Facebook while enjoying a sneaky cappuccino. (Or a glass of wine.)

Cafes are also surprisingly good sources of inspiration, especially if my creativity needs a bit of a boost.

Lesson #6: flexible working is a myth

Although it’s cited by most people as their main reason for going freelance, I find the concept of flexible working a bit of a myth.

I still keep basic nine-to-five hours, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. But for me, flexible working is about not having anyone to answer to, being able to set my own hours, going out when I want, staying home when I want.

It’s not about working evening and weekends or getting up at the crack of dawn to work on a project (unless I want to of course).

Lesson #7: toxic people can do one

It was only when I left full-time working and really reflected on my career that I realised how often I had was forced to deal with toxic personalities at work, and how prevalent those people are.

You know the type, people who suck all your energy, are constantly negative and critical of everything, have no concept of being part of a team and blame everyone else when things go wrong.

Now I’ve learned to successfully avoid them, or at least keep them at arm’s length. I’m no longer forced into their company. Nor am I at the mercy of their particular brand of poison.

It’s very freeing – you should try it.

Lesson #8: you can’t pour from an empty cup — self-care is vital

Hermetically sealed office blocks are deeply unhealthy environments. The destructive pressure to be ever present means you pick up every germ, bug and virus going around quicker than you can say “air conditioning”.

And for all their pledges towards healthy eating, workplace canteens are particularly unhelpful places. You go in with all good intentions of buying a salad, then leave with a plate of chips.

Working independently carries its share of risks – self-care can often take a back seat in the drive to find clients and win those contracts. But it also means I’m no longer tempted by the vending machine to cure the afternoon slump.

I can also cannily schedule time for regular exercise, whenever I want, with zero impact on my workload and no need to justify a lunchtime swim or trip to the gym.

On that note, I’ve lost a stone in the last year. Go me!

Lesson #9: my working wardrobe is super efficient

Most of my working days are spent in front of my PC in the back bedroom. No, I don’t sit around in my pyjamas (those clients I have Skype calls with would be a bit startled) but neither do I need to wear a suit every day.

Going freelance meant two bin bags-full of my old office wardrobe got donated to the local charity shop. My working wardrobe has been pared right down.

I have some smart clothes for networking days, presentations and client meetings, and casual clothes for when it’s only the keyboard calling. It’s saved me a shed-load of money.

Lesson #10: inspiration can come from surprising places

One of the best things about freelancing is how great it is to meet other business owners and learn from them.

I can honestly say that meeting people with such imagination, creativity, energy and enthusiasm for what they do means that these last few months have been some of the most rewarding of my life.

Lesson #11: discipline – Who cares? Only me

When I researched what it means to be a freelancer, I read and was told a lot about the need for discipline, discipline, discipline.

But, coming from a place of already having a strong work ethic, I think discipline is over-rated. It comes down to one basic premise: if I don’t work then I don’t get paid. That’s all the incentive and “discipline” that I need.

Lesson #12: learning to say no

It’s an easy trap to fall into, saying yes to any freelance work that comes your way, especially in the early days. I learned quite quickly to be discerning about what work I take on.

I learned that I don’t have to sacrifice my own principles in order to make money. I’ve learned to spot a shit client at fifty paces: the ones that will cause more trouble than they’re worth, the ones who won’t do me the courtesy of giving me a written brief, for example.

I’ve also learned to say I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m the right copywriter for you.

Lesson #13: copymills are destructive

I’d never heard of these when I started out but, oh boy, do I know all about them now.

It’s these organisations more than any other that have contributed the most to the devaluation of freelancing — places like Upwork, Fivver and Freelancer.com.

You bid for work and it’s a soul-destroying race to the bottom. It’s like demanding Harrods goods at Lidl prices.

These people do the freelancing world no favours at all. Please do yourself a favour and stay away from the mills.

Lesson #14: making comparisons is pointless

I’ve realised that because I do what I do in my own inimitable fashion, comparing myself to any so-called competition is a waste of my time and energy.

I have my own exclusive way of delivering my service that no one else can duplicate. So instead of stressing over how I shape up against the competition, I focus on what makes me and my brand solely mine.

Besides, I’ve also learned that there’s plenty of work to go around. I see my “competitors” more as colleagues, friends and mentors.

Lesson #15: my business is always changing

When I first thought of freelancing, I thought I’d be a copywriter, and that’s it. But I soon learned that I could be so much more to my clients, because creating great marketing content is just the start.

So now I provide SEO audits, health checks and workshops, something I could never have imagined at the beginning of this journey.

Lesson #16: there is a higher purpose

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I learned that doing purposeful work means so much more than being paid.

Yes, you need money in the bank in order to live. But it has taken becoming a freelancer to find out what I really want to do with my life.

My best days are getting to know a new client, helping them grow their business and getting feedback from them telling me how I’ve helped them.

That’s my big, fat freelancing life, and I love it.

First published on https://www.cblservices.co.uk/

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