Five things I’ve learnt since going freelance

By Dawn McGuigan,

I began my freelance career in November 2019 after 16 years of in-house communications and marketing roles. The prospect of working for myself and having a portfolio of clients had always appealed to me; when I found out I was pregnant, I decided it was time to take the leap to obtain the elusive work/life balance we all crave.

It’s been a steep learning curve. From figuring out self-assessment tax rules to responding to the impact of the Coronavirus, I’ve had to manage some big issues on my own.

With a global pandemic on our hands, now might not be the right time to launch your freelance career. But, if it’s something you want to do in future, here are the five things I’ve learnt since going it alone.

1 Speak to people who’ve already done it:

When I began my freelance career, I spoke to people who had already done it. It was invaluable.

They told me not to undervalue myself and put my prices up. They told me which invoicing systems, accountants and insurance packages were best. They gave me tips on chasing invoices and setting boundaries with clients to avoid being strung along in a never-ending pitch cycle.

Find trusted people in your network who’ve done this before and listen to their honest experiences.

2 Get your business head on:

Like me, you might have experience of managing people, budgets, overheads and resources from your in-house career. That’s all useful but you’ll need a whole new set of skills for freelance life.

Remember, you are a business owner. You need to get to grips with all the things you need to do to manage that business successfully.

I attended a free workshop on tax, created a set of templates (invoices, pitches client agreements) to manage clients, sorted my website and branding, created a networking plan for meeting new potential clients, and bought insurance. Doing work for clients accounts for around 60% of my time. The rest is spent on running and developing my business.

Make sure you allocate the time needed to keep your enterprise ticking over.

3 Use your network:

My first five clients came from my existing network. They were people I’d worked with previously or engaged with at networking events or online. They knew me and wanted my skills.

Nurture your professional network and it will be there when you need new work, recommendations or a testimonial of your abilities.

4 Understand how you work:

Working on your own from home is hard. To get through it, you need to be very aware of how you work best.

If you like company, find co-working sessions near you. If you like to discuss ideas before pitching, find a mentor or a business group you can talk to. If you struggle without interaction, sign-up for lunchtime webinars or take part in Twitter chats.

Understand what is going to help you be happy and productive and build your freelance life around those things.

5 Don’t forget to market yourself:

The hardest part of being a freelancer is thinking of yourself as “the brand” or a professional commodity.

But, it’s essential to keeping new clients and income in your pipeline.

Start with your social media networks and plan content that promotes your services. Then, look more widely at what you might need to attract new clients.

I love my freelance life but it’s hard work. My advice to anyone embarking on it is to be honest about what you need to thrive, be disciplined and never forget you’re running a business.

Dawn McGuigan is a strategic communications consultant in the North East of England. She provides research, strategy and content services to help public sector organisations, private firms and creative agencies achieve their business goals.

Photo by Tony Hand on Unsplash

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