Thinking of going freelance? Here are the biggest lessons I have learnt.

It’s 4 years since I closed the door to a well paid, senior, full time position in a large international corporate company and decided I would try my hand at going freelance, and make it in the big bad word of Marketing on my own. The UK self employed workforce is growing and now accounts for over 15% of those in work. Those with “knowledge based” skills are the fastest growing  (up 36% since 2009) so there is a lot of us out there competing for roles.

A number of people I know are also considering taking the plunge of going freelance and so I thought that I would share the top tips that I have learnt over the last few years in how to be a successful freelancer.

1. Jobs don’t just land on your doormat, you have to go find them.

As much as I love the fact that I can chose my hours, that I get to work on a variety of projects for a range of different clients in different sectors – equally I don’t have the back up and security that next month or next week that there will be work available. No matter how good you are – don’t expect that jobs will just come to you. I made that mistake when I first started out. I finished my first contract and thought I would take a few weeks off before looking for my next role. I ended up being out of work for almost 3 months because landing a new role takes a lot more time and effort than you probably first anticipate. Nowadays I constantly seek new roles, even when I am chocca with my existing workload and maintain a pipeline of possible opportunities.

2. Be clear as to who you are, what you do and who you do it for – but adapt it depending on who you are speaking to

Specialist or generalist prospective clients need to know exactly what they can get from you. There is a debate that you can either be a – personally I think you can be both. I can do many things within the marketing spectrum which makes me a marketing generalist – however there is little point boring a prospective client with a long shopping list of things that are irrelevant to what they may be needing. I research the prospects that I approach and make sure that I am clear in what I can offer them and how my specialist knowledge can make their lives easier/ better/ simpler/ more successful.

3. Maintain continuous engagement with your network

Being top of the list when a project crops up is vitally important – but as you never know when that may be you need to think of ways to keep in touch with your network without annoying or seeming needy. I struggled with this to begin with until I applied the same logic that I do when marketing a product and considered the channels my prospective clients would be in (LinkedIn, Twitter, trade communities, key networking events etc..) and then considered the kind of things that would be of interest to them that I could share to capture attention, grow my brand awareness and present myself as the best solution to their marketing need when the time arises.  

This blog is clearly one of those initiatives – it gives me an opportunity to present my expertise in a way that is interesting and not in your face but keeps my company front of mind. I also manage my website (www.gingertree-marketing.uk) and ensure that content is relevant and regularly updated and SEO friendly. I’m not a massive Social media fan – but Twitter and LinkedIn are useful to engage with people on. I always try and consider how I can make my communications a little different so I can be remembered.

The images below are just some of the places I have taken my work – as a freelancer be prepared to work in any location – from the hairdressers/ supermarket cafe or even the local trampoline park! Have laptop – will travel

4. A work life balance is possible

I went freelance when my children were small as I felt that I wasn’t present enough in their lives. I was gone before  they woke up and home just as they were going to bed. I felt like a rubbish mum and wife. My house was a mess and the daily chores were just stacking up. But it wasn’t just that – I never had time to go running or do anything that made me feel good. To get the right balance I mapped out my personal and financial responsibilities, my commitments, and the personal ‘non-negotiables’ that, when combined, allowed me to understand how much I needed to earn and how much time I could devote to work vs the other things that I value in life. I’ve chosen to work 4 days a week for 10 months of the year. I’m upfront with clients as to when I am available and when I am not. When I am working my clients get 100% of my attention and inbetween I switch off completely. I am passionate about my work, I love what I do but I also make sure that I have time to do the other things that make me happy.

5. Understand what you are worth – and charge slightly less

With a lot of us now choosing to work more flexibly and go freelance. If you want to get the business then yes you need to be good, but the cost of your service will always be a deciding factor. Having looked at what counterparts with the same level of experience and expertise as myself charge I have chosen a day rate that is slightly less. If a client is having to choose between 2 of you who look the same on paper, then they will always opt for the better deal financially.

6. Always be open to learning

This comes in 2 parts.

1) Learn from every contract you do:

In every role that I have gone into I have learnt something new. Whether through witnessing excellence in action or the total opposite – every contract has helped me grow. Sometimes it maybe the practicalities of how a team is structured, how a project is managed, what an agile work place looks like, how a boss engages and motivates and inspires a team but other times it’s more commercial, in terms of how a company set their vision and strategy or how they prioritise acquisition vs retention, how they manage brand awareness vs existing customer engagement or their use of analytics to drive decisions. The list goes on and it’s fascinating to realise that not one size fits all and a successful business can come in many different forms. I always walk away from an assignment with few new nuggets of information that I can put into practice at the next place I go to.

2) Get educated

As much as I may be good at what I do I certainly never think that I know it all. Since becoming freelance I have set myself of on a continuous program of education and training. Whether it has been a one day course in social media or my recent IDM qualification in Digital Strategy. I love challenging myself as although the fundamentals of marketing never change, technology is having such an impact in how and where you can engage with an audience, that it’s good to stay up to date. Plus, the courses that I attend often give me a great excuse to meet with other like-minded marketers and increase my network further.

7. Be the person you would like to work with – Impressions last.

With every job that I take on, my intention is to leave it knowing that I have made a difference. I am naturally an introvert (ISTJ for you Myer Briggs people out there) and therefore being the center of attention or meeting strangers is difficult for me, but I always aim to be positive, friendly and approach every day, every meeting, every email, every call with the thought of “what are the positive outcomes I can achieve here?”. This often puts me out of my comfort zone – but I try hard to make sure that I am genuine, present and friendly at all times. My main focus is to always maintain a “can do” attitude. I recognise that I have been employed to make something happen – to get the job done, find solutions and certainly not to get embroiled in any office gossip or politics. Recently I worked alongside another freelancer – my golly was she a grump! She made every interaction with her painful. Who wants a grumpy freelancer?? She may have been ok at her job but, after she had left, it was her attitude that most people remembered her for.

I hope that these tips are useful to you – I’d be interested to hear your views as either employers of freelancers or from other freelance workers.

Tricia Rogers – GingerTree Marketing Ltd

Offering freelance marketing consultancy with a wealth of experience in brand development, multichannel communications and strategic planning. View www.gingertree-marketing.uk for more information. 

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