Fed-up of working for an organisation? Fancy setting-up on your own? Before you do take a look at these pearls of wisdom achieved the hard way by someone who has spent four years as a freelancer.
With four years under my belt spent failing as a business owner, I feel amply qualified to share with you the experiences of a freelancer.
It’s not that all freelancers have an aptitude for failure - far from it. Yet perversely, what with there being so much good in failing repeatedly as a gateway to success, it’s hardly a badge of negativity being in the glass half-empty camp.
As I prepare to reenter the world of cubicle nation with more skills gained in the past four years than the earlier 34, a book under the belt all about shareable content being our greatest marketing weapon, a long stint as UK ambassador to the European Podcast Award and a video series helping businesses get web video (I think we call that meta in Playground Geek), I feel it’s in our best interests for me to give you some sage words of wisdom.
For you, it could help remove some obstacles. For me, it’s purely cathartic. So here are my seven things you should heed that I learned at the sharp end of sole traderdom:
- Ignore the hype. Everyone has a tendency to self-promote, self-aggrandise and generally fuel that complex you have about being inferior. This is particularly true on social networks where everyone can be king of business without having to prove themselves with real-world metrics of success. Listen to what those valuable to you have to say, for sure, but employ a filter for all the rest to help rid your mind of self doubt.
- You can’t ask for enough advice. Because we’re British we’re too polite to seek counsel for our projects and ideas. Baloney. Being in business means harnessing the bulldog spirit and, when it comes to getting feedback and ideas to galvanise our chances of victory, leaving pride at the door. Stop being such a man, and get advice constantly to make sure what you do is what others want and need.
- Don't take all the work. Belt-tightening times mean we have a certain proclivity towards agreeing to every project on the table. Don’t. Not only will you do things that fall outside your area of expertise: the work you ultimately deliver will sometimes give you cause for disappointment, which causes negativity and frustration and leaves you feeling, well, inept. You might keep your customer happy in the short term but snapping up every bit of work will leave you restless and unfulfilled.
- Do less - achieve more. Simplicity isn’t just for Apple and Zappos. The more you focus on just one thing at a time, for long periods of needs be, the more your work will improve and the more you’ll become recognised for doing fewer things at a higher standard. These days being a generalist isn’t the right plan of attack. Setting your sights on the services for which you have the greatest passion and skills is where they money is.
- Break down your tasks. When I started doing things on my own, I’d see the big picture and find myself burdened at the thought of having to achieve it all. So I started doing what Americans find hip in 2013 - chunking down. Smashing that project into smithereens made completing it so much easier because everything suddenly became manageable. When you can achieve bits of a project in 25 minutes, you’ve cracked it. Go hunt down Pomodairo, a timer designed explicitly to keep you focused on the game in hand. I also used Trello, a free project management app, to help put the pieces back together in an orderly format although lately I’ve been experimenting with the much more visually-appealing DropTask, and the ‘remembering machine’ known as Evernote.
- Get out more. Nothing refreshes and reboots during periods of difficulty and uncertainty like pulling on the boots or trainers and going for a walk or a run. If it’s cold outside, do 20 minutes of pilates. Read a book. Bake some bread. Do something completely different to revolutionise your productivity.
- Play the long game. We all want overnight success but no-one gets it. It takes years to become recognised as a leader in your field. The best place to start is sharing your ideas with the world. Get blogging, podcasting and creating presentations for SlideShare to get yourself off to a flying start. Attend free conferences and find evening events dedicated to your industry to get fresh ideas and find fellow business owners you can help - for free.
It takes much more than hard work to go from freelancer to Freelander. The big car will come, but first you have to hunker down and constantly, consistently show prospective clients why it’s essential they work with you to make them even more successful. Good luck!
Dave Thackeray is author of Sharing Superheroes, a playbook helping businesses build their brands and create customer communities through shareable content.