Tim Aldred - The Frazzled Freelancer

Freelance commercial writer, successfully navigating self-employment one unexpected obstacle at a time. Contact me at twitter.com/tim_aldred

7 lessons learned in a year as a freelancer worker

Nobody can quite agree on the statistics about how many start-up businesses make it through their first year, but one thing’s for sure: if you do, you’ve done well. And now that more than 365 days have passed since my first day of self-employment, I’m now a proud member of that club.

But as the title of Frazzled Freelancer would suggest, it’s not all been cashing cheques and knocking off early to soak up the sun in the local park. There have been plenty of lessons learned along the way. Some things might sound obvious, some less so. But here they are:


1/ Listen to advice

Whether your business is the most novel idea on earth or whether you’re going down a tried-and-tested route, the basics of business are the same for us all. And whatever problem you’re facing, someone has been there before.

Even if there’s nothing in particular that’s concerning you, I’d still recommend listening to others. There might be easier, cheaper or more effective ways of doing whatever it is you’re doing.

And if somebody else has already tried, failed and learned from their mistakes, there’s no point repeating them. It’s fine to learn from someone else’s mistakes.


2/ Ignore some advice

I read a lot of business blogs, I talk to a lot of people who run their own businesses. I hear a lot of advice, but I certainly don’t act on it all. There’s so much of it, and some of it is so conflicting, that I couldn’t adopt it all even if I wanted to.

I’d always advise keeping a keen ear out for advice, because you never know what you may learn that might help today, or tomorrow, or several months down the line.

But on the other hand, sometimes you’ll hear advice that just doesn’t sit right with you. Maybe it sounds like nonsense, maybe it’s good advice but wouldn’t suit your business. There’s no point forcing yourself to do something that your gut tells you isn’t right for your situation – especially if that means you’ll only do a half-hearted job of carrying it out anyway.


3/ It’s about what you know…

It’s a trait inherent in many people. to shy away from trumpeting how brilliant we are. You’re going to need to learn to, though.

If I’m in the market for a photographer, or a web designer, or a courier, I want the best photographer, web designer or courier out there. Why would I want anything less? Trouble is, how many freelancers don’t want to tell me they’re the best because they don’t want to sound big-headed?

It might not be very British, or polite, to state on your website “I rock!” but if you don’t, nobody else is going to say it for you. And the silly thing is, the big companies aren’t bothered by such things. You don’t see Coca Cola saying their drinks ‘taste ok’, or that Nike claiming their shoes ‘are pretty good’.

If you’re really good at what you do, tell everyone. There’s absolutely no reason not to.


4/ …as well as who you know

A lot of business over the last 12 months has come my way through the people I know. And, in turn, the people they know.

When you’re employing a freelancer, it’s really important to get on with the person you’re dealing with because there’s going to be a lot of one-to-one interaction. Be polite to everyone, whether they’re likely to buy from you or not. Make use of the people you know to see if there’s anyone out there in the market for your services.

Don’t be shy of making the most of your professional network, and never forget that people buy from people they like, so don’t be rude.


5/ Be brave

My favourite film as a kid was Robin Hood, the Disney version. In it, the hero remarks that “a faint heart never won the fair lady.” He then courageously undertakes an act of bravery before whisking Maid Marion off to do some necking in the woods.

The same rules apply in business. Fortune favours the brave. You’ve got to pick up the phone, attend the meetings, ask the questions and put yourself in the positions where good things can happen for you.

It won’t always work out, but you can always dust yourself off and try again. But if you shy away from putting yourself out there then things can’t possibly go your way. And that’s how businesses fail.


6/ It’s ok to say no

Possibly my toughest hour as a freelancer was the first time I said ‘no thanks’.

I’d been offered a writing gig on a project that wasn’t really my specialist area and it didn’t pay particularly well. Half of what I was hoping to charge, in fact. I already knew by this point that it was important to stick to your guns and not undersell yourself, but the potential customer wouldn’t up the pay. We shook hands and went our separate ways.

I don’t think I slept that night.

It was still the early days, back when I was still very unsure that things were going to work out. I thought that a pound in my pocket (even if I’d wanted two pounds) was better than nothing at all.

However, it wouldn’t have been right to accept the work. I’d have spent all my working hours for little return. Instead, I used the time to market myself and I landed a much better paying job about a week later. Work I wouldn’t have been able to find or complete if I’d been willing to accept every low-paying job that came my way.


7/ Be flexible

Expect the unexpected is a bit of a cliché, but it ain’t half true.

When I set out to become a freelancer I had a fair idea of what I wanted to do and which might be my key markets. Whilst that’s largely been the case, some things I thought were nailed-on successes didn’t materialise at all. On the other hand, people I hadn’t even considered have been in touch and we’ve done some fantastic projects together.

One long-running client had to end their agreement when they had a personnel change at their end, and one client suddenly ramped up their workload with me out of the blue. People I thought would be good for money have been really late with payment, whilst others – who really have no reason to be – pay early every month.

What can you learn from this?

Go into business with a plan, but acknowledge that any element can go wildly different from how you expected. You’ll never know until you’re knee-deep, so make sure you’re flexible enough to make the most of whatever situation you find yourself in.


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Written by Tim Aldred on July 11, 2012 and filed in Featured, Frazzled Freelancer, Freelance Jobs, Freelancers, News , , , , , , ,

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