Last year, I wrote a blog about lessons I learned
from my first year in business, including the pitfalls of buying a puppy. I also talked about the danger of undervaluing your skills and the importance of trusting your own instinct.
My second year has been no less of a learning curve. There have been many pleasures, but who wants to hear about that?
I’m just going to talk about the pain!
The lessons I learned in year 2 were much harder than in my first year. I increased my prices and got better enquiries. But the stakes were higher. And the cuts went deeper.
So I’ve made 3 promises to myself as I enter my third year of business:
1. I’m going to take better care of me
The ‘freedom’ of freelance life is a bit of a joke to me. I didn’t swop the grind of the commute and office politics to go freelance.
You won’t see tweets of my laptop strategically placed on my lap admiring carefully edited landscape views and claiming that Mondays are now the best thing ever.
Going freelance just meant I got to add more work to my ‘to do’ list. Lucky me!
But don’t be fooled by my sour humour. Starting a business was exciting. Really exciting. I had spent two years identifying the reason for my son’s development delays and sorting out an education, against a back-drop of watching a parent die from dementia.
I don’t know if it was anger, grief or plain sadness but during those dark days it felt as if everything was being pulled away from me, as if someone had picked up my plans for the future and smashed them to bits.
Sounds a bit dramatic, but it was a shitty time.
By contrast, polishing off old skills and marketing them felt like a walk in the park. That’s an understatement, more like a trip to Disneyland.
Hideous hospital visits and unsettling negotiations and assessments were behind me. And I’d stopped caring about what people would think about me and my choices.
So I threw myself into my new business.
But it’s easy to get carried away and forget your other responsibilities; particularly the one to take care of yourself. And that’s exactly what I did.
Here’s where I messed up:
- I forgot to sleep, regularly staying up til 2am working on my website, CPD and marketing plans.
- Eating went out the window too. As in eating healthily, and at the appropriate times. This didn’t result in any weight loss! But it did make me feel tired, lethargic and grumpy.
- Chilling out became a thing of the past. I get up at 6 (for the dog), got the kids to school, worked, did the evening shift of household activity (drudge) and then worked some more. Essentially I was going non-stop for 18-20 hours a day. And it was unnecessary, I could have achieved more in less time with better planning.
I also added a Labrador pup into the mix (though this has turned out well). So after a bit, I burnt out. I’d achieved a lot, but I was suffering from overload.
I knew I’d have to get on board with the notion that it’s okay to do nothing for a while. I needed to take a break and recharge.
So that’s what I did. It was the summer holidays so I just hung out with the kids and walked the dog for a few weeks. I figured I’d feel better after a bit. And I was right!
Doing nothing for a while really does work! Who knew?
Once I’d recovered from my temporary overload, I spent some time thinking about my business and researching how to take it forward.
I identified my blocks, where I could improve my processes and started putting together a plan to take my business forward.
Which brings me to my next points.
2. I’m going to say “yes”…
When I started out, I was mainly picking up work through freelance sites and existing contacts. But it didn’t take long to start getting more direct queries. I was pleasantly surprised, and a bit scared. Some of these queries were for bigger brands and projects – I wasn’t expecting that.
There’s nothing wrong with turning work down if it’s not right (I wrote a blog about this earlier this year).
A couple of times I’ve turned down work that I was too busy for or really didn’t want to do. And that’s okay.
But a couple of times I bottled it, and I didn’t know why.
I wondered if it came from being a woman? Or maybe guilt about earning money? Almost certainly some working parent guilt, complicated by having a child with a disability.
This guilt was blocking me from taking on great work; a classic case of self-sabotage.
I’m not exactly kicking myself for the work I turned down. Nobody starved but that second holiday could have been a possibility and my wardrobe’s seen better days.
My kids don’t go short of much, but that money could have provided more exciting opportunities for them. And don’t get me started on my hall, stairs and landing.
So I’ve done a lot of work this summer on building freelance confidence, getting to the root of my blocks and planning ahead so that I get the type of enquiries I want and the confidence to say, “Yes”.
3. Time for my head to overrule my heart
And that starts with growing a thicker skin.
Freelance life is tough. Most clients are great. But some let you down and mess you around. And others ‘forget’ to pay.
Read any freelance networking site, and you’ll hear the same stories about disappearing clients and reluctant payers.
I knew this when I went into freelancing. But it still took me by surprise to experience some of the rougher sides of self-employment.
And I was surprised at how much I cared. Why would people treat me like this? Me? I’m nice!
Clearly I was running my business with my heart, not my head. It was time to get a grip.
I often say that having a child with communication needs helps me to be a better writer; it doesn’t always make me a brilliant business woman.
You have to learn a lot of patience to parent an autistic child. And empathy. Unfortunately, I was extending these newly acquired skills to bad clients who didn’t deserve it!
It stops here.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop caring about doing a great job. I’m committed to writing great copy for my clients. And I’ll continue to support some charities close to my heart through my writing.
But I’m going to take care not to confuse my caring responsibilities with running my business.
I strive to do both jobs well, but only the first is for love; the second is for money.
Some hard lessons to learn, but my third year has got off to a great start.
I’m already working on some exciting projects and have many plans in the pipeline for further Continuing Professional Development and developing better client relationships.
I wonder what challenges year 3 will bring?
Over to you
What challenges and obstacles have you faced as a freelancer? What are you doing to address them? I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’re combining a caring role with your career.
Alison is a Freelance Copywriter based in Milton Keynes. She specialises in web content and business blogging. For more information about Alison, click here.