I’m about to start freelancing for the second time in my working life. The first time was after redundancy, when I did a series of contracts before taking the plunge and working from home as a freelancer for a couple of years. This time round it was an active choice after returning from maternity leave.
So what did I learn the first time round?
It’s OK to change your mind about what you do.
One of the great things about being freelance is that if you find you don’t enjoy a certain type of work, you can just stop doing it. Don’t take on any new projects that involve it, and ease your way out of any ongoing ones. Likewise if you suddenly realise that everyone needs a certain skill and it’s something you love, you can take on more of that type of work.
You don’t necessarily need a website.
This depends on what you do. The first time round I did set up a website for some services I was offering – but I probably spent more time than I should have done on developing it and marketing the services, and not enough time actually working in that area! This time, I think LinkedIn is sufficient to give an overview of what I can do, and I’ll be able to supply potential clients with a more detailed cv and case studies if needed.
Don’t pin your hopes on one contact, company or conversation.
When I first started freelancing, I got excited anytime someone showed an interest in what I was doing. I’d imagine myself working on a project with them, and then be disappointed when they didn’t reply to my emails or took ages to decide they didn’t need my help at that time. I realised that it’s helpful to put these contacts to one side as potential clients for the future, and just follow up with them again in a few months.
Always do some business development in the background.
Last time I freelanced I had a contract that was meant to be ongoing for a year or longer. However the client we were working with decided to cancel the programme after six months. Because I’d been focusing on that project and very little outside it, I suddenly had to look for some new work.
This time round I’ll find a way of keeping in touch with my network even if I’m focusing mainly on one client. This might be going to networking events, dropping a note to a former colleague, or sending an enquiry email to a company I’d like to work with. Freelance Lifestylers Facebook group has a weekly reminder to do this, which will come in very handy!
Don’t keep popping into your social media accounts.
It’s easy to feel like you’re being productive when you’re tweaking your LinkedIn profile, chatting to other freelancers in a Facebook group or tweeting links to your blog or other people’s articles. I found that the best way to deal with the social media temptation is to have a system for getting stuff done, and fit social media into that. Having a short list of three important tasks for the day helps me focus. Once I’ve made progress on those tasks I allow myself to look at social media for a short period of time!
Work to your productive hours.
After managing my own days for a while I realised that I had times when I worked really productively and was in “flow” and times when thinking felt like walking through treacle. So this time as far as possible I’ll work around this. I’ll allocate time for my thinking and writing tasks when I’m most productive, and leave email, social media and reading for my low energy times.
It’s tempting to just get on with working and decide you’ll have the fresh air later, especially if mornings are your most productive time. I found that it worked for me to either go for a short walk first thing, or commit to myself that I’d have walk after lunch. I’ll be continuing with that approach this time round to make sure I get some exercise and fresh air. It can also help with thinking through a tricky problem or communication!
It’s OK to go back to employment
If an interesting opportunity comes up, or if you need the stability of a regular income for a while. You can always start freelancing again if you miss it, when you need a new challenge or if your circumstances change.
Nina Lenton is a freelance marketing and communications consultant, specialising in health. You can connect with her on LinkedIn