In October 2003, I took the plunge into the ocean of freelance life. I left a communications management role to became a self employed consultant, facilitator and coach.
It’s been an exciting journey with twists and turns along the way. Over time my business has changed, and coaching and training now takes centre stage. I now run a management training business, and offer a career coaching service.
If you’re thinking about working for yourself, you may find these tips useful. They’re all based on my start up experience.
If you are considering self employment in the future, think ahead and start planning now. Two things that helped me were saving up three months’ salary as a buffer, and setting up some freelance work before leaving employment.
Consider a part-time job
If finances are tight, consider looking for a part-time job to pay the rent. But be wary of part-time jobs with irregular hours. If you are going to work for yourself, you need to be disciplined about your time. This is easier if you have specific days in your diary to focus on your business.
Have a vision of where you want to go
Be clear about where you’re heading. I went freelance in order to control the direction of my own career. I knew that I wanted to earn my living through training, facilitation and coaching. At the time, I was known primarily for my research, writing and editorial skills, and in the first year most of my income came through writing. I kept my vision in mind, and gradually increased my training and coaching work as well as gaining extra qualifications in these areas.
Be strategic in accepting work
Because I knew where I wanted to go in my freelance career, I was selective in the writing work I took on. For example I was commissioned to write a training needs analysis toolkit, and a guide to leadership development. Both of these were very much in line with my strategic direction. I turned down other projects, which would take me too far off course.
Let’s be realistic, sometimes you may need to take work just for the money. But don’t fill up your whole diary with work that distracts you from your goal, leave some time for the “Oh YES!” projects.
Get comfortable with selling
People sometimes have a negative view of sales. Perhaps you see it as pushy or just don’t see yourself as a salesperson. But as a freelancer, or small business owner, you have to be able to sell yourself and your services. Selling is only unethical if you’re trying to persuade someone to buy something they don’t want or need. Ethical selling is simply the process of listening to your potential customer, identifying if and how you can help them, and offering them the chance to work with you.
Build your network
The biggest shock for me in going freelance was losing the day to day social contact of the office. Even through I had a good social life and plenty of activities in the evenings, I found the days a bit lonely at first. It was the support of my network, mostly people I’d worked with in the past, that kept me going.
As well as keeping up with people you know, it’s vital to extend your network – in the real world as well as online. This is probably easier that it was 13 years ago, due to a growth in local networking groups. In most areas there is choice of friendly groups emphasising support and learning, as well as more traditional referral networks focused on generating leads.
And I know networking can be effective – the first networking event I attended in my freelance career led to £3K worth of business! Of course this doesn’t happen all the time and it’s a mistake to go networking thinking that work will fall into your lap. But you certainly open yourself to opportunities by getting out and getting known.
In fact I’ve got so much out of networking over the years that I’m now leading my own Fabulous Women and Marvellous Men networking group!
Over to you
If you are currently in business or freelancing, what helped you in the early days? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Thinking of taking the plunge?
Are you considering self-employment? A modest investment in coaching can really help you clarify what you want, so that you make the right choices for your future. Working with a coach is a positive step to getting unstuck and much clearer about your next steps. For expert help, book yourself in for a free no-obligation chat about your future. Find out more HERE.