The lessons I’ve learnt since becoming a full time freelancer

Introduction

I always promised myself that one day I would become my own boss, go freelance, launch my own agency, you get the gist — sitting in monthly, quarterly & yearly reviews, feeling awkward about the “where do you want to be in 5 years” question, knowing I wanted to be where I am today.

In August 2019, I took the leap.

Here’s some vital lessons I learnt to take forward into my second year as a full time freelancer.

The time is never "right"

There is never an “ideal time” to take the leap from the 9-5 to self-employed life, you just have to do it. In fact, taking the leap at a time when I thought I wasn’t ready, proved just how ready I was.

Most people I’ve spoken to who are wanting to go freelance in the future are working on building up a client base whilst still in full time employment. Although I wouldn’t advise against this, it’s important to remember that most clients will want you to be available to them Monday to Friday between the hours of 9am and 5pm at a bare minimum. 

So would I make this happen? Speak to your clients. Ask them if they feel that your professional relationship would improve if you took the leap, would they pass over more work? Nine times out of ten, the answer is yes.

Self discipline is key

Despite seeming obvious, there’s no longer a manager to keep an eye on you!, so those distractions at home, in your office or on your computer are now more tempting than ever. I’ve found it extremely awarding to plan my days out based on outputs; and those outputs don’t always have to be work related. 

Here’s an example:

Monday

  • 9am – Answer emails, chase leads and make phone calls
  • 10am – Go to the gym
  • 11am – Start working through design work
  • 1pm – Take an hour lunch break, get some air and clear my head
  • 2pm – Do some writing, i.e. LinkedIn, blogs or proposals
  • 3pm – Play some online games with friends
  • 4pm – Invoicing and set up meetings
  • 5pm – Start to wind down

Work in a way which suits me

In most office spaces, there’ll be a set way of working. When I was working at Clicky our setup was an open plan office for the design team, the radio was on for everyone to listen to and light conversations sparked up whilst working. This approach worked for some, but not for others. 

Personally, I like to have a split screen on my widescreen monitor, with my designs & emails on the left and a browser window on the right housing a Netflix series. For me, I find that watching/listening to something enticing helps me concentrate on my work without overthinking what I’m doing.

Networking is a necessity

Getting out to networking events at least once a week has been paramount to my growth in 2019. I’ve learnt a lot about networking and presenting, but one key lesson I’ve learnt is what most would refer to as “givers gain”. Givers gain is the term given to the ideology of helping people the best you can to form solid relationships, so two way referrals can be passed with confidence.

Attending weekly networking events for the past year has helped me build strong relationships with clients, contacts and introducers. It’s taught me how to get the best out of my business and the importance of being a good introducer myself.

Setting & understanding goals

As soon as I started to notice patterns in my growth, I noticed that solid goals can be defined quite easily. It all started with using questions as prompts, mainly: “where am I?”, “where do I want to be?” and “how do I get there?”

Writing down my goals and hanging there somewhere I can see everyday acts as a solid reminder of why I do what I do and what I’m working towards.

You can find out more about my approach here.

Filling the pipeline

Luckily, when I launched my full time freelance offering, I got a bite straight away – onboarding my biggest client to date (see project here). At this point most people would sit back, work through the project and then go out on the hunt for another; but it’s extremely important to fill the pipeline. 

Filling the pipeline refers to the process of assuring there is work queued up going forwards after this project completes. I always make sure that I am always at least six months ahead.

More "me" time

I knew that going out on my own would entail a lot of hard work, but I learnt the importance of “me” time the hard way. I launched in August 2019, working 12 hours a day everyday, 7 days a week; it wasn’t until I took 4 days off over Christmas that I realised how much that break was needed: sleeping for the most of it!

I’ve found that taking time out for myself and taking weekends off is extremely important for my mental and physical wellbeing and actually made me more productive with my time. 

Summary

To conclude, I feel that I have learnt more than I ever have over the past year, but I’ve really had to give my business everything that I have. This process has come with its sacrifices and meant that I’ve had to change and adapt, but it’s been the best year of my life and I can’t wait for the next one!