Since launching Penning and Planning, my writing, tutoring and proofreading business, my freelance knowledge has increased dramatically! I have written (and frequently re-written) my own website content, attended numerous training and networking events and probably put on a bit of weight due to the work-from-home snack temptation trap!
So far, I am thoroughly enjoying being my own boss. However, as a small business owner I have learned a few valuable lessons in the past ten weeks, which I wish I had known sooner! Therefore, these lessons are for the benefit of all the newbie freelancers out there:
Free doesn’t necessarily mean free.
Beware of free consultations, free ‘discovery sessions’ and free advice offers as they are usually followed by someone trying to sell you something overpriced and/or unnecessary under the guise of ‘doing business’. I’ve been hoodwinked once by this technique so far and saved from a second hoodwinking thanks to the advice of a friend who had been hoodwinked previously too! I might have just been unlucky, but my own personal experience has made me wary.
However, sometimes free does mean free!
Eventbrite lists all the free training/business support events everywhere. In Hull, I accessed several free ENRG training events (equivalents may be run nationally) which offered FREE refreshments (and sometimesa free lunch!) with no obligation whatsoever. These events are fantastic learning, networking and sharing information opportunities and have helped improve my confidence and knowledge massively.
Not all networking events are equal.
I attend three regular events – a weekly writer’s group (free), a monthly formal women’s networking group (£8) and a monthly informal friendship/business support group (£5) and I find them all interesting and enriching. I have gone along to others as a guest, where I have paid £15+ for a networking lunch but have been subjected to hard sell tactics which put me right off!
It’s also important to evaluate the best use of your time. Going to an event might feel as though you are getting out there and making things happen, but always consider exactly what you hope to gain from it and what contribution you can give to it. If the answer is just a nice coffee and a chat, save that for your personal time and spend the saved event time taking direct action to build/promote/develop your business further instead. Janet Murray’s 1K A Month Checklist is brilliant for focussing on what is really important.
Setting up a business can be as cheap or expensive as you make it.
My business cost £500 to set up – I wrote a blog about it here. Since launching, I have chosen to invest further. For example, although I have years of experience as an English teacher, I didn’t presume I wouldn’t need any new training. Neither should you. As a proofreader, I prioritised and invested in online training courses through the SfEP and the PTC. Additionally, I subscribed to a few professional organisations – the FSB, the SfEP and ProCopywriters – to not only receive their respective benefits, but to also reassure my clients of my reputability. In total, I have invested about £850 so far. I set up my business knowing I would be using personal savings but, as a reluctant spender, I considered each outlay and benefit carefully before committing to any financial investment.
Social media is a double edged sword.
I love social media. I particularly love LinkedIn and I have made a few great connections already. However, the pressure to post, to create content, to be helpful and consistent and interesting and knowledgeable and entertaining is quite overwhelming at times. You might panic if you’re not getting the arbitrary number of views and likes which is deemed ‘popular’, which leaves you despondent. You might feel you don’t really have anything that interesting to say (but don’t assume nobody’s interested – I’ve read a few highly entertaining biscuit-related threads on Twitter!) Just make sure your social media usage is right for you, whether it’s limited, spontaneous, rigidly planned, one platform focussed, blogging based, or video content focussed (for the brave business owners out there!), keep posting, keep interacting and keep testing and measuring to create the right strategy for you. For me, creating a blog series really helped…
Creating a blog series is a good idea.
Early on, I created my Small Business Showcase blog series which enabled me to create a regular posting schedule, involve a lot of other people (who then promoted the posts) and become ‘known’ for something specific. It was beneficial for all involved – my Small Business Showcase did exactly what it said and showed off small businesses. This then publicised their business AND my blog whilst creating a bit of a positive buzz online. I was really proud of it, especially as the small business owners seemed to really enjoy it, and I plan to do variations on the theme in the future.
Information overload is definitely a thing.
Otherwise known as ‘paralysis by analysis’ as I posted on LinkedIn recently. Who should you choose? Who should you listen to? Who should you follow? Who should you subscribe to? Should you join a membership community? Should you put your faith in technical professionals to help you with your website/social media? Etcetera, etcetera.
It can be pretty overwhelming making decisions when you have no idea what you are doing! The best advice I can give is to try not to endlessly scroll or research – ask people for recommendations, don’t worry too much about what everyone else is doing and don’t be afraid of using trial and error until you find a routine or strategy that works for you and your business.
Going on holiday doesn’t always give you a break!
In a conventional job, going on holiday is a wondrous thing. However, as a self-employed business owner, it can be panic-inducing. What will happen to the momentum I’ve created? What if I miss a really useful training/networking event? What if I don’t get any work when I get home? Possible solutions to consider if you’re going on holiday quite early on in your business adventure could include:
* Appoint a VA temporarily while you’re away.
* Use Hootsuite or a similar scheduling platform to maintain visibility during your holiday. Don’t be afraid of posting holiday updates either – people enjoy seeing personal posts and a different aspect of your personality too!
* Notify clients via website/social media that you will be unavailable if you’re choosing to be, or that you will have limited availability, if you prefer to strike a work/play balance during your holiday.
* Create an actionable to-do list in advance for when you get back so you can pick up seamlessly where you left off. This allays some of the business owner guilt during the holiday and ensures you don’t miss further unnecessary days trying to get back into the swing of things.
Waiting is, quite literally, a waste of time.
Don’t wait until you’ve got the ‘perfect’ website/headshot/business cards/matching stationery/office set-up etc. – you’re more ready now than you think you are. Websites can be (and should be!) tweaked later, an iPhone takes decent enough headshot pictures, business cards are cheap enough for 100 and can be replaced, so whatever it is you think you need to get absolutely right before launching, I am here to tell you that you don’t. Learn as you go because everyone else is winging it too, which leads me on to…
Everyone is winging it!
Meeting fellow freelancers/business owners at various training and networking events over the past 10 weeks has taught me that none of us really has it completely sussed. But, there is a fantastic community spirit about wanting to learn, to share tips and stories and information, to help each other. I find it all extremely reassuring.
Can you identify with any/all of these lessons? Tell me your stories!