So I reported a few weeks back how I made the crazy move of leaving my stable OK-paid job to go into employment oblivion, otherwise known as setting up as an independent freelance PR consultant.
Without clients to take with me, nor a huge network in London, many were concerned about my bold move. During the first week, I was a little concerned myself. Staring at a blank computer screen with no schedule or boss was unusual to say the least.
However, after a few stumbling blocks, and some serious solo-motivation, I survived my first month, secured some steady work, met some lovely people, made a new bunch of contacts, and launched HK Communications
to the world.
Going it alone is by no means easy, and every day presents a new set of challenges. But the biggest support has been from those in the same boat as me, whose insight, experience and advice have helped me forge my own path.
While it’s very early days (infancy, you might say), I wanted to share my experience, just in case any of you are in the same boat or are thinking of also taking the plunge into independent working. So here is what you’re likely to experience if you decide to go a freelance and be your own boss:
You’ll have major moments of self-doubt. But the first breakthrough with a prospective client will boost your confidence
Seven years ago I had a job that involved cold-calling businesses to push the company’s marketing services. It was a thankless task which I hoped never to do again. Yet seven years later, I find myself doing exactly that.
Cold calling is not for the inhibited. You need to be confident, conversational, tenacious and thick-skinned. The latter is of huge importance as you will get some abrupt responses, and some downright
rudeness down the line. While put off at first, I picked myself up and ploughed through, eventually getting some great results and real leads. You see, it’s a bit of a numbers game, and you have to remember, that if the recipient on the other line is a bit harsh, it’s not personal.
But for every uninterested party, you might chance upon that one organisation or individual that really needs your support, so cold-calling is a necessary evil.
Another confidence knock you may suffer is at the thought of selling yourself. I did have moments of
self-doubt, as my previous pitching environments were within the safety net of larger PR agencies, such as Bell Pottinger.
However, I then remind myself that PR is about relationships, not names so people buy into you, not the company you represent. This knowledge has spurred me on and served as a reminder as to why I’ve embarked on this adventure in the first place.
You’ll find that freelancing is incredibly fickle
So I learnt a harsh lesson in my first week as an independent consultant – you can’t rely on anything. The day I left my job, a contact got in touch requiring freelance support that month. I was assured that this was in the bag as I was asked to secure dates in my diary, but a week later the opportunity was gone as the contact had changed their mind.
You see, unlike the security of a fixed contract or permanent role, in the independent consulting world, clients can change their mind very quickly. You’d sign a contract if taking on retained or project work. But before you get to this, meeting, proposals, and even potential work dates are fixed upon a non-legally binding ‘gentleman’s agreement’.
This experience has taught me not to put all my eggs in one basket, or pin my hopes on a particular piece of work. This is where my cynical glass-half-full nature comes in handy.
Non-freelancers won’t get what you’re doing
Understandably, my non-freelance friends do not get what I do, nor do they realise how hard it is. Freelancing has a bad rep. The word ‘free’ suggests that you come and go, do some bits of work and chill. However, as I’ve taken a slightly different route of setting up my own company (hence I flit between using the terms ‘independent consultant’ and ‘freelance’), I am often working harder and longer hours than ever before.
Family and friends will assume you’re not working unless you’re on a client project
Similar to my previous point, I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have said: ‘Wanna meet up in the week? You’re free now as you’re not working, right?’ The hardest thing for family and friends to contemplate was that when I was at home – not getting paid or doing any client work – I was actually still working.
Again, unlike a regular job where you start your first day when you go into the office, it’s not so straightforward with consulting. Clients or projects don’t fall into your lap. Until you become an industry
leader, you have to seek them out. So a typical day might involve the following:
- Updating my website with a blog post from my industry
- Updating my social media channels
- Responding to enquiries on Linkedin / business requests
- Emailing / chasing up prospects
- Ringing around new prospects
- Researching topic areas of relevance
- Researching twitter to stay abreast of what’s going on in social media
- Meeting potential clients
And not to forget, in the evening I might pop to the odd networking event, after doing a day of the above.
If you don’t get up early, your work day will go out of the window
Never a truer word spoken. To keep up my A-game, I prefer to wake up at the same time as my hubby and be in my office (whether that’s at home or outside) by 9am. The days I don’t are almost write-offs. Everything moves at a snail pace, and you spend a little longer having your breakfast in front of the
I do believe what you do first thing can set the tone for the whole day. So you have to be up and at ‘em, ready to take on the world, or at least do some good business. Otherwise this happens…
If you start late, you’ll work later
The odd occasions where I have started later have inevitably meant that I finish later, so it flies in the face of the whole work-life balance concept. I mean, I didn’t decide to set up my own consultancy so I could work into the evening.
Yes, you are your own boss, so in theory you can work whenever you want. But personally, sticking to a 9am-5.30pm where possible helps keep my body clock – and life – in check. Otherwise, the barrier between work and life just disappears.
If you’re working from home, you’ll find lots of excuses not to do work – so create a ‘home
When I first started freelancing, I was working from my living room using a dining chair. But being inches from the sofa and TV was just weird. Particularly the days that I had lunch at home too, as work and home seemed to become one. So turning our spare bedroom into an office was the best thing I could have done. Having at least some sort of separation meant that I felt like I was working. It’s not the perfect home office that you’ll see in the Kardashians, but at least it’s a space that I only visit for work, and can shut the door at the end of the day and live in the rest of the apartment.
You’ll get isolated at home – so it’s vital to get out when you can
As a natural people-person who had only worked in busy offices, being completely alone was strange. The danger, as many freelancers would verify, is the isolation and cabin fever. So it’s vital to get out when you can and stay plugged in to the real world.
I was lucky enough to get a project in my first few weeks which involved me being on-site, so I got out of the house, met some great people and had the best food places in London on my doorstep (if any of you
Londoner’s haven’t visited Leather Lane, you should).
Just recently, I’ve taken the plunge to rent some shared office space in Central London, which will not only get me out of the house, but will be a great place to meet new people (I’m sharing with a tonne of entrepreneurs, so the opportunity for idea-swapping and learning is huge). It’s also got meeting room space for client visits, which comes across as a whole lot more professional than having somebody meet me at my spare bedroom-turned office…
If office space seems a little steep or unnecessary, taking your laptop to a coffee shop always helps. You see, you might not put value on being outdoors, after all the advantage of freelancing is working in your PJs, but to keep informed, and just a bit sociable, it’s good to get outside and interact with other humans.
Other entrepreneurs /freelancers will be your biggest supporters
By far, the best advice has been from others who have been through the same thing as me. PR and media may be seen as a bitchy industry from the outside, but other entrepreneurs and freelancers have given me invaluable, honest advice. Taking learning from other people gives you the best chance of succeeding on your own.
And of course, you have to pay it forward. Not just because one good turn deserves another, but because you work much better with people than against them.
Everything will be a prospect or opportunity, so remember to be nice
While I mentioned that new business is a bit of a numbers game, it’s vital to remember the numbers are
people. So keep in touch with your contacts, and be open to all prospects, as you never know what will come of them. It’s easy in the relentless new business slog to employ a ruthless process of elimination and be a bit short to those who you may feel don’t have any value for you.
However, you could turn away a gem – not just as a potential client, but a potential collaborator, partner, adviser or friend. Yes, nobody wants to indulge a time waster, but in PR, you have to be nice and on point at all times, otherwise nobody will want to work with or recommend you.
You’ll learn a whole bunch of skills
Running your own business, however big or small, demands a whole new set off skills. At present, I am my own bookkeeper, salesperson, PR consultant, brand guru and marketing expert, and office manager.
Oh, and I’m also my own PA (maybe one day I’ll employ one). But the business and life skills you learn
from this are invaluable. There is no other time in my life where I would have had to wear so many hats. So I’m relishing the steep learning curve.
Now there is a whole lot more advice I’d dish out, but this is turning into a white paper. So for now, I’ll leave you will the above nuggets, and be sure to keep you informed of progress (between makeup reviews
, of course).
And if you do happen to be interested in understanding more about what I do when I’m not blogging, check out my website here