I have recently celebrated my 5th birthday as a self-employed, freelance PR consultant. When I took my first brave steps back in 2015, I had no idea what lay ahead. It was daunting and it was scary. I never imagined just how rewarding it would be or how fulfilling.
When I look back at the person I was before making the leap, I realise just how much my job was holding me back and how uninspired I felt. I had loads to offer and lots still to learn but the environment I worked in was too big for me to stand out. The role was also too restrictive for me to develop the skills and experiences I needed in order to feel professionally fulfilled, creative and motivated.
After just a few weeks in the big wide world, my eyes were opened, and I have some important people to thank for that including Kirsty James, from Colony Networking, who was one of the very first people I was introduced to. Her networking group helped me to feel part of the local business community and gave me access to the information I quickly needed to learn to run my own business. There were so many things I had not considered. I knew my industry; I had been working in it for 15 years by then. However, I had no idea how to run a business. I will never forget the nail biting nerves I felt giving my first five-minute elevator pitch or how much fun I had at my first speed networking event.
I soon realised just how many networking groups there were in my local area – across Warrington and Wigan, not to mention in Liverpool, Manchester, Cheshire and Lancashire! It would have been quite easy to have networked all day, every day, from breakfast till bedtime. This was a world I had no idea existed and I was astonished at just how many self-employed people and small businesses there actually were.
Another key person I will always be grateful to is Sam Shale. Sam and I had worked together previously and we both came from Wigan. Fortunately for me, Sam was about to head off on maternity leave from the charity she worked for and asked me if I was interested in covering for her on a freelance basis. I spent an incredible year covering Sam’s role, part time. This gave me the time to build up other clients as well as giving me the charity experience I was desperate for. It could not have ended better as it led on to another long-term, retained client in the charity sector.
Looking back, whilst scary, it was also a really exciting time. For the first time in years, I could see so many great opportunities and I felt inspired by other freelancers and small businesses who were doing incredibly well. I knew there was a lot to learn and I felt driven and eager to be a part of it.
The next five years
My journey continues and I have my sights set firmly on the next five years. I know there will be new challenges to overcome, new people to thank and new skills to learn. However, I am approaching it with much less fear, more confidence and a determination to invest in myself and my business, while continuing to be inspired by all the other freelancers and self-employed businesses owners around me.
The five most important things I have learnt:
- Consider what you enjoy most about your work and the sectors you would like to work in and try to build up experience and knowledge of that sector. It so important you enjoy what you do and being self-employed is the perfect opportunity to do more of what you love.
- Be yourself. Clients value personality and honesty and will want someone who will fit in and be a natural extension of their team.
- Reach out. You will need support networks and ‘colleagues’, both in your own industry and in the local business community and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Don’t forget your existing networks and old colleagues – this is where many freelancers find their first clients.
- Use the early days to learn new skills. It takes time to build a good client base so use this time to learn new skills: such as how to manage your accounts; how to use social media and how to write a website. You may find people in your new networks who can help or point you in the direction of useful resources or online courses to help.
- Celebrate your successes. Securing your first job, sending your first invoice, achieving results for a client, receiving positive feedback, getting paid; don’t let these things pass you by! When you don’t have a manager or a team to give praise or share these successes, it’s easy to let these accomplishments slip past. However, they are important to mark and will really help to boost your confidence, so find a way of recording them and celebrating them; you may find them useful to reflect on later.