Last July, I quit my full-time job at a top ranked public relations firm to start my own freelance writing business. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why would you leave your stable career to start a business during the worst economic downturn in modern history?”
Here’s the answer: Where others saw loss, I saw opportunity. There was a clear hole in the market as the majority of businesses and agencies had cut their creative staff—nearly 50,000 jobs were lost globally at ad agencies alone. And while the staff was gone, the work was not.
In the face of government mandated business closures and social distancing measures, digital content was the only way to reach consumers. The importance of marketing did not wane, and in fact, more than 72% of marketers reported that the value of marketing in their companies increased during the last year, according to The CMO Survey released in February. Basically, companies were in need of specialized, project-based help, and that’s where I came in.
To get my business off the ground, all the energy I poured into my full-time job I decided to pour back into myself. The results I’ve produced to-date have exceeded even my own expectations, and I’ve learned quite a few things along the way.
Here are 5 lessons learned after one year of freelancing full-time.
1. Don’t be afraid to say “No”
The most important word in my vocabulary as a business owner is “No.” Despite popular belief, “No” opens more doors than it closes. “No” offers the opportunity to tell current and prospective clients what you do not do, and to set boundaries.
If you say “Yes” to things that are outside of your defined scope, you will not have the space to say “Yes” to the jobs you want when they come along. And trust me, they will come along.
2. Define what you do (and what you don’t do)
Before trying to find clients, make sure you clearly define which services you offer. This will make it easier to say “No” (see tip #1) to the things that are outside of your scope.
Clients will definitely ask you to do things that are not part of your package, and they are allowed to ask. It’s up to you to tell them what you do and don’t do. Make sure these conversations are had up front before you begin working.
You may also find that defining your focus areas will help you stay on track. I, for instance, specialize in real estate, hospitality, B2B, tech, arts and culture, and nonprofit work. Therefore, if a prospective client asks me to work on a heavily technical medical grant, I would not take that on.
3. Treat yourself like the client
As a business owner, you are your most important client. If you’re a solopreneur, then you are completely running the show—including marketing, sales, admin and customer service—and you need to give your business operations just as much love as you give your clients.
When I started freelancing full-time, I did what I would do for any other client and created a PR strategy for myself by asking: What are my goals? Which types of clients do I want? Which tactics will I use?
In the interest of full transparency, my plan was not super detailed, but it did act as a guide as I navigated my way through client conversations and business pitches. It also helped me determine whether I was on the right path, and where I needed to adjust my strategy to get the results I wanted.
4. Tell people what you’re doing
One of the biggest questions I am asked as a freelancer is, “How do you find clients?” While websites like Upwork and FreelanceWritingGigs.com are great resources, my biggest source of new clients has come from my personal network.
If you want people to know that you’re freelancing, then tell them that you’re freelancing! Share your services on social media, write a blog about what you’re doing, talk to your friends and former workmates. The people that know you will know what you’re capable of, and will turn into your greatest source of referrals.
5. Help your friends
If you see that someone has the drive and potential to truly be great—whether they are starting a business or going after their dream job—don’t be afraid to help them.
When I started freelancing, many friends offered great advice and helped introduce me to clients I still have today, and I am eternally grateful for their support. Now, I find that people looking to start their own ventures come to me in search of advice, and it’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Uplifting others and helping them make connections is a great feeling, and those you help will often return the favor tenfold.
Remember: Being kind will always get you farther than being an asshole.
Making the leap into freelancing full-time felt more like free-falling at times. There is vast uncertainty in how much money you'll make, where your clients will come from, and whether or not you'll succeed. But I guarantee that if you focus all of your energy into growing your business, you will be pleasantly shocked by the outcomes.