Be your own boss: what I tell my friends

Recently, I’ve found myself becoming a bit of an incidental go-to for friends, friends of friends, ex-colleagues thinking about or just starting going solo. I’ve worked for myself for almost five years and my business is still evolving. It’s one of my favourite topics and I love helping people.  It’s National Freelancers Day this week so I thought I could share what’s worked for me.

Build a brand
Think big from the start. When I made the leap, I was freelancing in the truest sense of the word, working on two contracts. Lucky, yes – I had a bit more flexibility and maybe earnt a bit more, but I quickly realised I was on the same old treadmill. I certainly wasn’t doing work that set my soul on fire.

Thinking bigger, as a brand, elevated everything. I worked towards building direct clients I cared deeply about, I broadened my service offer, I upped my marketing. It’s still evolving; I know I haven’t got close to fulfilling my brand’s potential. Look at the people who have achieved huge success thinking big about their own personal brand – Sara Tasker from Me & Orla, Jen Carrington, Janet Murray. Dream big now.

Stick to your guns
When you’re first trying to win work, there’s a strong temptation to pitch yourself at a low cost – or worse – for free. Don’t. First of all, you’re not just selling yourself short, but your whole industry.  Secondly, if your client isn’t prepared to pay your market rate, the chances are they don’t really value the service you’re providing. A lack of willingness to invest is never a good buying sign and often the relationship stutters and ends badly.

There are always times when strategic partnerships come into play – a whole separate blog post. But, if a prospect tries to barter you down on your project fee alone, stand firm. Instead spend the time working to attract the clients who recognise the value and impact you can bring their business.

Be clear on your values
Think about why you’ve decided to go down the freelance or solopreneur road. What are the values your business stands for and brings to your clients and community? Being crystal clear is the starting point for so much of your brand – from how you position yourself through to the clients you target.  They also act as a compass and roadmap as your business grows.

My brand values are: connection, integrity, growth, collaboration and adventure. I use them to shape my creative thinking and decision-making as well as brand attributes. If I feel an opportunity doesn’t honour each of these, I let it go. Working by yourself can be lonely, challenging and it’s easy to lose sight of your why; your values will help set you back on track.

Invest in yourself
Another one I’m passionate about. Set aside a training budget for your biggest asset – you. To keep deliberately delighting your clients, you need to stay on top of new thinking and ideas. It’s also good for confidence, inspiration, developing new services. Uncertainty, loneliness, lack of security – these are all things you have to adjust to as a freelancer. Making sure you’re equipped and have the support to do so is priceless.

A mix of coaching, technical skills and softer online courses has worked well for me.  It goes beyond new skills.  The best coaches tend to offer support Facebook groups and you become part of a community of like-minded people, who share your curiosity, desire to learn and committed to self-improvement. The peer learning and relationships are invaluable.

Build your tribe
Not being part of a team is the one thing I’ve missed since being self-employed. So I’ve built my own one around me. Other solopreneurs, business owners, business friends, playground mums, clients – from yoga teachers to website designers as well as PRs. Having someone who understands the ups and downs of running your own business – the highs of a great project through to the uncertainty of managing your income. It could be your coach, mentor, VA or accountant. Build a team around you.

Co-working was a real upgrade in my working life. Finding GROW@GreenPark means I’ve become part of a community and it’s been great for networking. Get out from behind your laptop – networking events can be hit and miss in my experience so I’m super-selective. Research, sound out trusted colleagues.  If you can’t find one that feels right, start your own.  We did this with Glug Reading, to help build the creative community. My gorgeous friend Ceriann did the same with Winging It Club, bringing a group of inspirational women together to support others as they map out their own paths.

Don’t forget the value of online networking too. I’ve found a hugely supportive community on Instagram and taking part in regular PR Twitter chats has helped me connect to my industry, forging friendships offline too. I’ve connected with other business owners who are that step ahead of me, helping shape my vision and goals, again inspiring me to do that much better.

Working for yourself isn’t an easy option or career pit-stop. In fact, it’s harder to step away from your own business, and I inevitably find myself working many evenings and weekends.  There are so many myths involve coffee and cake – again, another blog post. You need self-motivation, discipline and a long-term mind-set. But the freedom, opportunity and flexibility of being your own boss mean that you can design a life that works for you, that you love and inspires you to serve clients you care about.  Which is why when friends ask if it could be right for them, I always say, yes.