I have found myself having a lot of coffees with people who are on the path to self-employment. As someone who embraced this particular type of freedom over 16 years ago, I have a thing or two to say! Some of these neophytes have taken voluntary redundancy amidst organisational shake-ups. Others are responding to new caring responsibilities. Some have just tired of trying to change organisations from within.
I just love these conversations. It's great to be asked for advice on a subject dear to your heart and about which you think you have something useful to say. And it appeals to the coach in me: asking questions to draw out what they really want from the change: their dreams and ideals; boundaries and fixed points.
Advice from experienced freelancers
Most were about networking for support and leads:
"It takes a long while to build consultancy relationships, so start early, and keep feeding in new possible clients to your portfolio so that you have always got an eye on one year from now as well as the now." Christine Garner
"I would suggest that your first piece of paid work (and your second...) will come from your network rather than any 'advertising' or external marketing you might do. The people who know you will be the ones to trust you first - and to tell others about you." Mark McKergow
"I was advised (many years ago) to have a great, but short, answer to the question, 'What do you do?' My answer was 'I'm a developer, I develop people!' That often prompted a deeper discussion led by the other person, that occasionally led to work. So much easier than a long ramble about what I actually did." David Shepherd, AMED member
"Start with the people you know, and build from there." Edward Kellow
"Reach out to friends and acquaintances in consultancies/agencies, become their associate. This will multiply ways you get work." Adam Garfunkel
"After 25 years in the field, I became self-employed 5 years ago. If I can summarize in one word, it is Contacts. Maintain and expand your list of contacts. Stay in touch with them, such as with a newsletter. Let them know you have your own firm and will give them the same level of service you have in the past (with perhaps, lower overhead). Get out there." Marc Karell, Climate Change & Environmental Services, LLC
"It could fill a book! But perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that going independent should not and does not mean going it alone! If the work does not involve other people, find other people to interact with around the work. Get a coach to help step outside the work and think. Join an association. Get associates. These things helped me not to be isolated and continue to help me infuse my work with new, creative ideas and insights, and to not spend all my time in my own head!" Chris Grieve
Some were about the kind of work you do, and how:
"Stay true to your own values [so you] project that you feel good about what you do" Christine Tuson
And some were very practical:
"Remember to invoice them and make sure they pay." Christine Garner.
"Work out what income you need and how much work (in paid days per year at different rates) you need to do to achieve it, and use that as a personal KPI." Christine Tuson
"Especially for women, don't charge too little." Julian Walker
And I can't resist linking to Sarah Holloway's blog post on the same topic, with her deeply practical "when you see a loo, use it".
Glass half full?
Some freelancers think their diary can never be too full, but I'd offer some contrasting advice on that point. I know I have a weakness in saying 'yes' too readily, so I have practised saying no and enjoying the downtime. It's time to spend with family, on community activity, or just clearing out the cupboard of mystery (everyone has one).
I'd agree more with these comments:
"Downshift. Make your home earn money. When you have gap days you don't need to panic, it may be better to take that as a reboot yourself day. Oh yes, and enjoy the freedom it gives you. Good luck." Nicola Baird
"Learn how to say no. when I first went freelance, I was terrified of ever saying no for fear of never getting work again, so found I over committed and worked silly hours. Took me years to have the confidence to say no." Pippa Hyam.
These are my top tips:
- Network, use your contacts, tell people you are available, ask them for help and ask them what help they need.
- Spend a little time daydreaming about your perfect, ideal work and then tell people that's what you do / what you're looking for.
- Trust your own judgement - if you don't seem to have the whole picture, keep asking questions; if the client seems to have missed something, mention it.
- Don't be scared of the money conversation - clients expect to have to talk about it!
- Know your own limits, be it term dates and sports day, or the sectors / kinds of creepy people you don't want to work with and stick to them - you are the boss!
- Do things that challenge you and get support from fellow independents.
- Find great places to have client or networking meetings for free - in London I like Kings Place and the Royal Festival Hall.
Over the years, I've got great support from a few organisations which are great for networking, both online and face-to-face: AMED; IAF; IEMA. I have also started to check out meet-ups - an online way to find and set up networking events. For example, I've gone along to collaboration meet-ups in London [update 5/5/16] and these facilitation meet-ups organised by the IAF. Check out what’s available in your area.
More advice, your advice?
Please do add your own experiences, questions or tips, in the comments below.