I officially started three29design on 4th September 2009 making 2019 its tenth birthday! I find it a bit mind-blowing when I think about it, how on earth did I manage that?! Apparently, 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% fail in their second year and 50% fail after five years in business. Furthermore, 70% of small business owners fail in their 10th year in business… eek!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the clients who have chosen to work with me over the past decade and another thank you to those who have recommended me to others. It means a lot! I wouldn’t have been able to continue without you all.
In true freelance fashion the milestone snuck up on me at a busy time so I didn’t have much time to prepare. So, to mark the occasion I thought I’d write something very honest about my experience and some things I’ve learnt for those thinking about freelancing as well as those who are well into freelancing, or just anyone who fancies reading this. A little warning, I am a pictures person and not a words person.
We’ve all gotta start somewhere.
After college was done and dusted I set up my business in order to create a job for myself after a difficult time at college due to health issues which meant I couldn’t follow the path I had set out in my head. I never envisioned a desk job but, hey ho, my hobby became my job!
It was a pretty easy start to freelancing compared to the huge leap a lot of people take, as I was still living at home and had no mortgage or children to deal with in the uncertainty.
I began by working with those within the music industry, mostly in the US. It has always been my favourite part of the job but I soon expanded to SME’s, charities, individuals and worked a lot more locally too. Every area has its exposure as payment issues, I found music to be particularly rife with it, especially some big names.
The clients I worked with during the early days created a solid foundation for me as I gained further connections through their recommendations. Thank you, you lovely lot! Word of mouth is king to me and it all stemmed from those original clients. I still work with several of those clients from 10 years ago even after several big pricing changes and I stay in touch with others even if we don’t work together anymore, I hope that says something!
Behind almost every freelancer is a strong support network.
Due to the nature of freelancing, there aren’t the safety nets you’ll find with employed work. Sure, you can pay to insure some things but they’re pretty useless if you’re sick with flu for five days and your work piles up with agitated emails coming through.
If your earnings drop due to work drying up, you break your arm or have to stay in hospital you really do need support behind you from people who understand the situation. Believe me, some people have a serious problem getting their heads around self-employment. Some neighbours may see you as the Amazon package babysitter for example.
Whether it’s your partner, family and/or friends, you need them to succeed because there will be bad times whether it’s to do with finance or just generally being sent crackers. I know I have mine and I’m very grateful for them (hi guys!).
There are also online support networks like Freelance Heroes which I discovered not too long ago which is filled with plenty of people who have already had the same issues you’re having and are there to lend a hand or offer advice. Over on Twitter, you can take part in #ContentClubUK Tuesdays at 11 am with a new host every week and @FHChat run a #FreelanceHeroes chat on Wednesdays at 8 pm. Don’t forget the Facebook group!
Bowler. Fedora. Gambler. Trilby. Panama.
You tend to go into freelancing because you’re able to sell something you love doing, which is great! But you also end up wearing a hell of a lot of hats.. bookkeeper, accountant, marketer, networker, customer service, debt collector, project manager and tech support fixing everyone’s emails somehow, someway…
💰 Get yourself an accountant and take that weight off your shoulders. To keep your records and invoice try waveapps.com. It’s free, user-friendly accounting software. No excuses.
📣 Marketing yourself is hard, even more so when you have no spare time. Word of mouth is king and takes up none of your time, all you need is happy clients.
🤝 Networking events sound like hell, but stop being a recluse and get yourself to them occasionally. You’ll meet some great people.
🤓 Customer service is tough, you need to find the right balance between being a good person, wanting to do a good job and not being milked for all your worth.
💷 Debt collection shouldn’t even be required. Work gets done, the freelancer gets paid. Can I get an Amen?
🙅🏻♀️ Fixing emails? Just say no from the get-go, life will be better for you.
Somehow, whilst juggling all those things mentioned above you need to keep current and expand your skillset. It’s easy to forget and time passes you quicker than Louis Hamilton in Monaco. At the start, it’s endless learning, a bit overwhelming maybe; then you can get comfortable and calm down… maybe a little too much! For a few years, I didn’t do much learning of new skills but since I’ve been learning motion graphics which was completely new to me, it’s revitalised it all a little and with the increase in video on social media it was a great thing to learn.
If you prefer to stay within a niche that’s fine but there’s no problem with expanding what you can offer. Maybe you’ll find your new niche in the process.
Go big or go home!?
I did want to expand my business but having the responsibility of employment has always been quite daunting to me and it’s never really fitted with what I have going on outside of the business. I know you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take but you also have to think about what you can cope with and, personally, it’s just never been right, so far.
It feels like everyone pushes the growth of the business at you when talking so it was great to find Company of One by Jarvis – you can get the book over on Amazon. Staying small is fine and can be successful for you.
Don’t forget YOU.
It’s easy to get into bad habits when you work for yourself, from home.
When I first started I’d work every day. I enjoyed it and was earning from something I liked. I’d rarely take holiday time off and, due to a general dislike of mornings and so many clients being US-based, I basically lived on American time for several years. When working from home you can get so into what you’re doing, before you know it it’s 4 pm and you’re yet to have lunch and you’ll never be able to make it to the gym today… again. OOPS!
These things are terrible habits and you will burn out or worse, get ill from it all. Repeat after me… the screen is evil and gives us podgy bellies.
I know the draw of working on a Bank Holiday, it’s quiet, no one else is in work to bother you but you should probably really be out enjoying something that’s not work-related with friends and family, especially if it’s a lovely day.
Having a holiday is hard, you have to wind down on work, have no work = no income and then wind back up but you need it. Give ample warnings of time off to clients. If they leave things till last minute it’s not your problem, switch off your phone’s emails and go sun yourself.
Like many, I’m definitely more creative at night and I much prefer my old times but I switched back to more normal UK hours because it simply doesn’t work with those around you.
Make sure you commit to some form of weekly activity to get exercise. I have always had a hobby or two that get me out once or twice a week and now I have a personal trainer working hard at my deconditioning – partly because I was stupid.
We’re all mad here.
Would I recommend self-employment? Honestly, probably not!
You’re much better off with a steady income, sick pay, paid holidays, pension contributions. Who really wants to worry about not getting paid on time, work piling up when you have flu and having to lose earnings if you dare to have a holiday, right?!
But… some of us like to do it differently, we’re a little madder than most and often have a pretty solid reason for doing it. If you have safety nets and a support network in place, there’s certainly no harm in trying and I wish you all the best! 🤗
I love seeing remote working become more popular, providing a middle ground. Especially those companies that show huge levels of trust with perks such as unlimited holidays. It’s great for everyone but especially for those with health issues which would otherwise hold them back.