So You Want To Work For Yourself? How To Flourish As A Freelancer

More people than ever are opting for the flexibility and freedom that going freelance offers - 6% of the national workforce to be precise, or just over two million people, according to a recent survey. Here’s how to successfully go it solo.

By Emma-Louise Boynton

20 July 2021

early 60% of freelancers say they are “very satisfied” with their job and 87% say that they never want to work for an employer again.

But how do you ensure that you manage your time well? That you have enough money to make it through quieter months? That you can get new clients, grow your network and avoid becoming cripplingly lonely? During a recent member’s event at The Stack I put all these questions and more to a panel of freelancing experts, who shared their wisdom on how to thrive while going it alone.

Our panel included journalist, podcast host and author of ‘You’re The Business’, a handbook for freelancers, Anna Codrea-Rado; Head of research at IPSE (the UK's only not-for-profit membership organisation for the self-employed), Chloe Jepps; writer and brand consultant specialising in Gen Z and millennial culture, Ellen Atlanta; and Senior Programme Manager at the Roundhouse in Camden (managing empowerment programmes and events for entrepreneurs and freelancers), and co-host of ‘The Imposters Club’ podcast host, Melissa Murdock.

Here are some of their pearls of wisdom.

“It's so important to build networks and have a freelance champion, a freelance wife, a freelance buddy, a person who also works for themselves and gets what it's like to do what you're doing.”


Understand when you’re most productive and design your day accordingly…

Melissa: Your ‘Tiger time’ is that point in your day that you are most energized and when you can be really fierce and get loads done. Whether you’re a night owl or an early-riser, it’s so important to get a sense of when that most productive part of your day is and then protect it like a tiger. This isn’t the time to do admin for example, this is the time of day to get your creative stuff done. That’s the benefit to being a freelancer - you can structure your day around your tiger time.

Do the hardest thing first…

Anna: I subscribe to the ‘eat the frog’ productivity hack, which means - do the hardest thing first.

Your morning is your sacred time. Even if you're not a morning person, how you start your day is going to set the tone for the rest of the day. So do the thing that is most important to you, whether that's exercise, whether it's doing your hobby, whether it's journaling, whatever it is, start with that. Then when you start your work, begin with the task you keep putting off and go from there.

Learn to prioritise: not everything is ‘urgent’...

Anna: As a freelancer you have to learn to prioritise your time well and know the difference between what is urgent and what is important. When you work for an employer, you are paid in most places for input, which means you can have days when you’re not really feeling up to doing much and so you coast a bit. But when you’re a freelancer you can’t afford to coast because you’re being paid for your output.

A great productivity hack I like to use is the Pomodoro technique, which entails working in 25-minute, timed chunks, with no distractions (no phone etc) and with 5 minute breaks in between. You’d be surprised how much you can get done when you eliminate all distractions and just focus for 25-mins at a time.

Melissa: The Eisenhower matrix is a great tool to help you manage your time by helping you visualise all your tasks in a matrix of important/ urgent.

You don’t need to monetize everything….

Anna: It’s important to make time to cultivate the ‘you’ who exists outside of work. For me, I have to have parts of my life that are private, which I don’t put on social media: hobbies that I don’t monetize or even photograph, friendships that I don't put online. There are many facets to me.

Book in ‘annual leave’ for yourself…

Anna: If you don’t schedule in time off, then it won’t happen. Block out time in your calendar for annual leave and then whether you do a staycation or travel abroad, you will be sure you take that time as holiday.

And an away day too…

Anna: My first year freelancing I had an away day with myself. I went and sat and did lots of exercises exploring: What are my values? What do I like? What do I want to achieve? What are my goals? What's working for me right now and what's not? Because when you are the business it’s really important to make time to step back and look at the bigger picture.

I also make sure to regularly block out time in my diary to work on my plan, for example, to build my marketing strategy, to focus on my finances. Because working for yourself means you’re not just your own boss, you’re also the employee, the head of finance, the head of HR, and the admin monkey. You have to stay on top of a lot.

Create a career aligned with your values…

Melissa: There's so much pressure to constantly promote yourself, your life and your work on social media, but it's really important to create a full life that's aligned with your values. The best thing to do then is turn off that external noise and work out what you want.


Pitch to your dream client: you’ve got nothing to lose…

Ellen: Write a list of the top clients you want to work for and reach out to them. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I’d also recommend putting yourself in the spaces you want to be working in and around the people you want to be working with. Look up events hosted by, or relevant to, companies you’re interested in and go to all of them. Why not try and put yourself forward to speak on panels relevant to the field of work you’re interested in too?

Be clear on your USP and what you’re offering…

Ellen: Essentially, what do you want to be known for and how are you making yourself known for that? A useful place to start if you’re unsure is by sitting down with a friend who works in a similar industry, even if just for an hour-long conversation, and figure out what it is that you stand for and what you love.

When building your brand, don’t think you need to be everywhere…

Ellen: Don’t try and cover all bases when it comes to social media. It’s just not viable. Pick two channels that work best for you and focus on building your profile and presence there.

Definitely make sure you have a website too. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, you just need a really clear and simple landing page that showcases what you do and, again, what you stand for, what your mission is (don’t be afraid to speak things into existence here, and also when it comes to writing your bio!). The key thing to remember here is to be specific.

Always think: why would a future client or employer want to work with me specifically? For example, I define myself as a consultant and beauty specialist focusing on Gen Z and millennial brands. I work with mission-driven brands and community-led organisations. Clients want to work with me because they know exactly what I stand for and I can offer.

Finally, don’t feel the need to put your most recent project/ piece of work at the top of your website. Put whatever is most relevant to what you want to be doing, or whatever you’re most proud of front and centre and go from there.

If projects aren’t coming to you, create your own…

Ellen: Do projects with friends, do test shoots... if you want to write about a specific topic area but haven’t got a commission yet, just start writing about it and put it on your website. That way, you begin building up a portfolio of work online that shows your interest and (growing) experience in the field, while also helping you gain that all-important experience in the process.

Maintain relationships....

Anna: It’s important to maintain and nurture the relationships you build with clients or editors, for example, so you get repeat work from them. When I was working in-house, as an editor, I was always wary about freelancers who had one by-line from lots of places, because to me that kind of suggested that they perhaps weren’t getting repeat work and that was a bit of a warning sign. So for me, a useful strategy has always been to try to get an ‘in’ somewhere and keep writing a few pieces for them regularly.

Our IRL Power & Networks event held at The Stack offices last week.


Find people you can talk about money with…

Anna: As a freelancer you have to talk about money on a daily basis and it can be really hard, especially when it comes to negotiating rates and knowing what to charge for your work and when to push back on what a client is presenting as a rate. It’s therefore really helpful to have people you can practice talking about money issues with in a low-stakes environment, so that when it comes to having those difficult conversations, it feels a bit easier.

Diversify your income streams…

Anna: What work do you do that’s scalable? That you can make once but sell multiple times, be that a course, a template for something, an E-book or a digital product? As a writer, when I’m writing articles that I sell one at a time then there’s always going to be a cap on how many articles I can write in a day and hence how much I can earn in a day. But when I write a newsletter, for example, then there's an infinite number of people who can pay a subscription to receive it.

Melissa: It’s also worth thinking of ways in which you can secure sponsorships or partnerships. Can you monetise your Instagram, for example? Can you get a sponsor for your podcast or your newsletter?

It’s important too not to box yourself into doing one thing, but instead think about all the ways in which you can utilise your talents and skills to make money. Everyone probably has a topic they can speak on - so pitch yourself as a speaker. And remember, you’re going to get paid very differently depending on where you speak, at a corporate bank versus a charity, for example. Diversifying your income means diversifying yourself and inhabiting more of an entrepreneurial mindset.


Freelancing can be lonely, so build your own version of a team…

Anna: It's so important to build networks and have a freelance champion, a freelance wife, a freelance buddy, whatever you want to call them - a person who also works for themselves and gets what it's like to do what you're doing. I'm now taking this to the next level and have formed a little collective with two other female freelancers so that we’re effectively working as a team and holding co-working sessions, but for our individual businesses. We know each other’s businesses inside, can talk really openly about money and finances, and share contacts and pool resources.

The Short Stack

While going freelance gives you great freedom, it can also be lonely. Being a part of a network of women who are in the same boat is key. Join the Stack membership today and never feel freelance-lonely again.

By Emma-Louise Boynton

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