It feels like more and more of us want to work for ourselves. At least half the comms staffers I end up chatting with at conferences and events express an interest in following me into freelancing. Employers beware – there are a lot of itchy feet out there…
I love being self-employed – the variety of clients and projects keep me interested, while everything I learn with working for one organisation influences the way I approach the next. The experience I’m accumulating provides my clients with great added value, and it helps me feel confident when I’m pitching for work.
It’s not for everyone though, and if you’re considering it, you’ll need to think long and hard about the implications for every part of your life, not just your career. But the rewards are definitely there. Here are some of the questions I get asked most regularly, and the kind of stuff I say in response.
Do you have to have a big network of potential clients before you get started?
It probably helps, but I don’t think it’s necessary. My last in-house role kept me busy, consumed all my mental space at work, and quite a lot outside it, and was based in a town far away from the big cities where the streets are paved with charity communicators (or so it seemed). But once you’ve declared yourself a freelancer, and especially early on when you may be less busy, you can start building a network pretty quickly – using everything from social media to events like those by CharityComms. Be patient – my experience is that you don’t have to pitch to everyone you meet. Just get to know people, find things in common and share experiences. I’m a classic introvert at heart, and have found it much easier to build my network when I’ve taken the pressure off myself to secure clients everywhere I go.
Don’t you have to be really disciplined?
There’s nothing like becoming completely self-reliant professionally to discover your internal slave driver. And once you have clients, the deadlines and schedules you agree with them help provide structure and motivation. I think of myself as basically quite lazy, and my number one concern when I started out on my own was that I’d fail because I’d prefer to sit in my pyjamas bingeing on box sets. And to be honest, sometimes I do just that. But never when I’m committed to delivering for a client. And I’ve learned new things about myself, like the fact that boredom and the creative impulse to do interesting work are both strong drivers for me, especially when multiplied by my strong desire for financial security…
Do you end up working all hours? Or not enough?
I started Self Communications in February 2013. Almost three years later – January 2016 – I found myself briefly without client work, for the first time ever. It was a welcome break after a busy close to the year, and it lasted for about a month. By the end of February I was working six days most weeks servicing clients. There was no let up for the next four months, and I’m still pretty busy now. On the other hand, I’ve booked four weeks off this summer so I can travel – something I’d never have done when I was in-house. Adjusting to the peaks and troughs of work volume, and staying motivated during times of plenty and times of lean – that’s probably the toughest challenge in freelancing. But for me, it’s a really low price to pay for the flexibility, challenge and creative opportunities that I get from working for myself.