‘Learn from your mistakes’. A cliché, yes? But it’s more than just something your teacher told you when you messed up. In reality, it rings pretty true. And there are no better mistakes to learn from than those you make in the early days of freelancing.
You’re not the only one to have made mistakes (though it can feel like it when you’re lying awake at night). You can also learn from where someone else has gone wrong. So, as I find my groove 18 months into my business, I thought it fair to share four of the key mistakes I made when starting out as a freelancer.
I’ve done many things right. Things that mean I have a good client base, am lucky enough to gain new customers, and make money. But I’ve certainly made plenty of rookie mistakes along the way.
Before I started my business, I moved house. Shortly afterwards, a local magazine landed on the doorstop, advertising local businesses. ‘Great!’ I thought. ‘I’ve moved to a new area; I’ve set-up a new business. Let’s get my name out there!’ So I called them up and placed an ad.
Why was this a (hugely impulsive) mistake? It was totally the wrong audience. In my ‘new business, new home’ excitement, I stupidly thought that, because I’d used a local trader from the magazine I picked up, it may be a good idea to advertise in it. In fact, the trader I’d used was a garden maintenance guy who’d removed the dead leaves from my guttering (not a euphemism).
Sure enough, no-one looking for a plumber hired a copywriter. Sheepishly, I called up and cancelled the ad. And learnt to spend my money in the right places.
In my very early days as a freelancer, I was thrilled to get an editing job through from a publisher. So thrilled, in fact, that costing the job accurately went a little wrong. I underquoted, and my hourly rate was pretty poor.
But the bigger problem was that the client missed their deadline. Then they missed their second deadline. Until, the night before publication, they sent me the work. At 1am.
And I did it.
Lesson learnt? You’re a freelancer, not a mug. Or a slave. And at 1am, you should be asleep/mid-Netflix marathon/in a bar. Not doing work that someone has the discourtesy to expect from you at that time. Or, at least, if you’re going to do it, charge more for the anti-social hours. And don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
Networking was a brand new field to me when I started freelancing. I’d gone from the comfort of the work landing on my desk to suddenly being entirely responsible for finding it myself. So, off I went to get myself out there and tried to shake-off the crises of confidence.
I went to many of the wrong groups. Groups filled with people who were incredibly vague about what they did, and didn’t seem to have a business of any recognisable kind. Networking groups where, if you weren’t part of the clique, you may as well eat your early morning sausage buttie in the toilets (yep, like a bad high school movie). Groups that cost a LOT, and give little (networking’s not always cheap). Your time is money. And I wasted some of mine.
My tips? Networking can be brilliant – in the right group. For me, that’s a mix of informal, social events – when you get to know the people well and have a laugh – and ones with a little more structure that are focussed on support, not sales (and the sales do come). It just took a while to work out which groups they were.
When you’re starting out as a freelancer, you probably don’t have a lot of money. And it’s pretty hard to give those first client payments away to someone else. So I drank coffee in excess and tried to tackle everything I could myself. Big mistake.
What did I end up with? Barely any time at all. Instead of spending Sunday lunch with my family in the pub, I ended up trying to work out how to sort out my taxes. Funnily enough, I went freelance partly to enjoy a better quality of life. And I wasn’t getting it.
I quickly learnt that I was very wrong. And also a hypocrite. There was no use spending my time doing something myself that someone else could do a lot quicker, and a lot better. So I hired a web designer. I had a logo created. And I called an accountant.
With my time freed up to focus on what I’m good at, I gained more clients, more work and, despite paying someone else to tackle other things for me, more money.
Thankfully, I learnt this lesson early on, and pretty quickly. Your time is better spent doing what you’re good at. Which is why people ask me to help them with their copy (and I certainly don’t offer to help with their tax returns).
If you’ve learnt your lesson too, you’ll know that outsourcing is a really good idea. You’ll get great work, done by a pro. You’ll have saved loads of time trying to tackle it yourself. And you’ll be supporting other, local, businesses and getting to know some pretty great people.
Reading this because you’re trying to avoid writing or editing your content (you hate doing it, and it’s taking ages)? Then drop me a line.