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5 Things I’ve Learned from 5 Years of Freelancing

This month marks 5 years since I became self-employed. In January 2014 I had just left my last full-time job and was starting to figure out life as a freelancer.

Since then I’ve worked for clients, with agencies, from home, in the office, at events – between digital marketing, training and course development.

I’ve learned a lot both from my own experience and from wise freelance friends. Here are the 5 most important things that have kept me on track.

  1. Learning to say no. At the beginning, I wanted to say YES to everything, and often felt guilty turning work down. But now I’m lucky enough to be a bit choosier, I can focus on the projects and businesses that best suit my skillset and interests. The other side of saying ‘no’ to things is something I’ve done from the beginning, which is being honest if I’m not the right person for the job. Even this is easier now, as I can usually recommend someone from my network who has the skills the project needs.
  2. Keeping on top of admin. The boring but essential lesson. I’ve never had that last-minute tax return panic in January – I do mine over the summer – but I have been known to let pesky receipts linger in a pile for a little too long. Last year I started using Wave’s (free) receipts app which is a life-changer, and I also set aside “admin hour” once a week to pick up any ad hoc tasks, rather than letting them interrupt work.
  3. Finding my people. Freelance life is more fun with friends! One of my best friends has been self-employed for a few years too, and although she’s in a completely different industry, it’s good to have someone to chat to about the perks and pitfalls of freelancing. I’m also lucky to work with a few amazing teams of freelancers, both locally and spread around the UK. And I’ve found Facebook groups to be a great place to talk about both freelancing in general and industry-specific stuff – essential for digital, where there are updates pretty much every day.
  4. Valuing my skills. Eek. This is something I – and most freelancers I know – still waver on from time to time. Sometimes clients want to treat – and pay – you like an employee. But we’re doing something different as freelancers. We come in already skilled-up, often with our own devices and responsible for our own personal development. There’s no holiday pay, sick pay, pension, employer National Insurance contributions. Don’t be afraid to stick to your minimum day/project rate. Find clients who value freelancers for bringing hard-won skills to the business, rather than seeing it as a cheap way to employ someone.
  5. Learning, constantly – and staying interested. Find interesting people in your industry to follow on social media, read about recent developments, take a course, find a mentor. We don’t get the same learning and development opportunities as someone in a full-time job, so create them for yourself! I’m a fan of Coursera and Skillshare for online learning, whether it’s a topic closely related to my specialist areas or something completely different. I also love a good side project for applying new-found knowledge. And chats with my freelance friends (as above), who are experts in all sorts of different things, are always interesting.

I’m sure there’s still plenty for me to learn, mistakes to be made and invoices to chase, as goes the self-employed life. But for now, I’m certainly a more confident freelancer than I was starting out in 2014, which leads me to do work that I love and that challenges me every day.

Looking forward to the 6th year!

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