We might already be well into January, but I don’t think it’s too late to review the last three months of 2016 – or the first three months of my forage into the freelancing world.
I started the year as a senior writer in a successful York agency and ended it as a successful writer in my own business.
Am I allowed to call it a business? That’s exactly what it is, but I’m still at the stage where it sounds a bit too grown up.
Perhaps if I’d called myself something that wasn’t just my name (I was very fond of ‘Mariner Copywriting’ until I fell out with the idea) then I’d feel more established by giving the impression I’m more than just one person.
But one of the many pieces of advice I was given before I began my freelancing venture was that clients will want me, not ‘Mariner Copywriting’.
Another piece of advice I was given was to make sure I continued promoting myself when things got busy.
That wasn’t an issue in my first month, I’ll happily admit, but I soon realised the value of remaining active on social media – and on the phone – even when I had plenty of paid work to do.
That social activity – that networking – helped me set up work for the following weeks. It’s not always been huge amounts, but it’s always been a little more than I’d realistically planned for.
What October, November and December taught me most was that briefs don’t fall into my lap. At least not yet.
That’s because I’d always worked behind the scenes. I’d always been tucked away in the creative teams of agencies where I wasn’t exposed to clients or new people on a regular basis.
I wasn’t networking in the way that budding freelancers needed to network. But then I never harboured ambitions of freelancing back then.
To put it bluntly – and I accepted this a little while back – my notoriety, or popularity, as a creative copywriter in the wider marketing industry was close to non-existent on the eve of going freelance.
I was effectively starting from scratch.
Now, handily I’ve worked with some amazing colleagues down the years who really know their stuff – designers, illustrators, artworkers, developers, even fellow copywriters – who’ve all worked freelance at one point or another.
Some chose to go freelance; others were made to go freelance literally overnight as a result of severe agency cut-backs.
Either way, they had loads of experience to share, and they were never shy of sharing it with me. I realise now that I couldn’t have gone freelance without their support.
They gave me the grounding I needed to find work, and the confidence to know that work will always come during any lean times because I was doing the right things.
And when I don’t have any work booked in, I’ll continue getting up at the same time as I would if I were working 9 to 5.30, and I’ll go to bed at a sensible hour.
I wouldn’t under-estimate the importance of retaining this structure.
Because when work is light, the temptation is, naturally, to get up late, or do the things you always dreamt of doing if you had the time.
The reality is, of course, that when you’re working for yourself, and you’re seeking your own income – with no paid holidays, no pension perks or free health insurance – every minute that drifts by without trying to find work feels like a minute wasted.
Yes, I’m my own boss and, yes, I can choose to watch a film in the afternoon and work in the evening because I have that flexibility.
But what I’ve quickly learnt is that I won’t win any new clients by snoozing during the day and coming alive at night. Which is a pity, because I’m slightly nocturnal.
I have to be doing business when the world is doing business, otherwise I’m missing out. But then I’m also thinking about work in the evening anyway. In a good way.
That’s not to say I’ve never given myself a break. If I said otherwise, my Pinocchio nose would be pushing the house plant off the ledge three feet in front of me.
In the three months leading up to 2017 I’ve written business plans, magazine features, adverts and even a social media guide for a controversial fitness campaign in Australia.
I’ve become more involved in my local community, I’ve been to after-work events in Leeds and met more people in the last three months than I have in the last three years.
And I might just be getting the hang of LinkedIn now, too.
I’m brimming with ideas for 2017, so if you have ad campaigns that needs creating, a website that needs writing, products that need naming – or you just want a chat to see how I can help your words carry more weight – then please get in touch!
And don’t forget to take a look at my previous work.