Continuing our Crunch Chorus Stories series, freelance writer Lauren Bravo shares her experiences of becoming self-employed. Want to tell your story? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us about your business!
I’m a freelance writer, digital editor and, sometimes, a social media manager.
What prompted you to go self-employed?
I couldn’t get a job! Seriously though – after four-and-a-half years working at a digital content agency, I was feeling restless and wanted to move back towards more traditional journalism, but struggled to get a job anywhere that interested me. So in the end, I lined up a couple of freelance gigs and took the leap.
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome when starting out?
Self-discipline was always going to be a challenge; I’m not the kind of person who can work alone in silence for hours on end, so I had to find ways of motivating myself to knuckle down and get things done. I still have those days where I just sit and stare at the wall for half an hour.
Rejection is also a big part of my job, so I had to learn pretty quickly not to take it personally when I pitched ideas and never heard back. And learning to say no was actually a big hurdle, as the tendency when you’re just starting out is to panic and take every bit of work that comes along. But then, as I found out, you end up stressed and resentful that you don’t have time to go after more interesting jobs…
What do you like most about working for yourself? And what do you dislike?
It sounds strange but I love the solitude, and being in control of my working style – I still get a thrill from taking spontaneous afternoons off, having a walk at lunchtime, and working in lovely locations around London. Even if I’m on a tight deadline, I can still decide to work in my pyjamas. I also love having the power to say no to work that doesn’t interest me (when I can afford to!).
Things I dislike are: chasing invoices, and being made to feel like Oliver Twist for daring to ask when I’ll be paid (I need to eat, guys); never quite being able to switch off and forget about work, even on holiday. Oh, and grappling with my tax return is never fun.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently when starting up?
Not really. To be honest, I just wish I’d done it earlier!
What would be your top tip to anyone thinking about going self-employed?
My mum is self-employed, and her best piece of advice to me was ‘never put the TV on before 6pm’. I think I’d add that getting up at a normal time, showering and getting dressed can be really helpful for putting you in the right mindset to work – but ultimately, you have to find your own rhythm. I get some of my best work done at 7am, but I know other writers who work all night and sleep all morning.
Also, a change is as good as a rest. If you’re struggling to be productive at home, get up and go somewhere else. Oh, and don’t get slack on saving your tax money!
What’s your biggest success story from your time being self-employed?
Probably maintaining a stream of cake puns for 10 weeks every year when I’m reviewing the Great British Bake Off! But the biggest successes to me aren’t the things that sound impressive, they’re more like: managing to meet an impossible deadline without freaking out, or filing something I wrote at 2am after a huge tech malfunction.
Weirdly, my very first month of being self-employed was my most profitable for almost the first two years. Though I suppose that means I just went downhill afterwards…?
Do you have any pro tips on how to find new clients?
It’s a cliché, but it really is about who you know. Very few of my jobs have come along without a friend or a contact recommending me. But rather than just shameless networking, I’d say the best way is to pay forward any favours – tip off other people about great jobs or new clients, and you’ll be surprised at how the good karma pays off.
How do you find managing your cashflow?
Not always easy, especially when everyone decides not to pay me at once – but I’ve learned to be fairly relaxed about my overdraft, and just make sure I put away as much as I can for tax and savings so I know there’s always a financial safety net.
What did you consider when calculating your rates?
Working in an agency beforehand was helpful, as I had a good idea of going rates and what I was worth. But I think the main thing was asking around and finding out what other people charged – it’s so important for freelancers to be open about money when they can, it helps everyone in the long run.
Do you work from home or in a coworking space? How do you find that work environment?
From home in theory, but I find it hard to concentrate for too long at home so I work a lot from libraries and coffee shops. I’m not someone who needs total silence; I tend to prefer the buzz of other people around me.
My very best workspace is The British Library, it has a calm, studious atmosphere that spurs me on – although the morning fight for desk space does get ridiculous. And I also work a couple of days a week at an office, which is something I’ve always done for various clients. It helps stop me going too feral.
How did you find the transition to self-employment?
Actually, not nearly as hard as I thought I would! Although I eased myself in gently by going down to four days a week in my old job, so I could begin to get a feel for freelance life. On balance, I think I’m probably more stressed now than I was at my old company – but I’m never bored.
I worried I’d get lonely, but actually I found I relished the time alone and enjoyed being free from all the bureaucracy and office politics. At first I panicked that I was doing everything ‘wrong’, but then came to realise that most people are just making it up as they go along. I can’t imagine going back to a full-time job now.
Want to get in touch with Lauren or see what she’s up to? Mosey over to her website right now. And if you want to share your experiences of being self-employed, give us a shout at email@example.com.
Is now the time for you?
If you reckon it’s time for a career change and are considering setting up your own business, visit our #GetStarted homepage for free resources and advice on how to make it happen.