We’re asking members of Crunch Chorus (our free-to-join micro-business community) to share their experiences of being self-employed. This week Suzanne Lindfors – a freelance proofreader, copywriter and social media manager – shares her thoughts on juggling freelance work with the demands of single parenthood.
Tell us about your business.
It’s less of a business, and more just me taking on work as I get it, alongside a couple of regular clients. I do a bit of everything – proofreading, copywriting and copy editing, as well as PR and social media management.
What prompted you to go self-employed?
In 2010, I left my job at BBC Good Food Magazine to start a family, and gave up work for a few years to focus on the kids. In 2014, I started writing for a local food website which my friend edited, which in turn led to me reviewing restaurants for the local paper. This gave me the impetus and confidence to start taking on regular paid writing work. Meanwhile, my circumstances at home had also changed as I’d separated from my husband, so I simply had to find a way to make money – freelancing was the only way I could juggle work and kids. Over the years I’ve built up my reputation and regular client base, and now do regular proofing and editing work, as well as social media management and PR – something I used to do many years ago before I moved from Dublin to London.
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome when starting out?
For me, as a stay-at-home mother, it was finding the time to get any work done. Until my eldest daughter started school, the youngest turned three and I could take advantage of a few hours of free childcare, I had to work every single evening when they were asleep. I never had designated working hours – I just grabbed time when I could. It was exhausting and I burned the candle at both ends for a long time. Now that they’re both at school, I can structure my time much better and no longer have to work in the evenings. The school holidays remain, however, a real headache. It’s a six-week juggling act between their father and me, holiday clubs and the kindness of family and friends!
What do you like most about working for yourself? And what do you dislike?
I love working in my own time. If I’m tired or one of my kids is unwell, I know I can always catch up that night or the following day. It takes the pressure off and is very liberating compared to the strict BBC deadlines of my former life. Needless to say, I don’t miss the commute either.
Working from home, I find it difficult to concentrate sometimes. It’s hard to change my mindset from “mum” to “professional” when I’m in the flat being reminded of chores that need to be done. But above all, I miss working as part of a team – I’m often plagued with self-doubt and have days when I completely lack any ideas, inspiration or motivation. Being part of a team keeps you on your toes.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently when starting up?
No. Taking a few years off work to raise kids can really kill your confidence and self-belief, so starting back gradually was crucial for me. As the girls got older and my confidence grew, I felt I could take on more work. I’m incredibly lucky that I never had to plunge straight back into long office hours again with no mental preparation. Gradually building up my reputation and client base has really helped me go out and do this alone without completely freaking out!
What would be your top tip to anyone thinking about going self-employed?
Always have financial back up, never go down to the wire with your money. You never know when a client may stop using your services. I recently lost a regular social media client with zero notice because their business is struggling – you always have to be prepared for this.
Set up a dedicated working area in your home, away from distractions – if you’re lucky enough to have the space.
Designate yourself working hours, whatever suits you, be it daytime or evening, and try to stick to them. It may not feel like a “proper” job working from home, but it does help if you know that, say, Monday to Thursday are your designated working days, and the rest of the week you’re free.
What’s your biggest success story from your time being self-employed?
Casual coffees and chats can often lead to some really good stuff. For example, a few years ago a friend of mine mentioned to her boss at Warner Brothers that I managed the social media for a restaurant. Within one day, I was sitting in the WB offices and had secured myself a new job – managing the social media and editing copy for a new parenting website, which I was free to do entirely in my own time.
My work has also led to me being invited to co-organise Brighton’s Best Restaurant awards (www.brightonsbestrestaurants.com), editing a cookbook, and helping to launch new restaurants in Brighton. One day I’ll be assisting at a photoshoot at a restaurant, the next I’ll be editing 100-page reports for a global charity. It’s a real mixed bag.
Do you have any pro tips on how to find new clients?
Network as much as you can. I haven’t even had to set up a website yet as all my work has come from chatting to people in the same industry as me. I’ve found work via Twitter, chatting to people at barbecues, at the school gates, in a playground. You may find out that someone is launching a website and needs copy written, or someone needs help with social media for a new business, and suddenly you have another project. Be confident and don’t be afraid to sell yourself – you won’t get anything if you don’t put yourself out there.
How do you find managing your cash flow?
I have a strict household budget. I’m now a single parent and don’t have the safety net of a second salary, so having some money in the coffers is absolutely crucial. Always have financial back up so you’re never caught short.
What did you consider when calculating your rates?
I talked to friends who were established copywriters and social media managers, and kicked off with very competitive rates. After about a year, I upped those rates as my client base and experience built up.
Do you work from home or in a coworking space? How do you find that work environment?
I work from home which I find very distracting at times. The temptation to do housework, read a book, stick on First Dates – anything – is often very strong. But now that my daughters are both at school, I’m up, dressed, fed and back home on my laptop at 9am every day, which gives my day more structure.
How did you find the transition to self-employment?
My transition wasn’t overnight. I had two kids and pretty much took two years off work before dipping my toe in the water again. I missed working and making my own money, so I gradually took on more work – difficult as it was at first with two demanding pre-schoolers. Going freelance can be really scary – it’s like pulling the safety net away from under you – but now I could never go back to rigid office hours.
If you want to share your experiences of being self-employed, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.