Five years a freelancer


Over two years ago, I created the brand that you know today. But I’ve been freelancing for five years. I know that because it’s roughly the same time I’ve been a mum. I don’t do things by halves. I’ve discovered a fair few things about myself during this time and some real benefits and drawbacks to working for myself. I’d like to share with you what I’ve learnt along the way.

Networking has made my business.

Toes curl at the word network. It conjures up images of being at a social event and people ramming business cards into your hands. I’d like to say I’ve got more business cards than I’ve had hot dinners – but you all know I’d be lying.

I’ve been a member of a structured networking group, The Networking Group (known as TNG) for about three years. Here I’ve met around 80% of my clients. I’ve fine-tuned my elevator pitch. But more than that, I’ve got this community of people around me who I know have got my back, who share their knowledge and time generously, and many have become good friends.

Freelancing, especially after you’ve had an office job, can be lonely. Networking takes some of that away.

I choose to connect rather than compete.

Freelance copywriters are common – it’s a good job for creatives – but I’ve never felt like I’ve had to guard my patch. For every copywriter, there are three times as many businesses. (This is not an accurate statistic, I’m just guessing – but I know there is a big enough pie to share.) When the mentality of I’ve got to beat my competition rules your decision making, you forget to stay in your lane. You dilute what makes you different.

Equally important, is that you dismiss your competition for what they can teach you. And they can teach you a lot.

I prefer to connect with other copywriters. Especially copywriters that are five years, ten years, even decades ahead of me in experience. I observe what they’re writing, who they are writing for and most importantly how they write.

What’s their style? Are they sarky and confident? Or earnest and poetic? Are they punchy and snappy or are they fluid and chatty? There’s really room for us all.  

I’ll never stop reading. I’m a greedy learner.  

I’m subscribed to various newsletters from writers around the world, and I follow lots of copywriters on LinkedIn. I’m not about to name drop… but seek out copywriters and read their work. If they offer in-person or online training, even better.

The beauty of copywriting is it’s constantly changing but there are foundations that will always ring true – put the reader first, be clear and accurate, and don’t be afraid to inject personality and humour.

Don’t snub any copy either. Read the labels on the back of your cereal and kombucha. What makes the words sing? How have they used a story to hook you in and grab yet another bowl of granola?

I’ve built a small team to support me.

In the beginning, you have to do everything yourself – marketing, sales, setting up systems, customer care. For me, I’m glad there are two things I didn’t skimp on:

  • website design: this is your shopfront
  • logo: a good logo can land you a great client – this is what happened to me.

I think other things you can add as you go – although a lot of coaches may disagree with that comment.

You must start somewhere. Read Allergic to Perfect by Natalie Tolhopf if your level of perfectionism is holding you hostage. As the kikki.K podcast likes to remind me: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great.”

When you’ve got some regular clients and you’ve got some funds behind you, consider outsourcing some of your tasks. Get a coach. Hire a virtual PA.

I outsource a decent chunk of my editing and proofreading. This is to keep my turnaround times reliable and to have a second pair of expert eyes on my work so that it can be as accurate as it can be.

Thank you to my contractors. You make my job fun and much more achievable. I like being part of a team with you.

It’s okay to say goodbye to clients.

Even if they’ve been good to you in the past.

Now, this is a biggie. It may be controversial. But what I think is one of the major benefits of working for myself is that I can be choosy about who I work with. The saying goes if it costs you your mental health it’s too expensive. This is so true. If you have a client who asks you to write something you don’t want to, is unreliable with payments or who doesn’t treat you in the way you deserve to be treated, it’s much easier to say goodbye to them if you are working for yourself than if you’re an employee.

Trust your gut.

It may be painful in the short-term, but your sleep, self-esteem and mental health will thank you for it. You can say “goodbye” or “no thanks” respectfully.

Saying goodbye does not mean that you aren’t grateful for the opportunity and experience they gave you. And I’ve learnt that when you do let go other opportunities will arrive and fall into place. Have faith.

Boundaries between work and home are like an Auckland fog in June.

During these pandemic times, the boundary between work and home is murky for most of us. As a freelancer, it’s always pretty blurry. I think this is the case for a few reasons.

  • Your work is your passion, so you don’t mind doing jobs on the weekend and evenings. Especially if you find that flow – that stuff’s addictive.
  • You can open the communication floodgates to your clients or leads with Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, texts, emails, calls and comments – which gives the impression you’re always on and contactable.
  • For jobs that you really want, you can bend over backwards to meet tight deadlines. This is fine occasionally but it can turn into a habit.

I can’t tell you I’ve got these boundaries sussed yet. I’m working on it. One thing I try and do is not check my phone and social media on Sundays. The weekend just gone I failed miserably with this. But I’m going to forgive myself and try again next Sunday.

Another way to overcome this is to invest some money hotdesking in a shared office or work at a café.

If you set physical boundaries between work and home, it can make it easier to keep the mental and emotional boundaries.

Work to your own schedule and dress for comfort.

This point might sound like a contradiction to the last. But hear me out. When you’re freelancing, you don’t have to stick with the 9 to 5 day that’s been ground into us since we got our first full-time job. If you work better at night, you can do it. If you work best first thing in the morning, tell me how!

One of the best things about being a freelance copywriter is you can write when and where you want.

And with more client meetings done over Zoom you only have to dress up the top-half. It’s an elastic pants and no shoes utopia.

Develop self-compassion and kind self-talk.

How do you talk to yourself? If you’re working from home, it’s easy to get into your own head and go deep down the spiral of negative self-talk. It’s easy to doom scroll and compare yourself to your friends or competitors. What’s not easy is catching yourself when you’re doing it.

When you’re working as part of a team, you can often bounce ideas off each other, vent, and share your concerns to gain some perspective. As a freelancer, I think you need to be proactive and create similar opportunities to do this.

You can belong to an online community like a Facebook group or Manaaki, where you can openly share your knowledge, wins, struggles, setbacks and opportunities. I’m a member of She Owns It which has been that online safe space for me.

Another way is to be part of a face-to-face networking group. Or you can call a trusted friend or your coach.

Journaling is a great tool for working on your mindset. You can work through a series of prompts and write out your feelings. It’s always much better on the page than left sitting in your brain.

Mindset work takes practice and repetition. It’s never a tick box exercise where you do it a few times and then you can forget about it. Consistency is key.

Freelancing is not all beer and skittles.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, either. I’m just being cheeky now and writing in cliches – sorry English teachers.

I’ve had days where I’ve felt lost, frustrated and ready to pack it all in. But I’m glad I didn’t. I find freelance copywriting deeply fulfilling. It fits my personality and my values. I’ve met some amazing people and been involved in some brilliant projects.

I’m excited to see what the next five years hold.

Book me before Christmas.

I’m now taking bookings for the last three months of 2021. Please book a 15-minute chat with me and sling your questions my way to see if we’re a good fit before you commit. (I’ll give you that rhyme for free.)

Book a chat

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