It dawned on me this week that it’s close to three years since I handed in my notice at my previous full time job in a media agency to go it alone and work for myself. It’s been an amazing few years but I’m not going to say it’s all been fancy breakfasts and fresh flowers. It’s had it’s challenges and a whole load of learning lessons along the way. So I thought it might be helpful to try and sum up some of those freelance business lessons in a post as I know there’s more and more people now going it along (not just professional bloggers, anyone who decides to start a business or just set out on their own).
The post ended up being a bit of a beast so I’m splitting it into a two-parter. So keep your eyes peeled for part two next week. If you have any questions at all feel free to leave them below and will add to the second post.
1. Get it in writing:
It’s all too easy to overlook this absolutely vital step when you are in the midst of that exciting moment of getting a project agreed. But it’s SO important to get yourself a contract. I’ve had multiple situations where I’ve been told by the client that they will get me a contract and time has sort of moved on, the work has gotten underway and next thing you know you’re months in and wondering whatever happened to that contract. Now, I take this into my own hands and have my own terms of business that outline the role, what the fee (usually a retainer or a project based fee) covers. It can help to be very clear what it doesn’t include in there too. Notice periods for both parties and what’s the situation with any potential additional costs. I know this sounds so obvious but – particularly in this blogging industry where so much is so casual – having a contract or something formal in writing can really help protect you, your time and your income. My tip is create a template ‘terms of business’ and simply adapt each time you’re agreeing anything from a sponsored tweet campaign to a three month consultancy project. But whatever you do, get it agreed in writing as it can protect yourself from last minute cancelations or clients increasing demands from what was agreed initially as you have something to look back at and say – nope, this was the scope and this was the fee. If you want X then it will cost Y in time and Z in money.
2. Be realistic with your time:
In a culture of busy and a world where being online is a 24/7 thing it’s pretty easy to take time for granted and lose touch with what’s realistic and achievable. I know I have a tendency to start a day all full of fire with goals of doing 15 blog posts, scheduling social updates, taking a month of blog photos and writing a client report. Oh plus walk the dogs, go to the gym and maybe bake a plate of cookies? So yeah… basically setting myself up for failure. Or even on a larger scale I have a tendency to take on too much when it comes to juggling my freelance commitments and the time I need to run my blog. You can sometimes tell when I’ve done this as the posts become less frequent… erm, hello! Last few months. So the big lesson here is to be realistic about the time it takes to do whatever various projects you have on your plate AND not forget that you need to allow time for the boring stuff like admin/accounting.
3. Get professional advice:
If you’re setting out as a business, no matter what size your ambitions. One man band or the beginnings of an empire… there’s no shame whatsoever in admitting that you sometimes need some outside help. For me, I have an accountant and would be lost if I didn’t. Well, not lost but I would probably have messed up ALL the numbers and either had a heart attack with a big bill OR I’d have the tax man breathing down my neck. But having a professional on hand to make sure I feel like I have that peace of mind with all the finance side of the business. But the pro-advice point doesn’t just apply to money/accounting. Wherever it is that you need a helping hand, it’s totally ok to get help in that area. Be it web design, accounting, admin, filming, editing. The challenge is recognising if there’s somewhere you need a hand and finding someone who can help. Sometimes you can get lucky and find someone where you can sort of ‘skill share’ and help each other out – say another blogger where you can meet and take photos for each other. Other times you need to bite the bullet and pay for a pro.
4. Have a business plan:
As much as you may want to just quite your job and wing it in the wonderful world of freelance/professional blogging. My advice is don’t take the leap until you have a plan. Before I handed my notice in I wrote up a business plan. Sure, a big reason for doing this was because Ollie wasn’t entirely convinced we could pay the mortgage based on my goals of ‘quit my job, get a dog’… fair play to him. So I spent some time coming up with a plan of revenue streams, contacts, plans for how time would be spent and goals. The next trick though? Not forgetting that plan. Checking in with it. Keeping focussed on your goals and not being sidetracked by what others are doing or how they’re running their business. Also, update your plan. Your plans and goals are allowed to change over time. For me, three years in and how the industry, my goals and experience have all changed/developed in different ways. So it makes sense to update or write a fresh business plan. My current priority is to re-do my business plan piece by piece over the next couple of weeks, so that by Mid December I have real focus and plan of action for 2017.
5. Don’t rely on uncontrollable income:
One of the biggest ‘flaws’ in being a blogger is that you can work your butt off and you are still (often) largely reliant on work coming your way on other people’s choices. Which is great when it works but also a pretty uncertain way to keep money coming in and ticking over. But the advice of not relying on income you have little control or influence over applies to any industry. Maybe it’s the control freak in me, but I’ve always wanted to have an influence on my income so I know I don’t just rely on being chosen by others for campaigns or approached. Both for my bank balance and my own mental health. It’s why I love that I split my income between consultancy work and the income from blogging. So if there’s a quiet month on blogging or vice versa I don’t panic and think the sky is going to fall around me. I would always recommend you have something that gives you that more ‘secure’ income that you have a handle on and can call on if you need to. Be that something like experience so you can offer consultancy or perhaps put your photography skills to work for someone else. Are you a whizz at coding or photoshop? Add that as another string to your money-making bow. Having ‘multiple revenue streams’ is SO key to keeping your income as reliable as possible when self employed.
Hope you might have found this post helpful in some way. I’ll probably touch on a few of the points I’ve included here in part two. It’s the sort of topic I could probably film an hour long you tube video about for all the things I’ve learnt (some the hard way) through working for myself. But hopefully by sharing some of the business lessons I’ve learnt in this time working solo, I might be able to help someone else on the same path.
As always, any questions at all feel free to fire over on email or leave a comment below.