Taking the plunge into the world of self-employment is one of the most daunting but exciting times in your life. I first set up in business 20 years ago in the recruitment sector. Two years ago I transitioned into a freelance writer career and almost began again. These are just some of the lessons I’ve learned – and relearned – about starting out on your own:-
Hold on to your USP (Unique Selling Point) : You may think you’re a newcomer but you possess a unique edge, something that your competitors don’t. Focus on that as you build your brand. During my time in recruitment, it was my specialist knowledge of the niche market (franchising) that separated me from the competition. In my freelance writing career, it’s my almost two decades in the recruitment sector which attracts many of my clients. Whatever it is, you will be able to offer something unique to your clients, a particular skill or an innovative approach. You’ve got it, so flaunt it.
Be a problem-solver for your clients : It’s an obvious principle that’s easily forgotten when you’re knee-deep in your carefully prepared sales pitch. Your clients want solutions. A great question to ask is what they would like to see more of in their potential supplier. In the writing sector it is often reliability and in-depth subject knowledge. In recruitment it was integrity and delivering on staffing commitments. The answer will reveal the gap in the market that will often provide you with your ‘in’.
Time management requires discipline : If you are setting out alone initially, your time management skills need to be honed to perfection to achieve your goals. I split my day into marketing, writing for clients and writing for myself, although the latter sometimes gets pushed back to accommodate additional paid projects. Talking of time management…
Social media is a blessing and a curse : How many times do you log into Twitter to post a link for your followers only to wander off at a tangent exploring the labyrinth of tantalizing posts and links on your Twitter feed? Three hours later and your whole morning’s disappeared. Perhaps that’s what you’re doing read this article! If you find the allure of social media impossible to resist, software programs such as Freedom will prevent your internet access for a time of your choosing.
Understanding the trends : Become a specialist in your sector; understand the current and potential trends in the market and tweet/blog/post links about them. Ironically, one of the best ways of staying up-to-date with market trends is via your social media networks but this is where self-discipline is essential.
Always be marketing : You may not be able to see beyond your mounting deadlines but always set aside time for marketing – to both existing and potential clients. That way when the current workload peters out you’ll already have catered for the potential lull in your cashflow.
Don’t be alone : Working single handedly there will be times of isolation, when you’re not sure you’ve made the right decision. Ask your network, post a question on Project Eve, reach out. Whatever it is that you’re struggling with, someone will have had a similar experience and most of us are happy to share the lessons we’ve learned with you.
Nothing is ever wasted : No perceived failure or mistake, no matter how earth shattering at the time, is wasted. Bring the positives out of every experience. Perhaps you under-estimated the time it would take you to complete a project. Next time build in a contingency element – projects often take longer than anticipated. We all make mistakes in life, it’s how we respond to them that matters.
Set milestones as well as goals : When you’re immersed in the day to day melee, a long-term goal can seem elusive. Stay motivated by setting incremental milestones that that will contribute towards your long-term goal.
Stay accountable : Partner with a mentor or an accountability partner who will keep you on track. Don’t keep your goals to yourself. Whether it’s daily or weekly updates accountability enables us to stay focused.
Pay it forward : My first break in writing came from a contact who had recently made her own foray into the freelance writing arena. She’s now well-established with a team of writers working with her but was generous enough to help me in the early stages of her own career. Pay those favors forward – after all, where would we be without those who helped us?
Life will get in the way : Be prepared for it and have contingency plans in place. Emergencies happen – but the buck will stop with you when it comes to your business. Be honest with your clients and aim to stay ahead of deadlines so if the inevitable does happen (sick relatives, childcare issues) you have that built-in slack in your schedule.
Enjoy it : You’ve taken the first giant leap into a whole new way of life. Be proud of yourself but guard against complacency. While there may be pitfalls ahead, there will always be possibilities. Here’s to your future success.
Kate Smedley is a freelance writer specializing in a range of topics including talent management, career advice, franchising and lifestyle.
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