Taking the jump from full-time to freelance is scary: it's risky, it's rocky, and it feels unstable. But it's hella exciting too. For those of you that are thinking about making the leap, or if you've recently landed on the 'freelancer' side of the fence, here are Stéphanie de Geus' best pieces of advice.
When you start freelancing, you have a gut feeling it will work out. You dive into a pile of work and start at the, well, beginning. But sometimes you have to face a few road block and you’ll end up taking the long way around. So here are a few things I’ve faced in my business, so you can avoid them.
It takes time
The first thing I did when I started freelancing was register my business. I walked out the building holding a tax number like it was the holy grail. This was it, it was really going to happen! And, guess what? To my disappointment, nothing happened! Not only did I struggle to get clients, I ran out of money, and fought for almost two years to keep my head above the water - even with financial support.
I had this unrealistic idea that as soon as I would set up my business, clients would come and it would all be alright. A bit naive, when in fact, I knew nothing about running a business, all I knew was how to write. But as I worked, and dove into this business thing, I learned a ton. They say Rome wasn't built in a day, and they're right. These things take time.
So, don't get discouraged if you've been at it for a whole month (or a year for that matter), these things take time. They say it take a good three years to build a business, so take that time - your future self will thank you for this.
You need people & support
One of the other crucial mistakes I've made is thinking I could do this 'freelancing thing' all alone. In fact, I used to see everyone as my competition.
Let that sink in for a while.
Everyone doing something remotely related to what I was doing was competition in my eyes. If they were doing it better it would even send me spiralling into negative self-talk: who was I to think I could play in this field? So, I locked myself into my office and started to write. I mean, I knew how to write, that was enough right? Who needs others? Boy, was I wrong!
Turns out the way to succeed in your business is with the help of others. I only realised this last year when I signed up for a mastermind coaching program. Working with a coach, and alongside people who were also working on getting their business up and running, made all the difference in the world. Through that group I came in contact with a few amazing Facebook communities that landed me guest posts, clients and even some pretty good friends. It wasn't until I started speaking with a coach on a regular basis that I understood what I wanted my business to look like - and it was not what I expected.
Long story short, my business only started growing when I stopped blocking out other people. So embrace communities, and support each other, a little kindness really does go a long way here.
Your family and friends won't get it
When you first start working on your business or side hustle, you will spend a lot of time on your computer or laptop (or making things if you have a product-based business). This can be hard to explain to family and friends.
One of the first remarks I got from my family was: 'So you'll be spending all your time alone in the attic'. Well yeah, if I want to get anything done. The other problem I soon faced was the assumption that I was home all day, so I could come over for a chat, drink, tea or walk a dog at any given point.
It took me years, to get through to them that when I was home, I was still working. This really took a while before it stuck with them. And even now, I still get job openings sent through from helpful relatives who just don't get it, or a request to jump on my bike to come into town for a catch-up.
The only thing that really helps here is to keep explaining to them what it is you do. Stick to your working hours and your time off so they'll always know what to expect.
Planning is essential
You need a business plan. Period. I always thought this was a load of bull and a waste of time, but it's not. You need to know what you're doing, when you’re doing it and most importantly: for whom you're doing it. Seriously, if there's one thing I would tell that naive girl it's to make a good solid plan. Decide what it is you're going to do and then go and do it.
Also, if you have a good solid plan, it will be so much easier to translate it into daily goals and action steps. Trust me on this, it will make your life so much easier and you will get a heck of a lot more done. Talk about saving time!
Showing up is hard
We all know the feeling - your bed is too warm to get up early, you're still tired, the laundry needs folding - whatever. There are so many excuses not to show up and do the work I've lost count. And believe me, I've used them all.
It's easy when you work from home to give into those excuses. Sure, you're flexible, you can take your time and do the work tonight. But the longer you put it off, the harder it will get to actually show up and really do the work.
What I found out that works best for me, is to get up every day at the same time, have breakfast and dive into the work. I usually 'trick' myself with starting to write for fun, blog posts (like this one), morning pages, or even some fiction. Anything to start the day off with something fun and get me in the mood to work.
But believe me, showing up is hard. You have no boss to hold you accountable, you have to do that yourself. There will be days where it will be easy to do and days where this will be a lot harder.
Working from home can be distracting
Laundry, washing up, hovering, shopping, cooking, Netflix, bed, colouring books, books in general, cleaning, working out - all these things will call to you when you're at home behind your laptop trying to get some work done. It's so easy to just get up and unload the dishwasher, or fold the laundry. But when you have a few hours to get some work done, this can add up pretty quickly to a massive amount of lost minutes.
If you really do need to get this done (a girl has got to eat and have clean underwear), set aside some time for these things during your lunch break. It's a great excuse to get up and move about and it won't nibble away your working hours. Oh, and while you're at it, why not make yourself a killer lunch, there has a to be a few perks to the job right?
At times, you will work until midnight
Sometimes you really need to get things done. Maybe you're going on holiday tomorrow, or maybe you're launching your course this week, whatever the reasons, sometimes things take more time than anticipated. That's ok. We all have those days. There really will be times where you have to bust your butt off to get things done. An occupational hazard so to speak. Just make sure this won't happen every night, every week. Because if it does, maybe it's time to hire a VA to take the pressure off so you can focus on what's really important. So, get the work done, but don't overwork yourself. Be kind to your one and only employee.
Timezones can be dealt with
Somehow on the internet, there is an unspoken idea that most of the online businesses are US based. And while this is true for a large chunk of the businesses and side hustles out there at the moment, it's not true for all of us out there. Living in The Netherlands means I'm out of sync with a lot of US clients while at the same time being behind in Australia.
I've spoken to people who found this hard to deal with and I've lost clients because of this too. But it's all just a matter of how you look at it. For instance, this week I was on Skype at 7 am to talk to Australia, 12 pm to talk to the US, and again at 8 pm to talk to Canada. While I make it a point to work reasonable hours so I can actually see my boyfriend when he comes home, I'm also pretty flexible.
I love working with international clients to help them to rock their business and I now advertise my time difference as a bonus. US or Australia clients? Your work gets done while you sleep - how's that for growing a business overnight?
Your path will change (and that's good!)
When I started out and registered my business, I had a clear idea of what I was going to do. I was going to be a freelance writer and journalist. I loved blogs, so I could do some blogging as well. And as I was slaving away writing pitches and articles and coming up with ideas, I was going nowhere.
Pitches didn't land me any clients, and the insecurity that followed dried up my well of ideas as a result of this. So there I was, not having a clue what I was doing or who I was doing it for. By a stroke of luck, I started blogging about planning and organising, as that is and has always been my thing. And the more I realised how much I loved planning and organising, the more I started to see a pattern.
I took the plunge and decided to start a VA service that specialised in copywriting, content management and content creation. A golden combination and an amazing combo of my skills and experiences. However, it took me nearly two years to stumble across this and I wouldn’t have realised this if I hadn't experimented with my business and followed the path as it unfolded in front of me. So don't be afraid of change, it's actually a really good thing and it will take you to unexpected places to will will help you grow.
Being flexible is key
And last but not least, being flexible is a key skill for growing your business, you'll need it everywhere - when you deal with different time zones, the changing needs of your clients, but also when you work from home, or suddenly have more work to do. If you adapt to the situation as it presents itself, you'll be sure to get through it in one piece. Don't rigidly try to follow a path and stick to it. The more you adapt, the faster your business will grow, and you along with it.
Stéphanie de Geus is a copywriter, content manager & Virtual Assistant living in the Netherlands. Her goal is to help women business owners get organised and rock at their job. She has every colour highlighter you can imagine, enough sticky notes to last two lifetimes and is not so secretly addicted to planning.
She blogs about getting yourself organised and creating great content for your blog over at www.thestorysparks.com.