My 5 fears of going freelance (and how I handled them)

When I decided to work as a freelance copy and content writer, it felt like the proverbial penny had slipped into the perfect slot.

I had the skills, I had the experience and I knew how to run my own business. Job done, eh?

But then, the fear began to seep into my enthusiasm – the fear of failure, the fear of ridicule, and finally, the fear of just not being good enough.

And yet here I am, successfully working as a copy and content writer (with a side order of social media) and getting paid for it too.

So how did I get over my fears?

A lack of confidence

This was the first ‘fear’ I had to overcome – the feeling that I wasn’t good enough, in any way possible, to work as a freelance writer.

So I did what I normally do when I have a decision to make. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and break it all down.

  • What are the benefits of starting my own business?
  • What are the disadvantages of working for myself?
  • Do I have the skills to work as a freelance writer?
  • What’s the worst case scenario if I start my own business and fail?
  • Why do I want to do this?

For me, the benefits massively outweighed the disadvantages, and the worst case scenario actually wasn’t life-ending.

Breaking it down in this way can help to remove the brain fog or paralysis that can develop when faced with an important decision. Try it.

Publicising ‘me’

As there’s just me working in my business, I’m not only the person that any clients will deal with but I’m also the face of my business.

What do I say about myself? How do I introduce myself? What if people don’t like the face of my business (me)?

Instead, I flipped that around and concentrated on what I could offer to my customers. On my website, you’ll find my ‘about’ page explains exactly that – how I can help.

And just in case people wanted to know about me personally, I revealed a few details in my first blog post.

Will I be taken seriously?

This one is all about respect:

  • Will customers respect me and my skills sufficiently to hire me, treat me well and ultimately, pay me?
  • Will my work peers respect me enough to network with me, share my social media posts, and refer me to potential clients?
  • Will my family and friends respect that I have the skills to work as a freelance writer and that working freelance from home is a ‘proper job’?

This took a slight change of mind set.

Can I take myself seriously as a freelance writer?

If I can do that, if I can respect my skills, experience and the value I can offer to a client, then the rest – respect from clients, work peers, family  and friends – will follow on.

How will I find customers?

This is the dilemma all self employed people face. Where do we find work leads?

There’s no easy fix here. It’s a case of hard work and perseverance:

  • figuring out who your customer is
  • finding out where your customer is
  • deciding what your customer wants

I work for other businesses so an ideal place for me to find customers is LinkedIn, the business social network.

And yes, you do need to network. And yes, you do need to research what your customers want. And finally, yes, you do need to get involved in marketing your business.

Like I said, it’s hard work but worth it.

The legal stuff

This is the nitty gritty element that many people forget about when starting up in business.

However enthusiastic and excited you are about setting up your new business, the backbone of that business will be issues like tax, customer contracts and data protection.

I worried about this the most. The idea of  drafting contracts and safeguarding customer data terrified me, so l grabbed another piece of paper and my trusty pen and broke it all down.

  • Registering as self employed
  • Accounting
  • Tax, national insurance and tax returns
  • Business insurance
  • Data protection
  • Customer contracts

Then I researched the hell out of all of these subjects. The HMRC provide plenty of useful online guides, and I turned to an accountant friend, the wonderful Ruth Prins who provides accounting services for small business owners, for advice.

Other places that proved invaluable in finding out about the legal stuff were the business groups I joined on Facebook, for instance:

Remember the networking I mentioned above? This is when that comes into play too.

*

Sometimes fear is good; it keeps us safe. Often though, it’s a gut reaction to change.

How did you get over your freelancing fears?

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

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How to ease back into work after the summer break

Today marks the end of the second week of my teens being back at high school. Although I loved having them around over the summer holidays, their noisy *cough* enthusiastic presence over the break did rather throw my work routine out of kilter (in fact, out of the kilter and into next week). By the time September rolled around, I was more than happy to wave them off to school.

The first day they were back, I sat down at my desk with my computer and my coffee, all ready to take advantage of the peace and quiet and lack of teenage demands, and came over all deflated. I felt lost.

I’ve worked over the summer, with the exception of a two week break, but it’s been a battle to maintain any level of focus. Add to that the fact that many of my business contacts have children to tend and/or holidays to take, and my usually well-edged business path appeared suddenly overgrown and a tad vague.

So how did I get back on track?

I re-assessed my business

What’s working and what needs to be improved? Is there anything that should be cut out altogether?

I took a fresh look at:

  • my clients
  • my usual workload (both paid client work and work on my business itself)
  • my skills
  • my business practices
  • the value of earnings against effort
  • any possibilities to diversify
  • whether I needed to diversify
  • my income – was it sufficient or did I need to earn more?

I knew that one of my businesses wasn’t working anymore, or more accurately, the time I was spending on it wasn’t reflected in earnings. It’s a business that has been with me for over 20 years but I’m not the same person (with the same interests) that I was back then. In the end, I decided that I would close that business in the new year so I could concentrate more of my time and effort on this business instead.

I examined my boundaries

Working over the summer holidays meant moving my hours around to fit in trips out with the teens. With them back at school, I can return to my usual working hours.

But do those ‘usual’ hours still work for me?

What about boundaries with clients? And boundaries with friends and family too?

Checking your boundaries at least a couple of times a year is always worthwhile.

I checked my Inbox

Thankfully, I’d kept up to date with my emails but when I faced the backlog after my two weeks’ holiday, I didn’t know whether to be impressed that I was so popular or run screaming from the magnitude of emails waiting for my attention.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I deleted any shopping related emails.  I know that sounds harsh but I spent far too much money over the holidays. I don’t want the temptation of 30% off at Monsoon or a reduced membership to a specialist gin club at a time when I badly need to refurnish my bank account.
  2. I then looked for emails from friends and family and saved them to a folder for later, out of work, reading.
  3. I did the same for emails from businesses that can help me keep up to date with my skills and knowledge, so for instance, blog posts about developments in social media management.
  4. Any emails left after that culling, were work-related and I worked through them one at a time.

I wrote a To-Do List

Having re-assessed my business, examined my boundaries and sorted through my emails, I was fully equipped to create my To-Do list for the following week, the rest of the month, and to the end of the year, with one proviso – things change.

Any To-Do list should have an element of flexibility about it.

I caught up with my business contacts

As a home-working freelancer, it’s easy to become isolated from the world out there. You can’t assume that people will read your social media and blog posts, and hence know what’s going on with you. Sometimes, you have to reach out.

So I dropped an email to my clients to say “Hi, I’m back”. I replied to any outstanding work emails that required a response (and even those that didn’t, again, just to say ‘hi’). I checked my social media accounts to see if anyone had sent me a message, and to find out just what was going on in the world.

I got an early night (or two)

During the summer break, my bedtimes were all over the place, as were my energy levels.

Knowing that I have to be up at the same early time every weekday during school term time means that if these middle-aged bones are going to survive, I have to get (at least) seven hours sleep every night.

If your brain is still on holiday hours (as mine was for the first few days), keep a notepad by your bed to scribble down all those thoughts, ideas and worries that keep you awake.

I eased into work

There’s a temptation to have this ‘burst’ of energy and productivity on your first day back. Part of that, for me anyway, is the enthusiasm of getting back to work and not having to fend off teenage demands for a few hours at least.

The downside to setting this expectation of  let me at ’em is that (a) we burn out and/or (b) we don’t accomplish our targets and then feel incredibly guilty and down. Don’t beat yourself up like that.

On your first day back, maybe your first few days, be kind to yourself and take it easy. I’m not saying that you should do nothing. What I am saying is that it might be a good idea to allow yourself that time to acclimatise to your September work routine without unrealistic expectations.

 

So what about you? Has September spelled a blissful return to work or are you yearning for the summer holidays? Which ever it is, have a wonderful September.

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Even a freelancer needs a break – the importance of taking a holiday

First things first, I’m going on holiday! *watch Fi do her little happy dance*

My holiday wardrobe has been updated. I’ve dragged my teens round the shops until they gave in and agreed to buy new clothes (“No, you can’t spend the holiday in jeans and a hoodie. You’ll scare children in the swimming pool.”). We’ve even arranged for the dog to stay with Grandma.

All that’s left now is to let you all know that my last day at work will be Thursday, 16th August and then I’ll be away on a jolly until Monday, 3rd September.

I won’t be reading or answering work emails during that time, so if you do drop me a line don’t feel neglected (it’s not you, it’s most definitely me relaxing with a cosmo somewhere Greek or reading in the back garden) if I don’t respond until I open up shop again.

I could leave this post here but I thought I’d share with you three of the reasons why I’m so excited to be going away (besides the time to catch up on my reading and cocktail-quaffing).

I’m excited because I know that when I return from my hols and settle down to work again, I’ll be a better freelancer and writer. Here’s why:

Exhaustion

Ok, I’m not keeling over, yet, but equally I need a break. As freelancers, we’re probably most prone to overwhelm from doing it all. We do the work (in my case, writing), keep track of our finances and fill in our tax returns, market our businesses all over the place, and generally do it all.

I don’t have a back-up team to sort out my invoices, maintain my website or wear any of the other business hats. It’s just me.

Emotionally, psychologically and sometimes, yeah, physically too, we need a break so our brains can go to mush for a week away from our business life.

Mush is good. For a week. Possibly with cocktails.

Perspective

Another effect of ‘doing it all’ is that we can become so close to our business, so caught up in the day to day routine and concerns, that we lose the ability to see the bigger picture.

If you’re nose up against a tree, that’s all you can see. The beauty and wonder of the forest glade beyond and the paths leading from it are out of sight.

When we lose perspective, we lose the opportunity to look ahead and plan where our business is going. Is what we’re doing actually working? If not, how could we improve it? What new opportunities are there out there? What’s happening in the world beyond our four walls?

When I’m away on hols, whether it’s abroad, at the local Haven site or just taking a break at home, I can see the bigger picture because I’m not nose-down to my keyboard.

Bring back the love

It’s all too easy to begin to take our business for granted, even to dislike it. Maybe a client is impinging on our weekends, or there are unpaid invoices. Perhaps it’s just the constant workload which is getting us down. Whatever it is, it can rob us of the enjoyment we used to take in our work.

And here’s the thing. If you’re like me, you started down the path of self employment because you wanted to work at something you love, something you know you’re good at and that makes you feel worthwhile.

Taking a break, and removing all of those annoyances, means that when I return to work I’m happy to be there.

*

So there you are. My reasons for not feeling one tiny morsel guilty for taking a holiday.

Have a wonderful remainder of the summer. I shall see you in September.

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Stock Photos: Where I find mine

When I started my online existence, many years ago, the only photographs I used were my own, haphazardly taken on my mobile phone or the occasional holiday shot. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Nowadays, I do, on occasion, use my own photos, but for the most part I reach out to the people who do this kind of thing professionally, supplying stock photos, either free or paid for.

Paid For

The first company I came across when I began my search for stock photos was iStock.

Their photos are royalty-free so as long as I adhere to the conditions of the related  license, I can pretty much use them how I wish.  iStock supply a wide range of photos, illustrations and videos and I’ve never failed to find what I want on their site.

Free

More recently, I’ve come across a lot of stock photo suppliers who provide their photos for free. Some of these businesses charge for a section of their photos while offering free ones as well. Other businesses offer a completely free service.

The selections offered by each of these are generally smaller than that offered by iStock but with the increasing number of stock photo providers out there, I can usually find what I want if I search a number of these websites.

If you do use free stock photos though, make sure that you adhere to the related usage conditions. Some of the photos will ask for an attribution link (basically, a link back to their website or at least a mention of where the photo came from), while others ask for a cup of coffee or sometimes nothing at all.

Here are the ones that I go back to time and time again:

Membership Sites offering free stock photos

In my search for beautiful stock photos, I came across two membership sites that offer free stock photos, regardless of whether you join up as a member, although obviously membership provides you with even more free stock photos. These are:

Apart from one photo (so far) on this website, all the others are stock photos from one of the above suppliers because as a freelance writer, I just don’t have the time to stage and take beautiful photos like the ones in the image at the top of this blog post. I’m too busy writing.

What about you? Where do you source the photos for your business from?

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I’m a business, just like you

These days the internet is full of experts and yes, I have to admit that if I want to find out how to do something (find a recipe, train a dog, lose weight) then more often than not, I turn to my friend Google.

When it comes to business advice, it’s just the same.

Whether you want advice on email marketing, staffing issues or money laundering regulations, it’s all out there. Some of the advice is helpful, informed and current (the HMRC website, for instance, although a little vague in some areas is reliably up-to-date) but equally there is some questionable advice out there too.

So where do I sit in all this? How am I justified in offering anyone a copy/content writing service? Why should you read my business advice blog posts?

Here’s the thing. I’m a business, just like you.

I have to adhere to all the rules and guidelines that any business has to. There’s the tax return, the website upkeep, marketing, data processing regulations, and all the other ingredients of running a business.

My advice comes from a place of knowledge, not just in creating content, but in starting and running my own businesses.

What did I learn this year?

  1. Like most of you, this year I had to reframe my businesses to make sure they complied with GDPR – privacy policies, customer consent, related emails, the way I store information, etc.
  2. I changed the way I used LinkedIn. Whereas before it was more of a ‘placeholder’ for my online presence, now I use it as a way to network and reach out.
  3. I re-assessed my use of social media. With the algorithm chances of certain social media platforms, I decided where I would concentrate most of my effort (and it isn’t Facebook).
  4. I learned that it’s ok to take time off from making blog posts when work is really busy, and clients take priority (hence the lack of blog posts in May).
  5. Finally, I learned that I don’t have to follow all the business advice out there if it isn’t suitable for my business or personality.

I learned a lot more too, but I hope this shows you that we have a shared experience.

So, if my advice helps you, then brilliant. If it’s not your kind of thing or relevant to your business, well, thanks for reading, and that’s brilliant too.

And just in case it helps, I’d like to introduce you to some of those ‘experts’ I personally find helpful and turn to time and time again.

My Experts

The Freelance Lifestyle – run by long term freelancer Emma Cossey “to provide freelancers with down-to-earth support and practical advice”.

A Branch of Holly – run by ‘Holly’ to offer help with your online presence. I love her videos.

Talented Ladies Club – founded by Hannah Martin and Kary Fisher, the TLC website offers advice on work, life and so much more, with blog posts from hundreds of contributors.

Social Bee NI – Louise Brogan offers advice on building your online business. I especially find her podcasts helpful and a great excuse to switch off from work with a coffee.

Creative Boom – founded by Katy Cowan for creatives and their businesses, this is an inspiring website offering a mixture of posts on creative projects and business advice.

Jess Creatives – Jess offers advice on branding, online strategy and design.

Marie Forleo – Marie is an inspirational entrepreneur who isn’t afraid to clown around or give tough advice. Her videos, whether offering business tips or life advice, always make me smile.

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How to be authentic in business (and why I was terrible at selling make-up)

Authenticity in business is a phrase I hear a lot these days. Whether it’s being used as a response to hard-sales and cold-calling or a method to build trust with your customers, it sounds wonderful but perhaps a little vague. What exactly is it to be ‘authentic in your business’?

My past life as a Virgin Vie lady

When my children were toddlers, I signed up as a rep for Virgin Vie. Remember them? They’re not around anymore but, as the name suggests, Virgin Vie was linked with the Virgin Group. They sold cosmetics, body care products, jewellery, in fact everything that their American and firmly established rival, Avon sold.

At the time I lived in a small village where everyone knew everyone else’s grandma and outsiders, like my family and me, were looked at as somewhat odd. Despite my ‘oddness’, I made a number of friends and when I started out in my new capacity as a Virgin Vie lady I somehow persuaded them to hold house parties where I could display my glamorously packed and somewhat overpriced wares.

While my husband tackled the children’s rebellion, sorry, bedtime, I dressed up, applied my Virgin Vie make-up and generally coiffed my appearance, leaving my house later with a goodie bag of, well, goodies and my heart stuffed far up past my tonsils.

It was the same for each party. I would be greeted by the evening’s host and introduced to the party-goers, then I would lay out an attractive display of shiny goods and make my presentation.

I always made a decent amount of sales and repeat orders generally followed. In fact, I had mums stopping me at the school gates to place orders. My supervisor was happy with me. My husband was pleased that I was bringing in money. My status as ‘odd’ seemed to melt away (or it was now an acceptable oddness). Yay – go, me!

Except, I didn’t feel any level of ‘yay’. I felt, well, wrong. Being a Virgin Vie rep gave me an excuse to get out of our toddler-invaded house on an evening, dress up, go to parties, and contribute towards our household income. There was nothing wrong in any of that. It just wasn’t me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a night out and a reason to dress up as much as anyone else but combining it with sales and sometimes having to put on a false smile (like when one parent spent the evening ranting to me about how Power Rangers was turning her son violent) while I described the virtues of a product I would personally never use, had me screaming inside.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a rep for a company such as Virgin Vie or Avon.  There are a lot of hard-working, successful individuals out there  making a living from just this kind of opportunity and I applaud them.

It wasn’t the role itself that was wrong. It was me in that role because I wasn’t being the ‘real me’. I was putting on a false face to represent a brand I didn’t believe in.

This is where ‘authenticity’ comes in. The authentic me enjoys dressing up but equally is happy to go bare-faced, and dress in jeans and a t-shirt. Make-up is a nicety, for me, not a necessity, so I couldn’t, in all honesty, sell it in the way that Virgin Vie wanted me to.

I’m also not a natural salesperson. I’ve learned how to sell over time, but in a way that feels ‘authentic’ to me, and I never like to sell something to someone that I feel isn’t of true value to them.

So how does authenticity work in business?

For me, being authentic in how I operate my business means,

  • Doing what I say I will do. Remember the Ronseal advert, “Does exactly what it says on the tin”? My point in a well-sealed nutshell.
  • Selling and providing a product or service that I believe in, and that I believe is of value to my customers.
  • Being reliable so that my customers know what to expect from me.
  • Being responsive. If a customer, even a prospective customer, goes to the trouble of dropping me an email or leaves a comment on one of my blog posts, I answer back, even if it’s only to say thank you.
  • Presenting myself on this website, in my blog posts, in emails and across my social media accounts in a way that sounds like me. I don’t pretend to be anyone other than Fi.
  • Being consistent, in the content I create and the regularity in which I post that content here on my blog, in emails or across social media.

And here’s the good bit. When I act in an authentic way, I grow more confident in my abilities, my business and ultimately, in me.

So, what about you? How will you be authentic in your business today?

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Why I price by the job (not the hour)

I’m going to start off by saying that every copy and content writer is different. Some may charge by hour, by day or, like me, by job. I can only tell you what I do and why.

Remember on my home page where it says ‘friendly content and copywriting’? Well to me, friendly means treating each customer as an individual and providing a personal service to them. I want to know how I can solve your problem and fulfil the job you bring to me.

When you approach me with a copy or content writing job, I won’t have a price for you immediately. This is because I need to know all the details of your job first.

The factors that I will need to consider include:

  • Do you know exactly what you want, or do you just have a vague idea? If it’s the latter, I may need to take time to develop your idea with you.
  • Before I can begin the job, are there other factors that need to be put in place by you, your business or other freelancers? For instance, you approach me to write new content for your website but before I can start on that, you and your website developer need to plan out what pages will be on your website and what purpose each of those pages will serve.
  • How much creative time do you want me to put into the job? What I mean by this is how much idea generation do I need to do? Are you looking for one piece of writing or three options of how a customer email, for instance, could be written? Do you want me to pitch ideas to you before I even begin on the writing?
  • If I’m writing about a topic or industry that I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll need to add in time for research. If this is the case, how much research can you supply me with, even if that just means the best research sources to use?
  • Do you have a deadline for the work to be finished by? Is this negotiable?
  • How many customer amendments to each draft are to be included in the price of the job, and how these amendments will be communicated, including timelines.
  • Will I be required to attend meetings? I may include these as part of the job price or charge them separately.
  • Will there be any third party involved, such as the website designer I mentioned above, whom I will have to collaborate with and depend on time-wise?
  • Are there any other tasks involved, such as sourcing images?
  • Is this a one-off job or part of an ongoing and regular order?
  • Do you want me to use keywords and write with SEO in mind?

All of these considerations will help me to work out exactly how to price your job.

So the short answer to why I price by the job (not the hour) is that I want to treat you, your business and your job as an individual.

If you’re interested in discussing a copy or content writing job with me, please fill in my contact form to get in touch.

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How and why I chose my logo

Using a logo offers a certain professionalism to any business website or materials. It channels a business’ personality, builds  familiarity and trust, and hopefully makes you stand out from others in your industry.

People remember you and your business when they see your logo, so isn’t it the obvious thing to create a logo that you’re proud of?

When it came to picking my logo, I wanted something that reflected my personality – creative, straightforward, friendly.

The ‘creative’ element came with my choice of colour. Orange is traditionally connected with creativity. It’s ‘friendly’ too.

The two fonts I used, the white FP and the black full name, reflect two parts of my personality trio too. The white handwriting-style font is relaxed and approachable (friendly) whereas the black writing is plain and easily legible – my ‘straightforward’ element.

Seeing as my logo will appear in all kind of places and not just my website where it’s obvious what I do (you only have to look at the website address – fiphillipscopywriter – to get an inkling that, yeah, she probably does some copywriting), I wanted it to be clear what services I offered.

I didn’t want to leave anyone who saw my logo in any doubt what I did for a living so I added the words beneath my name,

Content – Copy Writing – Social Media

with a dot in between each phrase in the same shade of orange as the circle that the white FP sits on.

One of the reasons that I wanted the orange circle with white writing was so I could create a button from it, still recognisable even when separate from the entire logo, for site icons and on other materials.

I also produced a version of the entire logo and the button in a shade of grey for times when colour might be distracting or not possible.

Finally, I put together a style sheet of all the colours and fonts in my logo so that I can use them for future marketing materials and to match against any images I may use.

I like my logo. It feels like me, and even if I do say so myself, I’m proud to present it to the world.

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Who is Fi Phillips?

Yes, who exactly is this woman and why does she think she can help you?

Fi PhillipsThis is she, or should I say ‘me’.

This is probably the only image you’ll find of me on here because, like I said on my ‘about‘ page, this website isn’t about me. It’s about how I can make a difference to you and your business.

Still, I really should introduce myself before we get to know each other.

Fi Facts

  • I was brought up in York – the walled Roman city with the Minster (rather than a cathedral),  the chocolate factory, and the wonky medieval houses on oddly named streets such as Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate and The Shambles.
  • When I was 7 years old, I stood at the top of our street and thought to myself, “This is as mature as I’m ever going to be”. Not much has changed.
  • I’m a literature graduate. Not much to say about that. I like words.
  • I’ve lived in 17 houses or flats so far. The next one will be our forever home – fingers crossed.
  • I’m based in North Wales, just over the border from Chester – the walled Roman city with the cathedral (not a minster), the 13th century Rows (covered walkways of shops) and Eastgate Clock.

I’m a wife, a mum, and a dog-owner (although on occasion I do wonder if the dog owns me). I’m also a playwright (you can find my murderous scribblings here) and an avid wordy.

So there you go. That’s me – Fi. Nice to meet you.

 

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