Survivial Skills for Freelancers

Tips and tricks for a happy, healthy freelance life (an interview with ProCopywriters)

I recently took part in a live, one-hour interview with ProCopywriters, the professional association for copywriters in the UK.

We chatted about the wellbeing aspects of freelance life ­– dealing with the ups and downs, as well as the importance of boundaries, community and asking for help – and I shared tips to help freelance copywriters become more successful with less stress and burnout.

The interview touched on some of the tips and topics that are covered in my new book – Survival Skills for Freelancers. Here’s a transcript.

Q Welcome to #ProCopyChat, Sarah! Please tell us a bit more about yourself.

A Hello! I’ve been a freelance marketing copywriter for over 20 years. I love freelance life, but I reckon it took me the best part of 15 years to get good at the business end of it – and I made a lot of mistakes along the way.

I’ve now written a book for freelancers – Survival Skills for Freelancers to share my experience and help freelancers reach their definition of success a whole lot quicker than I did!

Q Sounds great! Can you tell us a bit more about the book for freelancers, and how it came about?

A Sure! So, most of us decide to go freelance because we have a skill we want to share. But in most cases, we’re unprepared for how relentless the business end of freelance life can be, let alone the challenges it can present to our mental health!

The book is designed to help freelancers become more successful by working smarter, not harder. I’m hoping readers will learn from the things I’ve done that worked as well as the things that didn’t!

It’s a combination of heart-on-your-sleeve anecdotes and tried and tested advice based on my own experience, backed up by research, resources and quotes from the freelance community.

Q How and why did you become a freelancer?

A I was working as an editor and account manager for a magazine publisher in Clifton, Bristol when I became pregnant. I knew I didn’t want to go back to full-time work, and liked the idea that I could fit freelance work around family life. My employer promised to provide the odd piece of work, so it seemed like a good decision.

I worked on my brand and sent out cold enquiries while I was on maternity leave, then worked three days a week while my daughter was at nursery. My business grew as my family grew. And here I am – now with grown-up kids – still loving freelance life.

Q4 What do you believe are the most important qualities to make it as a freelancer?

A Good question! I don’t think you have to be a particular type of person to make a successful freelancer. There are always exceptions. But there are traits that help and others that hinder. Skills and talent alone aren’t enough to guarantee success.

It helps if you’re determined, motivated, organised, ambitious, disciplined, confident, outgoing, flexible, reliable, personable, patient, thick-skinned… it’s a pretty long list!

Q What would you say to anyone reading that list who knows they don’t have all those qualities?

A I’d say don’t worry too much. No one will tick off every quality on the list. If you don’t have any of them, you might struggle more than most, but I’m neither patient nor thick-skinned and I haven’t let that hold me back!

Q Isolation is a real challenge for many freelancers. How do you recommend we deal with it?

It absolutely is. So many of the freelancers I’ve talked to loved the idea of working from home but found themselves completely unprepared for the loneliness! It’s easy to feel like no one understands what you’re going through – but they do!

Connection is vital when you’re freelance, and there are three fundamental ways to find it:

  • online communities (like this one, or the many Facebook groups that exist for freelancers)
  • networking groups and events
  • coworking spaces and coffee shop working

The great thing about the online community is that – under normal circumstances, at least – it spills out into real life with events and conferences. This means it’s possible to make great real-life friendships with people who are in the same boat as you, and who really get it.

We may be facing a temporary ban on face-to-face networking and coworking, but many groups are already taking their meetings and events online and getting great results. And, of course, we won’t always be facing the unprecedented situation we’re in right now, with COVID-19.

Q How have you dealt with the unpredictability of freelance life over the years?

A I don’t think you ever really get used to the peaks and troughs of freelancing. Quiet spells are pretty rare for me now, but I still keep a list of projects I want to work on, blogs I want to write and books I want to read, in case work does drop off.

Having too much work can be just as problematic as not having enough, though. Either you work yourself into the ground, boundaries go out the window and your mental health suffers as a result, or you can do what I do – have an arrangement with a small team of trusted freelancers who you can pass work on to when you need to. You’re solving the problem for your client and helping another freelancer into the bargain.

Q There’s a lot of talk about imposter syndrome. Do you suffer from it, and how do you deal with it?

A Yes, absolutely – even now! Self-doubt can hold you back if you let it, so don’t let the fear of failure get in your way. Celebrate your wins – even the little things – so you can see how far you’ve come. And don’t compare yourself to others!

It’s easy to put things off if you keep striving for perfection but know this: there’ll never be a right time and you’ll never be completely prepared. Just do the best that you can do. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.

Q You have a chapter in your book about avoiding burnout. Can you share a few tips here?

A Of course! This is something I feel very strongly about and I go into a fair bit of detail about it in the book. In a nutshell, it’s about setting boundaries, asking for help, learning to say no, and taking simple steps to look after yourself.

It takes time to learn what works for you, but most people need fresh air, exercise, a balanced diet and decent quality sleep as a minimum. It sounds obvious, but if you’re not feeling your best you can’t do your best work.

Above all, it’s important to know it’s okay not to be okay. You’re not alone, you’re not the only one who feels this way, and you are perfectly normal. Respect your boundaries, prioritise your own wellbeing, and keep talking!

Q When and where can we get hold of your book? And will you be promoting it at any freelance events in the future? (Coronavirus permitting!)

A My book for freelancers, Survival Skills for Freelancers launched on 18 June, and is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and soon to be audiobook formats.

As for events, I have a few podcast interviews lined up and I’m always keen to do more. Ultimately, I’d love to speak on wellbeing and mental health for freelancers. (Spread the word if you know any event organisers who might be interested!) 

Want to read more?

My bestselling book, Survival Skills for Freelancers is designed to help you ace self-employment without burnout. It’s available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

For more language love, join my Clever Copy Club and get monthly updates direct to your inbox. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn or like my page on Facebook.