Survivial Skills for Freelancers

Strengths, weaknesses… and the key to freelance success

If you want to rock the socks off self-employment you need to play to your strengths and ignore your weaknesses – right? Wrong. Here are 6 reasons why knowing your strengths and your weaknesses can play a big part in freelance success.

  1. Know what makes you special

In business speak, this is known as your USP – your unique selling point. It’s the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd, and the reason clients will choose to work with you over your competitors.

Perhaps you offer a unique or unusual service. Maybe your strength is an ability to work quickly and efficiently. Perhaps working alone means you can provide a tailored, personal service to your clients. Or perhaps you’re highly experienced in a particular niche or market.

When you’ve identified your USP, reframe it from the perspective of your clients. What pains do you solve for them? What benefit will they get from working with you? Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to shout it from the rooftops!

  1. Play to your strengths

What qualities and strengths do you bring to the table? Perhaps you’re great at listening to your clients’ needs and coming up with creative solutions to their problems? Or perhaps organisation is your superpower, and you’re great at managing projects, timetables and budgets?

If you find it hard to recognise your positive traits, ask a trusted friend – or, if you’re feeling brave – ask clients why they’d recommend you (the answer may not be what you expect!).

Knowing your strengths – and what they mean to your clients – can help you recognise the clients and projects that are a good fit for you (and the ones to avoid!).

  1. Reframe your weaknesses

In the process of writing Survival Skills for Freelancers I asked the self-employed community on Twitter for the one quality they thought was vital to become a successful freelancer. Two answers that came up again and again were patience and thick skin.

I have neither. And that’s okay. Because being aware of the qualities you lack can work in your favour. Most weaknesses can be reframed as strengths. For example, impatient people are driven. They get things done. And my sensitivity makes me a great listener – an essential skill for freelancers.

Would life be easier without weaknesses? Sure, but they haven’t held me back, and they shouldn’t hold you back either.

  1. Know your personality

Are you naturally outgoing and extroverted, or more of the shy and retiring type? Being aware of your personality type enables you to develop working patterns that suit you.

Extroverts like me may benefit from building time into their day to chat to friends or colleagues online. Sharing ideas, advice and laughter with others can give extroverts the energy – and the productivity boost – to smash through an afternoon of deadlines with ease.

On the flip side, introverts may need to build in quiet time to recharge after a morning of online meetings or networking as, for them, being around other people can be draining. Spending the afternoon focused on productive output can be a great way to achieve this.

  1. Know your market

Before you spend time and energy on marketing your business, make sure you understand what your audience needs.

A little research into your target market – and some time spent asking the right people the right questions – can give you a valuable insight into the challenges that potential clients face.

Put yourself in their shoes. What are they struggling with? What pains can you solve for them? How can you make their life easier? Where are the gaps you need to fill? Use this inside information to market your services.

  1. Offer solutions

Essential purchases aside, people don’t make buying decisions based on facts and logic – they buy based on emotion.

Instead of focusing on practicalities such as your level of experience and qualifications, try answering your client’s primary question: “What’s in it for me?”.

How will working with you make them feel? Will it bring a sense of order and control? Will it provide peace of mind, knowing an important project is in safe hands? Will it help them meet their deadlines, and make them look good to their boss? Build this into your sales pitch.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

As a freelancer, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your own company! The better you know yourself, the better positioned you are to work on your weaknesses and play to your strengths. Get comfortable with who you are and you’re more likely to find freelance success. Go for it!

Writing the book on freelancing… quite literally!

Fellow freelance copywriter, Nigel Graber interviewed me on the launch day of my new book, Survival Skills for Freelancers, and shared the post in the Copywriter Stories segment of his website. Did he get any sense out of me on the most exhilarating day of my career?! Here’s the interview…

“I always thought legendary Cotswolds copywriter and editor Sarah Townsend wrote the book on freelancing. But now she’s actually gone and done it. It’s even been released on National Freelancers’ Day. Let’s turn some pages.”

So your shiny new book, Survival Skills for Freelancers, is out today. How excited are you?

Oh, you can’t imagine. It’s like a milestone birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. Everything has been leading up to this day for so long, and I can’t wait to see how well Survival Skills for Freelancers performs out there in the real world! Can’t say I’m quite as excited about the inevitable adrenaline crash that will follow, but hey – it’s all good!

Did you always plan for publication on National Freelancers’ Day?

I did. There are five million self-employed workers in the UK right now, and over two million of them are freelancers. That’s a lot of us going it alone with very little support. I needed a publication date to focus on, and National Freelancers’ Day seemed like the perfect date.

What inspired you to write it?

Last year I wrote a blog sharing the things I’d learned from 20 years of freelance life. It proved to be by far my most popular post, and generated an overwhelmingly positive response.

People loved the honest, no-frills advice, combined with the heart-on-your-sleeve confessions. I realised I could use my experience to create an indispensable guide to the highs and lows of self-employment. A book that 29-year-old me would have loved at the start of my own freelance journey.

Does it deal with freelancing in general or is there a bias towards copywriting and editing? Is it as useful for, say, a freelance web designer as it is for a copywriter?

It’s very much aimed at freelancers in general. While the anecdotes and stories relate to my experiences as a freelance copywriter, the advice is relevant to anyone who’s already self-employed, or who’s thinking of going solo.

What else can we expect?

It provides advice on the issues we all experience as freelancers, such as:

  • Strategies to deal with isolation
  • Knowing your worth – and what to charge
  • Trusting your instinct, and learning to say no
  • Achieving balance and avoiding burnout
  • The importance of investing in your business
  • The qualities that help you survive and thrive as a freelancer.

It’s a crowded market. What do you think makes your book different?

Think of all the books you’ve ever read on copywriting. Do you ever say to yourself, “I enjoyed Copywriting ABC, but it was just like Copywriting 123!”? I doubt it. That’s because no two journeys, no two voices, and no two approaches are the same. So yes, there are other books on freelance life out there, but none quite like this one.

I didn’t want Survival Skills for Freelancers to feel like a conventional business book. Yes, it’s packed full of tried-and-tested strategies and practical advice, but it’s more than that. I wanted it to feel collaborative and supportive – like I was there on the journey with you.

Fellow copywriter Anna Gunning sums it up as being, ‘like having your own personal business mentor’, while my first ever Amazon review said, ‘Reading this book was like settling down with a good friend for a business chat’. I actually teared up when I read it because that’s exactly how I wanted it to feel.

How long did it take to write? And how many hours per day?

I had the idea at the end of last year and I’m publishing in mid-June, so I guess it took about eight months from start to finish.

I know people who’ve spent years conceiving, writing and publishing their books but that wouldn’t have worked for me. The only way I know how to do something is full on, 100 miles an hour. I’ve lived and breathed the book, the publishing process and the marketing for the past four months – possibly longer.

It’s ironic that it’s about balance and boundaries, because – particularly in the past couple of months – mine have gone out of the window. Yes, having a deadline has kept me laser focused, but I’ve found myself so engrossed in – and energised by – the writing, editing and sheer learning involved that I may, occasionally, have forgotten to look after myself. I imagine I haven’t been that easy to live with recently!

Did you have to put your day job on hold?

I set myself the goal of getting the first draft written by the end of January, and I gave myself a month off client work so that I could get it done. So yes, I did. For the past few months, and throughout lockdown, I’ve been juggling client work and book work. That’s been tough. Really tough. But I am SO happy with the end result that the long days have been worth it.

What did the writing process look like?

Actually, much the same as any copywriting job, but on a far grander scale. I’m (generally) hyper organised, and I think you have to be to make a success of this process. I started with thoughts, ideas, and a structure. I wrote, I edited, I revised the aforementioned structure… rinse and repeat. It’s like any writing job, I think. You start with all the elements and gradually fit them together in the right order, like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Was there much research involved or was it all stored in your head?

It was a pretty good balance of stuff I needed to research and stuff I knew inside out. It’s very much written from the perspective of my own experience, so that bit was easy!

Copywriters are a friendly bunch. Did you get much help from the community?

They really are. Without the support of the freelance community, Survival Skills for Freelancers would be a very different book! Each chapter ends with quotes and opinions from freelancers on everything from impostor syndrome and what to charge to the importance of connection and when to say no. It also includes mini case studies from copywriting legends such as Nick Parker and Graeme Piper.

Many of my copywriter friends are helping me to spread the word about the book because they believe in the importance of what I’m trying to achieve. They’ve been sharing pics of the book and reminders of the launch date all week. They’re amazing! So supportive.

What made you go down the self-publishing route?

I knew exactly what I wanted the book to look and feel like, and exactly how I wanted it to be structured. I would have struggled with not having complete control over cover design and content, so I knew from day one that I would self-publish!

What effect would you like the book to have?

I’d like it to help people get more enjoyment from self-employment. There’s a lot to love about freelance life, but it can be tough, too! I’ve been through a lot in my 20 years as a freelancer. I’ve done things that worked, and things that didn’t, and it took me a long time to get to a point where I felt like my own success was sustainable. Readers can use what I’ve learned to fast-track their own freelance success and make fewer costly, time-consuming mistakes in the process.

What advice would you give any other aspiring authors?

Acknowledge that it’ll take a LOT of time – and that there’s a lot more to the process than just being able to write. Within a month of getting started, I had an A4 folder that was two inches thick with information: print quotes, freelancer quotes, research, resources, useful articles, marketing tips… And I have over 400 documents in the Survival Skills for Freelancers folder on my Mac!

If you’re planning on self-publishing, be prepared to do your research – there’s heaps of information out there – and don’t be afraid to ask colleagues who’ve been through the process for advice.

Brilliant. Finally, how can we get hold of a copy?

Survival Skills for Freelancers is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats, and there’s more information at I’m all set to record the audiobook, too – just need to find the time to do it!