Survivial Skills for Freelancers

The freelancing fear that strikes terror into the self-employed

It’s October, Halloween is approaching… it’s the perfect time to focus on one of the biggest fears that paralyses everyone from the newest of newbie freelancers to the most experienced of small biz owners.

The fear of failure.

EEE!

We all know how the fear of messing up can keep us stuck.

But it’s a fear that keeps you firmly in your comfort zone, stops you taking risks, and prevents you from doing things that are good for your business.

So, whaddya do about it?

“But what if I fail?”

Here’s a thing – what if you don’t? You can’t make a success of self-employment unless you try. You may fail big, you may fail often… but failure is how we develop as both individuals and business owners.

We fail, we learn, we grow.

Whether you’re in a steady job you hate, thinking of making the leap into self-employment, or you’re an experienced freelancer tackling something you’ve never done before, show that fear who’s boss!

As Nike would say, just do it.

“But it’s not quite right!”

To quote Winston Churchill, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

You can always spend more time polishing that presentation or sharpening that course content but often done is better than perfect.

You can tinker, you can hone, you can faff, you can refine… but hey – semantics!

It all adds up to procrastination.

Whatever it is that’s getting in your way or keeping you stuck, remember – it doesn’t have to be life-changing or world-class or revolutionary. There will never be a perfect time, and you will never be truly ready.

Sometimes you just need to put your big girl (or boy) pants on and put it out there into the big wide world. Because only when it’s out there can you get feedback, improve, rinse and repeat.


HOW IS IT FOR YOU?

Experienced journalist and founder of Freelance Feels, Jenny Stallard, describes herself as a ‘threelancer’. She’s dabbled with self-employment three times – and even now she admits freelance life can be full of fears

“When it comes to freelancing, something scares me every single day,” says Jenny. “Taking the leap into self-employment was the scariest thing, but that’s not all. Freelancing can feel like we are on a cliff path, constantly negotiating the steps between falling off and the softer grass to our other side. From money worries and finding new work, to how much to charge and what to post on social media…”


Make fear work for you

Despite the potential pile-up of panic, Jenny admits the heady mix of fear and excitement is one of the best things about self-employment.

And she’s right.

It’s easy to feel the fear and freeze, like a rabbit in headlamps – but the flurry of butterflies that descends when we step outside our comfort zone reminds us we’re alive.

Any time you have to do something brave and uncomfortable, like a talk or presentation, remember that being nervous and being excited feel just the same.

Tell your brain you’re excited to be doing something new – something bold – and you’re more likely to enjoy it, and to do well.


HOW IS IT FOR YOU?

Author of How to Be a Well Being, Dr Andy Cope studied happiness for 12 years and now delivers keynote speeches on the subject to audiences around the world. “I deliver and teach wellbeing, yet before I go on stage I’m racked with nerves and panic and wonder why the hell I’m doing this, every single time.

“Everyone thinks they’re the only one that’s terrified of stepping outside their comfort zone, but everyone has the same insecurities as you do. The realisation that we all feel uncomfortable, and that we’re all waiting to be found out is, in itself, quite comforting. It’s perfectly okay not to be okay – it’s part of the human condition.


If you never try…

It’s easy to feel like you’re alone with your fears but you’re not. There are hundreds of thousands of small biz owners out there just like you.

The secret to facing – and embracing – your freelance fears is to find those likeminded people.

When you find them, reach out, connect, learn, support, collaborate and grow.

What’s the worst that can happen?

If you fail so spectacularly that you decide freelance life simply isn’t for you, that’s okay! But if you never try, you’ll never know…

 

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!) 

9 survival tips for freelancers (or how to go solo without going loco)

In the 20 years since I set up my business, I’ve learnt a thing or two about how to make it as a successful freelancer.

It’s about time I shared some of my secrets to help you rock the socks off freelance life.

Success. Funny word.

Highly subjective.

Success to me means I’m financially secure. I have the time and money to do the things I want to do.

Being a single parent for 12 years has made financial independence even more important to me – but success isn’t just about the money.

I can pick and choose who I work with. I can make life easier for people who are in the same position I was in way back when.

Most of all, success to me means I get to do a job I love – day in, day out.

It’s bloody great. And not a day goes by that I don’t remind myself how lucky I am.

A word of warning…

All this stuff. It’s easy for me to say – I get that.

It takes time to build a reputation for being great at what you do – and the recommendations that back that up.

If you’re just starting out, having someone tell you you should choose who you work with, charge what you’re worth and invest in your business… it might seem unrealistic. Hell, it might even piss you off.

But if even a bit of my advice helps to make your freelance life – or even your day – a little better, I’ll be happy.

So let’s crack on and dispel some of the myths about solo working.

1. “I like my own company. I don’t need anyone else.”

I say you’re wrong.

Being a sole trader doesn’t mean going it alone.

I’m pretty extrovert. Based on what I’ve learned from the copywriting conferences I’ve been to over the years, that’s unusual. But that’s not the point.

However independent, self-contained and introverted you are, everyone – even you – needs to know they’re not alone.

Freelance life can be damn hard.

And lonely.

And isolating.

And it’s even harder if you’ve no one who understands just how damn hard (and lonely and isolating) it is.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Common ground is a great starting point for lasting friendship and support – and it’s out there. You just need to know where to look.

Whether you join a networking group or professional body, find a thriving coworking space, mix it up by attending various different events or simply go all-out on social media, finding your people – your tribe – is a great way of feeling less alone in your freelance life.

I’ve made great real-life friends from people I originally met on Twitter and Instagram.

For example, there’s an active #copywritersunite community on Twitter that spills out into real-life socials and conferences, where we all get to meet in person.

To quote Amy Boylan after this year’s ProCopywriters conference: “You all take the lonely out of working alone for me, and it’s genuine because it works fab in person too.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

2. “I have to do it all: sales, marketing, admin, accounts, IT…”

Err… no.

Trying to do everything yourself is the fast train to burnout.

To become successful doing the thing you love, you need to surround yourself with good people.

Hire an accountant to file your tax returns and handle your VAT. Find a virtual assistant to do those annoying admin tasks you hate. Use an IT support company who’ll be on hand every time your computer begs you to throw it out the window.

You’ll save SO much time, headspace and frustration.

Straight up? It took me 15 years to get to the point where I was willing to pay other people to do the jobs A) I loathe and B) I suck at. I’d spend longer procrastinating about doing my tax return than it’d take my accountant to do a year’s worth of accounts. It’s a no brainer.

Here’s a simple equation:

as much time as possible doing the things that make you money

+

as little time as possible doing the things that don’t

=

freelance success 

It’s a game-changer. Don’t take as long as I did to see this.

3. “I’ve got an eight-year-old laptop – that’s good enough, right?”

It really isn’t.

To become successful in business, you need to invest in technology.

If you’re a professional photographer, I trust you aren’t snapping away on an iPhone 6 (no offence to iPhone 6 owners).

If you’re a graphic designer, you probably don’t make do with a copy of QuarkXPress on a vintage Apple Mac.

You need up-to-date, reliable software and hardware to do your job properly.

If you’re using an ancient version of Microsoft Word that crashes every five minutes, or a printer that jams so often you’re tempted to chuck it through the nearest window, you can’t do your best work.

And if you’re not doing your best work, you’re not providing your clients with a professional service.

Fact.

Keeping your technology up-to-date can give you the edge over your competitors.

Failing to invest can mean getting left behind.

4. “They want me to do the work, they just don’t have the budget right now.”

Listen up: this is a big one.

We all know who I’m talking about. Those tricksy so-and-sos who promise you exposure in exchange for services.

They’re going to be big. Huge, in fact. Working for them will be SO good for your career! They just can’t afford your prices right now…

Seriously, step away from the tight-arsed client. You’ll end up cursing the day you met them.

They’ll micromanage every last detail. They’ll chase you endlessly (despite the fact you’ve never missed a deadline). And they’ll never be satisfied.

I don’t know why the clients who question costs end up being the biggest headache – they just do.

Charge a fair price that reflects your skills and experience and have the confidence to stick to it.

(Do your research if you’re not sure what to charge. Most industries publish rate surveys to give you a benchmark.)

Just remember – freelance ain’t free.

5. “I’ve been doing this job for 20 years now. I know everything there is to know about marketing/dentistry/accounts.”

Hell NO!

The minute you stop being curious about the world you work in – the second you nod your head with satisfaction and think “I’ve got this. Now I can relax” – will be the moment in which you fail.

Never, ever stop learning.

Invest in yourself and your business by attending conferences and events, and squeeze the living daylights out of them.

Take notes, type them up so they sink in, read and reread them.

Speaking of reading…

Read voraciously. Read about your trade, about business, about psychology. Anything that feeds your imagination, inspires you, and helps you to be a better freelancer – and a better person.

(If you’re not into reading, join Audible or Blinkist, subscribe to podcasts, or watch TED Talks or industry experts on YouTube. Whatever it takes to keep expanding your mind.)

6. “Everyone’s an expert. I don’t know why I bother!”

“Why should I pay for a copywriter? I got a B in my English GCSE.”

If you’re a freelance copywriter, you’ll recognise this attitude.

Because everyone’s a writer – right?

I decided some years ago that I didn’t want to work with anyone who doesn’t already appreciate the value of professional copywriting.

I’m not interested in trying to convince anyone that they need me. I don’t have the patience. And there are enough business owners and marketing managers out there who DO get it.

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in – this applies whether you’re a photographer, graphic designer, accountant, decorator…

Good people are crying out for what you do.

So, unless you want to spend your days convincing potential clients of all the reasons their lives would be easier if only they’d step away from Microsoft Word/Adobe Photoshop/the Dulux trade emulsion* and let a professional take over, don’t waste time on the ambivalent.

*delete as applicable

7. “Something just doesn’t feel right… perhaps I’m being oversensitive.”

Success in business is all about finding the clients (and colleagues, and suppliers) who are a good fit.

These people make your working life SO much better.

You look forward to their calls, leave meetings feeling energised, and you’re excited about the prospect of working with them.

Conversely, you know on some subconscious level when someone isn’t the right fit for you.

It starts with a hunch.

Perhaps their business goals are out of sync with your values. Maybe their attitude doesn’t sit well with you. Or perhaps you just don’t feel comfortable with what they’re asking you to do.

Your heart sinks momentarily when their name pops up on your phone, and you end the call with a sense that something isn’t quite right.

If you had to articulate what you feel, you probably couldn’t. But there’s usually a good reason it exists.

The trick is to get really good at listening to the niggling feeling you can’t define.

Tune in to your instinct, and don’t be afraid to say no. 

Pro tip: find another professional to partner with so you can pass their details on should you need to. You’re turning down the work, but presenting the client with a solution, not a problem.

8. “I owe HOW much in tax?! But I’ve spent it all!”

I grew up in a family where money was tight. Like, really tight.

My mum gave up her job when she met my dad (don’t get me started – it was a different era). My dad lost his job when the US took over the airbase where he worked and was unemployed for so long that my parents ended up becoming collectable toy dealers – but that’s a whole other story.

The good thing about being raised in an environment where every penny counts is that you make damn sure you have enough to get by.

Sure, I can spend when I need to (I love to travel, and I’m always first in line for the latest iPhone) but I’m a saver at heart.

Always have been. Always will be.

I got my first part-time job (behind the record bar in Woolworths) when I was studying my A Levels, and from my very first paycheque I saved 25% of everything I earned.

If more people did this there’d be a lot less debt. They should teach it in schools. In fact, it’s such good advice that Nationwide have started a campaign – Pay Day = Save Day.

You may not be a natural saver like me, but if you can get into the habit of paying yourself first, you’ll find those brown envelopes from HMRC a lot less sinister.

9. “I’m doing a job I love. Every day should be a good day, right?”

If only it were that simple.

Even if you were to follow all the tips in this article – and let’s be honest, it’s taken me the best part of 20 years to adopt them all – working on your own can still present challenges to both your wellbeing and your mental health.

I’ve suffered from anxiety and mild depression at various times in my life so I know how important it is to look after yourself and recognise the signs of burnout before it’s too late.

When it comes to keeping your head above water, everyone has different coping mechanisms, and it takes time to learn what works for you. Below are a few examples.

(The same strategies also work brilliantly to reboot your brain and clear writer’s block. Win–win.)

  • meditate
  • go for a walk/swim/run/bike ride
  • listen to music – loud (singing at the top of your voice, optional, but it works for me)
  • dance around your kitchen
  • do a jigsaw
  • bake a cake
  • get out in nature
  • above all, get plenty of good-quality sleep

Don’t be afraid to be human and admit that you’re struggling.

Reach out to colleagues and peers for support and empathy – you’ll get it in spades.

We’ve all been there – even the most seemingly together, sorted and grown-up among us.

Pro tip: believe it or not, admitting your weaknesses makes you more likeable. It’s called the pratfall effect.

(I experienced this for myself when I left my suitcase on a train earlier this year. I arrived at Manchester for the Creative North conference, and my suitcase arrived at Nottingham!)

I hope this advice helps to make your freelance life a little bit easier.

Which tip is your favourite? Email me to let me know, or to share your own advice for surviving as a freelancer.

Social media for small businesses – and why you’re doing it wrong

Let’s get this out the way first, shall we? Social media is as much a pain in the backside as it is a blessing and a way of attracting new clients.

If you’re not disciplined – scrap that… even if you are – it can be a huge, momentous, gargantuan distraction.

It’s also an enormous source of pressure. It sits there in the digital ether mocking you. “Have you updated your LinkedIn profile recently? You really should’ve asked that client for a recommendation by now!” “Wait – you mean you haven’t thought of something acerbic and brilliant to share on Twitter this morning? What’s wrong with you?” “C’mon, you know there’s no point even having a Facebook page these days unless you’re prepared to dig deep and advertise!”

Social. It wants a piece of you. And it wants it NOW.

If you take just one piece of advice away from this post, it should be this: unless you have literally no work – and if that’s the case, I humbly suggest you have bigger problems than how to manage your social media presence – you don’t have time to master all platforms.

You’re not omnipotent. Or is it omnipresent? Or both.

Pick one or two platforms that are best aligned with your client base and do them really, really well. No more.

Sure, you can establish a profile on every platform out there, if you really want to cover all bases – that certainly won’t harm your Google ranking – but as long as your information is up-to-date and relevant, leave it right there, thank you.

Then back slowly away from the time-sapping, energy-draining social media vortex.

Which will you choose?

Those of you with visual businesses – hotels, florists, designers, manufacturers of cute-looking-OMG-I-just-HAVE-to-have-thats – you’ve got it made. In fact, I hate you. Just a tiny little bit.

Your business can flirt with any one of the social platforms and get those customers clicking and buying like a match made in retail heaven. Take your pick. Then take your pics. (Sorry.)

Instagram and Pinterest

Once you know your audience, and you’ve nailed your brand (and I know just the guys if you need help with that) make sure everything you post reflects your brand’s values and a professional image – by that I don’t mean business speak, I mean mistake-free – and you’ll soon be attracting those clients like a match made in retail heaven.

Get busy with that camera and learn to make your business look great. Great social media content doesn’t need expensive gear. Get your smartphone out and get snap, edit, and post happy.

Apps such as Over, Canva and Spark Post help you combine text and images for eye-catching posts, while free apps such as Snapseed and Afterlight are great for editing your pics.

Experimenting will teach you the hashtags and style that works for your audience, and remember, there’s no harm in taking inspiration from competitor businesses that do Instagram and Pinterest well – just no outright copying, please. No one likes a cheat.

Then feel a teeny bit smug – and certainly grateful – that you don’t have to think of clever ways to illustrate being a goddamn freelance copywriter. Because, let’s be honest, Instagram and Pinterest aren’t a lot of use to service businesses. I know. I am one.*

*Okay, so I do them both anyway, but I do them for fun. Any business I get on the back of them is incidental, not planned. Sorry, social media gurus.

LinkedIn

I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say whatever business you’re in, you need a profile on LinkedIn. Not a company page. A personal profile.

LinkedIn doesn’t have to be one of the two or three platforms you decide to do really well. You don’t have to sit on there day in, day out, engaging, liking and posting – but show up and be present.

If I meet someone at a networking event, the first thing I do when I get back to the office is connect with them on LinkedIn. If they’re not on there, I assume either they don’t take their business seriously (and if they don’t, why should I?) or that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. And believe me, I’m only being a tiny bit tongue in cheek when I say that.

Think of LinkedIn as your virtual CV.

I’m in my 19th year of working freelance, and if anyone is out of touch enough to ask me for a CV, I refer them to my LinkedIn profile. Because even if LinkedIn wasn’t one of my three (it is) it would sit there, up-to-date and relevant, showcasing my skills and experience to anyone who wants to work with me.

That’s the bare minimum.

If you want to do LinkedIn well, start by optimising your profile. There are plenty of people out there who’ll happily tell you how to do that. Keep it open in your browser and check it once a day. Keep your profile up to date. Like and comment on relevant posts. Ask your clients for recommendations (I’m up to 102, at the last count). Congratulate people on their new jobs.

But be authentic. Don’t like and comment and share for exposure. That doesn’t feel good.

You might even consider posting your own articles on there, just like this one.

I’ve had such good results from my LinkedIn articles that I’ve started posting all new blogs on there and using my other social media accounts to drive traffic to the post on LinkedIn, rather than to my website.

I know. Controversial.

But it’s not, really. Engagement on my most popular post – remember the secret confessions blog? – looked a little something like this: a tiny little circle representing all 3,200+ of my LinkedIn connections, and a great big circle representing views from second-tier connections. That’s a LOT of engagement, and a lot of quality leads heading my way.

Thanks, LinkedIn. I love you, too.

Twitter

I love Twitter. There are still predictions of it going down the pan. I hope that doesn’t happen.

But people still get it wrong. They post things like this:

Looking for a copywriter? Let me write your website for you!

*hides eyes*

Has it gone yet? Seriously, that’s the quickest way to turn people right off your business. Social should be just that – a chance to engage with people. Be professional, but don’t be afraid to share your personality. People deal with people, remember? Not bland, faceless companies, bun-fighting for every job that comes along.

So dial down the desperate, and start engaging, informing, and entertaining.

Get your name out there as a trusted source of information on your area of expertise. Share tips, tricks and advice. Reply to questions. And be nice.

Facebook

I’ve never been convinced about Facebook pages as a tool for service businesses, but perhaps that’s simply because it doesn’t work well for me.

If you’re in the business of selling cupcakes, jewellery, or another photo-friendly product, it can work really well – and there are many pages out there that prove it.

That said, I keep my page up to date, and aim to post daily. Language-relevant funnies and thought-provoking questions get the best engagement for me, but trial and error will show what works for your business.

Whatever business you’re in, you’re more likely to attract new customers and sales through Facebook if you’re prepared to advertise. And that’s a whole other subject.

So, that’s it. I know – I haven’t touched on the virtues of scheduling, the value of video, or the pros and cons of narrative vs ephemeral content (think Snapchat and Instagram stories), but then I’m a copywriter, not a social media guru. Besides, I can always save that for another day.

Which platforms work best for your business? Drop me an email and let me know.

The secret confessions of a successful freelance copywriter

Let’s be honest: we’re all fundamentally nosy. And if we see someone with something we want, we need to know how they got it.

So why do I remain surprised that people want to know how I got to where I am today? I say this without arrogance. I’m not the highest earning copywriter. I don’t have the most awards (best new editor way back when is as good as it gets). I don’t work for Apple, or Innocent, or Nike.

But I make a good living from a job I love. I’m consistently busy. I have a waiting list (usually a pretty healthy one).

I don’t advertise. My clients find me, rather than the other way around. What’s more, I get to choose whether I want to work with them or not.

It’s all pretty damn good.

So, given the number of emails and conversations I’ve had asking for tips, I thought I’d share a few things that might surprise you.

“You’ve been freelance for 20 years? How have you done it? What’s your secret?!”

You want secrets? Oh… I’ve got secrets.

I’m not talking the kind of secrets you’ll find if you type ‘great business advice’ into Google. Surround yourself with good people. Be tenacious. Work hard. Oh no. I’m talking about the stuff inside my head. The personal stuff, that hopefully you’ll read and identify with, rather than slowly backing away from the crazy word girl in the corner.

I still suffer from imposter syndrome

Chances are, you do too. Everyone gets self-doubt from time to time.

Sometimes it’s crippling. I feel like I’ve been winging it – that one day someone will call me out as a fraud. In my head, it’s usually Jafar, from the Disney movie Aladdin.

And it’ll go a little something like this:

“You? YOU? You think you can make a success as a writer? WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?”

(Cue evil Disney-villain-style laughter.)

Most of the time I know I’ve got this.

Jeez, I have over 180 online testimonials from people who love working with me, because I increase their sales, bring in more customers, or just make their job easier.

Yet still the doubt creeps in occasionally. It’s all part of the process.

The idea of networking used to bring me out in a rash

Yeah, okay… not an *actual* rash, but seriously, I can’t think of anything I dreaded more. So much so, that for the first 14 years as a freelance copywriter I did no networking whatsoever.

Having to sell myself to complete strangers? No way José. Standing in front of a room full of people, talking about my business until the two-minute timer busted me for rambling?

Or worse – drying up. Can you imagine the sniggers? “She’s a copywriter and she ran out of words!” It’s happened. Not often, but enough to stop me getting blasé.

And that’s a good thing, right?

When I did decide to start networking I realised it’s a case of finding the right groups to fit both your business and your personality. I prefer the more informal groups that don’t involve pressure to refer or the dreaded elevator pitch.

Now I network as much for the social aspect (working for yourself can be isolating as hell) and the food (shh – don’t tell) as anything else. And it’s more about meeting like-minded people than indulging pushy sales pitches.

I hate public speaking

If you follow me on social media you may remember this time last year I took a giant freakin’ leap outside my comfort zone. Yes, I stood up – okay, there was a bar stool involved, but you get the picture – in front of 80 local business owners and talked about copywriting.

And do you know what? I bloody loved it.

At the time… yeah, it was pretty good.

Immediately after – oh my days was I buzzing. I was in my element, in fact.

So perhaps secret number three should be that I hate the idea of public speaking, but in reality, it gives me an enormous energy boost and I should probably do it more often.

I can talk for England

When I write copy for my clients it’s clear and concise. I write tight, using the minimum of words. There’s no waste. No sagging at the edges. No siree.

When I talk… oh man. Different story.

If you’ve met me, or we’ve spoken on the phone, you’ll know.

I talk lots. And I talk fast.

I blame my brain. It gets excited. It fires ideas at tangents and my mouth can’t keep up. In fairness, it shouldn’t even try. In reality, it tries. Boy does it try.

So, meetings with me can be high energy affairs. Particularly if we’re talking about a subject that really interests me. (You’d like help marketing your chocolate business, you say?)

I struggle with distractions

We all do it. Sometimes it’s easier to put things off than bite the bullet and get started. In my case, if I need to work on something for my own business, rather than for a client, I’ll often make excuses. Distractions glint at me like glitter in the tiles at the airport duty-free shop.

  • “Ooh look! The trailer for the new Marvel movie is out!”
  • “I’ll should just post on Instagram…”
  • “I should probably hang the washing.”
  • “Where shall we go on holiday this year?”

Displacement activity. Avoid it at all costs. (Pun very definitely intended.)

Which neatly leads on to…

I need accountability

In 20 years as a freelance copywriter, I’ve never missed a deadline. When it comes to client work, I’m as focused as a sniper with a 50-yard target.

When it comes to working on my own business, I need serious accountability. It took me two years from deciding I wanted to start a monthly newsletter to sending out the first issue. Two years!

(You can sign up here, incidentally.)

Distractions aside, if I’ve told someone I’m going to do something, you bet your life I’m gonna do it. It’s a matter of pride.

Having close relationships with other freelancers helps me. But choose wisely. Pick the ones who lift your energy with their positivity and ideas, not the energy vampires who flatten you with their gripes about how hard it is to be your own boss. No one needs that.

The energy boost I get from an hour of shared inspiration and support makes me more positive, more productive, and more profitable.

I have a fundamental inability to ask for help

I’m not sure being a perfectionist control freak is essential when it comes to making a success of your freelance career, but giddy me does it keep you on your toes.

I’m my own biggest critic, my own worst enemy, yada yada. I should cut myself some slack, occasionally, but I’m too busy beating myself up about my imperfections.

I go to an event and come away fired up and inspired by new ideas, then get frustrated and feisty that I can’t do everything at once, or that things take longer than expected.

They say delegation is the key to running a successful business. That’s not easy when you’re standing where I’m standing, but I’m getting better. I now have a virtual assistant, an IT support company, and an accountant (my ex-husband, but that’s a story for another day).

My secret’s safe… right?

So, there we have it. A cheeky peek into some of the guilty secrets of a freelance copywriter. If this post has gone some way to make you feel more normal, I’d love to know. If you’re pulling a face and judging me for my weirdness, do me a favour… keep it to yourself.