Survivial Skills for Freelancers

6 top tips to find your freelance community

While there are definite advantages to working for yourself – freedom and flexibility for starters – there are disadvantages, too. Working alone means it’s easy to feel lonely and isolated and that, in turn, can leave you feeling no one understands the challenges you’re facing day-to-day.

But, as I say in Survival Skills for Freelancers, going solo doesn’t mean going it alone – and finding a community of like-minded individuals to work, collaborate and share with is a real gamechanger.

Here are my top tips to help you find your freelance community.

  1. Consider coworking

If staring at the same four walls each day gives you Groundhog Day vibes, consider renting a coworking space two or three times a week. While you don’t need to be a freelancer to use a coworking space – shared work zones attract flexible workers of all kinds – many freelancers find shared working gives them the lifeline they need to overcome the isolation that can come with the job title.

Some coworking spaces operate on a pay-as-you-go basis where you can drop in and use the facilities when you need to. Others charge a fixed weekly or monthly fee. Shop around to see what’s best for you.

  1. Get social online

Social media offers countless networks of enthusiastic, inspiring creatives just like you – and you don’t even need to move from your desk to join them! Freelance communities on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Slack are packed with information, advice, support, opportunities for collaboration… and likeminded people.

Start with thriving Facebook groups such as Freelance Heroes or Being Freelance, or look out for industry-specific communities such as Logo Geek (for graphic designers) or Freelance PRs.

  1. Give more than you take

As with most things in life, you get out of online freelance communities what you put in – so dig in, introduce yourself, browse members’ posts and engage with discussions. Resist the temptation to self-promote. Instead, engage with others, be encouraging, helpful and informed, and give more than you take. Once you’ve established yourself as an active member and become known as friendly, reliable and someone who knows their stuff, you’re more likely to attract likeminded people, which may even pay off in referrals and business.

  1. Do your research

Want to expand your network or social circle but don’t know where to start? Following hashtags on Twitter and Instagram can help you spot people with similar interests and goals. Give them a follow and reach out with a comment or DM. Many real-life friendships develop from online connections. (This happens over time, not overnight, so be prepared to invest time and effort.)

  1. Go local

Joining a local business network is a great way to meet likeminded individuals and has the added benefit of encouraging you to leave your desk occasionally! In person networking doesn’t need to be intimidating – remember, everyone was new once. Be yourself, show a genuine interest in others, and focus on making new connections rather than sales. It might take a while to find a group that feels like home, so be prepared to try a range of networking groups – from formal breakfast gatherings to casual chats over coffee – until you find the right freelance community.

  1. Build your support network

Making money isn’t everything. Sure, we all need to pay the bills, but you deserve some me-time, too! Keeping work and home life separate is super important when you’re freelance. Set firm boundaries – especially around your working hours – and refuse to let your home life come second.

A good support network of non-business friends is essential to your mental wellbeing, so never feel guilty about switching off the laptop, joining a yoga class, or meeting a friend for coffee. Switching off doesn’t just help you to recharge – it boosts focus, creativity and productivity. Your brain will thank you for it, and so will your bank balance.

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 survivalskillsforfreelancers.com. I’m all set to record the audiobook, too – just need to find the time to do it!

Me vs we: compelling reasons why small is beautiful when writing about your business

There’s a lot to think about when you’re starting a new business – least of all, getting your messaging right.

What’s your target market? Who are you trying to reach? And how do you stand out?

If you’re not a writer by trade, it’s tough.

I work with many ambitious business owners who’ve left the confines of a steady job for the bright lights and freedom of self-employment.

They usually come to me for help writing their website – and if you’ve been in their position, you’ll understand.

We can all write, but when it comes to talking about yourself – and particularly why you’re so great at what you do that people should buy from you – that British oh-god-I-just-can’t-it’s-all-too-cringy self-consciousness kicks in.

Information overload

And while no one knows your business like you do, that in itself can be problematic.

There’s so much you want to say, you simply don’t know where to start.

What makes you different? What do your customers need to know that will convince them to buy from you rather than your competitors?

You want to sound credible and capable, but it’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance.

What if you get it wrong?

You can’t see the wood for the trees.

Stand out from the crowd

Whatever industry you’re in – and whether you’re selling a product or a service – people deal with people, and personality in your marketing is vital.

Many businesses confuse the need to sound professional with sounding dull.

First drafts are often too wordy, too dense and too dry.

They lack sparkle, structure and brevity.

That special magic that makes them leap off the page and shout “pick me!” (without the desperation of actually saying it. That’d be all kinds of wrong.).

When you’re writing about your business, one of the questions I’m most often asked is whether to be open about being a sole trader and use me or to hide behind the guise of a larger business and use we.

Me vs we

Many sole traders decide to use the royal we (see the panel below) when they’re describing their business. It’s something I’m asked about a lot, and in almost all cases, I try to dissuade them.

Sure, in certain circumstances there are advantages of appearing to be a bigger company than you really are.

It could help you compete for a large contract.

But there’s nothing to stop you saying you call upon a team of trusted experts when you need to. (And no good can come of starting a working relationship based on anything other than honesty.)

Business today – good business, at least – is about authenticity, openness, and transparency.

Being proud of who you are and what you do, rather than pretending to be something you’re not.

If your business is just you, don’t be afraid to say so.

Here’s why…

Confidence: using I and me rather than us and we in your marketing materials communicates self-belief. It may not be very British to say you’re amazing at what you do, but if you don’t believe it on at least some level, perhaps you should consider a change of career.

Consistency: your clients and customers know they can expect a consistently high standard of work, delivered by you, and no one else. Chances are, that’s why they picked you in the first place.

Continuity: Rather than being passed from person to person, your clients get to develop a relationship with an expert. We’ve all experienced the disappointment of being sold to by the business owner, only to find ourselves dealing with an intern or junior member of the team when it comes to delivering the work. It’s not the path to excellent service.

Cost: Small can mean more affordable. It’s not always the case, but smaller businesses usually have lower overheads – which often means lower rates.

It takes guts to say, “I am my business. I may be small, but my god I’m good at what I do – and you’ll be glad you picked me”.

Do you have the confidence to stand alone?

Bonus language lesson

Sometimes called ‘the majestic plural’, the expression ‘the royal we’ describes the use of the plural pronoun we in place of the singular pronoun, I when expressing a personal opinion.

The more common word for the use of we, us, or our instead of I, me or my is nosism.