How long have you been freelance?
I became freelance in January, 2009 and set up Chichester Copywriter, offering professional copywriting and marketing services. I left my job when the recession was in full-swing but it is the best thing that I could have done!
What made you start your own business?
My health was the main reason. I have suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (otherwise known as ME) since 2006 because a particularly nasty virus left my immune system weak. This meant that I would get tired very easily and catch every cold and virus going, making it hard to work full-time hours and travel both nationally and internationally, which my job required.
Also, the role I was in was not creative enough and I began to feel that my imagination was being stifled so that, combined with continually have to explain why I was unable to work in the office, drove me to look for an alternative.
I couldn’t stand the idea of not working as I have always been tenacious and conscientious. I knew that if I became self-employed I would be able to work productively when I was feeling fit enough and rest when I needed to.
What did you do before you started your own business?
After gaining a Communication BA at Bournemouth, I knew that I wanted to do something creative, preferably writing, but I was told that I was not good enough to write while I was at university so I was at a bit of a loss. However, I signed up with some employment agencies and stayed true to my goals.
I soon landed a job as an SEO Copywriter with a small West Sussex marketing company via one of the agencies. When I turned up for the interview I had absolutely no idea what SEO was but, regardless, I got the job. During the two years that I was there, I learnt an awful lot about writing for the web and this prompted me to explore copywriting further.
I went on to work for a global publishing company, something that I had always wanted to do. The experience was good; I got to travel and I worked in a huge team so I met and worked with some interesting people. I even got the opportunity to teach my whole division about SEO. But I didn’t get to do enough writing, which is my passion, the company was undergoing a major transition and my health problems made things even more difficult.
How long did it take you to establish yourself/the business?
Fortunately, I started working with a design agency and had as much work as I wanted as soon as I became self-employed. This meant that I could earn as much as I was in full time employment, but work less and give my health the attention it needed. I worked there for 15 months so I didn’t have to do much to establish Chichester Copywriter until I left.
Being out there on my own gave me the motivation to do more networking, both online and face-to-face, in order to establish my company. I had enough small projects to keep me going initially but 2010-2011 was pretty tough for various reasons.
I would say that as soon as I had secured a couple of large retainers towards the end of 2011 my business was established and this has enabled me to move things forward.
Do you have any tips for anyone looking to start out in business or looking to grow an existing business?
Don’t be scared and don’t let others put you off. When I revealed that I was going to start my own business, I was told that I was crazy to leave a stable job and try and set something up during a recession. What’s more, I was told that I shouldn’t expect to enjoy what I do for a living!
Well, there proved to be more than enough work for the first year that I was self-employed so the recession certainly didn’t slow me down. As for not expecting to enjoy what you do as a job – what a dim outlook on life! We spend most of our lives working so if you are doing something you do not enjoy then life is going to be pretty miserable – fact!
How has it been juggling your work with your personal life?
Finding a healthy balance between life and work has definitely helped. This is not always easy but it is very important. I work from home so I try to switch off the PC when my partner gets in and I try not to work at the weekends or when he has time off. I am a bit of a demon when it comes to checking my iPhone but he is just as bad, so we are always telling each other off!
I also try to get out and about at least once a week, whether it is attending a book talk at the local library or just going for a walk in the park with my mum. It is very important for me to leave the office once in a while, not only for my sanity but also because writers need inspiration and that is best found out in the real world.
What are the perks that come with your job?
The main perk is being able to choose when to work and when to take time off. Some days I will work for two hours while others I will keep going for more than ten hours. In fact, I can get more done in a day working from home than I ever did when working in a busy office.
Freebies are good too. I help out some small local arts groups and businesses, such as Chichester Library, that put on events but might not have the resources to promote them. I make my contacts aware of what is on locally and I get tickets to an event in return – it is win-win!
Most of all, I like the variety that my job brings. I get to write most of the time now but I also get to meet fascinating new people and learn about their businesses when I create copy for them. My clients are so varied too, at the moment I am writing for a jewellery retailer, an activities centre, an IT support service provider and a building contractor so I always have a different hat on, as it were.
Writing is not all that I do though, as well as providing marketing consultation services I train professionals on how to use Twitter and Facebook effectively for business. This means that I get to meet an even bigger variety of people from writers and publishers to natural therapists and restaurateurs.
How do you tend to find new business?
Despite all the speculation about how effective social networking is, I have actually found quite a lot of new business that way. While networking face-to-face is fine, I find it quite time-consuming and it can be intense. When talking to people on Twitter you can do it at a time and in a place that suits you, which is more natural and convenient. When used properly, Twitter is a communication tool, so you can share interests and let your followers get to know you gradually rather than bombard people with lots of information about your business in quick succession.
Now that my business is more established, I am receiving a lot more work through referrals and recommendations from past / current clients, which is great. Keeping my LinkedIn profile up-to-date with my latest projects and encouraging clients to recommend me there is also a great help.
What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?
If you have an ambition, just go for it. Be open to constructive criticism and advice but never let others drag you down with negativity. Be wary of people trying to change you, too. I have had people suggest that I am not ruthless enough to succeed in business but I treat people how I would like to be treated. While this means that some people will try their luck (and I can quickly wheedle out the bad ones by using my instinct) it also means that I am able to form honest, well-grounded long-term professional relationships with clients and it makes life a lot easier, all-round.
Also, look for an opportunity in everything. I have picked up business without trying from book talks and, once, while having an Indian Head Massage! It helps to be open-minded and quick off the mark too.