Freelance life – Taking a year off

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I took a year off from freelancing and my clients were still there when I came back.

On Thursday 15th February myself and few established freelancers joined IPSE and Nottingham Trent University to give advice to current students in the Midlands about the freelancing industry. There were two guest speakers and three of us on the panel, myself included. The lecture theatre was completely packed out and it was amazing to see so many students taking an interest in the freelance life.

Typically, the usual questions cropped up. How do you find your clients? Is it hard work? How do you get paid? These seem to be standard concerns for anyone looking to go freelance.

I left the event feeling inspired myself. During the presentations I remembered why I do what I do, but it also left me reflecting on my own journey of freelancing.

During 2017 I took a hiatus from freelancing to focus on finishing up my part-time masters. I’d also taken on a less stressful full-time job – leaving the world of newspapers and publishing behind and entering the charity sector. I also packed up and left Hull, relocated to Nottingham and dealt with buying a house among other things. Needless to say, my plate was pretty full.

I did the odd project here and there, but my workload had slowed down considerably. It was a natural progression to focus more on my research and my clients were supportive and understood when I hadn’t reached out for more work.

What I’ve learnt from this is the importance of strong relationships with your clients. There will always be the odd few that crop up and make you question everything about your career decisions. But for every bad client, there are three or four that make it all worthwhile.

I pride myself and my business on having a friendly rapport with my clients. When you work with people on a regular basis it’s natural to build a relationship that is easy to maintain. So, when I needed less work, or couldn’t take any work on, my clients were not disheartened by it. They kept in touch and wanted updates on my master’s research.

Speaking on the panel at Nottingham Trent University. Photo by Mackenzie Orrock.

As much as I would have loved to have maintained the amount of clients I had at the time, it would not have been possible to keep going at the speed I was going without heading for burnout. Speaking from experience, burnout is not a place you want to be in. At one point I was signed off sick for two weeks because of it. Never do I want to get to that point again – no career is worth it. Taking the time off and coming back has made my relationships with my clients stronger. I’ve learnt at how to better deal with the clients that need more direction. I’ve even put more time and effort into doing research for clients to help them continue to develop their brands.

It would be easy to look back and see taking a year off as a weakness. But it really wasn’t. Anyone that has a stressful job 5-days-a-week will understand the pressures that come with it. Being on call at weekends, working the usual 35-40 hour week to come home and top the week up to 70 hours was draining. No one should work these ridiculous hours unless you’re a doctor in a hospital – and even then it can’t be good.

Taking the time away made me realise that you can be successful in your freelancing career without the crazy hours. Working full-time now and managing my freelance work is much easier. My cumulative working hours now are somewhere along the lines of 55-60 hours. I’ve gained a whole 15 hours of my week to take time for myself.

There is no secret to being successful freelancing. It takes dedication, time and a lot of perseverance. Having good relationships with your clients comes with time, but it doesn’t hurt to build those foundations early on. This is no secret, but it’s important to be kind to yourself to avoid being so exhausted you cannot function as a human being. Money shouldn’t be your driver. However the types of projects and the value of the client should be your reason to freelance. You’ll have a far more substantial career in freelancing with longevity if your clients value you, and visa versa, more so than taking on every piece of work for the money. You should be proud of the work you do and the clients you work for. That is why you freelance.

It took a long time to appreciate that fact. It took even longer to value myself as a businesswoman. That year off gave me a whole new perspective on the way I approach freelancing and business. But because I had built relationships with clients I valued, the transition back into freelancing was easy. It was the right time and for the right reasons.

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