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Ten lessons in ten years

Date: Aug 10 2020
Ten lessons in ten years

It’s my business anniversary today. Ten years ago, my daughter started her first day at nursery joining her big brother and I headed off to my first meeting as a freelance comms consultant.

I had previously found a Women in Business event organised by BusinessLink (sadly no longer an entity). At that meeting I met my first client. It was sheer luck. I was sat next to a lady looking to open her first shoe shop. I love shoes. We started chatting, and the rest is a piece of history.

But that small but brave act to go to a meeting where I didn’t know anyone, after two years looking after two children under the age of two was me being a bit bold. It paid off, and it also helped me to build my confidence and realise that after two years of maternity leave I still had my comms knowledge. By some further fluke, the lady hosting the event was an old friend from university. She then helped me to secure business funding for part of my fees for my new client supporting the launch of her business. And my new client’s husband was an ex Daily Mail journalist. My world of work was already getting bigger.

I’m now celebrating ten years having worked with a huge range of clients from engineering and healthcare to social housing and science. I also completed my CIPR Internal comms diploma, and gone on to teach the course at Bournemouth University, I became Chartered, and most recently became a CIPR Fellow. I’ve focussed my business more and more on internal comms and employee engagement and do the work I love.

So, ten years on, through ups and downs of working solo, what have I learned?

In no particular order:

  1. Take nothing and no one for granted

You never know where and when you may meet your next client or find an exciting project to get your teeth into. While in the Covid19 world, events and networking are off limits, there are always opportunities to connect with like minded people. Saying yes to opportunities, joining in and sharing your knowledge are key. I’ve learnt this being based in Bournemouth and growing my network across the UK, mainly from my home office. Just like my first client led to more knowledge and contacts, so too can every action we take now. We have to try a bit harder during this pandemic and I’m still working on that myself, and building online presence more.

  1. Be kind and be yourself

We buy from people we like and a little humanity goes a long way. A little bit of kindness can completely change the way we think and feel, and I’m a firm believer that you get back what you send out into the world. Over the years we grow and change a little, learn a lot, and the world around us is constantly evolving. The only constant is us, as individuals. When you are your business, be you.

  1. Invest in your knowledge and keep learning

One of the best things for me about working for myself is that I get to choose how I spend my training budget and time. I can choose what I learn and how I do it. I’ve been able to learn so much working independently. I attend conferences, workshops, webinars and undertaken courses. It’s invigorating and by continually learning I’m able to provide my clients with the latest knowledge and thinking. Being a member of professional bodies has been key for me, a vital way to learn, increase my knowledge and build my network. I’m currently learning Spanish too, just for me.

  1. Outsource and get expert help as you need to

When you start out in business you think you have to do it all. But the best investment you can make as soon as you can afford to is to get help to do the things you cannot do or just don’t like doing. I loathed doing the admin, I’ve struggled with different systems in the recent years as my business grew along with my kids. So, now I have a Virtual PA who picks up the stuff I am rubbish at doing. She is so quick and efficient and that in turn helps me to get a better grip on everything else that I love doing.

  1. Look after yourself – health and wellbeing

Back in 2016 I attended an event where we were asked what was the most important thing for you in your business. My answer was me. It felt a bit awkward saying that, it’s not a natural thing to say, and feels a bit like you’re showing off. But when it’s you and your business it really is important to look after yourself. If you don’t rest, eat well, sleep well and get the exercise you need to keep your mind and body fit and healthy you’re no good to anyone. This also goes for the self-talk and imposter that many of us feel. There have been times in my business journey my imposter has been way too big, scary and hairy, stopping me from speaking up, sharing my ideas for fear I’d be lambasted (by whom I do not know). I’ve come through that again recently and it’s a tough part of working for yourself, so get a mentor, network or trusted colleague to help you work through it.

  1. Build resilience – financially and professionally

Working for yourself is a roller coaster. You may have weeks or months without work. You may have months without a day off. You may be down to your last bit of cash, or you may have a juggle to manage all your admin and get the money in. Be honest with yourself that this can and will happen at different times during your career. Life also throws you curve balls. Be prepared for that to happen. Keep saving and build your personal reserves to keep you going through the lean times.

It’s critical to keep your knowledge and ideas growing when you work independently. I’ve found my professional networks through this current time essential to share advice and support. That can be practical business support, legal advice, a friendly shoulder to lean on, the opportunity to learn and get involved and be a part of a community. From my formal networks like CIPR and IoD to my regional group of freelance consultants and a national collective group have kept me positive and moving forward during this time with coffee over zoom, meetings and workshops and more. This Covid period like no other is testing everyone’s resilience in every way. My network has given me the support to keep going.

  1. Say no

Know what you love to do and what you’re worth. And then learn to say no to the projects that are not for you, or if you feel you are being taken advantage of. I always have some pro-bono work on the go, but I choose what I do because it fits with my other work, gives me an opportunity to give back to a cause I care about or find out about something where I need to know more. Saying no gracefully to the helpful offers of ‘profile’ pieces of work, or conta deals that don’t fit with you and your work is a valuable lesson and will save you time to work on what you love and need to focus on.

  1. Trust your gut and learn from it

There are a few times I should have listened to my gut and I didn’t. There are many more times I’ve listened and acted. I’ve learned a lot from both.

The work – if a project isn’t moving or worse you are being set up as a fall guy, or being asked to do work outside of your expertise, stand up to it if you can, try to fix it, and if you can’t solve the challenge and it becomes untenable, end the arrangement.

The culture and behaviour – when you see something inside an organisation that is not helpful, appropriate or acceptable, find confidant in the organisation to help you work through the challenge and to speak up if that’s necessary.

The money – don’t stand for excessive haggling over your fee or routine late payers, or worse non payers. Know your worth and don’t let others undermine it.

  1. Keep focussed on your goal

Running a business is hard, working freelance is hard, being on your own is hard. Business can fluctuate, you may lose your momentum or focus, or life can throw you a few curve balls along the way. At times, working for yourself can become really tough. But your focus will keep going if that’s what you really want.

I’ve waivered just once in my time working independently and considered getting a job, after my Dad passed away after a relatively short but brutal illness in 2017. It knocked my emotional resilience and my ability and time to earn money. It was a really challenging time in my life. But I didn’t throw in the business towel, and I’m so glad I didn’t. I know my Dad wouldn’t have given up. The reality is that if I had a regular job at that time, I’d never have had the flexibility to do the work I love, in a place of my choosing, or be there for my parents during my Dad’s illness and to support my my Mum.

  1. Adapt

This is both an essential aspect of working for yourself, and a huge benefit. You have to keep adapting to survive in a constantly changing world of work. But that is what also keeps work really interesting, dare I say exciting, when you work for yourself. I see friends doing jobs they hate, bored and unable to do training and learn, and ‘happy’ to keep moaning through their daily grind. I think that’s a terrible state of work to be in. Not all work is like that of course. But being my own boss means I’m in charge of my own development and what I make of my business and my work. For me that’s exciting and means I choose to adapt to meet the needs of clients and the future of work.

If you are considering taking a step into the world of working for yourself, I’m happy to offer advice and support, just get in touch.

I also offer mentoring for comms professionals to help them through key challenges in their careers. You can read more about those packages here.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.

I work with businesses of all shapes and sizes to help them communicate clearly, reveal the human connections that matter and get meaningful results. If you would like to find out what people think and feel about your business, and communicate with them better, get in touch.


Image credit: Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash