Or the 16 Surprising Lessons I’ve Learned after 18 Months as a Freelance SEO Copywriter

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Having worked in full time employment or as a contractor in marketing for several decades, in March 2016 I took my considerable expertise out into the big wide world and set myself up as a freelance copywriter. It’s been quite a transition and this is what I’ve learned.

This used to be me. A regular member of the rat race, waking up early to commute, always in meetings (usually other people’s), grabbing lunch on the run, trying to make hot-desking work (who invented that anyway?). Then coming home and starting my other job as a mum. Looking back I don’t know how I did it and being honest with myself as much as I loved my job and my family it was always very stressful.

This is me now. No I’m not sitting on a beach looking out at the ocean (I wish). Rather this image symbolises the fact that I finally feel that my life is in perfect balance. Some people say that taking the leap into freelancing or self-employment is scary, it takes a lot of soul-searching and multiple spreadsheets. But for me it felt entirely natural and right, that it was something that I should have been doing all along.

Lesson #1: Perceptions

Calling myself a Freelancer – although accurate – comes with its share of baggage. The term “Freelance” has suffered too much from a negative shift in perceptions recently. Today’s media constantly refers to the “gig economy” like it’s a bad thing. But consider this:-

In 2017 the UK had 2 million freelancers 41% of the total self-employed population.

In 2016 freelancers contributed £119 billion to the UK economy.

I am now part of something quite significant and vital. “Freelance” is not the throwaway livelihood that some sections of the media like to make it out to be. 

Lesson #2: Empowerment

I’ve learned that now, as I only have myself to answer to, it’s incredibly empowering. I get to choose who I work with and what work I take on. Any and all decisions are mine and mine alone to make. I’m not answerable to anyone else’s agenda, nor am I working like a dog to make someone else wealthy. It is super rewarding to realise that I can also make a decent living as a freelancer, while enjoying myself enormously.

Lesson #3: Expanding my knowledge

Working for myself has re-awakened my love for Lifelong Learning. I’ve learned that I’m incredibly resourceful and if I need to teach myself something new to add to my expertise and credibility, I can usually find the right course or the right person to talk to, and it’s up to me to take the time to absorb the new information and turn it into a marketable proposition. I then have the opportunity to share that expertise with my clients, such as with my Google SEO Marketer certification.

Lesson #4: Networking

I’ve discovered the joys of networking. For me, this has replaced going to an office every day – and is far preferable. I’ve become a bit of a serial networker. The contacts and the relationships I make through that process is one of the best things about working for myself and are the backbone of my business. As well as providing me with an unexpected social life.

Lesson #5: New Horizons

Being freelance means that I’ve been able to explore a vast array of local cafes, coffee shops and – yes – pubs. This photo was taken by me at Boulters Inn near Bray, while having a 1-2-1 with someone I met via networking. As views go it beats looking out the window at an office car park any day. Plus I’m happy to support local independent enterprises by giving them my custom and spreading the word by checking in on Facebook, for example.

Lesson #6: Flexible working

Cited by most people as the main reason for going freelance, I find the concept of flexible working is a bit of a myth. I still keep basic nine-to-five hours, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. But flexible working for me is about not having anyone to answer to, being able to set my own hours, going out when I want, staying home when I want. Its not about working evening and weekends or getting up at silly-o’clock to work on a project (unless I want to of course). 

Lesson #7: Toxic people not welcome here

It was only when I left full time working and really reflected on my career that I realised how often I had was forced to deal with toxic personalities at work, and how prevalent those people are. You know the type, people who suck all your energy, are constantly negative and critical of everything, and blame everyone else when things go wrong. Now I’ve learned to successfully avoid or at least keep them at arm’s length. I’m no longer forced into their company. Nor am I at the mercy of their particular brand of poison. It’s very freeing – you should try it.

Lesson #8: Health & Fitness 

Hermetically sealed office blocks are deeply unhealthy environments. The destructive pressure to be ever present means you pick up every germ, bug and virus going around quicker than you can say “air conditioning”. And for all their pledges towards healthy eating, workplace canteens are very unhelpful places. You go in with all good intentions of buying a salad, then leave with a plate of chips. Working from home means I’m in total control of what I eat and no longer tempted by the vending machine to cure the afternoon slump. I can also cannily schedule time for regular exercise, whenever I want, with zero impact on my workload. On that note, I’ve lost a stone in the last year. Go me!

Lesson #9: Working wardrobe 

Most of my working days are spent in front of my PC in the back bedroom. No I don’t sit around in my pyjamas (those clients I have Skype calls with would be a bit startled) but neither do I need to wear a suit. When I decided to go freelance I took two bin bags of my old “office” clothes down to the local charity shop. My working wardrobe has been pared right down. I have some smart clothes for networking days and client meetings, and casual clothes for when it’s only the keyboard calling. It’s saved me a shed-load of money.

Lesson #10: Inspiration 

One of the best things about freelancing is how great it is to meet other business owners and learn from them. I can honestly say that meeting people with such imagination, creativity, energy and enthusiasm for what they do means that these last few months have been some of the most rewarding of my life.

Lesson #11: Discipline

When I researched what it means to be a freelancer, I read and was told a lot about the need for discipline, discipline, discipline. But for me, coming from a place of already having a strong work ethic, discipline is over-rated. It comes down to one basic premise: If I don’t work then I don’t  get paid. That’s all the incentive and “discipline” that I need.

Lesson #12: Learning to say No 

It’s an easy trap to fall into, saying Yes to any freelance work that comes your way, especially in the early days. I learned quite quickly to be discerning about what work I take on. I learned that I don’t have to sacrifice my own principles in order to make money. I’ve learned to spot a dodgy client that will cause more trouble than they’re worth from a mile away. I’ve learned to say I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m the right copywriter for you. 

Lesson #13: Copymills 

I’d never heard of these when I started out by oh boy do I know all about them now. It’s these organisations more than any other that have contributed the most to the dumbing-down of the word “Freelance”: places like Upwork, Fivver and Freelancer.com. You bid for work and it’s a soul-destroying race to the bottom. These people do the freelancing world no favours at all. Please – stay away from the mills.

Lesson #14: Making comparisons

I’ve realised that because I do what I do in my own inimitable fashion, comparing myself to any so-called competition is a waste of time and energy. I have my own exclusive way of delivering my service that no one else can duplicate. So instead of stressing over how I shape against the competition, I focus on what makes me and my brand solely mine. Besides, I’ve also learned that there’s plenty of work to go around. I see my “competitors” more as colleagues, friends and mentors. 

Lesson #15: Transitions 

When I first thought of freelancing, I thought I’d be a copywriter, and that’s it. But I soon learned that I could be so much more to my clients, because creating great marketing content is just the start. So now I provide SEO audits, health checks and workshops, something I could never have imagined at the beginning of this journey.

Lesson #16: A higher purpose

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I learned that doing purposeful work means so much more than being paid. Yes you need money in the bank in order to live. But it has taken becoming a freelancer to find out what I really want to do with my life. My best days are getting to know a new client, helping them grow their business and getting feedback from them telling me how I’ve helped them. 

That’s my Big Fat Freelancing Life, and I love it. 
To find out how I can help you create great digital marketing content that gets noticed by search engines, contact me.

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