It’s now six years since I left my comfortable corporate life and accidently set up Freestyle Innovation. For me, this has not been a story of taking on the world and sticking it to the man but about getting over my own self-limiting beliefs. An innovation coach who lives in the Cotswolds and works with global brands; who knew that was a thing?
I often get asked by people who are thinking of setting up on their own if we can grab a coffee and have a chat. I’m always happy to do that, and I thought it might be useful to share the some of the questions I get asked most frequently.
1. When do you stop worrying about where the next gig is coming from?
The short answer is you don’t. I think the only thing that changes over time is that if you do experience a lean spell (and BTW everyone does!) after a few years you should have built up a pot of cash to pay yourself for a few months which takes away some of the immediate anxiety. Strangely even if you have too much work, you’ll still worry but then it will be about if you’re going to have enough time to do a good job!
2. Do I need a website?
I know a lot of freelancers who just run their business just from LinkedIn and don’t have a website. In my experience when working with large corporates they like you to have a website as it makes you appear more legit. But you can easily use Wix or Squarespace to build yourself something to get started – don’t pay someone to do this for you and don’t be fooled into thinking a website will in drive sales for you; it really only validates you.
3. Do I need to be on LinkedIn and do I really need to post regularly?
For me this is non-negotiable. Yes, you need to be on LinkedIn and yes, you need to be posting regularly. To be clear this is posting original content and not just commenting ‘“I agree” on other people’s posts. I do now occasionally get work directly from LinkedIn but this is not enough to sustain my business.
4. So how do you get work then?
Network. The majority of my work comes from my network – people I used to work with when I had a proper job, people I’ve worked with and who’ve moved to a different business, recommendations / referrals internally and externally and some agency work. I work hard to build my network at every opportunity – this is key. And always be hustling, I’ve had work from people I’ve sat next to on train and someone I sat next to at my sons cricket match.
5. Should I do agency work?
Personally, I like working with agencies but I’m super fussy and only work with those where I feel a real alignment. I’ve walked away from several. It can be really good fun working within a team environment for a client and I find this energising. You’ll normally take a hit on day rate working for an agency as they do the business development work, but the agencies I work with normally guarantee me 30/40 day’s work a year which I think is worth it.
6. Should I set up a pension?
Absolutely yes – as soon as you get a steady income - even if you start small.
7. Do you get lonely?
Sometimes - I often wish I had a team around me, particularly when I’m designing a new proposal or a programme and I want to bash some ideas around. However, I do have a good network of people around me who do similar things and are always available for support. Also, I usually find I work with my clients on a repeat basis and develop good relationships and even friendships.
8. Should I ever work for free?
Honestly, I’m not a big fan. I do give my time for free to some awesome charities / NGO’s who work in areas that particularly resonate with me and I also give my time to Warwick University’s MBA Entrepreneur clinic. I’ve also recently run a free remote session on LinkedIn as a taster session for a paid training programme. However, I don’t think I would ever run a free workshop for a client and to be honest I’ve never been asked.
9. Do I need an accountant?
Yes – let the professionals do the thing they are great at so you can do the thing you are great at. It took me a long time to realise the money in the bank account did not belong to me but to my business. So be kind to yourself; if you need to take a taxi between appointments and not get the Tube, or if it makes sense to upgrade on the train so you can get some work done, then do it. Invest in yourself and be the sort of business you want to work for.
10. How much should I charge?
Tricky one this and people really don’t like talking about it. Do your research to find out how much others in your niche are charging and start to run a few experiments. It’s always useful to find out the budget your client has and how much they want to spend before you start discussing day rates. I have tried many times to move towards a value-based / project-based pricing but nine out of ten of my clients will always want a day rate. Still working this one out!
So, six years ago I did accidently start my own business. I now have some amazing clients and partners and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier in my working life. I’ve learnt loads and a lot about myself. I don’t always get it right and I usually feel I’m making it up as I go along but it seems to be working. If you are thinking about giving it a go I would really recommend it.
'You don’t have to be great to start but you do have to start to be great' – Zig Zaglar
Photo by Garrhet Sampson on Unsplash