Starting out as a freelancer: the first three months

Posted on: October 19th, 2010

Welcome to guest writer Hannah Marcheselli. Hannah started freelancing over the summer and recounts her experiences so far of going it alone.

I’d always thought that I would end up working for myself one day, but somehow the time never seemed quite right. With more than ten years as in-house writer for various large financial institutions, publishing houses and agencies, I was started to get frustrated by the constraints of being employed by someone else and the horrors of the daily commute to London. I could have gone on for years finding excuses not to take the plunge and set up on my own, but when I got married in June this year, I used it as an opportunity to make some more big changes to my life.

Launching myself into my new business

I was lucky enough to have a blue-chip client waiting in the wings, and although the timing and size of the first project was a bit sketchy, I decided to go for it. Perhaps luckily for me, I have never been as risk-averse as I should, so I launched myself into my new business knowing that I had to make it work.

First came the practicalities. Setting up my limited company was a relatively painless process, and I got a good accountant and decent insurance policies in place long before the business officially started up. These two things were a top priority for me and an investment I was more than comfortable with making.

Next step:  the website

One of most important steps for me was designing my website – and getting it right. I found my web designer through a personal recommendation, and was lucky we were on exactly the same wavelength when it came to the design. I was keen to avoid too much copy and clutter, and to keep the look very clean and fresh.  Getting the tone spot on was also key to attracting the kind of clients I wanted to work with. My designer asked me to send him a photo of myself for the site, but surprised me by secretly commissioning an illustrator friend to turn it into an avatar, which has ended up forming the basis for my web branding and business cards.

The importance of networking

As the business has grown, I can’t emphasise enough how important networking has been for me. My sister, who recently set up her own personal training business, was a big fan of local networking groups, and kept telling me that her contacts were crying out for good copywriters. When I found I was being passed business without even joining, I thought I’d better go along and have a look for myself.

Be selective over the groups you attend

Over time, I’ve become more selective over the groups I attend, focusing on those that suit me and offer the kind of clients I’m looking for. Funnily enough, many of the best events have turned out to be the free ones. I go to a twice-monthly breakfast group, a weekly mid-morning meeting and twice-monthly meeting of Tunbridge Wells tweeters, and a monthly drinks evening for local media and creative people. Inevitably, there is some crossover between these groups, but the flow of new people keeps things interesting, and I’ve already made some great friends and contacts there and it means I don’t miss the office banter.

While most of my business has come through word-of-mouth recommendations and local networking, some has come from the most unexpected of places. For example, I recently came away from a holiday in the Highlands with several websites to write for a local crofters’ association, lodge and sporting estate.

New business through Twitter

Several of my clients have come to me through Twitter. I don’t just follow friends and potential clients, but also other copywriters, as I think it’s important to build relationships there too. LinkedIn has also proven to be a valuable source of business, and now that I’ve beefed up my profile to reflect the business, people are tracking me down all the time through searches.

I now have several ongoing relationships with PR, marketing and web agencies, and I tend to work for them under their brand. As far as their clients are concerned, I’m one of the team, and they never need to know that I run my own business.

Don’t compromise on your day rate

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since starting up on my own is that you should never feel pressured into compromising on your day rate. You’ve chosen that rate for good reasons, so have the courage of your convictions. If your clients are worth having – and worth working with – they’ll appreciate the value you’ve put on your skills.

The hardest part is making your move in the first place. It can be scary going from the security of a full-time job with regular pay, but, despite constant warnings to the contrary, I’ve made more money on my own than I ever did as an employee.

The freedom of freelancing

It’s not all about the money, though. For me, the biggest benefit has been freedom to manage my own life in a way that works for me. Years of commuting have made it impossible for me to lie in, so I usually start work very early. But I now commute to my attic and can reward myself for an early start with a long walk or a cycle later in the day – without feeling guilty. That took some getting used to: it’s easy to feel twitchy while you’re getting used to working for yourself, but you’re the only person you have to answer to. As long as you’re hitting your deadlines and keeping the work flowing in, just enjoy your freedom.

Based in Tunbridge Wells, Hannah Marcheselli runs The Copy Consultancy. She is a keen flyfisher, runner and cook.

One Response to “Starting out as a freelancer: the first three months”

  1. Pawel - Self Employed Cafe
    October 20th, 2010

    Hi Hannah, it feels so good to be reading about your success, well done.
    And you are right on the all accounts here, you did everything exactly as it should be done. All I can say: a brilliant start!
    Congrats :)

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