Networking is one of those ideas that people either love or hate. For some, local networking groups are either too structured or too informal, cost too much, at inconvenient times, or it could be the fear of meeting a lot of strangers at once. For others, including this week’s Featured Freelancer, it’s a vital source of new leads and clients. Of course, if you’re reading this thinking that there isn’t a good networking event near you, then you could consider starting your own. But that’s for a different post.
Back to this week’s Featured Freelancer and this week’s insight into the journey of a UK freelancer comes from the south coast. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
I’m Chrissie Aplin, a Certified Bookkeeper and owner of Caplin Bookkeeping, based in Southampton.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I worked in Corporate Banking for over 19 years, and whilst I enjoyed my job, I didn’t enjoy the very long hours which went with it. The opportunity came up to take Voluntary Redundancy in 2016 which I opted for, and after nine months away from work enjoying life I decided that I didn’t want to go back to the Corporate environment.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
My husband was incredibly supportive – he has run his own business for over 13 years so helped me with everything from help and advice on the set-up of my business, to emotional support for the times when things are tough. My friends have been very supportive as well, promoting and recommending me to their family and friends and a couple have even become clients which is really nice.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
Yes, I am fully qualified with Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) and I completed these qualifications with the support of Training Link who I can not recommend highly enough. The support from ICB both in relation to starting my business and on-going support is also excellent.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My clients are very varied – I have sole traders who are just looking to outsource their self-assessment tax returns, to limited companies and charities who are looking for day-to-day bookkeeping support. I also complete year end accounts and corporation tax returns for limited companies who are classified as micro-entities. I enjoy the variety of having a good mix of clients, so no two days are ever the same.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I think my background in the financial services industry is a plus, and I have found that my professional qualifications are also a reason for clients choosing to work with me. Bookkeeping is ultimately quite an intimate profession, as you are dealing with people’s personal income and finances and this needs to be treated with respect and confidentiality – I take this side of the business very seriously and would like to think that my commitment to this comes through when I am talking to prospective clients. I have an open approach and like to be able to help people so that they can undertake parts of the bookkeeping themselves if this is what they prefer. For example I would rather enable a client to manage their own bank reconciliation if that is what they want, and then to be on hand if they need support rather than them paying me to complete that part of the work.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
It is broadly what I expected – whilst I work more hours than I perhaps thought I would have to, I can work them at times to suit me so have flexibility to enjoy life alongside work!
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I could not be without Cloud accounting software as this means I can run my business from anywhere, and work the hours I want to work – I personally use QuickBooks Online and FreeAgent, both of whom I am accredited with.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
I would highly recommend finding one or two networking groups which work for you and attending regularly. I have got to meet and know a lot of people through networking and it is great to be able to connect with likeminded people who are also running their own businesses. I have found a real benefit in attending a couple of groups regularly and connecting with the people I meet on social media so I can engage with them in-between meet-ups – I have made some great connections this way, and have also gained several new clients.
I would also recommend completing professional qualifications and to undertake regular CPD as this is essential to keep up to date with new and changing regulations.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
When I decided to start my bookkeeping qualifications, I wanted to give myself more options regarding future employment, and didn’t necessarily see myself as running my own business. However as time went on I like to think I grew in both confidence and ambition which fuelled my desire to work for myself. After working in the Corporate world for so long I was used to dealing with clients on a personal basis, but it is very different to sit in front of prospective clients and sell yourself. Having said that the sense of accomplishment when a client chooses to work with you is amazing.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The best part is definitely the freedom to work when you want – my husband and I often work over the weekend, and then we take time out during the week to go out.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
I think the least enjoyable part would have to be the amount of admin that is needed! I really underestimated this side of things and was shocked by how much of my time was taken up with non-fee earning paperwork to start off with. I have now got the balance better on this, but it is never going to be something I enjoy.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
Initially the aim was to get a better work / life balance and to have more freedom without strict office hours. However the last year has given me a taste for seeing how far I can take this, and I am looking forward to growing in the next few months and years.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
I think a lot of people’s perception of working for yourself is that you might struggle to tear yourself away from “Homes Under The Hammer” in the morning to do any work, however in my opinion the reality is the complete opposite. When you are reliant on yourself to pay the bills and source new clients it becomes increasingly difficult to switch off rather than switch on! Although it sounds cliché, running your own business is definitely a rollercoaster ride with numerous highs and lows – I think it’s important to surround yourself with supportive people both to help ride the lows and to celebrate the highs.
To get in touch with Christine, visit the following sites: