Adjusting from being employed to self-employed can be a tricky transition for some. For example, there’s often no more communiting or checking in with the boss first thing. Secondly, and this is the biggest challenge for many freelancers, it’s moving from a “team” environment to isolation.
Not everyone is prepared for just how different that feels and the challenges that brings. Replacing that human interaction is not easy when you work from home and you’re juggling the responsibilities of life and work. Of course, that’s just one of the reasons why Freelance Heroes exists, but it’s also one of the challenges this week’s Featured Freelancer had to contend with as well. Here are her lessons and experiences from her freelancing journey so far. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
Hi, I’m Emma Willder and I’m based in Horwich, Bolton – home of the mighty Bolton Wanderers! I’m an accountant by profession and I offer governance and finance support to charities.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing for almost 18 months now. The reason I wanted to do this was to share my knowledge, skills and experience with smaller charities who couldn’t afford their own Finance Director. However, I’ve wanted to work for myself for probably the last 7 or so years, I even chose the name then! The reason it took so long for the dream to become reality…
In 2009 I had my third son and my husband gave up his career to become a stay at home dad and look after our 3 sons, so it wasn’t financially viable for me to take the risk and the leap into freelancing.
Another child later (yes there are four of them and they are all boys) and quite out of the blue my husbands’ ex-boss contacted him to see if he would be interested in coming to work for her new organisation and, a bit like in The Godfather, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
So, there we were 4 kids and 2 full time working parents. Chaos? Yes. Stressful? Yes. Any light to be seen at the end of the tunnel? No. When another unexpected and unlooked for opportunity arose and I decided to take voluntary redundancy. The dream became reality.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
My husband took some convincing as I earned a good salary and, rightly, he was worried about the future if I didn’t manage to make a success of freelancing. However, given my redundancy package and my profession (finding a finance temp job is relatively easy) I managed to talk him round.
The people I worried most about telling was my mum and dad. I know they were proud of my career and the level I had reached, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. However, when I told them they were so supportive.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
As a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants I knew that there was a member in practice network, so I reached out to them and talked to various people who had taken the leap. I also chatted to many freelancers I had encountered during my career.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My clients tend to be small to medium charities who are looking for support in either governance (charity governance can be quite complicated) or needed someone familiar with charity statutory accounts to pull together their Annual Accounts. Many of my clients come through recommendations from people I have worked when I was employed which I always think is great – it shows I must have done something right!
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Having spoken to some of my clients it is my enthusiasm for the sector and my personal approach. I also take a real interest in the work my clients are undertaking not just what I’ve been contracted to do.
Here are just a few comments taken from my client feedback surveys:
“I have been very happy with the service provided, speed of response and being kept up to date on current position. Friendly yet professional at all times.”
“As a new charity, Emma has been brilliant in supporting us through the process of preparing our financial information to enable us to submit to the Charities Commission.”
“Emma has taken the time to establish a valued interest and working knowledge about the charitable work we are aiming to deliver for a vulnerable group of young adults with special needs.”
“Emma is very efficient and has a most engaging approach when dealing with her clients”
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I don’t think I really had any expectation when I first started, and I was lucky in that I secured a couple of contracts that would see me through for at least 6 months so didn’t really think about this.
One thing that was unexpected is my productivity. In my previous employed life, I was in meetings for at least 60% of my week and when I sat at my desk there were always interruptions…” Can I just ask you this?”, “Do you know anything about Y?” However now I have very few interruptions which means I can fully concentrate on what I am doing so I get it done a lot quicker.
I work significantly less hours than I did when I was employed, and these are always round my family commitments
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
QuickBooks Online – it’s my go to finance system! It’s also really user friendly so you don’t need to be an accountant to use it.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Know your area of focus! As I said before I wanted to focus on charities but as my first big contract was coming to an end and I had nothing more in the pipeline I started to panic so I broadened out the services I offered to cover both self-employed and small businesses. However, as this isn’t my area of specialty, I had to work harder, and I also undercharged…meaning I was working more for less.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
First and foremost, trust your gut instinct on clients! The two times I have ignored this I have ended up with clients who I couldn’t work with. They wanted things their way or the highway and didn’t take my professional advice. Needless to say, I parted ways with them.
The second is that, especially in my area of work and type of clients, people can take a long time to get back to you. I’ve had some work where I had the initial meeting in February this year and I’m only just starting the work now. It’s the nature of small charities where everyone is pitching and the day job takes priority.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
Freedom and flexibility. I work round my family and only work with people I want to work with.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
The isolation – not having people to bounce ideas off. This is why Freelance Heroes is great. It’s also inspired me to set up my own local, face to face, group for freelancers to provide peer to peer support.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
I don’t have one as I’ve just taken it as it comes. I think years of working in organisations where there was a clear strategic plan has led me to have an aversion to this for my own business.
I know this is something I want to address and actually put some proper thought to so when I have this I’ll let you know.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
How long it takes to get rid of work habits. When I first started I used to feel guilty if I wasn’t at my desk at 8am checking email. I still struggle with guilt sometimes but as I “worked for the man” for almost 20 years it’s hardly surprising that it’s taking me time to adjust.
To connect with Emma, visit: