It could sound strange that one of the greatest aspects of freelancing is the flexibility to work whenever and wherever you wish. While on the other hand, having a back up plan that could take you back into the world of employment. Does this mean that freelancers are constantly looking over the shoulder? Perhaps. Yet ask most of them and they’ll tell you that they still wouldn’t swap freelancing for anything. That includes this week’s Featured Freelancer, Debbie Stokoe, who shares her story from 18 months of freelancing and counting. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
I’m Debbie, I’m based in the North East of England (Darlington) and I’m a copywriter, freelance writer, social media manager and blogger.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I became self-employed in September 2015, setting up a holistic therapy practice. Unfortunately I broke my ankle so I set myself up as a writer as I’d already been employed as a copywriter for a sales company in Newcastle. Why did I choose to freelance? I never felt fulfilled in employment and after having twenty-seven jobs since the age of 16, I was getting increasingly disillusioned with ever finding the right one. I am very motivated and a self-starter so I thought self-employment would suit me. I was also attracted to being in control of my schedule, and doing work that I found enjoyable and interesting.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
My parents have been very supportive as I moved back home when I became self-employed and they have been there for me during the rollercoaster ride! I think I would have found it very hard to have lived by myself during the past two years. I think they would be happier if I found a job I loved and had more security and stability, but they’ve realised that I need to do things differently and follow my dream of having freedom and being a writer/having my own business.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I pretty much did everything myself but would love to work with a VA in the future when I have more work. I had a business mentor who I met every couple of weeks which helped with the panic. I also worked with a coach via Facebook which helped me with my mindset and to keep going in the face of obstacles.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
A mixed bag! I’ve worked with a wide variety of businesses, from health and fitness professionals to an online yoga platform in the US, a cultural organisation in Newcastle and a veterans charity. I love working with clients who are passionate about helping others to improve their lives. I enjoy the challenge of researching an area that I don’t have a lot of experience in and creating engaging and eye-catching content (blogs, Canva memes, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts and web pages).
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I think they like my sense of fun and enthusiasm for so many different topics and areas, and my openness to new ideas. I also pride myself in charging affordable rates because I realise how tough it is in the first years of self-employment.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
It’s pretty much what I expected, I knew that I’d have to learn new things every day, get used to a complete lifestyle change, look after myself better than ever to avoid burnout and really work on work/life balance, because it’s so easy in the beginning to end up working all hours of the day and night! In the beginning I wasn’t very good with boundaries and ended up working into the night and not looking after myself very well. I’ve managed to be better at setting my boundaries, I try not to work weekends unless I have a deadline, and try to switch of all technology by 9pm at the latest. I also make more of an effort to get out in nature and exercise than ever before because the buck stops with me.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Probably Hootsuite because otherwise I find it easy to forget to turn up on Twitter hours! Canva has also made my life a lot easier and I also like Word Swag to create posts on the go.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Focus on building a strong network and be prepared to ask for help constantly. Don’t try and do everything by yourself. If money is tight, trade with other professionals to get your website done etc. If you want to start a creative business, don’t solely put pressure on your creativity to make money. There’s no shame in keeping your full or part time job and do your business on the side, at least until you have enough clients. It will take the pressure off and make it more likely that you’ll success in the long term. Don’t work for free and don’t be scared to up your prices when you have more experience. Schedule time to look for writing work to supplement your other work each week. Don’t rest on your laurels. Try and network as much as possible, to further your business and maintain your social life/mental health. Make time to see family and friends and don’t isolate yourself. Remember to be creative for the fun of it.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
That I’m more persistent and resourceful than I ever imagined. That I thrive on doing things differently and working in a different way from what I was used to. That I am a social animal and need to make sure I don’t isolate myself as this affects my mood and mental health. That I am more creative than I previously thought!
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The freedom to choose the work I do and when I do it.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Times of instability and insecurity when the panic sets in and you start to think about going back to employment.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
To write for national and international publications and be able to travel and write.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
Be prepared for anything to happen and for it all to be taken away, so always have a backup plan!
You can connect with Debbie at the following places:
My site incorporating everything which is a work in progress