We’re often told, as business people, to focus on our end game. Where are we heading for? What do we want to ultimately achieve? Yet it’s clearly a difficult question for many freelancers to answer, as our Featured Freelancer interviews continually highlight.
What is a goal? For some, it’s building an income that’ll enable them to retire or move house, while for others it’s to grow and build an agency. Yet many are happy “ontinue learning, building and expanding my experience, and seeing what unforeseen opportunities this brings.”, as previous Featured Freelancer, Jo Payne, wrote. As Mike Tyson even wrote “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
This week’s Featured Freelancer also struggled with this question, while equally giving insight into his writing style and clear enjoyment for the work he does. That question aside, here is the rest of his take on his freelancing journey so far. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
I feel like I’m on Blind Date with Cilla answering this.
I’m Gareth and I’m a copywriter from a little place called Teesside in the North East of England.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I started freelancing in 2011 and worked for three years without much success. After taking a job at a digital marketing agency in 2014, I returned to freelancing in 2017 and now I do things properly.
I decided to become a freelancer after spending a hefty length of time on the dole when the recession hit. I say ‘decided’, I never really knew what freelancing was until I was actually doing it. I couldn’t find any kind of job in employment (I was a tradesman) so I applied for a writing gig on a content mill, knocked up a quick trial article and got it.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
Support from family was/is important — from my partner not nagging me to go out and get a proper job and taking care of the kids to grandparents pulling babysitting duties. I’ve never had much support from the friends I knew before freelancing, which is no slight on them, they’ve just never really known what freelancing is all about. And copywriting – well, no outside the industry really knows what that’s about.
Because no one in my family or circle of friends really knows what I do, no one’s ever tried to talk me out of it!
I must say, though, the people I’ve met through freelancing have been wonderful.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I remember getting £50 a week from the dole when I first started for a short period. It was some kind of scheme they had going for people that got themselves off the dole by starting up on their own. Beyond that, I’ve never had any professional support. I never knew there was any.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My clients are wonderful — especially the ones that are reading this right now. Yeah, you. You’re my favourite (don’t tell the others).
I’ve been lucky enough to work with all kinds of businesses from small startups to large to global B2B companies and many have become friends. Because I’m a copywriter without a set niche I get to interact with all kinds of different people so it’s fun.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Good question. Tough, but good.
I’ve always found kidnapping to be very effective. Clients tend to agree more when I have them tied to a chair.
When I haven’t been able to physically coerce them, the reason I’m given by many clients is that they like my writing style or the way I come across on social media. I suppose I have a slightly different tone of voice to other copywriters and that helps me stand out a bit.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
In my first spell as a freelancer, I had no idea what to expect. But I had a lot of time to plan my second spell on someone else’s payroll, so when I returned to freelancing in 2017 I knew exactly what to expect. I don’t think I work more or less than anticipated, although there are times when I find myself doing bits late at night or at the weekend when perhaps I hadn’t planned to.
I have the balance about right, though — I think.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Trello. Trello is life.
All of my tasks, deadlines and invoice reminders are in Trello. Take it away and things would spiral out of control quicker than if you were to put Mr Blobby on an episode of Loose Women.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Find other people that do the same job you want to do and learn from them. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. A lot of people see other copywriters as rivals but that’s not the case. We’re colleagues and we’re always happy to help each other out. Plus, other copywriters are among the few people that actually understand what it is that you do.
Also, use social media as a tool to get yourself seen and heard. LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to find clients if you use them consistently to share good content and interact with others.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
That writing words is the smallest part of running a business. Phone calls, meetings, replying to emails, marketing — those things alone are a full-time job.
What I’ve learned about myself is that I might actually be alright at what I do — alright enough to earn a lot more than $5 an article, which was the case when I started out in 2011.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
Being able to work in such close proximity to a kettle and a fridge is wonderful. On the days when I decide to put on some respectable outdoor clothes I can go and work wherever the Wi-Fi is free — that’s good. I can take a day off in the middle of the week if I fancy it too.
Beyond the flexibility, I think the community is the most enjoyable part. Freelancers are a lovely bunch.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Running out of tea bags is never fun.
Chasing up invoices is never fun either.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
I’ve never thought about that.
And now I am thinking about it…
Oh, god. I don’t have a goal.
Maybe to talk enough about tea and biscuits that brands start to send me them for free.
That’s not a goal, is it? Or is it…
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
That there’s a whole world outside of content mills where it’s possible to earn a lot more than $5 for a blog post.
To connect with Gareth, visit:
as well as, of course, the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group.