As you’ll read, from this week’s Featured Freelancer story, chatting with other freelancers and gaining a greater understanding of the freelance lifestyle can prove invaluable before making the leap. It’s also one of the reasons that these weekly interviews exist, along with the reassurance and knowledge that no freelancer is alone.
Enjoy this week’s story…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is Heather Harvey and I’m based in Belfast, N. Ireland. I work as a digital marketing consultant with a focus on search engine optimisation (SEO), e-commerce and export marketing.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I have been freelancing for just over two years. Since quite a young age I had always wanted to run my own business but lacked the self-confidence to give it a go. I ended up gaining a lot of valuable experience in various jobs and when I was made redundant, about 3 years ago, I decided it was finally time to give myself a shake and go freelance. I knew I couldn’t face the confines of another office job, but the redundancy had knocked my confidence, so I took a year out to clear my head, focus on improving my self-esteem and ultimately to work out what I REALLY wanted to do with my life and how going freelance would help me achieve this.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
My partner and other friends were all very supportive. I don’t think my father was too keen on me going freelance in the beginning, but he didn’t go as far as to advise me against it. I think he knew that I would have to toughen up and perhaps, as he’d seen my confidence knocked, he worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope. However, he was always there for me when I needed his advice and I think part of him was impressed that I actually went for it.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I signed up to a local support programme for women who want to start their own business, run by Women In Business. They provided a huge range of seminars from building your self-confidence to the full ins and outs of running a business. Their guidance was invaluable in getting me started.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
I would describe my current clients as open minded and willing to try concepts that are new to them. They are all passionate about their own businesses and understand that I am there to help them achieve their goals, so they are always keen to learn and adapt.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
My clients appreciate that I will take a keen interest in their business and show a genuine regard for helping them to achieve their goals. They recognise that I spend a lot of time getting to know their target audience, how their business works and doing all the background research in order to start any strategy from a solid grounding.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
As I took a year to prepare myself for a freelance life, I spent a lot of time meeting other freelancers and hearing their experiences, which painted quite a full picture of what life would be like. So yes, it is what I expected in many ways but the one thing I didn’t expect was how much pressure I would put on myself.
It has taken up until now for me to shake off society’s mentality of having to work 9 to 5. I used to feel a lot of guilt when I didn’t have enough work to fill up an 8 hour day every day. Now though, I have begun to realise that I’m living the life I always wanted. I can work during the hours that suit me. If I want to go off and take a class in something completely unrelated to my work at 3pm on a Thursday, then I can go and do that. I get to decide what I do and when I do it.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I couldn’t live without tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs or Screaming Frog. There are many other alternatives to these, but they are the main software tools I use on a daily basis. They delve into all the information on websites that I couldn’t possibly retrieve manually – it would take me forever! For example, with one click I can see a website’s whole link profile. If I were to do that manually it could take me days scanning through a website to find every link and I’d probably still miss some. It would be impossible to do my job without such software.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
To anyone wanting to start out as a freelancer in the digital marketing arena, I would advise them to gather as many good contacts as possible beforehand. Unfortunately, as I had been based in-house, I didn’t have this luxury and it has definitely held me back at the initial stages. When I say good contacts, I mean fellow marketers, web designers, graphic designers etc. A pool of people with whom you can collaborate, share knowledge and bounce off ideas.
It’s a competitive market, therefore it can take time to get your first few retainer clients. With this in mind, have a financial back up plan. Get a part-time job or have some savings to get you through the quiet times. There will always be peaks and troughs but you don’t want the added stress of not being able to pay the bills.
I do believe there are enough clients to go round every digital marketer out there. Digital marketing is so diverse you will find a niche to slot into and a client that requires your services. Don’t give up on the hunt for clients easily. Persistence pays off. Use your creativity to find ways of searching out your ideal clients.
I would also say, go for it! What’s the worst that can happen? Your business might not work. That’s not a big deal. You can always reflect on the reasons why it wasn’t a success and learn from them. There are no failures, only learning curves. Either try something else, give it another go with your new insight or go back to employment while you decide on your next steps. Don’t let fear hold you back. It’s not easy at the start of the journey but the satisfying, elated feeling of overcoming even small challenges and doing it all for yourself makes it worth it.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I think I have learnt more about myself than I ever realised I would. Most notably, I now cope quite well under pressure. I used to have meltdowns when it came to a pressured situation, but I’ve discovered instead, that these days pressure makes me focus on good planning and getting things done in a more efficient manner. I don’t want to waste my time with pointless meltdowns, they simply cause setbacks and low moods. Making a conscious effort to reduce the stresses I can control has been incredibly refreshing.
I’m also mentally stronger than I had initially surmised. I mentioned my issues with self-confidence before but recently I have taken knock-backs with a pinch of salt and have been able to stand up for myself in situations I would otherwise have imagined myself crumbling in to a heap on the floor. Again, having a flap isn’t going to get me anywhere so I take whatever learnings I can from negative situations and move on to the next challenge. I guess I can say I have definitely surprised myself in that respect.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
Having the freedom to do what I want, whenever I choose. I can take time to learn new skills and dabble in other ventures in case there’s something else out there that I might want to do in future. I don’t have to stick to the one career/ life path if I don’t want to. As cheesy as it may sound, I have come round to the fact that the world is indeed my oyster.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
My least favourite thing is constantly having to pitch my services to potential clients. It’s something that I know I will get more used to and become more adept at as time goes on, but I know I will never be fully comfortable doing it.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
To become well enough known in my field to be asked to speak at big events. However, I will also have to conquer my fear of public speaking to be able to do it well enough to be asked in the first place. Watching a jibbering wreck up on stage is hardly inspiring!
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
I wish I had known that going freelance wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. It has turned out to be the best decision I ever made. There is plenty of support out there in many different guises. If I had known all that earlier on in life I would have done it much sooner.
To get in touch with Heather, visit one (or all) of the following locations:
as well as the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group