I wonder how many freelancers start up buy setting their stall up (building their website, launching their facebook page, etc) with an expectation that referals and prospects will start queuing up. That’s how this week’s Featured Freelancer started and, like so many others, quickly found out that planning and accountability from others was just the tip of the iceberg. And that’s just one lesson from her first year in business. Here are the others…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
I’m Jennifer Corcoran, I’m based in leafy South Croydon, London and I’m a Social Media Consultant and Trainer.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing for over a year now and I’m very much an accidental entrepreneur. I had back surgery a few years ago and the upshot was that I wanted a more flexible way of working and living so being a freelancer was something that gradually revealed itself to me.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
My husband has been my biggest champion without a doubt I couldn’t do it without his support. My father also gave me a small loan to keep me ticking over when my savings ran out. If I’m honest most of my friends don’t get my new journey or how hard it is. They are supportive to a point but I don’t think they really understand the concept of not having a fixed and regular income. I’ve made a few new freelancer friends over the last year and we have our rants together from time to time over coffee/wine. Nobody advised against it but my father urged caution as he knew that financially it would be a very different ballgame for me having come from a bonus-based culture in financial services.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
No – I started off using my own savings and lived on these until they were pretty much exhausted. I then got a business loan from Enterprise for London and part of their offering is that I quality for Enterprise Steps which is an ERDF funded programme. I get a mentor who has been a godsend and I qualify for training with The London Southbank University. To date I’ve enjoyed several PR workshops which have helped me promote the business.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
I think that most of my clients are 40+ professionals and entrepreneurs. They know that they need help on social media and are feeling a bit stagnant and stuck. Most are adopting a spray and pray approach and come to me to help fine tune their strategy and help them to get comfortable, polished and social on social media. My niche is health and wellbeing (mind, body and soul) but I get entrepreneurs from all fields really who realise that they need to improve their personal brand online in order to attract the right leads on social media. My most popular service is my LinkedIn makeover audit.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
The key differential for My Super Connector is that I perform social media strategy audits and 121 consulting / training and help people to do their own social media versus performing the role of Social Media Manager.
I give my clients the tools and strategy that they need to go forth and conquer. A lot of people have a fear of being online and this is mainly from a lack of knowledge or training. I nurture and handhold my clients and help them to attain their goals.
My USP is that I’m a super connector and I like to think that I walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to social media and engaging in the online space.
On the training side I’m currently one of only 25 qualified Facebook She Means Business Trainers in the UK. In my previous life I won the title of the most networked PA in London. I’m an introvert and this was largely down to my online networking (LinkedIn in particular) – my clients know that if I can do this for myself and raise my own visibility and personal brand awareness, then I can help them to shine online.
In general, I find that people are either a great networker in person or online and rarely both which is really my USP. I love connecting good people and see myself as a business match maker! I’m driven by strong values of connection, communication, collaboration and community. My clients get ‘me’ and my network.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
No – ha this made me laugh! I work far more than I ever anticipated and for less money than I made as an employee. I need to learn to shut off at weekends and evenings – it’s tough as I’m ultimately accountable to me, myself and I. I’ve a bad habit of watching tv with my laptop on my lap. Even when I put it away I’m scrolling on my mobile.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I’m a big fan of my CRM Dubsado – it allows me to send invoices and electronic contracts and has a plethora of resources I’m yet to fully explore. On the app front I’m a massive fan of Wunderlist. I love a good tick list!
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
As a new business owner, you can often procrastinate in search of perfection. Don’t! Go out there and make mistakes and own them. This is how you will learn and progress. You will never be perfect so just fight your fear and do it.
On a practical note realise that your business may take a few months, if not a year to take off so have some savings to tide you over or seek out a small business loan. It’s not a failure to temp / contract on the side if you need to.
Get yourself a mentor and coach. You may be a social media specialist but are you an expert on accounts, PR or sales? If something is not your natural skillset then outsource it. Don’t try to do it all and value your health – factor in exercise so that you get away from your screen. If your health fails your business will fail.
Be fully GDPR compliant – this will give you a competitive advantage and also peace of mind.
Invest in your personal branding and in continual training.
Invest in your LinkedIn profile – this is your mini website and ranks very highly in terms of SEO. People on LinkedIn are in a business mind-set so are ready to buy. Put your best foot forward online and it will lead to a multiple of opportunities and increased ROI.
I’ve personally won 4 awards because of my interaction online and I attribute this mainly to LinkedIn usage. Your LinkedIn profile is one of the first things that pops up when someone googles you. Ask yourself are you giving out the right message? I’ve come across quite a few social media consultants / managers with a poorly optimised profile and people will judge you on this within a matter of seconds. I know that I do.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I’ve learned that I am a super-connector. Networking is a skill which comes pretty easily to me and I used to discount it. I’m resilient and I’m brave.
That being said I’m not invincible – I’ve had bouts of extreme anxiety over the last year. I’ve put my business over my health at times which was my main rookie mistake. No man / woman is an island and even if you are a Sole Trader you need a community and accountability in order to push forward.
I’ve learnt that I need to be kinder to myself and to surround myself with positive people at all times. Being in business is not for the faint hearted and you need solid systems in play and inspiring / motivating people who will lift you up when you get on the roller coaster that is entrepreneurship.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The flexibility to manage my own day / diary and not be continually tied to the one desk and location. I can also tweak my offerings and pivot. Probably the biggest plus is having the ability to choose who I work with!
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Time wasters. I’m a kind person and a natural giver. When I first launched I had so many people ask me for coffee to pick my brain and they never had any intention of working with me or rather paying for my advice. Likewise, I had people on discovery calls for up to an hour who just wanted free advice. Yes, I like to give but I don’t like to be taken advantage of and I’m trying to run a business at the end of the day and have bills to pay. Time is money for me too. I now suggest skype calls as this seems to scare of potential time wasters and going forward I’ll be capping my discovery calls to 10 minutes. I’ve learned this the hard way. Setting boundaries for any meeting is very important so I would always advise sending a calendar invite to manage expectations.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
My ultimate goal is to have a steady trickle of clients and a strong referral network. I’m hoping to set up some longer skype coaching 121 programmes and to relocate to the sunny South West and work from there.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
How hard it is. I naively thought when I launched my business / website that I would be flooded with requests. It doesn’t quite happen that way. You need to have a solid marketing plan in play so that people are aware that you even exist.
To connect with Jennifer, visit any (or all) of the following places:
And, of course, the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group