When asking freelancers each week to take part in the Featured Freelancer interviews, I’m always surprised at how many complete theirs and add how much of a reflective, even cathartic, experience it was to take part. As this week’s respondant says herself, when asked why clients choose her over other providers, states that she doesn’t “really know the answer to this because I’ve never thought to ask!”
So I hope that these journeys inspire you, dear reader, not just from the answer provided (and they’re as honest and detailed as ever this week), but also inspire you to ask these of yourself. On to this week’s journey and we follow the removals truck from Somerset to London, to learn from one freelancer’s 6 year journey so far. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
Hi, I’m Jo Payne and I’m currently based in Somerset, but I will be moving back to London in a few weeks. I’m an indie business owner and freelance copywriter, writer, blogger and colour photographer.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing since 2015 and running my indie business since 2012.
When I started my indie business, I also began writing my first blog because honestly, all the advice out there said it was the thing to do as part of an online business. I experimented with different blog topics, but the series that lead me towards a freelance life was my ‘Lunch breaks in the city’ posts. Once a week, I would go and explore an area of London in my lunch break, taking snaps with my digital camera (no fancy phones or Instagram then), and write a blog post all about it. That’s when I truly returned to my love of writing and started to discover a passion for photography too. I realise now that writing from the heart, without a goal or hidden agenda, was the reason for getting noticed. Fast forward through a lot of unpaid and poorly paid writing work, and learning from many mistakes, I realised this was something I wanted to do for a living; I loved it!
Not truly knowing what step to take next, I carried on writing my blog and then, at the start of 2015, I received an email. Reading the email several times over, I couldn’t quite believe it. It was from an actual publisher, asking if I would be interested in writing and photographing for a new, creative blog, as part of a team…for money. I couldn’t quite believe it; writing and photographing about something I was passionate about and getting paid for it. I had to have a lie down that day.
As the freelance writing work chapter began, I continued running my full-time indie business and working in my day job (writing, researching and managing social media within the NHS). As much as I loved the plate spinning, it was starting take its toll; I never had a day off and living on my own made it doubly hard. So, in May 2016, having gradually gone part time on the day job, and doing my sums over and over again, I quit my part time job. Several weeks later, I moved to Somerset to be closer to family, and that’s when I went full time on my business and freelance career. To this day, it has remained one of a few, most pivotal life changing decisions I’ve ever made.
My freelance and small business career means my life is full of variety, from the work I do to the people I meet. It allows me to stretch my creative wings and feel excitement from the opportunities that brings along. It opens up doors, expanding my experience and skills. It gives me immense confidence in achieving goals and facing challenges. It feels like work to last me a life time, in a good sense! That’s why I do it and why I continue on this freelance path.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
No one has ever directly advised me against becoming a freelancer, but I’ve certainly had indirect negative comments from either those that don’t know anything about the freelance and small business world, or those green-eyed monsters that don’t want you to do well.
That aside, I’ve had (and continue to do so) unwavering support from my Mum. She has encouraged me from those early days of writing for nothing to today, earning my living from writing. I also have some very dear friends who have listened, advised and cheered me on from the sidelines. I’m not sure if I would have kept going on this freelance path if I hadn’t had that support, all those words of wisdom and such positive encouragement. It also goes without saying that the creative and freelance communities have played a huge part in that too.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
For my freelance work, I’ve certainly gained huge support from Freelance Heroes and other freelance and creative online communities. Last year, I also decided to bite the bullet and get an accountant, which has been a huge relief and such a big help. It ensures I budget sensibly and plan well for the future.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My freelance clients range from small independent businesses to big companies, publishers, lifestyle websites and creative agencies. There tends to be a creative theme but not always. At the moment I’m doing a lot of work for the retail sector, which also includes brand strategy.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I’m not sure I really know the answer to this because I’ve never thought to ask!
It’s possibly to do with my breadth of writing and work experience, both as a freelancer and in my previous career. Having worked in various sectors, including the harsh corporate legal world, the ever-changing civil service and the money strapped NHS world, I work well under pressure, always deliver on time, and will happily work as part of a team or independently. I’m also very flexible in the way I work, being able to re-prioritise deadlines and jump on to more urgent briefs at a moment’s notice.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
There are definitely pros and cons, just like there are having a permanent job. At first, I found it hard not knowing when to stop, and for several years I didn’t give myself any annual leave. I would worry that if I didn’t keep going, the work would dry up and I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. I was always preparing for and worrying about those quiet months. But, after a particularly hard year running my online business/shop and working freelance, I realised this had to stop, otherwise I would walk straight into an early grave.
So, this is the first year that I’m actually giving myself annual leave, taking weekends off, stopping if I feel unwell, and being strict about my working hours. I work from 8am – 4pm, with half an hour for lunch and at 4pm I always go for a walk. This stops me from doing, “just one more hour,” and it forces me to rest. I guess that’s something I didn’t really expect, the finding it hard to stop working or not wanting to take time off.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
At the moment, as part of the current team I’m working with, WhatsApp has been crucial. It means I can talk to colleagues across the world, without having a huge phone bill!
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
1. Don’t give up the day job just yet. Build up your writing experience, contacts and clients first. If it means working in a permanent job first, then grab all the experience you can from that – it pays off. When you think you’re in a position to quit the day job, do your sums very carefully. Be honest and realistic about these. Don’t give up if the figures don’t quite cover your bills, be patient. Keep going, learning, growing and networking.
2. If you don’t have solid examples of your writing experience, start a blog and write regularly. Write about something you’re genuinely interested in because that passion will shine through in your writing, more so than topics you feel you should write about. The more you write, the better and quicker you will become. This certainly helps in the field of copywriting, which can be very fast paced, with tight deadlines.
3. Network both online and offline and remember to share your work (that latest blog post or your actual business). You never know who is reading your blog or social media post, and what freelance work that might lead to in the future. Being part of online groups and communities help provide not only support, but job opportunities and recommendations too. Attending networking events in person is a great way to meet even more people and possible future clients.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
Something I’ve noticed over the last year, is that work you truly enjoy doesn’t feel like work and that is a really wonderful feeling. Although, that can be a double-edged sword. Not knowing when to stop has definitely been a problem I’ve faced. I know my work is better when I’ve rested but I do have to remind myself of that.
I have also been surprised at how resilient I can be in those tough times; picking myself up, finding a solution and moving forward.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
If I had to pick one thing, then it would have to be the variety of work and people I have the opportunity to work with and meet.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
The insecurity of an irregular wage. However, that fear does make me work to the best of my abilities, in order to prove to a client why they may want to work with me again.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
Why to retire on a Caribbean island of course! But if that’s not available, then, at the moment, I would simply like to continue learning, building and expanding my experience, and seeing what unforeseen opportunities this brings.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
However good it may seem, clients don’t last forever, so don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. Always put yourself out there, whether it’s at a networking event, advertising your service or getting examples of your work out there.
To get in touch with Jo, visit:
As well as the Freeelance Heroes Facebook Group