There are so many positives from being a freelancer, such as doing what you want, when you want and how you want. However, it can be lonely and it’s no coincidence that the emergence of co-working spaces in recent years – and the Freelance Heroes Facebook group, of course – has risen along with the rise in the number of freelancers. I mention this as it’s one of the primary challenges that this week’s Featured Freelancer faces frequently. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives as Lisa Jo Robinson’s story explains…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is Lisa Jo Robinson, I am based in South East London (Lewisham to be precise) I am a freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I am a Graphic Designer of over 10 years and have always done freelance work on the side. I have dipped in and out of being fully freelance and a full time employee over the years. For the past 3 years I had been a full time Graphic Designer and illustrator for Comic Relief (with my recent claim to fame being the designer of the red noses for 2017) however I have now taken the leap back into freelance life once again. This time I have decided to take the plunge and go Ltd. and stick to my plan of being my own boss.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
Family that aren’t in the creative industry have always worried and wondered if the freelance life is stable enough – parents and grandparents especially. But then I always put their mind at rest letting them know what project I am on or where I am working next. I have had the best support from friends, especially fellow designers who have taken the same leap, urging me to bite the bullet and do the same.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
In terms of professional support resources, I do have a few good design agencies I am signed up with, to keep the in-house design work ticking over. But a lot of my recent work has been direct, through word of mouth or previous colleagues that have recommended me.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Usually, I have been recommended by people I have previously worked with or who know me who can vouch for my expertise. It’s always lovely to receive work via the introduction of friends and old workmates – those are the times that pick you up and make you remember you do know what you are doing and not to doubt your abilities.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I always knew jumping back into full-on freelance life would be a bit daunting and so far I have been pretty lucky with work. However I cannot deny that when you get a quiet week that rolls into two quiet weeks, anxiety sets in. But then, just like buses, more than one job opportunity can arrive at your doorstep at once and you are suddenly spoilt for choice. In terms of the hours I work I would say, being a perfectionist, sometimes I still work over the hours I set myself. However I would definitely say my work/ life balance has vastly improved from the very late nights and cancelled social plans I used to face whilst working full-time in the private sector.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I could not run my little freelance life without the wonderful linked-in or even Facebook and Twitter for that matter. I am a little more active on Facebook and lots of wonderful friends tag me in to posts of people looking for designers. I should definitely use Twitter more in this way too. Linked-in would be my number one however as it’s basically an online CV with all your recommendations there for all to see.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Advice to anyone wanting to be freelance in my field is to go for it and keep your confidence. If you just want to see how you go for a bit, I recommend staying sole-trader or using umbrella companies to start with. But if you are deciding to fully become freelance to take the leap I would say become Ltd. with a brilliant recommended accountant to look after your books. As a creative I find I have always struggled with the admin side of the business. As long as you keep your invoices up to date and keep track of your expenses, just hand over the tricky tax work to somebody more qualified than yourself. I have always found tax taxing (as much as the HMRC motto says its not meant to me) perhaps my brain saved all its skills for creating and no room for sums! So for sure my huge bit of advice is leave that part to the professionals unless you are blessed with better admin skills than me.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
Most notable thing with me is that I am happiest when busy and a worrier when not. But I have learnt that when things have suddenly gotten quiet to just make sure all my social channels and agencies are up to date with my availability and to embrace the quieter days as days off and not to feel guilty for time off either! Go see your Nan because she’s 92 this year, go and see that friend who has just had a baby who you never had a chance to meet when you were too busy before! It’s all about keeping the balance and not always worrying about the next bit of work coming in. I have also learnt to remember not to blow my pay check like I use to when I was full-time and just keep things ticking over nicely.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The thing I most enjoy about being a freelancer is being my own boss. Not having to bite my nails checking if it really is okay to have that day off last minute that you forgot to request for a friend’s wedding and the rest. I also enjoy the fact that I am even more inclined to do my best work as it is purely a reflection on myself and this makes me more passionate about getting things right for my clients.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
As a people person, I enjoy least when I am working from home far too much as it can send me a bit barmy – I start making friends with the cold callers or making small talk with the delivery guy. Being a designer it’s always good to get a second or third opinion on that logo design or illustration you are working up. I have been tempted to ask my elderly neighbour what options he likes best or sometimes seek advice from friends on social media.
As much as it’s great to stay in your PJs on a Monday morning and not even have to brush your hair, for me there is something special about human interaction that makes my job even better. Don’t get me wrong I love working from home as a little break from time to time, but I much prefer being in-house with people to bounce ideas off of. I am one of those freelancers that likes to still be part of the team and love it when I work with a place that knows me well. Freelancers can sometimes be seen as the here today gone tomorrow types and certain places won’t bother getting to know you. It’s so much better when you have built up a relationship with a place that keeps asking for you back.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
My ultimate professional goal is to just succeed at being my own boss. “Work hard, and be kind” as cliché as this motto is I really do stand by it. If you are seen as difficult or unkind in any way you won’t be wanted back in. I work hard and try to maintain my sense of humour under pressure, and I guess just to always deliver what I say I will do. I hate to let anybody down which is a good trait to keep going forward.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
I wish I had known that sometimes freelance life can be a lonely one at times. But that my fellow freelancers have all felt this at some point. That is why it’s so great to reach out and be part of networks such as this one or simply chat to mates, pop out for lunch, stay social keep that connectivity going.
To connect with Lisa Jo, visit: