Like so many, this week’s Featured Freelancer, Lyndsey Yates, struggled with the should I/shouldn’t I dilemna when starting her business. To add to her confusion she had friends and family arguing for both sides of the case. Thankfully, Lyndsey pushed on with her business and she’s glad she did. However, there’s no denying Lyndsey would be happier still if some clients paid her quicker. Then again, wouldn’t we all!
This is the story of Lyndsey’s freelancing journey so far…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
Lyndsey Yates, Liverpool, founder and graphic designer at Nine Dots Creative (a collective of freelancers which offers everything a traditional agency would offer, but with more flexibility).
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing for just over 18 months now. I decided to become a freelancer for a few reasons. I had returned to work part-time after having my first child, but in the time I had off work during maternity leave, I had done a lot of thinking. I lasted a year back in work before I couldn’t stand the itchy feet any longer. My partner had been freelancing (as a web developer) for 2 years and was doing quite well, so he was in a position to support us whilst I built up my client-base. I wanted to do more varied work than in my in-house role (which I had been in for 8 years), I wanted more flexibility around my child, and I wanted to be my own boss. I quickly came to realise I wanted to do something more than just freelance graphic design – I wanted to help other freelancers collaborate with each other in order to gain bigger projects.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
As I mentioned above, my partner was very supportive in agreeing to be the sole income earner for some time whilst I got on my feet. Friends were generally really supportive, and still are. In fact it was something a friend said that helped push me on. They said that if I was thinking about going freelance now, then I would be thinking about it in 10 years. Except in 10 years, I’d be wishing I had done it 10 years ago. I had always wanted to go freelance, even straight out of uni, but I got a decent in-house job with a great team in a good company, so that got put aside for quite some time. Now felt like the right time to do it.
Family was a slightly different matter. Even though my Dad had been self-employed for over 30 years (he ran his own garage), he made it quite clear that he thought I was stupid to give up a ‘good job’, and that both myself and my partner being freelance was ‘going about everything the wrong way’. I think a lot of that concern is rooted in not really understanding what it is that myself or my partner do. The not knowing turns into fear for our failure. I also think they’re of a generation where you got a decent job and you stuck with it for life. I think nowadays people are realising that you don’t have to take a traditional career path, or even one career path at a time. There are SO many options out there to us all! But if anything, his lack of support just made me more determined to make a success of it and prove that I would be happier, and possibly even better off, than I was in my old job.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I found a business accelerator course run by the Chamber of Commerce in Liverpool called SparkUp. This was a 12 week programme which involved access to mentors, presentations and talks by various business owners and entrepreneurs, and loads of pitching support. It had a very heavy focus on pitching and I think this really helped with my confidence not just in a pitching scenario, but any kind of place where I will be talking business. Sadly it’s now been discontinued.
More recently, I applied and was accepted to a public speaking and media training programme, by Tech North called Northern Voices (https://technorthhq.com/programmes/northern-voices/). Northern Voices is a six-month speaker training programme which Tech North hopes will help start to address challenges like the gender or regional imbalances at conferences and in media appearances, in turn making digital jobs a more attractive career for all. I’ve learned some really valuable things doing this, and met some exceptional women. I recently secured an opportunity to talk at a Women in Tech meetup in Manchester University as part of this, and I look forward to more opportunities to speak at events.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My clients are really varied; from a small Liverpool based startup and a locally based accountant, to global businesses in the construction sector. I’m really lucky in that they all seem to really respect me, and the work I do. I never feel taken advantage of.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I think because I’m easy to work with, I tend to get on with pretty much anyone. I understand the problems both large and small businesses face in terms of getting briefs written, understanding the design process, and meeting deadlines. I’m patient, professional, and well organised. I don’t over-promise, I keep people updated with my progress, and if there is anything I feel I can’t do, I have contacts that I can bring in on most projects – part of the beauty of running a collective! I have specific experience with quite corporate design in the construction sector, so this has helped in getting those clients. My eagerness to help small businesses, and my first-hand experience of running one myself, has meant I often find a rapport with small business owners.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
It is what I expected, but I think that’s because my partner had been freelance for 2 years when I began, so I had someone close to me who had ‘been through it’, so to speak. In the first year I had less work on than I anticipated, but our house flooded in that time, so there was a while when I was glad of the down-time to sort out the issues that arose from that. In the last 6 months, work has built up to the kind of level I anticipated (and need to survive!) which is great, and I do hope that continues.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I’m a massive fan of Twitter. I feel like I stay partially connected to the world using that, especially as being a freelancer can so often be lonely. I find a lot of humour on there, it’s probably my main source of news, most of the freelancers I know are on it posting updates, and I even found one of my clients through it!
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Always insist on at least 50% payment upfront. Never hand any final artwork over until you have received final payment. Even with those buffers in place, try not to rely on a payment being made on time. Almost all of my clients end up paying late. It’s really frustrating, and I wish more could be done to prevent it, but I will never hand work over until I have been paid. Once you do this, you’ve lost your leverage. I find bigger businesses tend to be worse at paying than smaller. Complaining just seems to end up in a black hole; nobody cares about paying on time, only about being paid. It’s the biggest issue I find faces freelancers, and I have recently commented on it in an article in The Guardian. (https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2017/may/23/late-payments-mental-health-stress-prompt-payment-directory-booking-live)
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I’ll be honest, towards the end of my employment, I was beginning to wonder if I enjoyed design as much as I once did. I was worried that when I went freelance, with the stresses of running a business, this drop in enthusiasm would continue and I’d be left facing the prospect of changing career completely. Quite the opposite has happened. I’ve found the extra diversity in the work I now do has re-kindled my love for design, and I’m finding myself doing client work during the day and then continuing self-initiated work when the little one is in bed in the evenings. I’m loving exploring illustration and new design techniques, creating my own surface pattern designs and dipping my toe in the world of fashion design. I’m considering doing an MA in Graphic Design at some point in the next few years to further progress my skills, further immerse myself in my craft, and potentially go into teaching/lecturing.
In terms of business, the most notable thing I have learned is to not assume anything. Do not assume someone who says they will be in touch when networking, will be. Do no rely on people saying they will be sending work your way. Do not assume that people will pay on time. People can be really unreliable, even those with the best intentions. Life happens, and we have to work around blocks, not let them stop us.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
I most enjoy the variety in my working week, compared to when I was working in-house. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of that. Sometimes it’s quiet and I get to spend more time with my little one (no way that would happen in a normal job!), and sometimes it’s busy and we benefit from the extra income.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
You can probably guess what my answer will be to this – clients not paying on time!
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
To be running a successful freelancers collective that rivals some of the biggest agencies in the country (heck, why not aim even higher – the WORLD!) haha! I really believe freelancers should get the recognition for the work that they do. When sub-contracting for agencies, they quite often don’t get this; they tend to be working in the shadows/behind the scenes. Why not have the people actually doing the work at the forefront of the business. I want to disrupt that traditional agency model. Collaboration is the way forward.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
I wish I knew more about how to ‘sell’ myself, the collective, and the work we can do, better. Heck, it’s still something I’m working on!
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