Steve Folland wear’s many hats, as a podcast host, vlogger, video and audio producer, and speaker. The last of these was on full display when he brilliantly spoke on “Being Balanced” at Freelance Heroes Day in May, a talk on understanding how to manage the work life balance of a freelancer. Steve included many lesssons learnt from those he speaks to each week on his Being Freelance Podcast, but, this week, we get to turn the tables on the host and ask Steve about the lessons learnt from his own freelancing journey. Here is his take on the experiences garnered over the last 5 years. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
Hey, I’m Steve Folland. I’m based in Bishop’s Stortford, not far from Stansted Airport/London. I’m a video/audio producer (including script writing, editing, voiceover, etc) as well as running the Being Freelance podcast and vlogging about my freelance ‘journey’.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
Just coming towards the end of my fifth year of being ‘full time’ freelance. Before that I worked in radio for 15 years or so, often freelancing on the side. In fact it was having so much extra work available that sparked the idea to make the move. Our eldest child was about to start school and my wife was about to return to work after having our youngest. Becoming a work-from-home remote freelancer meant I could be there for the kids. Felt like a great time to give it a go for me creatively and for the family flexibility wise.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
I have a few close friends from uni who I’ve always loved chatting work/media with. They all had experience of being freelance even if they weren’t at the time. They know me really well and were my main sounding board. But I didn’t actually know anyone doing exactly what I was doing. That’s partly why I started the podcast – to talk to people who were! But no one told me not to do it, that’s for sure.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
Nope. I didn’t even know any existed back then. It really was the podcast that helped me learn. Well, that and making my own mistakes/successes along the way.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
I have a lot of clients on the go at once – all working remotely. Some are direct to me, occasionally I slot in to agency teams, but a lot of my work is from partnering with a corporate Learning & Development company. So whilst they are my client, I actually deal with tonnes of their clients (who feel like they’re mine). A lot of those are in big global organisations, so it’s been interesting learning how to work within those situations, dealing with the politics of it all.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Beyond the fact that I’m good at what I do (and also have developed a team of other freelancers to support me in creating awesome videos) I think it’s probably that personal connection. They like working with me. I’m friendly, reliable, creative, and quick, and I work really well under pressure with deadlines looming. I think when clients are nervous/panicking, it’s good to hear someone tell them it’s going to be okay – and then deliver on that.
I also frequently spot solutions to things they didn’t even know they were looking for – I listen to what they’re up to, follow their industries and suggest things before they’re looking for answers. So, for example, I now produce infographics and documents that match the branding/visuals of the videos. I also help get translations and subtitling done – none of those things are my direct skillset but I realised it would help my clients if those services could come via me.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
The flexibility both creatively and in day to day life with the kids is amazing. But I didn’t know how long it would take to get the work/life balance under control. Also I didn’t forsee the way I could move beyond just selling my skills and time to make money. When I started I didn’t think of myself or what I’m doing as a ‘business’, that’s shifted over time. I’ve become cool with the idea of collaborating with others and adding on a margin beyond my own billable hours/skills so that my business can grow and I can start investing in it.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Trello has saved my sanity project planning wise. I frequently have multiple clients and projects on the go at once (check out this episode of my vlog and you’ll see what I mean!). The other would be Dropbox. And FreeAgent – when I got proper online accounting software it made such a difference to my business. I always know where I am with cashflow and tax now.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Treat yourself like a business from the start. Get a separate bank account. Get online accounting software. Get an accountant. It’s all very dull and grown up but doing it right will change your mind-set to ‘being a business’ and free you up to get on enjoying the stuff you actually want to do. Also, realise that you can’t just be good at what you do – you have to get out there and make stuff happen for you. Meet people. Show them. Express interest in things you want to do.
In video/audio specifically? Have confidence in your edits/writing. Sometimes clients will request a change and you might not agree. It’s okay to set out why you’ve done something and how you believe it makes it better. Also – be clear about how many revisions the client can make (before there are time/cost implications). Setting expectations is really important.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
That people matter. The connections you make can pay off further down the line in ways you might never realise. Also, figuring out my work/life balance has been a long journey. I want to do the best I can with my work and my kids, whilst also trying to be healthy and, urgh, too many things… I’ve found becoming self-aware has helped me (vlogging about it has helped me make sense of it all) – that may sound all airy-fairy, but it’s about acknowledging what you’re doing, what your body is saying to you, how you’re working/living, tweaking and experimenting with things.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The flexibility in my day/week/month and year – being able to take school holidays off to hang with the kids is amazing. And being rewarded for the hard work I put in. I’ve bust my gut for companies I worked for in the past, because I always care about what I do – but it seemed mostly un-appreciated, particularly financially. As a freelancer, in general the more work I do, the more money I make. And whilst I’m not a huge money-chasing fiend, the fact is I need it to support my family, plan for the future and keep myself in cake. Feeling properly rewarded for my efforts feels great.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
The isolation when a big project ends. I feel like I want to high-five my team and go for a beer. But it’s just me and the cat. She doesn’t even pretend to look impressed.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
I want to continue to grow the podcast so that it can help as many people as possible. I want to continue taking August off to be with the kids (I did it for the first time this year and it was great). But honestly, I’ve still not figured out what I’ll be doing in 20 years’ time. Everything has happened really organically so far, I’ve just evolved my business as opportunities have arisen, so I’m not sure there’s an ‘ultimate’ goal.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
That you have to pay tax ‘on account’ in advance. So it’s probably not wise to spend all that spare cash kicking around in your account on a trip to Australia, you know, just in case it’s actually for something important. G’ARGH! If only I’d have put everything to one side properly from the beginning. But we live and learn.
To connect with Steve, visit
Being Freelance Twitter: https://twitter.com/beingfreelance
Being Freelance site: https://www.beingfreelance.com/
Steve’s site: https://stevefolland.com/
as well as, of course, the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group