What is your name and what do you do?
I am Helen Hill, aka UnlikelyGenius Ltd. I am a Learning and Content Designer – I take a company’s existing or new content and turn it into online courses or services.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I have been freelancing on the side of full-time employment for over 10 years, but I made the leap to full time self-employment in 2018.
I ended up doing it full time almost by accident. I had handed my notice in at my permanent job for the sake of my mental and physical health and needing more flexibility, but not knowing what I was going to do. I just had to get out.
Then someone just happened to contact me about a contracting role which I had managed to secure within two days of handing my notice in. And that was that! No going back for me.
What strategy do you find most effective for attracting new clients?
I have every much focused-on visibility, authenticity and consistency. I have spent a lot of time building my visibility and consistency on social media, whilst showing my expertise and having some personality.
I am not one for corporate stuffiness – for the first time in my working life I feel I can be myself and that has really helped to build relationships. Combined with the visibility it seems to have lodged me in people’s minds and so they are often passing my name on when someone needs learning content, even if they have never worked with me.
What app or social media platform could you not run your business without, and why?
For me it has to be LinkedIn. It appears to be love or hate for most people, but if you use it right and invest the time to build a network it can pay off. I find it has really helped to build my reputation and to get my name out there.
Most of my new clients in the last 18 months have come from people who have seen me on there and approached me as a result. It has saved me having to do any icky sales and pitching. Some people seem to get disheartened with the platform when they don’t get quick results. It does take time and energy investment, but it will pay off if you do it right (no spammy messages!).
Do you research prospects before a call or meeting? If so, what information do you look for?
Yes, absolutely! I will mostly look up general information about the company using their website and social media and try to think what questions I have to ask them in person.
Though that said, I often get calls from people to talk to me about project with no prior warning. So, it is good to have a list of questions at the ready – I have a scoping document I can refer to and a printed copy I can grab by my desk.
I have also started to probe much more around the company’s/individuals processes and approach, as I have worked for a couple of companies where this was not a good fit for me, and it has meant I haven’t enjoyed working on them. I definitely learn more with every project in terms of scoping, setting up contracts and the questions to ask.
What do you do to help maintain positive mental wellbeing?
I am not good at stopping and relaxing, so always need something on the go. But my creative hobbies do that for me – they at least make me sit whilst ‘doing’.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than what you had first anticipated?
It hasn’t been what I expected at all…but in a good way!
I expected to struggle working alone and from home, but actually, I have thrived. For years people asked me why I didn’t just work for myself, but I didn’t feel I had the confidence, skills or right clients to make a success of it. However, I have found the way that works without feeling icky and I am more confident in my skills now (in e-learning) to when I was freelancing in graphics.
I definitely work more hours now, but some of that is through choice and being a people pleaser/glutton for punishment. Now that I have a steady stream of work, I am finding ways to cut down the hours and to get support through the help of a VA and subcontractors and I am also looking to build some streams of passive income. My next step is to make sure that all my time spent doing promotions, networking etc is within my working hours, rather than additional to them.
What are the most common objections you’ve had from potential clients? How did/do you overcome them?
Price. There are so many potential customers that try to barter price down, and this has increased during the pandemic. It takes some strength to stand your ground, but I am (mostly) managing it and making clear the value they get through hiring me.
Time is also an issue – if they can’t get the price, they want they try to barter time down. Plus, I am also getting booked up quite far in advance now and some cannot wait. There is little that can be done with this issue, if they can’t wait, I generally try to refer them on to someone who may be able to help them. As for the timescales – I already work quickly so am hesitant to cut even more time off, so I tend to get stubborn and push back on that one. If they are willing to compromise quality to getting it done quicker or on a tighter budget, they are generally not the right client for me anyway.
Have you ever turned a prospect away? If so, why and how did you do it?
Yes, quite a lot recently. It has either been because I don’t have the time in my schedule to complete the work, or they require different software/skills to those I have. I am also starting to explore processes and the topics of the work further upfront now too – and if it doesn’t light my fire I don’t take it on. When working on projects which can last weeks or even months, it is important to enjoy the work.
To turn them down, I just explain why and sometimes offer to suggest others or let my network know of the opportunity. It’s always good to try and help them find someone else – and if you provide this help, they do often come back further down the line, and refer you to their contacts. It is worth the few minutes help to build this relationship.
What do (would) you do when a client ghosts you?!
I chase a couple of times as things are easily missed or put on the back burner, and it can take a while for budgets to be approved, but I will generally give up (unless we are quite far into the project, or at invoice stage!) as it often an omen as to how the project will go.
The time you can end up wasting chasing them is time where you can be working on other projects and getting paid, or at least finding a decent client, so I try to move on to more positive things. Admittedly, this is a lot harder when things are quiet, and you need the work in to survive.
Are your motivations now the same as they were when you started freelancing?
When I started as a newbie all those years ago, I was in a slightly different industry then and my main focus was just to make a bit of extra money to pay for holidays and things. Since going into full time freelancing my motivations are very different – it is now about having flexibility, reestablishing my health, being my own boss, having control over my work and no longer being in a toxic environment. I am eternally grateful that freelancing has hit all of these goals for me.
What is it about being a freelancer that you enjoy most?
The variety of projects I get to work on and building relationships with clients. I really enjoy when I get to spend decent time getting a projector the ground and the client has similar values and personality to me. I have built some great connections and the projects are thriving because of it. When you enjoy your work, the enthusiasm can be infectious for clients.
I also love the freelance community. Despite working at home on my own for two years now, I have never felt alone due to my fabulous network.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
There isn’t much I don’t enjoy, but I do try to outsource most things I don’t like (accounting/finance stuff and dealing with WordPress) so I don’t have to deal with it and can focus my energies elsewhere. It’s a no brainier to pay someone who knows what they are doing and can do it in half the time, to leave my brain to focus on the projects.
I suppose my minor remaining frustration is having the icky money conversations and working out pricing, especially when people want to have it in person rather than quoting via email. There are so many variables with pricing, and it is hard to find the medium. It’s a daily battle to stop myself knocking the price down.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
That I can do it! And be successful and happy. I never thought I could make a full time living from being freelance, let alone be earning twice the wage I was in my previous roles. I had lost every ounce of confidence in working for others and certainly didn’t think I could do everything that comes with having your own business. What a fabulous learning curve it has been!
What is your ONE top tip or piece of advice you would offer to other freelancers?
Build relationships, with everyone. Don’t just build a profile online and wait for people to come to you. Engage on other people’s posts and make conversation. Be helpful. It all helps you to stick in the mind of people might want to hire you or refer you. And not just that, you will build some fabulous friendships and a wonderful team who will always be there for celebrations, commiserations… and GIF battles.