Of the 14 questions each Featured Freelancer has to answer, the most challenging appears to be “Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?” I suspect it’s because many don’t ask their clients enough to be able to quote them, or know ourselves.
One advantage of working with a freelancer is, of course, that you know who you’re dealing with throughout the whole process, and really get a complete personal service. This week’s Featured Freelancer offers his opinion on why his clients choose him, as well as an insight into his whole journey as a freelancer for the last 4+ years. This is his story…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is Col Skinner and I am a Digital Advertising Expert based in Manchester.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I started in January 2014 so I am into my 5th year. I had been working in agency and client-side roles for around 6 years when I finally realised that I wasn’t happy being told how to work and getting handed clients who had been promised results that were impossible to obtain given their industry, budget or timescales. I realised it was time to control my working life and give working for myself a go.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
I had a little money set aside from selling my side business to my business partner so that shut-up many of the naysayers worried about income. In general, my family and friends were very supportive as they knew I had the experience, confidence and connections to give solo life a damn good shot. I got a few colleagues telling me I was mad and I would fail but I didn’t care. The only person I needed to convince was “Me”.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I very quickly realised that an accountant was a necessity if I wanted to do things correctly and not spend my time on the financial side of things. I didn’t have any business mentor or freelance friends to ask. I was one of the first people in my digital marketing circles to go solo.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
Erm in one word, “Varied”. I am not a specialist in a certain sector and thrive on variety so my clients cover practically every business offering. At the moment that includes a large US-based payment processing company, a local solicitor, a sports events company and a conveyor belt systems manufacturer. What they all have in common is an initial challenge of lack of revenue, an understanding of the value that digital marketing brings to their business and a want to work with an individual specialist rather than an agency.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
This isn’t something I ask my clients regularly, but I would assume they pick me because I offer a very flexible transparent service that does not use contracts. Clients can use me when they need to and drop my service the moment they don’t (once all invoices are paid of course). I think clients want to collaborate with their specialist, not feel like their relationship is a dictation where they are putting all the legwork or their specialist is dictating how they should run their business. It’s about a middle-ground where both sides ask the right questions and understand one is an expert in a particular service and the other is an expert on their own business.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I went into this with no real expectation other than a general rule that I would not let my work ruin my personal life. I don’t like the overused term “lifestyle business” but that was certainly what I was out to achieve. I wanted a business that allows me to live a certain life, not a business that is my life. Call it laziness or good organisation but I don’t tend to work more than 3 – 4 hours in any day. What’s the point in being in control of your work life then conforming to how everyone else does it?
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Easy. Freeagent. I have been using the accounting software since starting my previous business and it has helped me no end. From time tracking to invoicing to keeping all my bills digitally, it keeps me on track financially and helps me be accountable and understand my finances.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Get some agency experience behind you first! Love or hate them. Agency life will teach you so many important lessons that will be utilised when you go freelance. For example:
How to deal with problem clients.
How to spin several plates at once (multi-tasking)
How to work with clients spread across a wide variety of industries.
How to work with very small or very big clients.
How to project manage (to a degree).
How to report back to clients and what bits of the report they NEVER read.
How to manage various media spend budgets.
How to time track and cost up time.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
Ohh that’s a long list but I would say the main things are:
You choose your clients – So many freelancers think that they just have to accept any and all clients that come their way. In fact, you are in control and should be (whenever possible) very picky about who you choose to work with. Nothing worse than having a nightmare client.
Business ownership is like a new pair of shoes – Like buying a new pair of shoes, your business needs time to wear it in before you’re comfortable, owning and running it. It has taken me up until now to feel comfortable being a business owner. This includes selling what I do, what my business offers and the stresses and strains it brings.
You can’t invoice happiness – I know it’s a bit of a cheesy one but when planning out your year goals and thinking about profit and revenue, just remember that you likely went into this to get more out of your life and be happier. Money may make that a little easier but it won’t solely achieve it. Choose clients based on who you want to work with not who brings you in the most money.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
I am a control freak (enthusiast) by my very nature. So for me, having this level of control over my work and personal life is glorious. I feel like I have stumbled upon a secret formula to a happy working life and don’t want anyone to discover my secret then burst my bubble.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
The constant hunt for work can be quite grating. Working hard to gain a brilliant new client then losing them for whatever reason. Only to have to start the hunt again. I try and thrive on it though rather than let it bring me down.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
Many people seem to want to build something bigger than themselves like an agency. But for me, I am motivated by being self-sustainable. By knowing that if I carry on as I am doing then I can have a happy working life and not have to put back on the shackles of full-time employment. Ultimately I want to find the perfect location to live and then I will have the perfect working setup from some far-flung paradise.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
Cash flow is the nail in the coffin for 70% of new businesses. Payment for freelancers can be sporadic at the best of times. Be prepared to go from receiving pay package popped conveniently into your bank account each more, to desperately outstanding payment reminders to clients.
To connect with Col, visit one (or all) of the following sites:
and, of course, the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group