In 2009, Guy Clapperton wrote the book “This is Social Media: Tweet, Blog, Link and Post Your Way to Business Success.” I know this because I bought it the same year. The book played a pivotal role in helping me to understand the relationship of social media and the role it can play for small businesses. Despite the platforms changing almost beyond recognition compared to then, his lessons about the value of engagement, focusing on only relevant platforms, etc are as relevant today.
Fast forward 9 years here I am reading his words again. However, this time they’re not from one of the many books Guy has written, but rather as he answers the 14 Featured Freelancer questions. Enjoy.
1. What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
Guy Clapperton, London, journalist, editor, conference facilitator/mediator, media trainer.
2. How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I went freelance in 1993 – I suppose you could say I “got freelanced” during the recession. The idea was to go freelance and apply for jobs, then I realised I was enjoying life more and earning better than the jobs on offer so I stopped applying. There have been significantly more ups than downs since then but after decades of it you can still have bad months.
3. What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
Support was immense. I didn’t leave my job entirely voluntarily (I rapidly wished I’d done so earlier) so nobody said don’t do it, and my wife Carol in particular backed me up. Not just morally – if we hadn’t had her steady income at the time and also during a few dips over the years it would have been much more difficult or even impossible to sustain.
4. Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I should have had more and with hindsight I could have done with some business and marketing mentoring. But I’m pleased I got an accountant on day one. I’ve had experience of a bad one and a good accountant to keep you compliant is essential.
5. How would you describe your clients or customers?
Publishers, conference organisers, PR people and increasingly ad sales people – when I launch-edited New Statesman Tech I was the only editorial person, the ad guy brought me in and he was my main contact. Over time they become friends.
6. Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
You’d need to ask them! Over the years, experience and knowing the field counts for a lot and just being pleasant is good. I know for a fact that I’ve had one or two gigs because the end client refused to work with certain other journalists because they had an attitude problem! After I wrote a social media book a few years back I did a presentation and one of the people there said he was expecting to be informed and he was happy with that, but hadn’t expected to be amused as well, so he was pleased.
7. Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
More. There was no social media when I started so when you switched off, you switched off!
8. What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I know it’s really basic but Microsoft Word or at least some sort of word processor is pretty fundamental to writers! Of the more recent apps, OneNote helps me keep my life in order and accounts have become a lot easier since my current accountant pointed me towards Xero.
9. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
In any field, get the business fundamentals right. Never think you’ll sort your accounts out later – you won’t, and don’t borrow from your tax savings under the impression that there’s plenty of time to make up the difference. There never is. And whatever you think, it’s not too early to think about a pension – mine will be small because although I started one in my late twenties I failed completely to keep an eye on it and it’s not performed well at all so I’m revisiting that now. Specifically in my field, make sure you have your contacts in place and be prepared for them to move on (or even become freelance competition) within five years – keep up to date. I was just about 28 when I went freelance and at 52 I can only think of one of my original clients who has commissioned me in the last five years, not because things have gone wrong but because they’ve retired, moved on. Be flexible – I’ve seen too many good writers decide what they’re going to do and try to force that on the market rather than respond to what the market actually needs.
10. What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I’ve co-written two books and during the first one I realised I’d been working alone for so long I wasn’t good at communicating or prioritising in tandem with someone else; I’m still in touch with the other author but that’s because he’s a nice guy, not because I was a particularly good partner. The second one went a lot better. I also assumed marketing myself would be easy and that accounts couldn’t be that much of a pain. I learned my lesson very quickly on those scores! In terms of marketing yourself, if you’re used to being Fred/Freda Smith of company X, you’d be surprised at how much less important just being Fred/Freda Smith sounds to people you thought might give you a break initially.
11. What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The freedom. When I first started I wanted to write comedy so I went and had a go at it. It didn’t work but I didn’t get to 30 wishing I’d tried. Personal freedoms are good too. Working from home meant that I took an active part in bringing my daughter up during her early years including the messy bits; we have a huge bond and I do wonder whether other dads miss out on this. It’s by far the best thing in my life. Tell her I said so and you’re toast.
12. What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
The isolation isn’t great so you have to get out and meet people – if you’re lonely or isolated then you have to accept it’s largely your own making, there are groups of like-minded people out there. You’ll have gathered from my other comments that accounts aren’t exactly my favourite thing; this is a seasonal issue, though, as we’re close to 31 January, once they’re in and paid I’ll probably be feeling quite OK about them again!
13. What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
There’s a chance this year that I may be putting into a business and helping build/own part of something rather than the usual hand-to-mouth freelance existence, which would be good. I’d like to write a book that isn’t out of date within a year but as I write primarily about technology that may be a bit of a pipedream.
14. What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
Next week’s lottery numbers.
Get in touch with Guy at one of the following locations:
and, of course, the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group.