The more popular editions of the Featured Freelancer are from those who take the opportunity to use the questions as a truly cathartic and reflective exercise on their business. As it’s only then do we get a real insight into the highs and lows of each interviewee.
This week is one of those interviews, thanks to Nottingham based Physiotherapist, Kathryn Peden. Enjoy the story of Kathryn’s journey as a freelancer, so far…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
Hi! My name’s Kathryn Peden and I am a musculoskeletal and women’s health Physiotherapist based in Nottingham UK. I treat and ‘fix’ a wide range of physical aches and pains from headaches to foot pain, and have a specialism in female pelvic floor, bladder and bowel dysfunction and pain.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been a Physio for 3 years now, but ran my own sole tradership as a Photographer back in 2002-4, and again in 2011-14 (while at Physio Uni), doing portraits and wedding photography. My main motivation, aside from earning an income, was a feeling of wanting to simply follow my dreams and explore my creativity. As time progressed and I had various jobs, I also had a range of terrible bosses, which further reinforced my desire to go it alone and do things my way. I didn’t want to offend anyone, just didn’t want to continue in dysfunctional organisations feeling frustrated. When I was under threat of redundancy I looked around and found that doing my own thing was the best route for me. My Physio business is another example of that – from my few months’ working in the NHS, I felt sucked dry by the negativity there, so decided to take a positive step into self employment.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
This was mixed. Certain family members were very discouraging, citing the risks, the benefits of staying in a ‘stable’ job (somewhat silenced when I was made redundant from the public sector) etc. However, small pots of money were very generously given once I’d shown how hard I worked and how determined I was, so probably a generational thing and more out of fear for my security. Friends were very supportive with chats and dinners rather than nights out – they were so accommodating to my skint status throughout being a Physio student and my early business years. A lot of them have become my clients so I’m trying to pay it back!
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
Not really in terms of the function of the business. I kind of drew on my previous experience of the basics in my photography freelancing days and my previous job training businesspeople in business software, so I felt I had a good idea of what was involved. There is a downside to this, however, in that though learning new skills every day is good, it was quite stressful trying to do everything. I still do everything, but have reached a point where I can streamline things better and know the software I’m using.
On a more psychological basis, I did have a mentor via a local community organisation which was great in the early days. Though he was from a different industry, it was absolutely invaluable to get some perspective from someone who’d ‘been there’, knew what the realities of running a business were, and could tell me honestly how well I was doing, rather than me just feeling he was being kind.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My clients are self-funded, motivated and generally compliant individuals. I am very lucky that when people walk into my clinic they are generally either ready for change (so many people ignore problems for months and years before they get to this point), or they have been dissatisfied by their treatment so far with other practitioners so are desperate for help and very motivated to listen. Some can be overwhelmed with fear of their prognosis, or feel unable to make the changes themselves, but I try with everyone to build their confidence to manage their injury or condition. Its’ just wonderful to see people blossom – and that’s mostly simply by listening to them, giving them information about their condition, and tools to make the difference for themselves.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I’ve been told a few things, some are simply practical! I’m right in the city centre, so easy to get to from work for many of my clients. My online booking system is brilliant, really straightforward, clear and does all the automated confirmation etc. Some physios ask people to log in and register etc before they can even see your availability but I find that prohibitive and turns people off.
Other people tell me they’ve read my blogs, or my testimonials, and like that they get an idea of who I am before they meet me. I’m certainly not a ‘businessy business’ – I’ve occasionally forgotten to take payment because we’ve been having a nice chat! – and I think that comes across in my online presence. The fact I ask them what drink they’d like when they arrive on my booking form has also been commented on as a nice touch.
Many come from referrals from previous customers – at the last count it was 70%. I guess that’s why they give me a go, because they’ve heard I get results, and often in much less time than they’ve expected.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
Yeah… It’s kind of what I expected. The emotional highs and lows, the guilt for taking time off, etc. But being able to block out time for a long lunch, or go home early, or reshuffle things so I can work ON the business, or even just sack it off and go for a walk because I need headspace – I often remind myself these are freedoms I just wouldn’t have in an employed job.
I wouldn’t actually say I work more hours than I would have done in a job. Early on I realised I couldn’t be available 24/7 for everyone, so I set my hours and try to stick to them. I realised if I work weekends, into the evenings, and don’t ensure I get downtime, I will really suffer, and then I just won’t be able to think straight and give my clients their money’s worth. In the first couple of years it’s almost inevitable, and certainly accepted as necessary, to work all hours, but it’s not sustainable. I’m still learning to get that balance but it feels so much better when I get it right!
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I’d recommend my online booking system to everyone. It’s called YouCanBookMe.com and there’s a free version that does all you need it to. It’s easy to use, easy to edit and easy to embed on your website. And it’s never let me down!
I also sync this with Google Calendar, which I rely on for all my scheduling. I share it with my personal diary so nothing gets double booked, and it all syncs automatically. I used to have 4 different diaries to update! A big headache went when I worked that one out.
I’ve found free resources like Facebook and Youtube great for building and audience (even though I’m not very active with this) – for example I do the occasional video instruction for exercises that are a bit fiddly but need to be done correctly. Over time this has built into a small resource for customers, which I often refer them to for their rehab. Facebook is again good for putting across both my professional information and my personal passion for what I do – hopefully it’s infectious.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
I’d say make sure you make time for learning and for managing the business side of things. You can’t be with clients all day every day: you’ll doubt yourself, be exhausted and your business will struggle. But time is really so important – and be kind to yourself – Rome wasn’t built in a day. Keep regular connections with other Physios so you can talk shop and feel reassured that in every day you can go from feeling like a genius to feeling a total fraud – and back again. And that’s normal, so you need to set up ways to be resilient and care for yourself.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
Mostly the above – I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I try SO hard to do my best all the time. So self-care is still a work in progress, but when I’ve succeeded it’s made all the difference.
In business, it’s that there’s no right way to do things, and everyone is learning as they go. I’ve never considered doing a business qualification as it’s all models – the reality will only work if you put those models to use, but it’s never one size fits all, so you’d need to think and adapt them to your business anyway.
It’s something I realised a long time ago, but occasionally you meet people running their business who are stressed to the hilt, hate their clients, find every aspect frustrating. When I meet them, I realise how fundamental it is to keep the love of what you do, rather than letting it become ‘just a job’. You have made the biggest step to move out of the rat race, it’s now up to you to make the life you want to live, and structure your working life to fit that.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The freedom – not just of time, but to choose my own path. In the NHS, to do any training I’d have to beg for funds and justify it to fit the business model. Now I simply ask – do I want to learn it, will it benefit my clients, can I afford it? Then I get it booked in ASAP. It’s exciting to know that in ten years my business might have a totally different angle or specialism, but I’m pretty confident I’ll be just as excited and motivated then as I am now.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
The loneliness. In the early days I had my clinic in an otherwise mostly empty building and nobody to say hello to in the morning. I often thought to myself – “nobody cares whether I turn up or not”. Though I’ve sorted that now (I’m in a lovely buzzy business centre), it’s such a different mentality to employed work that sometimes it’s hard to get empathy from others when talking about money or the pressure you’re under. I no longer get paid just for turning up. But it doesn’t bother me much any more, as I’ve got lots of lovely freelancers as friends now.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
Part of the difficulty of freelancing is that to take time off you’re sort of paying for it twice, as you’re not earning while you’re away. So I’m just starting to get my head around the idea of passive income, and trying to work on how to shoehorn time in to develop that side of things. It would be pretty amazing to earn a decent income while I sleep.
As for Physio goals, I’m happy at the moment just learning and developing my understanding and treatment techniques. One day it’d be nice to perhaps develop a product or a protocol that will help some obscure pelvic issue. Ultimately I’d love to write a couple of books too, one about the pelvis, and one about feet!
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
That there’s more time than you think to get stuff done (nobody’s pushing you except you!), and perhaps that having ‘systems’ rather than winging it from the beginning would have made a lot of hard times easier.
To connect with Kathryn, visit one (or all of the following)
Please also feel free to say hi to Kathryn, and over 800 other UK Freelancers, in the Freelance Heroes FB group.