Asking a freelancer what they do is not always an easy question to answer. For example, they may offer more than one service to more than one group of clients, which make a succinct response a bit of a challenge. Or, like many freelancers I know, are trusted so much by their clients, they’re asked to do work they wouldn’t normally offer.
So when this week’s Featured Freelancer, Samantha Taylor, was expected to answer this as her first question, you can read for yourself the challenge that she had. But then, she has been freelancing for over 8 years, so she’s bound to have built up a repetoire of skills and loyal clients. Here is the rest of Samantha’s interview or her experience as a freelancer, so far…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is Samantha Taylor and I am based in Poole, Dorset somewhere between the countryside and the sea. What do I do? I’ve been trying to explain this for years and I am still not sure that I do it well. I am a wearer of many hats! My main hat is as an education communications consultant and project manager. That is, I develop and deliver campaigns to communicate with and inspire children, young people and teachers in preschools, schools, colleges and HE, on behalf of charities, government and consumer brands. Phew! My other hats include marketing services for small businesses, and copywriting—something that I love to do and now unbelievably get paid for.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
Going freelance was part of my long-term career plan, because I knew I would need to be in a flexible working position when I started a family. I was really lucky to have a long career working my way up in an agency from junior account executive to senior management doing a job that I loved and ultimately could do freelance. Unbelievably the plan actually worked (I still have to pinch myself occasionally). I went on maternity leave in 2010, returned part time in 2011 and took the decision to go freelance in 2012.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
Everyone was really supportive when I decided to go it alone. Having worked in an agency where business was unpredictable and insecure at times, freelancing was never a daunting prospect for me. It helped that many of my friends work in similar circles and I myself have employed many freelancers on projects over the years.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
Not really. I’d already been doing what I do in an employed capacity for many years and had long recognised that clients employ people not companies. I was fairly confident that I just needed to keep doing what I had been doing and it would all work out. Saying that, the best thing I ever did was employ an accountant! I have no problem managing client budgets, but I detest anything that involves tax returns. My accountant is worth every penny and more!
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My client list can be spectacularly diverse. At the moment, I am working with three charities, one government department, a radio station, two estate agencies, a design agency and a not-for-profit. That is the great thing about being freelance, every day is different because every client is different. Most of my education work is for charities and government departments, whereas my marketing and copywriting services I tend to focus on smaller local businesses that need help on a budget.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Basically, because I know my stuff and I am an excellent project manager! But in all seriousness, I have noticed a real shift in client expectations. Ten years ago, they all wanted the ‘big London agency’, now they want a more personalised service and better value. A new client recently commented that when an agency pitches you get their A team, but when it comes to delivering their projects you end up with the D team. Finally, clients are wising up to the agencies, which is good news for the freelancers.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
For the first few years it was tough. I missed being in the office and having a team around me. I worked ridiculous hours as I felt I had to prove myself to everyone and anyone, and I had a small child which meant I was sleep deprived a lot! However, I have learnt that as long as a job gets done well and the client is happy then it doesn’t matter whether I work 9am-3pm or 9am-10am.
I have to work when my son is at school, so I have 5-6 hours per day and I manage my time to maximise what I can deliver in those hours. That’s not to say that occasionally I don’t find myself at my desk at midnight or pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline. I have a reliable network of suppliers who I pull in to work on specific projects and are now my ‘team’; and I make a point of calling and speaking to actual real live people, rather than relying on email that whilst efficient can be isolating.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I am not great at self-promotion, so LinkedIn is probably most valuable to me in that sense. But to actually do what I do? I could not live without Google!
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Don’t do it, I am pretty unique! Of course, I am joking, there is room enough for everyone. My advice is don’t limit what you can offer, but tailor what you can offer to each individual client. To some clients I am an educational consultant offering strategic advice, to others I am project manager delivering campaigns on the ground, then I am a small business marketing guru and an experienced copywriter. It’s about playing to your strengths and making it clear what you can do for them.
Don’t panic! The work will come. In the beginning, I took work on at ridiculously cheap rates just to have a chance to prove myself. It worked as those clients now don’t quibble my quotes or my ability, and have recommended me to others.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
When I was employed I was always felt like I was going to get found out. That I didn’t really know what I was doing, and that I was winging it most of the time. Since going freelance I know that I can do it and I am doing it. Yes, I still have to wing it occasionally, but I am pretty good at that too! It’s a great feeling to have confidence in your own abilities.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The flexibility. I can work around the kid’s school hours and still get to be a ‘stay at home’ mum. Plus, I can walk the dogs on the beach in the morning and arrive at my desk at 10am if I want to.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
I still miss having an actual team in the office with me, mostly because I like to have people around to sound out ideas or ask advice. That’s what prompted me to join Freelance Heroes.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
Once upon a time I thought I might like to run my own agency—now I have seen the light! My ultimate goal is to keep doing what I do and doing it well. In the future, I think a move to the country, a multitude of dogs and making more of my living from writing.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
That I could do it on my own; I might have done it sooner.
You can connect with Samantha at the following places:
… as well as, of course, the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group.