The topic of mental health isn’t discussed anywhere near enough in social media and physical groups. Which is one of the reasons for recommending that this week’s Featured Freelancer is read, shared, and hopefully starts a series of open discussions.
For me, a common (and regularly repeated phrase) is how “working for yourself, doesn’t mean working by yourself”. I’m not suggesting everyone has to attend x amount of networking events each week or even work from a coworking space each day, but reaching out for empathetic support in whichever way suits the freelancer – physically or virtually. I hope, as with all the other Featured Freelance interviews, that Sophie’s very honest story of freelancing journey so far, inspires and helps. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
I’m Sophie Livingston, I’m a copywriter and I’m based in Hull (don’t mock – we’re actually the UK’s City of Culture for 2017. Things are looking up around here!).
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’m going to be honest here. I left my job because of social anxiety in June 2016. I didn’t choose to go freelance, it was my only option at the time.
I’d had a lot of time off work (which is the scariest thing ever to admit in a professional space) and I was really struggling to get better.
I couldn’t cope in employment. I couldn’t leave the house some days and when I could, interacting with people all day left me exhausted. I had little control over my emotions and would often end up crying uncontrollably – to the point where I’d have panic attacks and couldn’t recover my composure.
This had been going on for 5 years, through 5 different jobs with 3 different employers (who were all incredibly supportive and accommodating), before I decided to give freelancing a try.
I’d always admired the freelance lifestyle, and I often wonder now whether I’d ever have given it a go had I not found myself in that situation.
It’s still early days really, but let’s hope that this all works out for the best and freelancing was always meant to be my path.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
My boyfriend, Ryan, has been behind me every step of the way. He often reminds me how proud he is that I’m forging my own path and finding work that works for me. I’m not sure where I’d be without the support he’s given me.
Our parents were sceptical at first. They were worried I was isolating myself. They saw it as me giving up and shutting myself off from the world. I think they’ve come around to the idea a little more now though, as they’ve seen my mental health improve.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I haven’t had any professional support yet.
For the first year or so, I was very cautious about putting too much pressure on myself. I started small, taking it one job at a time with no big goals or strategies.
At times, I did find myself eager to race ahead with plans and ideas for building a business, but I always managed to pull myself back. It helped me to think of myself not as a business owner, but as ‘just a copywriter.’ The business development stuff could come later, once I had a better grasp on the anxiety.
I’m 16 months in now, and I’m starting to feel ready to take things up a level. I’m still taking small steps, but I’m now at a point where I’m considering some form of training or business support.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
I’d say they’re bloomin’ lovely! *winks*
My clients are professionals, usually working within the marketing industry. They understand the importance of content marketing (and blogging in particular), but they just don’t have the time to publish consistently themselves.
They may occasionally need support when it comes to strategy and planning, but for the most part, they have this covered.
They need someone reliable who they can trust to just get on with it. They want to know that a quality job will be done and that the work will be delivered on time.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I’m honest and transparent. I go out of my way to make things as easy as possible. I’m empathetic, intuitive and I can pick things up quickly. I provide good value and often go above and beyond what was promised.
As a copywriter, those things make me excellent at my job. As a freelance business owner, however, I’m maybe not so good. I can often end up short changing myself and giving away too much of my time for little return.
But hey – I’m learning. I think it all comes down to self-confidence and learning to ditch that employee mindset. It’s been a slow road for me, but I’m definitely moving forward.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
It varies week to week. When I’m lucky enough to have steady work on, I work fewer hours.
I’m always wary of overdoing it, so when I am busy with client work, I do little else. I’m big on quality, so I hate feeling overly tired or rushed when I’m working on something for a client. I reduce my marketing efforts and force myself to switch off and get some rest in between jobs.
When I have a few gaps in my schedule and am looking for new clients, I end up working more hours. I’ll spend more time updating my website, applying/pitching for work and networking online. Understandably, this is when the pressure starts to build and freelancing can become stressful.
I know there’s a happy medium out there somewhere, but I’ve not quite found it yet.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
There are so many, but I’m going to go for one that some may not have tried before.
I love Lucidchart. It’s an easy-to-use flowchart maker that helps me to organise my thoughts. I discovered it after doing some work for Lucidchart’s sister company, Lucidpress, and it has since become my go-to tool for planning complicated tasks.
Now that I’m preparing a marketing strategy for my business, for example, I often find that my mind becomes overrun with ideas and I don’t know which tasks to tackle first. Lucidchart lets me easily put those ideas down on paper in a visual way so that I can easily link them together and put them into some sort of order.
I guess I could do all of that with a piece of paper and pen, but there’s something about doing it digitally that just seems to make it stick.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
You can’t do it all yourself. Don’t even bother trying. The best thing I did was to follow my own advice and outsource some of my work.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Whether we’re talking about how much you can achieve in a day, or where you’d like your business to be in a year, set realistic goals.
There’s more to life than work. If you’re still working at 9 pm on a Friday night, you’re not doing life right. Log off and get yourself a bloody beer! You deserve it.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
The freedom and flexibility in terms of how I structure my days and weeks is a huge bonus.
If I’m having a bad mental health day, I can do things my way, in my own time. There’s no pressure to be out of the door by a certain time with a smile plastered on my face.
On the opposite side of that, if I’m having one of those days where I feel like I can take on the world, there’s nothing stopping me. I can work all day and night if I want to, and I get to choose which tasks or projects I feel like handling each day (within reason, of course).
Those are the obvious perks that I’m sure most freelancers can relate to.
A benefit that’s possibly a little more specific to me, though, is that I get to work alone. ON MY OWN! With no one interfering.
I know that’s not something we’re supposed to admit (teamwork all the way, eh?), but honestly – I just love working on my own.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
We all wear many hats as freelancers, and my least favourite is the salesperson’s. Give me taxes or an overflowing inbox and I’ll muddle my way through it with a frown on my face and a chocolate bar for comfort.
When it comes to pitching my services, though, I want to run away and hide. And some days, I’ve done just that.
Cold emailing? LinkedIn outreach? No thanks. What if they ignore me. Or worse – criticise me!
A phone call with a potential client? An in-person networking event? You’ve got to be joking! I’ll make a complete idiot of myself!
I’ve bypassed clients I’m interested in working with because they ask for an applicant’s Skype username. I’ve turned down the chance to go to networking events without even giving it a second thought.
There’s a rational, objective part of my brain that knows I’m being foolish, yet once the anxiety strikes, it’s extremely difficult to overcome.
But it’s something I’m working on. I know it’s a big weakness and, if we can circle back to question 4 for a minute, it’s in this area that I’ll be seeking professional support in the near future.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
I’m not sure if you’ve figured this out by now, but I’m not big on setting goals for myself. To me, goals = pressure, and avoiding pressure is key if I want to stay well.
Let’s just say that I hope to still be freelancing in 2 years’ time. That good enough for ya?
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
No big mistakes or major regrets, but I did spend way too long self-building my first website.
My new website (which is loads better and didn’t take half as long to make) was the result of a skill swap I made with a pro web designer. I met him in the Freelance Heroes Facebook group, actually.
I wish I’d known that skill swaps were a thing before I’d spent all that time agonizing over the look and structure of my first website.
To connect with Sophie, visit:
… as well as the Freelance Hereos Facebook Group.