I met Natalie first through a LinkedIn post of hers, where she was crowdfunding to be able to buy and make Christmas Dinner for 1000 familes who are homeless, unable to afford their own, ex-services, etc. It was such an extraordinary and selfless thing to do, to give up Christmas to help others, that I was intrigued to find out more about the person behind the project.
As it turns out, Natalie has been a freelancer for 17 and, as a result, this is the story of her freelancing journey.
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is Natalie Lek. I have my own freelance PA business, Angel PA, based in Greater Manchester and deliver social change through various social actions projects, which are delivered under the banner of The Launch Project.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I have been a freelancer for 18 years now and the reason I became a freelancer was due to having my children. It was very clear to me from early on that the financial situation of the country at that time, in relation to earnings as an employee, was not going to provide for my family and that becoming freelance was the only way forward as a single parent. It also offered flexibility which when you have young children is something that is needed.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
Good question, I think that back then the prospect of a single parent becoming a freelancer and on a self-employed basis was still hard to comprehend and accept as a realistic way of providing a regular income for the family. I can’t say that my family understood what I was doing and why however; I clearly remember a conversation on two separate occasions where I was advised to firstly go into an employed position and again a year or so later with the same person where they advised staying self-employed as they could see the earning potential.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
I recall starting the business using just online networking sites, and discovering how large the potential market was, I did chat to a few business advisors at local enterprise agencies. However, they said you sound like you know your market and what you need to do. In fact, they asked me to deliver various back office support workshops and seminars on online marketing. This, of course, was when the likes of Ask Jeeves and Yahoo were selling banner advertisements etc.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My clients come from all industries and all sizes of businesses. However at the moment I am seeing a larger demand for specialist legal and financial PA’s so a lot of my clients tend to come from those areas. This has led me to develop more specific policies and procedures to accommodate various regulations for those industries.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
I think this happens for a number of reasons: 1) I am very selective with who I work with. Although my services are available to all, there are certain criteria that the clients must adhere to. 2) The clients have usually been referred to me and have watched my performance for others, 3) I put my money where my mouth is. If I fail to deliver any services for the client I keep going until they are happy as it is my reputation and my business that this reflects on. 4) I have been in business for over 17 years and the clients have formed trusting relationships with me, sometimes it’s just advice and guidance that creates the future opportunities.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
No, it’s definitely not what I thought it would be. For example, you tend to work longer hours. However, you also develop a vast number of quality freelancers who act as support networks and who you can call on when you need either support or specialist skills. Also, the type of work is very different. I anticipated six core services and now deliver 20 services.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I definitely need the social media channels and various networking sites. Freelance sites are great if the business is quiet as there is always someone needing assistance. I think Linkedin is great for staying on top of up and coming topics, as well as monitoring trends that may be of benefit to your business. From the latest payment solutions to the GDPR regulations there is always information freely available and people who can answer any questions you may have.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Build a network, bring as many contacts as you can from any employed positions that you may have, let people help you, and don’t worry about asking for help. Many of us know what it’s like and will skill swap. Also, make sure you have all your policies and procedures in place before you start, think carefully about your business structure and your payment policies. Are you looking to offer 30 day terms, retainer terms or payment in advance? If you are offering payment in advance what protection can you offer the clients?? Understand the importance of delegation. You don’t have to be perfect at everything. People learn better as they go through hands-on experience. If you get it wrong the first time either compensate the client or offer to remedy the issue everyone is human we all start somewhere. Look around for complimentary working relationships, as these can lead to residual work streams and colleagues.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
I have learnt that I sometimes need to hand over control to others and monitor the quality rather than try to do it all myself. Also that being able to adapt to change every day and may impact on the cash flow. So I have to create more fluidity in managing the invoices. I have also learnt to spot potential issues for clients and adapt to incorporate those into the support package.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
I like the fact that no two days are the same and my tasks can vary each week or day. E.g. One day I can be working on a client’s bookkeeping or taking statements on behalf of a different client. Then the next, I can be transcribing or designing a website. Also meeting people from all walks of life and being able to offer positive support where needed, knowing if they need anything else they will be comfortable in returning.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
This is a hard one as I have been freelance for so long. I would say the only part i don’t like is when tenders are written and seem to be going ahead and then at the last minute they are dropped and all the time allocated for that has to be reallocated to new clients.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
To build my team and pass over to someone I can trust so that I can develop other areas of the business which have been placed on hold at the minute.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
The importance of contracts and strict payment terms, and the fact above all else you have to look after your personal finances which sometimes mean having to walk away from clients who will not negotiate on terms or compromise. Also, not every client is the right type of client for you as a business, sometimes you just have to say no. Understand your worth, don’t under-price your services or products and be confident that the right type of clients will see the value in your services and your business. If the clients want to pay peanuts they have to understand they will receive peanuts and the cost of fixing the issue is sometimes more than they wanted to pay initially and that is not your responsibility. Be as open as you’d like. The aim is to inspire and help the many freelancers who’ll read it.
Finally as Richard Branson once said “if someone asks you to do something and you don’t know how, say yes anyway and go and learn how to do it”
To find out more about Natalie, and connect with her too, visit:
as well as, of course, with over 2000 other freelancers in the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group