The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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Making a living off your own back is unquestionably brilliant, as every post on this blog attests. But in those first few euphoric weeks after escaping the global crap vortex, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and waste your time on costly exercises that really don’t help you in the long-run.

So let me save you some effort, so you can concentrate on the things that really matter when you decide to be self-employed and start-up your new business or go freelance for the first time.

Don’t set up a Facebook fan page

Fat Trish lost a few stone doing the chips and puke diet. Fair fucks to her: she’s happy and wants to share that feeling with other people by helping them lose weight too.

In under five minutes she had a fully operational Facebook fan page, complete with ‘before and after’ photos and a promise of ‘more exciting news to come!!! lol’ – as if the world gives a shit.

Sadly though, that’s as far as she’s got with being a freelance diet consultant. 120 of her ‘friends’ clicked ‘like’ then moved on with their lives.

Social media’s useful if you’re crafty, but if it’s just you you’re promoting (not an instantly recognisable weblebrity sensation or brand) you needn’t bother with it at the beginning. It’s simply too big of a time and content hungry monster for you to feed on your own.

Those like clicks are just an echo chamber filled with mates telling you it’s a good idea to do what you’re doing. But you already know that, you don’t need 120 transient approvals from people who’ve already moved onto the next status update.

It’s extrinsic assurance, a short-term confidence boost when what you really need to do is work on fortifying your own belief in yourself. Get out there, experience mistakes and successes – have your idea put to the test by the folk who’ll really help you make a living: clients and collaborators.

Don’t print any business cards

It’s tempting when you can get 100 of these little rectangular bastards reeled off for under a tenner, but business cards are a wasteful vanity project in an age when websites, LinkedIn and Twitter are the new calling cards.

Worse still are those twats who get their contact details printed onto novelty miniature CDs or weighty 650 gsm card. Nothing says pretentious dickhead like an expensive piece of pulp with your name written in minimalist hieroglyphics.

Just keep a lively web presence (rather than a curated online brand fan page) and write like you talk when you describe what you do: with passion and conviction. The secret though is to put extra thought into how what you’re saying might interest the kind of people who’ll benefit from your help.

If you insist on going to ‘networking’ events, traditional breeding grounds of the obsolete business card, I’ve found that the most effective way to stay in touch is to get the other person’s details rather than force feed them yours. That way you’re in control of making new opportunities happen.

Accept that the world doesn’t really give a shit

If your nan and grandad liked your Facebook page then you’ve already stumbled into a trap. This echo chamber of friends and family might bolster your confidence a little but sadly life goes on, and the big wide world doesn’t even know who you are, let alone what your idea is.

Sorry to be a buzz-kill, but if you realise this sooner you’ll spare yourself the disappointment of blanket silence when you begin flogging what you do.

Chances are it’s because your idea isn’t startlingly unique, and that lots of other scumbags are already out there doing what you do. But more likely, it’s because the rest of the world’s too wrapped up in their own personal crap vortices.

When I first went freelance I had unrealistic visions of what my ideal client was like. In my early imaginings, clients would flock to my website, read every word and then call me, enthusiastic and ready to do business on my terms. In reality, one strange man invited me to photograph his greenhouse at a remote location in Doncaster (true story).

What really matters to people is what keeps them awake at night and reaching out to them with a fix. Yet it takes a few years to work out how best to do that, by spotting common traits shared amongst your clients, and then honing your marketing efforts to reflect those characteristics.

So what can you do as a beginner?

Concentrate on discovering what’s unique about you, your passions and what part of yourself you put into everything you make. Because preparing yourself for the along haul is about staying true to what presses those buttons: your principles and motivations.

It eventually makes you a living too because that’s what helps you persevere through those difficult first few years. And it’s what comes across when you talk enthusiastically to people about your livelihood.

Yet again confidence comes into this one. I suppose the crux of what I’m saying here is that if you don’t expect the world to lick your flaps at the beginning then you won’t take it personally. That way you can get on with mastering your art.

Don’t work alone in your spare room

It’s all very well saving a few bob by setting up an office in your ironing board’s bedroom. It’s not all very well two months later, when you’ve voluntarily imprisoned yourself inside a delicious artisan meat cocoon.

As I explore exquisitely in The Human Freelancer book, working alone at home for extended periods of time isn’t very good for your sanity or success.

For the price of an hour or two’s work you can buy yourself some healthier time amongst people in a coworking space. There you’ll make colleagues without the politics and open up new opportunities for collaboration, sympathy and simple, healthy chat.

Don’t bother paying for a course

I wrote another chapter about this in The Human Freelancer book. It basically says you have the right to call yourself whatever you like.

I’m not talking about pretending to be a doctor or judge or anything because that’ll get you in lots of trouble. This is more like a warning. Because it’s tempting, when you begin freelancing, to go hunting for courses to make yourself feel better about ‘not being qualified’.

I say just go for it.

Learn as you go along, if you’re not entirely sure how to do something. Paying money for a course won’t fix your lack of confidence. Getting on and mastering something will.

Most freelancers I know learn on the job anyway: when a client asks you to do something it usually involves lots of other little bits you wouldn’t usually know how to do. So you go and take a look at whatever it is and weigh up whether it’s worth having a crack at. You do it, then chalk it up on your little list of success stories.

Like most of these mistakes, paying for a training course is just another costly substitute for your lack of confidence. Throwing money at the problem might feel like you’re fixing it. Unfortunately though, you’re not. It’s something which only comes with maturing at your own pace, and it’s something you can’t buy. And when you’re a fledgling freelancer with low income, that’s money you could do with prioritising for food and shelter, until you become more established.

You’re not really a dickhead

Making mistakes is unavoidable. In fact, it’s definitely crucial to your development. So ignore everything I’ve written. I should know because I’ve made four out of five of the ones listed above. I only narrowly avoided the final one because I couldn’t bear the thought of some preachy smugfuck telling me how to run my business.

That’d be annoying, wouldn’t it?

The Human Freelancer book

LOOK! There's a book full of this shit and more!

Self-help business books perpetuate the myth that success is relentless growth and more of everything means progress. They preach about bookkeeping and market research: things you might need to do of course. But let’s face it they’re fucking boring.

The Human Freelancer book is your antidote: stuffed full of emotional support and insightful advice for vulnerable newbies to self-employment like you.

Buy it now