The twenty-something years are a funny thing. For me, they split into two clear parts with an OMG-what-am-I-doing bit in between. The first half was spent focusing mainly on my degree and the bubble that is University, with no real concept of what came afterwards. Then I panicked in the middle about the fact that I was getting closer to 30 and now I’m realising that a lot of stuff you do in the first bit doesn’t turn out the way you expect. When I posted about my career journey so far it got a great response and I wanted to follow it up with something helpful. It’s so tricky to get advice and guidance once you’ve finished studying and most of the time you have to just muddle through without any sort of strategy. I recently attended a Freelance Accelerator course put on by Camden Collective and it filled in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge perfectly, as well as serving as some kind of therapy in places. We had successful entrepreneurs and sole traders come in to chat to us, anything from app developers to the forthright Alex Proud. It was one of the most eye-opening weeks I’ve had in a while and I’m excited to share what I’ve learnt, time to pay it forward and all that!
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Basically, it’s all about your numbers. You need to know exactly what’s coming in, what you need to save for tax and what you’re spending on a daily basis. I have a weird relationship with money. My sensible side tries to always have savings, as running out and having to ask for help would be my worst nightmare. I can be cautious about the long term, but when I get paid? Well, there’s probably going to be an ASOS order, a new hairstyle and a few days until I realise I’ve gone way over my non-existent budget. Add to that the fact that I like to bury my head in the sand and leave my taxes to the last minute and you have a very confused system indeed. It may only take a detailed spreadsheet or some snazzy accounting software like Wave, but it’s important to keep an eye on all things financial. Denial doesn’t help anyone!
It’s not about that Kardashian Life
Take the hours you think you need to work and double them (ish). You probably won’t have a day off or a holiday where you can completely switch off for a while. The thing is, it’s quite easy to coast as an employee but when you’re hunting for your own dollar, you’re only accountable to yourself. In terms of what I do (Internet odd-job-woman), I’ll need to always be on-the-ball, changing, adapting and trying to figure out what’s next. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, the moment it all stops being enjoyable I’ll have to reassess things, but I think it’s good to be driving my own career forward.
Be a little bit awkward
I’ve not really been the best at networking in the past and that’s probably because I didn’t want to get out of my comfort zone of lurking in corners or chatting to people I already know over cupcakes. The tip? People love to talk about themselves. If you spot a stylist whose work you’ve always admired, don’t be afraid to go over and compliment something they’re wearing (be genuine of course) or a recent shoot they’ve worked on. Ask them about it. Be so awkward that they can’t say no to a quick chat, but also back it up by being funny, witty and personable. Work out the moment that they’re thinking ‘I need to leave this situation’ and make sure you get a business card, number or whatever else you may need. Follow it up after a non keen-bean amount of time and be memorable. It takes time to build a network of people that you’re passionate about and want to work with but it can happen.
There are some great apps and resources that can really help. I’ve been using Trello to build lists within lists recently and I love the flexibility. I think that’s where I’d been going wrong, buying pretty notepads but forever having to cross things out. I need to be able to constantly update and add to things, I tend to figure things out on a board that’s split into ‘March 2015’, ‘April-June 2015’, ‘Doing’, ‘Blocked’, ‘Done’ and ‘Icebox’ (things you want to do eventually). I can then use my desk planner or any diary for general day-to-day tasks. I also want to try and use Toggl, which can help you work out how much time you’re spending on something, plus Freelancer and 99 Designs for outsourcing various tasks.
Act like the person you want to be
You will need to have confidence and self belief. I know, I’m probably the worst person to ask about this, since I’m the Queen of fretting and doubting myself. Instead, you have to attempt to distance yourself from any negative thoughts and be your own PR machine. Believe in your skills and your worth. Most of the advice you get is never concrete in terms of what to charge or how to act if someone doesn’t pay, but you need to stay strong and carry on regardless.
Keep Calm & Carry On
With all of this constant career-building and plotting comes a need to look after what’s going on inside. Being a freelancer relies on being in tip-top condition, there’s no sick pay and you are your most valuable asset. You need to have the right mindset and deal with situations without breaking down. My personality means that I’m prone to over-thinking things, so I’ve been advised to take up meditation, get a desk space and find a proper way to organise my thoughts. Essentially I’m selling myself (not in that way, mind) and since so much of what I do is linked to my emotions and personality, it’s important to keep things in check.
Even though I have the odd daydream about winning the lottery, I’ve realised that money isn’t everything. Being freelance can be so rewarding, you want to enjoy what you do for a living and even the sacrifices are still worthwhile. I listened to a few who were probably making as much as they did in full-time employment (or sometimes less), but were able to devote time to passion projects, create new things or just be more flexible with holidays. It’s all about reassessing what you want from life.
Sorry if this is full of clichés, but they’re pretty much true in this case! I know a lot of you may be working full-time and wondering how this can relate to your situation, but I think it may be a good idea to think like a freelancer regardless. Wherever you work, you’re still an individual with a unique viewpoint and set of skills, so always be thinking about the next step. I’ve not been strategic in the past and made plenty of mistakes but I’ve realised that it’s okay not to have everything sorted. We’re living in more flexible times and you can change paths if you want to. This free course has definitely been the kick I needed. For so long I was worried about what others were doing and whether I should be doing the same or trying to figure out what my equivalent was. I may only have two and a bit years of my twenties left, but I’m definitely going to try and make the most of them and make up for all of the time I spent being indecisive. I always did tend to leave things until the last minute, better late than never!