3 Things I’ve Learnt 3 Months Into Self-Employment

Cappuccino imageIn early May I took the plunge – I left my full-time job at an agency to do something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time: become self-employed as a fully-fledged, full-time freelance consultant.

Now that it’s early August, it means that I’ve just hit the 3-month mark. My first observation is just how quickly the time has gone (blimey!) but I’ve also learnt a great deal already, which I felt inspired to put into writing.

So here are 3 things I’ve learnt in the first 3 months…

1) People love saying “yes” (but they may let you down)

Fortunately I already have quite a strong network of contacts in South Wales. In fact, the reason I made the leap when I did is simply because I had a fair few people asking me if I did freelance on the side (in addition to my full-time job), but I didn’t. I thought if only a few of those came off, I’d be set. But it was even fewer than I’d expected.

People love to chat. They love to say “yeah, let’s talk about how you can help with our SEO.” Some even say “we’ll definitely use you.” But do they? Nuh-uh.

Whether it’s down to being too polite or excited, being too busy afterwards or simply changing their minds, don’t take statements like that on-board as a done deal. I know that may sound obvious (and that I may sound naΓ―ve for even mentioning it), but if you have a sales conversion rate percentage in mind, lower it. Honestly. You’ll be surprised.

Disclaimer: anyone reading this who I’ve spoken to recently and thinks they fit into this bracket, it’s not a dig at you – it’s more of a dig at myself for so readily assuming that work comes off so easily.

2) Even a realistic financial forecast may not be the reality…

In my second week (mid-May), I took part in GO Wales’ Freelancer Academy, a 5-day course covering all things self-employment (here’s a case study of my experience). The last day saw us present our business/freelance ideas Dragons’ Den style, including giving financial forecast figures for the first year of trading.

I thought mine were pretty realistic. You get these head-in-the-cloud types who say “I plan to make a million pounds on Day 1,” but I realised that the first few months would be quiet work-wise (while I met with people and also sorted out things at my end, such as a logo and a website), so I anticipated and therefore forecast lower amounts.

Even so? Yep, you’ve guessed it… I didn’t hit my targets. Month 2 was great, but Months 1 & 3 were less busy than expected.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. No one can predict the future (that’s why it’s called a forecast!) but even so, if I were to do it again, I’d make my conservative income figures even more conservative… if only by a little.

3) I’m 100x happier

Immediate disclaimer: this is not a dig at any of my former employers. I think I’m simply someone who is happier being self-employed rather than working for someone else, even if it were the best company to work for in the world.

Why? Because I grew up with it. My parents have run their own businesses from home since I was a lad in the single digits, so I saw it all first-hand over many years. I think that’s been a big influence on me.

My advice though? If you’re considering self-employment, just do it! I know it’s often easier said than done, but until you give it a go, you just don’t know…

…Now it’s your turn!

I’d love to know the experiences of anyone reading this who’s also self-employed. How were your first 3 months? Please share your stories in the comments below!

[Image credit: protographer23]

20 Comments

  • Emma

    August 2, 2013 at 8:05 am Reply

    Nice to hear your side of things – seems to be common enough for people who are self-employed to have 100x more happiness, but that feeling of being insecure. I guess it could be compared to going backpacking without a set end date – you’re free and happy, but sometimes there’s struggle to find work or an unexpected bump. I’d love to take a stab at it, but right now I like my security and for now it would be foolish to give it up.

    Happy for you – nice post. Best of luck for the future!

    • Steve

      August 2, 2013 at 8:08 am Reply

      Thanks Emma. πŸ™‚

      That’s a really good way to describe it. In the Freelancer Academy case study (link above), I mention that we did a test to see if security, money, recognition, etc. was the most important thing to us, and for me it was security. Basically if I’m not bringing in enough money to survive, I’m not happy. While I’m still a little way off breaking-even with my initial setup costs and my regular living costs, I’m still happier with the lifestyle and way of working – suits me better, I guess!

  • Jay

    August 2, 2013 at 8:11 am Reply

    Nice article mate, very interesting to hear your thoughts!!!

    One thing that I picked up whilst trying to run things, is that you can’t be all things all of the time….

    Yes, you have to manage a sales pipeline, whilst trying to “actually” provide the services you are offering. But the biggest thing that jumped out for me was, do not be afraid to take advice on other areas. This ensures that you can keep the business ticking over properly, whilst concentrating on bringing in the clients and obviously the money….

    • Steve

      August 2, 2013 at 8:22 am Reply

      YES! Well put, Jay. Sales has always been a difficult area for me and I fear that I’ve become more of a salesman and less of an SEO over the last few months. It can be very difficult balancing/juggling all things while trying to remain good at what you do as an actual service…

  • Mark Hawkins

    August 2, 2013 at 9:24 am Reply

    Having a genuine pipeline of work to relieve the paranoia remains something of a holy grail in my experience, little over 4 years into freelance life. But the upside of being small is that, as well as having the independence, you can usually be nimble and reactive. You can also build or adapt your offering without having to sit through umpteen board meetings – although that doesn’t happen overnight.

    Not a natural sales guy either, I have to keep up the self-promotion and blindly hope my network delivers, despite often lapsing into neurotic worry. It’s surprising how folk in my early career have come back around again when ‘keep in touch’ could sound fairly token before social media. Guess that’s the flip-side of being disappointed by people you might have thought would offer more support.

    There’s a lot to be said for just hanging in there too, holding your nerve and trying not to beat yourself up too much. Having a few quid in savings helps to give some cushion, if the worst comes to the worst.

    Nice post, best of luck with it all.

    • Steve

      August 2, 2013 at 9:43 am Reply

      Hi Mark, thanks for stopping by and for an awesome comment. πŸ™‚ Sounds like we have a lot in common!

      I must agree with you and admit that having savings in the bank has been a Godsend – I made sure I had enough money to tide me by should the worst-case scenario happen: not much work at all to begin with. Fortunately it’s not been that bad but it’s been good knowing that I can still afford to live in the meantime…! πŸ™‚

  • Austin

    August 2, 2013 at 10:05 am Reply

    Well done Steve, its all about Pipeline. I have one client who has been in my pipeline since November last year, we are about to start work now.

    A yes over coffee is never a yes unless you get the paperwork signed πŸ˜‰ Ohh and I know you are super efficient but always have paperwork T&C’s etc..

    BEWARE – projects that dont have a payment but an “interest in the business” !! Or Il pay you commission on sales.

    Collaboration is crucial – meet other SEO agencies, Web Designers and collaborate. The pipeline person above is a referral from the company you used to work for before the last πŸ˜‰

    And if all else fails – Sell links on Fiverr haha

    Austin

    • Steve

      August 2, 2013 at 10:32 am Reply

      All very good points, Austin! πŸ™‚ Especially that one about out-of-the-ordinary payment styles…

      I’ve even had one guy who’s said to me “I only believe in paying you if I get results” – so if I do 100% perfectly but you or your web developer accidentally noindex your whole site – causing a loss of rankings, traffic and results – I won’t get paid? No thanks! πŸ™‚

  • Gareth Daniel

    August 2, 2013 at 10:38 am Reply

    Hi Steve, nice post!

    I have also found all 3 comments to be very much the case, especially your first point, people love to chat and say yes. I call it the nodding dog syndrome, they keep on nodding the yes nod and then they nod the other way after you’ve worked hard on the pitch for a while or they suddenly become un-contactable. I guess that people just find it hard to let us sales guys/freelancers down.

    It’s often hard to judge how much effort and time to put into a pitch before receiving commitment from the customer, I have changed my approach quite a lot because of this and now insist on commitment much earlier on in the sales process.

    Keep up the good work Steve and good luck!

    Gareth

    • Steve

      August 2, 2013 at 10:41 am Reply

      Hi Gareth, that’s a really good point actually. I tend to do a lot of research upfront, mainly because I want to make sure I quote the right amount of time required, the right type of work, etc. I always took it as the nature of the beast – sometimes you put a lot of effort in and nothing happens, while other times you get commitment almost right away. I might have to look at my process so that there’s less damage done if I do a lot of research upfront that doesn’t necessarily lead to anything. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  • Ksenia Dobreva

    August 2, 2013 at 11:50 am Reply

    I think the best thing is that you are really happier. It has nothing to do with money, this feeling cannot be bought.

    Also, you’re a marketing specialist, and I am sure that you will sort all the customer things out. It comes with time, and although it may not be as pleasant as we want it to be, marketing people know how to deal with users and customers in general, and that really helps.
    BTW, I know a lot of people who work in collaboration with freelance account managers, which is also a good idea (though not suitable for those who don’t want to depend on someone at all).

    PS Love your captcha!

    • Steve

      August 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm Reply

      You’re absolutely right there, Ksenia. At least my own marketing has been free! πŸ™‚

      Unfortunately I might have to retire the CAPTCHA – I’ve been told it doesn’t work very well from mobile/tablet devices. Pity!

  • Chris Mcfall

    August 2, 2013 at 4:00 pm Reply

    I went self employed last year, in the first three months the most important lesson I learnt was not to ignore my instincts with a client. Its easy for a pushy client to take advantage of you, so If someone doesn’t seem utterly on the level, get it all in writing, and where possible ask for a deposit. If they are serious it shouldn’t be a problem. Never be afraid to say no, and don’t be afraid to lose out. If they aren’t reasonable then theres a good chance that you aren’t loosing out on a thing. This approach saved my business from a nasty end and within a month I’d won a couple of pretty huge clients.

    • Steve

      August 2, 2013 at 6:43 pm Reply

      Brilliant advice – thanks for contributing, Chris! πŸ™‚

  • Neil Cocker

    August 2, 2013 at 8:11 pm Reply

    Great article, Steve.

    It reminds me of my “one in five” rule, that stops me getting excited about new deals/contracts prematurely.

    It basically boils down to this:

    If you have someone say “Yep, let’s do it”, only one time out of five will it result in a deal. We learned this with the record label in the early days. 80% of amazing licensing deals, getting tracks placed in TV shows, exciting gigs in far-flung places etc etc all withered on the vine before we got the contract.

    One such example included a major label verbally agreeing to a deal so big that one of our artists would have been able to pay off his mortgage. But inevitably it fell through at the very last minute. We hadn’t told the artist, so to this day he doesn’t know!

    • Steve

      August 2, 2013 at 9:04 pm Reply

      That’s a good rule to live by, Neil – think I’m gonna apply it. Shocking about that artist though…!

  • Spook SEO

    August 4, 2013 at 10:23 am Reply

    Hey Steve thanks for sharing. I can relate to you being 100x happier. In fact, I haven’t really met a self employed that isn’t so maybe that’s how things really turn out for self employed people.

    I’ve learned how important emphasizing on repeat business is. Instead of getting as much new clients, I tend to focus more on the existing ones and pitching new services to them. I’d say I’m at 70% pitching new services to current customers and 30% looking for new customers. Its worked out perfect for me though.

  • David Bartlett

    August 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm Reply

    Hi Steve,

    Firstly, we’ll done for getting through 3 months. Next milestone is the 1 year mark.

    I’m really pleased that you’re enjoying the freelance lifestyle. Whilst the money might be different, you’re making a positive lifestyle choice and most people would salute you for that.

    Good to hear your update,

    David Bartlett

    • Steve

      August 7, 2013 at 8:35 pm Reply

      Thank you sir! πŸ™‚

  • Russ

    August 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm Reply

    Hi Steve

    Also remember ongoing support contracts and people buying blocks of your time in advance are the key to sleeping at night.

    I’ve only just learned this lesson. We spent ages chasing the installation contracts like a dog chasing it’s tail!

    Best of luck
    Russ

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