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

Three coffees imageIt’s been a month of birthdays…

In addition to this very blog turning 5-years-old very recently, on 7th May my freelance business – morganonlinemarketing.co.uk – reaches its 3rd birthday.

Way back in 2013, only a mere 3 months after taking the plunge, I wrote a post titled 3 Things I’ve Learnt 3 Months Into Self-Employment. 33 months later, I wanted to pass on 3 more things I’ve discovered now that I have a longer-term view of freelancing life, and I also thought that it might be interesting to revisit the initial 3 things I blogged about – to see if they’re just as true/more true/less true – now that a whole bunch of time has passed…

3 Things I’ve Learnt 3 Years On

Alrighty then… Let’s go.

1) You can’t say “yes” to everything

As you’ll see below (or here), the #1 of my original ‘3 Things’ was also about saying “yes” – but it was from the other person’s perspective. This time it’s about me saying yes.

You often hear the common wisdom that is to “say yes to everything.” A guy I know and look up to on the Cardiff entrepreneurship scene admitted to me that he follows this course, saying yes to absolutely everything/anything that comes his way and never turning anything down.

But you know what? That’s borderline foolish. (Sorry person-referenced-above-who-I-have-now-insulted…)

Because when you say yes to something, you could be saying “no” to something else.

So while you can say yes to everything, you probably shouldn’t. Our time is finite, so if you agree to do something and it takes x hours to do, you can’t save or reuse those hours on something else (unless you sacrifice time from something else, such as time spent on a hobby, with family/friends, or sleeping). What if you say yes to something good, but then something great comes along, and you can’t do the great thing because you’re busy doing the good thing? That would suck, wouldn’t it?

You have to be careful about what you choose to do and not just say yes to things willy-nilly. It may seem harsh and even cruel to say no to certain things, but you have to be careful and tactical with your time.

I certainly feel like I’m getting better at this, especially in the past year or so.

2) Do away with distractions

Early on in my freelancing career, I was a moderator for Inbound.org for a time. I took to the moderating quite obsessively, upsetting some people in the process (but that’s a whooole other story…!), before quitting for good. While I was doing it though, I noticed that I was doing it a lot. To touch upon the above point, our time is finite. I could’ve spent that time differently – especially in the early days of freelancing.

I don’t regret it too much though. The whole upsetting-people thing aside, I made a lot of great contacts and friends in the SEO industry while I was living and breathing Inbound.org, and it helped to get my name out there. Hell, I’ve not contributed on there for years and yet I’m still in their Top 50 all-time members as I type this, hah!

…But at the same time, it wouldn’t have helped with sales or client acquisition, at a time when that was absolutely crucial to focus on. Obviously I did ok in the end (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this!) but it might’ve been a much smoother ride if it’d been distraction-free.

So, if you’ve got any distractions in your life, try and put them to one side. (He says, still absolutely obsessed with Twitter… We’ve all gotta have at least one vice, right? Right.)

3) The community around you is so, so important

I harp on about them all the time (most likely to the point of causing boredom and sickness), but I love Welsh ICE more than I can explain. The coworking space and startup community just outside Cardiff has been pivotal to my freelancing success.

When I first looked into coworking, I thought it consisted of just three things: a desk, coffee, and WiFi. Oh and I knew that I’d go stir-crazy it I worked from home all day everyday, spending every waking minute talking to my cats. But there’s been much more to it than that: I’ve had support from members (whether it be dedicated mentoring sessions or a simple pick-your-brains moment with someone who’s been-there-and-done-it); I’ve networked with members; members have passed on referrals to prospective clients; members have become clients (including the space itself!); I’ve hired members to do things for me; we’ve collaborated on projects together; and so on. I’ve also made a bunch of friends up there (aww).

I’ve read (well, listened to) quite a few books recently, and most of them have said that you need to surround yourself with positive people and not negative people. Places like ICE aren’t perfect for sure, and I don’t get on with absolutely everyone (because life just ain’t that perfect), but there’s certainly more of the former than the latter. And their on-going support has been really important to me.

The Original 3 – Revisited

As mentioned in the intro to this post, I wanted to reflect on my original 3 from the previous post of this nature back in 2013. Here we go…

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

I still get this a lot, especially when it comes to client acquisition. I had a spate of them last summer – a lot of people wanting to hire me for SEO and sending me emails and having meetings and getting a proposal and etc. etc. – only for them not to convert into actual work. Now I completely admit that it could’ve been my fault (I could’ve been bad on the sales side of things in those instances), but I think it’s more accurate that they were never serious enquiries to begin with…

You see the problem with SEO is that everyone wants it, and everyone wants to know more about it, but very few are willing to actually pay for it. That’s why people are happy to say yes (to a meeting) but not actually say yes (to working together). This is dangerous, because ultimately my time has been used up (and dare I say “wasted”) with nothing to show for it.

It’s just something to be careful about. Watch out for the non-serious, “I just wanna have a chat” enquirers.

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

Hahaha… This was especially true in my first few months, but it’s still fairly true even now.

I admire fellow Cardiffian SEO Tom Buckland for talking transparently about his financials in his early days of freelancing. I had a very, very similar beginning – even though my estimates were fairly reasonable and conservative, I made a lot less than I’d expected to.

Even about a year ago I had a ‘loss’ month, where I had an expensive month on the expenses front but also a quieter-than-usual workload. So it still happens even now. I hit the sales pretty hard (as documented in this post) and bounced back, but it was a little worrisome for a time.

Workload (and therefore income) can often take a course of peaks and troughs, so the goal is to balance it and flatten it out as much as possible. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m close. Maybe I’ll never get it 100% right, but the closer I get the better.

3) I’m 100x happier

Yep. Still true. Even despite a long term legal battle.

…Enough said!

So there we are. Maybe in 27 years’ time I can do a “3 Decades” post. We’ll see… 🙂

[Three coffees image credit – Daniel Bell]


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  • Richard Hale

    July 11, 2016 at 6:43 am Reply

    Hey Steve.

    Great to read about you and read some articles on your journey. These are all good tips, I can relate to everyone of them. Personally, saying “no” was always tough for me, I even have to remind myself years later. Community is important, relationships are important. Especially in our SEO and Marketing niche. I started following you on Twitter, really sincerely enjoyed reading your articles this early “AM” in the states. And I look forward to reading more.

    • Steve

      July 11, 2016 at 7:25 am Reply

      Thanks Richard. Glad it’s not just me on the “no” front then! 🙂 Sometimes I feel like I say it less now than I did 3 years ago (ironically)…!

  • […] posted on anniversaries before (here’s the links to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd years), but this time I just wanted to say a few thank you’s to people who have helped me […]

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