Advice — How to get a freelance career off to a flying start: Naomi Oluyele on everything from personal branding to getting paid
After leaving her full-time job last year, London-based communications consultant Naomi Oluleye has become an advocate for independent working. Here she describes why it’s a good time to go freelance if you’re considering it – especially in the world of advertising and marketing – and how to get off to a great start.
There has definitely been a shake-up in industry over the last couple of years. More brands want to work with a trusted partner who understands their business, but increasingly they don’t necessarily want to commit to binding contracts. Most recently, Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard called for an end to the “archaic Mad Men model”, a comment which signalled a break away from longterm agency-client relationships.
Innovation and disruption has led to brands looking for quick and nimble solutions. One way they’re doing this is by working with more freelancers who can add value through specialist knowledge. In addition, they are choosing to work with ‘agencies of the future’, who bring different creatives together to execute a client brief – acting as a freelance network. Examples of these include Platform 13, Founded by Leila Fataar, and Wolfpie, founded by ex-account woman at Wieden+Kennedy, Lara Chapple.
Through an event series I run, ‘The Power of Quitting’ – which champions the benefits of going freelance – I have definitely noticed that the main thing that holds people back from going freelance is fear. They might not feel they have the skills to do so, but it’s all rooted in confidence, courage and embracing failure. With this in mind, here are my top tips for getting off to a good start as a freelancer:
If you don’t promote yourself, no one’s going to find you. Invest time into making a bit of a personal marketing plan, whether that’s creating a website, scheduling a monthly newsletter, or updating your social media with your latest work.
But also, don’t be disheartened: In the age of social media it’s tempting to get worried about not having traction and likes, but the most important thing is to post what feels right, and that people see it.
Do invest in a website so that people can look you up, and set aside time to keep it updated. You might think your achievements are small, but they are probably much bigger and more significant to your progress than you think.
Build a personal brand
In a crowded and oversaturated market, you need to stand out from the crowd. Why should someone choose you over another freelancer? It’s good to do the research and look at people who inspire you. What do you like about they way they present themselves, and how might you reflect that in your own brand?
Explore which channels best suit you and a potential audience. Instagram might be really good if you’re a designer, and for someone like me, LinkedIn is also a useful tool, as I do a lot of B2B [business-to-business] work.
Decide what you want to communicate, how often and be consistent across all channels. That might be making sure all handles are the same, posting regularly or selecting the right images.
“If you don’t promote yourself, no one’s going to find you.”
Find like minds (aka network!)
Most of your work is likely to come from word-of-mouth recommendations, so it’s important to get yourself out there and talk about what you’re up to. Networking can be intimidating, so I always think it’s best to go into it with a purpose. Ask yourself why are you going to an event, and who you want to meet. Give yourself a goal to meet three people and give them your business card. It helps to do some research beforehand, to work out who you’re interested in getting to know.
It might seem scary but do introduce yourself to new people; you never know what it can lead to. And utilise your network, too; I’ve had so many conversations with friends of friends that have led to client work.
Get your finances in order
It’s advisable to set aside some savings before going freelance. This will increase the chances of taking on work for the right reasons, rather than for fear of money drying up.
I wasn’t at all financially savvy when I started out, but I really sought to teach myself. Luckily there are lots of great resources out there. Gov.uk has some incredibly useful videos and tutorials on things like whether you should set up as a sole trader or limited company. I also read a lot of books and articles about finances, as well as joining a supportive Facebook group on the matter!
I’d also recommend getting an accountant. It does cost money but it also saves you in the long run. I’d also advise following the 50-20-30 rule: 50% of your income goes towards essentials (like bills and rent); 30% on flexible spending (lifestyle extras); 20% into savings and reinvestment.
Take care of yourself
It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s true that when you first go out on your own it can feel lonely. Your mindset is really important, so I personally made a routine for myself, setting aside time to meditate and go to the gym every day. I’ve also become more in tune with what stimulates me during the day and how to stay motivated.
Knowing a group of people in the same boat as me also really helps. I have a few friends with their own businesses, so if I’m feeling a bit down I know can pick up the phone and talk to them.
“If your work is slowing down, don’t fret.”
Make sure you’re paid
I would always say to charge for all of the work you do, even when starting out. You don’t want to get into the habit of doing stuff for free. It’s very rarely worth it.
With invoicing, I add payment dates to my invoices and always send reminders for anything that’s late. A good programme for managing your money is financial platform Xero, which is incredibly helpful – especially if you don’t plan on having an accountant.
Use downtime well
If your work is slowing down, don’t fret. I’ve had moments when I wondered what I was going to do next, but then I’ve used that downtime to focus on outreach, marketing and how to develop. This could be updating case studies, refreshing your website or portfolio, arranging meetings, finishing a passion project, evaluating the work you’ve done so far or assessing your rates.
When you have projects on back-to-back, you can easily get stuck in a rat race of constantly working and getting money in. People get scared and think that they might not find another job if they take a month off, but you will. One of the benefits of freelancing is that you have flexibility, so use your time well!