Lauren Bowden, head of FinTech Content Marketing, reflects on following her heart and landing on her feet…
It is coming up to 18 months since I took the plunge and left full time employment to start freelancing. Unable to mentally and physically continue along the corporate path that I thought I was destined to walk, it almost felt like I was in free-fall when I left. It was weird, scary, and completely alien to me. I have been an employee of a company – whether that’s a dry cleaner, an IT helpdesk, or a multinational corporate – since I was 15.
What the hell was I thinking?
My descent into panic was in full flow. That was until I met up with my first ‘proper’ boss, mentor and all round great mate Sam Howard. Meandering around Regent’s Park with her delightful dog Dill on a lovely early summer’s day. Off-loading my stress, sharing war stories and catching up on RuPaul’s Drag Race (as you do), it emerged that Sam could have a spot for me in her Crowd.
I quickly realised the opportunity. The freedom of a freelance life with the stability of a trusted team handling a stream of sterling clients, and still able to pay the bills? Obviously, I grabbed it with both hands.
Next task was to find out where I fit. My most recent role as content marketer meant that I was five years out of the journo-PR loop, so I was no use there. I touched analyst relations extremely lightly, mainly as cover for a colleague on maternity leave – also roughly five years ago. No good there either.
Having already made the biggest leap in my career so far, I decided to stick with that approach and dive head-first into wherever I could be of use. That turned out to be as a writer. Who knew? Well, me, a bit. I have always enjoyed writing. And there was obviously plenty of writing throughout both my PR and Marketing jobs. But to be positioned as ‘the writer’ was a little daunting, to say the least.
Confidence with my new moniker started to build soon enough. Compliments from discerning clients, minimal edits from some of the best writers I have ever worked with. And then the clincher.
A psychometric test from Comms Crowd client Capp revealed, from assessment of strengths, skills, preferences, cognitive ability, personality, values and experience and using 100m+ data points, revealed that out 60 potential ‘types’, top of the list was, yep you guessed it…a writer.
Specifically, it told me that:
“You enjoy writing, finding a deep fulfilment in writing things for others to read. You have a natural ability to communicate through writing. The act of writing helps you to clarify your thoughts, so you write clearly and easily. Use wisely – you are likely to get pleasure from all types of writing – even emails!”
Overall, I would say that has been my experience over the last year and a half. Obviously, I have had my fair share of writer’s block, and I have come down to the wire with deadlines more than once. Luckily, I have also been extremely privileged to have interesting clients and incredible proof-readers/sub-editors to help me through it.
It’s also not all been writing. I have continued to create ‘content’ as part of the Crowd and my own clients. Yes, the other C-word that may as well be a swear word these days. I stand with friend-of-the-Crowd Ian Truscott’s view on this, as outlined in his excellent blog: “If you are managing a content process, it’s no different if the piece of content is a PDF datasheet, a YouTube “how-to” video, a set of instructions, or a blog post. It’s a unit of content traveling along a content supply chain from creator to consumer that should be optimised.”
Of course, I can’t be as involved in the strategic plans as I was client-side, but I have been able to use that experience to advise on content marketing pieces across all phases of the sales cycle. And I’ve loved it.
What I have figured out is whatever label we attach to what we do – whether it’s the written word in a thought leadership piece, audio in a podcast, visuals in an infographic – what it comes down to is good story telling delivered in the right place at the right time. That is what the Crowd do best. And I am thrilled to be a part of it.
Sam Howard set up our virtual PR agency six years ago, and the business model is now gaining in popularity, so the demand for freelance comms proffesionals is out there. But just because you can freelance doesn’t mean you should. Here are her top tips for determining if you would be happy as a freelance PR:
Reasons to go Freelance: 1, 2, 3…
Because you want to – not because you don’t want to do something else
1) You actully want to freelance – sounds obvious but don’t do it just as the lesser of two evils or because you can’t find a ‘proper’ job, or because you think you will make way more money than you do now.
In my view, going freelance so you can hope to work every hour of every day to make loads of money is a guaranteed formula to make yourself utterly miserable.
Sam Howard dispenses some sage advice to would-be freelancers. Or, how to pitch a pitcher…
The Comms Crowd has been growing recently our little team has just about hit double figures and what a fab little team we are. I knew from the get go when each person got in touch that they would be a great fit for us, our culture and our clients.
But over the years I have been contacted by quite a few individuals hoping to join the gang and not all of them made such a brilliant first impression.
Here’s my top five mistakes to avoid when pitching your freelance services:
1) Telling me (in some detail) how much you hate your 9 – 5. Firstly I’m not that interested, secondly we don’t do negativity in pitches EVER, thirdly it demonstrates no commitment to freelance.
2) Telling me how (in more detail) you can’t get any real work and you’re desperate. Freelancing is real work and desperation doesn’t smell so good.
3) Clearly not understanding what we do, who we are and who we work for. We are B2B tech ergo if you are not B2B tech it’s not a good fit, honestly. Sending me some vanilla pitch about my ‘organisation’ has me lost at organisation.
4) Not demonstrating you have the four core skills: client management, content production, media or analyst relations, social media management. The rest is neither here nor there. And by demonstrating I mean send me a link to something you’ve written, send me coverage, show me a channel that you run…
5) Taking too long to tell me anything at all – this is a pitch right?
Truly if you can’t pitch yourself, how in the hell you gonna pitch our clients? (Can I get an Amen?)
Meanwhile, succinct, compelling and personable pitches that demonstrate your commitment to the freelance faith, map well to the Comms Crowd and showcase your in-demand skills will just have me dashing for that welcome mat.
Our new content creator, and sax enthusiast, Sandra Vogel looks at the attributes you need to sustain a freelance life.
Freelancing doesn’t suit everybody, but it sure suits me. I’ve been freelance for 20 years, and I can’t imagine working any other way. But it’s not for everyone. You know those buzzwords – highly motivated, self-starter, flexible attitude. Well, they apply to freelancing bigtime.
Highly motivated. Um – yep. Motivated to sit at the computer when the sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view, and yet there’s a deadline to meet, a client call to take, and a couple of pitches to get in before you can even think of heading out that door. Well, that’s one way of looking at ‘highly motivated’. And there are times when it most certainly applies.
But there are other ways to look at motivation. I’m motivated to make as much as I can of the free time I have. That means that there are times when I can – and do – drop everything and get outside on a weekday to have some fun. The trick is keeping that motivation in line with working. Now that does take a certain personality type. It’s the type who can manage their time well, not over-filling it, not being too ambitious about what can be achieved in a given couple of hours, and making sure that time is allocated to fun as well as to work.
If that means being motivated to work on a Saturday morning in order to free up a Thursday afternoon, so be it.
Self-starter. People often see this as synonymous with the motivational thing, but in fact it is different. A self-starter just gets on with stuff. They’re the opposite of the procrastinator who always looks for reasons NOT to do things. The procrastinator says ‘Oh, I won’t write this blog today, because I’ve got a slot in the diary tomorrow’. The self-starter says ‘if I write this blog today then that diary slot tomorrow will stay free, and I can do something fun in that time.’
The self-starter has initiative and they make things happen. Importantly they don’t walk away when things get difficult. That’s a really important personality trait for anyone who wants to freelance. There’s no manager sitting nearby to provide feedback that you’re doing OK, or give pointers if you’re not doing OK. You just have to figure it out.
Being a self-starter shows itself in all kinds of things, not just hunkering down to tasks that are in the diary. It also applies to bigger picture stuff like hunting down new potential clients, following up possible work leads, even having a view of the universe and where you want to be in it – then working out how to get there.
But being a self starter also means doing things that might not feel very exciting, but that nobody else can do for you. There’s nobody around me to say ‘Sandra, I think it’s time you filed your tax return and updated your CV’. But when these things have to be done, they have to be done.
Flexible attitude. I’d say this is a vital attribute for any freelancer. I’m a pretty controlled kind of person. I like checklists, and I like to have things planned out. Most days I sit down to work knowing what’s going to happen during the day. I like to have my week planned out to a fairly fine degree too. Fridays are importantly different from the other days of the week. I don’t like having meetings on a Friday and I usually have no work at all scheduled after noon. The last work thing I do on a Friday is plan the following week.
How is that flexible? Well, while the aim is to take Friday afternoon off, it’s also ‘available’. So, Friday afternoon is a bucket that work can slip into if necessary. It might slip into the bucket because schedules have overrun, because a client has come up with something for me to do on a short deadline, or because Wednesday afternoon was beautiful and I went out for a bike ride, pushing everything in the diary ahead half a day.
One of the companions to having a flexible attitude is being relaxed and able to handle stress. A freelancer has to be good at that. There are often multiple demands on my time, and only I can decide the best way to resolve them. So, when two clients want something done right now and I have to negotiate a way through that, I need to be calm and considered. When my computer decides to give up working and I’ve not got a spare around, I just have to handle it. When something comes up that takes me away from work unexpectedly, I need to be able to handle both the work and the out of work situation equally well.
Like I said at the start freelancing isn’t for everyone. But if the cap does fit, it’s a great way to make a living. I’ve worked with some wonderful people (and my current Comms Crowd colleagues are among the best of all), done work I’ve really enjoyed, and spent more weekday afternoons in the cinema than I probably have a right to. What’s not to like?
Simona Cotta Ramusino shares lessons learned from her first year as a freelance PR and digital marketing consultant:
So it’s already been a year since I took the plunge into freelancing and it’s certainly been a crazy, scary, and self-rewarding time for me. As the summer approached, I remember starting off tentatively, double-double-double checking every email I was about to send out and running every action past Sam. But after a few weeks I found my feet …and my voice. As I started working with different clients and different accounts, I rediscovered the real me, a more confident “me” who could take an active role in new prospects’ meetings, could produce good writing, and could come up with interesting suggestions for her clients without being scared of saying the wrong thing.
1. Its Ok to be scared: being scared helped me to look at different options and opportunities; it helped me focus on the job; and, because it doesn’t come natural to me, it forced me to go out there and look for some local networking events.2. Find a good accountant: you won’t believe how important this is when you start off. S/he will help you:
- Decide whether you want to set up a Limited company or be a sole trader – there are different tax implications here depending on what type of business you are in, who you are going to work with etc so ask friends if they can recommend anyone or look on LinkedIn;
- Set up the Company for you;
- Recommend contacts for opening a business bank account;
- Set you up with accounting software or spreadsheets for recording your accounts
- Advise you on business expenses;
- Do your financial year end accounts:
- Recommend a pension advisor.
3. Set up a healthy and comfortable office space: again, from experience (back aches, neck aches, colds) it is important that you have a good size desk, not too close to a radiator and not too close to draughts; if possible, do invest in a laptop stand and a second monitor, (I found it free through a local company that was refurbishing their offices… you’d be surprised what gets thrown away). And if things are going well after a year, reward yourself with a new laptop.
4. Learn from your mistakes: like in any job, things sometimes don’t go to plan and when this happens as a freelancer you feel the blow even more. When this happened to me, I was able to look at why this situation had occurred and what could have been done differently. This has helped me take a different, customised approach for each of my clients, as each operates differently.
5. Be prepared to work on weekends or when other family members are on holiday. The myth that freelancers can take days off when they want it is not true. Especially at the beginning, you must be prepared to work long hours, be idle in the middle of the day and work late evenings. But…it is definitely a rewarding day – and that for me is what matters.
Digital marketing Pro, Simona Cotta Ramusino advises on how to manage interruptions when you work from home.
Before working as a freelancer, I spent over 10 years in various PR agencies where time keeping was an essential skill. You often had to juggle more than one client at once and more than one task a day and only had a certain amount of hours each day so a good time management was important in order to be productive and efficient on clients’ accounts. I have always prided myself on being a good timekeeper, being able to multi-task and on delivering work on time. But things changed a little bit when I took the plunge into freelancing and not through any fault of mine!
I want to share this with you – freelancers and freelancers-to-be – because you will experience this in some shape or form and particularly at the beginning of your new career.
Time management as a freelancer becomes more difficult because…people (and I mainly mean friends and family) don’t think you are working. They don’t really know what you do but they think you are at the computer for a couple of hours and then you do housework or food shopping or go to the gym (which I do but early morning or during my lunch break). Sounds familiar? This leads them to ask if you can go over for a coffee in the afternoon, or babysit or call you for a mid-morning chat.
So although I may have a strict work routine to be at my desk for 9.00, have a lunch break and be finished for 18.00 following normal office hours, other people don’t and that’s how my time management goes out of the window and ‘external sources’ disrupt my day. And because they are family or friends it is hard to say “I’m working, go away” without sounding rude. But you have to. The sooner you do that, the better. And stick to it. You will be hated for a bit but it will be your saving grace in the long run.
I have the added challenge that my husband also often works from home and Ihave to admit, we did have quite a few ‘discussions’ when I first started freelancing. Now, if either of us doesn’t want to be disturbed (even if it is “Just for a coffee”, “Just for a second…”, “Just…”), we close our office door. I know we both mean well when we interrupt each other but from my side I don’t want to spend an hour on the same sentence when I am writing something and get interrupted many times (“What do you want for lunch?” “When do you want lunch?” “What should we do for dinner?”…etc). One could say that if you were in an office you would get interrupted anyway but a colleague wouldn’t come near you if they saw you madly typing on your laptop and if they did, you can ask them to come back later and they wouldn’t think that was rude. And so should your family and friends.
So my advice is: treat your freelance working time as if you were in an office. Be diligent and respectful about it so that your family and friends will be too. Whether you work from 7.00 to 15.00, 10.00 to 18.00, or 12.00 to 19.00, that is business time. Like in any agency, at the end of the day your timesheets should show how hard you have worked that day.
Sharing this recent article from PR Moment to which I also contributed, Ref Brexit, can’t speak for the rest of the industry but my crew of freelancers have never been busier. In an uncertain market, you need to make sure your PR budget is is invested in PR talent, not a nice reception area.
From newest member of the team, digital marketing diva – Simona Cotta Ramusino
Reality has finally hit. I have updated my LinkedIn profile with my new job title so it must be true: I am a PR And Digital Marketing Freelancer.
After 20 years of working for top class agencies and in-house marketing departments of international brands I have decided to take the plunge into freelancing. Making the decision to go freelance was a scary moment and I am just beginning to get to grips with my new status. It is something that, in just a short period of time, I have already come to appreciate and enjoy and won’t change my mind any time soon. Why? Well you need to know how I got into freelancing.
It’s really thanks to Sam.
Sam and I worked together a few years ago, and one of her talents back then was the ability to read people’s strengths and personalities and make it work well within a team. When I asked Sam for advice on whether I should join her band of freelancers she knew my type well: I am not a risk taker, I am someone who always has to think things through, always needs to have a Plan B (or C or D). So Sam not only laid out the naked truth about the freelance world but she also made sure I didn’t have too much time to think over the cons the new path would entail and got me straight to work as part of the Comms Crowd gang.
The “plunge” came with an important life lesson. As I started reconnecting and talking to previous colleagues, they all agreed it was a great career move for me, some even wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner. It surprised me. They knew more about me, about my skills and talent than I did. At the end it was their support and comments that gave me that final push and made me realise it was indeed a career change, it wasn’t something temporary, something I could do in my spare time or just as I was looking for something else. It was my new job title.
To answer my initial question on why I wouldn’t change being a freelancer this is because it lets me use all the communications skills I have learned through the years and apply them for a variety of clients that an agency wouldn’t even have on their books. I also feel it has elevated me professionally and it is giving me so much satisfaction, both professionally and personally. Because the relationships I establish with my clients seem to be more on a par, the recognition I receive for my work feels more personal and genuine.
So while some people may decide to go down the freelance route because they want a better work/life balance or be their own boss, for me these are just by-products. Freelancing means doing what you do best and enjoying it!
Never lose sight of why you went freelance. It’s all too easy to constantly be hunting down your next job, but the people (and animals) you love are right here, waiting for you to switch off that laptop.
So I’m comparing tans and my friend and the puny one says, ‘So how come you keep taking all these holidays?’
’Cos my boss said I could.’ I smirk.
My pithy repost was met with a sigh of exasperation.
Obviously what my mate meant was, ‘So how on earth do you manage both to afford and to maintain client service levels when you are away for much of the summer and you are just a humble freelancer and therefore at everyone’s beck and call 365 days a year?’
But one of the main reasons I went freelance was to get closer to a good work/life balance. And I’m guessing that’s why you did too and spending time with the people that matter most is a big part of that. I can’t imagine you turned freelance to earn loads of money – so once the bills are paid, ‘affording’ to take time off is really just a matter of priorities. New bike, or a cycling holiday? New wardrobe, or a tan? It does help that I usually share the work I have got, so it’s easy enough to ask one of the collective to be at the end of the line if a client needs urgent advice while I’m away.
Some freelancers just enslave themselves to their desks due to lack of faith, both in their own worth and the proverbial uncertainty of the future, rather than any real concrete reason. Do your best the rest of the year to look after a good client and a good client will look after you – afterall who needs a bad client
It should be remembered that the proverbial lament of the self-employed, ‘If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.’ Can be flipped on its head to also mean, ‘If I’m ok with not getting paid, I can take time off.’
So this year I did.
Time off in search of half term sunshine on a farm in Greece, country house coddling in Snowdonia, armed with a dongle, we holed up in Devon for weeks, and then went quite AWOL on a vast eating tour of Puglia with the annual 50 miles trek around another bit of the Cornish Coast to get back into all our clothes.
Ok so the blogging, the marketing, the banking, and the admin, the networking, the reading, erm they are in need of tending – but the clients and I are back on track and the house hasn’t been repossessed, theres plenty of time for filing when it’s cold.
Take Sam Howard’s festive freelance quiz to find out. Tot up how many of these apply to you:
1. If you spend longer than six minutes getting ready of a morning, you consider yourself to be ‘faffing’.
2. When it comes to the three minute lunch break, soup bowls seem an unnecessary middle man, and are no longer required.
3. It never occurred to you before, but now, instead of religiously visiting the salon every six weeks, cos you’re so worth it – every so often, you just yank your hair into a big ponytail and lop off the top bit with the bacon scissors.
4. Your City client asks for an 8.30am briefing and you have jet lag for the rest of the day.
5. You get a pair of sheepskin house boots to keep your tootsies warm all winter long, spending over a hundred quid on what are effectively a pair of uggly slippers.
6. When asked what are doing at the weekend you look at people blankly, then reply, ‘working’ I mean what else would you do?
7. Next bank holiday, instead of gallivanting off on a City break, you’re going to re-grout the kitchen tiles as they are looking really grubby – funny you never noticed that when you had a proper job and was out of the house for 60 hours a week.
8. Your City high heels haven’t seen daylight for six months and when you do eventually try them out, you now walk with less grace than a lad in a frock on a stag do.
9. You catch up with a City friend. She regales you with tales of ridiculous internal politics, bodacious power plays and incompetent bosses – but all you can contribute is that the dog ate your Amazon parcel this morning.
10. Dress down Friday has become dress up Friday as that’s the day you go to the supermarket.
If you scored:
5 or less: It’s too late for me, but you must save yourself, book in for a weekend spa retreat, a full make over and hire a personal shopper, so no one need ever know what happened here.
6 and more: Consider yourself utterly unemployable and welcome to our world – we are your people now.