Three years in business: the highs, lows and lessons learned

Self-employment was never planned, it happened by accident when I was made redundant, but three years in, I’m more determined than ever to make it work.

I’m not going to lie, it has been a rollercoaster ride, a mixture of exhilaration and fear.

At the Game Fair in 2019 trying on Emma Drake’s fab hat

Some days I wonder what the hell I’m doing. On others I feel I could conquer the world.

The first year felt like I was stumbling around, succeeding mostly on luck and chance.

In the second year, I had my first major setback, a large retainer came to an end, leaving a big gap in my income.

But it kicked me up the bum to start being more strategic about what I wanted to do and what I wanted my business to look like, which meant marketing myself.

It’s when I started exploring LinkedIn and learning to use it properly.

Putting myself ‘out there’ via LinkedIn posts felt uncomfortable and unnatural. I worried terribly what ‘people’ would think.

I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I’m completely at ease, but I worry about it a lot less.

Another lightbulb moment

Two and a half years in, I had another light bulb moment; this was in part a response to stress and anxiety rearing their ugly heads.

Work was coming in peaks and troughs as I tried to fill the gap left by the retainer. I’d have a few weeks working all hours and feeling extremely stressed; then it would be tumbleweed so a different type of stress.

I wanted to even out the workflow a bit, but I didn’t want a large retainer again, risking all my eggs in one basket.

My idea was to focus on getting smaller chunks of regular work, so I had a base income and time to do ad hoc work on top.

I changed my marketing messaging and CTA. It seems obvious looking back, but it was a revelation at the time.

At the beginning of 2020, my efforts were starting to pay off, and I was in the process of turning business leads into regular writing gigs. Writing an article a month for a client, that sort of thing.

When things went quiet

Then Covid struck, the world shut down and all the regular writing gigs with it.

I had a few bits of work to finish off, which saw me through the first month, but then it went really quiet.

There was never a point when I didn’t have any work, but I had just small bits and bobs.

Meanwhile, on LinkedIn, people were debating whether you should be marketing yourself during a pandemic. My view was ‘yes’ – I have a mortgage to pay.

Naturally, I adjusted the messaging to reflected the strange and difficult times, but I made sure I was visible.

Time to take advantage

But while my workload was lighter I made the most and explored some new business ideas.

I was determined to come out the other side of the pandemic in better business shape than I went into it.

On moderating duties at MIPIM 2019

Zoom and Teams proved a revelation and an opportunity as I moved my training workshops online and got to moderate webinars instead of in-person events.

And my marketing strategy started to pay off. I got more leads and, given the precarious state of the economy, I took on new work gladly.

The result was that by August 2020, I was working weekends again.

It calmed down a little in September, and then just as I was worried about my pipeline again, it went crazy.

The November lockdown, and brief spell out of it in early December, whizzed by in a blur of work.

Hello anxiety my old friend

Too much work again, if I’m honest, and as a result, my old friend anxiety came to visit. Of course, not having taken a break all year didn’t help; I was feeling frazzled.

I made sure I had two weeks off at Christmas.

In the first two years of freelancing, January and February had been busy, primarily because the property industry was gearing up for MIPIM in March.

However, with the show having been postponed, I had no clue what my work pipeline would look like at the start of 2021.

But for the first time, I wasn’t too worried.

The previous few months had shown an appetite for my services despite the tough conditions, and I’d added a whole raft of new clients, which increased the chances of repeat business.

I wasn’t complacent but felt on firmer footing, not least because I had a bit better idea of what I was doing. Only a bit better mind, I still have a lot to learn about being in business.

New clients and work

As it turned out, I had a busy first few months of 2021, more new clients, new types of work and repeat business.

My three-year anniversary passed with a much-needed weeks holiday on the south coast. Taking regular breaks has been a huge lesson learnt.

Last time working in a cafe before Covid closed everything

I start my fourth year with a revamped strategy to rebalance the weighting of the type of work I do. I still want a base of regular work, but I also want to increase the training I do.

Training is something I hugely enjoy; it allows me to use my skills differently. And, in interrogating my skills so I can pass them on, I’m unearthing fresh ideas and opportunities.

To give me another avenue to share knowledge, I have plans to start a podcast.

It’s a medium I hugely enjoy for learning, insight and entertainment and a new avenue for adapting my existing skills.

Working on a new launch

In the Spring, I did a training course with the podcasting guru Lynsay Anne Gould to learn how to make and launch a business podcast.

Before I unleash it on the world, I have a bit more research and planning to do. And OK, there is also a bit of imposter syndrome to tackle.

Getting more comfortable with LinkedIn hasn’t extended to podcasting, unfortunately.

The sense of fulfilment in what I’ve achieved in the past three years is greater than anything I experienced working for a company, which is unexpected.

And that is a big driver to carry on despite the inevitable uncertainty, occasional feelings of loneliness and those moments when I feel overwhelmed by how much I’ve yet to learn.

Here’s to the next three years.

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