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.

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Self-employment survival in a pandemic

On the first day of lockdown, a year ago, it was the quiet that was most unnerving.

I live in South West London, opposite a small park, and there is always the sound of a ball being kicked or bounced on the sports pitches.

Taken at Megan’s in Clapham the day the first lockdown was announced

An aircraft flying over, a car going by or someone talking loudly on their phone. Even on my relatively unpopulated street.

My neighbourhood had been switched off. But friends and family sprang to life; Zoom calls were organised, regular Whatsapp messages sent to check in on each other.

In contrast, being self-employed, there were no colleagues to rally around and huge uncertainty about what would happen to business.

I had enough work to see me through the first few weeks, but regular writing gigs started to dry up.

Negotiations about new work stopped.

There were debates on LinkedIn about whether it was appropriate to be marketing during a pandemic. How else was I get work if I didn’t stay visible?

Visibility campaign

I adjusted my approach but threw myself into a visibility campaign. In those first few months, I was never in a position where I didn’t have any work; it was just small bits and pieces.

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Unlocking the benefits of regular B2B content – and my goal for 2021

It’s been two years since I set myself a goal of writing regular blog content here on my business website but like a lot of New Year’s Resolutions, it fell by the wayside.

I knew I needed to blog regularly because it is good for business, helping to build authority and traffic for my website. And I also knew I should practice what I preach.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

But it wasn’t until a lightbulb moment in September last year that I was finally on the road to achieving that goal – and as a result, it’s unlocked a new content marketing opportunity for 2021.

Up until last Autumn, my blog post writing was sporadic at best with some months going past without publishing anything at all.

It meant my web content wasn’t delivering with no discernible rise in traffic or engagement. And few business leads came from my website.

Content ideas weren’t the problem as I was publishing regularly on social media – LinkedIn – and getting good results.

So what changed? The spur – or perhaps kick up the backside – was a conversation with a fellow freelancer who refocused my B2B content strategy.

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Freelancing, self-discovery and the best feeling

I didn’t find freelancing, freelancing found me. After being made redundant from a job I’d had for 20 years, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

But then people started asking if I could help with things like writing, training and moderating and so I stumbled into self-employment.

It wasn’t something I’d ever considered or imagined I’d end up doing. There was no planning, no expectations, I hadn’t stopped to think about what it would be like – or whether I was suited to it.

Like learning to run my own business it has been a voyage of self-discovery and continues to be.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, my strengths and weaknesses. There are times I’m burdened with self-doubt, feel overwhelmed and that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

It can feel lonely, isolating and scary at times.

Finding your own way

There is no one to pick you up when things go wrong or don’t work out, so you learn to do it yourself. There is no one to take over when you are struggling, you have to find your own way through it.

It requires strength, resilience and persistence and I’ve got more of that than I realised. At those times I thought I would flounder I’ve surprised myself. I’ve developed a new level of confidence.

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How I got a portfolio career

kelly-sikkema-411622-unsplash
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Last year when I was exploring what I wanted to do next in my career I met with a careers advisor who suggested a ‘portfolio career’ might be the direction to go.

I wasn’t entirely sure what a portfolio career was and how you approached getting one but looking back over the past 12 months of self-employment I now know.

It’s happened by stealth rather than design, people asking me if I can take on certain work.

My ‘portfolio’ of work to date covers a lot that is obvious but also many areas I hadn’t initially considered as a freelance:

• Content writing

• Copywriting

• Ideas generation/content strategy

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