Freelance PR and Communications Consultant Q&A: Ruth Walters, Let Her Eat Clean
(This is the first in a series of interviews with freelancers, telling us their stories on how they went freelance. The aim is to help others who are thinking of becoming freelance learn more about what it takes, as well as get advice and inspiration so they can get the confidence and understanding to find out if freelancing is right for them. If you want to take part in the series, simply head here to tell us your freelance story.)
What made you decide to go freelance?
I used to think so often when I was employed by an agency “sheesh, wouldn’t I earn a ton more money if I went freelance?”. But surprisingly, taking the final leap to become a freelancer wasn’t motivated by money. It was 100% about flexibility.
I decided I wanted to retrain to become a nutritionist and whilst the course is taught part time I knew this simply wouldn’t be feasible working in a traditional agency role. I didn’t hate PR and I was more than aware it would pay the bills so PR and comms freelancing presented an ideal complement to my new passion and studies ahead.
More specifically on the decision making process here: http://lethereatclean.com/2013/04/07/the-new-life-the-good-life
What steps did you put in place before you went freelance?
I was really fortunate that my previous agency kindly allowed me to finish my current position at that time working from home, at a scaled back 3 days a week in order to study for the first of my nutrition exams.
This was basically perfect practice for what it would feel like working more solo, out of a traditional office environment, with a scaled back working week, but still with plenty of client and colleague demands to fulfil. More on that transition here: http://anywhereworking.org/2013/guest-blog-post-let-her-eat-clean/
With the big move out of London, juggling work and studies, and catching up with old friends and family on home turf, I didn’t give much thought to the freelancer infrastructure I needed to set up.
A couple of things totally saved my bacon though. I bought a MacBook Air last December and it’s honestly been invaluable. It just works. All the time. I can bash out documents, blog posts, emails, presentations and connect to the internet so easily – time and time again. I’d thought about getting an iPad as the MacBook was a big cost outlay at the time but I’m so glad I opted for this instead. In terms of the nitty gritty I went 11″ as that was all I could afford. 13″ would have been a more welcome luxury but at least this wee one is easier to lug around. Be mindful of that – your bags as a freelancer can get REALLY heavy!
Separate from my decision to go freelance I decided I wanted to start blogging. In January of this year I worked with a US developer to help me with a very simple (and therefore cheap) WordPress set up and started populating it – without ‘coming out’ to the big bad world. Once I was happy everything was in place and I had some back dated posts I went ‘live’ in April. It’s been a great way to make people aware of what I’m doing and my planned career transition. It’s made me feel more connected with people (as I know from comments and feedback that both close friends and more distant acquaintances are reading it) and also really helped my personal brand. It’s also a little side project for me. If I have to take on some freelance work that’s not as interesting to pay the bills, I’ll always have the blog as a little more enjoyable something for me.
Just before July 1st (and on Ben’s blog post guidance) I was really mindful I needed to sort an accountant sharpish! Finances petrify me. As does the thought of someone from the Inland Revenue knocking on my door with a baseball bat demanding a hefty tax bill. I tend to run my life according to a ‘best of three’ approach. So, I hunt down three options of the same product or service and then pick from these. When it came to the accountant they were all based on recommendation – one I spied from Twitter, one being a friend’s husband, the other being a fellow freelancer’s sister. And I made my choice based on gut instinct and went with the latter. Dawn from ABC North East just made me feel so at ease. I think she could sense I was totally clueless and petrified, she has already proved more than willing to hold my hand through every click I need to make on an Inland Revenue form and ultimately I trust her. I trust she’s not out to rip me off and I trust she will help get the best for me and my finances during this new venture.
And the final thing was networking. I invested lots of time in making people aware of what my plans were. I never out right asked for work. I told them what I was going to be up to and that I’d be more than willing to help as and when they may need me. Twitter has been amazing. I’ve kept my ear to the ground and volunteered for everything from basic admin email filing to house sitting. I basically ended my previous role knowing I’d at least be able to make the minimum payment on my credit card the following month and that made me feel a bit easier about things.
How did it feel before you went freelance?
As one of life’s planners that lives often way beyond her means I was dreading freelancing! What if I got no work? What if I was totally broke? What if I couldn’t see what the next 3 months looked like? What if my husband lost his job and it was all on me? What other things do I need to think about beyond an accountant? The list was endless but I was determined not to let it get on top of me and for once in my life just ‘go with it’ as they say…
I also felt a bit of an under achiever. At a party someone will invariably ask what you do for a living. I’d been so used to having a permanent role as an identifier, I’d freeze on the spot, panicking that freelancing didn’t command the same amount of respect and I’d always certainly not feel I could fess up to being a part time student too!
How does it feel now you are freelance?
It may well be too early to say (as it’s only day 3) but very much so far so good. I’ve been busy with both a small amount of freelance work I’d already picked up and a personal to do list (read more, sort the blog out, open a bank account, upgrade my phone, work out during the day, prepare my Dad’s house for a boiler refit – it goes on…) that I honestly haven’t had time to worry about being bored – or without money, as thankfully I still have my pay packet from my previous role sitting in my bank account.
What are the positives of freelance life?
It’s 100% about lifestyle and flexibility. Losing my Mum to cancer earlier this year changed everything. She worked for 32 years as a GP, holding out for her retirement. She died 3 years later. I can’t wait for my retirement. It’s all about now. Doing the best I can for both myself and others. Whether it’s a mid morning workout, preparing a nutritious dinner from scratch, keeping on top of the housework, getting to bed on time, using the weekends as they should be used, it’s all made a huge difference to my quality of life and will hopefully positively impact my future.
What are the negatives of freelance life?
I’ve stop taking as much pride in my appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I go all out if I’ve got a meeting but not washing your hair for 4 days (and doing 3 work outs during that time) is downright grim! I also need to send the faded scuzzy tracksuit to the charity shop ASAP!
I’m very fortunate that my husband has a good job and we’re currently living back in my family home (rent free, save for the grocery bill we pick up) to save some money. That said, I do worry about money. I’m a planner. And I’ve always been a provider. My husband and I always, always split everything down the middle. I paid my way. I worry I won’t be able to do this. I worry there will be times when we have to go without and that’ll be my fault. I worry about the “what ifs”. What if we had a family and my husband lost his job. Then what? Somehow a payslip and a fixed sum adds serious amounts of confidence to how you go about life.
Any advice for others looking to go freelance?
Ask yourself, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Usually, it’s go freelance. So just go out there and do it. I’m here at the end of an email, a Tweet or a post comment to celebrate the good days and support you through the tougher ones, should you need it.
Thanks for taking part, Ruth, and for sharing with us your incredible story – truly inspirational! Make sure to check out her blog at LetHerEatClean.com or follow her on Twitter at @ruthwalters. If you want to take part in the series, simply head here to tell us your freelance story.)
More from the How I Went Freelance series: