Freelance PR Consultant Q&A: Sam Phillips
(This is the fourth 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’ve always wanted to try out being responsible for my own time, it sounds a little bit teenage but I was starting to feel restrained by process and the expectation that I would be somewhere on call every day at a certain time.
I wanted to escape routine, to take on a new challenge and feel a little bit nervous again. I reassured myself with the thought that even if it were an absolute disaster, I’d still learn a stack by trying something new.
Also, being able to focus on the work you feel most passionate about, that’s a great thing and I think it’s more possible and actually even more acceptable to do just that today than ever before. I think doing what you love most brings out the best in you and what you have to offer. Plus I just realised life’s moving pretty fast these days, so I’m feeling bolder about just going for what I want – that definitely helps!
What steps did you put in place before you went freelance?
As soon as I had mentally come to terms with the idea that I was going to do it, I started to save money. I knew this would be the most important initial asset as having a little spare gives you the headspace to be able to focus on the important stuff.
To the stationery store!
I’m fixated with stationery; crisps clean pads and pencils are new beginnings for me – like the start of term where I would always vow to be better. So I went to an amazing discount art shop in Angel and bought a stash.
Then I spent my evenings sketching logos, drafting lists of things I loved working on, skills I had acquired over time and what might make me an interesting hire. I thought about my personality and how to convey that in a brand and I thought about what sort of work that might bring in. As geeky as it sounds, buying that stationery was an amazing feeling – knowing I was going to make something all by myself was so exhilarating.
Thought about a money mentor
By money mentor I mean accountant. Groan. I tried so hard to read about what I’d need online, spoke to mates, spoke to 5 accountants for an overview – got 5 very different quotes (and was blinded by financial jargon), which caused a sense of unease and then put down the whole thing again. I’m being honest about this because actually you do have a little time to get the accountancy part in line. Just be sure to keep hold of all, ALL, your receipts. Although the financial bit is key, getting work lined up took priority for me.
Talked to friends!
I got in touch with a load of old friends from various companies, spoke to a lot of mates about what I was planning to do to get their advice, and for the reassurance. The more you talk, the more inspiration comes of it, wise words from friends, those who have been there done that, those that have connections or know someone looking for freelance help now or further down the line. There were a handful of people that I really banked on for advice and support along the way, they were invaluable.
Made it official
I thought I’d go direct to companies house but as it turns out using a third party is quite a bit easier and not an expensive option either. I knew a few people that had this bit done for them by their accountants, I used Companies Made Simple.
Built a site (still under construction)
While I obsessed over this at the beginning (mostly because it’s the most obvious place to start) I now feel that it isn’t the most important aspect. Grabbing great opportunities and then cracking on with the work is. That said, 2 months on and the site is high up on the list!
Business Bank Account
I had hoped one bank would be especially good for setting up a business bank account. Not sure that is the case (though I notice Natwest are currently claiming to be the hot ticket for business startups). I ended up booking a meeting with HSBC, though you can do it online there were a bunch of words I didn’t understand (!) so this old school approach worked nicely for me.
Being organised and looking official
Dull but essential – I created templates for time tracking and invoices. I set up all the right folders, updated Evernote, paid for storage space with Dropbox, bought a nicely designed powerpoint template, ordered business cards and purchased a personalised email address.
How did it feel before you went freelance?
Hugely exhilarating. I had moments where it just felt like the right thing to do, but there were also moments where my confidence took a dive. To counter this I would make time to rationalise why I was making the move, what all the benefits looked like and what the worst-case scenario would be. That set me straight every time. Someone wise once told me that you never regret moving on. I reflected on my own experiences and realised that was certainly true for me.
How does it feel now you are freelance?
Absolutely incredible. Liberating, exciting, empowering. It’s been fascinating, I’ve had the opportunity to live my life in an entirely new way, and I’ve been able to make all the decisions for myself each day. I feel like a one woman social experiment in some ways – understanding how to manage my instincts to go out in the sunshine, setting myself boundaries and rewards.
What are the positives of freelance life?
Working on areas I’m mad about has been a huge positive for me. I love setting my own agenda, that feels amazing. If I need to go to the doctors or if I really feel like going for a run, I don’t have to ask permission or miss out. I love starting the work day very early, but from my flat in front of a mammoth pot of coffee and whatever I feel like eating from my fridge. Then there’s the sense of knowing everything you do, you are responsible for. The opportunity to choose a direction and then see if you can achieve what you had your eye on, that’s pretty cool too.
What are the negatives of freelance life?
Clients that don’t pay on time, apparently. It hasn’t happened to me yet but I’m certain it will happen at some point. The admin bit has been a little slow and frustrating at times, but I think once you sort a process out you’re made so that’s not something to whine about, it’s just another skill to check off the list.
Any advice for others looking to go freelance?
If you’re thinking about it but have a couple of reservations, know yourself and manage yourself through it. By that I really mean, if you will worry excessively about the money aspect then start saving now before you jump.
Talk to people, gauge their reactions and collect as much advice from as many friends and colleagues as you possibly can. Getting work lined up is really the first task, so don’t fixate on a site, or the frills. Talk to a few recruiters too, for me they offered a great source of comfort when I kicked off as there were always jobs coming up – don’t however be tempted by the permanent roles that they will offer.
Even at your lowest moments when their maddeningly convincing lines and the huge salaries they send through look glorious. That’s not why you went freelance. Well actually, it might just be. Most important thing is to try. Here’s a slightly pretentious Theodore quote I picked up off my friends Facebook feed yesterday, (I actually think it’s quite good)…
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Thanks for taking part, Sam, and for sharing your tips and advice. Make sure to check out her website at sammyps.com or follow her on Twitter at @sammyps. 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: