Thank you to everyone for the good wishes on the third anniversary of me setting up on my own. I actually missed the date because I was really busy earlier this week. That might sound like showing off, but after the last few months it has been good to be rushed off your feet. I even went to see a client (this face-to-face lark will never catch on).
Anniversaries are good times to reflect on what you’ve learned – so here are a direct doxen of nuggets of wisdom that I hope helps others either working for themselves in communications, or thinking about it.
1. It’s scary sitting at a screen on your own, but it’s also liberating. Imagine how much time you wasted with office politics, gossiping, commuting etc and how much more time you can either dedicate to your business or to doing stuff you enjoy;
2. Think about how you present yourself. Your website is your window to the world, make sure it looks good and has great content. Your posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook tell potential clients critical information about you, make sure they give the right messages. Whenever I go to see clients (those were the days) or go on a Zoom call I always wear a shirt, even if it’s a client where everyone is in T-shitrs. It makes me feel more professional;
3. If it’s quiet use the time well – you could be get in touch with contacts, writing a blog, refreshing your website or simply going out for a walk, a bike ride, to the gym, to an art gallery. Working for yourself is a 24/7/365 job, don’t feel guilty about using the downtime to relax – it helps clear your head to focus;
4. Richard Rivlin, founder of Bladonmore, gave me some great advice about new business when I’d recently started up – it will come from the least expected places. He was right;
5. As far as new business goes, with a couple of exceptions, all my clients have come from my network – people I know, people who know people I know, people I’ve worked with, people I’ve worked for. Marketing yourself is important, though, if only to remind folk you haven’t spoken to for a while that you are still alive and open for business;
6. Love your clients. This might sound obvious but I’m amazed how many agencies obsess about new business or upselling, and don’t focus on the core task of doing a great job for the people paying their wages. Happy clients are also great advocates for you – my longest lasting client has recommended me for half a dozen other pieces of work and has given many great references for potential new business;
7. Stick to your guns. If a client, or prospect, is doing something you are not happy about, particularly if you think it might be unethical, tell them, and if they do not change either resign or don’t take on the business. Your reputation is yours to protect, it cannot be compromised;
8. Know your worth. Work out the minimum fee you will accept and don’t go below it. Taking on low value business will lead to you kicking yourself if you are too busy to take on work at the better rates you can achieve;
9. Pitching sucks. If you are pitching against an agency, expect to loose because you do not have the bandwidth or resources to compete. And agencies will do the old trick of bringing out the big guns to win the business, with no expectation that’ll do the actual work. A prospect persuaded my into a pitch despite me saying I was too small for them, only to give the business to an agency because I was too small for them;
10. Don’t panic. There will be moments when the phone doesn’t ring and the email doesn’t ping when you think your business isn’t moving forward. Stick it out. Don’t take on work you shouldn’t. In a quiet moment a couple of years ago, I once took on a client that I wasn’t 100% about on a recommendation from a friend – they turned out to be a pain in the backside and still owe me money;
11. Iggy Pop once sang: “My associates are little more than opiates”. My experience is rather different. My associate network has been a godsend – a source of new business, help when needed and people you can talk to when you’ve got a tricky problem or just need to vent. I’ve found those doing this type of work are generous with their time and you often have to force fees on them rather than them squeezing the last bit of cash out of a joint piece of work:
12. In the end you either love the responsibility of working for yourself or hate it. If it’s the latter, you are not suited to this game.