April 20th, 2017
It’s been a whole year since I set up Helen Deverell Communications and I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks reflecting on the work I’ve done, the people I’ve worked with and what I’ve learnt.
In the last 12 months I’ve worked with 20 clients across a broad range of industries on a variety of work including internal comms and intranet audits, writing masterclasses, change programmes, content strategies, social media policies, employee magazines, marketing collateral, and blogs.
It’s been a whirlwind and I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But that’s not to say every single day has been easy. There have been challenges in amongst the opportunities and I have learnt a huge amount along the way…
Network is everything
Ask anyone who has gone freelance and they’ll tell you that alongside a lot of hard work, the secret to success is your network. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a lot of fellow IC pros support me, recommend me and hire me. A personal recommendation goes a long way, and the years I spent building up my network is paying big dividends now.
Holding your nerve
There were a couple of occasions over the last year where I didn’t have work on the horizon – just before the summer holidays, mid-January – pretty standard times of year to be quiet. But however much rationalising you do, it’s seriously scary to not know when you’re next piece of work will come along.
As clichéd as it sounds, it is a matter of holding your nerve and having faith that work you’ve pitched for will come through, or conversations that took place months before will come to fruition. It’s also about careful financial planning and ensuring you’ll be ok for a few months if it doesn’t.
Learning to say no
Last week I took some time off over Easter to recharge. When you work for yourself and by yourself, it’s easy to find yourself saying yes to everything and working evenings and weekends. Ironic considering the reason I went freelance was to get a better work/life balance.
I still haven’t got that balance right – especially as I love what I do, but I recognised a couple of weeks ago that I needed a proper break. It did me the world of good – at the end of the day my business is me, and if I’m not at my best, I won’t deliver the standard of work to clients I pride myself on. It’s ok to take time off and it’s ok to say no now and again.
One is the loneliest number
As an introvert, I enjoy working by myself and thought the transition to freelance life would be an easy one. However, I have found myself missing colleagues. Being able to turn around and say “What do you think?”, bouncing ideas around, and getting a fresh perspective are the perks of being part of a team – and of course the end of week drinks aren’t quite the same on your own!
You learn new things
I think as a consultant there’s a sense that you need to know everything. But that suggests there’s no room to learn or evolve. And while I am confident I’m good at what I do, this would all be very boring if there was never any challenge. Every client and organisation is different so there’s always something to learn whether knowledge or skill.
Admin takes much longer than you think
I had grand ideas of being freelance three days a week as part of my work/life balance. However, I didn’t take into account managing finances, business development, marketing and general admin that goes with running a business. It all takes time, and time that you’re not being paid for.
Organisation is also an essential skill if you want to minimise your stress and avoid missing any HMRC deadlines.
Most days start with a smile
Yes, I’m ending on a cheesy note, but it’s true. There are some days I can’t believe I get to do this for a living. I get to work with really interesting people and organisations, doing work I enjoy, and still get to take my dog for a walk at lunchtime.
For anyone thinking about taking the leap into the freelance world – if you’ve got the network and you’re not afraid of hard work – do it.
All that’s left to say is a huge thank you to all my clients and contacts for all your support. It’s been a brilliant first year, and I’ve enjoyed working with all of you. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.