It’s gone in a flash, but this month has seen the two-year anniversary of Very Meta, my freelance content studio. Those early weeks and months were full of uncertainty, but it’s very nice to be in a position where I have limited time to write this post because I am so busy working for clients.
That said, I do want to mark the occasion. My first attempt at freelance life lasted around nine months. It went pretty well overall, but I was too reliant on a single client and ultimately, it wasn’t a sustainable business.
After two years, Very Meta is a sustainable business and in the last six months, I’ve been working on some of the biggest, most challenging projects of my career. I’m very grateful to have had a) people who have recommended me, and b) others who have given me some great opportunities.
Of course, I am learning constantly, especially on the actually-running-a-business side of it all. But there are a few things that I have done, some of them unwittingly, that I think have helped me get to this point.
Time for a very short list.
Say yes to things
One of the biggest hurdles when you start freelancing is finding the confidence to put yourself in unfamiliar situations. My trick has been to say yes when opportunities have come along. Don’t overthink. Don’t stress about whether you can do the job. Just stay calm, be prepared to learn quickly, do your best and see where things lead. It’s usually somewhere good.
Build a broad client base
Having one or two reliable clients is marvellous. But if either of them go away – and they can go away – then you might find yourself in bother. So try and build a client base of at least five companies. You don’t have to be working on projects for them all at the same time, though I have done and continue to do my fair share of juggling. What’s important is to make sure that you’re the person they turn to when something new comes up.
Use your network
For my first go at freelancing, I spent ages making a website, wondering what to Tweet and researching companies I could cold-email. My success was limited. This time around – well, as you can see, I barely have anything on my website at all. I suggest you spend the vast majority of your energy on building relationships with the people that you already know. Attend meetups. Go for coffee. Ask for introductions. It’s far easier and, for me, more productive.
Think opportunities, not cold hard cash
First of all, don’t work for free. I do not advocate that. But my experience so far tells me that some opportunities are worth more than the money on offer. So, if something doesn’t quite hit your ideal day rate, and if you think you can afford it, ask yourself some questions. Might this lead to other work? Will this look great in my portfolio? Could this be just good old-fashioned fun? Where possible, try to think in terms of opportunities – not just rates.
Don’t undersell yourself
In February 2017, thrust back into self-employment, I’d have taken just about any fee to get the work in. I had a family to feed. These things are important. But it’s also important that you realise how much you are worth. People want you on their projects because you can do something that they can’t – or you can do it far better. So – and this is a note to self as much as anything – charge what you’re worth and negotiate from there.
So there you go – some unsolicited freelancing advice.
What am I working on now?
Now, what am I going to be doing over the next few months?
In terms of client work, I’m eight weeks into a huge and exciting project with Good Things Foundation, which I may be in a position to talk more about in the future. I am also coming to the final stages of my first project with the brilliant FutureGov, which has seen me write the digital strategy for Bradford City Council.
My regular work with Sheffield Digital, Content OD and TribePad continues too. These ongoing relationships have been the foundation of Very Meta in its first two years (see broad client base paragraph above). I’ve also been doing a little copywriting work for a fantastic Sheffield charity called Under The Stars, which runs club nights and arts workshops for adults with learning disabilities.
What’s in store for Very Meta?
This is a good question. I have lots of ideas about what Very Meta could become, but they all involve collaboration with other fine folk. It’s sort of already started. In the last six months or so, I’ve worked alongside other freelancers, including Joanne Mateer, Rich Wells, and through Content OD, Ellen Holcombe, Lorna Dockerill, and Carol-Anne Ward. It’s been a positive experience and evidence that people can come together to do good work.
Last October, I started the ball rolling on a new content meet up called Sheffield Content Club. Things got very busy almost immediately after, but my plan is to hold the first event by the end of April. I want it to be different. I want it to be fun. I want it to be the kind of thing that people don’t want to miss. Look out for more information soon.
Finally, I also have designs on a Very Meta podcast and newsletter. But before I can get to those things, I need to add a whole load of content to the website, including a portfolio of projects. That said, if you are a person who enjoys newsletters, you should check out This From The Writing Shed, which is my weekly email full of links to ace writing articles, apps and tools.