It’s been nearly two months out of the contracting world and into the world of freelancing. Many people have asked me how I’m finding the transition. All I can say is that “so far so good” and that it is tracking the way I thought it would be. That is, it’s given me time to reflect and plan what I need to do, how I need to do it, who I need to have as allies but also who to look out for.
In actual fact, it’s been an incredible learning experience and one in which will test my resilience and my appetite for risk – as well as teach me a thing or two about myself and what is important in my life.
However, my move into the freelance world was not an overnight decision. It may have come across like this on my blog. You read that one day I was employed and the other day I wasn’t!
In truth, I was working towards this move for the last few years.
So what are some of the things I have learned so far? In no particular order…
(1) Have a Vision or a Plan for Yourself
Life’s too short to be doing things that you aren’t passionate about or that don’t energise you.
Many years ago at a Graduate Program, one facilitator asked us to draw what we want our life to be. I knew mine instantly. With coloured markers I immediately drew a scene of a Greek island (let’s say Santorini), two chairs and a table that was stacked with books, a glass of wine and food. I explained to the facilitator that I wanted a life of learning, good company, good food and wine and travel. I wanted a life that gave me ways to connect with all sorts of people around the world and their stories; I wanted hearty conversations and laughter. I wanted joy in my life – and a bit of sunshine and spectacular landscape would help!
Above all, I wanted what I did to help people in some way.
To this day, this is still what I want and I’m getting it in other ways. I may not have the stunning vistas of Santorini but in my life, I have connected with many people around the world who share my passions and interests.
Despite some people thinking I should start-up a business and employ people, it was never in my plan. You’ll always have people telling you what they think you should be doing.
You can hear them out and yes, you’ll have niggling feelings of doubt or guilt that you’re not living up to their grand expectations but in the end, it’s your life.
Stick with the vision you had for it because there’s only one question you should be asking yourself, “are you happy?” If the answer is yes – then that’s all you need.
(2) Surround Yourself with People You Trust and Who Energise You
As a freelancer and one who espouses knowledge sharing and “working out loud”, you’ll quickly realise who your competitors are in your target market who don’t share the same values. I have been privileged to have a few core group of people I wholeheartedly trust and use as a sounding board knowing that they won’t compete with me or use my work or knowledge to gain advantage. In return, they get my complete confidentiality, privacy and trust.
I would recommend you find people who may or may not be in your field but someone who you can trust to ask the questions you’re afraid to ask and bat some ideas around.
If you come away from the exchange energised, positive and inspired – these are the right people for you.
If you come away with niggling doubt about their intentions, guilt, questions or confusion, trust your gut – create some distance between you and them.
(3) Everyone wants Something For Free
We all like a freebie but at what cost?
Every few days I receive requests to connect from Twitter, LinkedIn, email and other social media. Some of these are genuine where I have been having conversations with them previously and the natural progression from online is to meet in person socially. However, there are others where this is not the case and I found out the hard way.
One day I was invited to have a coffee with someone and I accepted but imagine my surprise when she brought in documents and powerpoint presentations outlining her work and asked me to read them there and then and tell her if “she was on the right track”. She asked me questions about who my networks were and whether I can introduce them to her.
Similarly, I receive emails from people asking direct and specific questions related to learning, performance and development and access to my network. All this for the price of a coffee!
Early on I realised that everyone wants something for free so now I qualify the meeting to seek out their intentions and tell them that I charge for this service. Naturally, none have taken the exchange further.
(4) Save Some Money & Make a Budget
For some years, I was a Navy Reservist and I saved this money with the intention of freelancing. Somehow I knew that this second job in the Reserves was going to fund my future job because I always saw myself working for myself some day. In order to do this, you need some sort of nest egg.
For the last few years while I was in paid work, I bought the equipment and tools using this fund to create a home office so that I was not going to spend any additional money or seek out a loan to set it all up.
For the last couple of months, I have spent nothing on the business except for a budget of coffee every week for networking meetings.
Working for yourself also makes you more resourceful. If I really don’t need something, I don’t buy it. If it can be recycled or reused, then I do this – or at a pinch, just borrow it. It’s likely that someone already has what you want and is more than happy to lend it out.
Okay, by not spending you’re not driving the economy and the only benefit goes into the pocket of the local cafes – there’s good and bad here.
(5) Find Your Value
I was tossing and turning with this one for a while. What I initially thought was going to be my service to my clients turns out that we’re all competing for the same Learning and Development target market – a market that doesn’t really know what it doesn’t know and surrounded by vendors and big name management consultancies who proclaim they can solve all learning woes.
If I had to rely on just consultancy services around learning and performance strategy in corporates, I’d better get used to surviving on Vegemite sandwiches.
After all, in my experience organisations prefer to package these consultancy services with the vendors who implemented the systems and not by people who were (or are) practitioners and who could help the organisation navigate through the problem. I’m a small fish in a big pond.
What brought this home to me was my accountant, arms in the air, exclaiming to me, “Helen, what are you actually selling? Dumb it down, dumb it down! Show people they have a problem they didn’t know they had”
So as a result, I’ve gone back to the basics and asked, “what’s the problem?”
And the problem for me (based on my observations) were that people don’t know why they should be building their networks and how to interact online socially to help them with their current and future work prospects.
I focussed on “Public Social Networks” and “Enterprise Social Networks”. I have created various 1 hour webinars and 3 hour masterclasses on not only how to use the tools but why to use the tool and customised with how it can be applied in their own workplace or professional development context. Also, I have created a “Executive Coaching” or “Social Coach” program where I can help people build their own peer networks using social tools through a personalised customised plan.
In doing so, I have expanded my target market outside of learning and development to include small business vendors and people who are in their 40-50-60s who are looking for new work opportunities.
What this means is that as the small fish, I have to put my current knowledge and skills in learning and development to discover other little streams away from the big pond.
As a result, my dream of connecting with people from all walks of life is becoming a reality all within my own neighbourhood. This is my giving back to the local community and not to just the barista.
So that’s it. The five lessons I have learned (or still learning) so far.
- Am I missing full-time work and going into an office every day? Not at all.
- Am I excited to get up every morning to see what the new day will bring? Yes!
- Am I anxious at times about being unemployed for long periods of time? Of course but I just have to put my trust in the universe and it’s up to me to change this.
If you are a new freelancer too, do you have other lessons you’d like to share?