10 Lessons from My First Year as a Freelance Copywriter

1. Confidence is super useful

Fortunately I’ve never been lacking in this department. I don’t second guess myself if somebody criticises me. (Usually I’ll just explain why they’re wrong and I’m right.)

Confidence is a must-have if you’re going to run your own business – because you need to be confident you can make this work. If, at the first sign of difficulty, you would dash back to the safe nest of employment, entrepreneurship may not be for you.

Confidence is also extremely useful when negotiating terms and rates, and just generally ‘putting yourself out there’ (a good thing to do if you actually want people to find your business).

But that’s not to say you can’t develop your confidence over time. The more practice you get at something, the more confident you will become. And hey, you can always pretend to be more confident than you are – so long as you can come across as confident, you’re good.

2. The way you think about money will change

When you know exactly how much money you’re going to get from your paycheque each month, it’s easy to see how much money you have to play with, and to budget accordingly.

Personally, as soon as I knew I could grow my income exponentially with a little (okay, a lot of) hard work, my attitude towards money changed. I was a lot more free with it, because I knew I could earn more if I needed it. This may not be a good thing. I find myself agreeing to things that I don’t yet have the money to pay for… but feel confident I will have in the future. And I’m not worried.

3. Having a separate business bank account is an excellent idea

As soon as I got a separate bank account for all my business transactions, my attitude towards money changed again. Now, instead of viewing all the money that comes in as my own, I view it as the company’s (because, you know… it is the company’s). So I now pay myself a certain amount every month. This is good, because I can look at my biz account and say, ‘Okay, I have enough money to pay myself for X months’, and breathe a sigh of relief. (And then I remember about taxes.)

4. Nothing has to be perfect

This is definitely something that’s waylaid a lot of wannabe entrepreneurs. The hesitance to actually launch your business because you want to get every aspect of it ‘just right’ (whatever the hell that means).

But the beauty of running your own business is that you can change it how you want, when you want. Untamed Writing is obviously not perfect. The logo could better reflect the brand, the design could be a little slicker, the home page could do a better job of explaining what the site is about… but none of those things stop me from making money and running a profitable business.

5. Sell first, then create

When I sold the first few places in my freelance writing course, I hadn’t even created the content. The people who were signing up and forking over their cash didn’t know that, but I had absolutely nothing to offer except the promises on the sales page at first.

This might sound counterintuitive and bit a scary – after all, what if what I created was crap, or I found I wasn’t able to deliver on my promise? But I didn’t want to put a lot of work into creating something, only to discover nobody was willing to pay for it. I was also way too lazy to create something without a hard deadline to strive for, so announcing the launch date off the class jolted me into action. People had given me their money. I had to deliver or risk the reputation of my business. So I delivered.

6. There’s no substitute for hard work

I’m still working on this one. My first year in business, I got a lot of stuff done. But I could’ve done more if I’d had decent systems in place. Set working hours, specific tasks to do at specific times, etc. This is one of my main focuses this year.

7. You don’t have to jump at every penny thrown at you

When I was first launched the beta class for my freelance writing course, I got an email from a guy who a) wanted a discount… off the already discounted price (warning sign number one) and, b) wanted to change exactly what he was paying for.

Essentially, he wanted to skip some of the class content and have some one-on-one coaching instead. Even after he’d agreed to pay the proper price, I politely declined. I could already tell this guy was going to be a major pain in my ass, and I decided that it wasn’t worth the extra £100 I’d get out of it. (And also I could probably charge way more for coaching.)

Similarly, one of my first ever clients paid me less than £5 per 500-word article. He had as much work for me as I wanted. I could make a living this way. But I would never have any time to grow my business, because I’d always be writing these damn articles. So I quit working for him. (A few weeks later, I scored a client who paid me £90 an article.)

8. You need someone you can talk to who gets it

Struggling through all the bullshit that comes with business is hard. It’s especially hard if you have nobody to talk things through with. You’ll have lots of doubts along the way, and some things you just plain won’t-have-a-fucking-clue-about.

The Hundred Dollar Club (my close-knit group of online friends who all run our own businesses) and Location Rebel (forum of location independent business owners) are my go-to places. They understand my business and what I want to achieve with it, and they can help me get through the fog when I can’t see what I should do next.

I think that’s the important part: they understand. Talking to my mum is all well and good (love you mum!), but it can be frustrating talking to her about my business, because she doesn’t really know what it is or how it works. So find somebody who can offer genuinely useful advice when you need it, and save your mum for roast dinners on Sundays.

9. You need to make sure you socialise with real, live people too

You will lose your mind if you never see any actual people. At first you might think it’s great not having to commute every day, but soon the silence of working from home will overwhelm you. Make time to see real people. This might even be the most important lesson I learned, because it has the most bearing on day-to-day happiness.

10. You just need to keep your head down and keep going

Running your own business is tough. But you have to keep going, because if you don’t you can’t pay rent. Everyone, without exception, has tough days. Doing creative work on those days can feel impossible. But you have to keep going.

Writing is incredibly hard when your brain’s not in the right place. But even if you can’t muster the energy to do the usual creative work you would do, you have to do something. Get your accounts in order, send out a few marketing emails, get back to that prospective client – something. Keep the business moving forwards, even if it’s a millimetre at a time. Better that than nothing at all, and doing something productive can help to clear your head and get you back on track.