Running a Business: What I've Learned in Five Years

What is it that makes us Brits shy away from a spot of self-praise? Even as I type this (rather belated) blog post, I’m a little reticent. So much so that there’s a good chance I won’t hit ‘Publish’ when it’s done.

Nevertheless…

Half a blinking decade. 1300 working days. A heck of a lot of hours.

However you frame it, that’s some achievement - and I’m trying hard to be nothing but really blinking proud about it. So, here I am sharing with you what I’ve learned in five years of solid and solitary graft…because if I can keep self-employment up for that long, then so can you.

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No (Wo)Man is an Island

Yep, I’m borrowing the age-old phrase Hugh Grant famously uttered in ‘'About a Boy’. Its meaning? We all need to rely on others from time to time - and there’s absolutely no shame in that. As my workload has grown, so have my stress levels - and try as I might, I can’t manage either on my own. So, I’ve drafted in some help in the form of some equally reliable freelancers. They help keep me sane during busier months and ensure I can sleep at night, too. If I have one piece of advice for anyone else running a business, it’s delegate. As difficult as it can be to hand over the reins, sometimes you must.

Self-Care is Vital

Pah, I’m not a huge fan of the word ‘self-care’. When did it stop being called ‘looking after yourself’ or ‘relaxation’ and start sounding…well...a little bit pretentious really?! But whatever you like to call it, it’s vital for us all. We really do owe it to ourselves to take the time out we need, whether that’s an hour away from our desks or a week in the sun. Do both, when required, and don’t feel guilty. After all, us freelancers don’t get paid for being off sick, so any form of TLC will only help us stay better for longer. I’m up for that; are you?!

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I look after myself by doing my best to keep my business and free time very much separate. I think they call it a ‘work/life balance’ - and it truly is a balancing act, but it’s one I’m managing well enough. It starts by having two phones and not taking your business one out with you for cocktails, if you can help it. Ultimately, the pay off is this: by enjoying your free time to the best of your ability, you’ll feel more than ready and refreshed to return to your work come Monday morning.

(Freelance) Friends Are Important

In fact, any kind of friends are important, to be honest. But as a business owner who works in solitude most of the time, it’s vital I schedule semi-regular catch-ups with fellow freelancers. Again, it’s what keeps us all sane. That and cake. And plenty of it.

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Cake Tastes Better with Colleagues

For me, there have been few downsides to running a business. But one of the bigger ones is this: eating cake while having a coffee break is absolutely no fun on your own. Sure, podcasts can take you away from your desk for 15 minutes or so, but few things beat catching up with a colleague as you make a brew together in the office kitchen, or chowing down on another slice of Victoria sponge, lovingly made by Office Manager, Carol.

Those of you with workmates, cherish them - and the next time you feel a mini meltdown coming on because John from accounts hasn’t washed his mug again, breathe a sigh of relief that there’s someone else to vent your frustration toward in the first place. When you’re freelance, there’s no one. Well, not if you don’t count Barry the visiting window pigeon. No colleagues also means there’s no one to share a post-meeting natter with, no one to share your woes with, and no one to buy a Secret Santa gift for. Sob.

Tax Return Time Will ALWAYS Make me Long for an Office Job

I have an accountant who files my return for me, but that time of the year still manages to fill me with dread. When January rolls around, I wonder why I even chose to be self-employed at all. I find myself pondering if life would indeed be easier if tax was taken out at source.

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It Doesn’t Get Any Less Frustrating When People Don’t Pay On Time

You’d think after five years I’d have developed a foolproof system that ensures late payments just aren’t a thing. But it still happens, despite reminders, despite signed contracts, and despite firm emails.

Another downside to working for yourself? I think so. My newly-enforced rule? A spot fine for payment that doesn’t reach me on the day it’s due. Sounds harsh, but believe me, it’s necessary for the 0.1% of people who don’t feel it important to pay us freelancers on time. And so far, so good. You should do it, too - if you haven’t already.

Creativity is a Process

I used to strive for a ‘right first time’ attitude to my work, but that level of ‘perfectionism’ doesn’t get you anywhere. Plus, improvement only comes by rehashing and retuning copy, right down to every last punctuation mark. Clients don’t mind when there’s some to-ing and fro-ing when it comes to their content. In fact, I think most appreciate the chance to get involved. So if you’re a creative who feels a ‘failure’ when a round of amends drop into your inbox, all I can say is don't. Copywriting, designing or creating of any kind is definitely a process.

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An Uncluttered Office Improves Productivity

For me, this is a biggie. Also: a nice-looking office filled with things that make you happy. My space is a mixture of fresh flowers, colourful wall prints, and calming scents, thanks to my plug-in, light-up room diffuser. I change the fragrance with my mood (yes, I’m that gal!) and it works a treat.

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Working from Home Can Be Great. It Can Also Be Lonely.

I thought that the answer to my work-based solitude was to join a business centre and take up an office room of my own - because while being your own boss is cool, working on your own isn’t. So I took up said space, and found that, after just three months, I missed the quiet of my home office and promptly handed in my notice. It’s bittersweet, as I loved the building and the people who worked from it. But the noise from the other offices made me feel more alone in my little space. It also made me realise that I can’t write with too much background noise. So it’s back to the working from home drawing board for now.

Making Your Own Hours is Blinking Ace

For all my bemoaning of this here self-employed life, it really is fantastic. On the whole. Nothing comes close to being able to make my own hours, take time off when I need it and not feel too guilty for very occasionally being off sick. In the five years since I’ve been freelance, I’ve been able to jump in my car and head down the M6 at literally a moment’s notice when my sister went into labour. I’ve also attended my nephews’ sports days without needing to formally put in a day’s holiday with the boss. And I’ve had numerous late lunches, early finishes and long weekends.

Meeting nephew number 4

Meeting nephew number 4

If you’re thinking about going freelance, too, please do it. I have a feeling you won’t regret it. Not a jot.

Here’s to the next five years…