15 Years of Freelancing – How to Avoid the Bollocks
30th October 2021

I wish that when I decided to go freelance back in 2006 that someone has explained about PITA tax, productivity porn and how faking it until you make it is utter bollocks. 15 years of freelancing later I have learned a lot and so thought I’d share a little of this knowledge. You can thank me in black coffee and with new notebooks and sharp pencils.

In all seriousness, I can’t believe that I’ve been doing this for fifteen years. What a journey. From the rather green copywriter working for anyone who would have her to the less doe-eyed, niched-down small business copywriter, I have a little knowledge to share.

15 Years of Freelancing: Fake it Until You Make it is Bollocks

Never lie. Be transparent. Honest. Run your business with integrity. If you haven’t worked on a specific type of project or don’t have a lot of experience, tell your client that. Demonstrate what you can do and how you are constantly learning. Don’t lie, it always comes back to bite you if you do.

Say No – Don’t Invite Regret in

It doesn’t matter if you have just started or are years into your freelance journey, you have the right to say no. No, I don’t want to work on that project or with that client. No, I don’t want to work for free. I don’t do mates rates, no. Say it politely but don’t ever feel pressured into saying yes. Avoid saying yes to online gurus who will help you turn your business around in two weeks if you’ll just pay….
Don’t sign up for regrets if you can avoid them.

15 Years of Freelancing: Sleep is NOT for the Weak

There is nothing sexy about getting up at 4am unless, like me, you are an early riser. I worked from 4am for years and it suited me. I always made sure I’d knock off earlier though and prioritised rest. It worked with my natural rhythm and family life. It’s all about the balance. Don’t subscribe to Instagram spreads showing you how to burn the candle at both ends. Sleep.

Be Productive But Don’t Collect Productivity Porn

When I read Graham Allcott’s Productivity Ninja the first time I was tickled pink by the statement, “Collecting productivity porn on Pinterest is not being productive”. He’s right. There is no magic wand to make you be productive. What works for me may not work for you. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. We are not machines. We are not built to be constantly “on”. Work out what works best for you.

This fab Ted Talk by Tim Urban is a must for any of you who find yourself procrastinating…

Embrace Your Community

Sole traders, freelancers and other self-employed folks often, by nature, do a large portion of their work by themselves. That doesn’t mean locking yourself away from the real world. I worked out pretty early on that having a community of other freelancers and business people around me was invaluable in many ways. I have my online community (I see you Twitter people) and my real-life people.

Online or off, make sure you find a community that supports you.

15 Years of Freelancing: Networking Should be About Relationship Building

I love networking and do it regularly but choose groups that focus on relationship building, not scary 60-second pitches, forced referrals and feeling awkward. My time is precious so I spend it wisely. Yours is too.

Keep Learning

I am a big advocate for personal and professional development. I read a lot. I enjoy Joe Glover’s positively lovely The Marketing Meetup webinars, I take courses, listen to other freelancers and spend time on myself and my business. The professional world keeps turning and things change. It makes sense to keep abreast of what’s going on in your sector. Sometimes I take courses that aren’t directly connected to copywriting or marketing because no learning is ever a waste of time.

Charge What’s Right

If you want to get attention ask people on LinkedIn if they think you are wrong in not advertising your prices on your website. I dare you. I don’t post prices because I operate bespoke pricing. My pricing is fair, the clients get a good ROI and no one feels ripped off. Remember that when you create your pricing, bespoke or otherwise, that your clients don’t pay for the 12 hours of work you’ve done. They pay for the work, the years of experience and everything else. Regularly review your prices.

15 Years of Freelancing Has Taught Me To Choose Tools Wisely

There are countless subscriptions, tools and planners out there. My main go-to tools are a paper Passion Planner, Google Calendar (and Google everything else), Canva premium, Evernote, Dropbox, Calendly, and Quickbooks. I keep it simple. And cheap.

Outsource Outsource Outsource

The tools above do a lot but they are no substitution for a professional in the right circumstances. My bookkeeping/accounting is outsourced, I have a fab web designer, Cathie Rose Heart and would be lost without Gemma Symmonds from My Little Graphics Co for all my design needs. If you have something you don’t have time, the skills for or just hate doing, outsource where you can. It may seem silly to pay someone

15 Years of Freelancing – How to Avoid the Bollocks

Is this everything? No. Over the past fifteen years of freelancing, I’ve made monumental cock-ups, screamed through deadlines and paid for advertising that was an absolute waste. Some lessons have been easier to learn than others. If I could go back and do it from the start would I change anything? Yes, a few money-wasting exercises but little else. We grow from our experience. Here’s to another 15 years of growing and avoiding the bollocks.

Nicki Cawood, Nicki Cawood Copywriter,
Nicki Cawood is The Small Business Copywriter.

Established in 2006, she has provided copywriting, editing, rewriting, blogging support and more to many many small businesses. 


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