All In: From Freelance to Business

Jan 22, 2018 | Thoughtful Business and Branding

You know when someone says something that is really obvious, but it completely shocks you with its insight? Well, this happened to me last summer, when I was on a call with my creative coach Jen Carrington, and she said this to me: “Your website is a business, Fiona.”

Well yes, the word “duh” comes to mind. 

Given that I had been earning money from writing and editing jobs for over a year at that point, and had set-up my website as an online home for this work, it shouldn’t have come as that much of a shock. But it did. 

The thing was that up until that point I’d never seen myself as running a business. Freelancing, yes. But a business? That was something grown-ups ran. It seemed too serious for little ol’ me. And yet this was precisely the problem. I wasn’t taking myself, or my work, seriously.

 (None of this, by the way, is to say that freelancing, or calling yourself a freelancer, isn’t serious. This was just how I was thinking about it.)

I saw my freelance work as a way of slowing down the haemorrhaging of my savings account, and a means of providing me with enough money for my monthly weekends away from the farm, where my board and lodgings were provided in exchange for my volunteer work. I was taking on a mish-mash of jobs, most quite small, and, in hindsight, drastically undercharging for all of them. I was saying yes to whatever came my way, from book-editing to website copywriting, and not putting any thought into marketing or even whom I wanted to market to. I always did my best for my clients, but between charging by the hour, and having no proper systems in place, I was often left with the feeling that I could have done more. The way I was working wasn’t sustainable in the long-run. 

 Yet I’m not sure that this was the whole truth. I think I was also scared. Scared of going all in on something and having it fail. Scared of saying I was going all in, and having to then tell everyone that it, I, had failed. In my mind I couldn’t fail if I didn’t try. I was intentionally playing it small. And calling it a business would, in my mind, break out of smallness.   

 “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

JK Rowling, Very Good Lives 

 In the weeks after we spoke, I tried to dig a little deeper into what my resistance was to having my own business, or rather seeing what I already did as the infant stages of one. I realised that I’d always thought of creativity and business as being at odds with one another, and that I, as a “creative”, was incapable of running a business. Yet I’ve had multiple conversations with friends about their businesses, offered advice, and enjoyed chatting strategy. When it comes to copywriting, what I love most about it is that it’s not just coming up with a neat turn of phrase, or a clever pun, but working out the purpose and drive behind the words: when business and creativity meld together. And if I enjoyed doing this so much for other people, and was good at it, then surely I could do it for myself? 

This conversation came at about the same time as I was beginning to consider moving back to the UK (that god-awful heat wave has a lot to answer for!), so obviously the desire to earn a real salary was part of all of this thinking, but it wasn’t the whole of it. I wanted to change how I saw myself and my work. I didn’t want to feel like I was still playing small. I wanted to have an impact, to make a difference, and to support people and businesses who are doing things I really care about. I wanted more of a challenge, and work I could really get my teeth into. And, in the words of Brene Brown, I wanted to have skin in the game. 

 Yet, while I’d love to say that this simple switch in semantics has led to an equally simple switch in mindset, it hasn’t. After years of playing small and waiting for stuff to come to me, it’s been tough to really start to put myself out there, and that is still very much a work in progress. But, when it came to updating my website, rather than jump straight into word-play, I took the time to write a proper business plan, come up with a cohesive brand, think about my dream client, create a marketing strategy, and build those bloody scary spreadsheets to track my incomings and outgoings. All things I’d avoided up until that point. 

 Whenever I feel like I am floundering, I try to remind myself of this simple fact: It’s a business. And while that feels big and scary, it also feels less personal, which actually helps. Rather than selling myself, I’m selling packages and deliverables. Which is easier, somehow. 

 There is nothing wrong with freelancing, and calling yourself that, but I do think we all need to find the language, and accompanying mindset, that suits us, stretches us, and pushes us to play big.  For me, that’s calling what I do a business.