Sam Howard celebrates three years of being an independant PR person and shares the sometimes painful lessons learned.
The fabulous Victoria Wood once told this joke about how you lavish so much attention on your first child, that you go so far as to score the wall recording for all eternity your firstborn’s height with wonder and awe (since my 13 year old son is already clocking 6ft 3′ we are adding a soupçon of morbid fascination in to the mix now too). Anyhow she went on to remark that by the time you have your third child, you merely note their vertical progress by the rising tide mark of nose smearings on your coat sleeve…
And so it is for freelancing. First year I had a cocktail party and people came from miles around, Second year I at least opened a bottle of champagne and shared it with those that happened to be passing. Third year, Feb 10th completely passed me by. Writing this, with a vodka and tonic in hand is as much as I can muster to commemorate the occasion. Just like a third child – it’s not that I love the freelance life any less, far from it, but just that I’m really busy – new clients, new projects, new sectors, new territories and I got accredited. Even the dog behaves pretty good now.So as is now customary, sharing a few random lessons learned this year:
Cautionary tale – Be careful how much time you allocate to individual pitches.
I have a strong agency background so I like pitching, the smell of the chase, and all that. But it is easy to get carried away, do some sums on the back of an envelope look at the potential gain and then assign a realtive cost to winning it. I completely lost it over the summer chasing a big account but where my personal gain was quite insignificant. I blame the heat.
Motivational moment – spread the skills spread the love
As you get busier you may feel inclined to focus on just the high value projects or to really specialize. For example, in line with the industry’s increased appetite for credible content, I have seen a surge in demand for copywriting skills this year, but if I just did that all the time I’d burn out. Much better to have several diverse projects on the go, it keeps the mind agile. And even when you are busy, don’t’ forget to fill your boots with psychic income – my work with the Taylor Bennet Foundation continues to be the most fulfilling aspect of my freelance career.
Cautionary tale – mates rates have outstayed their welcome
So I’m still working at 2011 mates’ rates for my early retained clients and now I know them so well, asking for an increase on the day rate feels kind of #awkward. But the nicest client in the world is unlikely to suggest you take a pay rise. I’m just going to have to man up – distasteful as it is. Suggest to avoid getting into this situation in the first place any day rate deal you agree comes with the proviso ‘to be reviewed in six months’, ample time to prove your salt and get you on more equitable terms.
Motivational moment – When pickings get plentiful, share the spoils
Share the stress, share the funds, share the love, keep delivering above and beyond. Officially forming the collective was the smartest thing I did this year.
Cautionary tale – Now it’s seven days a week 11-7, and that’s normal
The weekends have become the time to do the behind the scenes stuff, the banking, admin, marketing etc. So to make sure you don’t lose sight of why you turned freelance in the first place, in my case – to spend time with that gargantuan boy of mine – take enforced breaks, ( I’m averaging about eight weeks leave a year). Anywhere that is a Wi-Fi black spot will do nicely.
Motivational moment – I’m really proud of myself
Three years ago I turned my back on the security of an established and respected career, with the attitude of how hard can it be? That was the wrong question. I should have asked, ‘how intense can this be?’ Flipping intense actually. But it turns out, when you learn not to measure your worth by your job title, not to value security above freedom and control, you become infinitely richer, eventually!
This post is brief as it is in fact just a shameless plug to say, now it’s official, we exist!
In going live we now have a home for our recently formed small collective of senior comms freelancers, to demonstate their love of B2B technology and our honed range of skill sets, PR, AR, social, content and design.
It’s been nearly two and a half years now since I turned freelance so the collective feels like a natural evolution for me. It’s going to be great for our clients who might be looking for a more robust comms solution than a lone freelancer but who don’t have the appetite nor the budget for the full blown agency commitment, and great for us as we get to collaborate, support and inspire each other while delivering to our strengths. We’re going to be sharing the work the responsibility the money and the love!
It’s taken us forever to get the site together least that’s how it feels to a girl who goes long on ‘genius’ ideas and falls short on patience. But we are live now and despite the fact I’ve been immortalized in Ugg boots, I could not be more proud…
Major validations, minor tribulations and lessons learned – two years into Sam Howard’s career as an independent PR.
Smug moment: Ongoing clients have expanded their remits, project clients return for more projects, growth rates are healthy.
Dark muttering: So how come I haven’t won employee of the month? Been given a round of applause, a certificate, a mug or anything?
Note to self: Stop hankering for external validation. Ain’t ever gonna happen.
Smug moment: So stress levels are down, inner contentment levels are up my aura has never been so glowy – everyone says so.
Dark muttering: When you have a bad day they can be astoundingly bad, and the temptation to cry is immense – after all no one is watching. Usually it’s just a matter of keeping the faith,but it’s easier said than done.
Note to self: Just read the contract you stupid, stupid girl.
Smug moment: I’m getting to do more stuff with more people, getting back to a more integrated approach.
Dark muttering: Peer collaboration is all very well, but where’s a lovely, enthusiastic junior when you need one? Media monitoring – at my age.
Note to self: Get over yourself, it’s the same day rate.
Smug moment: Blog’s doing good.
Dark muttering: I’m a bit behind on sorting out my own brand. What brand you say? Quite. I abandon it as soon as client work comes in. Worse still, I keep changing my mind. I have so much more empathy now with past employers that could never ‘get their act together’, turns out neither can I.
Note to self: Use your project management skills, dummy.
Smug moment: I’ve enjoyed getting back to my roots, direction, content and outreach. I still get a huge high when I see client content getting picked up.
Dark muttering: Why did I think setting up on my own would get me away from the spreadsheets?
Note to self: There’s software out there to do this stuff, decide where your time is best spent, and spend it there.
Smug moment: So as a reward for going freelance, I got a rescue puppy. He’s a black lab, crossed with something, maybe a kangaroo. But our daily walks give me head space and I’ve dropped a dress size!
Dark muttering: I somewhat underestimated how wildly distracting would be the dogaroo’s ebullient puppy-hood and protracted adolescence – there were days… I’m telling ya…
Note to self: Don’t be tempted to spread yourself too thin. Even by a puppy.
Smug moment: I’ve rejected any pretense at standard working hours, standard dress, standard working practices – and it all works well for me.
Dark muttering: Ask any of my former bosses, I was always borderline employable. Are there rescue shelters for feral freelancers, offering warm and loving forever contracts, doing the filing in the basement for some kindly brand?
Note to self: Better stick with the programme kid and as Fat Boy Slim might say:
‘We’ve come a long, long way together
Through the hard times and the good
We have to celebrate you, baby
We have to praise you like we should.’
‘Cos no one else is gonna do it for you.
After 17 years of having a ‘proper’ PR job, Sam Howard takes a moment to reflect on her first year as a freelancer.
So I took the leap of freelance faith one year ago now. I started with just one contract (that’s all you need) and an old laptop (such a bad idea). A year later and I’m busy and increasingly teaming up with industry mates to deliver on a wider brief.
And I’m know I shouldn’t boast but also the proud owner of:
- A shiny new laptop (bought in great distress):
- A comfortable office chair (couldn’t actually stand after that first month perched on rustic dining room chair);
- An all-singing all-dancing printer (I tried a basic one, but running to the shop to pay 10p for photocopy soon lost its appeal);
- A fan heater (essential);
- A dog (absolutely not essential and quite possibly a really bad idea but I’m sticking with it.)
I’ve celebrated making it to Year One with a new office rug and several cocktail parties for those who have looked after me most. (“Mind the rug!”). Forgive this nostalgic moment while I reflect on the year gone by…
What was the best revelation?
That I would enjoy it quite so much, even the dodgy days are somewhat thrilling. I love the diversity of work and the random twists opportunities offer. Despite my commercial brain, I don’t seem to be overly obsessed with making a fortune (handy). Just doing good work and getting paid well enough for it, works fine for me.
What was a complete let down?
My misperception that if I didn’t have any paid work I’d be just working on my tan. If you don’t have paid work, you feel somewhat obliged to look for it, and even if it’s already on the horizon, then you still labour over laptop every day staying on top of admin marketing accounts etc. A year in, and Loose Women still remains a mystery to me. Damn that work ethic. And it turns out I hate doing my own PR. I ordered some business cards off the internet and I do enjoy writing this occasional blog, as long as I don’t have to pitch myself as a ‘thought leader’, but beyond that, turns out I’m not very interested – which I think, given my training, is a bit rubbish.Is there
Anything you miss about your old life?
Well I’m not lonely which I was a bit worried about, but I walk the dog every morning so usually bump into someone to chat to, and then I shout at self-same dog quite a lot all day which keeps the volume up. As predicted, it’s the IT department that I miss. The combination of having a giant house rabbit that’s addicted to power cables and my own complete inability to do anything other than cry when the black blinky screen shows, means, I’ve truly and repeatedly suffered.
If it’s so great do you wish you’d done it sooner?
Erm maybe, not sure. If I’d gone solo earlier in my career I’m not convinced I would really have known what I was doing, ten years in a busy agency means you are learning every day and I’m really glad I have that experience. Without it I think I would have been just too freaked to enjoy this solo life. As it is, my instincts are nicely honed and the advice I give has usually been proven.
So what’s next?
Well no plans for global domination or any more pets (there’s more of them than us now). But perhaps I should go on a dating site just to spice things up a little. Place an ad that might read:
“Mostly chirpy freelancer, smelling slightly of wet dog, would occasionally like to meet IT Geek with too much time on his hands and an endless supply of cables for emergency assistance and fun times (deadline dependent).”
Huge thanks to my early adopter clients who were kind enough to hire me, pay me and refer me. And to my gorgeous friends who have looked after me this just-a-bit-scary, year. My round this next time.