Podcast Episode 12: It’s not about luck (well, it’s a little bit about luck) aka “The harder you work, the luckier you get”

In this brand new podcast episode, Lorrie and I tackled a rather tricky subject – just how much of freelancing success is luck? We discuss whether the “you’re so lucky!” sentiment actually downplays the hard work that writers put in, or whether saying that hard work automatically will equal success is unfair to those who do put in the effort but still struggle to meet their goals.

As you can imagine, there were lots of issues to cover, and we hope we did it justice! Listen, enjoy and spread the word!

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Transcript:

Philippa: Hello, and welcome to Episode 12 of A Little Bird Told Me: the podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful freelance writing.  Now, before we start we wanted to apologise for the lack of podcast last week.  Lorrie had a really nasty bug and I had tonnes of work to do.  This is going to happen from time-to-time but we do, as a rule, aim to produce weekly podcasts.


I’m Philippa Willitts…


Lorrie: …And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and yes, it’s been a hugely busy and buggy week but, we are back to it now, so you can all breathe a massive sigh of relief.  Before we get on to our topic for today, I just want to remind you if you head over to ALittleBirdToldMe.Podomatic.com you can subscribe to the podcast so you never miss another episode.


There are a number of ways you can subscribe including RSS feed, iTunes, Sticher Smart Radio, and you can also find all the links to our social media feeds and websites so you’ll never miss us again.


Philippa: We would also love it if you left us a review on iTunes, or a comment on Stitcher.  If you liked the podcast, do share it with others.  We would love to get your help to get the word out.


Lorrie: It’s true.  Anybody you can think of to tell, tell them!  We love to have new listeners.  We’ve got some great feedback so far and we hope to carry on, so all we need are people with ears, or indeed eyes, because we have a transcript for every episode.


Philippa: We do indeed.


Chinese lucky cat

Chinese lucky cat (Photo credit: _yammynelly_)

Lorrie: Today, we’re going to be talking about a bit of a contentious issue and that’s about how to succeed as a freelance writer or a freelance anything really, and how it’s really a case of luck.  Now, we do hear a lot of people out and about and on social media sort of lamenting their lack of success as a freelancer and it’s often before they’ve even tried anything.


The message that Pip and I always try and get across is that, like anything, building a self-employed or freelance career does take hard work and dedication as well as imagination and persistence.


Philippa: Exactly, you think it would be obvious really, that starting and running your own freelance business is hard work but, both Lorrie and I have come across the attitude from others that it’s a matter of luck more than effort.


Lorrie: It’s true.  I mean, I really do get the impression sometimes that people think I sort of fell into freelancing like, “Whoops, I’m freelancing!”  It is really not the case.  I’ve been plugging away at it for 10 years now, although I did start out part-time.  People ask me things like, “Do you reckon I can do a little copywriting on the side?”  Or, “How do you manage to get so many clients.”  And it’s a bit of a head in my hands moment, really.


I got into freelancing because I made a conscious effort to get into freelancing.  It was based on a conscious decision and I’ve made a real effort over the years to make it work.


Philippa: This is it.  I mean, it’s almost insulting when people say, “How do you have so much work?”  Kind of like it’s being bestowed upon me from above.


Lorrie: Most of it has been bestowed on me from above, but I’m quite short, so it’s not really much of a shock.  But you know, you’re right, a lot of people who talk to me, they’re genuinely talented people but unfortunately they seem to be labouring under this misapprehension that talent is enough and it’s not.  It’s never enough.

I’ve seen frankly mediocre freelancers do exceptionally, exceptionally well because they’re so consistent in what they do and they’re really persistent in their approach to marketing and business development.


Philippa: Definitely, I’ve seen the same.  It would be lovely if talent was enough, it really would, but sadly, clients don’t know that you’ve got talent if they’ve never heard of you.


Lorrie: This is it.  You can’t be invisible because people aren’t going to come and hunt you out to offer you work.  It would be great if they did.  I see some people on the Internet, and on social media, and in my emails and things and they don’t bother responding to clients and their social media’s all to pot, and I think, “You must have clients to throw away.”  But for most of us, that’s not the case and you might be good but you definitely are not the only decent freelancer out there.


There is somebody who is just as good as you, or even as we said before, not as good as you, if they’re more visible, they’re going to get noticed by clients not you.


Philippa: This something that can be quite difficult to tackle really as an issue, because lots of things come into play when you’re talking about how or why one person is successful and another is.  Neither Lorrie nor I believe that it is all very clear cut and all you have to do is X, Y, and Z and you’ll be successful.  It is more complicated than that.  But, what does get frustrating is the assumption that making a freelance career work is simply a matter of, “Ooh, lucky you.”


Lorrie: Yeah, definitely.  It really seems to be a very, very common assumption, at least from what I’ve seen.


Philippa: It does and there is always an element of luck in anything, but putting it all down to luck does discount all the effort that people put in to get work and to then do the work well.  Now of course, there will always be occasional bits of luck in terms of getting work.  You might meet someone randomly who just happens to need the exact service you offer and then hires you.  Or, you might have a friend who starts a business and needs copy for their entire website, for instance, and you’re the only copywriter they know.


But that’s not exclusive to freelancers.  There are people who get a job interview because their mum’s friend was doing the listing.  There are people who find their ideal job in a newspaper that someone else left on a train.  There is luck in every part of life.  But, other aspects of what looks like luck are actually not so much.


For instance, I could be considered lucky that one of my clients knew other people who also needed some copywriting.  So he was able to act as a go between and get me work from them and take a commission himself.  So I got extra work, but that luck was actually part of a really carefully planned marketing campaign that I did that included a plan for referrals and targeting prospects really carefully based on who may well be in a position to contract work to me from their own clients.


It wasn’t a lucky accident; it was something I thought out, spent a lot of time on and designed to work that way.


Lorrie: Definitely.  I think there is a real tendency to be quite fatalistic actually, when thinking about freelancing.  There’s this attitude of “Oh, it will either happen or it won’t” and people forget that in freelancing, perhaps more than in any other career really, you are the one who has to make things happen.  The impression does seem to be quite often that working for yourself is some sort of easy option.


Philippa: Hahaha! Bitter laughter at this end!


Lorrie: Hahaha! I wouldn’t say, “Bitter”, more just “tired”!


Philippa: Hahahaha! Overworked!


Lorrie: Over worked, under paid, tired!  It’s true there’s no boss breathing down your neck but I don’t understand this belief that if you’re talented enough, people are going to seek you out and just throw work at you.  When people start getting an inkling that this might not be the case, and I’m thinking of people who are interested in freelancing or who are new to freelancing, that’s usually when they come and chat to someone like Pip or me.


I think we discussed it in Episode 10 actually, more often than not Pip and I are happy to give any advice that we’ve got.


Philippa: Yeah, definitely.  I mean, that’s one of the reasons we do these podcasts.


Lorrie: It’s true.  But, the problem I come across really often, and it’s something that I had to be quite careful with in Episode 10 because I didn’t want to come across like I didn’t want to help anybody, but fairly recently I’ve found that when people are approaching me and I suggest to them that they try freelancing, or that they try certain techniques to overcome problems they’re having with getting started as a freelancer, I find their interest level drops dramatically the minute I come up with something that sounds like hard work or a bit of a gamble.


Philippa: Yeah.


Lorrie: There’s always 101 reasons why the suggestions just won’t work, and there’s no comprehension of the fact that actually it’s up to you to sit down and find ways to get over these hurdles.  Sometimes I really do get the impression, when I’m approached by some people, and asked for tips on freelancing, and “How do I get into copywriting?”, and “How do I do this?” that they really think that I’m missing a trick and there really can’t be that much work involved!


Philippa: This is really true.  People often ask me how I find work when they find out what I do.  Once I start explaining the numerous steps involved their eyes just start to glaze over.


Lorrie: It’s true!


Philippa: But this is the reality of it.  Work doesn’t just arrive with no effort on the part of the writer, it doesn’t come with the morning post.  You either seek it out which is frankly relentlessly hard but necessary work, or you occasionally get approached based on something you’ve written before.  But even that, is actually based on previous hard work; it’s still not a matter of pure chance.


Lorrie: Yeah.  I mean, you’re completely right it’s a bit of a truism but in this game you make your own luck, at least a lot of it.  Definitely, I’ve had some lucky breaks, I’m not going to say, “Oh, it was all a massive slog.”  There were good points as well as bad points.  But the fact is I put myself out there a lot, I’m consistently obnoxious on LinkedIn like, “Hey everybody.  I’m having a great day doing some copywriting, doing some other things!”


I’m out there and I’m constantly letting people know what services I offer.  I offer discounts to people, I do all sorts of things to try and attract new business.  Also, what people are forgetting as well is that there have been loads of mistakes along the way.  It’s been a learning experience and I’ve had to just take the rough with the smooth.


Philippa: Of course.  I know, in one of the earlier episodes I talked about this brilliant marketing idea I had when I would proof read a page of somebody’s website on spec and then email them and say, “Look, I found these mistakes on your website.  Why don’t you hire me to do the rest?” and I thought, “This is a brilliant idea!”  I didn’t get a single bite.


But the thing is you have to do things like that in order to find out that it’s not going to work and then you need another tack.  Ideally, you need about four or five to start off with.


Lorrie: I did the same thing you suggested, at first I thought, “Yeah, this is working really, really well.”  I just ended up doing loads of proofreading for free! Haha!


Philippa: Exactly.


Lorrie: Which wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Fair enough, I got a little bit of praise and a couple of testimonials out there like, “Oh, you’ve done just a good job.”  But it certainly didn’t pay the bills.  With some people they got in touch with me and said, “Could you do one of the sample proofreads for my website for me?”  And I never heard from them again!


Philippa: Yeah, because while there are always certain proven tactics you can try that will increase the likelihood of having success with your marketing, it isn’t a pure science.  There are no guarantees and you do have to take risks.  Now, if you’re something like a freelance writer these risks needn’t be horrifically expensive.  You’re not going to be putting billboards up that go wrong or anything like that.  But you still do need to go somewhere out of your comfort zone and try things.

Lorrie mentioned about taking risks, and it’s true. When you’re not in that out of your comfort zone place and you’re doing your day-to-day writing work, something that’s important to remember is that you’re only ever as good as the last piece of work you submitted.  You can have written a dozen flawless press releases for a company but if the most recent one was late, and it had typos, and there was no coherent structure, and no contact information they will probably go elsewhere next time.  You have to always be on top of your game because you have to prove yourself pretty much daily.


Lorrie: Yeah, that’s true.  That is absolutely true.  I’ve suppose it’s a bit unfair when you come to think about it but, at the end of the day, clients can be really fickle.  To a certain extent they can afford to be because they’re paying you.  It’s not mates’ rates or doing a favour for a friend, a client wants the product; they don’t want you.  Especially, when there are so many people who are fighting to take your place and offer lower price, a quicker turnaround.


A client’s head can be turned really, really quickly and you have to stay on top of your game.  You can do that quite easily but again, it’s a long game and it’s a long game that takes a lot of effort.  We’re talking training, research, reading, online courses, networking events –  anything you can think of really, do it and keep your skills polished.


Philippa: A while ago I clicked a link that I saw on Twitter and it was to a blog post, I can’t remember where, but if I can find it I’ll add the link to the show notes, but this post is called something like “How to be better than 95% of your freelance competitors”.  I mean, how could I not click on something with that title.


Lorrie: Haha, you sly fox. There I was thinking we’re all in this together.


Philippa: The thing that really shocked me was the article was saying things like, “Astounding as it is, the way to be better than nearly all freelancers is to submit your work on time, and be pleasant when you’re interacting with clients and potential clients.”  Now, it sounds ridiculous that people are giving out that kind of advice but sadly there are many freelancers who don’t follow even those rules.  It’s similar with doing even basic marketing, if people aren’t willing to do that they can’t be surprised when they don’t magically get jobs.


Lorrie: Oh my word, yes.  I mean, I’ve been amazed recently, honestly I have, by just how many established freelancers seem to be just happy to completely bend the rules and hand work in late, and hand it in unfinished and just be like, “Yeah, I’ll get the rest to you ASAP.”


Philippa: It’s unbelievable.


Lorrie: Then you get people wanting to get into freelancing but worrying about taking the first teeny weeny little step.  Sometimes, honestly, I feel like shaking people and saying, “Look, these people can’t even get work in on time and they’re freelancers.  The only thing between you and being a freelancer is saying, ‘I’m a freelancer.’  So, what’s stopping you?”


Philippa: I’ve had more clients than I can remember who thanked me profusely for getting my work in on time and who tell me how rare that is.  Now, that should not be the case.  I do get my work in on time, it’s very important to me that I do.  It’s vital for me and it’s absolutely basic, it shouldn’t be a rarity.


Lorrie: No, no, it really, really shouldn’t.  It is something that I want to cover in my next solo episode.  Recent experience with both clients and other freelancers actually has shown me exactly the thing that we’re talking about now which is that many freelancers and many wannabe freelancers really are falling down on the most basic of things.  Sometimes it’s really frustrating because things like time management, admin, communication, all the stuff you need to be on top of when you don’t have support staff and managers, a boss breathing down your neck, an HR department, accounting department – there’s so much.


If you want to be self employed you really have to be self employed because you are the only thing keeping your business moving, keeping plates spinning.  If you stop, your business is going to come crashing down more quickly than you think.


Philippa: This is true.  While people may imagine that freelance writers spend the majority of their time reading poetry in a sunny park surrounded by admirers and having a muse to inspire writing perfection, the reality isn’t always quite so blissful.


Lorrie: No, it’s not exactly the life of lattes and velvet jackets I was hoping for, to be honest. Never mind!


Philippa: It is really hard work.  It involves stepping out of your comfort zone in many ways.  Like Lorrie said, the fact that you have to do every aspect of running your business means you have to suddenly become enough of an expert in a lot of areas.  It’s hard. You get dream commissions and you get awful commissions and, if you’re doing this to make a living, you can’t really pick and choose between them because the bills have to be paid.  Doing just the ones that boost your ego, or promote your profile, or are just simply on a subject you love, will limit your work and that will limit your income.  If you hate marketing, if you hate financial spreadsheets, if you hate admin then it’s kind of bad luck because you just have to do it.


Lorrie: Honestly, you really do touch on a point that I want to cover so much, but I have to be careful with myself not to be too cross about it because what you touch is basically what I call the X Factor attitude; it’s kind of like, “This wasn’t my dream.  I want to follow my dream, it’s my dream!”


You have people going on about the dream commission, the horrible stuff…The number of times I’ve seen freelancers or wannabe freelancers almost stamping their feet really at the idea of having to do work that doesn’t interest them in order to grow their business and pay the bills, it’s phenomenal.


I feel like saying, “Some of the subjects I write about – I don’t do it for fun, I do it because it’s my job.  It’s copywriting it’s not writing.”


Philippa: So true, being upset if some work isn’t deeply fulfilling is not going to get you very far.  Speaking of the X Factor, slightly off topic, something that particularly bugs me on this program is 15-year-olds going, “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”  I’m going, “You’re 15!”  Hahaha! But anyway, as you mentioned X Factor that’s always my particular annoyance.


Lorrie: Oh, dear.  But you know, to go back to it, really, genuinely, I see people almost throwing tantrums and it’s like, “Yes, but I don’t want to write about that.  I don’t get how to monetise this.  I don’t want to talk about that.  That doesn’t interest me.”  I feel like saying, “Sorry love, but it’s the nature of the beast because I would love to be paid a fortune for everything.”


I write a lot of short stories, if somebody was going to pay me as much for them as I get paid for copywriting I’d be in heaven.  But the fact is, that just isn’t the way life goes.  I take on commercially viable work so that I can spend some time building up my fiction.  That, like the rest of my work, the fiction it’s not just a case of sitting down and waiting to be discovered.  It’s loads of hard work, it’s loads of content production, reading, research, marketing, thinking about the long game and really being the driving force behind it.  I’m not sitting there having a sulk.


Philippa: This might sound a bit brutal but if you want to succeed as a freelancer but you’re not putting the work in, it’s not that you’re unlucky, it doesn’t work like that.  Unfortunately, unless you put the hours in, and that includes finding work as well as doing the work you get really well…


Lorrie: Even if you find it massively boring.


Philippa: Even that.  Plus also, putting the hours in liaising with clients and so on.  If you don’t do those things then work is unlikely to just land on your desk.  And, if work does land on the desk of a fellow freelancer who did all that stuff to generate it, that doesn’t make them luckier, it means they worked harder in this particular instance.


Lorrie: Definitely.  As we just mentioned before, there is no magic formula to it.  There’s no waving a wand and getting loads of work.  We’re not saying that if things are a bit tough that it’s all your fault, that’s definitely not the message we’re trying to send out here.  Some of it might be because of things you’re doing or not doing.  Some of it might be just the way life goes sometimes.  Freelancing is really tough and sometimes it can be really disheartening.  You will have down weeks, or down months.


You’ll try something like my proofreading thing and you’ll work really hard on it in good faith and sometimes it just doesn’t work.  You know, I talked to someone on Twitter recently and he’d done his best for a client and he found that they just weren’t happy with what he produced and what’s more they weren’t willing to take in all of the previous good work that he’d done into account and they just don’t want to hire him anymore.  It stings but it’s just the way it goes sometimes.


Philippa: Yeah, there are lots of factors that are beyond our control.  We can’t get every job that we pitch for, we can’t please every client no matter how hard we try.  I think the nature of freelancing is that there will be dry periods as much as there are periods when you’re overrun with work.  We’re not saying that if you’re having a dry period then you’re doing it all wrong, there’s way too much to take into account.


However, there are also things that it’s vital to be doing if you want to have a chance at getting some of this “luck” that people keep talking about!


Lorrie: Completely.   I mean, as Pip says, there’s no saying that if you’re going through a dry patch that you’re a complete failure and you’re never going to get it to work but if you are going through a dry patch, try and be honest with yourself.  There’s no better time than a dry patch to look at yourself and really give an honest assessment of what you might be doing or not doing that’s not helping you.


It goes for the work, it goes for marketing, it goes for self promotion.  Depending on the unique mix of clients, and projects, and sectors, and skills, and anything else that you’ve got on your plate, different things will have different effects. Sometimes you can be really, really salesy and that will bring you massive business and other times people just think you’re being obnoxious and they’ll bugger off.


That’s another reason that you have to stick at it and that you have to be consistent.  It’s like I mentioned in, I think Episode Nine, one of my first solo episodes, don’t just try one thing and then give it up.  Especially in the early stages, you need to find out what works and then get that down to a fine art.  Don’t just try one thing and then go, “Oh, this is too hard.”


Chinese Lucky Cats

Chinese Lucky Cats (Photo credit: manda678)

Philippa: I wrote a blog guest post for a copywriting website which I’ll link to from the show notes, and in that I said something like, “Marketing as a freelancer is like throwing 100 balls into the air and trying to guess which four will be caught.”


Lorrie: That’s a great analogy.


Philippa: Yes, especially when you’re starting.  It really does feel like that and even, I like to think the longer and the more I do it, I’m not going to get 50 of those balls caught, but I do like to hope that I’ll eventually have a clearer idea of which four they might be.  But there was a famous copywriter, I can’t remember his name, he said, “50% of my marketing budget works but I just don’t know which 50%.”


Lorrie: That’s very true.


Philippa: You really do have to try lots of things.  Even things like the time of year, you might get away with doing something cheesy at Christmas in terms of marketing, but try that in February and everybody will hate you.  It would be lovely if we could find the brilliant marketing that worked for our business and then do it forever and nothing else, but even that’s not that straightforward.  You can certainly build on it, but you can’t get complacent.


Lorrie: This is it and that is what frustrates me when people actively approach you and me and say, “Give me some tips.  I want to get into freelance writing.  I want to do copywriting.”  Then they really don’t believe you when you say all this and it’s like, “No, no, it can’t be that hard.”  Or they’ll be, “Yeah, but…  Yeah, but…” to everything you suggest and it’s like, “Honestly, take my word for it.  After 10 years if I didn’t have to do all this stuff I wouldn’t.”


Philippa: If they have a yeah but, then they have an objection but it’s then their responsibility to find something more suitable.  If they says, “Oh, I couldn’t do cold calling because…” and I know that’s not something that either of us do so I quite agree with them, but if they say, “I couldn’t do cold calling because I feel too self conscious,” for instance it’s not then anybody else’s responsibility but theirs to come up with an alternative.


Lorrie: Definitely.


Philippa: Like you said, when people are saying, “Yeah but…” to everything you suggest then it’s really frustrating.


Lorrie: Especially the easy stuff.  Obviously, if somebody approaches me and says, “You know what, I’m unemployed, I really want to get into being self employed rather than going back into salaried work,” or, “I’ve got a part-time job and it’s not really paying the bills I need to do something else.”  I’m not going to go in at level 10, I’m going to go with the basics and obviously, the basics are a little bit boring sometimes.  That’s the way it is, the leg work is always a bit dull – of course it is.  As it is with anything, the basic stage, the first day of the job, it’s your induction and it’s all dull, dull, dull but it’s necessary.  There’s always this, “Yeah but…yeah but…”, like I haven’t thought about it.  Honestly, I know!


Philippa: “But if I email companies they might not reply!”  Then I go, “They probably won’t so you have to do quite a lot of it.”


Lorrie: Yeah, with cold calling, I hate phone calls! I absolutely hate calling people but I had to get over that.


Philippa: We’ve talked about that, haven’t we, ourselves?  Not on the podcast, but it’s something that both of us don’t enjoy but we both see that it makes such a difference to a relationship with a client.


Lorrie: It really does.


Philippa: We do it, but it’s still something that neither of us really relishes.


Lorrie: No, I have no natural affinity to phone calls at all I’m far more of an email person.  I don’t know if that’s because I’m a writer or a translator.  Maybe I’ve just been indoors too long with too many books.


But, it’s just one of those things and it’s kind of like, “Why don’t you set up a Facebook page for the business?”  or, “Why don’t you set up a Twitter account?”  It’s like, “Oh, but I don’t know how.”  It’s like, YouTube…Google… “Google is your friend!”, it really is.  Honestly, I’d love to record that as a jingle, I may have to actually, and play it for people: “Google is your friend!”  It really is!


Just learn how to do things.  If such a teeny weeny hurdle is going to stop you from freelancing…oh it’s not very good is it really?


Philippa: The thing is, in any job, any salaried position, when you are the employer, when you’re the employee, any job has bits that you really like hopefully, but also bits that you really don’t like.  It’s not exclusive to freelancing that there are parts of your job that you don’t get up excited to do.


Lorrie: But I think people think that freelancing will be a job without those bits.


Philippa: I think you’re right, I think they do and yet it’s actually a job, the same as anything else.


Lorrie: There are more of those bits as we say because, you’re your accountant, you do your tax returns, you do your invoicing.


Philippa: You don’t have the marketing department other than that part of your own brain.  You can’t refer things on to the other person in the office who you know knows more about certain things than you because you’re everybody.


Lorrie: That’s it.  When we first started doing the solo episodes of these podcasts, I didn’t know how to use sound recording software.  I had to go on YouTube and find out.  I’m not a naturally technical person.  I don’t enjoy it at all.  I had to watch a YouTube video quite a few times.  I’m not going to say how many because it’s embarrassing!


Philippa: But no, what that proves is that there was something that you weren’t confident at and you did what you could in order to be able to use it.  That’s a good thing.


Lorrie: Yes, this is it.  I would have much rather gone and read something about translation theory, because that’s my comfort zone.  But, needs must – I needed to record a podcast so I went and then found out how to record a podcast.


Philippa: One thing that is a really positive takeaway from all of this is to remember that there are practical steps you can take which will increase your luck in inverted commas.  Market yourself well, do any commissioned work that you get to your very best ability, stick to the deadlines you agreed to, always keep trying.  Like Lorrie said, it won’t always work or what works for one job won’t work for another, but by doing as much as you can the best you can, and by assessing what’s working and doing more of that, you do increase your chances.


Lorrie: This is it.  Especially, what you just said about assessing what you do, take a moment to look back over what you do.  Don’t just go for a scatter gun approach to work.  Be consistent and measure the results. That way you’re not trying one thing that doesn’t work twice, you’re saving yourself work.


Philippa: Yeah.  If you send out a marketing email to 20 different companies and you send four on a Monday, four on a Tuesday, four on a Wednesday, four on a Thursday, and four on a Friday, see do you get a dramatically different response rate depending on the different day, the different time of day, the different type of email?  You need to pay attention to that kind of thing so you can boil it down and have better luck.


Lorrie: Well that’s if you want to do less work in the future, otherwise you can stay at the same level and as we said, the leg work is no fun.  Basically, there is no magic formula.  I keep trying to think when people ask me, is it just A + B= C.”  But, when we say to people that it really just is hard work, I’m not being an ass about it.  Honestly, I’m not saying it to be difficult.  I’m not trying to keep people out of freelancing, I’m telling the truth.


Philippa: Yes, keeping it for yourself!


Lorrie: That’s it, keeping it all under my cloak.  I’m not, honestly!  I love freelancing, but it is hard work.  I’ve done other jobs and I’ve been in salaried employment for a number of years, but freelancing is perhaps one of the hardest things that I’ve done for all of the reasons we’ve mentioned.  You do everything yourself, you don’t get to leave the job at the office, you don’t get maternity, you don’t get sick pay, you don’t get holidays so you really do have to make sure that it works for you.


To do that, I think you often need to come up with solutions that are a little bit more creative especially starting out, as many people are and as I was when I started, I was 18 with little or no money.  To torture a cliché, because I do like doing that, you definitely have to think outside the box.  If you can see any opportunity to legitimately get a new lead whether that’s approaching someone and giving them a business card, asking a friend to put in a word for you with someone they know, contacting all your ex-colleagues and asking for testimonials which is what I did when I started out, then do it.


It’s a full-time thing, at least at first.  If you find yourself groaning and sighing like, “Ohh,” and all of that, I really would suggest without being harsh just turn around, get yourself on the job sites and stick to salaried employment because that’s just the beginning of it all.


I do love what I do even though it really doesn’t sound like it!  I do.  That was the leg work and although there is still always work to be done on that kind of level, it does level out after a while.  You’re not always going to be having to start up, you’re only going to be a newbie for so long.


I wouldn’t swap freelancing for anything.  As we discussed before, I love being flexible, I love the sense of achievement I get from winning new clients and doing the work for them.  I love thinking, “Oh my God, I’m a grown up: I have my own business.”  When people go what do you do?  I go, “I’m self employed.”  It’s a lovely feeling.


Philippa: I think I would conclude by saying I do feel lucky to be doing the job I do.  It suits me so well and I really do enjoy it and in that respect I am lucky.  But that’s not the same as saying that any success I have is down to luck.  I mean, this morning I spent two hours – two hours! – finding businesses to approach and looking at all sorts of spurious information to try and make sure they’re the best targeted people.  Then, starting the admin of actually doing it, personalising approaches because you can’t just be sending off the same thing to everyone and so on….and if that results in work then it’s due to that effort, it’s not any kind of random luck.


Lorrie: Definitely.  All you can do really is get your processes right and then stick to them.  Find what works and stick to it.  Really, we’re just hoping this podcast has given you a bit of an insight into making self employment work for you because, it can.  I do believe that self employment can work for most people as long as they’ve got the basic talent to pursue the freelance work that they want to do.


Although, it might sound like we’re doling out some really nasty hard truths, and I really hope it doesn’t, the advice that we’ve given in this episode is in response to genuine queries that both Pip and I have received pretty recently.


Philippa: It’s true, it’s a fairly consistent discussion that I have with various people.  It’s, I guess, we perhaps have been a bit along the hard line today, but I think to be honest, we’re doing it a bit kind of tough love really because we do both genuinely like our jobs.  But we also get a bit defensive sometimes when people suggest that we have it really easy and we’re being carried around on gold trays by handsome men.  It’s a great job but if people go into it and don’t put the leg work in then –

Lorrie: It’s a nightmare job.


Philippa: It’s a nightmare job and they’re probably not going to do very well.  The title of this episode, the “aka.” after the episode, the harder you work the luckier you get, was a phrase I saw on Pinterest of all places, just after Lorrie and I had been discussing this general subject.  I think our general message is that there are elements of true luck that happen to everybody at some stage, both good and bad and then there’s a lot of heavy digging you have to do yourself.  It is true, the harder you work the luckier you get.  You can never account for all sorts of random extra factors but working harder generally makes you luckier in freelancing.


Lorrie: Definitely.  I mean, I’ve spent the last two weeks in bed with a hot water bottle and feeling really, really poorly.  Now, I don’t get sick pay.  If I hadn’t spent so much time communicating with my clients and really building up strong relationships, and planning my social media in advance so that at least one or two useful articles go out every day, the wheels might have fallen off this freelance car.  But, because I work hard and because I keep the plates spinning, it’s been okay.


I’ve had a quiet couple of weeks.  I’ve managed to get a little bit of work done, and it’s all good.  But freelancing can be really, really hard.  And as Pip’s basically summed it up, you have to work hard to get the luck.  I’m lucky that my clients understand that I was feeling poorly but, they understand that I was poorly because I communicated well with them and they know that I’m normally reliable and that I normally get the work to them.


Philippa: You’ve proven yourself many times.


Lorrie: That’s it.  If I hadn’t, or if I’d been a bit flaky in the past they would have been like, “Oh, enough is enough, this is the final straw.”  Really, you might be thinking that the advice is primarily aimed at newbies to freelancing or that Pip and I think of ourselves as the royalty of freelancing but that is really not the case!


Philippa: Not at all.


Lorrie: Maybe for me, but…you know. But, it never does hurt to reassess yourselves, even if you’ve been doing it for years.  We get it all the time.  I often find myself reading through the podcasts transcripts, or having a listen to them again and taking advice that Pip shares on board and I’d hope vice versa.


Philippa: Oh, absolutely.  Absolutely.  We always seem to, when we finish recording, and then have a bit of a chat – a long chat! – we always, both of us say, “Oh that thing you said, I’m definitely going to try that.”  You can always get new ideas that can be helpful and just give you a fresh perspective.


Lorrie: True.  There are always ways to improve work, cut costs, and try something new.  If you think about it really, and don’t be defensive while you’re listening to this, even if you think, “Wait a minute, they might be talking about me.”  It’s in your interests to do it. Genuinely, even if you loath Pip and I now and think that we’ve been super harsh on everybody.  We’ve tried not to be, but even if you’re feeling a little bit like, “Hmm, I’m not sure I like that advice very much.”  Take it on board, have a think about it and honestly, honesty, honestly, I promise you it will make it more likely that you’ll succeed in freelancing.


Philippa: Yeah, definitely.  There is so much involved in freelancing and much of it is brilliant.  However, it’s not all brilliant because nothing is all brilliant.  I had a weird parallel at the beginning of last week when I was getting emails from Lorrie about how stressed she was because she was ill and it would mean she wouldn’t get as much work done as she normally would.


In parallel, I had a Facebook friend being joyous that she had a cold because she could have time off from her job.  It was a really weird parallel at the time because Lorrie getting ill was really stressful for her because of her business and yet some salaried people, not all, I know a lot of people in salaried jobs get stressed if they’re of sick because of the work they’ll miss and have to catch up and so on, but it was a quite interesting parallel at the time that the two were having simultaneous.


But it’s not easy, especially in circumstances like that.  But the really positive aspect about success being about more than luck is that it means that you can take positive steps yourself.  It means that it’s not in the laps of the Gods and there’s lots you can do to help yourself succeed.


So, that concludes Episode 12.  Thank you so much for listening.  I’ve been Philippa Willitts…


Lorrie: …and I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn.  Hopefully, we’ll catch you next time!

About Philippa Willitts

British freelance writer and proofreader.

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