Hello, I’m Chloe. I’m now a very fulfilled professional attention seeker aka a marketing and brand strategist shaping community, brands and culture. Supporting individuals, SMEs and communities within the fashion, food and lifestyle sectors. I spend my day helping other people achieve their business goals through content, communications and branding. My working day is filled with inspiration, creativity and colour. I am constantly learning, developing my skillset and finally enjoying the freedom to create things in my own time. But it hasn’t always been this way. Leaving my safe, rent covering job to go freelance wasn’t a decision I made lightly, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’d like to share with you how I went freelance and to highlight there are no right or wrongs in the world of freelancing
Let’s go back to the beginning…
When I was in my final semester of Arts University my careers adviser gave me a career survey. The results? That I should become a freelancer. I was graduating with a first from a top arts university however, the jobs market was sluggish, and I wasn’t 100% certain I could sustain myself being freelance on the few industry contacts I had and my 5 years prior experience. Instead, post-graduation I joined a product and marketing agency for three years, up-skilling my learnings. A stint of management and marketing in the hospitality sector followed, building up my confidence and contacts. It took me a few years, but I’m finally ready to admit that the survey was right. I did have all the attributes for the freelance life, I just needed the experience and life learnings of industry before breaking away from the band and going solo.
2020 was a really big year for me both personally and professionally. Resulting in lots of change and a fair bit of change that I couldn’t control. I was working in hospitality at one of the most challenging points in time (Hello, COVID) I was overworked, tired and dealing with (At least I thought at the time) the fallout of trauma. I was in need of a break. My brain was overloaded. I wasn’t doing anything creative beyond writing very sad soliloquies on my way to and from work in the dark and I had a lot of brain fuzz I knew I needed to properly address before making my next move. I handed in my notice, much to the surprise of my boss and took a time out. A quarter life sabbatical, if you will.
I couldn’t run on a half empty tank of gas. Whether employed by someone or being self-employed. I needed to re-assess what was important, what I wanted from my career and what I wanted to learn. I took a step back and prioritised self-care, truly taking my time to figure myself out. As an avid planner and lover of an organised spreadsheet, it was quite a challenge to just be and let my brain and body do its own thing.
Going from a 65hr week to 0 was a reality shock. I really struggled with how to relax to start with. I couldn’t make plans or keep plans. I was flailing around, trying to reconnect with my sense of self that didn’t involve my work or my job. I knew I had to let things play their course. The only element I committed to in that time was understanding my finances.
I took a long hard look at how much I had in the bank and how long it would last for. I filed away all my paperwork and cut costs immediately where I could. I was bootstrapping backwards. In the interest of transparency, I am, in my current personal life, in what I consider a privileged position; I am without children, single with no mortgage and no debt. After the sums, factoring in my pay I’d saved, my holiday I hadn’t used and my ‘Tighten the belt’ attitude, I projected that I’d be all good with a hood over my head until February 2021. And with that clearly planned out in my head and my rent direct debit set, I did the unfathomable and took 3 months off.
Family panicked, friends didn’t, and colleagues said it was about time. From my perspective, if I was going to go solo, I knew I had to be the best version of myself possible. With that, I made a plan to not make a plan and to take my time to get my shit together, winging it in an intentional way. I rested, listened to podcasts, did a tremendous amount of reading and continued to engage in online creative communities to get my inspiration levels back up. I wrote about my experiences, created boundaries, built resilience and did all of those niggly life bits: form filling, email clearing, staying on hold for an hour to sort my council tax bill. I got my shit together.
Along the way I kept track of what I was enjoying and not enjoying so much. I revisited old projects and reviewed what elements of the process I truly enjoyed and wanted to do more of. I picked up my camera and tried new things. I made TikTok videos that will never see the light of day (thank goodness), and personal video essays for future me to look back on and appreciate the growth. I found balance. I found equilibrium and I got my mojo back. I had to have a break to rebuild and move forward.
Building my freelance offering
Upon reflection, I truly only wanted to work with businesses that I got excited about. Sounds simple, but we can probably all admit that that’s not the reality when we’re faced with bills to pay or bosses calling the shots. I decided that marketing, specifically content marketing and social media were things I was really interested and skilled in and that food and fashion should be my sectors. Drawing from my previous experience and personal interests (I’m a massive foodie.) I decided that I needed to be inspired by the work I was creating day in, day out and marketing a law firm simply wasn’t going to cut it! I knew from my various research projects that the more niche I went, the more focused and rewarding my work would be.
Specialising also renewed my perspective on competition. Being within food, fashion and community based creative projects allowed me to connect with other female branding experts and marketeers to share ideas, lift each other up and hype their skills without the sense of competition.
Whilst I didn’t get a guidebook on going freelance, my amazing, supportive community were there to support me when I had questions or needed guidance. Through my personal work I learnt to let go of things, I realised no one path is the same, we’re all winging it in our own individual way, and I sought comfort in that. By this point I had everything I needed to give being my own boss my best shot and feel empowered: a laptop, a desk, an endless supply of fresh filter coffee, my brain and a selection of ‘Zoom earrings.’ I was good to go.
I didn’t put any pressure on finding clients. I slowly started to tell ex colleagues, tweet about it and put in pitches to prospective clients. My first freelance gig came from a previous connection within the fashion industry, as did my third client. My second client came from a round of international pitching and a very long reference process. By Christmas I had a selection of clients with repeat work. Having a small number of clients allowed me to perfect my process, establish my rates and open myself up to new opportunities.
A new routine
Whilst I do believe a schedule is important, I recently got caught out saying I work ‘typical office hours.’ The moment the words left my mouth I had a “Why did I say that?” moment and the journalist on the end of the line knew it too. So here’s the truth of it. Yes, I do work long days. I do find myself working on a weekend and I am that person who emails early in the morning and late at night (I have a disclosure at the bottom of my email, I do not expect other people to work out of their preferred office hours) But it’s a balance. I might take a Tuesday off or feel really inspired at 9pm. Freelance gives me the opportunity to create my own time schedule. All of my clients know that they get the very best from me this way. Cultivating a happy freelance culture is imperative to me. If I’m not singing away to 80s jams in my studio, something is wrong.
With 2020 only highlighting the changing work landscape and with zoom becoming the new office, I’ve been able to connect with people from all over the world through online communities, just like Found & Flourish. I’ve never felt so supported by complete strangers, most of whom I’ll never meet. People who also were searching for a sense of community within an uncertain, challenging time. Whilst I’m only just starting out on my freelance career journey, I’m amazed at how calm I’ve been in the face of freelance and financial uncertainty and I’m glad I’ve taken the time to truly reflect on the ground I’ve covered throughout the year. It turns out that we’re capable of more than we think, with capabilities often presenting themselves in uncertain ways. I encourage you to define what success means to you and honour your gut instincts, it will be sure to take you in the right direction.
Where you can find me
About your author
Chloe is a marketing & brand strategist shaping, brands, culture & community. Supporting individuals, SMEs & communities within the fashion, food & lifestyle sectors.
You can find out more about Chloe and her business here.
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