What’s the reality of working as a Comms Consultant? Today I have a special guest post for you by Ellie Buckingham.
Regular readers of my blog will know Ellie shared her thoughts about launching her own business six months ago. She’s back to reveal the highs and lows of working for yourself.
I’m grateful to Ellie (pictured) for her honesty in this article, she’s been working incredibly hard to build not only her business but be a fantastic role model to her daughters. It’s been hard work and she’s given insights into what the past six months have been like.
If you follow me on Twitter @AllthingsIC you’ll know I’m going to be offline for a month from tomorrow until September and the office will be closed.
I won’t be blogging or posting social media updates as I’m investing in quality time with my six-year-old daughter and three-year-old twin sons over the Summer. This is my new non-negotiable and I will then be working four days a week from September to be with my boys for 12 months until they start school.
If you’re an aspiring Comms Consultant, sign up to my Exploration Masterclass on 8 November to discover what it’s like and explore whether it’s the right move for you. If you’re already a Consultant and wish to gain momentum in your business, my Momentum Masterclass on 20 November 2018 is the right one for you.
Diary of a freelancer – six months in…
I started freelancing back in January. Straight off the back of redundancy, as a mum of two young children, I knew finding an employed role that wasn’t Monday to Friday 9-5 would be tough; if not impossible. I hoped freelancing would give me the flexibility I needed to be around for the children, while still pushing my career forward.
It’s been a challenging few months, and really exciting too. It’s been a learning curve, both personally and professionally, and with the massive highs there have been some very low lows.
But ultimately, I think it has worked out.
I feel like I need to add a caveat early on in the blog though. Back in February when Rachel shared my ‘Diary of a Freelancer’ blog, that’s what I thought I’d be. But, six months on, it’s probably more accurate to call myself a contractor… albeit with a sprinkle of freelancing on the side!
In April I secured a part-time contract role with a Fortune 500 company as the communications lead for a change project across Europe, Middle East and Africa. But alongside that I’m partnering with employee engagement agency, Axiom, and regularly blogging for the creative communications agency, Alive with Ideas.
During my first six months, there have been lots of lessons learned, that I hope that sharing a few might be helpful to anyone considering taking the self-employed leap…
I have my own business
It’s an uncomfortable thing to say, especially in the early days when your P&L is most definitely in the L side of the camp, but I own my own business. As a passionate advocate for girl power, I’m surprised I still find it a strange thing to be proud to say. It feels a bit awkward somehow.
But even if you can’t say it, it’s an important thing to be aware of, particularly in the early days, so that you tick all the right boxes.
Firstly, you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons of being a limited company vs a sole trader. Lots of people will have opinions and give advice, but ultimately you need to read up on both so you can make an informed decision.
Secondly, you’ll need insurance. In our line of work, that’s professional indemnity as the minimum. If you’re going into client offices, you’ll probably want to think about bolting public liability on too.
And thirdly, and possibly most importantly, as a sole-trader you’ll need to register with HMRC within your first three months of trading. I did it really early on, just so I didn’t get snowed under with work and forget!
I’ve found that particularly when contracting, you need to hit the ground running. You have to prove why you deserve the day rate, or the title of ‘consultant’ or ‘lead.’ You’re probably there to plug a resource or skill gap, so your client, and the business, is likely to be in desperate need of your advice or skills.
At the start, it can be quite daunting. You have big boots to fill. It’s like starting school a month after the rest of the class but being expected you to know the same things they do.
It stressed me out a lot to begin with. There were a lot of pep talks inside my head on the way to the office.
You give a lot for free
I’ve done a lot for free, and that’s ok.
From writing content to build up my social media presence and writing portfolio, to working on pitches for work that unfortunately never come to fruition, or going above and beyond for a client, because it’s the right thing to do.
Remember that feeling when you start a new job? The awkwardness of figuring out who’s who, what the culture’s like, how to book a meeting room, where to get a cup of tea… Most people only have that experience a handful of times in their career. Freelancers and contractors have that every time they win a new client.
While it does sound frightening, it’s also really exciting. It gives you insights and experiences of different businesses and people, that you can take with you into future roles.
I ummed and ahhed about how honest to be here. I don’t want to scare people off becoming self-employed – particularly parents, as it is really difficult to juggle working and parenting. But, as a communicator I’m always advising people to be honest and open, so I’m taking my own advice!
When I started out, I would boldly proclaim that freelancing would allow me to work more flexibly. I had a few chuckles from people who had been freelancing for a while.
Now I know why.
I had visions of walking my daughter to and from preschool, tapping away happily on my laptop at home in between, having a couple of non-working days spending quality time with the children, and never having to shout at them again in the morning because they were making me late for a meeting.
That may have happened once or twice.
If anything, it’s actually more complicated now I’m freelancing, because things aren’t the same every week, and it can be difficult to juggle childcare because of that, or I have to turn down paid work because I don’t have any. When I’ve had freelance work on top of my contract role, part-time became more like full-time, or I would work every evening. My challenge is that I’m not an early bird, and I’m not a night owl.
I’m just an exhausted working mum of two, trying to find something that works for my family. And I’m probably not quite there yet, which can frustrate me.
But, there is a flip side.
Being self-employed has allowed me to work my schedule so I’ve never missed anything important in either of my daughters’ lives, and most weeks I spend two weekdays with them. As a contractor or a freelancer, it’s easier to pick and choose when you work. For me, that was one of the most important reasons I chose this path. And to lead nicely into the next point, financially it’s been worth it too.
So for all the negatives, there are a huge amount of positives to balance them out. And when there’s not, there’s always wine.
It’s all about the money
At the beginning, day rates are confusing. I spent a lot of time deliberating what to charge and trying to find ways to benchmark it. I spent months feeling uncomfortable about telling people what my day rate was and saying silly things like “my rate’s negotiable.” Six months on, the biggest shift for me is that I’m now comfortable having those conversations, and I have a much clearer idea on what to charge.
(Check this out from VMA Group: How to calculate your day rate – Rachel).
I know my weaknesses, and my biggest is numbers. I’m terrible at maths, so the idea of working out tax and profits gave me cold sweats. A few people advised me to get an accountant, and I’d give the same advice to anyone else who’s starting out. I have enough to worry about. Having an accountant gives me peace of mind that my finances and my taxes are being done right.
Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to be a Communication Consultant: Getting paid.
With a little help from your friends
At the start I assumed it would be a dog-eat-dog world, with freelancers fighting over work. It’s quite the opposite.
I’ve had so many people – Rachel included – supporting me, giving me advice, helping me network, and recommending me for work. At every possible opportunity I try to give the same back.
There’s such a strong community of people running their own businesses, and they all want to help each other, and open doors.
I’ve been hugely grateful for everyone that’s helped me or given me work, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them – they know who they are. I owe them a lot. Or at the very least, a drink.
Post author: Ellie Buckingham.
Thank you for coming back to my blog and sharing how you’re getting on Ellie. Thank you for your honesty about the working for yourself and the highs and lows it brings. You can find her on Twitter @lilyrosewrites and check out her website.
Want to know more about being a Consultant? See the series I published earlier this year:
- How to be a Comms Consultant – getting started
- How to be a Comms Consultant – where to work
- How to be a Comms Consultant – getting paid.
What to read over the Summer
If your thoughts are turning to Summer, see my reading list to discover some recommended books to read. I crowdsourced them from the IC community.
Thank you for stopping by
First published on the All Things IC blog 28 July 2018.