5 Things I Learned in My First Year as a Freelance Publicist

Last year I was let go from my job and living in an area where no one was hiring—especially in the PR field. Considering my passion and experience was in public relations, I chose to take it upon myself to create my very own career path as a freelance publicist. Some make a brave, planned jump into consulting, while others are more forced into it due to circumstance. My foray into freelance work started without any clients and no experience in the business aspects of independent contracting. Happily, a year later I have successfully built a freelance career. I have four consistent clients, and have had to turn down projects I can’t fit into my schedule. Making the shift into solopreneurship has been one of the most terrifying and rewarding experiences of my life. I’m definitely looking forward, but every now and then it helps to look back on everything I’ve learned.

1. I BECAME COMFORTABLE WITH PITCHING MYSELF

As a business professional, and especially when you run your own business, it’s so important to keep track of – and stay in touch with – your contacts. For freelancer work, these existing relationships are often the lead to your next client referral. As a natural introvert, the idea of having to sell myself to potential clients used to give me anxiety. But I had to force myself out of my comfort zone and become comfortable with networking and asking for work in order to grow my business, So how did I start to build my business? Thanks to Google and LinkedIn I was able to get the contact information of businesses and individuals I wanted to work with. Then, I wrote an email explaining how I believed I could help, as well as highlighting previous experience, including my contact details and resume. I also reached out to former contacts and let them know about my new circumstances and latest areas of expertise.

2. I FIGURED OUT MY PERSONAL BRAND

Before my freelance career, I didn’t fully understand the idea of personal branding. To be honest, I would roll my eyes whenever someone would say, “you are your brand.” Now I understand that when you work for yourself, this statement couldn’t be more accurate. Starting a freelance business really makes you realize what it means to be your own brand. Over the past year, I cleaned up my social media presence by separating my personal and professional accounts. On my business profiles, I only share professional articles. I also branded my website, and learned to talk about my experience and services in a consistent way. I used Tumblr to share my portfolio, including press clippings, and Canva to create my logo and other fun, fun digital brand assets, which made a huge difference in my professional brand for very little cost.
AS A NATURAL INTROVERT, THE IDEA OF HAVING TO SELL MYSELF TO POTENTIAL CLIENTS USED TO GIVE ME ANXIETY. BUT I HAD TO FORCE MYSELF OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE AND BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH NETWORKING AND ASKING FOR WORK IN ORDER TO GROW MY BUSINESS,
At my previous PR firm, I never worried about my social media presence being a direct means to grow client work;  we weren’t allowed to add clients on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. But as an independent consultant, your online and social media efforts must help prospective clients to discover you and desire to contact you.

3. I LEARNED HOW TO SAVE AND SPEND MORE WISELY

The whole “feast or famine” myth for contract workers is absolutely true. Sometimes I had a full roster of clients, to the point where I was overextended, and other times my workload was minimal. The natural pendulum of project work means that income can be unpredictable, which makes budgeting (and a backup plan should work run out) imperative. Once you make over $400 from freelancing gigs, you are required to report your income and pay quarterly estimated taxes. These are typically anywhere from 20-30% of your annual earnings so I made sure to factor that in when charging clients, and automatically tucked away 20% of all of my earnings for tax time. I quickly paid outstanding credit card balances; the fees and APR charges really add up in the long run. I also looked for easy places where I could save with a bit more effort. I stopped eating out all of the time and switched to a cheaper internet provider.
Day Designer Work Planner Life Planner Image: Polka Dot Whimsy

Day Designer, Image: Polka Dot Whimsy

4. I STARTED TO TRACK…EVERYTHING

Setting income and saving goals, and tracking spending is essential to running a successful business. But there is so much more data and planning that is valuable to me as a freelancer. These days, I use both physical and digital tools to stay on top of my work.a day designer to map out my days, weeks and months. Having a visual layout of tasks helps me stay on top of everything from invoicing to project plans. I use a day designer to map out my days, weeks and months. Having a visual layout of tasks helps me stay on top of everything from invoicing to project plans. And, I use Toggl, a free task timer tool that lets me easily track the work I am providing, organized by projects and clients. Toggle provides various time summary reports that make it easy to prepare accurate invoices, and provide a detailed recording of time spent, should there be any client questions come billing time!

5. I LEARNED TO TAKE CONTROL OF MY SCHEDULE

The reality is that I work more now as a freelancer than I ever did at a 9 to 5. My days tend to be longer, and I have larger workloads. However, I can honestly say I would never go back to an office job. There’s no better feeling than being able to make your own rules. I never thought I would be running my own business, but freelancing has helped me realize how much I appreciate my freedom to be able to create my own schedule, and work on projects and clients of my choice. Next year I plan to commit to a content calendar for my blog, continue to work on securing ideal, consistent clients on retainer and take a work-free vacation!

This is an original piece that I wrote for PR Couture. Featured image via Pinterest.