I’ve sat down to write this blog post over and over, not knowing really what to say. Originally, I knew it was basically going to be all about what happened to me, and my job (which I loved, as most people knew), and how I am now seeking out different opportunities in order to keep doing what I love. But I realized that when it comes down to it, it’s not just about me: it’s about me, and what it’s like to work for a business as a woman or a mother or both.
Every mother I know has looked for ways to work from home, or work for themselves, in a way that is meaningful. Working full-time, or even part-time, as a mother is incredibly challenging. But I don’t think this is confined to just women who happen to be mothers: I know lots of women, from college age into their 40s wonder if working for themselves would be more beneficial. It’s something I toyed with—taking on freelance clients if they specifically reached out to me, but not actively seeking them out—for years before now.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the big bad: what happened.
As I’ve alluded to in posts, and written about on Instagram, I got laid off mid-way through July. July 17 to be exact. It’s definitely going to be one of those dates I remember forever, you know? July 17, the day the company I worked at for 5 whole years closed forever. It was devastating. I spent most of that day sobbing off and on. We’d only been aware for a week in total that it might happen and thought we had more time; until the end of July at least! It’s the worst position to be in: to know you’re going to get laid off in the future, then have it happen about 2.5 weeks early.
Before we knew it, it was over and we were out of jobs and everything felt very up in the air. Everything is still very confusing and there’s a lot going on.
But that’s not really the point of this post. The point of this post is this: I knew it was time for something different.
Sometimes, we all know when our time with a company is coming to an end. It might not be a big thing that happens—it might not even be totally negative. It’s just a moment where you think, it’s time for me to move on or this isn’t working for me, even though I love my job. I had had lots of little moments like that before being laid off, but I loved my job, I loved my boss, I loved what I did… and going freelance scared me. Really bad.
Changing jobs scared me too. I was so used to working for one company: I understood my boss and my coworkers and all the processes I needed to be successful.
No matter what, I was in a position where I was going to be incredibly uncomfortable. I got laid off—that sucked! Now I had two options: go freelance or find another job. Both were scary. But both were my only options.
So on July 18, I put on my big girl pants and went for it. I dove in. I sent emails to all the contacts I had. I started posting blog posts and regular posts and articles on LinkedIn (and interacting on LinkedIn in ways I never had before. I even impressed myself, honestly). I made phone calls and signed up for a CRM (seriously). I let people send emails for me, connect me to other people. I got a lot of Nos in the first week. And then in the 2nd week.
I’ve thankfully managed to sign a few clients for the month of August and into September so far. But thankfully, I already had the groundwork covered (by being 25% focused on freelancing even before deciding it was going to be my 100% set up)and I had some contacts who I could thankfully turn to when I needed help.
On Instagram on Tuesday, I asked for any questions people might have about going freelance, or working for myself. I wanted to share a few of them and answer them here to give you a better idea of how I make it work (so far—I’m by no means an expert at this point!) and if you can make it work yourself.
1. What skills do you need to freelance?
This totally depends on what freelance work you are actually doing. I am a freelance content strategist and copywriter. That means, I need the following “hard” skills (that is, the skills that actually allow me to have the expertise to offer my services):
Copywriting for digital marketing
Knowledge of all aspects of copywriting I’m offering (social media, blogs, email marketing, and website content)
Strategy writing for all aspects of marketing I’m offering
However, in addition to these hard skills, freelancers universally need soft skills too. Soft skills are not related to the services you offer whatsoever, but rather area entirely focused on customer service and prospecting. Here’s a few examples of soft skills:
Yeah, unfortunately, freelancing includes a lot of sales skills. Thankfully, by working at an agency (and before that, in sales-focused businesses), I have absorbed some basics of sales by osmosis. It’s definitely not my forte, but it is something I know I need to do. Networking is a secondary part of that that has also never been my cup of tea, but is becoming increasingly necessary as time has gone on. And again: sometimes trying something new means being uncomfortable for a while.
2. What do I need to know about getting clients?
The truth is, getting clients is hard. You will have a ton of people reach out for services if you network, advertise yourself, and make an effort—but if those people all end up paying you, I’ll eat my hat. And my socks. And my whole house. Because it’s just not something that happens.
I’ve had a lot of prospects that I was sure would be immediate Yes’s. Without going into too much detail, the first people I reached out to were clients of my work, who I already helped with their marketing writing. I thought it would be a slam dunk to sign them on for at least a few months, even with me as an “interim” solution while they found another agency. Every single phone call went like this:
Me: So the amount I would charge would be $xxx each month, and that includes writing, graphic design, and scheduling.
Them: super sharp intake of breath followed by an intense gasp
Every. Single. Time.
A younger version of myself would have immediately said, “But it’ll be less for you! Ha ha ha! I was just joking!” But I set my rates in a very specific way to ensure that I would have the money I needed to 1) live and 2) pay for all the tools I need. (More on this later.)
I guess what I’m saying is: even if you have everything set up correctly, getting clients can be really difficult. But you can’t let yourself be discouraged. That’s easier said than done, obviously.
Getting clients that work for you requires knowing what kind of clients you want to begin with, knowing how to talk to them, being firm about what your prices and what you need from them to succeed, and perseverance. You know, simple things.
3. What’s the tax situation?
First things first, we’ll found out in January.
Just kidding. The tax situation is this: I found a (freelance) accountant almost immediately and asked a ton of questions. Then I called my local Chamber of Commerce to ask if they knew the process. From there, I was able to determine how to set up my business (as myself) in a way that made sense.
I highly recommend that if you’re thinking of going freelance, and you’re reading this blog post, you call local people to help you. Don’t follow the advice of some random article you find on the internet that tells you what to do specifically. Not only will you make connections with your local government and another local business, you will be able to better understand what you need to do.
Long story short, talk to people you trust about the situation and that means professionals in your specific area. You don’t want to mess up this portion. (I know I definitely don’t; it’s been my number one concern.)
4. How do you set your rates? / How do you budget for a family?
Oof, isn’t this the biggest question? I got probably 20 different versions of this question:
How do I set prices?
How do I know what to charge?
What if I charge too much?
What if I charge too little?
The truth is, what you charge will depend on the market rate for services in your area. Unfortunately, that means having knowledge of what other freelancers charge and potentially what agencies are charging. As well, what you charge will depend on your own personal budget. Here’s what I did.
I knew that I had to charge what would 1) cover the cost of my workflow products, 2) cover my own bills (aka pay myself a wage that is livable), and 3) allow me to save enough to cover any potential tax burden.
I knew I had to charge competitively, but as only one person, I also could not charge as much as a full-scale agency.
I knew I needed to charge differently for one-time services versus on-going retainer-type services.
My prices are based almost entirely on how many hours I think something will take, plus how much I think I’ll need to retain for taxes; my hourly rate is based purely on making sure that after taxes, I have enough leftover. I realize that sounds more complicated than it needs to. For the sake of transparency, as of right now, here’s what I charge for everything:
$500 full SEO audit for up to 1,000 pages (any huge websites will cost more, obviously)
$800 for social media strategy & workflow
$800 per month for on-going social media content creation, scheduling, and reporting
$500 for blog strategy, plus $250 per blog post including keyword research
$50 consult fee to discuss needs
These prices allow me to determine how many things I need to do each month to pay myself a livable wage. Let’s say that at the very least, I need $1500 pay to pay my own bills; that needs I need at least $3000 in client services. That means I have space for:
6 SEO audits
3 social media strategies
3 total social media clients
6 Blog strategies
or any combination of them
If there are spaces on my roster, I will post about them to LinkedIn; let’s say I’m at $2000 for the month of September in booked services. So I’d post on LinkedIn that I have space for: 1 social media strategy and 1 blog strategy, or 2 SEO audits.
I hope that makes sense.
(As a note, if I get any comments telling me that my prices are too low/too high, or I shouldn’t share my prices, just an advanced warning: I don’t care what you think!)
(If you’re interested in freelance services, you can send me an email here. I do offer some need-based discounts.)
5. How do you budget for a family?
This is the number one question I got and I totally get it. I have a family, a new house, a car payment, everything. How can I feel secure and stable as a freelancer with that? Knowing that my income is based entirely on my work ethic and hustle for the month before.
The truth is: right now, I don’t really have an answer. Right now, I don’t feel super stable in my freelance business, because it’s very new. I’m sure I will eventually as I get into a rhythm and find a way of making it work for me. The best advice I can give is to set your prices to be fair to you and your business; don’t lower prices just because someone says you should or says they can’t afford you; take jobs that you think will be beneficial to you and your family. And most importantly, work hard and do good work so you get more high quality clients.