5 things I’ve learned in my first month as a self-employed freelancer 


Just over a month ago (three months after my 21st birthday and just under a month after graduating) I made the decision to set up as a freelance graphic designer. It was something I’d been mulling over and kept coming back to in my head for months (probably for the whole of my third year at uni). A series of (what seemed like unfortunate at the time e.g. getting rejected for a full-time job I applied for) events led me to finally taking the plunge and just going for it. I had been planning and making contacts for a while, but the actual moment that I made it final, posted it on social media and registered with HMRC was all very quick and spur of the moment. After registering and telling everyone that this is what I would be doing, I quickly shut down my laptop, phone, and went and jumped in a 16 degree lake in Finland and thought to myself “what the hell am I doing?!” (sounds very dramatic I know but I promise it’s true!) I am now a mere month into it and I wanted to share with anyone who wants to read five things I’ve learnt so far.

1. IT IS UNPREDICTABLE

To say the least. It is actually a bit out of character that I have ended up self-employed and freelancing so early on in my career. I definitely wouldn’t say that being a risk-taker is up there with words to describe me. I’ve always been a pretty risk-averse person but also a big follower of my gut, and my gut was telling me to give it a go! Already in a month it has been a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions (currently, mostly positive which is very unexpected) and without a doubt  there will be many more. However, I think for not being a particularly risk-taking person I have surprised myself in that you just have to ride the wave of unpredictability (it’s kind of what you sign up for when you do this). Despite it’s obvious negative connotations, having a bit of unpredictability keeps it exciting and fresh and also keeps your goals and ambitions in mind when planning the (often very imminent) future. 

2. NOT EVERYBODY IS GOING TO AGREE WITH OR SUPPORT WHAT YOU’RE DOING (AND THAT’S OKAY!)

This has been a really hard lesson to learn. Probably the hardest when deciding whether or not to take the leap into self-employment. The main thing when I was considering doing this that held me back was actually what other people thought of my decision and what people would have to say about it. I guess the one thing to take from other people’s judgements or opinions is to listen to them and acknowledge their views, but in the same breath, it is not their life and their choice, it’s yours. Also, if everybody listened to every single bit of advice or every judgement or negative comment about you and your choices, nobody would ever get anything done! Going into this, I was expecting many more negative reactions than I actually got (which was really nice). Mainly because I’m so young and straight out of university, however, I was pretty overwhelmed with people’s kind responses and the positive and encouraging messages and support I received. I’d like to think that generally (in whatever you chose to do in life), people are rooting for you. And if they’re not then they are not your audience and not the people you need to talk about work with. After all, not everybody is going to understand it, and that’s okay too. 

3. THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-CARE AND NOT REPLYING TO EMAILS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT 

This has definitely been a top priority for me since making the huge decision to start working for myself. I am a bit of a walking contradiction really! Firstly, I love being busy and having lots of things to do and people to see; but on the other hand, I have a tendency to burn out if I over-exert myself. See my problem? I have (over a long time) been trying to work out a happy medium of when I can be busy doing what I love without letting myself slip into a decline of burn-out and anxiety. This is 100% part and parcel of being self-employed (or employed, or unemployed for that matter!) - finding that perfect work-life balance that I am guessing takes time and patience to perfect (if anyone ever does!) I suppose my most valued lesson within this is to listen to when my body is telling me to stop and to not feel guilty about taking a break. 

4. HAVING A POSITIVE AND ABUNDANT MINDSET 

Negative and limiting beliefs have been a common theme during this first month of setting up as a sole-trader. Feeling like there isn’t enough ‘space’ for you or that other people are offering the same service as you but offering it better is such an easy and repetitive thought to keep on having. Imposter Syndrome has definitely been hanging around too much this past month and is something that most people definitely feel at some point! However, thinking in a more abundant, and therefore more positive way, soon helps this unwanted friend to make a move. There is enough space for everyone to do their own thing and offer their own service. Even if it’s very similar to what somebody else is doing. Everyone can bring something unique and something new. There is plenty of space for everyone at the table.  

5. IT’S PROBABLY GOING TO BE OKAY… (PROBABLY!) 

I am a little bit of a believer in signs, karma and things happening for a reason. It is definitely a hard mindset to adopt when there doesn’t seem to be a reason that people don’t reply to your emails, or you are being rejected for new work. However, with every rejection email (or non-existent email) so far, there seems to have been a silver lining. Whether that’s a new little red dot appear in my inbox or a new avenue or lead for a potential client, bad news is so often followed by good. One of my favourite quotes of all time is “if it doesn’t open, it’s not your door,” which is such a helpful and motivational thing to repeat to yourself when those times of rejection or negativity inevitably do come up. Just remember that it probably didn’t happen for a reason, and that something better is likely just around the corner.