Don't be a dick: My freelance manifesto
At the start of a new year there are a lot of posts about new year's resolutions so I want to share something a bit different.
The idea for this came about during a conversation with some freelance friends. At the time, I was stressing about my photos and making them suitably "Instagrammable" and also thinking about swearing more on social media (I'm quite sweary in real life).
I proclaimed that I wanted to be the antidote to the perfect pastel Instabrigade and one of them joked that I should write my manifesto. She should have learned by now not to put ideas in my head! It's been a really interesting activity to look at my values and philosophy for how I want to be in work (and life).
So here it is, my 12 point freelance manifesto for the coming year. I'm so presidential.
1. Don't be a dick.
This one's for you, people who don't move your bag on busy trains. This phrase has also been championed by the excellent Veronica Dearly and the sentiment is very dear to my own heart. Like, seriously why do people feel the need to just be awful? If I could only have one point in this manifesto, this would be the one. I want to act in a way that makes life easier for people, and not screw people over for personal gain.
2. Freelancing is awesome!
Ideally you should hear this as if it were sung to the tune of "Everything is awesome!" from the Lego Movie. I've been self-employed for over four years now and absolutely love it. Sometimes I get people suggesting I take on a team to grow my business, but like my hero Paul Jarvis, I like being a "Company of One". I super super hate managing people and love the flexibility that freelancing gives me. I don't want to take on work that isn't a good fit just because I have payroll commitments. It also feels really great to be part of the freelance community and I've met some very excellent people through the Freelance Folk popup coworking sessions.
3. Make friends with my "competitors".
The less snappy version of this point is: Make friends with the people that others would perceive as my competitors. A lot of people are suspicious of or worried about their competition, but (and it sounds a bit arrogant to say this) I don't actually feel like I have any competitors! Yes, there are other people that make websites. There are other people that make Squarespace websites. There are even other people that make Squarespace websites for charities, freelancers and very small businesses.
However, I've yet to find other people who make Squarespace websites for charities, freelancers and very small businesses AND who have a background working for charities and small businesses AND who have been using Squarespace since 2013 AND who offer training (now as an Authorised Squarespace Trainer woop woop!) AND who focus on helping people feel comfortable with technology, even if they aren't "techy".
Even if someone was offering a very similar service to me, I like to make friends with them rather than seeing them as a threat! I've got some great relationships (and some business) from taking a collaborative rather than a competitive approach. This point is in my manifesto to remind me to keep reaching out to others; I firmly believe we should support other small businesses and that we are stronger together.
4. Everyone else is winging it too.
I've written about "Imposter Syndrome" before and it's something that sooooo many other freelancers talk about. I feel fairly comfortable around offering my Squarespace services now, but for new projects I can always feel it creeping back in. For example, I've started learning how to use Illustrator and Photoshop and have created a separate Instagram account to share my work, and basically go into a cold sweat every time I press "Share". Like, I'm definitely not an illustrator or graphic designer, what right do I have using that hashtag?
So this is on my manifesto to remind me that so many of the people whose work I really admire probably had (or maybe even still have) the same fears and worries as I do.
5. Human first, always.
I may be a business, but first and foremost I'm a person. That's why you'll find emojis of cake and animals on my social media profiles. I'm a silly geek who likes bold colours and lipsticks, and who thinks that denim is always appropriate business attire. It would be super weird if my online presence was all corporate and sensible, and then when you met me in real life I was exactly the opposite!
A lot of businesses seem to feel that it's more professional to remove the human element from their brand, but I couldn't disagree more. Being human, and explaining information in a way that even non-techy people can understand, is a big part of why my clients recommend me. It's probably not because of my ninja Squarespace skills, as they go woefully underappreciated. Once I had a lovely client and I made her a beautiful website, and what was she most impressed by? I updated the version of Word on her computer so she could save to PDF.
6. Make time for side projects.
I have a confession: I am a massive commitment phobe. Not when it comes to personal relationships, but in a business sense! When something becomes too easy or routine for me, I get bored and look for the next shiny distraction. That's why I don't take on retainer work and it's also why freelancing is my longest ever stretch of doing the same job. I enjoy the variety of working with new clients, but side projects play a vital role in making sure I'm challenging myself.
When I've got client projects to deliver and blog posts to write for the business that actually makes me money, it's really hard to make the time for side projects like illustration and design, practising for my sign language classes, or even spreading the word about Freelance Folk. But I know that if I don't make that time, it will have a negative effect on my attitude towards the business that actually makes me money!
7. Let's not be precious. Sharing is caring.
Right, so my business name is The Wheel Exists which makes this is kind of a no-brainer, but to me it makes lots of sense to not reinvent the wheel, and to take advantage of what already exists. Maybe it's new technology that can be used as a shortcut to where you want to be, or simply knowledge that people acquired through their own mistakes and successes.
My aim is to share as much as I can with people, in a way that's sustainable in terms of my business goals, finances and time. I don't really see the point in being precious about information and if I don't need to charge for it, then I won't. That's one of the reasons I'm about to change my Squarespace Club from a paid to a free membership; there are plenty of other ways I can earn the equivalent amount of money. Plus, the main reason I started it was because I love answering questions about Squarespace. The more people are in Squarespace Club, the more questions I can answer!
8. Listen to my instincts. Say no.
I consider myself to have been very lucky in that I absolutely adore most of my clients and it's so much fun working with them. There have, however, been a couple of more difficult projects and in each case, it was because the client wasn't quite the right fit for me (or vice versa). If I'm being honest with myself, I did have a gut feeling about this at the start of the project but chose to ignore it, mainly because it seemed like a difficult conversation to have. What I need to remember, though, is that I'd be doing us both a disservice if I take on work when it's not a good fit, so it's actually nicer in the long run to say no upfront.
When I think back to decisions that I regret in my life, they have almost always been because I ignored my instincts, for example due to peer pressure* or avoiding a confrontation. But when I trusted my gut and took a bit of a leap of faith (for example, going freelance) it has pretty much always worked out. I want to make sure that I keep doing this!
*You're thinking it's like drugs or something rock and roll, right? Yeah, nope. Never done drugs. I'm a good girl. I'm talking about choosing Nottingham University over Lancaster University because their offer was higher and it was "better for my future".
9. If some people disapprove, I'm probably doing it right.
Once, I had a stand at an event that was entirely made from cardboard and had the words "Websites! Woo! Yeah!" spray painted on the side. Middle aged men in suits came by and tutted at me. It was brilliant. As well as trusting my instincts, being a bit different is a great way to filter out the people who aren't a good fit for me.
For ages I didn't swear in my blog posts or on social media, but that's weird as I'm quite sweary in real life and will quite happily swear in conversations with certain clients (although never at them of course). If there was someone who didn't want to work with me because of a sweary tweet, chances are they wouldn't be the right client or customer for me.
Although my Dad probably disapproves. Sorry Dad.
10. Be brave.
I hate hate hate promoting myself. It's not so much imposter syndrome as a terribly British fear of bothering other people. I get annoyed by spammy newsletters and people who are just sell-sell-sell, so not wanting to be like them I massively overcompensate and do almost nothing.
If I do one tweet about a workshop I'm like, right that's a tick in the "marketing" box. Can't do any more than that, it would be harrassment. Putting links in this blog post to anything I'm involved with makes me a little nervous.
Even people who say they will teach you how to sell without "selling" quite often seem quite salesy to me (not you, Paul Jarvis, I love you).
Here's the thing though. Imposter syndrome is kind of convenient, because then at least you can convince yourself that you're rubbish anyway so it's totally fine if nobody comes to your workshops, or whatever. The problem comes when you actually understand your value and know that you do genuinely help people, and then you're torn between making sure people know about what you have to offer and the terror of self-promotion.
I think the answer might be to be brave, and put myself out there. If I'm living in accordance with point #9 then in fact, if I do annoy people by talking about my events or services, they probably aren't people that I want to work with anyway. Wow, blogging is like therapy.
11. Be real. Real real, not #authentic.
I mentioned Instagram at the start of this post, and whilst I can see a lot of benefits to being on it as a platform, it does seem to have a disproportionate amount of overly staged reality. Carefully crafted "spontaneous" shots and contrived vulnerability make it a hard place to actually get to know people. That's why I tend to use Twitter more; I like the sarcasm of the Twitterati and the fact that people don't seem to take themselves too seriously.
For me, being transparent is really important. Whether that's around money and pricing, sharing on social media, talking about how I work with clients or talking about what's hard as well as the successes. I've not talked much about my anxiety before as it's not something that I ever want to leverage for personal (or business) gain, and because I don't want it to define me. It is however a very real and present part of my freelance life, and I do wonder if it would help others if I did share about how it affects me (and how I deal with it).
12. Sustainability matters.
Before I was a Squarespace-web-person-freelance-lady type, my background was working for sustainability non-profits and it's still pretty integral to my life.
To be honest, I often feel like I'm not doing quite enough; my business banking is with Barclays (who are almost certainly evil) and I drive a lot for client meetings. I eat cheese even though I know the dairy industry is bad. When my Fairphone got soaked through and stopped working, I didn't repair it as it cost too much (even though its repairability was one of the reasons I bought it).
But for every action that is less sustainable, there are several that are making a difference, no matter how small. I drink almond milk, our house is powered by renewable energy, my coffee comes from a local business in the Peak District and even my toilet roll does good.
For me, sustainability is all about playing a part in creating a better and fairer world. In fact, you could probably sum it up in one sentence.
Don't be a dick.