Freelance graphic designer and creative lead at Freelancer Magazine Angela Lyons joins Louise to talk all things learning. Keeping your skills fresh is essential if you want to stay on top of the latest industry trends and do the best possible work for your clients. And let's not forget the strategy, finance and marketing skills we need to build a sustainable business. It's a lot to fit in! Listen in to hear:
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, and welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer. I'm Louise Shanahan. I'm a freelance health copywriter and today I'm joined by freelance graphic designer and creative lead at Freelancer magazine, Angela Lyons. Hello, Ange.
Ange: Hello, Louise.
L: So how are you today?
A: I'm good. Thanks. I'm really good.
L: Excellent. So first of all, I just want to say a huge congratulations on what you and Sophie Cross have achieved with Freelancer Magazine. It's just been so amazing to see it grow over the last year and I'm a huge fan, especially the print format. And I don't know how you've managed this, but it just looks and feels and smells lovely when you sit down to read it.
A: Yeah, I love that, I do love the smell of fresh print magazines. It’s been great last year. So yeah, a year now we've been doing it. And it's been amazing. The community has been amazing. And the feedback and everyone has been so lovely. I really, really enjoy it and enjoy meeting new people. And I appreciate it. So thank you very much.
L: Yeah, and it has a real "you can do this, we're in this together, let's figure this out together and learn from each other" kind of vibe. And like you say, with the community and the resources, I think what the magazine does really well is bring together resources for freelancers who want to learn and grow their business in a manageable way and develop the skills that they need alongside other like-minded freelancers. So being part of a community is so important. And that's what we're going to talk about today. I've been wanting to do an episode on how we keep our skills fresh as freelancers and how we make time for learning while we're running a freelance business. So obviously Freelancer Magazine came to mind as a great resource for that. And then I saw your recent #Write52 posts where you talked about being a forever student. I love that idea. And I thought perfect, Ange is the perfect person to have this conversation with!
A: Yeah, #Write52. I actually found that in the magazine, and on Twitter too. And I thought that I’d join them. Which was great. And really, I joined them to improve my writing and just be out there a bit more just writing-wise.
L: So for those that are unfamiliar with #Write52, this is a project started by copywriter Ed Callow a couple of years ago. And it's for anyone who wants to write more, isn't it? Like blog posts, articles, fiction, poems, anything.
A: It could be anything. Yeah, I think Susanne Wakefield’s on there writing recipes, there are people writing poetry, there are people writing about history. I'm kind of writing about what's happened in the week to me. And it's funny because I actually joined it to start writing about my posts about my work on social media. And it's not actually turned out like that yet. But what it has encouraged me to do is write every week, the post I actually wrote about was being a forever student. And I've always loved learning. And I always like working out how to do new things. For me personally, but obviously, creatively, I have to find things out because software always has updates. And that's my day-to-day work. So I have to find out what's going on out there.
L: Yeah. So in one of your recent #Write52 articles you were talking about your approach to learning and how it led you down different paths to where you are today with your graphic design business and non-work interests too. So can you tell us what being a forever student means to you as a creative freelancer? Or as a freelance creative? I guess it's kind of both, isn't it?
A: It's a bit of both really. Because, as you said, I'm always finding new things, especially online. And if I want to find a new course on how to work out something on InDesign, I'll go search for something quickly on Skillshare, or quickly go and search something on YouTube. And they're like really instant quick fixes. If you don't want to invest in a long-term course as such.
L: And yeah, keeping our skills fresh and being on top of the latest trends is important for the services that we're selling and the work that we do with our clients. But one thing that I think a lot of us maybe forget to focus on, because we're so focused on learning the skills that we're selling, is that there are so many other skills that we need when we're running a business. So we're thinking about like, the financial side of things, the business strategy, the marketing, all of that kind of stuff. So do you have any tips for how people can figure out what exactly they should be focusing on? And how do we avoid getting distracted by shiny object syndrome?
A: It's funny when I was talking about shiny object syndrome I was thinking, oh, I wish I had a big shiny button that would take away all my admin, but that's not going to work. And that's not going to happen. But, there are skills that you have to learn when you're out there. And some of them you can't do, for example, I just can't do accounting. So I just handed that over to an accountant. But it's funny the other day I was watching The Marketing Meetup. And afterwards, there's a really brilliant illustrator. Her name's Hannah Williams. And she has these amazing illustrations on a tablet. And I was like, oh my gosh, that tablet's amazing. She’s got a stylus pen. And she's creating these beautiful illustrations. And I just think I wish I had that. So next thing, you know, I'm looking on the Wacom site thinking, oh, I need this in my business, I really need it. That's like another shiny new thing. But do I really need it? It's like, when you go into a supermarket for a loaf of bread, you come out with two bags of shopping, you just get distracted. So you have to like just take a step back, I think. And that's what I do personally and work out what I need for me and for my business. And for my personal development, I'd say.
L: Yeah, one thing that I've found quite helpful is to maybe think of it in like, quarters, or you know, six months, like, what's the biggest challenge I'm having at the moment. And maybe that's going to be the focus for my learning over this time. And then that helps you kind of narrow it down. Or perhaps you might set a budget as well and say, I've got this amount of money that I'm going to invest in my learning and development. And I've committed it to this course, or this programme, or whatever it's going to be. And then once you've got to that limit, or it could be time as well, I suppose. And then you think, okay, I've got to my limit, I can't do any more right now, anything else that I see is gonna have to wait until the next phase. And then that can be a way to sort of keep it under control. If you're the kind of person that gets easily sucked into these things.
A: Yeah, that's another thing. It's about budget, too. You want to, you do want to continue like, well, for me, I do want to continue learning. But you've also got to think about budget. I mean, I've got to, you know, I've got a house, I've got family, you've got to rein it in a little bit. But yeah, I think also you should make a little bit of budget for yourself and for your development in your business. And as I said, I mentioned Skillshare. I mean, I think I signed up for a year. I got a deal for under £100. If I need anything, I'll jump on there. They're great. But they're also by yourself. Again, you know, for a lot of freelancers, we are by ourselves, we’re in a room by ourselves. So I've just been looking around what's on locally, local colleges or local meetups. There might be something local that you can join in with, or even like one-to-one courses online, just to gain skills. I mean, I've just recently done a workshop, another writing workshop. It's a writing workshop with Penny Brazier that was just focused on me. I identified that that's what I needed. And that's another reason why joined #Write52 – I just wanted to get some ideas out there and ideas across. But with Penny it's more about me and my business and talking about my content. And it's one to one. And that's geared towards me. And I think every now and again, you do need that. And it's great doing these groups and you know, videos online, but just sometimes think about what you need, and you might need it individually, you know, everything doesn't suit all people you know those generic courses. So I think doing it one to one also helps.
L: Yeah, that's a really good point, we have to know ourselves and think about how we like to learn best. And, you know, for some people, it might be reading a book absorbing content that's, or a course that's written. For other people, it might be videos, for others, it might be podcasts, or in-person meetups and events. I mean, there are so many different ways that you can learn the skills that you're looking for, it doesn't have to be courses. And maybe connecting with someone who's a bit further along in their career can be really helpful as well. So mentoring is that kind of one-to-one support.
A: Again, I've just finished a few mentoring sessions with Carla Frank, and that was through the International Magazine Centre. And that was brilliant. And I wasn't expecting that. But it kind of just landed on my doorstep as someone said, have you ever thought of this? And I was like actually no, but she came at just the right time for me. And it was just great. Just talking to her and hearing about her experiences. It's great even just learning from other people, a mentorship is just a great thing to do.
L: Yeah, and I really love masterminds and group experiences as well. Like you say, when you work on your own, one of the things that always feels like it's missing for me is feeling part of a team or having people that you can bounce ideas off. So whether that's one person, a mentor, or whether it's being part of a group where there are people who have similar goals to you who may be at a similar stage in their business, that can be a really good way where you can kind of get that peer support. In copywriting. I don't know if this is a thing in design, but in copywriting there's this concept of copy chiefing, where people might work with someone who's a little bit more advanced than them, you know, a kind of expert copywriter. And when you work on a project, you engage them to look over your work. And that can be quite a useful thing from a client's point of view, because then they're getting expert input from someone that they might not have the budget to work with directly, or that person might not have the time to work with them. And you can use that as a selling point. So you're kind of upskilling while you're on the job, which can be quite an interesting way to work.
A: Yeah, you're totally right, it's giving them advice, too, and maybe how they could approach things in a different way another time, or for the next projects. That's another thing because I've got a freelancer friend that's a graphic designer and she's brilliant, and she's really good. And I'll just send it her way and say, what do you reckon of this? And she'll say, oh, have you tried this, I'm like, I did not know that. And again, I'm learning again there. It's just another way of learning again, isn’t it, it's just like talking to people and just asking their advice.
L: So how do you actually make the time for learning and development? Is it something that you set aside time for each week? Do you set out a plan? Or do you just kind of go with the flow and follow what you're interested in?
A: Yeah. I try to plan, I really try to plan, but most of the time, I'll go with the flow, and it will be either in the evening or be at the weekend. Or if there's something specific that I need to go to an event for, or a course for, I'll go into that for that set time. But it's funny, actually, because at the moment, I'm trying to build my website, and I'm using Squarespace. I saw a course advertised on LinkedIn and I thought oh that looks good. I signed up for that. I got a free month trial of their courses. It's great, because I'm learning but I’m thinking, oh my God, this could be another skill that I add to my set, you know? I do web designs. I'll do the ideas around them. But I don't build them as such. But Squarespace is brilliant and it's just so easy. You can just add things on. But there are bits that I didn't know, so it was good to do that course.
L: Yeah, that's the sensible way to do it. So when you are doing something new in your business, and you realise, oh, there's a gap for me, I'm not quite sure how to do this, then you can just in that moment, think, okay, I need to find the resources, whether that's someone else who knows, or a course or YouTube videos are great for that, aren't they? On the flip side, I guess, do you think there are some things that you have to just learn by doing, you can’t always find a course or a programme to solve the problem for you.
A: It's funny, because when I first started freelancing, I didn't take any courses and I just had to get on with it. You just have to get on with the job. And you have to get on with the day-to-day, and you just do it. If I look back, I think I would have done things differently. Because there are so many freelance groups out there at the moment. And they're offering courses to, on how to be a freelancer. I wish I joined them years ago, when I first started freelancing, even though that was 10 years ago. It's funny, because last year, I started getting more involved in social media, and just engaging more because before I had just been doing it by myself, just getting along nice and happily, but I just thought there's something missing. I'm just like, a bit lonely. And during the pandemic, I thought, let me just see what's out there. So I looked around, and found some free courses. I found Google Digital Garage, they're really good because they offer free mentorship. And if you need anything around your business, marketing-wise, and you get emails from them weekly saying this is going on, or do you want to sign up for this event. Another one is Enterprise Nation. And they have these great lunchtime webinars. And there's some brilliant people giving seminars on their journey. And they're about half an hour, they might be about LinkedIn. Or they might be about marketing your business, or GDPR. So there's just learning and finding things out that way is so brilliant. Just one more, as mentioned, I just mentioned because I found them really useful for me when last year when I was just looking for things around my business was HubSpot. And I'm sure lots of people have heard of that. But they've actually got these courses on there. And if you take them together a little certificate at the end to say you've taken the course.
L: I think I relied on that to get one of my very first clients, in fact. I was like I've done a course I can do this!
A: Exactly, so you get a little certificate at the end to put that on your LinkedIn profile to say, I’ve done this. HubSpot have got so many courses, and it’s free.
L: Yeah, that's amazing. I think when people are just starting out, I think there's so much value in finding a course, maybe just pick one of those courses that you mentioned, one of those could just set out step by step exactly what you need to get set up so that you know exactly how to do invoices, how to work with clients, how to do proposals, and contracts, and all of that sort of thing. And then just get into the work. And then you kind of figure out from there, where the gaps are and what you might need to focus on a bit more. And there are like you say, there are a lot of resources that are free or on the less expensive side. But I do think that investing is important because you're kind of telling yourself that you're taking this seriously, and you really believe that you can make this work. One of the things that somebody told me early on when I was starting was the one pound rule of investing, which I find quite funny. The idea is if I'm going to spend money on this course, or this programme, or whatever it is, if I can make one pound more back in client work from what I've learned from this, then it will be worth it. So let's say I'm going to spend like £100 on a course – if I can use something that I learned from that course, and put it to work with a client project and I can make £101 back from it, then it's been worth it because I've learned something in the process too.
A: Exactly, and who knows that next client will come along from that, from that £100 that you've spent you might get, you know, £10,000 pounds, who knows!
L: I mean, I don’t know, it's quite easy to convince yourself that it's justifiable to do anything with that logic. But the point is basically that you do need to invest at some point. And I think the thing is, as freelancers the kind of people who choose to work for themselves, you are going to be a bit of a sort of go-getter and maybe a bit of a magpie, want to collect things, learn how to do things yourself and, you know, be in charge your own destiny. So probably for some of us the risk is that we do tend to collect courses and things like that. So perhaps we don’t need that kind of justification to invest.
A: Oh and books. Oh my gosh, I've got so many books on my shelf at the moment that I'm like, I'm gonna read that, I’m gonna start that, I dip in and out of it. It’s just like, you have to start and you work around what you need at the time, and you're forever learning. And that's, I think that's what I've always done. You know, I've always loved learning.
L: Yeah, one way to learn from what others are doing is through resources and communities like Freelancer Magazine, which we mentioned, which also has courses and learning events for freelancers too now. So if people are interested in finding out more about those, should they check out the website is that the best place.
A: Go to freelancermagazine.co.uk – there are brilliant courses on it. Again, another course that I've done there is the LinkedIn For Humans course.
L: I've done that one too.
A: Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, because it is just so simple and it is for humans, it's not salesy in any way, it's just being you, being yourself. And it's a brilliant course. So yeah, freelancermagazine.co.uk is where to head for those courses.
If you want to find out a little bit more about me, I'm on angelalyons.com, but I'm hoping that my website will be live by the time this goes out. I’m still building it so it might take us a weekend again, or a few more weekends, but that's where I'm at. And my social media links are there too. And email. So come say hi there, if you want to talk to me.
L: That's brilliant. Thank you so much Ange. Honestly, this is one of my favourite topics. I’m a total course magpie too. I think the overall message is that you should just kind of follow your interests and stay curious and try and carve out the time, but keep it fun. We'll include all of those links in the show notes so people can keep in touch with you and keep up with your #Write52 adventures, I'll put in a link to #Write52 as well so people can check that out. Well, thank you so much.
A: Thank you to it's been brilliant. Thank you.
L: And thanks to everyone for listening. If you enjoyed this, please do share it with someone who you think might benefit from it too. Alright, until next time, happy freelancing.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.