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In this episode, Louise is joined by Fi Shailes to talk about what it's like running a freelance business while also holding down a full time job. Fi works at award-winning B2B marketing agency twogether as a social strategist, and is a part-time freelance content writer. Here, Fi shares:
Mentioned in this episode:
Content Club UK: #ContentClubUK
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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.
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, freelance friends, and welcome to another episode of the 15 Minute Freelancer podcast, Louise Shanahan here and today I have the pleasure of talking to one of my longest-standing online freelance buddies Fi Shailes. Some of you may know Fi as the brains behind Content Club UK, which is a brilliant community of online creators, it's not just freelancers, but there are a lot of freelancers in that community. Content Club UK meets every Tuesday at 11am on Twitter, so just follow #ContentClubUK if you're curious about that. Okay, plug over, hi Fi, thank you for joining me.
Fi: Hi, Louise, how you doing?
L: I'm really well, thanks. I'm really glad that we've got the chance to finally have this conversation, which we've been trying to do for a while. I just mentioned there that Content Club UK isn't just for freelancers and there's a lovely mix of people who are creating content, whether it's working in-house, or working in agencies, or people who have another job in addition to freelancing, as well as part-time and full-time freelancers. And you kind of have a foot in more than one of those camps at the moment, don't you? And this is our topic for today's episode. I'm really glad to have this conversation because I was just saying before we pressed record that I think there are lots of freelancers out there or people who are maybe thinking about starting a freelance business, but they maybe have questions or concerns about how to balance the two or transition between the two. So with that said, can you tell us a bit about your experience of balancing freelancing with full and part-time employment?
F: I was doing a full-time digital manager role at a financial services company at the time and it was a typical situation where although I was leading on all the digital stuff, I didn't feel like I was completely empowered to do what we needed to do as an organisation. I think over a couple of years I began to get a bit frustrated with it all and I thought, well, maybe I could try doing some work independently for someone else, just to get that control back a bit. I kind of fell into it a little bit to the point where I was building myself a website soon after the new year in 2016, and I ended up building a freelance page as though I already was one. My first client kind of came along fairly quickly. I had somebody contact me on LinkedIn who was looking for some support with content and social and some SEO stuff. All of this was obviously alongside my full-time role. It kind of built up from there really and as the time went on, you kind of get that natural turnover of clients and you learn more about how to do business and how to split your time. It kind of has just stayed now, six years on, a pretty nice, manageable level. I guess ultimately, I would still like to end up being full time freelance and work for myself full time. But the way it's kind of working out still there's more benefit in it for me to do both at the same time.
L: That sounds like a lot. So how do you manage your time?
F: I guess a lot of it's just kind of done on instinct, but also a bit of forward planning, I guess., knowing what you're going to have on the next weekend or two. Or you know, there have been times where I've done the odd bit in the evening after work if I'm up to it. But I guess, like the full-time nature of freelance, you don't necessarily know how many hours you're going to be doing week to week. It depends on your clients or anyone new that you might be taking on or is somebody sort of saying goodbye to you or vice versa. It is a bit of a juggling act, I'm not going to say it's been easy because it hasn't, but I have persevered with it all because there are some benefits for me. I've definitely been able to accelerate my learning and experience across many different sectors and different kinds of content, which I would never have gained if I if I hadn't started freelancing part-time.
L: Do you feel like there are advantages then of having a foot in each camp? It definitely sounds like apart from maybe having the challenge of managing your workload, there are advantages of having the security of a full-time job, but the flexibility of being able to work with lots of different clients and different kinds of projects on the side.
F: Yeah, definitely, it is kind of essentially just that. So having that stability of knowing that week to week you're earning that certain amount of money, because you've got that full-time role. But then you can kind of pick and choose what you do, to a certain extent, around that. Then that's obviously extra income, so there's the financial side, which five or six years ago it was definitely a help to have that extra income coming in, I was saving up for a house and all of that stuff. Another benefit is freelancing can give you that extra exposure to different things, different types of content, different brands, different people, there's a stark difference, I think between working for somebody when you're in-house and working for somebody when they're officially a client. You're kind of learning some extra soft skills that you might not have learned if you just remained in an in-house role. I think it kind of gives you a feeling of empowering yourself to do that extra stuff and do something that, you know, at the time, I enjoyed the freelancing side a lot more than I did the financial services side, because the content in the latter was just so much more dry. It was just all really great experience from the start. And as I'm sure you know, Louise, like when you ping off that invoice, there's no nicer feeling. I’ve found definitely, year to year, the feedback that I've got from clients has been so much more, I don't know, they've been so much more forthcoming with it, it has given me so much confidence. When you're stuck in a job that you feel a bit sort of ground down, and perhaps your line manager is too busy to have like massive one to ones with you where they give you decent feedback on how you're doing and praise and whatnot. Then the freelancing side kind of gave me that from the beginning, and it's obviously very satisfying. So, so many benefits, but obviously not without its drawbacks.
L: And what would some of the drawbacks be?
F: Obvious one I guess is you have to sacrifice a significant amount of time each month to your freelance work, because that's what it requires. Content writing, in particular, you know, it's very likely that you're going to need to spend hours, not half an hour, writing a piece. There'll be things that you have to get your head round before you can even write something, or you need to research it, or you might need to interview people and gather notes and all of that stuff. So there's the time investment that and sacrifice that you need to make in order to actually do the freelance side.
L: When you just mentioned there about maybe you need to interview people or having calls with clients and things like that. How do you manage all of that if you have a day job, so you don't necessarily have the same flexibility in your day that would line up with your clients availability, or the people that you're trying to interview. How do you factor all of that in?
F: I've been lucky, and I've also been quite straight with clients. I'll always say to them upfront, look I've got this main job that I do, I won't be available for calls during the day Monday to Friday. I can’t jump on something that you need me to jump on. If you want to work with me, then you'll need to be flexible. Usually it hasn't been much of a problem. To be honest, I think out of all the clients I've had over these years, I've only ever met one face to face. I've not had a phone call with them, it's all been on Slack or email. It's been so sort of easy, and I think convenient for them. Because I don't think I'm a high maintenance type of freelancer, I can just be briefed, given what I need, and as long as the brief is decent, I can just get on with it and run with it. I think communication if you're doing this part-time is also key, because you need to send enough of an update or put enough comments on things that you don't need necessarily to have a call to go through all this stuff or a team's meeting or a zoom call. I think there are definitely ways to manage it, but sometimes you will, obviously have clients that really want those weekly check-ins and more commitment from you in terms of communication time.
L: I guess one thing that occurred to me when I was making the jump from employment to freelancing was worrying about what my old colleagues would think, and I worried that if I had clients that I had some earlier connection to it might seem inappropriate even though it was a completely different context. To be honest, I bet no one cared. But I'm wondering what the perspective is of your manager, or your boss, or the people that you work with in your day job. What's it like marketing when you have a full-time job? What are your thoughts on feeling confident and comfortable marketing your freelance services when you have a boss and colleagues who might see it?
F: I think, again, I've been quite lucky. I've made sure that in every role that I've had since I started freelancing, I've asked my full-time employer for a letter to basically consent to it. I've been transparent and upfront with them always. The only caveat is always as long as you're not working for an organisation where there’d be a commercial conflict of interest, which there never has been. I get that put in place so that I feel like then I'm being honest about it, and I'm not hiding, I don't feel like I need to hide anything from anyone.
L: Yeah, it's like what you're saying before about just being really clear and communicating clearly about what you're doing. Then if everyone knows from the start, then there aren't any surprises or awkward moments down the line. Do you have separate social media accounts for your employed work and your freelance work?
F: No, I don't actually. I think I'm very mindful when I'm on social about what I say. I mean, I guess, at the moment, and because I'm part-time with the freelance stuff, I'm not really actively looking for more clients because I'm already kind of at my limit. So I'm not marketing myself on social to say, hey, I've got some capacity, if anyone wants to hire me, there's none of that. It's more around, what I kind of focus on from my social accounts where I've only got the minimum, really, on most channels. On LinkedIn and Facebook, I've got a Digital Drum page, but beyond that I don't have extra aliases across social for my freelance stuff.
L: I suppose if somebody was in full-time employment and planning to make the switch from employment to self-employment, they might be thinking, well I do need to do a bit more marketing to try and make sure I've got my client base ready and I've got a pipeline of new leads. I'm wondering if you've got any thoughts or tips for people in that position about how to try and balance the two, just before they make that transition, and how they can think about marketing and their presence on social media.
F: I think if I was going to go full time, I probably wouldn't go to the lengths of explicitly marketing myself online, when there's so much that can be sourced from contacts and people from different communities. I think the reason why everybody is so friendly and nice to each other is partly because there's so much work out there, nobody has to really compete for it. Everybody is therefore helping each other out and giving each other advice. I think there's so much of that available to you, which it kind of wasn't when I started, that if you were thinking of going full-time freelance from the part-time situation, getting involved with those kinds of communities, things like Content Club, and meeting people that way and on Twitter and joining Slack groups. All the information is out there if you do a bit of searching and Googling, and just making contacts can often really give you a boost when it comes to gaining new leads and business, I've found.
L: Thanks Fi , it's been such a pleasure chatting to you. Where can people find you?
F: Probably the easiest place is on Twitter or LinkedIn. On Twitter, you can find me @Fi_digitaldrum, or they can find me on LinkedIn just by putting in my full name. I've also got a website called Digital Drum, and that's kind of the moniker I use for my freelance business. It's got a blog on there which has got loads and loads of content, articles mainly about everything from social to SEO, content marketing, all sorts of stuff, it's filterable. And I've just started in the last few months a LinkedIn newsletter called Content Therapy, which seems to be going down quite well with different people. I had a really nice bit of feedback from a chap at Shopify last month which I was just so chuffed with, because I just write these things, and release it, and think who's gonna read this, you don't know. It's always a bit of a gamble. That's a monthly newsletter, where I just pick five quick bits of content that are supposed to be helpful for content people.
L: That's brilliant, thank you so much. We'll make sure that those links are all in the show notes so people can go and have a nosy themselves. Thanks Fi, and thank you to everybody for listening, I will see you next time. Bye.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health 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.