As some of you will already be aware, I recently took the jump and decided to go self employed and start my own venture into influencer, content and social media marketing. The last three months have been pretty mental, seeking out work, working projects that suck, working projects that are awesome, bringing on some accounts, loosing some accounts and generally learning a tonne…it has already been one of the most exciting and fast paced periods of my career and I really feel like I am only really just getting started.

I thought it would be pretty cool to note down a few of the key things I have learnt in this time both as a reflective statement, but also because I hope it will help some of those that are on the same journey or are considering it. Not only this, but these are still areas of development and I would love to learn more from those that have been through it all.

Your friends and family won’t get it

This is a common point that you will read about in many articles about starting up on your own.

Your friends won’t get it, they will shut you down because they won’t understand your dream”…and so on.

Now, this actually quite far from what I have found so far. There was no ‘get a real job’ from my parents, no ‘I don’t get it’ from my friends, in fact I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly supportive people in the last three months, many offers of help, many connections made, much advice given.

However, where I have found a disconnect is in the perceived permanence of my new undertaking. Often conversations would start with updates of my new adventure, “how’s it going” and “what work are you doing” which would be followed up with statements like “and how is the job hunt going” or “what you are doing is really going to boost your CV”.

And there is born my frustration. I love the support. But this isn’t some sort of ‘gap-year business’, I am not starting this because I can’t ‘get a job’ and want to boost my CV…far from it.

Saying this I actually appreciate these comments, I do enjoy a slight amount of negativity to motivate me into doing better. I can’t wait to inform my friends and family about how my ‘gap-year business’ is still rocking on in 2020.

Be Generally Specific

When I started this adventure I spent some time thinking about exactly what I was going to do. There is a whole host of skills I could employ and develop in order to build myself a pipeline of work. There were things that excited me, things that I was good at and somewhere in the middle were a few golden areas that I knew I had to pick from.

But picking from things I am good at and find really interesting is like trying to pick a favourite child (I have heard this is difficult, but have no experience). So my first thoughts on what I was going to offer looked something like this:

“Blog Writing, Article Writing, Social Media Writing, Publication Writing, CV Writing, LinkedIn Consultancy, Instagram Consultancy, Influencer Marketing, Affiliate Marketing, Social Media Marketing, PPC, Social Advertising”….and so on.

Clearly this approach drove me to some confusion in terms of understanding who I am targeting and what I am offering…so you can imagine the puzzled looks on peoples faces when I threw an unpolished pitch their way. It also meant I found myself in situations where I was talking to businesses in industries which frankly I couldn’t give two craps about.

Realising my mistake I went hyper concentrated…I asked myself where exactly can I add value. In an attempt to be as concise as humanly possible I went with something like:

“Content writing for male grooming product manufacturers based in the UK”

This approach proved some benefit in narrowing down my target audience, which also increased my success in terms of winning work. Clearly people can tell when you know about and are passionate about a product. I was starting to work for businesses that made stuff I would actually buy…and that was pretty magic.

Enter the curve ball(s).

In the space of a couple of weeks I had emails and calls from multiple businesses wanting some support with influencer marketing, in areas that were outside of my target market…yet still really interesting. After about 30 seconds of deliberation around the ethics of stepping outside my well defined and strategically thought out niche…I took the work.

I asked myself the fundamental question “why did I go it alone?” and among other key reasons “to do interesting work” was near the top….and this was interesting work.

So, what do I tell people now when they ask what I do?

“Influencer, content and social marketing…for businesses that do interesting stuff” 

I really like this statement, but I am under no illusion that is will be different again in three months time.

Why Bother?

I always knew that going self-employed was going to be hard grind in the motivation department. I am under no illusion that I can be hard to motivate if I do not find something interesting, yet if I find something interesting there is pretty much no stopping me.

One of the key lessons I have leant, actually lets say am learning, is that you need to constantly remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing. The reason behind this is two fold, first is because you need to hold onto what your motivation is…why are you getting up in the morning? The second reason is because it should control exactly the type of work you are looking for as well as the work you say yes or no to.

For example one of my key motivators is the flexibility my situation allows me. Obviously this needs to be carefully planned, but if I want to take the dog for a three-hour walk during the day and make up those hours some other time… I do it. So when I look for work I tend not to opt for anything that gives me set working hour.

Although more benefits seem to appear slowly to me over time, the key benefits I covet at the moment include:

  1. Flexible working. Within reason, working when I want, where I want.
  2. Less wastage. I work to get the job done rather than to fill my 9-5, sometimes it’s more than an average working day, occasionally it’s less, and this has made work way more satisfying.
  3. Less boredom. I don’t kid myself that my work is always going to blow my mind, but at least up until now I have generally just worked on projects I have a genuine interest in.
  4. Freedom to speak. People pay me because of my expertise, so I speak my mind on the matter in hand, not what I think the boss or my manager wants to hear.
  5. Freedom from office politics. I have pretty much never dipped my toes in office politics because I think it is a fucking massive waste of time…but now I don’t even get people trying to coax me into it….bliss.

Are You Serious?

This is one point that still has me scratching away at my noggin. Every book, article and blog I have read tells me that I should make my business look bigger than it is…get a landline with an automated call director, create an agency brand rather than using your personal brand, get a professional website with multiple emails even though they all go to you, outsource a secretary to sort your calls and meeting and so on and so on.

On this point I pretty much 50/50 flick between thinking that is an awesome idea and asking ‘why?’. On the one hand I get looking bigger than I am, it means potentially winning more and bigger clients and more importantly it means better bragging rights down the pub…

“yeah, just call my secretary, he will sort it”.

But on the other hand why bother in the early days? I am selling myself, not a team of 50…it is not like I could complete that much work even if I won it. Plus it is more investment with little capacity to take on more work anyway.

But what if it brings in more interesting work? Then I could free up capacity to take on projects like that. Or outsource some work in favour of new work…

Anyway, you see the dilemma.

Although I think I have learnt a hundred more things than I have highlighted here, these are the four points I find most interesting or have changed the way I work the most. It has been great hearing others experiences on ‘going it alone’, everyone seems of have different motivators and different ways to do it and I think that is the key to it all: flexibility. I would love to hear others thoughts on this, whether it is lessons you have learnt or fears you have of going it on your own. Feel free to ping me an email on owain@ojawilliams.com or join in the discussion on social.

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