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The Secrets To Freelance Success. By Andie Hemming, SPH Qualitech Ltd


Going solo can be a daunting prospect; nineteen members commented about how to get it right in a recent Any Answers post. In this feature Andie Hemming, a freelance trainer and member of TrainingZONE explains the secrets to freelance success by reflecting on her own experiences.

It’s now nearly 10 years since I ‘went freelance’ and, all things considered, I haven’t regretted a single day! I love it and so do many others – but it’s not for everyone.

I think that there are several questions to ask yourself if you wish to pursue this route. Not least:

  • Am I suited to working for myself?

  • What will I do?

  • Where will I get my clients from?

Am I suited to working for myself?
There’s no doubt that it doesn’t suit everybody. And it’s not a question of whether or not you’re a good trainer (or whatever it is you do) but more to do with how you prefer to work.

Corporate life brings many advantages for example:

  • Someone else pays you, including when you are sick or on holiday.

  • The resources, in their many forms, of a large organisation are available to be called upon.

  • There are immediately accessible colleagues and peers to be with and teams to be a part of.

However, the ‘freelance’ life also has many advantages including:

  • You can decide, to a large extent, when, where, how and with whom you work.

  • You get the chance to be entrepreneurial for yourself.

  • You don’t have to get involved, in the same way, with the politics of an organisation.

Of course, ‘working for myself’ has many options you can work entirely for and by yourself as a sole trader and likewise as a limited company (and with others). You could join a training consultancy as a consultant, either as an Associate, or as part of that organisation (this could not, I think, be described as ‘going freelance’).

I have many friends and colleagues who, although they have their own companies, work exclusively as an associate to others. This arrangement works very well for them.

I am part of a limited company which I think is better than being a sole trader, as some large companies still won't deal with anyone who isn't and I like the ‘feel’ of it.

I remember a conversation with a friend several years ago who was considering ‘going freelance’. I asked her what was important to her about work and her reply was ‘security’. Of course, this word means different things to different people, but for her what this meant was that although the idea of being freelance appealed to her, she was not ready to take the plunge.

When I asked her what would need to change in order for her to feel ready to make the move, her reply was that she would need to have some more experience in specific areas (so that she was more marketable) and that she would have to build up her self-confidence so that she could feel comfortable in ‘selling herself’. We formulated a plan, which she followed, and now she is a successful freelance consultant.

In my coaching practise, I have come up against this resistance to ‘selling myself’ many times. For some people, being part of a limited company can to some extent mitigate this – as any work is positioned as ‘what we do’, as opposed to ‘what I do’. However, it is essential that you feel confident about what you offer, otherwise why should someone else buy it?

What will I do?
It’s vital to play to your strengths – which of course, means knowing what they are! Gathering information from your colleagues and friends about what you’re good at and thinking about what you like doing is vital.

Then you need to know whether what you are going to offer has a market – and enough of a market to make the business viable. There are a lot of freelance trainers out there, what makes you different, what are your USP’s?

It is important to be very clear about what it is that you do. This way clients, or potential clients, understand how to place you. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to do anything you’re asked to, at whatever price, unless it absolutely fits in with ‘brand you’.

Some questions to consider are

  • Who will I train? (what population for example staff, supervisors, managers, senior managers, directors? Or what sector – public, private, niche, etc.)

  • What will I train them in/for? (what subjects)

  • What will be my price architecture? (this depends on the answers to the questions above and includes consideration of if, or when, and for what, you would negotiate on price.)

Being clear about what it is that you do also, very neatly, answers the question ‘what don’t I do?’ As reputation is all, it is vital to only do what you’re good at and are, to at least some extent, an expert in. That’s what you get paid for.

It’s also essential to keep your skills current and marketable. I know many trainers who are still trading on the skills they had when they left corporate life many years earlier. I think this is a huge mistake. I have a training budget which I spend on myself every year.

Otherwise, how can we, as trainers, possibly ‘walk the talk’? I think that this also has the benefit of reminding us what it’s like to be a delegate and keeping an eye on the competition! Surely any client worth their salt should be asking us what we’ve done to develop ourselves in the last 12 months?

Where will I get my clients from?
Unless you intend to offer public courses, which are quite different, I do not believe in spending much, if any, money on advertising. I think you should spend money on a good website, quality training materials and marketing collateral such as business cards, compliment slips, business stationery and the like.

The reason I don’t think that you should spend money on advertising is that most, if not all, of your clients will come from people who know you, or people who know people who know you.

When I worked in corporate life I got very fed up with cold callers. They called me at a time which suited them (and rarely me) and often I didn’t know them from Adam. Or they sent me piles of glossy and expensive brochures which I mostly threw in the bin. With so many training companies around I would rather, as I did, make a few phone calls to people whose opinion I trusted and ask them for recommendations.

You must be a good networker if you are to succeed as a freelancer. Treating your clients well, caring about the service you offer, keeping in touch and offering a tailored service to suit their needs are some keys to keeping their good will. Of course, offering a quality product is a very good place to start, but people nearly always buy on relationships. If you are uncomfortable meeting and talking to strangers, or marketing yourself (with finesse!) then you simply must get over it!

You will also need to think of yourself as a business and consider such business imperatives as cash flow, income generation, relationship management and many other areas. You can be as good a trainer as the world has ever seen, but if you have no cash, or no-one knows who you are, you’re bankrupt!

For me, the best parts include the thrill and challenge of running a business and getting involved in all sorts of industries (I didn’t know anything in my previous existence about banking or manufacturing – but I did know about retailing, branding and working with boards and senior managers) and all manner of people.

For me, the opportunity to train and coach is a huge privilege. Every client I have teaches me something new about how to do things well, a novel or innovative approach and, very occasionally, how not to do things. These I can add to my portfolio of skills and share with others (no name no pack drill!)

I relish having the chance to live or die by my own skills. I guess it’s the ultimate form of feedback!


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