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October 18, 2018

Top tips for freelancers from business coach Matt Essam

Alyssa Jaffer

Call them freelancers, digital nomads, remote workers – London has always been home to flexible workers whose office is the whole city. This week, we’re welcoming business coach Matt Essam at The Collective’s weekly freelancers lunch, to share his expertise on navigating the often tricky path of working for yourself as a creative freelancer. We had a chat with him to get his top tips for freelancers.

Tell us about who you are and what you do.

My name is Matt and I coach established freelancers and small business owners who work in the creative industries. I help them to find meaningful, fulfilling work and consistently get paid what they are worth.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being a business coach?

Helping people to unlock their true creative potential and regain self-belief, then watching them go out and achieve remarkable things that they had always dreamed of doing.

What are the biggest struggles for freelancers in the creative industries, and how can they deal with them?

  1. Irregular / inconsistent income

I often to refer to this as the cycle of feast and famine. One month,  things can be going really well; great clients, great projects and a steady cash flow. The next month, everything seems to dry up without much notice and you are left scrambling for work. The solution is to be prospecting for new work even when you are busy. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the most important time to look for new work is when you are at your busiest. If you wait until work starts to dry up, you will have a time period when you are sending proposals and finalising deals – which means you aren’t getting paid.

2. Poor work/life balance

The work/life balance struggle is usually created by the challenge of inconsistent income. When work does start coming in, you say yes to everything, as you have bills to pay. This often attracts time-intensive, low paid work for clients that want high-quality service without the high fees. In turn, this leads to working all hours under the sun to fulfil commitments and you can often find yourself going weeks without any social life.

The first step to overcoming this challenge is plan ahead to avoid irregular income. Then, you need to get really clear about how many projects you can take on at once and how much you need to charge per project in order to hit your income targets.

3. Creatively unfulfilled

One of the things that really pains me to see is creatives doing work just to pay the bills.

The world doesn’t need more meaningless creative work, it needs work that is driven by passion and purpose; work that is aligned with your values and that solves a real problem in the world.

If we are going to do this work, first we must know what our values are. The majority of freelancers that I work with who are struggling with creative fulfilment haven’t taken time to really understand their core values and why they are doing what they do. This process is often easier to do with someone else that can ask you the right questions and really get you thinking.

What are your top 5 tips for freelancers?

1. Don’t try to do it all alone.

It’s a common misconception that freelancers should work on their own. The most successful freelancers I know are surrounded by a team of amazing people that support them and their business. This doesn’t have to be full-time members of staff – it can be mentors, coaches and other freelancers that help with the things you don’t like or aren’t very good at. Trying to do everything on your own is just a recipe for stress and burnout.

2. Get really clear on the problem you are solving for your client.

When I first started my freelance business, one of the biggest mistakes I made was to say yes to everything and not take time to understand why someone wanted what they were asking for. This led to people spending money with me, but not achieving the result they really wanted. When I focused on solving the real problem, it completely changed how my business operated as well as the amount of impact I could have for my clients.

3. Actively seek out new opportunities on a daily basis – even when you are busy.

The cycle of feast and famine can be avoided if you make it part of your daily routine to connect with people and add value. You will be amazed at how many opportunities exist, especially if you know where to look. The key is to get really clear about who you want to work with, and how you can help them. Without this, you are just walking in the dark.

4. Get clear on your values.

Ultimately we all want to feel good about the work we do, but what makes us feel good is different for everyone. For some people, they need to see their work on the front page of Creative Review. For others, an email from a happy client gives them the same feeling of satisfaction. These feelings are related to our core values – the emotions we want to feel most on a daily basis. If you don’t know what these are and how you get those feelings, you will always be doing things that leave you frustrated and unfulfilled.

5. Your real value is locked away inside your story.

One of the greatest lessons I learnt from my mentor Daniel Priestley, was that your real value lives inside your story. Our experiences, our network and our unique way of doing things all add up and put us in a unique position to solve a significant problem for someone. The problem is, most of us haven’t taken the time to think about who that person actually is. So take the time to find out. §

Matt’s workshop, ‘Freelancers Club: Getting clients you Love and Keeping Them’ is at 1pm this Thursday, 18th October at The Collective Old Oak. Members, head to the app for more info. 

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