How to decide what your freelance business will be.
This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Detective Rene Hammer aka Anonymous. They say:
“Hi Frankie & Steve,
My partner hates their job. Like, really hates their job.
Meanwhile, they see me being busy and wearing all the hats — but happy working freelance. So I’ve been softly encouraging them to become self-employed too.
They’re coming round to the idea. But crucially, they haven’t fully figured out what it is they would actually DO as a freelancer.
I don’t want to say too much about their job in case it gets back to their employer but hopefully you can still answer my question — How do you pin down what your freelance business is and does??
Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:00:53] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie, and this is Steve.
[00:01:04] – Steve
Hello, yes! Each episode we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community, do our best to answer it, but of course, we start each episode by looking back at the last episode and taking your comments on it. Last time, we were talking about…
[00:01:14] – Frankie
…everything getting more expensive and how we can maybe, possibly, cope with that.
[00:01:20] – Steve
Thank you so much for all of your comments. Lots of them were basically empathetic.
[00:01:27] – Frankie
[00:01:31] – Steve
But also some people… don’t want to say that we ‘inspired’ them to put up their rates, but maybe we gave them the final kick up the arse that they needed. As in, they already knew they needed to. So, anyway, I hope that’s been going well.
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:04:02] – Frankie
So for the first time in 2022, i.e. we’ve only had two episodes so far! We’ve got an anonymous question.
[00:04:09] – Steve
Yes, and just a reminder — when we have an anonymous question, we then dive into the Fantasy Name Generator and pick a detective name because we just find it easier to speak to a person rather than just saying ‘anonymous’.
So here are some suggested names:
Anne Dukes, Rene Hammer, Fran Abbott. Are you not tempted by Rene Hammer?
[00:04:29] – Frankie
I am, but I’m just holding out to see what happens next…
[00:04:33] – Steve
Stevie Alexander, Val Simons.
[00:04:38] – Frankie
Fine. What was it? Rene.
[00:04:40] – Steve
I don’t know anymore because we’ve moved on.
[00:04:42] – Frankie
[00:04:49] – Steve
Okay, episode 79. And the question comes from Rene Hammer. Hey, Rene.
“Hi Frankie and Steve,
My partner hates their job. Like, really hates their job. Meanwhile, they see me being busy wearing all the hats but happy working freelance. So I’ve been softly encouraging them to become self-employed, too. They’re coming round to the idea, but crucially, they haven’t fully figured out what it is they would actually do as a freelancer.
I don’t want to say too much about their job in case it gets back to their employer, but hopefully you can still answer my question: How do you pin down what your freelance business is, and does? Thanks”
[00:05:38] – Frankie
It’s an excellent question. On paper, it’s like, ‘oh, well, currently, for example, I work in digital marketing. I will leave my job and freelance as a digital marketing consultant’. But that’s not necessarily the case, don’t you think?
[00:05:53] – Steve
Yeah, I suppose that’s the obvious thing, isn’t it? Lots of people do it. We are known for something. We’ve worked as something for years. And then we simply take that skill and probably even the same job title and put the word freelance or independent in front of it. And then we carry on.
[00:06:12] – Frankie
There’s two things there. One is there’ll be a lot of people — we don’t know about this person — but there’ll be a lot of people who have an employed job that they have no interest in doing freelance or can’t be applied in a freelance way.
[00:06:26] – Steve
Or are doing the thing but hate the thing.
[00:06:27] – Frankie
Well exactly, you don’t want to do it anymore. Yeah. Or there’s another thing that you have seen other people doing that you want to do but you don’t necessarily have the experience or the skills yet to do. That is also an option.
[00:06:40] – Frankie
I think part of what I’m getting at here is I don’t think you should limit yourself by the job that you’re currently in. I think a lot of people would immediately be like, well the next move has to make CV sense. Like, it should be a natural continuation of what I’ve done and I’m not saying that’s a bad idea, that makes a lot of sense and will probably be easier for you to do that, but I wouldn’t be afraid to pivot — love that word! — or learn new skills to do something a bit different maybe.
[00:07:17] – Steve
How do we help them? So, if it’s not obvious, take a look at, for a start, your skills. Like make a note of them and don’t just go for the obvious ones. Because actually, particularly if you’ve worked in a company, there are lots of skills that you have that you take for granted, I guess. You don’t even see them as something that might come in handy further down the line. So really think about what it is that you’re good at or enjoy doing in your current role.
[00:07:52] – Frankie
So yeah, look at your skills, what you’ve got, what’s in your arsenal, what are you capable of doing? And by capable of doing, I mean, could you also do some training while you’re in employment, for example, while you’ve got a regular pay packet to learn new skills if that’s what you want to do?
So, there’s like the skills and knowledge, experience side.
[00:08:13] – Frankie
Then there’s… What do you enjoy? What comes easily to you? And then… Who’s your audience and how much are they going to pay you? Is that sustainable for your situation? Like, how much is your rent or your mortgage? You need to actually think about some of the financials of it and look at what types of businesses are going to facilitate the lifestyle that you are currently living.
[00:08:36] – Steve
Who is your audience but where are they as well? We don’t know the finer detail about this particular question… but what are they looking for? Like, what is their need? How can you help them? Because that’s ultimately what a business does.
[00:08:54] – Steve
As a freelance business, somebody has a need and you then help them with that. Because I’m guessing that their partner, Rene’s partner, has some sort of idea of what they like doing but they haven’t pinned down exactly what it is and maybe that might come by looking for what your clients are asking for? Do you know what? Maybe part of that might also come from Google searches or going on the likes of Fiverr or Upwork.
[00:09:22] – Steve
Now, I’m not saying you have to get the work from those platforms, but if you search for certain terms to do with what it is you’re thinking of doing, it might bring up services that people already offer. Like, I will do this task for this amount of money in this amount of time. It will start to make you go, ‘oh, that’s clearly what people—’.
[00:09:39] – Frankie
… ‘I could do that’.
[00:09:40] – Steve
Yeah. That’s what people are after. How could I do that?
Yeah, have a look at what other people are doing. Can you find somebody else making a living out of whatever skill it is that you think you have to offer? Because if they are, then you can, too.
[00:09:57] – Frankie
And don’t be afraid to ask those people. Some people will say no, but don’t be afraid to ask those people. There’s a real freelance culture of passing it on, handing it down from one generation to the next. Like, if you listen to someone on Steve’s podcast, for example, and think… ‘Their story’s amazing and sounds like me!’ Try and contact them and say, ‘I listened to this, I’d love to have a chat’. The worst they can say is no or just ignore you, and that’s fine. But you never know, they might prove to be instrumental in your decision making.
[00:10:25] – Frankie
We drove back from London last night and I asked Rob randomly while he was driving, ‘what would you do if you went freelance?’ Anyway, we had a bit of a chat about it ahead of this question — in short, he didn’t really know.
He was like, ‘whatever job you choose, whatever you decide to be self employed in — no job is perfect. So you’re aiming by making this move to have more better days than crappy days’. I was like, ‘yes, that’s good. I like that!’
Like, more happy. You’re trying to tilt the balance towards the happy, but they’ll always be the shit, whatever job you’re in. I agree that the thing you choose should be something you enjoy and it makes you happy, but it won’t necessarily make you happy all the time.
[00:11:08] – Steve
Yeah, because some advice is ‘follow your passion’. And I’m not totally adverse to that. I’ve interviewed loads of people for the Being Freelance podcast who have done that and are very happy. But it doesn’t quite stack up in that not everything you’re passionate about is something that you will be paid for or paid well enough for.
[00:11:29] – Frankie
[00:11:30] – Steve
Also, there is the risk of when you do something that you’re passionate about that you lose the passion for it because it becomes a business. And then if that’s an integral part of who you are, then suddenly you’ve kind of shifted your internal balance.
[00:11:46] – Frankie
Yeah. And the older I get, the more I think hobbies and having a life away from your job and your children is really important. And if you take a hobby and monetise it, I think there’s a real risk that you suck the joy out of it. And then what are you going to do outside of your job to stay sane? You’ll have to go and get a new hobby.
[00:12:08] – Steve
So not wanting to make that sound negative… but it’s just worth considering.
[00:12:12] – Frankie
Yeah, it’s not as straightforward as that either.
[00:12:14] – Steve
And I also think it suggests that if you’re not feeling ‘passionate’ about something, then maybe that isn’t the thing that you should be doing. When in fact, maybe it doesn’t have to be your everything.
Instead of following your passion, following what perhaps you’re good at or what people need or what people are going to pay you for? It’s not as simple as saying ‘do what you love’ because you’ve got a family to help feed and some of it you won’t love doing. But if you enjoy the job enough, then you don’t mind so much, like, the admin and all of that stuff that goes with life and business.
[00:13:00] – Steve
Yeah, I suppose my passion, I guess… I really enjoy editing audio, working with audio, making podcasts. But when I went freelance, I noticed that people needed — and this was pre-podcasts being a big thing — they needed video. And I was like, ‘well that is something I also can do. I have that skill, so I will offer that’. And then when I started offering video, some people then went, ‘oh, we need a presenter’. Well, at the time I was working in radio and I did do presenting, so I was like, ‘oh, I can get paid to do that’.
[00:13:37] – Steve
And then somebody would go, ‘oh well, we’re going to need a scriptwriter’. And it’s like, ‘oh well, I write scripts’, even though I don’t consider myself a ‘writer’ in radio, I was writing things all the time. So, okay, I’ll suddenly add that and that’s another thing people can pay me for.
And then eventually somebody came to me and said, ‘oh, well, we need a whole video made, but it will be filmed’. Okay, well, I’ll go and hire a videographer and I’ll pay them, but you pay me. And then somebody said, ‘can you make animations?’ I was like, ‘no, I can’t make animations’. And I thought, ‘but maybe I can hire an animator’.
[00:14:08] – Steve
So none of these things… If I was to invent my job now to be my freelance thing, so many of those things would never have occurred to me. They only occurred to me by listening to opportunities that came along.
[00:14:23] – Frankie
And doing it.
[00:14:25] – Steve
And then doing it, and people paying me or figuring out how to do it. And of course, some things I turned down, I was like, ‘no, I can’t do that’. Yeah, I’m not quite sure where I’m going…
What I guess I’m saying is that the obvious thing to me is that I worked in radio, so I should have been editing podcasts or editing radio and so on. But actually, I looked at what all my skills were and how those integrated with what people were asking me to do as they came along.
[00:14:49] – Steve
And out of that, I built a business. And some of those things I’m passionate about, some of those things I love doing, some of those things I’m really good at, and other things there are probably people who are better at it than I am, but I do it anyway because people like working with me and I get the job done.
[00:15:05] – Frankie
I did a talk called “Be More Stretch Armstrong”. Do you remember that talk? That was actually about parenting and freelancing, but it still applies. Like, one of the ultimate things about being self employed is you gain flexibility in your life, but you also have to be flexible in order to gain that flexibility. And what Steve just said is a classic example: you’ve adapted to survive. You’ve been like the ultimate Stretch Armstrong by going, ‘here are my skills’, and then over time going,’ oh, no, I can do way more than this. I can do X, I can do Y’.
You saw the opportunities, and you adapted to make your business solve those problems for people. And it’s been a success.
[00:15:47] – Steve
And I think through doing that, you can then further down the line go, ‘okay, now I want to refocus my business or niche or specialise in doing a particular thing’.
[00:15:57] – Frankie
Yeah, because I’ve gone the other way. When I started out as a freelancer, I was like, ‘oh, I can do any design you want. I will do a website. I will do corporate brochures, I will do branding, I will do blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…’ But instead of — like the opposite of what Steve’s done — over time, I’ve gone, ‘I don’t want to do web sites. I don’t want to work for these people. I want to do fun, colourful shit for this really small minority of small businesses’. And that’s kind of worked for me in a way, by being more like, you know… Making myself smaller has weirdly, well, brought me more joy for a start! The work I do now, I love all of it. Yeah. And I’ve attracted more of my ideal client by niching down how I present myself on my website et cetera. And that’s been okay, too.
[00:16:41] – Steve
But you started out very general and then have narrowed it down by doing the work and figuring it out as you go along, which is kind of the same as me.
[00:17:00] – Steve
But if we were to have sat there, like, doing our other jobs and gone, ‘okay, what is it I’m going to do?’ And then you went, ‘okay, I’m going to make colourful, playful design and work in lots of magazines and print or family orientated businesses’ or whatever it would have felt impossible, probably, to have figured it out. Unless, like we say, you saw somebody doing it and went, ‘okay, I’m going to do exactly that’.
But, yeah, some things you can figure out as you go along and that’s no bad thing.
[00:17:29] – Frankie
Yeah, I mean, we’ve said this on other episodes. Like the best way to nail down the thing you want to do is to do lots of things that you really don’t enjoy. You don’t realise it at the time, but when you have those jobs and you go ‘oh my God. I hate this’. It’s one step towards doing the work you really want to be doing because you make sure you never work with that client again or a similar client. Or you do a similar project and over time you identify what it is you do really enjoy doing and what you are really good at.
[00:17:58] – Frankie
Not to say you shouldn’t do all the research and planning as well, but get going! What is it… what’s the startup phrase? ‘Move fast, break shit’, something?
[00:18:10] – Steve
I think that’s your toddler, isn’t it?
[00:18:13] – Frankie