On this day, six months ago I drove to the university where I had worked as a press officer for five-and-a-half years, for one last time. It was Friday July 28th and I had handed in my notice eight weeks earlier.
My immediate colleagues – my friends – gave me a lovely send off, and I for sure had all the nostalgic feels for my role and countless good times along the way. But boy was I ready to be done. I say that with the utmost respect because it was a great job, and at the risk of making this sound like a teenage break up – it’s not you, it’s me and all that – that actually sums it up pretty well.
You see from the moment I launched this very blog, while I daren’t have said it out loud (except to James!) – my ultimate goal was to find a way to be self-employed blogging, freelancing, Instagramming and content creating so that I could have more time with my son. But also so that I could live my life and give my dream a whirl. To be my own boss, on my own terms, doing my own thing and writing for myself. That’s what I craved. As well as to not be working only to send the majority of my salary to pay someone else to look after Oscar.
A lovely Instagram friend Natasha @candypop.uk, once generously recommended that saving the equivalent of three to six month’s worth of my working salary before I handed in my notice, would be a smart thing to do for peace of mind and security. That’s what she did at the dawn of her incredibly successful freelance coaching and blogging career. Brilliant advice from someone who’s been there and done that, which I’m repeating here because I think it’s a good move for you, if you are considering taking the self-employment plunge too.
Did I do that? No I did not. I was too impatient.
What savings did I have? None.
But I did have collaboration pay cheques in the bank that totalled to almost two month’s salary, which although all accounted for, felt like a safety net. James and I talked, and both agreed that if I was going to do this without said savings, then Summer 2017 was as good a time as any.
One-hundred-and-eighty-four days in, I’m so grateful to be here doing this, because who knows how long it will last? I’d love to say that this is it – this is me, having my own business as my always. But forever is a long time to sustain and I’ll be honest I’m still very much in a phase where it feels like I am winging this every single day. All I can say is – so far so good. Sort of.
Before I go any further I’d like to clarify two points which I get asked fairly frequently for the benefit of those of you reading this who do not work within the blogging and social media world.
- How do I make a living as a blogger/Instagrammer? I collaborate with brands on both of these platforms, sharing their products/services that I already use, or that said brand/company has introduced me to, that fits my lifestyle and that I love, with my followers/readers. Advertising.
- What is an influencer? It’s not the most heart-warming term, but an influencer is someone who has a following across a social media channel/s and essentially does what I describe in the point above.
My aim for this post is to share my experiences and also make this a bit of a – what works – and, what not to do – because I really am a walking example of the latter in so many ways.
For instance. Would you believe me if I told you that I didn’t sit down and work out exactly how much I would need to earn each month as a minimum, to cover my bills and outgoings and y’know – food – until three weeks after I had left my job? Because that’s the reality. I 100% would not advise anybody to follow suit in such a chaotic manner… as you can sense already – my decision to quit work was entirely heart over head. If I had ruled the other way, I don’t think I ever would have taken the leap. I do stand by it though – I’m all for following my heart. I trust it like my gut.
In a bid to make sure I cover everything that I think is important, I’m going to break this down into sections of the challenges that I have faced so far and how I have dealt with/tackled/skirted around them.
But before I go any further I have one disclaimer that you ought to be aware of. I’m flying by the seat of my pants minute by minute.
This has without a doubt been my biggest downfall from the get go. I’ve always struggled with managing my workload since the launch of my blog – yet ironically, it feels like this is more of an issue for me now that I’m flying solo, than ever before. I have two days a week to work – Wednesdays and Thursdays, when Oscar is in nursery. I am with him the rest of the time which is AMAZING, but it does mean that on a day-to-day things can get tricky work wise. The most productive weeks for me are when I have those two working days clear to sit in a coffee shop with my laptop and get my head down. Use the time for blogging, taking photos, replying to emails and if I’m lucky – plan a little and maybe even pitch to a brand I’d like to work with. Though some weeks it’s not that clear cut. There are times when I have meetings and events on both of those days which means I have zero time to create, well anything, which is tough when I have external deadlines. In the run up to Christmas it felt like I had weeks and weeks where this was the case. I do work in the evenings too, but I am trying my damndest to be kinder to myself and go to bed at a sensible hour for my own sanity and health – so where as in the early days of my blogging I created 90% of my content while burning the midnight oil, I’d say now it’s more like 20%.
Does this mean I’m producing less content as a result? Yes, it does. But that’s okay, because in my book quality over quantity is a good blogging rule to live by, and when I have more sleep and I’m of a clearer mind – both the standard that I work at and the content I create is always going to be better.
Keeping calm & perspective on!
I’m the first to acknowledge that I can be a tad sensitive (and dramatic) about all things related to my business. Something that to somebody else would probably sound like a really tiny thing – I will undoubtedly blow up into much more. But can you blame me? This is my entire income stream and a representation of me, so it’s not really all that surprising that I take lots to heart and care as much as I do.
So what kind of things am I talking about?
Maybe an Instagram photo didn’t get as many likes as I would indeed err like. Maybe I gave myself a deadline and didn’t stick to it which has had a knock on effect for the rest of my work load. Maybe I’m waiting on a pay cheque and am desperate for it to clear. Maybe I’m invited to an event, but the train ticket is just too pricey (up to £250 for a return from Leeds to London, people!! The struggle is real!) and I’m concerned about the impact that not attending said event will have on my relationship with that brand. Will they forget me next time? Will I get pushed further down the invite list?
All of these things have brought me stress in the last six months. Actually, in the last six days!! This is where maintaining perspective is absolutely vital when working for yourself in this industry. If you don’t, you will send yourself mad. Trust me, I have and no doubt will again on multiple occasions. I love what I do. I’m so grateful and happy that this – THIS – is my job and I still can’t believe it – but those moments of anxiety are the times when I really doubt myself and feel undeserving of said opportunities. If I let it, it can be all-consuming, at least until I’ve given myself a shake. Once the moment (or let’s be honest – the day) has passed and I’ve moved onto the next thing, I’ll remember all the positive, liberating and wonderful reasons why I do this, and want this and love this, and the anxiety will get swept under the carpet until the next time.
This is so important and I know it can be a struggle for all of us at some point. For me it’s an ongoing battle across the board. I’m not one of these people who overflows with ideas. I have to dig deep for them, the majority of the time. Especially with my blog. I usually don’t know what topic I’m going to write about from one post to the next – my lightbulb moments are sporadic and fleeting, and I’m always looking for inspiration. My favourite posts to write are the ones that come out of nowhere. Usually when I sit down at my laptop and I have no idea what to blog about, so therefore I’ll just blurt out what’s on my mind.
My advice to anyone stuck for something to write, is to do just that. Sit down and pour your heart out, because you’ll be surprised at where it takes you and you’ll discover that there are things you have to say that you didn’t know were even playing on your mind. And always, always write like no one is reading.
I’m yet to brainstorm. To just sit and spend a few hours coming up with ideas. I must be mad. Surely that should be one of the first rules of being a self-employed creative?
I don’t want to shatter any illusions you might have, but I sometimes think that because I left my job to do this people assume I must be rolling in it. Raking it in. Spoiler alert. I’m not.
Yes, when I am paid for my content it is very well paid. But the work flow is not constant. I can go for a few weeks without any new opportunities pinging into my inbox. And then like buses I might get three in the space of two days. Also not every collaboration offer is the right fit for me and this year so far, I’ve said no thank you more than I’ve said yes please on that very basis.
My biggest fear about leaving work (I pondered it on and off for around six months before I bit the bullet), was money. What if I didn’t earn enough to manage? What if zero collaboration opportunities came my way? What would I do?
I remember voicing these concerns to the Instagram powerhouse that is Sara @me_and_orla. She was the very first Instagrammer and blogger to really, truly inspire me way back in the day (aka 2014 😉 ). She was the first person and friend that I made on the platform who opened up and gave me proper advice, when I asked for it, about brand work. I’ll never forget that. And I’m so grateful that she did.
Anyway, it was Sara who told me to stop worrying about work drying up if I left my job. “It won’t,” she said, matter-of-factly as we sipped pink gin at 11am in the sunshine next to a floral double-decker bus at a Boden event (I know, I know – but that’s the truth of it!).
“But what if it does? It’s such a risk,” I retorted.
“It won’t,” she said again. “When you are self-employed you will be creating more opportunities for yourself, which will bring in further opportunity. It’s easy for me to say, but it will be fine.”
So far, it has been fine. I’ve managed to match my salary each month, bearing in mind that I was down to three days at work. Some months I’ve earned more than that. Some months, like this month – I’ve earned less.
I would say that if you are in a position to save money before leaving your job – then do. Departing as I did wasn’t wise. Though I don’t regret any of it for a single second. If I was to do it again I’d do it the same way, only sooner ;).
Pitching and creating my own work
I’ve been so fortunate that work opportunities have and continue (at present) in the main to come to me. I do still pitch to brands, but not all that often and going forward I definitely need to do it more.
Oscar & finding the right balance
This self-employed life is indeed one big balancing act. When I’m with Oscar I want to be totally present and in the moment, which means that work-related emails will often go unseen and unanswered for much longer than the professional person in me would like. Though not always, I do reply occasionally during those days if the opportunity presents itself.
The best thing about doing this for a living is that I get to be with Oscar five days a week instead of three. When I ordinarily would have been at my desk and away from him for 10 hours a day, we are now together and whether we’re snuggling on the sofa, playing make believe or adventuring in the park, I promise I don’t take it for granted for a single second.
I would be lying if I said it hadn’t been a struggle to balance workload and family life. There has been the odd time where I’ve had to do a collaboration photo for Instagram on an Oscar day. There was one weekend in December where James was away when I had to do eight photos. It can sometimes take hours to get just one shot right, so those two days where it was just me, Oscar and my looming deadline of eight Instagram-ready images – well let’s just say my stress levels were high. The mum guilt was intense and I cried more than once fretting about how Oscar must have been bored senseless. But in the same breath, that weekend was a one off and y’know – I gotta pay the bills!
I’m not sure I’ll ever have the answer when it comes to balance and apologies to anybody reading, who was hoping I was going to say that we have it nailed and it’s all peachy. I’d say it’s 65% peach, 35% lime ;).
Support at home, & away
This is the one and only area which I have down! James could not be more amazing. He is so patient with me. He sense checks every single blog post that I write. Any photo which I feature in, he has taken. Last week, he took a day off work so that he could shoot some photos of Oscar and I for an upcoming brand campaign. I’m not sure I could ask or want for anymore than that level of support. He helps me come up with ideas. He understands and genuinely empathises with my concerns, worries and anxieties (as mentioned above!) listening to me, time and again like the broken record that I am, helping me work through them. In other words he is the best of the best of the best. And the fact that he supported me in my decision to leave my job and believed in me that I could make this work – well I cannot thank him enough and I could not love him more. Without him this simply wouldn’t be happening.
On top of this, I have also felt so incredibly lifted by family and friends. My mum is my number one supporter after James. Always the first person to share my blog posts on Facebook. My dad has never told me he’s proud of me, more than he has in the last six months. My bestie Nadine who reads, likes and watches errrrthang and will DM me to express her disappointment when she goes to watch my Instagram Stories and I haven’t uploaded anything! Barry, whose support I can feel cheering me on all the way from New York.
And then there’s my girls Lauren @huntersandheels, Claire @thislittlehouse_ & Sally @sallyfazeli – who I owe so much to. Friendships made on Instagram that have transcended into real life. Stronger together has never been so apt, as there is not a day goes by that we don’t chat on our WhatsApp group, gossiping, GIFing 😉 sharing ideas and support, about our lives, our Instagrams, our blogs. I cannot stress enough how much their friendship has impacted on this experience and helped me – not just in the last six months, but in the last two years. I know it’s easier said than done, and with us we were lucky our friendship just happened – but where you can, especially in this social media industry, find your gang. Friends that you can trust and confide in and seek advice from, because while the Instagram and blogging communities are wonderful and warm – when you’re doing this for a living they can also feel lonely, and competitive and you can be left second guessing yourself, and everyone else!
When I started writing this post I in no way intended for it to turn into the dissertation it has become, but if you’re still with me – thank you! Thank you to everybody here and on Instagram who reads, likes, shares, comments, DMs and watches my Stories. It’s thanks to you doing all of these things that I am sat here writing this dissertation at all 😉 Now let’s see if I can get through the next six months!
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