If you’ve often wondered how other people structure their freelancing lives and what on earth got them into running their own business in the first place, you’re in the right place for a good old snoop around.
This Friday, Karen Arnott gives us her insight into the world of freelancing, as she balances her business alongside being a super mum at the same time, please read on and get to know this weeks’ Freelancer Friday interviewee!
So, first of all, give us a mini bio and tell us something we won’t know about you!
Hello! I’m Karen Arnott and run my own web and graphic design business. I always enjoyed art and design at school, but decided to read Psychology at University. After graduating in 1997, I moved back to Cambridge and secured a graphic design role. I learned on the job, and gradually accumulated web and print graphic design skills over seven years until I was managing the design team within a busy Marcom department for a global software company.
I’m also passionate about nutrition and fitness, and have dreams to become a personal trainer.
How long have you been running your business and what got you started?
I set up my own graphic design business officially in August 2005. Earlier that year, I got made redundant the same week I went on maternity leave. This stroke of luck meant I didn’t have to think about work for several months (while getting used to being a parent!). Once I was thinking about working again, many of the colleagues who had also been made redundant at the same time approached me to design their logos, business cards and websites for their own startup businesses. From there, the majority of my work has come via client recommendations.
Did you launch straight into your business idea or did you spend time planning, training or even worrying before you got kicking?
It really just grew organically. I continued to develop the skills I had been using in my previous career, while also getting professional advice from an accountant friend to ensure I kept on top of tax and finance issues.
Tell us about your typical working day – Are you an early bird or do you tend to work throughout the night?
I don’t really have a ‘typical’ day – which is one of the joys of freelancing. I check email first thing, usually as I’m helping the children get ready for school. I then tend to work the full ‘school’ day, and then sometimes catch up with a little more work in the evenings. Being freelance is the perfect career for a parent, providing you are honest with clients about expectations and timeframes. It’s also essential to maintain a good work-life balance. I put my laptop away in a cupboard at weekends!
What’s your biggest challenge as a freelancer?
I have a set of regular, long-term clients and I really care about their businesses succeeding. It can be challenging if more than one client has an important deadline within the same timeframe. Honest, two-way, communication is key. There are occasions where you simply have to put in some long hours, but the reward of seeing a job well done, and having happy clients, makes it worthwhile.
And what’s the best element of being your own boss?
Taking a spontaneous day off without having to ask anyone’s permission! And when you receive unsolicited positive feedback from grateful clients. Recently, I was working with a relatively new client who told me he’d never worked with a graphic designer before who bothered to sanity-proof the copy. For me, that’s absolutely part of my job – it’s not all about ‘making things look pretty’.
How do you manage a good work/life balance (or do you struggle with this at all)?
There are rare occasions where you need to put in some crazy hours. If that occurs, I usually make sure I can book in a spa day to recuperate and reward myself. I also believe that you are responsible for setting the precedent with a client relationship concerning your time. If you respond to work emails at weekends, you can’t be surprised when a client expects this all the time. I try to work set hours, and communicate those to my clients at the outset. Technology has its uses, but it’s important to schedule downtime into your diary otherwise you could face burnout. Looking after yourself as a freelancer is crucial; after all, no one pays you sick pay!
Where do you work from and do you co-work at all?
Most of the time, I work from home. Sometimes I meet with clients in coffee shops or their premises.
Do you allow yourself a regular break for coffee, exercise or lunch?
At the moment, I work 9-3 during the week, so am definitely guilty of not taking a ‘break’ from my desk. I make sure I have a healthy lunch and go to exercise classes in the evening though.
Are there any apps/tools/gadgets/people that you just couldn’t work without?
DropBox – for sharing files with clients, my iPhone, and good ol’ fashioned pencil and notepad – you just can’t beat sketching out ideas on paper.
We would love to hear your thoughts on “networking” – do you go to any regular events or meet ups to meet other freelancers?
I keep meaning to attend Cambridge Business Lounge events because I’ve got to know a few of the regular CBL folks on Twitter and they seem very approachable. However, I’ve been too busy with work, which must be a good thing! It’s definitely something I want to pursue in the very near future though. Twitter is also great for initial contacts.
What essential advice would you give to anyone thinking of becoming a freelancer?
If you can afford it, go for it! If you can’t afford it yet, make a plan so you can – ideally save three month’s salary to tide you over (or start your freelance business in your spare time until you’re financially ready to go it alone). Seek advice and input from friends, relatives and other contacts. Then, when you are your own boss…use your time wisely – set yourself boundaries (such as switching off social media and other distractions – make sure friends know you aren’t available for a quick coffee!) Get some tax advice, and make sure you set aside the correct % of your earnings to pay HMRC. Write some T&Cs for potential clients, and ideally ask a friend with a legal background to give them a once over. Attend co-working or networking events.
Finally, trust your instinct. Don’t commit any significant time until you know someone is genuine. Obtain a deposit payment before starting any work, and ensure they’ve agreed to your T&Cs before hand.
Anything else you would like to add or share?
I may sound biased, but I wholeheartedly believe this: make sure your new company logo, website and business cards are professionally designed and produced. Cheap design (or worse – getting a friend’s neighbour’s teenage son to do it for free) will show, and this won’t be a good reflection on your own professionalism and business.
How can we find you online (and off!)?
Karen Arnott, Web & Graphic Designer
Tel: 07511 954 324
Thanks so much Karen for taking part in our Freelancer Friday series, if you would like to put yourself (or somebody else worthy of being featured) forward, let’s talk!