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 are in the right place for a good old snoop.
This Friday, Lucy Becker, founder of Spotty Octopus gives us her insight into the wonderful world of freelancing and shares her thoughts with us on how to balance a work life with an energetic child in tow…
So, first of all Lucy, give us a mini bio & tell us something we won’t know about you!
Being asked for a mini bio always reminds me of when my dad (who’s also a creative writer) wrote my opening paragraph for my first CV and started with “I was born on Halloween and have been riding my own broomstick ever since”. One company was truly disappointed not to have a gothic witch turn-up – my middle name is ‘sunshine’ and I think I try to live up to that trait more than that of being a witch!
I’m founder of Spotty Octopus, a digital marketing and VA (Virtual Assistant) company. Before Spotty I worked for a variety of Cambridge technology companies, from small start-ups to a multinational billion dollar company (the perks of the second were fab but nothing beats the atmosphere & buzz of a start-up!) – I once also worked on a summer camp in America as a Salad Director (carrots to the left, tomatoes to the right!)
I’m also mum to an energetic, mucky and always chatty 6 year old boy (is there any other kind?) called Noah.
How long have you been running your business and what got you started?
I gave up my job when Noah was born in 2008 to be a SAHM (stay at home mum). When he started school I knew I had to do something but didn’t want to go back to a 9-5. I felt my skills would work virtually and that there was a market for it and so Spotty was born.
That was nearly two years ago. Like the queen we have two birthdays, one when we set the company up & the other when we got our first client. There’s more months in between the two then I thought there would be!
Are you freelancing full time or part time? Do you have a second or even third means of income to keep you moving forward?
Spotty is full time (and then some). I imagine it was easier for me in a lot of ways as I wasn’t transitioning from a full time role to being self-employed. I was lucky enough to slowly get back into the idea of “a working day”, deadlines and everything else that comes with having a business and clients – as my client base grew so did the hours I worked.
Did you launch straight into your business idea or did you spend time planning, training or even worrying before you got kicking?
It took me several months between initially thinking “I could be a virtual PA” to finally coming to “I could set up a company of Virtual PA’s”. Then we spent another month or so planning out how it would work, researching what was already out there, what we could offer that was unique and what would make us stand out.
One of the biggest sticking points was the name. We couldn’t do anything without a name and I think we must have registered about 5 different domains until we finally came up with Spotty Octopus – as soon as we got the name, the branding and website design came easily. Pretty soon we realised that actually what most of our clients (& potential clients) wanted was help with their digital marketing. Spotty grew organically from what people really needed and that’s now around 90% of our business.
Tell us about your typical working day – Are you an early bird or do you tend to work throughout the night?
I do the school run in the mornings with Noah so it’s a fixed (but still hectic) routine. From there I usually head into the office which I share with 3 other freelancers & Max the dog. I sometimes work from the home office but it can feel quite isolated and I like the buzz of having other people around.
3 days a week I pick Noah up and we do after school activities, have play dates or go to the park. On those days I’m usually back in front of the laptop again in the evenings but I love having that flexibility.
What’s your biggest challenge as a freelancer?
When I worked from home I missed the social interaction and banter of working in an office. Social media and Skype helped but it’s not the same as bouncing ideas around or even just talking about what happened in Game of Thrones the night before.
When Dave at Platform Twenty told me about the office in Tadlow it sounded like the perfect solution. We’re all creative freelancers who own their own businesses. Sam at Design Monkey and Dave both ‘do’ websites, Dan at Dan Gould Design does graphic design and Max ensures we all get some fresh air at lunchtime.
And what’s the best element of being your own boss?
I love being in charge of my own timetable. It doesn’t mean I don’t work the same hours as a 9-5, but it does mean I can spend guilt free time with Noah knowing that I can make up the hours another time.
It’s great to work on projects that people are passionate about, many of my clients are small businesses who have set up because they really believe in what they’re providing. Having spent a lot of my working life in large corporate companies, that passion is so refreshing, energising and infectious. It’s an awesome feeling when you help get their message out there and see people responding to it so positively.
How do you manage a good work/life balance (or do you struggle with this at all)?
I appreciate how blessed I am to be in the situation I am and try hard never to lose sight of that. I don’t mind working evenings or weekends as I know I’ll take it back some other way, like taking a holiday or seeing Noah in a school play. I have a rule that the laptop is always switched off by 9pm so I can get proper night’s sleep but other than that I’m flexible with time, it’s one of the amazing benefits of self-employment.
Where do you work from and do you co-work at all?
Before I “moved into” the Tadlow office 3 months ago I worked from home. I’m pretty good about not getting distracted by the other jobs in the house and would shut myself in the office. I still work there one or two days a week but I love having the best of both worlds, a fab & friendly office and the ability to work from home. I’ve tried a lot of co-working spaces with mixed results. Some places have been so quiet I’ve thought I might’ve well stayed at home. Then at others, people have had overly-loud and long telephone conversations, making it impossible to concentrate and get work done – it’s hard to find the right balance.
My favourite one at the moment is CamJelly, which is usually the third Friday of the month. There’s a great bunch of regulars, and newbies are always welcome. It starts at 10.30 but you can turn up whenever suits. From 4pm until 5pm there’s informal networking and they bring out beer and wine. People turn off (or away from) their computers and have a chat. It’s a great way to ease into the weekend.
The guys in the office are pretty good about making drinks, we take it in turns and have a little chat while we drink them before getting back to work. We all take the dog out for a walk through the fields at lunch which is fab for clearing the head and having a good stretch.
Most Fridays we head down to the pub at lunchtime and there have been a few BBQ’s when the suns out…
Are there any apps/tools/gadgets/people that you just couldn’t work without?
This is really cheesy but on the people front Spotty wouldn’t be here without my other half, Tony. Not only is he the technical genius behind it but he’s my sounding block, voice of sanity and provider of wine when needed! He’s one of our consultants, specialising in SEO and I’d love him to join Spotty full time one day.
I have to give Ben Tristem a big shout out for introducing me to some awesome tools, he really is THE business systems expert. Any small business owner should check out his blog post – Ben’s 2014 Top 10 Business Tools for Startups.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say LastPass changed my life, it’s certainly made it a lot easier. Especially for clients sharing their login details with me without me ever actually seeing the details!
Another really useful post is Platform Twenty’s Collaborative Tools To Help Remote Working, although I have yet found anyone willing to “sqwiggle” yet!
Is there anything you really don’t enjoy as a freelancer? Perhaps something would persuade you to go back to a “regular” job?…
There’s always the fear that losing a client could result in the mortgage not getting paid. I try to remember that it’s no different in a job, and at least I have a bit more control over what happens in my own company. When clients have moved on in the past it’s always led to another amazing opportunity. I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason.
We would love to hear your thoughts on “networking” – do you go to any regular events or meet ups to meet other freelancers?
I mentioned CamJelly, this is co-working and networking combined. Cambridge has a great mix of networking events to suit all tastes, I think it’s a really personal think. I attended the re-launch of Cambourne Network last week which I really enjoyed, it had a really relaxed and informal atmosphere. The “new management” are doing a fab job ; )
What essential advice would you give to anyone thinking of becoming a freelancer?
I mean plan, get an idea of what you need to survive each month and what you’d need to do to cover that (how many clients, what price per hour). Then research the market, are your prices competitive, if lots are people are doing the same thing how can you stand out, what’s your USP?
But ultimately I’d say DO IT. We can always find reasons for not doing things but as the saying goes “you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did”.
Anything else you would like to add or share?
We’re expanding the Tadlow office and would love to meet other creative freelancers who might be interested in renting a desk (tea/coffee and excited barks every time you arrive at work included).
Pop in for a cuppa (or beer if it’s Friday) and see what you think. You can reach me on the details below.
How can we find you online (and off?):
Thanks so much Lucy 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!
Images – Courtesy of Spotty Octopus & Credit to Helena G Anderson