This week’s blog is on a very personal topic. I hope you don’t mind indulging me.
On Sunday 8th December, I’ll be celebrating an anniversary that I never dreamed I’d reach – ten years in business. It’s not that I didn’t have ambition for the future back in 2003 but I was in a place in my life and my head where life was about living a day at a time.
At the time, I was suffering with acute depression, anxiety and agoraphobia. It was years before I could say that out loud to anyone outside of my immediate family. I knew that as much as I loved writing and the variety of working on different projects, I was sick of being a square peg in a round hole trying to make a nine-to-five job fraught with office politics work for me. Freelancing was a leap of faith but it was a leap I needed to make.
Going solo – Starting my freelancing career on a high
My first couple of years in business were incredible. It was a wonderful rollercoaster, with the highs far outstripping the lows. I was like a woman possessed, renewed and invigorated, absorbing new information and skills at every turn.
In December 2003, I remember clearly sitting down with my trusty Yellow Pages and picking out 100 companies in Nottingham that I wanted to write for. I wrote a sales letter about my services and created a four-page brochure that was poorly designed but with a catchy copy concept for the cover. I then wrote to all 100 companies. Twenty responded and 12 became long-term clients.
Pretty soon the referrals were flying in and I began to establish a reputation for being creative and reliable. It was heady stuff.
Before I went freelance, people had warned me that it would be more famine than feast, that it would be easier to get a new, ‘proper’ job than the path I was considering and that most businesses don’t survive beyond their first year.
My early experience was completely different to this. In my first year, I equalled my full-time salary from my previous job. My confidence began to grow. I felt calm and in control for the first time in a long time.
2004 to 2009 – The baby years
Late in 2004, I fell pregnant with our much-wanted first child. It was a textbook pregnancy, during which I felt on top of the world. The business continued to go from strength to strength. I was picking up regular work and charging confidently – not too cheap but not ridiculously expensive – and I had several repeat clients who kept me busy and were happy to recommend me to others.
Unfortunately, postnatal depression was lurking just around the corner.
The early months of motherhood were a massive adjustment that I hadn’t expected. Living on three to four hours sleep a day and wracked with fears about letting my little one down in some way, it sometimes felt as though I was just about clinging on – to life, to my sanity – by my fingertips.
I started taking on work again after four months’ maternity leave. Fortunately, my clients had waited for me and were keen for me to get going on their various projects. What they didn’t know was how hard it was to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving some days.
Because I had enough work to keep me ticking over and fill every spare minute that wasn’t spent as a mum, my marketing ground to a halt. For two years, I worked in the business during every nap time and late into every night. I just never found time to work on the business. My confidence hit rock bottom but I kept going, determined not to let the business fail.
In 2008, I had our second little boy, this time suffering from pre-natal depression throughout the pregnancy. Three weeks after his traumatic birth – a crash c-section -, our little one caught a virus that presented as meningitis (but luckily wasn’t) and was rushed to hospital where we spent a long and scary week. This event heralded the arrival of PND for a second time. Although the symptoms were different and possibly less obvious, I felt a sadness creeping through me and weighing me down. It would catch me unawares sometimes, knocking the breath from me.
2009 – A horrible year
Looking back, 2009 was the annus horribilis of my business to date. Coming back from nine months of maternity leave and still suffering acutely with PND felt like starting from scratch, especially as several of my long-term clients had gone bust while I’d been off work, courtesy of the recession. It felt as though I was operating in a new, unfamiliar landscape. Budgets were being cut left, right and centre. Suddenly, I was being told that there was no money for freelancers and that copywriters were the first to go, “because anyone can write, can’t they?”
For the first time, I experienced late and non-paying clients and the reality of feast and famine as a freelancer, especially if you’re not marketing for three to six months down the line. There were some hard lessons to be learned.
Fast forward to 2012 – the year I saw as make or break because our youngest child was off to full-time school. Ever since our oldest son was born, people had been telling me a) it would get easier when the children started school or b) I could always find a ‘proper’ job then.
Quite what a ‘proper’ job is, I still haven’t worked out. What I do for a living feels pretty proper to me. All I knew was that when people suggested that I look for full-time employment, a sick feeling would grip my stomach. No. There would be no conventionally ‘proper’ jobs for me. It was time to bring the business back into focus.
In a moment of clarity, I realised that through rain and shine, through good days and days when I barely had the will to get out of bed, I had kept my business going. For a long time, I had worried that PND or depression in general was a sign of my weakness, that I wasn’t tough enough to be my own boss. Don’t think for a minute that this reflects my attitude to mental health because it doesn’t. It just reflects the tough light I shine on myself. In a rare moment of self-compassion, I acknowledged that maybe it’s a sign of my strength, that I could feel that bad, that full of self-doubt, and still deliver copy my clients loved.
I started to wonder what I could do when I was completely focused, now that I was feeling well?
2013 – What a difference a year makes
And so we come to 2013. What a year it’s been! In the past 12 months, I’ve worked with 71 new clients on 250 different projects. I’ve redesigned my own website, reached page one of Google doing my own SEO, written 40 blog posts for my own website and sent out 40 newsletters to my customers; I’ve built my Facebook page up to over 1,000 likers, and even been shortlisted for an award.
I’ve also made it to every assembly, sports day, and swimming lesson. I’ve cuddled the boys through sick bugs and colds, talked to them when they’re worried about things and had more of their friends over for tea than I care to count. It might not set the world on fire but I’m still taking a moment to be proud. My PND is in the past but it’s an essential part of my story. It’s part of me but not the sum of who I am.
I still have a lot of lessons to learn about running a business – I’m learning every day – and I have lots of exciting plans for the future, but today, on the eve of this 10-year anniversary, I’m taking a rare moment to look at the journey I’ve been on. Honestly, there are things I wouldn’t want to feel or experience again but I wouldn’t swap them because they’re all part of the rich tapestry of this thing called life. And, after all, how do we learn without falling down occasionally? It’s how we pick ourselves up that counts, even if it takes us a while.
A big THANK YOU to all my clients
I would like to take a moment (in cheesy award ceremony style) to thank my wonderful customers, past, present and future, for giving me the opportunity to work with them on such a wide variety of projects. It’s been my pleasure. Here’s to the next ten years 🙂
(And next week I promise not to be so self-indulgent!)
Thank you photo credit and information about license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thecupcakekitschen/6871601059/