Today's episode is a chat with freelance copywriter Sarah Townsend, author of Survival Skills for Freelancers. One of the best bits about freelancing is being in control of your own work, but that's also a huge challenge. In this episode, Sarah shares her top tips on:
Since publishing her bestselling guide to self-employment, Sarah has combined her copywriting work with delivering mentoring, training and events to help the self-employed community tackle the ups and downs of freelance life.
Get Sarah's books:
Survival Skills for Freelancers (also available on Audible)
The Little Book of Confusables
LinkedIn: Sarah Townsend
Instagram: @thecopywritersday and @stecopywriting
Website: https://www.sarahtownsendeditorial.co.uk and https://survivalskillsforfreelancers.com
Mentioned on this episode
Louise Shanahan is a freelance health copywriter and content marketer. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
Keep in touch!
LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies behind the scenes stories and nuggets of wisdom so you can create freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help me navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, and welcome to another episode of 15 Minute Freelancer. Today, I'm delighted to be joined by freelance copywriter Sarah Townsend, who many of you will know from her amazing best-selling book, Survival Skills for Freelancers, which is an essential guide to self-employment. And I can confirm delivers on its promise to help you rock the socks of freelancing life. So Sarah, hello, and welcome.
Sarah: Hi, Louise. It’s so lovely to chat to you, after all this time of knowing you through Twitter.
L: So am I right in thinking the book is coming up for its first birthday soon?
S: Yeah, it actually is. It's the 18th of June is when it launched last year. And I have just this week hit go on the audio files. So it should be available on Audible any minute now.
L: And we will keep our eyes and ears peeled for that. So how are you going to be celebrating other than the audio version?
S: I don't know. I feel like I should though, shouldn’t I? I'll probably do a bit of a giveaway, like you know, give away a couple of copies or thinking of doing a giveaway for a nice pair of headphones to celebrate the launch of the audiobook? I don't know.
L: So it's been very well received, I've seen it everywhere, by both people who are new to freelancing, and also the more seasoned in the freelancing community.
S: Yeah, thank you.
L: One of the things that kind of jumped out to me in the book is the idea of taking back control, which I think kind of seems like the apex survival skill. One of the things that I've been hoping to do with this podcast is share the idea that you're in control of your business, you get to make all the decisions. And while that can be scary, it's also really exciting and empowering. Maybe we could talk a little bit about setting boundaries, because that's one of the things that you cover it in quite a lot of detail in the book, how do you set boundaries? And how do you regain control? So can you tell us more about where we might want to set boundaries and how we can stick to them?
S: Well, yeah, I think boundaries and achieving some form of work life balance is really the key to avoiding burnout and overwhelm when you're freelance. And we all get attracted to the idea of freelance life, because we dream of having the freedom and the flexibility, and we love the idea of being able to make all the decisions for ourselves, as you say. But then actually, it is a like a blessing and a curse at the same time, isn't it? So we run the risk of forgetting that we're in control. And particularly if you've come from employment, where you've had one boss, you quite quickly find yourself with lots and lots of mini bosses who were all your clients. And they are dictating the hours that you work and your workload, the sometimes even how much you charge, they'll tell you how much they're going to pay rather than you setting the terms. And that's not the idea at all. The idea is to make work work for you, right. So really setting boundaries is kind of key to that. And it works in a lot of different ways. We all know that feeling that you've got to wear all the hats, when you're self-employed, you've got to do your own admin, your own social media, your ad accounts IT support but actually trying to do all that stuff that you're not good at, you're not trained for and you don't enjoy is actually a surefire recipe for burnout.
The more you can ask for help and get support with the things that you're not good at, you don't enjoy and which don't make you money, the more fun and fulfilment you'll get from freelance life. And I think for many, many years, I certainly thought that asking for help was a sign of weakness. But actually now I've really realised that it's a sign of strength, it's confidence in admitting the things that you don't enjoy doing. You'd rather an expert does them. But you're effectively surrounding yourself with this team, or a support network that is all working for the success of your business, and it's freeing you up so much more time to do the work that you can charge for and the work that you enjoy.
Learning to say no is another really important part of setting boundaries. And then particularly when you're working from home on your own, you don't have colleagues to keep you accountable. It's really easy to just get sucked down a rabbit hole of YouTube or Instagram or whatever your kind of social media is. It's so easy to just lose track of time and then the half a day's gone and you've achieved very little. Thinking about setting boundaries with things like setting an email autoresponder for like, every day. I'll just share what mine says it's something like, “Thanks for getting in touch. I checked my email just a couple of times a day so I can focus on writing hard working copy for my clients, I'll get back to you soon.” And it also gives my mobile number in case it's urgent. It never is. So I think literally that works in in many ways. It frees you up the time and the headspace to focus on the work that you need to be productive with it, let your client know that you've safely received that email. And it also sort of sends a secret signal to them that you value your own time, which helps them to respect and trust you. And it also lets them know that when you're working on projects for them, that you're not going to get pulled off task every five minutes. So yeah, it's things like that. It's like turning the notifications off and make sure that you set hours in your day that actually work for you. You don't need to do the nine to five when you're freelance. That's part of what we're getting away from.
L: Yes, I love that idea of maybe making a distinction between two different kinds of boundaries, one where you're focusing on your interactions with your clients, but also being a bit strict with yourself as well about what you need to be doing to make sure you get things done. You mentioned learning to say no more often as well. And that's one of the myths that you bust in the book, isn't it, about turning work down, even if your instinct tells you not to? So I wonder if we could talk about that. Are there times when you think we definitely should say no? Are there times when you think we should say yes, that maybe others would say no, you should say no to that?
S: Yeah, good question. I definitely think there are times when we should say no. And I think when we first go freelance, the idea of turning work down is just inconceivable, you have bills to pay, you need to put food on the table, all the cliches, it's almost tempting fate that if you say no to some work, what if you never get another job? You know, what if the work just stops coming in, but it doesn't. The brilliant thing to realise is that when you say no to the wrong work, which really doesn't fulfil, you, kind of perhaps drags you down makes you feel like you're not doing your best work, because it's not something that you particularly enjoy doing. Or the client isn't respecting you, they want to quibble over your rates, and they're giving you signals that they want to work in a relationship where they're up there as the client and you're down there, as the lowly supplier. You don't want to aim for that kind of relationship. When you're freelance, you want the relationships where you're working very much in partnership, you're on a level, you're adding something to the client's business, and they're almost seeing you as an extension of the team. So if you can get really clear on what kind of your values are as a business owner, and the kind of work that really lights your fire, really important thing for me to point out here.
It's easy for me to say this, when I've got more than enough work, and many established freelancers have got more than enough work, it's easy to turn work down, you do before you can start thinking about this have to have enough of a baseline of bread and butter work that does pay the bills and pay the mortgage every month, you have to kind of be comfortable enough in that position to start thinking about saying no to work. But I also think it's important to sort of trust the universe to deliver. I know it sounds really woo. But if you turn down the wrong project, that just frees up more space for you to attract the right work. That's what we all want, isn't it, we want the opportunity to choose who we work with, and so that we can do our best work.
L: And kind of related to that, I think, is the idea of imposter syndrome, which comes up a lot in the freelance community, especially when it comes to setting boundaries and kind of feeling confident in yourself about sticking to those boundaries. And that also kind of holds people back from promoting themselves. So I wonder if you've got any thoughts on how people can maybe break through that?
S: Yeah, for sure. Um, I don't know if you are familiar with Matthew Knight's community, Leapers. They do a fantastic survey on freelance kind of mental health and wellbeing every year, and they found that 76% of freelancers don't feel talented enough. So, imposter syndrome is a big, big issue. And it's also something that well-known, high-profile people such as Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Serena Williams, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, all well-known people have admitted publicly that they suffer from imposter syndrome. It's actually something that can affect everybody from like the intern to the CEO. And I think it has a lot in common with self-doubt and perfectionism. So we kind of make those excuses for why we're not doing the thing that we know is going to drive our business forward. And it's going to help us to develop as a business owner and as an individual, that the fear of failure is something that kind of comes out of imposter syndrome. In the book, I share six I think I call them strategies, but not really strategy is the more kind of pieces of advice, to tackle imposter syndrome and self-doubt, and I guess I'll just sort of share a couple with you today. So certainly, I think one of the important ones is actually just to realise just how common it actually is. It kind of helps to normalise it. It's one of those situations where if you are working in an office and you've got colleagues around you, you probably be having a chat at the coffee point and going, “Oh, God, you know, I'm really feeling like I don't have the confidence to do this talk I've been asked to do or whatever.” And then your colleagues would just empathise, wouldn't they? So I think certainly, it helps to normalise it.
Certainly allow yourself to make mistakes, because you're literally taking the risk that is necessary to develop your business and to take your business to the next level. Because mistakes help you to grow. You make a mistake, you reflect on it, you learn from it, you realise what you do differently next time. So you're improving your process for the next time you go through the thing. And then that's how we learn. And that's how we grow. Nobody is perfect. So stop letting perfectionism get in the way. Perfection is the enemy of progress, Winston Churchill said. There’s also this quote I keep seeing all around Instagram, people kind of claiming it as if they came up with it. I think it was Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who first said done is better than perfect. I really know this stuff, because I struggle with it myself.
And yes, celebrate the things that you are good at and celebrate your wins. So take the time. But you saying to me, Louise, what are you going to do to celebrate the year of survival skills, I kind of actually hadn't really thought. I was thinking about what I can deliver to my audience, you know, to all the other freelancers out there, what can I give them, but actually, I should probably, like, you know, at least invest in bottle of fizz. I'm always on to the next thing. I'm not very good at stopping and taking stock, and actually reflecting back. So that's why I know it's important to do this. Because it's a great idea the other day, because I say in the book, you know, keep a sort of a list of the things that you know you're good at and keep those emails, flag up those emails where your clients have said, “Wow, this is a great piece of work”, or there's testimonials or those book reviews, or whatever it is for you. But actually, I came up with this great piece of advice on somebody's Instagram, saying keep a boost bank. And what it is, when you go into your camera on your phone or your photos, set a new album, like open a brand new album and call it boost bank. And every time you get a nice email a nice quote, or something that makes you smile, something that makes you feel good about yourself, screen, grab it and keep it in your boost bank. And then every time you're having a down day, or you're struggling, or you're just not feeling good about yourself, and the negative self talk has kicked in, take a moment get a change of scene like and look at your boost bank. Because we're all really hard on ourselves, aren't we way harder on ourselves than we would be on anybody else? And yeah, it's really important to kind of net that negative self talk in the bad.
L: Yeah, I love the idea of a boost bank. It's kind of like a swipe file, isn't it, but really positive messages that you can kind of draw on yourself? So I've noticed that you have been amazing at promoting the book. And I've just seen it everywhere. And I would love to know what lessons you've kind of learned from that experience of promoting the book. And if that has been different to promoting yourself as a freelancer has that brought up maybe different feelings of how you put yourself out there.
S: Yeah, for sure. And there's sort of fundamental differences there. I don't think I don't know if it's to do with being British, or whatever it is, but we're all kind of taught and I think also especially as women, we're taught not to be pushy, not to come across as cocky. Or, you know, don't don't be too “me me me” and don't draw attention to yourself and all this kind of thing. All this stuff that's kind of programmed into us at a young age. So yeah, I think we all feel slightly uncomfortable promoting ourselves. But for me, the book was completely different. And I think it's had different results because of this. So when I first started as a freelancer 22 years ago, I was 29. And I was juggling being a freelancer something I knew nothing about being a mom, something I knew nothing about. And it was really, really tough. And I couldn't find any books out there that spoke to me as a 20 something year old woman, kind of new to the game, like everything was kind of middle age white American, kind of just a very different tone. And it was all useful stuff, but I couldn't relate to it. So I wanted to write the book that contained all the stuff that I learned that I wish I'd been told when I first started out, but even 10 years into freelancing, I didn't know half this stuff. So yeah, for me, it was just all about like my motivation is to help. So I found it really easy to promote the book because I'm just focused on The goal of helping more and more and more people, and it doesn't feel uncomfortable or pushy, because that's my goal. So, yeah, but I also have to say like, the single most important thing with getting the word out there has been the community, I cannot, cannot thank that hashtag freelance family, enough for getting behind the book and being so incredibly supportive, it has to be so much down to the community.
L: Yeah, it really is the best community, I love how supportive everybody is of everyone else's projects.
S: I love that kind of community over competition, because we all have a choice of how we see the people who do the same job as us, we can see them as our competition. And we can come from this place of fear, where we're scared that they're going to poach our ideas or steal our clients or, you know, kind of encroach on our territory as it were. Or we can just lean into that support, because these are the people who face the same challenges as we do day in day out. And we can all grow and learn from supporting one another and getting support from one another. And it's an incredible community.
L: Yeah, it really is. Well, thank you so much, Sarah. It's really been a pleasure speaking to you this morning. Where can people find the book and connect with you if they want to find out more?
S: Oh, well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on. It's been lovely to talk to you. Um, if anybody wants to invest in a copy, you can get it on Amazon. If you're boycotting Amazon, you just feel free to drop me a DM and I'll gladly post you a copy. I have one of those machines where you can pay with PayPal or credit card or whatever works best. And remember it's tax deductible if you want to put it through your business. But probably the best place is go to survivalskillsforfreelancers.com. It has a link to my social media. I'm most active on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. It also has a direct link to Amazon so you can buy a copy of the book if you'd like to.
L: Brilliant. Well, thank you so much Sarah. And thank you to everyone else for listening. We will see you next week. Bye.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me, Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want answered on the podcast find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing!