To celebrate the launch of our brand new new business shower templates on Patchwork, we’ve asked some of our favourite women in business about what starting self-employment was like for them. First up in our series is the wonderful writer and podcaster Fiona Thomas! As the author of Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss, which is a guide to side hustling and freelancing, she was the perfect person for us to ask: what was your new business journey like? And if you could do it over again, what would you want at the start of your new business journey now?
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Fiona Thomas and I’m a freelance writer. I’ve written two books, the most recent is called Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss and it’s a guide to side hustling and getting into freelancing. I also host virtual workshops and courses to inspire people to follow their writerly dreams!
Tell us about the start of your business journey.
I fell into a career in catering management when I left university and over time, it just became too much to handle. I had a mental breakdown in my mid-twenties and knew that to manage the ongoing symptoms of depression and anxiety that I would need a job that supported my mental health. I didn’t really consider setting up as self-employed, but after starting a blog to talk about my mental health struggles it reignited a passion for writing, and I found that people were actively seeking me out to write for them on a freelance basis. It all took off from there really, and I gradually moved down to part-time in my waitressing job to make time for the paid work that was coming in. In 2018 I got my first book deal and made the leap into full-time freelancing and haven’t looked back since!
What do you wish you’d known when you started out?
I wish I’d known about the importance of scheduling in time to work on moving the business forward. I thought that freelancing was all about having every day filled with client work and that being ‘fully booked’ was a sign of success. But I did that for so long and realised I was stagnating, growth was impossible because I was only ever thinking a few days ahead, never thinking strategically about building my audience and attracting future clients. Now I have a better sense of how I want my business to look in a year or so and how I want to spend my time, and I have lots of ‘hands off’ days where I focus on planning and marketing and it’s been a real game-changer for me. It can feel scary to step away from paid work in the beginning but the longterm results have been great for me.
What’s the one physical thing you wish you’d had when you started out?
A podcasting mic and stand would have been great. It took me a while to figure out which one was right and I’ve gone through a few now to get the best one, but now that I have it my podcast content is really good quality and needs minimal editing which is such a time-saver! I have to say, a coffee machine would have been great too. Purely because I spent a lot of time swanning around coffee shops in the early days when I should have been working…
(If you also dream of a swanky coffee machine, we’ve got a template for one here…)
What’s the one thing you wish you’d asked for help with?
I think having a clearer strategy, in the beginning, would have helped, so having a business coach in the early days would have been amazing! It’s so hard to find the money to invest in your business when you’re struggling to get clients in the beginning, so having that guidance would have been incredibly valuable to me. More specifically, I think having some help with building my offerings and setting my rates would have had a huge impact on my income.
What’s helped you run a successful business? What’s held you back?
Social media has been a core part of my business success. Having the ability to connect with potential clients directly on Instagram is such a godsend, even if it can feel a bit overwhelming at times! Being able to work from the comfort of my own home and do all my work online is the thing that helps me manage my depression and anxiety symptoms, so having that flexibility means that I show up to work feeling my best which has been the key to business success for me. The thing that has held me back the most is probably my own insecurities! I go through terrible bouts of anxiety where I just compare myself to everyone else instead of focusing on my own stuff. Thankfully I’m getting better at it now, and having a close group of freelance pals has really helped with that.
Who are the people that helped you most in the early days?
People on the internet were my absolute saviours in the beginning. I got my first newspaper byeline thanks to a fellow blogger who tagged me on Twitter. Metro Online was a huge supporter of my mental health writing too, and my publisher Trigger believed in me from the get-go which was a massive seal of approval. Having people engage with my writing and want to publish it has been a big motivator for me because ultimately I want to share my writing with as many people as possible!
What’s your next business milestone and how will you be celebrating?
Such a good question!! I think learning to celebrate your business wins is so important and something that a lot of us avoid completely. I’m working on my next book at the moment, so I’m looking forward to celebrating if/when that gets picked up by a publisher and I can start the writing process. I’ve just moved house and finally have my own office, so I’m going to buy a new piece of art to congratulate myself!
Thank you so much Fiona for your wisdom! If you’ve been inspired to make a new business shower patchwork, you can see our template for freelance writers inspired by Fiona here – you can also find Fiona’s website here, and if you want to grab a copy of Out Of Office, you can get it from Bookshop.org here!