sail my shipHave you ever longed to own a boat? I know I have. It’s the ultimate symbol of freedom, connected to a childlike sense of play; seeing your own efforts translate into movement through a lengthening stroke.

Then there’s the process: resealing and painting it in bright colours in the spring, while anticipating the first trip of the year. You step into the craft – careful as it rocks – before unwinding the mooring rope, and coiling the coarse fibres into the stern. Finally, you settle back with a slow crouch on the sleek wood, seizing smooth oars, and check over your shoulder before pushing off.

Running a freelance business is a little similar, although you’re out at sea most of the time. Sealing or repairing a boat once you’re actually in the water is a lot more difficult than on dry land.

So, how to approach this kind of career? With lots of preparation, and an instinct for bad weather.

1. Learn to read the weather

It’s important to follow a line of work that you enjoy and feel you can be good at. It’s ideal to follow a line of work you think you could become great at, given the right time and opportunity. That said, keep an eye on the changing business climate when managing your career. If you’re a real estate writer, and the economy’s in recession, can you use your talents to work for other business sectors? Perhaps you keep missing out on commissions because you don’t quite have the right skill set. Would an evening class or an online course help? Can you gain more experience in a certain area by guest blogging about it? Sometimes lateral thinking involves stepping away from directly making money, in order to be able to increase your income at a later date. And most economic phenomena are cyclical, so latent skills you do have may become in big demand should the business climate take a turn for the better.

dolphins business mentors

2. Follow the dolphins

Great business mentors will appear in your life. Follow them. [Tweet this!] Add them to your contacts’ book or social media and see how they grow: read their stories, respect their ideas. The best mentors aren’t afraid to share information – in fact, they’ll delight in helping you advance, knowing that the positive vibes of these kinds of partnership always reverberate back. Share knowledge, ask questions, be polite, be resourceful. And when you’ve reached a certain stage in your career, pay that experience forward by helping others yourself.

3. Don’t sail alone

Although many freelancers are sole traders, it’s great to have numbers of key business partners to hand that can enhance your work. As a writer, you might want a talented graphic designer on speed dial, a contact book of excellent photographers, and your website designer at the end of the phone. These not only help you resolve solo projects, but also mean you can propose more ambitious services to clients by offering the complete package – say, a new website with bespoke copy, or a magazine article with first rate, original photography. Working in a team isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of ambition. Need a writer or copy editor on speed dial? Contact me!

4. Know the position of dry land

rowing your own boatSmall disasters will happen. Your laptop will perish one day, when you’re on a train with a deadline in sight. Or you’ll be on a video shoot, with a full memory card or a dying battery. Be ready for these moments. Use cloud drives to store your works in progress, or simply email yourself those files and make sure you have free Office apps or photo manipulation software on your phone for emergencies. Back up your archives frequently. Consider investing in a Bluetooth keyboard which you can connect to your phone or iPad – it’s great for writing on the move (when you can’t stand screen typing) and can fill in when laptops or computers are out of action. In the case of real disasters, spend the professional capital that you’ve earned – a regular client who knows that you’re always on time will usually extend a deadline or understand why a shot didn’t work out. Bad weather, technical problems and odd behaviour from other folk are pretty much par for the course!

Part 2 coming up next week!


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