In 2007, after 15 years spent working in various marketing and public relations roles across the financial services sector, Sebastian St.John-Clarke went freelance and set up his own communications consultancy.
When you take the plunge to work for yourself one of the oddest moments is invoicing for your first job. How should my invoices look? What information do they need? And that moment when you send it in – and your client merrily accepts it, and then, even more amazingly, the money appears in your bank account. Sounds trite I know, but it never ceases to amaze me.
I started my business working in the garden shed – it was one of those small ones you buy from B&Q. Really. There was about enough room for a desk and a chair and every morning I used to unwind the extension cable from the house to connect it to the electricity (not to be advised if wet). I can remember telephone interviewing the chief executive of a big insurance broking company for a commissioned article. He was driving through the Chicago traffic in the back of his company limo…while I was in shorts. In my B&Q shed. In a tiny North London garden. Upgrading to an indoor office was a moment of celebration.
I’ve always looked, at a minimum, to match or beat what I was earning when working in a permanent job, which didn’t really happen until my second year of freelancing – but once I’d landed a couple of regular freelance jobs, I remember thinking that this might actually work.
I’ve been lucky and have had some great clients, so not too many setbacks. There are the ones that got away though. I put in quite a lot of work pitching for one charity – a Civil War re-enactment society – that I thought would lead to some really interesting projects, but unfortunately, after numerous meetings, they decided to do their own PR work. In retrospect I wish I’d offered to do it for nothing as I think the results would have been a great showcase for me. I’d had the idea to do a flash mob at a London commuter station in full English Civil War gear to mark the 350th anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s death – now that would have been some picture!
Well, the above would have been a bit of a risk, particularly if they’d been carrying their pikes!
When I first went freelance, our second child was due and we had minimal savings really. I thought we could manage for about four months without too much income, which we did and fortunately the freelance work started to turn up just as I thought I might have to go back to a permanent role.
You have to back your own ability when you work for yourself. It’s not always easy to do that and I can be consumed by self doubt, but I trust myself to deliver in the end.
It’s terrific. You don’t choose a freelance life to have great status or run big teams of people. You do it because you like what you do and you want to see your family. I’ll never have to say I wish I’d been around while my children grew up because most of the time I have been. Once you work your own hours, you’ll never want to go back. That said, like anything, it has its downsides. It can be difficult to switch off and initially I didn’t see weekends any differently from the normal week days. I’m more disciplined now to make leisure time but often work evenings – at least you can charge for them.
I think whenever I read about someone starting up their own business it’s inspirational. Cutting the umbilical cord from a full time role is not easy but the rewards make it worth it. I miss the team aspect but have tried to build my own network of freelancers who I can turn to for advice and those water cooler moments.
Ultimately though it’s up to me. Want more money…more challenging projects…more excitement; then it’s up to me to deliver it. That’s quite motivating.