Thursday, 6 June 2013

Freelancing and life-coaching - an update three years on

In 2011 I described how life-coaching helped me to make the transition from employed medical writer to self-employed freelancer.1 Three years after making the leap, I am thoroughly enjoying life as a freelance medical writer. I have continued my investment in coaching which has enabled me to further develop my business and maintain a work-life balance. It is good to feel that you’re not alone, to have someone to bounce ideas off and to challenge your way of thinking in order to try something new. Here is an update on how I’m getting on, with some thoughts and advice based on what I’ve learned along the way through coaching and on-the-job experience.
One of the biggest concerns I had during the early months of being freelance was cash-flow. Going from a guaranteed monthly income to being paid on a relatively ad-hoc basis was a scary concept to grasp. Firstly, I set myself a target for my yearly turnover, wrote it down in my business plan, thereby “announcing it to the Universe”. Some people may question my reference to the Universe and possibly my sanity, but I strongly believe that you make your own fortune in life and often get what you wish for! Coaching, and reading a book called “Money and the Law of Attraction” has helped me to change my overall approach to money.2  Simply by changing my language from repeatedly saying, “I can’t afford it” to “I can afford it” and understanding that by spending money I’m investing in my future and the life I want has been a leap of faith, but that change in attitude has paid dividends.
One of the main attractions for me to become freelance was to have more flexibility with respect to my time, and the work I took on. However, in the early months I panicked if I had a quiet period. I have learned that workload flows in peaks and troughs, and this is normal!  Coaching has taught me how to utilise my time more effectively. If I have a quiet period then I concentrate on business development, exploring potential marketing and networking opportunities, updating my website, writing blogs, and investing in my own professional development. I also adapt my working day, when possible, to schedule time for interests outside of medical writing, such as riding my horse, or meeting friends for coffee. I know that I have the freedom to work weekends or evenings, in order to meet my clients’ deadlines.
Valuing your time:
Let’s face it; no-one else will make this a priority other than you. There is a general myth that the more hours you work the more successful you’ll be. How many of us remember the raised eyebrows, and pointed glances at watches when we walked out of the office on time? In the beginning, this mindset spilled over into my freelance life too - if I wasn’t working 8-hour days then my business would surely fail. Now, I understand it’s smart working that’s the key to success. In Timothy Ferriss’ book “The 4-hour Work Week”, he states: “Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions”.3 Facebook and emails can soak up an awful lot of time! Therefore, it’s important to identify and prioritise your highest value work, and if possible, delegate other work (see Delegation). By effectively scheduling your time you can work pro-actively rather than reactively to client and business demands.
Do not underestimate the power of relaxation. Ideas often pop into your head when you’re in the bath or taking a walk in the countryside! Having some free time, away from the desk and client demands, gives us the opportunity to re-charge our batteries and consider new ideas, keeping ourselves and our business fresh. The 90-minute rule suggests that we can’t focus for longer than this period of time without renewal; so frequent breaks will result in enhanced focus that compensates for the free time you’ve had.4 Whereas I used to feel as if I had to be at my desk all day (again, a spill-over from being employed), but life is about learning to balance work and play.
I struggled with this initially until my business coach turned it around and said that by contracting someone to perform tasks for me; I was investing in their skills and business. This resonated with me and I now delegate non-business tasks to free up more time for me to work on my business. Employing a cleaner or a gardener can free up hours of your time and reduce stress. Part of the appeal of freelancing was being able to do the job I love, without the stress of people-management. So, by hiring help - such as a cleaner, gardener, accountant, book-keeper, etc., you are getting the work done without having employees.  
Variety of work:
I love the fact that I have the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects with a variety of clients. Over time I’ve become more aware of the kind of projects I really enjoy doing. As my self-confidence has grown I’ve taken on projects that I may have turned down initially due to a perceived lack of knowledge on my part. I will always remember a freelance colleague telling me, “The first rule of contracting is never turn down work because you don’t think you’re good enough to do it – smile sweetly to yourself, agree with the client that you’ll do it, put down the phone, and then scream!”. If I’m too busy to take on a project then I may consider sub-contracting work to fellow freelance colleagues. This way I don’t lose clients, and I think it’s a great learning opportunity to work with fellow freelancers and peers.
Identify your ideal client:
If you know the work you love to do, and therefore you’re able to identify your ideal client then this will help you to go out and find more of it. I’ve learned not to be afraid of turning down work if it doesn’t fit in with my business goals or work ethic. So far, other work has always filled the void. Through business-coaching I’ve been able to build a fantastic client-base, and increase the number of projects that really play to my strengths. Recently, I was thrilled when one of my clients, who knew I was an equestrian journalist, asked me to write articles for a company newsletter. This allowed me to combine my journalism skills with my knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry.  I loved it and even got more articles to write as a consequence as my passion fuelled my success.
I cannot deny that there are some days when I wake up feeling worried or stressed about the day ahead. Most of my worries are about the running of my business rather than the work itself, and largely due to my tendencies to be a perfectionist. But that’s a whole article in itself! Being a freelancer demands a lot of courage but the rewards can be fantastic, and with regular coaching, I have reached goals I never knew were possible.

1. White K. A leap of faith – the power of life-coaching. The Write Stuff 2011; 20(4):251-252 (also available on this Frog Blog)


I would like to thank business and life-coaches Elaine Bailey ( and Kevin Watson ( for their continued guidance and inspiration.
Note: this article was published in Medical Writing 2013; 22(2):158