One of the biggest challenges in front of every freelancer is trying to stay zen while comparing themselves with all the shiny overachievers out there.
It’s very noisy online and it’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed, especially at the beginning of your freelance career. Do you feel like you’re the only one who’s not making “6 figures in 2 months”? Don’t worry, you’re not.
In The Zen Freelancer, I’m trying to keep it real. Setting wrong expectations based on false reports or misleading headlines may bring more traffic, but definitely doesn’t contribute to creating a healthy freelancing environment.
My dream is to build a community of freelancers who support each other, rather than an egocentric platform keeping the fire of severe competition burning.
That’s why I started the “Freelance Tips With…” series. Every week I interview a freelancer who has somehow inspired me. The people I talk to share not only their success stories but also their flaws.
Together we choose not to fake it until we make it, but to open the dialogue about the challenges the freelancers around the world have to deal with.
Today you’ll meet Lucile Aucomte. She’s a French but British-raised marketing, comms and project management professional with seven years of experience working both in house and freelance.
She grew up and studied Business Management in London, then stumbled into the world of startups when she got her first job. She’s spent a year working in Berlin, Germany, and eventually moved back to the UK. Four years ago, she decided to take the plunge and become a freelancer. The Honest Freelancer, if we have to be more specific!
What’s your freelancing niche?
I don’t have much of a niche per se as I’ve somehow managed to work on every marketing channel, done some creative project management, worked on website optimization, etc. You name it.
I guess in that sense my niche is that I work with small businesses who don’t have a marketing team. I can help them set up a variety of different processes, campaigns, and points of communication with their audience, whether for consumer brands or B2B products.
Why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I loved the company I was working for. But internal issues, particularly with management, meant I was feeling a little lost. I wanted (and was taking) more and more work on, but there seemed to be no concrete path of progression for me.
Eventually, I decided to take the leap and give freelancing a go. If I’m completely honest (clue’s in the name – it’s how I like to lead my life!) a big part of why I left full-time employment was to try and pursue other life goals. I was in an exciting new relationship at the time and we’d talked about taking time to go traveling together.
What was your job before that?
I’ve had a couple of jobs before going freelance. My first one after the university was as a Marketing intern for a really early stage London startup called Llustre, a website selling cool and small designer products. They got acquired by an American competitor who then moved us all to Berlin! That was a fun experience.
I did eventually get a little homesick and wanted a bit more of a challenge at work so came back to the UK. There I joined healthy snack company Graze, where I worked across several teams including Marketing and Comms, and filled various roles.
My favorite was being a Creative Project Manager, organizing the internal creative team on all incoming projects from designing marketing inserts to making changes to the website as well as working on new product launches.
Your Instagram is “the honest freelancer” – what created the urge for being honest about freelancing?
Going freelance is a big decision and an even bigger learning curve after that! I was sick and tired of seeing all these social media posts, dial in webinars and downloadable 10-step guides promising a quick and easy way to earn loads of money without having to work too hard, while constantly working from the most picture perfect places all over the world. That’s just not real.
Having more space to think about what mattered to me in life I realized there’s a lot about today’s social media culture that I feel is negatively impacting a lot of us, particularly younger minds. I decided I wanted, even if to a small extent, to make my social impact more positive and meaningful. I made a promise to myself to mind my social footprint as I like to call it.
What’s the beautiful truth about being a freelancer?
Where to start?! The freedom to pick and choose, to be your own force and move in whichever direction feels right. The flexibility to work however you like, from wherever you like. And if you’re lucky and that way inclined the opportunity to go travel the world, which has been a particular passion of mine.
And the ugly one?
Well on the flip side having all the responsibility on your shoulders can be really quite daunting. You have to sell yourself for starters (I personally suffer from a pretty bad case of imposter syndrome so that does keep me up at night!) and then there are all the admin tasks like sending out invoices, filing your self-assessment tax return, etc.
But the toughest part for me has been the change in working dynamics. I’m no longer part of a team, I don’t have that social or collaborative element anymore, or a daily routine for that matter. That’s probably what I miss the most about office work. Things feel a lot more transactional now, and I need to make much more of an effort to socialize within different circles.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a freelancer?
It can be quite hard mentally, especially if you’re not prepared and expect it to be all rainbows and unicorns!
Without the structure of the 9 to 5 and then regular social contact and sense of belonging, it can be easy to feel a little disconnected. And with mental health issues affecting 1 in 4 people, it’s important to make sure you surround yourself with the right support.
Things will go wrong sometimes, times will get tough, and making sure you reach out when you do need help is very important.
There’s nothing embarrassing about it, everyone can relate to a time in their life when they needed a friendly face.
The worst you can do is sit on social media, comparing yourself to these unrealistic and unattainable profiles, wondering silently where you went wrong. Breaking the negativity always starts with speaking out.
What would you say to the people who hate being trapped in their office from 9 to 5 but don’t see another option to make a living?
It’s hard to say whether everyone could realistically consider going freelance. I think maybe some of what I’ve mentioned above would be helpful for people to remind themselves.
I’m a strong believer in trying to be happy and thankful for what you do have. It’s very easy to keep thinking that the grass is always greener elsewhere. But you’ll just as easily find yourself in a never-ending cycle of chasing the next better thing.
Appreciate the now more, the people around you, the joys you do get from your day to day life. No situation is perfect! If you are where you are and unable to change that, then why not work at making the most of it?
What advice would you give to the freelancers who’re struggling to find clients? What’s your secret to finding clients?
I’ve been quite lucky to have good contacts within the startup world to help me at the beginning. So I’d say reach out to friends, ex-colleagues and start spreading the word. Favors can go a long way, too. Don’t necessarily turn up your nose and giving out free help to people who might help you back. It’s all about the long game, especially when you’re starting.
A perfect place to start looking for jobs and projects is to look at job ads online. Even if a company is looking to hire someone full time doesn’t mean they won’t also consider a freelancer. It’s always worth a shot. You’re at least getting in front of more and more eyeballs.
My main source of new clients has been me reaching out via email. Take the time to craft a really good message, with room to personalize it a little as you go. Try different variations! You’ll soon get a feel for what works best and what gets the responses coming in, particularly with your subject line.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made as a freelancer?
I think at times I’ve let it get me down a little too much. I’m quite hard on myself and second-guess myself a lot. I’m still working on that one!
When are you the most productive: when working from home, from a coworking space or from a cafe? How do you stay focused?
I think my concept of being productive has shifted completely. It’s not long hard days now but short bursts, as and when they come! Some freelancers really manage to structure their time and know exactly what they will be doing when. For me, I’ve learned to live with the unknown and ride the waves of creative workflow when they come to me, whether I’m at home or in a coffee shop.
What are your best time management practices?
The only time management I do keep to is making sure I track my hours per client. There’s nothing worse when you already suffer from imposter syndrome than worrying about whether you’ve put in the hours when you send out that invoice!
Aside from that, I tend to be quite a driven and motivated person. When I start a task, I like to finish it. I don’t like leaving projects to drag on for too long. So time management has never been too much of an issue for me – I’m quite lucky in that aspect.
How do you boost your productivity? And creativity?
A big part of creativity for me is to keep moving. Because of the nature of what I do (setting small companies up with processes they didn’t have) I tend to naturally reach a saturation point with a lot of my clients. Working with so many different brands and products, one after the other, helps me not only grow in my trade but stay fresh in my ideas. New challenges make me get up in the morning.
How does one of your best days look like?
I like breaking up my days with different activities. I would get up and have my morning coffee. I’ve been making a point not to skip breakfast so I would make sure I have breakfast. I’d work from home but also pop out to a café to break things up if I feel like I’m starting to hit a bit of a wall.
Then I like to make sure I have time to eat healthily, not just grab something quick because it’s there. Lots of greens really do make a huge difference! And a walk. Your brain does need to switch off for a bit. Walking or getting some fresh air can definitely produce ideas without you even having to try!
How do you stay zen?
A mixture of yoga and meditation is probably my saving grace in times of stress or anxiety. Whatever it is that works for you, it’s important to find out what it is and know it’s there when you need it!
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