Kat McKenna Marketing is one: what have I learned?
One year ago today, I opened up my new gold MacBook Air (pretty, and the one I could reasonably afford as a first time freelancer with limited savings) and sat down at my dining room table to embark on a new adventure: running my own business. Setting off alone. Being self-employed. However you word it, it was something that was exciting, scary and to be honest, sort of an anticlimax, at first.
I had been so used to an extremely fast-pace in my old job, never having a moment to spare, hustling and bustling around a shiny multi-floor office - my brain jumping from meetings about strategy, to author lunches, to giving minute guidance to my fellow marketers about what font would make a social media visual pop. It was also exciting, scary and to be honest, completely overwhelming. I gave up a career's worth of working in-house at break-neck pace to bring some balance back to my life. To be clear: my overwhelming job was not only the responsibility of my previous employer. I live for speed, for pressure, for high-intensity situations. But that wasn't sustainable, and was why I had hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete on my work life.
So, who was I now that I was just me, working for myself? Was it what I expected? Was it worth it? And what have i learned? Who am I now?
I can't write this piece without acknowledging the virus-ridden elephant in the room: COVID. I certainly did not expect my first year as a freelance to operate with a backdrop of a global pandemic - potentially not only soul and sanity-crushing, but business-crushing too. I had visions of failure (hello, imposter syndrome) and not even being able to get a supplementary job to fund what could be zero income, because literally everything was closed.
The first weeks were far quieter than I was used to - I had work, steady work, which was a great relief for the above reasons, but it felt... calm. Slow. Unsettlingly still. I admit that I yearned for the break-neck pace, to feel that stress that sits on your chest and forces you to keep moving. I realised, quickly, that my body was not used to being free to go at its own pace. This in itself was a huge learning for me and justification alone that going freelance was the right decision.
Additionally, how could there be a work-life balance, then, when we suddenly had all our life freedoms taken away from us? I believed truly, whole-heartedly that I had to maintain a gap between my career and my self, because I'd already learned the tricksy, guilt-making, anxiety-inducing result if you don't have it. So I kept it as part of my core professional values: do not work too hard. You must not make yourself miserable by throwing everything into your new job, and have only yourself to blame when being self-employed is no fun either.
The good news: I *love* being self-employed. I love being a freelancer for reasons I hadn't anticipated when I decided it was my next career journey. You do have ultimate freedom, but you also have ultimate responsibility to keep yourself happy, healthy and bringing in money to pay the bills (and buy clothes from Zara) - so your freedom exists hand-in-hand with understanding that your achievements are entirely based on your own output and motivation.
I love working with so many different people and clients. Being a freelancer, if you are doing it right, means being respected for the work you do and being asked to focus many years of learned skills strategically. You can't fone it in. You can't haphazardly put out a tweet in the middle of writing a plan, attending a meeting and simultaneously shoving Pret into your mouth, because you are accountable to your clients. They are paying you to do it properly. I have never been more organised. I always had it in me (she says, defensively!), but I needed to take that step back to realise that my carefully-curated systems that got me this far had taken a backseat to being... well, stressed out and hassled.
Being freelance has meant being reunited with my long lost friend, creativity. The three things I wanted as I left behind my comfy old job were: to be challenged and push myself to be a different kind of professional, to hit the reset button and have a fresh start, and to be creative again. I have always been a creative, audience/trend-led marketer. I am driven by doing interesting, fun and new things, by looking at something in Photoshop that makes me go 'oooh'. I want to make myself want to read the book I'm working on, even if I have read it 2 or 3 times already in planning. Otherwise, what's the point?
Money. Let's briefly consider finances. Something you are not equipped for when cushioned by an employer is managing your own income. Okay, yes, if you are a sensible adult you will have a savings plan, a mortgage, etc. A dear friend of mine keeps a monthly grid (you probably do too). I was, despite running a budget in my old role, NOT very good at personal finance management. Being self-employed does not allow for this. Not only do I now have grids, but my relationship with money, and worth, has changed. To set a fee, give yourself a number, a value, is scary at first. But it shouldn't be. While there is nothing more exposing than telling somebody that you and your time cost this much, I have, over the course of a year, come to find it very empowering. It is cause for self-reflection that I have felt, as a woman, that there are financial limitations to place on my own worth. Self-employment has been an excellent tonic for this, a persistent challenge worth facing head on. You have to believe that your time is valuable, worthwhile and ultimately the best option a client has.
Finally, though there is more that I could talk about, and will on this blog if there is interest in the musings of a self-employed woman in publishing in her mid-thirties, I feel that this year has served an opportunity to use my powers for good (okay, Batman, calm down) - by applying some of my time to charity marketing. I have always wanted part of my position in children's publishing to reflect my personal desire to create young readers no matter their personal circumstances. All children ARE readers, even if they don't know it yet. My work with World Book Day has allowed me to go on a joyful journey, and given me an opportunity to learn a huge amount - but also, and I say this with the hope of not sounding too cloying, to give something back to the young people I have spent over a decade marketing to.
So, happy one year to me and my small enterprise. I continue to be incredibly grateful to all my clients, professional friends, authors and illustrators, and old colleagues who have got me to where I am. My family and friends outside of work have cheered me on, which has been much needed especially with the doubt of a Coronavirus landscape regularly weighing on us. Somehow, in our little household, we have also managed to balance working from home with 50% of meetings happening at our hallway table. Thank goodness for wine. And thank goodness for taking risks, and going with the flow.
If you are thinking of going freelance, I could not recommend more strongly watching this video by my friend Leena - it taught me a lot about how to think, feel and 'do' in the early months.
If you have taken the time to read this, thank you so much. It has been written whilst eating vegan Ben & Jerrys, hence why it is unforgivably long.
Thank you all,