How I Started Working For Myself
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
So it's blog o'clock. And I've been racking my brains as to what I can really offer that's different to everybody else. What have I got that's worth a share? Can I go any deeper than 'the top five tips for successfully reading three consecutive sentences without shouting F*@K! at the monitor' or whatever?
After a bit of thinking, I concluded, I'm my own boss. To some, this is a desirable position to be in and I've had a few people over the years ask how I did it (not loads, I'm not trying to be all Tony Robbins here!). So, here's the general story and a few pointers that I would pass on to anyone thinking about doing something similar.
The truth is, rather than through some kind of deep entrepreneurial spirit, I felt like I was driven to become my own boss out of necessity for my own sanity. That's not to say I was in cripplingly stressful positions previously or had overbearing bosses over the years, but I found simply feeling out of control of my own day-to-day and general destiny, as well as leading a more corporate work life than I was comfortable with, felt unnatural to me so I had to think quickly to get me... well... 'safe', I guess. I needed to re-engineer things and put me at the helm of my life not at the servitude of others.
I suppose saying it wasn't about entrepreneurial drive is selling myself short - I've always had projects and 'side hustles' right back to when I was a teenager. My parents always said they'd be surprised to see me in a standard 9-5 day job. I guess I started the scramble to escape early on sensing the impending necessity of signing-up to the rat race and I tried all manner of things in my 20s from a published party game (that has now been completely hijacked by a Chinese company), club nights and promotion, selling stock photography, personalised kids' audiobooks, apps and a bunch of other tin pot ideas. A few years back I even tried to get a new fantasy sport off the ground (still a great concept, if I do say so myself). But, while these projects kept me sharp and enthused, none of them were going to pay the mortgage and they generally fell by the wayside; but I think these were all symptomatic of me trying to get myself off the beaten track and fully in control by any means necessary.
Voice over work was the eventual saviour. Not something that had ever dawned on me. Finding an ad in the local paper I started recording at a local studio for a company who provided recorded material to companies to issue to their blind clients. The material was often mind-numbingly dull - bank statements and policy documents would need to be transcribed for people who needed to hear material when they couldn't read it. While reading this stuff was pretty painful, myself and the producer had a laugh while we worked, it was all good, but most importantly it opened me up to a whole new career path. All I really needed was a microphone, an acoustically treated recording space and some clients...
While I continued work as a marketing professional by day I started to forage for work as a voice over artist during downtime. I sounded bad - I sounded how I thought a voice over artist should sound as opposed to being me - which is a mistake I hear frustratingly often now I run FlyVoiceovers, but also one I understand comes with inexperience - plus my recording space could have been much better acoustically. But I was finding a lot of success on freelancer websites like Upwork and PeoplePerHour. A lot of voice actors come from a traditional acting background, have a London-based agent and frown at these sites, citing they're bringing the value of voice over down - but they are cheap platforms because they're full of beginners and freelance hustlers being hired by other freelancers and start-ups. Believe me, Barclaycard ain't picking up the next voice of their global commercial on Freelancer.com and they are no great threat to a seasoned pro if said seasoned pro is doing it right. But I was working these sites pretty well and they were a great stomping ground to cut my teeth.
As I gained experience and a deeper understanding of the nuances of my trade, my work improved and one or two clients actually came back to me for more - some from the very beginning are even still working with me today (hey Marc and Ian!) and business started to grow, which is something that can only happen with repeat business and happy customers.
Eventually I could start to think about a transition over to voice over work full time. Naturally the eventual severing of the umbilical cord of your 'bread and butter' earnings to a guarantee-free freelance life is a roll of the dice, but if you do things slowly and you have months if not years of experience of it and therefore evidence to suggest that it can be done; and with 100% of your time ready to plough into it ensuring it can only grow - you're more or less good to go.
These days, my daily foraging for business has subsided with the development of a healthy book of clients and I went on to create www.flyvoiceovers.com which I set up in order to fill the need my clients had for other voice over artists. FlyVO is now a successful business in its own right, my wife left her job to join me, we went Ltd a couple of years back and moved to Cornwall from the South East because our business can go anywhere.
So, the roll of the dice came good, but the key takeaway was doing it very gradually over the course of years rather than months. That's not to say the switch can't happen much more immediately. Of course, many people find themselves out of work altogether and may be looking to get things moving on the freelance front; but my instinct would be to get something paid, regardless of what it is, while you set the entrepreneurial wheels in motion in the background. Eventually your passion project will become your career if you give it your all.
So anyway, here are a couple of bullet point tips to becoming your own boss that worked for me...
Whatever it is you want to do, do it gradually. Don't jack paid employment in for something new and untested. If the industry you want to move into allows, consider whatever you start as little more than a hobby to begin with. Even when you start to gain a bit of traction, don't go employing people or renting office space until - or unless - you absolutely have to. Do whatever you can by yourself from your own place until it simply gets too big for you to manage by yourself and you're forced onto that next level of development because you're too busy and it's not a one man or woman job. Don't build your house on sand.
There's money in madness. Rather than doing what everyone else is doing, finding some kind of niche or unique USP and treading the path less travelled is, ironically, a far safer bet. Not everyone will be on board with your 'wacky' idea or batshit plan, but who cares? It starts out as a passion project worked on while everyone else is watching Netflix - and it doesn't matter if it's just your 'hobby', right? You can prove everybody wrong when you grow your idea into something tangible and the fruits of your labour ripen.
Make a website for your idea. Use Wix - it couldn't be easier. You don't have to publish the site and make it live just yet - but making a website and creating a bit of branding makes it real - it focuses your mind on what you do and what you offer. Writing the copy will be a lot like penning a business plan - it will sharpen your focus and you'll have something tangible for when you're ready to go live.