One year on

It’s been a year since I went freelance working as a freelance journalist and digital producer, PR, and executive coach.

It has been an exhilarating and often demanding experience. I wanted to document this personally important anniversary with a few insights.

They’ll cover the range of activities I’m engaged in and the worlds I occupy – classical music, coaching, digital and freelance life, for example.

I’m hoping it will give you a flavour of what’s going on and how my thinking has changed .

How I marked the transition point has changed

I used to say, “I left the BBC in July 2017. “

Now I say, “I went freelance in July 2017.”

The difference between the two statements is important.  I used to define myself by the organisation I work for. I can’t do that anymore, obviously. But, more importantly, I feel like a far more complete (and therefore confident) individual by defining the point in time when I embarked on a new period in my professional life.

I’m doing the same work but for different people

Nothing has really changed in my day-to-day activities. I’m doing much the same work, on my own terms, for a range of different clients. 

Most of my work has come through referrals

I’m still not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. High expectations of myself dictate that I would like the percentage share of self-generated versus referrals to be 70/30. At the moment, it’s the other way around.

My assumption is that there’s only so long before the generosity of others will run out. Inevitably, I’m saying that from a fundamentally self-critical stance which is both a strength and, at times, a weakness. 

Freelance life is perfect for self-regulation

With no one else to compare yourself to in your day to day work you quickly come to accept what your strengths are. You challenge yourself more frequently and harder. Energy levels are higher. Self-awareness increases. 

You learn at your own pace

There are endless books on going freelance. Quite frankly, the only way to learn how to do it is to actually do it. That means you’re learning day to day. And for us auto-didacts that’s just peachy. 

Coaching business is phenomenally difficult to sell

There is a conflict between the kind of person you have to be in order to sell-in coaching services to an organisation versus the kind of person you are when you’re running a coaching session.

Having to occupy both those ‘personalities’ means one or either suffers in terms of authenticity and integrity. I don’t think you can successfully do sales and not risk your authenticity as a coach (not everyone will agree with me here – and that’s OK).

I’d rather be a good coach than a good sales-person, even though I acknowledge I need to be an effective sales-person in order to continue my coaching work. 

Coaching is (often) leveraged by those who know little about coaching

People assume results can be guaranteed (and some coaches promise results too). In that way coaching is weaponised by HR staff who use the methodology to implement radical change.

Many HR people I have spoken to hold this regard for coaching services as a badge of honour – an element of their armoury that proves they are good at their HR work.

Some other commissioners of services have claimed expertise in coaching services based on their 8-day intensive training programme (mine consisted of something in the region of 25 training days, two one-to-one coaching programmes, plus individual study and reflection).

Coaching is something which is bestowed on individuals

One person I spoke to regarded one-to-one coaching as a ‘luxury’ reserved only for the most senior of individuals. One company executive made clear to me that if any one of this senior staff sought a budget in order to develop themselves in their day-to-day work then this would undoubtedly be looked upon as an admission of weakness by him and his HR department.

One chief executive of a mid-size organisation in the arts sector explained that he was disinterested in giving his middle and junior members of staff coaching to develop their thinking because, ‘they’re on a low wage, and really they’re not going to earn any more with me nor elsewhere in the sector, so what would be the point in developing them?’

I’m skeptical about coaching as a primary source of income

I am still a passionate advocate of the coaching process and will still pursue coaching opportunities, but the misinformation that abounds in mid to large scale organisations encourages me to actively seek out individuals I would like to coach, instead of looking to associate networks for sources of coaching work.

This method means I end up working with the people who get the best from me in the best scenarios – a much ‘cleaner’ experience for all. 

I also worry that if I could only do coaching and I did, then I’d become a bit of a coaching bore. That’s assuming I haven’t already become one. 

Classical music and the arts is where I feel most at home

The transition from corporate communications and PR to classical music has been instinctive. It’s also something which I did set out to do, although didn’t necessarily have a strategy in place when I set out on this path in July 2017. I feel most at home in this world and see opportunities to support, develop, and in some cases innovate in the sector.

That I’m not paid full-time to do that is, I’ll be honest, a bit of a head-fuck. But one year on I notice that things are gaining momentum – the legwork is paying off in unusual and gratifying ways. A few commissions, one or two project pitches accepted, festival invitations, and even an invitation to present a classical music event in a few weeks time. There are also new content ideas for 2018/2019 emerging. 

(Let’s revisit this one next year and see if I still feel the same way.)

People won’t pay for content, so think of the content in a different way

The very thing that drives bloggers, exercises them, and stimulates the endlessly dull naval-gazing about their validity – how to monetise content for the small-scale content producer – is both a headache and an opportunity.

First up is that its worth stressing that the blog is supported by generous doners whose money helps meet costs. When I talk about monetising content, I’m talking about getting money for the time you put into it. 

The answer has been to look at the blog from a different perspective: I’m producing online content to raise awareness of my skillset so that others will consider me for any paid work they’ve got coming up.

In my case, the blog and the podcast has provided a great way to get in front of people. Each interaction stimulates thought which fuels ideas. Some of those ideas fly. Some of them don’t. The point is you have to pursue those ideas for their life cycle. The blog and the podcast is the beginning of a idea’s development path in that way.

So, thinking in terms of ‘I should be getting paid for this content I’m making on the blog’ is counter-productive. You’ve got to be in it for the long game. 

People also won’t pay for content production

This isn’t right across the board by any means, but there does seem to be an assumption that content production doesn’t really cost time. So therefore, some people will quite happily ask for content to be made and then express surprise when I ask what budget they have available for it.

The value of marketing content (especially digital) is difficult to value. And because everyone knows that in theory they could and probably do produce their own kind of content for Facebook or Twitter, then the idea of paying someone else to do it leaves them feeling like they’re being exploited by a greedy content producer. 

Variety is key to creativity

I am basically doing the same work I was doing two years ago – just for different people. I’m also doing a range of work for different organisations. That variety of activity is crucial to keeping me energised. And that benefits the client because that means they get the benefit of a suitably energised and creative mind. 

It takes far longer than anyone says it will take

Many people who have asked how the past year has been going have commented on how much further down the line they think I am compared to others they know or, in the case of other freelancers, their own experience. That’s reassuring.

At the same time, I know of people who have been running their own business for five or ten years and confirm that its only now that things have taken off. I recognise I’m impatient, hungry, and ambitious. That’s useful for motivation. At the same time it can be quite restrictive (especially when things don’t move fast enough).

Spending a year earning the bottom line is healthy

I set out to clear my debts and earn the bottom line this past year. It has been demanding and sometimes been annoying. But, its helped me appreciate that I’m a good deal more frugal than I previously realised, that public transport costs are stupidly high (even with a daily cap), and helped me recognise what I’m worth. I don’t I ever really appreciated any of that when I was PAYE. 

It’s far from easy but it suits my preference

I spent years believing that permanency was the goal – that validation could be achieved with a security ID and years of continued service in an organisation. The flipside of that is the destructive nature some large-scale organisations can have on the psyche.

If there is a doubt in my mind one year on it’s this: that having broken out of a permanent role, returning to one would be a demanding prospect. That’s not to say impossible, of course. It might even be the case that what I’ve learned in a year of working for myself would make my participation in a group dynamic very different and more valuable in the future. Right now, it presents itself as the equivalent challenge to running a marathon.

Jon Jacob is an ICF accredited leadership coach, mentor and team facilitator. He also works as a freelance journalist, and digital producer in the performing arts sector. Find out more about his professional background on LinkedIn.

Email him at or call him on 07768 864655.

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