In an ageist, pessimistic world, my mum shares candid, life-affirming advice to entrepreneurs on how to: negotiate the bumpy ride of ‘going it solo’; adopt a winning mindset and bring a regular flow of lovely clients to your door. Grab a coffee. Here goes…
I know a freelance entrepreneur. She works from her home office. She does Pilates. She loves to try out a new vegan recipe. She listens to Gregory Porter on iMusic and shops at the Outnet and Uniqlo. She uses Skype and FaceTime every day.
Meet my mum, Angela. A woman who has spent eight decades on the planet.
Fast forward half a century from this picture and Mum is mother to three, grandmother to four (including a 19 year old) and busy psychotherapist with a practice “bursting at the seams”.
She is also a fully-fledged member of the gig-economy. A tax paying freelancer. And, an incredible female role model for us all.
But this story is not about our relationship, it’s about sharing Mum’s advice on how to prepare for a freelance career, how to cope with difficult times and gentle thoughts on marketing and sales.
Why is this relevant to you?
Mum’s message is for all of us. Many of us will have to work until retirement or beyond – the gig-economy beckons.
Most of us don’t work for pocket money or fripperies. It’s usually about financial needs or to raise families. And, in that context, to do #workthatworks.
Mum notes there are many more older men in the traditional workplace compared to women. Sexism, ageism. A massive topic. This isn’t about that though — #metoo is an incredible societal shift, but that is a whole other story for another time…
For now, Mum’s advice is clear. Whatever you are doing now, be ready for a freelance career, please get yourself prepared for your very own Plan B (or is that a Plan A?). Get ready to build your reputation for your own career. Because that’s sensible. Whoever you are.
Let’s all benefit from the wise insights my mum can offer to help us on the journey.
Mum was born in Yorkshire into a lovely close-knit family and she was a true prom queen. But she wanted more. Studying medicine, travelling the world, everything beckoned…
Yet Mum started working in the 1960s in Leeds — like many women of the era she had her aspirations and opportunities capped. She studied radiotherapy instead of medicine, which was placed out of her reach for various reasons.
It was still a pretty impressive achievement and Mum went on to work in various roles including in pioneering brain scanning in America.
She then took a 15-year break to raise her children (thanks Mum!). Even during that time, she had an entrepreneurial streak. I remember 200 Cornish pasties regularly cooling on racks in the kitchen (Mum made them for a pub). I still remember the smell and “oh no, not pasties again!”
Mum then resumed her career in the 1980s as a cancer radiotherapist. In that world of pain, she became drawn to supporting people at a psychological level.
Aged 50, Mum began her part-time psychotherapy training. A huge investment in every respect. She qualified as a psychotherapist in her late-50s, became a doting grandma and still juggles family and work, yet a few decades later is still at the helm of a thriving psychotherapy practice.
So Mum, what is the best mindset for a solopreneur?
Mum admits it was terrifying at first. She came out of a secure job in the health service before she was certain about whether a therapy practice could truly take-off.
“I didn’t find it easy, but once I made a decision to take the leap, guess what, new clients arrived. You need to acquire a sense of trust and surrender about your solo business. I think there is something to be said for patience, however difficult that is. Be prepared to take significant risks.
Difficulties emerge but these can always be handled. In fact, in my experience, risks are blessings in disguise. They will take you to new horizons. And, most importantly, they’ll help you to learn about yourself.”
“My advice to anyone is to go 100% with your intuition on all business decisions. Ferociously do what you believe is right for you. Stop people-pleasing and go with your gut every single time. This is not selfish. It is necessary for clarity and it will never fail you.”
Trust, Patience & Surrender! Da-ham-mmm. Not what I wanted to hear. A quick-fix would be better.
Yet, we all know intuitively life (and business) has its own agenda and momentum outside of our power. What happens is rarely within our control no matter how much we do the ‘hustle’. All the good (and bad) things seem to just, well, arrive.
It’s not to say we shouldn’t get up in the morning and aim to manifest our dreams, but there is a certain kind of life-karma that has its own rhythm.
Perhaps we need to take more breathers. Take a sip of that coffee, just trust we’re on a good (if not winding) path and that it will all be OK.
What does mum say about marketing?
When Mum started out, there was no Internet. She had a brochure and was referred by word of mouth.
“Building my practice was slow and I continued to work part-time. 25 years later, I have all the business I want, a constant flow of enquiries and a waiting list.”
Mum has a website now. It’s properly optimized and that is where most of her work comes from.
“Most of my clients find me online. They often comment on my website photograph and they seem to find it reassuring. Unfortunately, therapy is one of the few professions where age and wisdom is a clear advantage.”
That said, digital marketing isn’t really Mum’s thing though (arghhh — not what I want to hear!). She likes spending time online like everyone, but feels we are all overloaded with information.
“I am lucky to get clients with just a well-functioning website. I have built a strong reputation locally and there are even some referrals. I become established before internet marketing really took off.”
So, Mum says do great work. Clients will then do your work for you and spread the word. She has a gentle approach to marketing and in her case, this works.
For the rest of us, this might not be so easy. Patience is a virtue.
“I had a head start and I see how others just beginning on their freelancer career might need to do more marketing. However, I always advocate simplicity and keeping the sales push to a minimum.
People are not stupid. They see through false claims of authenticity and I think a strong, clear message has high value in a sea of emails and blogs. A video on my website might be a good idea, but I don’t really need more clients right now!”
Why does mum think everyone should prepare for a freelance life?
Over the last 25 years Mum has worked because she had to as well as it being her personal choice. On a practical level, Mum’s therapy practice tops up her pension, it also keeps her brain ticking and creates routine.
“We’re living in fast-paced times and no one has a secure job. It’s likely that you’ll live to be 80 plus these days and many people will have to find a career path outside of traditional employment.
How many older people, especially women and female returners, do we see in big companies? Some of my clients have found age-bias very challenging. It’s important to explore your options.”
What’s the real value to her of her work right now?
What’s so clear is that there is a deeper purpose to Mum’s work. It’s about how it makes her feel.
Mum gets incredible rewards from seeing her clients progress towards their goals. Her work also, she believes, gives her a unique helicopter perspective on society. She is full of interesting views and has a deep curiosity about life.
“I am not stuck in my own bubble with the work I do. I learn so much from my clients who are from all walks of life. I am also in awe of how some people handle adversity. People come through the most incredibly tough experiences with such courage. It’s a privilege to be involved in that process.”
When is mum going to stop working?
“David Attenborough is still going and he is 92. It is about balance. I want to enjoy the rest of my life and my therapy practice is part of that. As long as my memory is agile, I feel well enough and am not too exhausted, I will keep going. Why wouldn’t I?”
Whatever we choose to do, and however we choose to go about it, many of us will work for a long, long time like my mum.
Yes, most of us need to work. It also may be a catalyst to more fun, more cognitive stimulation and more life-enhancing purpose.
The question for you…
What are you doing today to nurture your long-term career?
You know that can do anything you want if you put your mind to it. Imagine if you could also develop a sense of trust and self-belief about your life journey. Imagine yourself at 80 looking back at how it all came to be?
Nothing has to change except your mindset
Because at the end of the day, your clients will come when they come. Your goals will be met when they are. It’s worth expecting the unexpected!
So I appreciate the wisdom of an elder. The mindful reality check of an 80 year old who has ‘been there and done that’.
I too, though, suffer from the same gnawing self-doubt that plagues humanity. I admire anyone who has taken the leap to run their own business, male or female. Because I know it’s tough, I know it’s pressured and scary.
Mum and I would be thrilled if just one person (apart from me) got a little boost from her advice. And I continue to be inspired on a daily basis by the example I am set by Mum.
So change it up!
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t have to be about selling your soul, it’s not about bigging yourself up or trying to be something you’re not. It’s about creating a way of working that fits with your life goals, provides income and feels, well, good enough.
Mum adds a quote from a book she’s just read called A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. She recommends it and highlights this passage.
“He had said that our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity — a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”
Good luck on your journey and let’s leave the last word to my mum.
“Go for it!”
Thanks for the interview Mum. And Happy 80th Birthday.