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Every member of IPSE has an interesting story to tell about their experience of being self-employed. And by sharing them, we can pass on some great insights and advice which could save you time, money or stress, whether you’re just starting out or have years of freelancing, consulting or contracting under your belt.
As a fairly well-known figure within UK freelancing, we wanted to speak to podcast and video producer Steve Folland about his work for clients, and also growing the Being Freelance podcast and community.
Read the interview
Can you describe your self-employed business?
I’m a podcast and video creator, and I also run the Being Freelance podcast and community. The description of the role within my business is that I do everything that we all do, apart from maybe the final submitting of tax returns.
So, I write scripts, I do voice overs, I edit videos and I do podcasts. But I also hire animators, videographers and other voiceover artists to work with me as well. I started off as a sole trader, I’m now a limited company.
What led to creating your own podcast?
I freelanced on the side for years, but when I first went full-time, I couldn’t find any podcast that talked about freelancing. Which seems unbelievable now because they’re everywhere! There were podcasts about entrepreneurs, there were podcasts by freelancers talking about their thing, like web design for example, but not just talking about freelancing.
I didn’t really know what I was doing, so since I used to work in radio, I thought well, maybe I’ll start a podcast. So, I’ll interview other freelancers and try to learn from them. So that’s why I started it, and it’s now in its eighth year. And everything else has grown off the back of that, a vlog, the community, a course and all sorts of stuff.
How long have you been self-employed, and what prompted your decision?
Full-time freelance must be nine years. Basically, it was a year before I started the podcast. I quit my job in 2013, when our second child came on the scene. And I was thinking how on earth are we going to take our eldest child to school and look after this baby with my wife going back to work.
So, I figured maybe I could go self-employed, work from home, and around the kids. So that’s when I finally went full-time freelance, but I did actually do it on the side for years. Just to earn extra money, but also experience. It was a good way to expand on what I was doing?
What makes your business great?
Oh man, what makes my business great? Well, I suppose I do. The immodest answer!
What I love about my business is the flexibility about it all, both timewise, but also creativity wise. And if I was going to say what I was proud of, it would be the Being Freelance podcasts and Doing It For The Kids podcasts, which are run alongside my actual business.
Within my business, I do a lot of corporate training videos that people might actually want to watch. And so, it’s really cool to know that they will have helped people’s careers. You don’t always get to see that. And within that sort of area, we’ve made videos about modern slavery, like trying to help people identify victims, and the ultimate impact of that is insane. I was really proud of those videos.
We did similar ones about allergies, which again could save people’s lives. So those have been really great projects to work on.
Sometimes I work directly with clients one-on -one but sometimes I work with other production houses or agencies and that lets me work with really big multinational companies. I like that mix, and I think it would be almost impossible to have that variety if I wasn’t freelance. There’s almost an inevitability if you work for one company, that you end up doing the same thing.
Could you see yourself ever becoming an employee again?
No, I really couldn’t imagine going back into working for just one company. I work with some awesome companies and I’ve got nothing against working for companies. But I’ve got so used to being able to dictate my own time, and where I work, and what I work on. And being able to turn certain things down or not having to feel guilty if I’m looking after my kid because they’re sick.
People feel guilty about not going into work. I was made to feel that when I was full-time employed. So, I couldn’t give any of that up, and I don’t think I could give up the variety of work.
And also, the fact that when you’re freelance you might work really hard, but you hopefully feel the rewards of that. Ultimately there’s the financial reward, whereas I’ve worked for companies in the past where you bust your gut, and they barely even say thank you. I did actually get offered a job at one of the companies I was freelancing for, and I’m glad I turned it down.
What’s the best thing about being freelance or self-employed?
The best thing about being freelance is probably the flexibility that it gives me to be there for my family. Obviously, everyone’s working patterns have changed now to give them more time to work from home thanks to the pandemic, but for years I was able to work from home and be there for our kids when they were really young.
When I started freelancing, one of them wasn’t even a year old, and the other hadn’t started primary school. And half the time, kids are off school. So, I’ve eventually figured out how to plan my workloads around that. Until the pandemic my wife used to go into London every day. I’d drop her off at the station at 6am and pick her up at 7pm, and now I have more flexibility because she’s at home as well. So, I feel like I’ve come out the other side of the pandemic with more flexibility in how I work.
Along with the lifestyle is the flexibility in the type of work. I love having the variety of clients, projects and skills that I get to work on. It’s a real plus for working for yourself.
What did your typical day look like, balancing self-employment with a young family?
Yeah, all of those things like haranguing little kids into uniforms and getting them to where they need to be. One at school, one at nursery, cooking all of the meals, cleaning, and all of that stuff you have to do as well as working.
You get used to working between half nine in the morning and half two in the afternoon, which actually makes you a bit more focused if anything. And then working, perhaps sometimes quite late, into the evening and at night. Plus, my daughter wouldn’t go to school on a Wednesday. So, every Wednesday I would have off, just to hang out with her, trying my best to avoid emails while pushing her on a swing.
Those years seem a long way away now, but I couldn’t have done that without working for myself, basically.
Have you got tips for other freelancers trying to juggle the same commitments?
It’s funny, we talk about finding that balance of working around your family a lot on the Doing It For The Kids podcast. And it’s tricky, it’s something you constantly have to work out. I equate it to teaching your kid to ride a bike. You push them off, and then you can’t do it for them, they have to figure it out for themselves. And you have to figure out work life balance for yourself as well. And you kind of wobble a bit, and sometimes you fall off. But then you figure out why, and gradually, you pick up speed and get used to it, until it becomes second nature.
And that’s what work life balance around your kids is like, it’s hard. But in some ways, I feel it’s harder for those who don’t have kids, because then there’s no reason for you to stop working. You literally have no reason to stop unless you force yourself, and the thing about running a freelance business is that it never ends. There’s always a to-do list. You always feel like you know you should be making yourself visible and marketing, or actually doing client work.
Whereas kids force you to stop working, therefore they make you work more efficiently. I think it makes you set out clear boundaries, both with yourself, and then with your clients. So, there’s lots of benefits to it, despite being quite hard to figure out. For those in it, raising a family and a business at the same time, it might not feel like they have balance. But if you step back, the very fact you’re doing it is work life balance in itself. It’s merging the two in a way which works for you.
How did you get involved in Doing It For The Kids?
So Doing It For The Kids is a community run by a graphic designer called Frankie Tortora. And similar to me, she’s freelance and has two kids. She used to listen to Being Freelance, watch my vlogs, stuff like that. And we got to know each other on Instagram.
We just started chatting to each other and then we realised we both had these side projects as well as our freelance businesses. We started supporting each other, and asking questions of each other. And eventually, I suggested we’d become co-mentors, so we would meet up maybe once a month and bounce ideas off each other. Off the back of that, she suggested doing the podcast. It’s a 20-minute Q and A, like a business agony uncle-type situation.
It's fun, but it’s been accused of being used and has won a couple of podcasting awards. So, it’s gone down really well. And by helping other people in the community, we help ourselves figure out how to get that balance of freelancing with kids in the mix.
How do you manage to find time and enthusiasm for your side projects alongside work and family?
Stupid isn’t it, now you put it like that! I think that despite the fact you add to your workload with side projects, whatever you do, they give you a chance to be the boss of that project. So many times, when we work for clients, they might be dictated style wise, or the timeline might drag. Or sometimes you work on things and they never even see the light of day. And it’s creatively quite frustrating.
With side projects, you’re the boss. You’re creating what it is, it gives you a chance to experiment and put things out. Like every week that I put out the podcast it feels amazing. Like this new thing going out into the Wild West. I can’t necessarily do that with client work.
You get to feel the reaction, the community and the sense of belonging. Like journalising, you get to expand your own thinking about whatever you’re working on. You get better at your skills. Like making all those podcasts, editing all those vlogs, and filming my business for two years and putting it on Youtube – doing that every single week made me better at editing and crafting stories for video.
So, I think side projects can make you better at what you do, but they also creatively free you. It probably means that you have fewer hobbies, but it works for me.
I treat the podcast like it’s a client. And I think this is a good idea for anybody who has that sort of side project. How you become consistent is to say I’m going to publish it every Sunday. And therefore, even if that means I’m working late on Saturday, it’s going to go out on Sunday. Every episode takes about a day if you factor in the research, the recording and then the editing and the transcripts. And then the community I dip in and out of pretty much all day, every day. It’s just a little bit of work here and there in order to publicise it, but it's fun. It keeps me away from eating yet another biscuit by keeping my hands busy typing things.
How can someone pick an idea for their side project?
I think if you’ve got a side project idea, why not just explore it? You don’t have to ask for permission.
One of the guests on the Being Freelance podcast, Greg Bunbury, said “What if we were our dream client? We created our dream projects, the budget had no limit, that sort of thing. Like, what would you do?” And that’s what you get to do.
Some people think “Oh well, I won’t create the thing, because other people are already creating the thing.” But we can all say that – do it for you. Start putting it out there and see what the reaction is. I get worried when people create a side project because they want it to make money. That might never happen, or it might take ages. Do it to creatively tick something inside you.
And if you want to stop, because it exhausts you or it’s not giving you what you want, then just bin it, and put it to one side.
I think as well, side projects can be a great way to create the work you want to get. So, a lot of podcast guests, especially illustrators, motion designers and things like that, create their own work, put it out on Instagram, other people see it, and then they hire them to do it. And similarly, if I hadn’t started making podcasts for myself, other people might not have hired me to make them.
How did you build the Being Freelance community?
The podcast came first. Back then, in January 2015, there weren’t really any freelance podcasts. Nobody was really talking about it. I wasn’t trying to be an expert; I was just trying to connect with other freelancers and find out how they were doing it. And it picked up gradually as I kept putting them out every single week.
Then I started to get messages from other freelancers, and you start to find this community through emails, or Twitter or Instagram. And it was only in 2019, many years after I started the podcast, that I eventually started the community. I realised so many people were getting in touch with me from around the world that it would be rubbish not to let them all talk to each other.
It really is a global group. I love it. They ask questions, support each other, cheer each other on and have a laugh. We have side projects, like we sold a load of mugs to raise money for charity that one of the members was raising money for. We did a print collaboration with an artist to raise money for UNICEF, loads of stuff. It’s a brilliant place to be. It’s funny, I get lots of messages, or I might listen to someone else’s podcast and I hear Being Freelance referenced as this thing which inspired somebody to take the leap. I hope none of them come back and sue me when their freelance career all goes wrong! I mean it’s not just me, like collectively inspiring each other to do better with our businesses, to do really cool things and to support each other.
How valuable is networking and meeting other freelancers?
Community is so important as a freelancer. It’s funny when I first went freelance, I presumed other freelancers were the competition. I think a lot of people do, or did, feel like that. And then I went to a networking event and the first person I spoke to was another bloke who made videos.
Actually, he and I would meet up, and then we ended up hiring each other. I would hire him to film for me, he would hire me to write scripts for him. I went to an IPSE event and met someone who was up for inspiring or young Freelancer of the Year and we still work together now. That’s like eight years later, perhaps.
You have to realise they’re not the competition. Freelancers can be your collaborators. And they are a sounding board for ideas. And they cheer you on. When you work for yourself, it can be quite isolating. Like you finish a project, and you go to high five, and the only thing is a yucca plant or cat. So being able to cheer each other on in a community, be it in real life or online, is so cool. And those online relationships are really real. Eventually you meet up with those people, and you can’t believe you’ve never met them.
What tips or advice would you give to someone starting out?
Self-employment gives you the ability to create whatever it is you want your life and business to be. And it took me a while to realise that being freelance meant you were actually running a business – that’s a whole lesson in itself. Self-employment challenges you, but it rewards you as well. You get to figure lots of things out, and maybe make mistakes, but you get to do work you would never have done, meet and surround yourself with really inspiring people, and feel rewarded for it.
There’s so much advice I’d give to new freelancers that I created a whole course. But what are the big ones?
From the second mistake I made, you should always separate out your business and your personal finances. Even if you’re a sole trader, keep those separate, and also keep on top of your finances. Look at your accounting software weekly, and even use accounting software, that makes a big difference. Keep on top of all those expenses and stuff, because we always hear people are dreading their tax returns, but mainly that comes about because we haven’t been organised with our finances on a weekly basis.
I would also say one of my guests on the Being Freelance said just keep meeting people – that was his key bit of advice. And I love that because people and personal relationships are key to your success as a freelancer. It’s what makes you different from just working with an agency. So, the relationships you have with your clients, with other people who might refer you, and the more people you meet, the more chances of work coming your way.
And the final bit of advice I always loved that a guest called Louisa Heinrich gave me was ‘Don’t freak out’ which I have even stuck on stickers. Because you can freak out when you have too little work, when you have too much work, when it’s time to do those finances, when it’s time to put a pitch in, when your IT goes wrong and you realise you are the IT department. So yeah, don’t freak out.
How did you discover IPSE and how has it helped you?
I think I discovered IPSE because I was searching for podcast guests and one of them was Freelancer of the Year, Rebecca Shipman. So, because of her, I discovered IPSE, and then the following year, maybe two years later, I entered the Freelancer Awards. I didn’t win – that’s fine I’m not bitter. But the only reason I had a bookcase put in was for the Freelancer Awards 2016 finalist trophy. And I won membership as part of that.
But I gladly kept it going and upgraded to the top tier of membership. One of the main things I wanted was life assurance, for example. I remember when I first went freelance, I got bitten by a dog, and it knocked me out from working for a while. So, I took out income protection insurance. And it was offered as part of IPSE.
I didn’t have a pension, so again I got that through IPSE. Health insurance, I got that from IPSE. It was all those things that I knew I needed to sort out. It was that peace of mind. Also let’s not ignore the perks, so I’ve used the Apple discount many times over the years, which actually saves you a lot of money.
And then the National Freelancers Day event, especially in person. I love going to those events, being inspired by talks, and meeting people over a nice little buffet.
Are there any specific circumstances when you’ve found IPSE helpful in dealing with a business problem or client issue?
Thankfully I haven’t needed to use any of the insurance-type things, but it’s amazing how much more confident it makes you feel in your business, knowing that you’ve got all that grown-up stuff sorted out.
My wife had to go and do jury service, and that is often a worry amongst freelancers, but I know that IPSE has jury cover. But I’ve also gained a lot from going to National Freelancers Day. We also did the Being Freelance podcast live event in Manchester. Listening to those talks and meeting everybody, I love those kinds of things.
I think it’s hard to overstate how important it is to have a pension and to save for your future. When I first became employed, there was a big pension scandal and it put me off getting one. And of course, I should have done it because you get them when you’re younger and it all stacks up. So, it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I finally got a pension, and even then, it freaks you out, because you’re not sure what to go for.
So, I credit IPSE with giving me that peace of mind and support in actually getting started. And so all of the resources IPSE had really got me on the right track for my future.
Have you supported IPSE campaigns, such as Covid-19 support, IR35 and ending late payments for freelancers?
One of the things I love about being an IPSE member is knowing that they have your back to the government. And not everything they do necessarily relates to me, but it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t care, or that I’m not glad they’re doing it. So, with IR35, for example, thankfully that doesn’t relate to me, but I can see what a minefield it is.
So that I knew IPSE were looking into that, but also providing information. I point people all the time in the Being Freelance community in the direction of the IPSE hub for IR35, because it’s such a complex thing to try and explain to people.
When it comes to Covid-19, again, having people lobbying for you in the most powerful place in the UK is really important. And because I’m a limited director, we were cast to the wolves, we didn’t really matter. But again, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the fact there were lots of people who did get support.
So, I always flag it to people when they’re asking if they should get a membership, that you’re supporting an organisation. Yeah, there are lots of perks you might personally benefit from, but you’re supporting an organisation who are representing freelancers to the government. And that can never be a bad thing.
All of the freelance communities, we’re there to support one another, hang out and make connections, and all of that is really important. But none of us are going to have any weight in Westminster – you need people who know how the government works, how to put pressure on to talk to certain people, who are actually poring over policy and sticking up for you.
If that wasn’t there, it would be very easy for a government in any country to just stamp all over freelancers. So, to have a bigger body standing for us is really important.
Would you recommend IPSE membership to other self-employed and freelance professionals?
I recommend IPSE membership all the time to new freelancers. I created a course called How to get started being freelance, and there’s a bit in there about joining organisations like IPSE who are going to fight your corner, provide you with quality information that you need, and have events like National Freelancers Day.
And to make you think and give you access to all of those things you know you should be doing, but you put off, like insurance, pensions, tax investigations, jury cover etc. So having those things are part of your membership or access to them is really important, and it’s such a low fee in reality just add it to your outgoings because it’s well worth it.
There are a couple of things I love about National Freelancers Day. One is the Freelancer Awards because they’re free to enter, which isn’t always the case, they’ve got a really high calibre of judging, and the respect that goes with them. And I always point out to people that it doesn’t matter if you win, but just putting together your application will give you a sense of pride.
And then you have so many really practical workshops and the high-level talks to go along to. I know people who come from all over the UK who come down to have a great day. You come away energised, motivated and end up in the pub over the road afterwards having a great evening. You can spend so much time isolated working for yourself, actually being able to come together is a really cool thing to be able to do.
If you’d like to find out more about Steve, you can visit his website, or the Being Freelance site. And you can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can find both the Being Freelance and Doing It For The Kids podcasts via your preferred listing choices, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
If you’d like more personal insights into freelancing and self-employment, why not take a look at our previous interviews:
If you’d like to share your own experiences or know someone who would make a great subject for a quick chat, then let us know via email.