In the first of what I hope will be a regular feature on my blog, I sat down to interview good friend and Instagram guru Corrie Jones about what it’s like to be a freelance social media consultant before she’s even hit 24.
Corrie gave up her 9-to-5 job less than a year ago to work for herself, and shares everything she’s learned so far with me; from being a woman in a web-focused world, to what keeps her inspired and motivated, giving top tips to anyone who’s thinking of doing the same.
Thank you so much for joining me Corrie! I can’t wait to find out all about what you’ve experienced over the last year. Could you start by introducing yourself to anyone reading?
“I’m a Freelancer and Social Media Consultant. About six months ago I set up my own business doing social media consultancy. My background is in marketing in higher education, but almost two years ago I started doing some part-time projects on the side, like doing social media consultancy for various small businesses.
“It got to the stage at the end of last year where it was difficult to manage the projects alongside a full-time nine-to-five job, and I thought, why not take the leap and go for it full-time? So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last six months.”
How have you been enjoying that so far?
“I have been really enjoying it. It is so different to anything I’ve done before: there were some areas that I was prepared for and some that I just didn’t think about when it comes to running a business. For example, all of the things like admin, sales, tax returns and dealing with Companies House and setting up an incorporated company – I’d never done that kind of thing before, so that’s been a big learning curve.”
It’s only been six months, but what have been your proudest moments – your highlights – so far?
“Well, when I first started, I had two clients lined up already within my first week, which I guess would be on my ‘highlights reel’, because it was good that I didn’t just spend the first week watching Jeremy Kyle and thinking ‘What have I done with my life?!’. I could kind of hit the ground running in that respect, so that was great.
“I’ve been to some conferences abroad that have involved working remotely, which has been a really nice opportunity.”
“I also ran a training session with NatWest earlier this month, which I would include as a highlight because it was be really fun to meet other small and large business owners and train them on social media.”
That all sounds really exciting! When was it that you realised that this was what you wanted to do? Did it take a lot of ‘uhming and ahing’ or was it a sudden realisation that you wanted to go it alone?
“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I would do it eventually. I didn’t think it would be last year; I imagined it would be a couple of years away, but then I got to the stage where I just wanted to try it. I’m definitely not one of those people who grew up thinking that I wanted to run a business; I wasn’t in any entrepreneurial societies at university or anything like that. I just kind of stumbled across it and thought that I’d learn on the job and see how it went.
“I have a few friends and family who work for themselves too, and that’s probably been a big influence because I see them being able to decide what they do on a day-to-day basis and, while through their experiences and stories I know how stressful it gets, it definitely made me feel like I could do it as well.”
If you never studied business or joined any business-focused societies as a student, what experiences have helped you to get where you are today? Was your education a big part of it, or was it what you did alongside your degree that gave you the skills you needed?
“For me it’s a mixture, because my first job after graduating was with the marketing team at the university I studied at, and a prerequisite of getting the job was that you attended that university; so I wouldn’t have got my first job had I not studied there! That role got the ball rolling for my next job, and cemented my experience working in social media for a company.
“Saying that, I don’t feel that the education that I had equipped me for running a business, because there are so many things that you have to think about which you aren’t taught at school. I certainly didn’t learn anything about running a business on my course, because I studied English at university. Maybe If I had studied business management I would know more about it!
“There’s definitely a lot more that could be done in secondary schools to prepare people for self-employment and starting businesses”
“Maybe it’s being done now, but it wasn’t when I was at that stage of my education. Money management, knowing more about taxes and even transferable skills like time management and self communication are all things you need to know.
“Partly, as you say, it’s all about what I’ve done socially too. It’s about your network and the people you’ve met who can introduce you to opportunities.”
What was it that you did alongside your studies that gave you the edge and helped you even more? Were you a member of any societies, or did you work alongside your degree?
“I was part of the RAG (Raise and Give) society, which managed any charity fundraising at my university. My position on the committee was Publicity and Recruitment Officer, so I looked after their social media and I recruited volunteers. That obviously plays quite well into what I’m doing now and that was my first real introduction into managing social media for someone other than myself.”
I’ve been reading more and more about how the traditional 9-to-5 job will die out, and that, similarly, more and more people want to become self-employed. What are your thoughts on that, as someone who’s made the move?
“I definitely think that the nine-to-five job will die out. I recently saw a statistic somewhere that by 2020, 50% of people will be self employed, which is crazy.
“It took me quite a while to get out of the 9-to-5 mindset when I went freelance. For the first couple of months I was still waking up, getting ready and being at my desk – either at home or a coffee shop – for a 9am start. Now I’m more out of that mindset, because I’ll make my work fit in around other commitments; that’s one of the benefits of being freelance.”
Very interesting – I always assumed people would need to keep the structure of 9-5 in order to stay sane!
“I think it’s down to how you work best, and that’s one of the great things about being a freelancer; if you’re a night owl, for example, and you benefit from working at night when nobody is around to distract you, then you can do that. If you work best in the mornings, then you can do that too.
“It’s interesting that you used the phrase ‘staying sane’, because that’s definitely something that you need to think about with your working hours. There will be days and weeks when I am extremely busy and I have so much to do, and I’ll realise it’s suddenly 11pm and I haven’t stepped away from my laptop since lunchtime, because there’s nobody in the office to tell me to go home. Equally, if you feel you’re burning out, you can take a day off without having to approve it with anyone but yourself.
“You have to have faith that it will balance out. Listen to your body and take time off when you feel the need.”
“One of the main differences I’ve found as well is that, when you have a 9-to-5 job, it stays as the same job: until you decide to leave, or you get promoted, you will be doing roughly the same thing every day. Being freelance, I can plan my schedule for the week and then I’ll get a phone call from someone wanting to meet me the next day to look at a piece of work, and my priorities change. As a freelancer, you have to stay very much on top of it and you have to be flexible and willing to play things by ear. It’s not for everybody and I quite like to plan, so that can be a challenge sometimes.”
You are a young woman who has gone out and done her own thing, and taken a little bit of a risk at quite an early stage in your career, and you are clearly confident in what you do. But as a woman, what challenges have you come across while working in your area, for yourself, as a freelancer?
“I would really like to say that being a young woman is irrelevant, but I don’t think you can ignore it, and there have sadly been incidences where I have felt it’s an issue; whether I’m at a networking event and I’m acutely aware that I’m the youngest there by far, or someone directly comments on my age. Likewise, I’ve been to networking events where I’ve been the only woman there and I get comments on that too. You just have to rise above it.”
“I think you could be talking until you’re blue in the face about how your age or gender is not what they should be focusing on…or you could ignore them, rise above it and do the best you can.”
“Especially in my area, working with social media, my age is actually an advantage; lots of people who I work with are older and they do really trust my advice, because I’ve grown up online.
“It’s definitely interesting being a woman in business too. There have been female-specific meet-ups at conferences I’ve been to but I kind of have an issue with those; I feel like the only time I can go to an event and really network with other women is when it’s a female-focused event. It’s just crazy to me that to be able to talk to other women in business, you have to go to a specific women-in-business event. It’s a massive catch 22.”
Since you’ve been observing trends and stories about how other businesses are using social media, and the new ways apps and websites are updating themselves, has anything really caught your attention?
“I recently wrote a blog post on my website about brand controversy. United Airlines and Pepsi in particular have been very awkward on social media and generally with their PR strategy, and clearly aren’t sure what to do when they had their controversial brand situations recently!
“On a more positive note, everything that’s happening with ‘stories’ at the moment is really interesting and how so many channels are taking on that format. Companies are having to think not just about the posts that they put out, but the stories that they can tell, with more behind-the-scenes, exclusive content, and that’s really interesting to me. It’s more real-time and difficult to schedule which is really challenging.”
Do you have a favourite social media platform, personally or professionally?
“I think the platform I enjoy using the most is Instagram, because the engagement rate is much higher; there’s a mixture of different channels within the app, and there’s a nice community feel on there, as well as the addition of Stories!
“My personal use of social media is an interesting one though: I’m using it so much in the day for work, I really try to not use it so much in the evenings and at weekends. With my own social media I genuinely think of my posts in advance and schedule some in and have an idea of what I’ll post. I try to get out of the habit of scrolling through, because there’s a lot of discussion at the moment about social media and mental health which I think is so interesting.”
“I do think scrolling through content can be very damaging, so I try not to do it too much; only really when I need ideas and want to research. The key thing is that it needs to be conscious.”
My apps for social media are all grouped into a box called ‘Stop. Think’. I try to be conscious about it. It’s exhausting!
I will readily hold my hands up and say that I am addicted to social media, and there are days that I get sucked in even if I don’t want to look at it. Once I’m scrolling, that’s it. I recently wrote a blog post about my personal challenge of logging off from social media, and it was hard!
So, do you have any advice for anyone who wants to do what you’ve done? Where do they start?
Definitely, I could probably go on for months about this!
Firstly, I should preface my advice by saying that my business has a really low start-up cost. It’s just me and my laptop, which I had before I began! My main costs so far have been travel, my website…and that’s made it very easy. I fortunately never had to save up to launch my business.
So, if you’re looking to start a business which has high start-up costs, I would say do your research first; speak to the bank for a loan, go for investors, but you’ll need to do more planning than I did.
Secondly, go on the Companies House website and register your Limited Company, or register yourself as a sole trader. I registered as a Limited Company; I am the director, employee, accountant – everything! That’s important, because you need to get your tax sorted. You’ll also get it officially confirmed, which feels so much more real. Sometimes I still forget I have a business, because I’m the only employee!
Thirdly, it’s a confidence thing. The thing I find hardest isn’t the tax stuff, or time management; it’s being able to get up every day and having confidence in myself that I can help other people with their business and do my job.
“If you don’t back yourself, then you will have down days when you don’t believe you can do it. You need to be able to say that you know where you’re going and that you can do it.”
“Even if one week is a bit quiet, you need to have faith that next week will be busier and there will be other opportunities. So, sign up with Companies House, do your research, and be confident! Those would be my top tips.”
Is there anyone who has particularly inspired you recently?
“I’ve actually recently written about this too, in a blog post about my most inspiring Instagrammers.
“I’ve been trying to listen a lot to podcasts on trains and tubes. When you have a business you’re always thinking about what to do next with it and how to overcome challenges, so I find it really distracting when I’m on a train and people are sharing office gossip, for example. Your mind gets occupied by other people’s conversations, and you don’t need to know about that stuff. You need to focus.
“I like podcasts because I can just focus on them, and it’s really constructive, inspiring content.
“I really like Emma Gannon’s Ctrl, Alt, Delete, and the stuff that Gary Vaynerchuk puts out on his daily YouTube channel, Ask Gary Vee. I also listen to a guy called Grant Cardone who is focused on sales; I’ve been trying to improve my sales work.”
Have you been reading anything recently that stands out to you?
“I haven’t been reading much for pleasure recently – I’m reading business books at the moment. There was an amazing book I recently read which I’d recommend to anyone who is building a business, called Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestly; I read it when I was in Miami on a conference and it was so good. It’s about confidence, and the practical ways to succeed.”
How else do you stay inspired?
“Generally, if I’m having a day where I’m not feeling as sassy as I could be, then I’ll watch a Beyoncé video! There’s a quote from her too from her documentary, Year of 4, where she says that sometimes women don’t reach for the stars and they’re just satisfied with what they’re told to be satisfied with, but she’s not going for that. Sometimes I’ll watch that and I’ll be like ‘Yes, Beyoncé! I’m with you, reach for the stars!'”
“So, if your sass levels are low, watch Beyoncé!”
Thank you so much Corrie for taking the time to chat to me, and good luck with the next six months – and beyond!