Learning to say no and other lessons from two years of self employment

You don't need a reason to say no

This month, I am celebrating two years of self-employment! 🥂

I can barely remember what it was like to “work for someone.” My only regret is not going freelance sooner.

I’ve written extensively about my mixed experiences in employment, including my worst role where I was gaslit and eventually made redundant during mediation with a manager.

My initial venture into freelancing was more out of necessity than choice, as I needed a job with the flexibility required to care for my sick Mam, and eventually the time to grieve once she passed away.

As is so often the case, out of something terrible came something great. And here I am, two years since filling out that HMRC form for self-assessment, with a VAT-registered LTD company that I run alongside my other half, Craig.

That’s not to say it’s been easy - I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way, from setting my prices to assessing time frames and spotting red flags, it’s been quite the learning curve. That’s part of the reason why I started this newsletter in the first place - so fellow freelancers could feel empowered to ask for the money they are worth, say no to clients that give them bad vibes and find a community of like-minded folk who are all trying to make their own way.

In my first year of business, I took advice from many sources. Most of the advice was really useful and helped to pave the way for success: get an accountant, use a CRM, take into account non-billable hours when pricing etc. But one thing that stands out to me, and has since been proven to be completely wrong, was when someone told me:

"Never say no in your first year of business”

Sure, new businesses are more likely to fail and you might have to work harder, broaden your service offering or try new things to find your feet - but if you never say no you might just find yourself in more of a pickle that just a lack of work.

By ignoring your gut instinct, you’ll probably end up over-servicing clients, losing track of jobs, delivering services you don’t really want to do - or even publishing work you’re not proud of, just to avoid saying no.

It’s fine to say no

I could sit here and say it’s fine to say no if a client is not paying enough, too demanding or rude… but that still means there is a barrier to pass before it’s okay to say no. In reality, it’s ok to say no. Full stop. You should not have to qualify your no - see Sophie Cross’ viral tweet from E.B White for a more lighthearted response:

Of course, it’s good practice to pass an enquiry to another consultant if it’s not a good fit for you and you feel confident that person isn’t going to be a nightmare. We even have a channel in our Discord server dedicated to referrals so freelancers feel comfortable sharing work that doesn’t suit them or they don’t have time for.

All in all, I hope you read this and feel empowered to ask questions, increase your rates, pass work to other freelancers and - most importantly - say no if you want to.

What’s the last thing you said no to? Tell me on Twitter @ContentByTheSea


Conversations By The Sea is now a podcast!

I have finally started the podcast I’ve always wanted! I even managed to rope Craig into joining me for weekly chats about all my favourite topics, including mental health, freelancing and the bits in-between.

The first episode is all about Craig’s recent Adult ADD diagnosis and how being neurodivergent affects working life. Next week, we’re talking about more lessons I’ve learned from two years of working for myself.

👉 Watch it here.

New episodes every Sunday night on our YouTube channel and Spotify (and Apple Podcasts in the next few weeks).


📚 Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

An incredible literary fiction novel about three women - two trans and one cis gender - whose lives “collide after an unexpected pregnancy.” I read this over the weekend and it was fantastic - 5*

📚 In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

A memoir that might as well be a thriller about a same-sex abusive relationship. Beautifully written prose and dream-like narrative. Another 5* read.

🎥 Promising Young Woman

A new film starring Carey Mulligan, who plays Cassie - a woman living a double life trying to catch out predators by pretending to be drunk bars. I don’t want to give any more away but it’s well worth a watch, sad we couldn’t see this one at the cinema!

📺 Eternally rewatching The US Office because it’s my sad show.


Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

3 February: Learning to find joy in the mundane

27 January: No you can’t

20 January: I’ll be happy when

13 January: Why you’re tired all the time

6 January: Just keep going

23 December: A book recommendation for every mood

16 December: Burnout might not be what you think it is

9 December: Whatever happened to ‘be kind?’

2 December: The best briefs are anything but

25 November: Welcome to the busy-ness Olympics

18 November: Too many cooks spoil the broth (and the marketing campaign)

11 November: Everything is different now, so why are you trying to live like before?

4 November: Lockdown Part II: Here's my manifesto 📜

28 October: Why business owners don't talk about depression