MarketingMoves speaks to Sophie Hurst about her freelance marketing career and the advice she would offer someone considering becoming a marketing contractor.
Sophie has over 15 years’ experience in product and corporate marketing in global companies and for the last 4 years has been working as a freelance, part-time Marketing and Product Marketing Director.
1. What have been the defining moments of your marketing career, as an employee and freelance contractor?
One moment which really impacted the way I approach marketing was a branding exercise where I went out and interviewed 30 customers. It’s so amazing what insights you can get from customers on how they perceive you – and too often it gets forgotten in the rushing around of daily marketing activity. Sitting in front of them or speaking to them on the phone, you learn so much about what you need to be doing in marketing and it helps shape your marketing plan. It’s something I always try to do when working with new companies as a freelancer. It’s too easy to forget your customers, and so you don’t align your messaging to them properly. Marketers don’t always have time, but it could be worth using a contractor to do it as a short term project as people can be more honest when someone is external to the company.
I have also done quite a lot of product marketing over my career, which stood me in good stead for future roles. Sometimes doing something again and again can feel repetitive, but it’s very useful when you’re thrown in at the deep end and have to start again with a company’s product marketing or convince CEOs of a new branding campaign. It means that you know things and can confidently jump right in as a freelancer.
2. What made you decide to become a contractor? How do you feel about that decision a few years down the line?
I wanted to work with smaller businesses where I could make more of an impact. There’s also greater variety in working with many different companies with different styles of management and different ways of approaching marketing. I’ve also had the chance to take on broader roles – stepping out of my comfort zone to try new areas of marketing. Working with smaller teams with fewer resources, you just have to get on and dive in.
I also love the flexibility of contracting. You can have a better work-life balance. Working from home, I can work when my brain is at its most astute and most productive. It’s not something for everyone – some people need the routine of a full-time job, as well as the people you meet. But for people who can motivate themselves in peace and quiet, it works well. Of course, as a contractor, you may not work from home but sometimes you need a different space to get absorbed in something and unleash your creativity. Office interruptions are a hindrance, for example, when trying to concentrate on planning for a campaign or product launch.
When it comes to meeting people and discussing ideas, you need to build relationships and sometimes face-to-face is better. But when you need to actually sit down and execute and get things done, personally I am more productive in a quiet home environment. Businesses could adapt by allowing a certain amount of time for working from home and time for coming in for meetings – but very specific and focused meetings around topics you need information on. Some businesses haven’t moved on with new technology and still think they need to have people present in the office for 5 days a week to get value. Future economic changes might force them to consider new flexible options.
How I feel 4 years down the line – I love it! It has some downsides, as does everything in life, but overall the benefits outweigh the disadvantages for me.
3. What are some of your proudest achievements as a contractor?
I was hired by a company to do market research at very short notice, as they needed information to be presented to the board that would influence the business strategy. I had never done a full ‘market research’ project so I’m proud of it. I had done plenty of surveys and customer research – but it wasn’t run or presented as market research to impact a board decision. The company was delighted with the results, which I presented to the board, and could make an important decision off the back of it. I ended up staying for another 8 months to put it into a marketing plan and implement it. In this case, the company had needed someone immediately, so I just had to get on with it, using common sense and drawing on my marketing experience to achieve their aims.
I also helped set up a new company – something you don’t get involved in when you work for a bigger business, as the company is already there. I had to do everything – name the company and set up all their branding, sales and company marketing.
4. What common challenges do you face as a contractor?
You are everything in a company. You have to go out and sell yourself – to make yourself a sales person even if you are not one naturally. You need to be ok with regular interviews, with going out and getting new work all the time. You also have to run your own accounts, do tax returns, get on without IT support when your laptop goes down or the finance support that you’d get working for a big company.
5. What advice would you give to marketers looking to make the jump into going freelance / becoming a contractor?
My top 5 would be:
• Become comfortable with selling yourself.
• Be ready for ups and downs, busy times and quiet periods.
• Have savings that you can fall back on – it removes the stress during quieter periods, even if you never need them.
• Be adaptable.
• Change your mind-set to adapt to not having a regular income.
If you have dependents and need a steady income, freelance work can be more of a risk. Whereas if you’ve paid off your mortgage or don’t have children, you don’t need so much income and this can take the stress off. Saving money before leaving your current company also gives you a fall back. For me I wanted to have 2 years of savings rather than 6 months, just in case. Though I haven’t had to tap into mine, it’s a reassurance. Everything has upsides and downsides, and it’s important you don’t get stressed when its quiet or you’re waiting for projects to come through. Having other hobbies is also part of the work life balance – I compose my own music and foster greyhounds in my spare time for example.
6. How does 2017 look for contractors from your point of view?
In the face of Brexit, I believe contractors and freelancers can support the economy and help businesses through this period of instability. We can complete ad hoc projects for companies, such as product launches, while sparing the company the burden of having to employ somebody full time. With a long-term employee, the company must justify laying them off when times are tough, and even pay them off. This can be a big expense, whereas a contractor can support the business through ups and downs and it’s the contractor that takes on the risk. This is why we charge a higher day rate to cover the quiet periods and our share of the risk – while giving companies the flexibility to pick us up as and when they need us. More companies today are open to hiring freelance contractors, but there are still a number that are very rigid in their approach and still insist on the need for full-time employees. They are not making the most of the digital economy’s potential for flexible ways of working.
Sophie recently wrote an excellent article in The Huffington Post on how self-employed people could help the UK through Brexit, check it out here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sophie-hurst/self-employed-brexit_b_12746128.html
For support in your contract marketing career or for help finding marketing contractors for your business, contact Laura Barrett on firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to speak to Sophie further about her freelance marketing, you can find her on LinkedIn.