On the 27th Of August, I finished my placement year at Invest Northern Ireland. I was a Communications Assistant in the Communications Team and did various work for the team’s different divisions. During the first six months, my work mostly consisted of building, writing stories, and publishing for the internal newsletter, Newsweekly. I also did some work for the PR team writing press releases and Twitter posts. In the final six months of my placement, I was given control over the Innovation Accreditation Twitter account and learned how to manage a corporate social media platform fully. I was delighted for this project to land on my desk because I knew it was a precious experience that could put me in good stead for the future.
My placement was filled with both exciting and challenging times. Covid-19 hit during the seven-month mark of my placement, and I was lucky enough that Invest NI had a plan set in place to allow employees to continue their work from home. This worked out perfectly for me as I was able to visit my boyfriend in Manchester and stay for much more extended periods. I was in Manchester when the travel ban hit, so suddenly, I lived permanently with him and his family during a pandemic. It was a scary time because I didn’t know how long I would be over for and integrate well into the household. Thankfully, there was nothing to worry about as everything went super smoothly!
The end of my placement was fast approaching, and I was worried about what I would do to earn an income to cover my bills. My friends and I signed for a house in Belfast, and the rent was coming out every month, eating away at my overdraft – so I needed to find something quick!
I looked at what my friends were doing, and many of them were working in bars or doing home care. I couldn’t drive, so home care was out. And the thought of drunk people shouting at me was a scary thought, so I had a sit down to look at some options. I thought, why not have a go at freelancing and put the skills I learned at placement to fair use? I spent about twenty minutes looking through freelancing websites and tried one called Upwork, which promised to be the best out there. I joined and applied to every job I seen that I was qualified for. After one week of consistently applying to jobs on Upwork, I won zero. I then took a step back and looked at my second option, a website called Peopleperhour. I set up an account and applied to my first job, which required one 800 word article to be written for £10. Within about half an hour, I heard back from the client that they had accepted my proposal. The excitement this brought me was crazy; although I wasn’t making much money for the time I would spend on the article, the fact I had gained work on my own gave me such a buzz.
Since then, the relationship with the client continued and turned into more orders. They even helped me out with my pricing and gave me some great business advice! I applied to a few more jobs on Peopleperhour, I won some and I lost some. I loved the freedom this website gave me and the opportunities to connect with people all over the country.
The most significant turning point in my journey was when I made a LinkedIn post recommending the website to anyone who was in the same position as me and I did a little shameless self-promo. The response was something I could never have expected. I had people messaging me about my freelancing!!! I couldn’t believe it; I managed to schedule calls with four business owners. This has to be the most daunting thing I have ever done, but I got through it, and each business owner converted into a paying client!
I was now fully working for myself, doing what I love, and helping SME businesses in the process. If there is one thing I have learned during the process, it would be to slip in what you do everywhere you can to everyone you can. A quick example of this is when I was recently chatting during a new instructor’s driving lesson. I dropped in that I was Managing a few social media accounts for SMEs alongside my final year at University. The driving instructor immediately explained how he had needed someone to get his social media off the ground as his school is rapidly growing. I suggested we have a chat about what I could do for him, and we have agreed to schedule a call.
I hope to continue freelancing alongside my degree and sign more clients when I graduate. If you’re thinking of putting the skills you’ve learned during placement or your course into practise and want to dive into working for yourself, then I couldn’t recommend it more – why not go for it? If I can do it, I promise, you can too.
Lauren Simmons is a final year BSc in Communication, Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: LinkedIn