I still remember my first ever client meeting like it was yesterday. 

It was right before Christmas, 2017. With a project start date immediately upon return from the holiday break.  

And this wasn’t just any client, this was an American tech startup led by a woman who had run a department at the Rio 2016 Games. She’s the type of anxiety inducing high-flyer who budgets every minute of her time. The kind of client who will look at her watch the second you start to bore her.

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My mate worked at the company, knew I had just started my own freelance venture, and put he me forward for the opportunity. She never asked to see my portfolio or any prior work. I didn't even have a website. She wanted to hire fast, and trusted that I was *that good* based on my friend’s vouching of me.

These were the days long before Zoom. I rolled up to their attic office in a swanky Marylebone building for a 10am meeting. 

In the conference room, I was met with dagger eyes from her two business partners both weighing me up — and my mate at the end of the table who gave me a look of… “Well Al, this is it, over to you…don’t f**k this up.” 

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His reputation was on the line too. He was the one who got me here. 

As I sat in the boardroom waiting for the head honcho to appear I realised how utterly underprepared I was. I could have studied up on negotiation tactics, practised a pitch, or, at the very least, figured out my rate. 

Nope…I had none of that. All I had was me, myself, and I. It was petrifying. 

It was also the day that changed my life.

Introducing ‘Rise, Freelancer’

If only I had enrolled in a business training course or learned the basics before walking into this meeting all these years ago, I may not have given myself and my friend a heart-attack.

And dare I say, going back even further before this meeting at all, I wouldn't have minded being a little more brushed up on the fundamentals of finance, even something as simple as raising an invoice would have made my initial leap into freelancing far less of a jump. 

My story came to mind when I was privy to the details of the Freelancer Club’s Rise, Freelancer campaign and the startling number of freelancers failing to get their businesses off the ground within the first year. That could have been me. Here’s what the campaign is aiming to achieve:

  • Provide 1 million individuals access to freelance business training and support by 2026.

  • Tackle the current freelance failure rate of 1 in 5 within their 1st year and 60% by year five.

  • Provide support for individuals from marginalised communities to consider freelancing as a viable career option.

  • Address the stigma and change the culture around freelancing to be more aligned with it’s true value

At the core of ‘Rise, Freelancer’ is an ambition to define, empower and celebrate the next generation of freelancers.

This really doesn’t need to be David vs Goliath stuff, guys

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Sure, for me it was. On that morning, I was up against a giant. I was shaking at the knees. The battle (or in this case a business meeting) was over before it even began.

All I had to embrace was the famous Bible story  — and hope to God that I myself could be the plucky underdog who defeats someone much bigger than me against all odds. 

But here’s the thing, I wish I didn’t have to be.  I wish that I myself was a fellow giant then…or at least a wee bit bigger compared to my esteemed opponent.

I made this event far too complicated and stressful. I made a mountain out of molehill. I needed an ambulance on standby in case I fainted.  

All of this could have been avoided had I simply learned some of the basics to begin with.

I don’t even have a business bank account, let alone the know-how to raise an invoice!

Christ, talk about a massive oversight on my part. 

When I walked into that meeting that one morning, I had absolutely nowt behind me. No business bank account, no work email, and certainly no way of billing the customer without just asking them to pay me in cash.

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God forbid, how would I hide this from them? 

The first thing I did after the meeting was to make a few phone calls for advice on best practices and registering a business. Even my own father had to teach me how the hell to raise an invoice. 

He did give me some good advice to be fair, which was to not worry about branding, business accounts, and accounting systems at this specific juncture…just create a basic ad hoc invoice and have them pay me into my personal checking account. Like he said…how would they know? An account number and sort code are merely a bunch of random digits. Who cares? 

He was right. 

That being said, as I started to find my feet, it would be wise to set up properly with all the above as standard operating procedure.

These basics will turn you into a freelance giant

‘Rise, Freelancer’ aims to teach these basics — like the simple concept of opening a business account and raising an invoice, deciding whether a limited company or sole trader is right for you, or how much you should charge for your services. 

It aims to educate, support, and create pathways for ALL freelancers, no matter their background, circumstances, or experience — to bypass all the typical fears and mistakes as they enter this incredible adventure. It’s not just learning about business, it’s what that represents — empowerment and the confidence to have conversations with business powerhouses without feeling like the ‘little guy’. It’s about addressing the stigma around freelancers and how we’re often looked down upon. It’s about levelling up.

And from personal experience, once you learn the basics and level up…my oh my! It becomes a breeze and you even giggle to yourself wondering what on earth you were so worried about. 

Before you know it, you’ll be the one having the client walk into your swanky conference room, dancing to your tune, and feeling a little nervous themselves — because they know you’re in such high demand. 

You’ll be a freelance giant of your own. 


Feature: Oleksandr Pidvalnyi
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