Opinion: Don’t chase perfection when you start freelancing

Researching and preparing for self-employment is a good idea, and the IPSE website has an entire advice section dedicated to new starters. But I’ve encountered far too many people who are chasing perfection before launching their new business or career.

An eye for detail can be an advantage when you work for yourself, but sometimes obsessing over tiny design choices can be a way to procrastinate and mask your fears. And while there are common mistakes which can be avoided fairly easily, it’s extremely rare that any of them will be terminal for your business or career.

Success in freelancing and self-employment is usually found by learning and evolving over time, rather than coming up with the perfect product or service from day one. Many famous companies started out in completely different directions (Twitter began as a podcast network, Starbucks didn’t actually brew and sell coffee for more than a decade, and Suzuki started by producing weaving looms rather than cars and motorcycles).

While old and new media love to feature companies founded by teenage geniuses, the average age of a successful business founder is actually around 45. Even Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos saw their biggest successes when they were older and had built up more experience running Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. The faster you can acquire knowledge and apply it to your business or career, the more likely it is that you’ll be successful.

There’s a reason ‘Just Do It’ has been such an enduring slogan for Nike. My own move to full-time freelancing was prompted by my employer restructuring at a time when I was still a new parent. My preparation for both roles could be charitably described as less than ideal, but somehow, I quickly adjusted to pitching, invoicing, and 2am nappy changes. And both child and business have reached their teenage years despite my occasional mistakes.

Life may have been easier if I’d built up more savings in advance, hired an accountant earlier, and embraced project management software more enthusiastically. But none of that stopped me from earning a fairly consistent and sustainable income. Or being rated as ‘not that bad’ as a parent, even occasionally when other people can overhear it.

For an example on a grander scale, comedian and military history fan Al Murray subtitled his recent book Command as ‘How the Allies learned to win the Second World War’. In a series of examples, he describes how early defeats turned into later victories as tactics and technology evolved incredibly quickly.

None of this is an excuse to jump into self-employment completely blind, and without any idea of how you’ll fulfil client work or find products to sell. You need to have some understanding and experience of the industry you’re freelancing in, or the market you’re aiming to serve. But if you’re putting off your new business because your logo needs to be two pixels further left, or until you’ve read your twentieth book on working for yourself, it’s probably a sign you’re more than ready and just need to get started.