(Case study) Reflecting on the first year of freelancing

Digital marketer, Briony Cullin, reflects on her first year as a freelancer. Going into her second year freelancing, we talked about the challenges she’s faced and the impact her personal projects have had on the business.

Over coffee in Cafe Strange Brew and a drizzly walk through Queen’s Park, we chatted to Briony Cullin and Joffrey, the Cockapoo. Briony is a digital marketer and With Jack customer who is into her second year of freelancing. Briony reflects on the challenges of the first year and how important having a supportive network is.

Briony Cullin and Joffrey, the dog

How has your first year going freelance been?

It’s been tough but amazing. I’ve had the pleasure of working on some amazing projects with great clients, so I’ve been really lucky to have consistent work through 2017. This year is all about learning from the challenges in year one and turning them into ways to grow my business even more.

At the moment I’m at capacity and not taking on any new work, which feels terrifying but I know it’s so important to balance my workload.

Briony Cullin

You were the Community Manager for Yelp in Glasgow. You got to meet a lot of people and build a network. Did that position give you a platform to leverage when you went freelance?

It definitely helped, but before I had that job I already had a great network of people in Glasgow. In a city this size, most new people I meet will know someone I already know, so having a good reputation is everything. I actually really hate networking and consider myself to be quite introverted, which most people wouldn’t know. I like to do networking my way—making 1:1 connections with people via social media and then meet them for a coffee. It’s much less pressure that way!

Having a supportive network is so important. I try to support people around me—fellow freelancers, indie businesses as well as other freelance digital marketers. Freelancing can feel quite isolating sometimes so it’s nice to have other people who are doing the same kind of work to chat to.

Briony Cullin

I think it’s important to choose a niche. Your Instagram and blog is laser focused on food. Has this helped you attract clients within that niche?

Initially I decided that food and drink would be my niche. Now that I do more SEO work I don’t work for two businesses in the same field (as they’d be in competition for the same keywords in Google). So now I have a variety of clients in different industries, which I really love—it helps keep me creative.

I’ll always love Glasgow’s food and drink scene but that’s why I write my blog. I like to keep my business separate from my blog. It helps avoid any issues of impartiality too, as I’m very careful about being honest and transparent with my readers!


You also have a number of side projects. One of them is The Finnieston Food Crawl which was recently covered by the New York Times. Is the purpose of these side projects purely as a creative outlet, or do they help you win clients?

The Finnieston Food Crawl is a fun project to run but it’s not something I use to win clients. It started as something which I’d take friends and family on when they visited Glasgow. I always thought it was a shame having to pick just one or two restaurants to show visitors, so would take them on a crawl of three restaurants in one evening. As soon as I announced that tickets were available for the public to book last year, the website went into meltdown and worldwide press started writing about it. It still feels very surreal to have my business mentioned in The New York Times.

It felt a bit like Scotland’s First Cheese Toastie Festival all over again. That event had 13,000 RSVPs on Facebook and the 600 tickets sold out in 6 minutes. I’m still hoping to bring the event back in 2018 but it will depend on whether I can fit it into my calendar!

Briony and Joffrey taking a walk

With the food crawl, your food blog, co-hosting the Scottish Bloggers Collective, client work and everything else you do, how do you juggle it all?

I use Google calendar, Todoist and a scheduling tool called MixMax to book client meetings. I’ve always had loads of projects on the go so it feels natural. I have a few new projects in the works too, so that’ll be fun to add to the mix.

This year I’m taking more holidays though. Last year I didn’t take a break and felt really worn out by the end of the year. This year I’ll be taking more time off to recharge!

Briony Cullin

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your first year as a freelancer?

I naively thought that because I previously had a job with a lot of autonomy, that going freelance wouldn’t be much of a change. I was so wrong. It’s a lot more work and really challenging, but it’s so great to build a business and make all the decisions. I’ve relied a lot on my gut instinct and that’s worked for me so far.

Practical Takeaways

  • Do networking your way. Briony prefers to network one-on-one instead of attending large events. This works for Briony who’s now built a small but supportive network, which has lead to being fully booked.
  • Be open to a change in direction. Briony started her freelance business to serve food and drink companies. When she added SEO to her skill set, she had to expand to different industries so her clients weren’t in competition with one another.
  • Personal projects are important. Briony’s creative projects have been covered in The New York Times and tickets to her event sold out within minutes. This shows Briony’s clients she practices what she preaches.
  • The first year is tough but rewarding. Briony felt burnt out by the end of the year, so is determined to take more holidays and make time for recharging.

Connect with Briony

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