Tina Wayland is a freelance copywriter in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her job is to come up with the “big ideas” in advertising. She works primarily for advertising agencies, writing copy for ads, radio spots and brochures, among other things. Wayland specializes in French to English transcreation, which is adapting ideas from French-language ads, rather than simply translating the words to English.
Wayland decided to start her own business to gain a more flexible schedule after having her daughter. She spoke with us about the challenges she’s tackled as a creative person learning to take on the administrative side of running a business.
How did you start your business?
In 1999, I applied for a job I saw in the newspaper. The ad said they needed English writers in Montreal. I got the job and was a junior copywriter for a few years. I went on to be senior copywriter for about 10 years before I went freelance.
I went freelance because I had a baby. I didn’t feel like going back to the long hours and inflexible schedule after having my daughter. We have a year maternity leave here. After my year leave, I took another six months. Then I just told the company I wasn’t coming back. I ended up doing freelance work for them, and I still do work with them today. I needed the flexible schedule to be home at certain times. It’s given me the freedom to be able to do that.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
I have no overhead, so that wasn’t necessary. I had my computer and that was it.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I don’t know that I’ve learned it yet. I think I’m still learning on the job. Trial and error, I suppose.
I was lucky that so many of my first clients were people I had worked with before, so they were very patient and gave me tips. One of them gave me a sample time sheet that I could use for my hours to be presented a certain way.
Other than that, just asking a lot of questions, especially of people I knew had freelanced.
Who was your first customer?
My very first customer was a creative director I had worked with at another agency. She needed a letter or brochure or something. I remember putting my daughter to bed at about 9 at night and then I started working on that project.
Getting my first customer made me really excited that going freelance was possible. I had a couple of freelance customers while I had a full-time job. That opened the door to show that I could have a steady income or at least an extra income for the house without having to go back to a full-time job.
It was also a bit scary to get my first customer – putting my feet back in the water after 18 months of not working professionally.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
I learned that since I’m on my own, I can’t rely on anybody else around me. Your work has to be perfect, because there are no proofreaders. You need to do your own timesheets and accounting, things somebody else had always done for you before. Keeping up with the law and the changes in our taxation system. Figuring out how to apply for a special tax number. I was late to the game in learning to do all that.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
The smartest thing that I did and that I still do is that I try to answer everybody with a smile and a “no problem.” I don’t try to burden them with “Well, if I get home on time,” or “I don’t know, I have a lot of projects.” I just try to make it easy for the client to trust me.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
Having better control of my time is the most rewarding thing. I can go on vacation and bring my computer with me. I can take an afternoon to run some errands and work in the evening. I can have much better control of my time. That helps because I don’t work between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the evening, since that’s the time I get to spend with my daughter.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
Finding work is always a challenge. Getting to the end of the month and hoping that you’ve made enough and you’re not tight. That’s a challenging thing.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
How nice people are! Once you give your clients what they need, when they come back and they’re really happy with your work, it’s always nice in a surprising way. You’re freelance, so they don’t really have to say anything to you. But they do, and when they complement you and say, “You saved my butt,” it’s a real high. It’s nice to hear.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most?
I always consider the old creative director I had at my last job to be my mentor. She’s retired now. I haven’t worked directly with her in a while. But her attitude toward advertising and toward having a positive attitude and being helpful, and making advertising positive and stress-free is something I’ve always carried with me.
We go out to lunch maybe two or three times a year to catch up and talk about work and our lives. Everyone she meets she touches in a very special way. I hold her very dear.
What I’ve Learned
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
In some ways I wish I had known how to drum up new business; I wish I had taken a course on it.
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If you could go back to when you were starting your business, what advice would you give yourself?
Be organized. I think it’s hard for creative people to be organized. We’re used to having the accounting department figure it out for us. But there’s a whole list of things we need to keep in mind, like which projects are going out, what your timelines are, who you have to bill, who hasn’t paid you … all these things you have to keep on top of in order to keep your business running at all.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.