Celebrating 20 years as an indieIt’s been a busy year, and somehow I just realized that the milestone of 20 years as an independent business communicator and freelance writer passed months ago.

To echo a post my friend and fellow indie Donna Papacosta ran about her 26 years in business, here are 20 things I’ve learned in those 20 years:

1. There will always be peaks and valleys. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll survive the valleys. Use them to recharge for the peaks, learn something new, purge your files or just have fun. They’ll be over before you know it.

2. Take the time to help others without expecting anything in return. Be a mentor, talk to students, take part in a panel discussion, share your expertise.

3. Related to #2, what goes around comes around. The fact that you’ve freely given your time and talents will often result in people wanting to share with you, too.

4. Volunteer. You can demonstrate your existing skills, or learn something new. Either way, you’re polishing your skills while helping out a cause important to you, and helping your visibility at the same time.

5. Join your industry association and take an active part in it. I’ve been active for years with both IABC and a local networking group.

6. You’re allowed to say no, whether it’s to a job you aren’t really suited for or to another volunteer task when you already have several commitments on your plate.

7. Listen to your gut. Sometimes (often?) it’s smarter than your brain!

8. If you turn down work, offer to find someone else in your network with the required skill, who might be looking for something you can’t or don’t want to do.

9. Always do good work, whether for a client, a volunteer job or your five-year-old’s school. People pay more attention than you think.

10. Be particular about spelling and grammar. Again, people notice, and frequent mistakes reflect badly on you.

11. Network. Get out and talk to people. This is even more important if you spend most of your days in a home office.

12. Get a business card. Yes, even if (especially if!) you are a student or are between jobs. Yes, even if you are in your twenties. Not everyone wants to pull out their cellphones and connect right away. You can run off a low-cost version that has your name and basic contact information. If that embarrasses you, say your nice professional card is at the printer’s.

13. Build your professional network when you don’t actually need to call on it (like when you’re looking for a new job or a new client). LinkedIn is a great place to start.

14. Don’t allow yourself to be “had” on price. By that I mean, if you quote a price and the prospect asks you to do the work for less, don’t do it. If nothing else, negotiate a change in the scope of the work to go with a reduced fee. Remember that what you do has value, and you don’t want to work for someone who only wants the lowest price.

15. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a job for less than you would normally charge, IF it’s for a cause meaningful to you or you want to gain experience in a specific area. Make it your choice, though.

16. Keep learning. It doesn’t have to be a serious commitment like, say, a two-year online program (ahem!); seminars, short courses and conferences will keep your skills fresh.

17. Take breaks. People expect you to have a life, and that means not answering emails after hours, letting calls go to voice mail and staying off social media while you have dinner or take your kids to the park.

18. There’s more to life than work. Look for balance. Make time for the people and things that bring you joy. Will you reach the end of your life and wish you had worked more? Not likely.

19. Take time to celebrate your achievements. I’m still working on this, as you can see by how long it took me to celebrate this milestone!

20. Finally, don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from making the decision your heart tells you is right. It took me a year of indecision before I left my corporate job to become an independent. I have never regretted it.

Image credit: digitalart and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.