Women in business: an interview with Sarah Townsend

7 min read
Art Martori

This post first appeared March 8, 2021 on The Tsohost Blog.

Meet Sarah Townsend.

Sarah is a successful freelance marketing copywriter. She is the author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, Survival Skills for Freelancers. Sarah is a freelance speaker. A mentor and consultant.

Sarah is also a woman in business.

Sarah Townsend

Her freelance journey began back in 1999. This was the same year she became a parent for the first time. Sarah grew her business as her children grew, from part-time to full-time, and through 12 years as a single parent.

While being your own boss can be great, Sarah acknowledges it can be tough, too. Each woman’s journey into self employment is different. It is unique to them. During the past few decades though, the business mentor and advisor has seen some shared challenges women face.

“A common theme is a lack of confidence. We have the skills, ability and experience but often lack the confidence to pursue our goals,” says Sarah.

Overcoming that “self doubt” can open the door to a whole new world of possibilities. Indeed, recent research from The Recruit Venture Group revealed that 72 per cent of women, who have their own business, say they are in their dream job.

In this special feature for International Women’s Day, Sarah talks to us about the challenges of running a business as a parent and provides advice and support for women looking to start their own freelance career.

How did you balance self-employment and parenting and what top tips would you give to anyone in a similar position?

This was the hardest lesson for me. Even now, when my kids are 21 and 18, I still struggle from time to time.

It’s easy for work and home life to blur if you don’t have clear boundaries around when work stops, and home life begins. Both boundaries and routine are key to achieving a healthy balance and making a success of self-employment.

Setting boundaries often involves doing things that can make us feel uncomfortable, such as learning to say no, understanding our worth and charging a rate that reflects this, and getting super clear about our terms and process – and sticking to them!

Aim to start and end your day at a set time and schedule regular breaks. Build in time to take lunch away from your desk, and eat a healthy and nutritious meal to set you up for the afternoon. Try to take an outdoor break for fresh air and exercise, whatever the weather – it’ll boost your productivity and help you to focus.

Over time you’ll learn when and how you’re at your most productive. Combine this knowledge with your parenting commitments – such as the daily school run – and use it to structure your day in a way that works for you.

What’s the biggest challenge women face with self-employment?

Every woman is different, but a common theme is a lack of confidence. We have the skills, ability and experience but often lack the confidence to pursue our goals. We fear people will judge us for being pushy, for showing off, or for being too ambitious (is that even a thing?!). We get in our own way and let perfectionism and the fear of judgement or failure hold us back.

This can show up in different ways for different people – perhaps as anxiety, imposter syndrome or negative self-talk. These powerful feelings can keep you stuck if you let them.

As a result, we tend to make ourselves appear smaller and don’t strive for everything we’re capable of.

Being aware of the situations and circumstances that trigger self-doubt can help you feel more equipped to deal with them, and you only grow as an individual and a business owner when you take risks and put yourself out there.

Sometimes you just need to grasp those opportunities and show those fears who’s boss.

What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to start their freelance journey?

Am I allowed to say buy Survival Skills for Freelancers?! I’ve had so many emails from people saying it’s given them the skills and the confidence they needed to take the leap into self-employment. It contains everything I wish I’d known when I began my freelance journey, so it’s a great place to start.

Other than that, investing in yourself and your development is a great way to boost your confidence. Sign up for events, listen to podcasts, and read voraciously. Learn from those who’ve already achieved success in your field. Engage with posts from people you admire on LinkedIn, join in Twitter chats, and watch Facebook Lives that share practical tips and advice.

How do you stay motivated?

Short term, it’s all about the end goal.

For my copywriting work, that might be knowing that I’ve helped a small business identify and articulate what makes them stand out from the competition, or that my web copy has helped an organisation to raise its profile, attract more clients and make more sales. With my training and mentoring – all of which has come about through Survival Skills for Freelancers – it’s about helping freelancers and small business owners get more enjoyment from self-employment. Helping them to feel supported, understood, and less alone – and boosting their confidence in the process.

Long-term, it helps to know why you do what you do. Not just “because it pays the bills” but what the money you earn enables you to do. It could mean spending more time with your family, travelling and exploring new places, or enjoying a hobby in your spare time.

It’s easier to stay focused and motivated when you understand what drives you.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being self-employed?

For me, there are several things. As a parent, I love the fact that I never missed a school play or a sports day. I got to help out on school trips and events when my children were younger, and I’m always there when they need me – the perks of being your own boss!

A lot of that comes down to setting boundaries that protect your family time and allow time for you. It’s all too easy to find yourself being pulled in many different directions but, as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Take care of yourself first, so you can take care of those around you – your family, your friends and your clients.

Other than that flexibility it’s the people and the sheer variety of work. For most freelancers, no two days are the same – and that makes life interesting. As for the people, I work with some incredible clients whose businesses are making a real difference in the world, and have peers and colleagues (or work friends) who inspire me daily. I worked hard for my success, but I still consider myself lucky to have a job I love.

More about Sarah Townsend

Since publishing her bestselling guide to self-employment, Sarah Townsend has been on a mission to raise awareness of the importance of mindset, mental health and wellbeing for freelancers and the small business community. She is an Enterprise Nation adviser, a FreelanceHER 100 ambassador and mentor and has been featured in Forbes.

In Survival Skills for Freelancers, Sarah shares strategies for tackling the inevitable ups and downs of self-employment – from isolation and imposter syndrome to knowing what to charge and when to say no. The book has been described as “absolute gold”, “a pocket business coach”, “warm wisdom” and “worth buying a Kindle for” and is available on Amazon.

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