By Stephanie Conner

If Active Voice Communications were a kid, she’d be a year away from getting her driver’s license. And with a company that is 15 years old, it’s hard to not feel like a grizzled old veteran. But the truth is that I am humbled and proud to still be in this profession that I love, working with collaborators I respect and continuing to improve at my craft every day. 

In honor of AVC’s 15th anniversary in business, I’m sharing 15 things I’ve learned along the way.

1. No one works alone.

When I started freelancing, there was an allure about working on my own. But I quickly discovered that freelancing doesn’t mean working on your own at all. It just means that you get to choose your team, and I’m not gonna lie — it’s awesome. My primary partners — writers, designers, proofreaders — have remained stable over the past 15 years. It has brought me great joy to be able to bring on board some of my favorite people and help their freelance businesses thrive while we do great work together.


2. Keep your friends, but never be afraid to make new ones. 

As an introvert, I always hated networking events. But when you start a business and need to grow, you do what needs to be done. Traditional networking remains not my favorite thing. But interacting with other smart marketers and communicators? Well, that is my favorite. 

Changing how I viewed and approached networking improved my experience. I ended up meeting several great people with whom I remain friends. Some never turned into new business, and that’s OK. When you approach networking as an opportunity to meet interesting people and have interesting conversations, good things happen. In fact, one of my best friends and closest confidants came about because of a networking event.


3. Productivity comes in waves.

You cannot always force productivity or creativity. As a creative professional, I have learned how to recognize when I am in a truly creative and productive place. When those productive waves roll in, I ride them. (Side note: I highly recommend this Daniel Pink book on productivity.)


4. Everyone’s productive time is different.

I have writers who are best first thing in the morning. I have others who prefer to work in the middle of the night. Not everyone is productive in the heart of the traditional American workday. When working with creative professionals, I’ve found the key to getting everyone to do their best work is to not force a timeline that requires people to work when they are not at their best.


5. It’s OK to say no.

When I started my business, I was afraid to turn down work. What if it never came back? What if a particular client never called again? It can be scary to say no, but sometimes it’s necessary. I’ve learned to say no to projects that are not in my wheelhouse, to those that are not on the timeline that’s structured for success and to those that conflict with my values.


6. Marketing works.

Solo professionals and small businesses know it’s hard to promote your business when you are trying to serve the clients that pay the bills. Sometimes it is hard to justify marketing expenses. But I have found that a monthly newsletter and regular social media postings, plus periodic promotional gifts have provided me with the right mix of marketing for my business. Every month I have conversations with potential clients. Some postpone their projects or find different resources or take their project in house. Others become Active Voice clients. But I can trace each one of those conversations back to my simple-yet-consistent marketing program.


7. Embrace your strengths and preferences.

When I started AVC, I had just come from the world of public relations, so naturally, I offered PR services in addition to copywriting services. But I was never passionate about PR, and, frankly, it wasn’t my strongest skill set. Rather than risking disappointing clients by delivering anything less than quality work, I decided to remove PR services from my website. I went all in on copywriting and content marketing. After all, that’s where my abilities are, where my passion is. I’m confident that staying with the work that brings me joy is part of what has led to my success over the years.


8. Don’t forget your passion projects.

As a creative, I love that my talents serve a business purpose, but I also need to feed my creativity in ways that don’t count for billable hours. When I’m not doing client work, I continue to create — through my personal blog and podcast, in the kitchen and painting on pottery. It’s what helps me maintain my creative spark.


9. Invest in yourself.

In AVC’s early days, I found it hard to justify certain business expenses. Should I really spend a few thousand dollars on a new website? Should I go to a conference across the country? Should I take a higher education training course? Then I shifted my thinking. Instead of expenses, certain purchases became “investments.” And while I am still relatively frugal — I only travel to conferences when I truly believe I’ll walk away with additional skills/contacts — I have learned that calculated investments are worthwhile. 


10. Flexibility is important.

In the beginning, I worked traditional Monday to Friday business hours. Then, five years into AVC, my son was born. When he was little, I worked four days a week so I could have more time to spend with him. When he started school, I changed my schedule. When he got into baseball, I changed my schedule. When COVID hit, I changed my schedule. It will probably change again in a few years. And a few years after that. I’m grateful that my business allows me to be able to dictate my working hours. For me, flexibility in life — and business — is important. 


11. Celebrate others.

There is plenty of work to go around for talented individuals, so I don’t fret about competition among writers and agencies. When I get the chance to talk up a colleague, I do. Whether that means recommending them to a business looking for someone or on social media. When you put good into the world, good things happen.


12. Express gratitude always.

People like to be thanked for their work. It’s human nature. Whether you’re getting paid or doing something as a favor, it just feels better when someone appreciates you. That’s why I always try to express gratitude to others. 


13. Remember your values.

I have had to make some difficult decisions over the years about who to work with/for — whether because they’ve asked me to do something that is unethical, their business practices don’t align with my values or they expect me to put their work ahead of my family commitments. On each occasion, I’ve felt nothing but a sense of relief after walking away. 


14. Take care of your health.

Freelancing can be a grind. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you need to be constantly available for fear of missing out on work. But the adage is true: You cannot pour from an empty cup. That’s why I prioritize my physical and mental health as much as possible. And often I find that an hour of yoga results in greater overall productivity than an extra hour of work. 


15. Treat everyone well. Seriously, everyone.

Yes, people can be annoying (and worse). Even so, I believe everyone deserves to be treated well. And that does not just mean the people who pay your bills. I’m talking e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. Am I perfect? Of course not. But being respectful is the right thing to do, and in the end, how you treat others reflects on your brand. 

Bonus: Never stop learning.

As I’ve settled into my career, I’ve found it harder to find professional development opportunities that are worthwhile. But that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to learn wherever I can. I look for educational opportunities in every industry newsletter I receive, trend report I read and new contact I form. I try to continually elevate my skills, because as a knowledge worker, that’s what makes me more valuable.


Celebrating 15 years

Fifteen years in business is a long time. Not every day is perfect. Not every project is a dream. But I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible collaborators and clients and deliver work I’m truly proud of over the years. And at the end of the day, that’s what reminds me that those imperfect days are well worth all that I’ve built.