Taking the leap: Becoming a full-time freelancer

April 15, 2021

An interview with Bright Red Triangle community member, Dr. Shelly-Ann Brown.

Today, we’re delighted to introduce you to Dr. Shelly-Ann Brown, founder of Economic Lead Global Limited.

Since receiving her PhD from Edinburgh Napier University in 2018, Dr. Shelly-Ann Brown went on to work full-time whilst also freelancing in her spare time. Recently, she made the brave decision to quit her full-time job and turn her side-hustle into a full-time business.

This business is called Economic Lead Global Limited, and has already seen much success. Dr. Shelly-Ann has also earned more money in a month freelancing than she did working in her full-time job. How did she do it?

That’s what we’ll explore in this interview, along with some top tips for aspiring full-time freelancers.

To start with, Shelly-Ann, can you tell us about yourself and your business?

My name is Dr. Shelly-Ann Brown, and I’m a 2018 Edinburgh Napier alumna and the founder of Economic Lead Global Limited. The business is a market and intelligence research company. It offers a blend of PhD expertise and industry experience to clients in the private, public and third sectors. No matter the challenge, we focus on delivering practical results founded on industry knowledge and research. Our clients are then better placed to make informed decisions, grow, and lead. We also support university students with research projects, and top journal article writing.

That sounds very interesting and must keep you busy. We’re curious as to how it all began. Are you able to share how your entrepreneurial journey started?

After receiving my PhD, I worked full-time in consultancy for one year, while part-time freelancing on platforms such as Upwork. Given my industry experience and academic background, I was able to harness my diverse skill-set by catering to a wide variety of clients. This is where my entrepreneurial journey began, and it’s where I saw the demand for my expertise start to grow.

Taking the leap from part-time freelancer to full-time business owner must have been pretty daunting. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience?

Taking the leap to becoming a full-time freelancer has been exciting and very fulfilling. I get to lead on what I love to do and serve my clients to the best of my ability. Before registering the business at the start of 2021, I was already flooded with freelance work which I could only carry out after my 9am-5.30pm day job. There was already a growing demand for my service with client retention. In ten months, I saw a 1000% return in net profits and was granted a 100% top rated job success score on Upwork. This further boosted my reputation and drove demand. It was all confirmation for me to pursue this on a full-time basis, with expectations of increasing my returns even more.

We mentioned in the introduction that you’ve managed to make more money working full-time freelance than you did in your full-time job. This is an incredible achievement! Are you able to explain how you did this, and do you have any tips for other freelancers looking to do the same?

In the first ten days of working for my own company, I made my full-time monthly employment salary back. I achieved this by continuing to support my existing clients, but also by reaching out to new clients. Previously, I didn’t have the time or flexibility to do this, but now I do.

For other freelancers in the same position as myself, I would recommend waiting until you know that your product/service is in demand and will generate sales before going full-time. Beyond this, my advice would be to:

  • •Do what you love; your passion will be the driving force that causes you to excel in your craft amid challenges.
  • Identify your client base i.e., your niche and serve well.
  • Nurture your business networks and maintain client relationships as much as possible, as one client will tell another about your service which may/may not generate sales.
  • Try your best to always turn a client complaint into a testimonial. Reputation goes a long way.
  • With time, find ways to diversify your service, where you can reach new niches, always be on the lookout for new innovative ideas – diversification is key.
  • Put yourself out there – unfortunately, imposter syndrome can delay our progress at times but go beyond this. People do actually want to know what you have to offer.  
  • Take every exposure as a marketing opportunity to grow your business and reach more clients.
  • •Scotland and the United Kingdom are flooded with entrepreneurship training programmes and funding opportunities from the government, private sector, and social enterprises. Grasp these opportunities, as they are great for learning, training, accessing funding, and networking with like-minded entrepreneurs.

That is such great advice. Retrospectively, are you glad you started freelancing part-time alongside full-time work first? If you started all over again, would you do anything differently?

I am very pleased that I started freelancing part-time alongside full-time work. It gave me one year of work experience outside of academia. This allowed me to understand the workings of the private sector, how to negotiate contracts, onboard clients, and market my business. One year was all I needed for this. Now I am in a better position to manage and run my business, and I wouldn’t do anything differently.

What resources have helped you on your entrepreneurial journey, and which would you recommend?

There’s an immense number of online resources, and support in Scotland available to entrepreneurs. Lockdown has enhanced this by bringing everything online which was once only available via face-to-face. I would recommend:

Thank you so much for sharing those resources for us, and also for mentioning our support at Bright Red Triangle. We’re so glad we can provide valuable support to Edinburgh Napier entrepreneurs. Now, we have one last question for you…

If you could go back in time and give yourself one bit of advice in relation to becoming an entrepreneur, what would it be?

Leaders serve! As an entrepreneur, serve your client well. Your reputation will follow, which will bring more clients and ultimately more returns.

Refuse to doubt yourself. No one knows your business and is more passionate about it than you.

All great leaders are known by the public. Show the person behind the brand.

Many thanks again for sharing your entrepreneurial journey with us all, Dr. Shelly-Ann. It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know you more.

Of course, if you would like to find out more about Dr. Shelly-Ann Brown and her business, you can connect with her on LinkedIn or visit her website, Economic Lead Global Limited.

We hope you’ve found this blog post valuable and inspirational. Remember, if you are a student, alumni, or staff member from Edinburgh Napier University with a business idea or an existing business (this includes freelancers), you can receive free business support from our team.

Bright Red Triangle