Helping Hands: A Freelance Career Built Around Odd Jobs

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There is always a demand for someone to help people out with their odd jobs – not on a full-time basis, but just for a few hours here and there. If you do freelance work like this, the tasks you can get involved in are hugely varied.

Here is a case study of someone who took on all those odd jobs and turned them into a full-time work from home business.

Gill Thornton is a single mother of two grown up children, and lives in Lincolnshire (UK). She runs a Helping Hands Agency offering a range of everyday services such as pet walking and sitting, baby and granny sitting, administration and PR assistance.

What gave you the idea for your business? 

When I was running a day-care nursery, I was frequently asked if I knew someone who could help with dog walking, granny care, babysitting or various family emergencies that arise and cause you to need a bit of help.

I realised there was a gap in the market, as people didn’t want to pay agency prices and didn’t always need someone full time.

Have you run your own business before?

After a career in nursing, I had previously worked as a clinical aromatherapist, then I set up and ran my own day-care nursery for 10 years.

How did you expect the business to develop? Has it met your expectations?

I found it hard work at first as I had not done this type of work before. I concentrated on lots of marketing, and accepted anything & everything to get my name known. Now it is easier, as I can pick and choose the jobs to suit me.

Four dogs looking out of a car boot.
August 2017 involved a busy few weeks with lots of families needing holiday cover. Was looking after chickens, goldfish, one kitten, one cat and several dogs!

I promote myself with local advertising leaflets and a Facebook page, but much of my work comes through word of mouth. If you do a good job, recommendations from clients can really help.

Did you have much in the way of startup costs?

Apart from Initial expenditure on things like insurance, leaflets etc. there were no huge financial demands. However my budget was very tight.

How long did it take you to get the business off the ground?

It only took a few months to get going and soon I was getting 20-30 hrs a week of work. Now I average 35 hrs per week.

What sort of things do you do?

Sometimes it’s helping a Grandma when she’s just come out of hospital, or helping get the house sorted for a family party and clearing up afterwards.

Or, someone might be looking for a dog walker while they are out, either regularly or on an “as and when” basis.

I can step in if your child is off school and you have an important presentation to do, or if you own a small business and desperately need a break, but find an office temp would cost a fortune from an agency.

Sometimes all people need is a pair of hands – not an agency, a commitment to a huge bill or regular help. That’s the niche I fill.

My clients are a lovely mixture of two and four legged, and I provide care, exercise, assistance, or company as required. At present, my duties range from caring for a six month old Cocker Spaniel with walks & training to assisting a 97 year old lady (not as her “carer” but as her “PA” by request!) I am also a part time nanny for four primary school children, as well as an ad-hoc dog walker, cat and guinea pig feeder / cuddler as needed!

If you started again, would you do anything differently?

I would be much stricter with clients on things like cancellation payments and contracts right from the beginning. I have learned from my mistakes!

How do you manage to juggle work with family life?  

My children are grown up now, but I did set this business up partly to give me more flexibility after becoming a single mum. It was great to be able to book odd jobs work around the family, and it really helped that I could be there for my children a bit more during some of the difficult times we have experienced.

Has your business improved your standard of living?

It hasn’t improved my standard of living as such, but it certainly gave me the means to keep a roof over our heads. It gets me off tax credits and pays the bills which is quite enough to keep me happy!

What would you say to other people thinking of starting their own business?

I would say make sure you do your research, and that you have a decent financial cushion or access to overdraft for the first year. You’ll need it to see you through whilst you become established.

Is there a stand-out moment for you?

One stand out moment was paying off the last of the huge credit card debt I had accrued post-divorce.

My biggest disappointment was when a business venture a friend had set up which employed me as a part-time admin assistant folded. I loved that job and it fitted perfectly round my freelance work. However, I quickly filled the gap by taking on other odd jobs via my business. So, in a way, that is probably my biggest success!

Gill’s Facebook page is here.

Need more inspiration like this? Check out these case studies:

It’s also well worth taking a look at the enormous amount of content in the “8 in 1” edition of Starting a Business for Dummies.

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