Iona Bain: Being in charge of your finances, time and identity as a freelancer

“The best thing about freelancing is that you can be totally in charge. But that’s also the biggest downside,” says Iona Bain, founder of The Young Money Blog.

“You’ll have your goals in place, work towards them but also wonder if you’re going in the right direction. You’ve got to have confidence and self-assurance in your ability and be your own ambassador even when you’re full of self-doubt and confusion. It’s not easy sorting your way through very conflicting and erroneous advice of what you should do or who you should be.”

Her advice? “Understand what makes you stand out, be prepared to put in the hours and think about the change you want to make. If you’ve sensed you can make a quick buck and that’s the only reason you want to create something, don’t bother. People are smart – they’ll see through it.”

Ioana is clear about the impact she wants to make: she wants to help young people manage their money better. The Young Money Blog covers everything from the importance of pensions to the gender pay gap to money and mental health.

She launched the blog in 2011 as a way of finding out more about personal finance and sharing her thoughts and tips in a way that was easy to read and understand. She also wanted to gain experience in financial journalism, the industry she had just entered aged 23. More than seven years later, all those hours have paid off and the blog sits at the centre of her career as a freelance journalist, commentator, author and speaker.

Growing up in Edinburgh, Iona knew she was unlikely to have a conventional 9am-5pm office job. But she thought this would be as a musician, not as a freelancer. After graduating from the University of Oxford as a classically trained singer, she kept writing and songs and performing, but in terms of music as a career, she didn’t feel it clicked. “My dad is a business journalist and we both felt that there was a gap when it came to young people and money. It was daunting moving into such an unrelated field but I knew he’d be there to support me. He’s always been a huge source of help and advice,” she says.

Today, Iona and her dad Simon work together on the Young Money Agency, which produces youth-friendly content and communications for a range of clients. “It’s wonderful to work with someone you can be completely honest with who has your best interests at heart.”

What has surprised her dad most about working with Iona is the way today’s digital world opens up so many opportunities. “Traditionally, journalism has been a labour intensive, gruelling job without huge financial reward,” she says. But in an age when people live their lives online, building an online presence through websites, blogs, podcasts, vlogs and social media can spread your message and content in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

Of course, it’s not easy. And it takes time. You’ve got to be creative and eye-catching in a crowded space but when you’ve got something unique to say and you speak from the heart, people listen. Right from the beginning, Iona has had a clear message of helping young people with their money, a mission she has communicated across different platforms in a personal, positive way. “It’s always worth thinking about your online presence. Every single person has a brand,” she says.

In the last three years, Iona’s brand has gone from strength to strength. In July 2018, she was named freelancer of the year by IPSE (The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed). “It wasn’t something I’d planned to enter but I just thought if anything came from it, it would be positive. It was a brilliant exercise laying out what I wanted to achieve from the blog. When I won, I was stunned. It’s often difficult to get recognition for what you’re doing and so many people have been dismissive of young people and money since I started. It felt like a vindication.”

Iona has been a freelancer on and off ever since she started in financial media in 2011. When she was offered a permanent role at a newspaper in 2016, it marked a fork in the road in her career. She decided to turn the job down in order to commit to freelancing and focus on the blog, a decision she has not regretted.

“The first few times I went freelance, I didn’t know how to handle rejection or finding work. I wasn’t very successful or confident,” she says. “I still have to overcome that imposter syndrome that kicks in every time I’m asked to do something high profile.” In the last year, she has been a guest on Sky News Sunrise and several BBC programmes including Woman’s Hour and Moneybox. “You’ve got to recognise that there’s a reason they’ve asked you to be there – go for it and enjoy it.” In February she was splashed all over the media when a commentary she published on twitter criticising an ad from the digital bank Revolut went viral.

Other than TV and radio interviews, her diary is filled with speaking events, debates, workshops and conferences around money management. Her day to day work includes writing, posting and promoting blog posts and working on thought leadership papers, newspaper articles and communications for clients of the Young Money Agency.

Her biggest piece of counsel for freelancers when it comes to money is to thoroughly research your rate and evaluate it often. “My motivation has never been to make lots of money, but if I’d known sooner what the appropriate rates were, I would have made much more,” she says. “It’s so important to ensure you’re not undervalued.”

For those starting out on the freelancer path, she advises making contacts within their chosen industry and trying to set up regular gigs. “I’ve set up regular work from clients that comprises a big chunk of my earnings. Without that, it would be much more difficult to do unpaid work on the blog which is my raison d’être,” she says. “There’s always a million reasons not to do something. Act now, think later.”

Find out more about Iona at The Young Money Blog. If you’re a sole trader or registered as a limited business, have a look at Starling for Business – our mobile-only business accounts can be opened in minutes and have no monthly fees.

Charlotte Lorrimer

Charlotte Lorrimer

Charlotte Lorimer is Communications and Marketing Executive at Starling Bank - the UK’s leading mobile-only bank offering personal, joint and business accounts. Her role includes creating content for the Starling blog, managing partnerships and helping the team with PR and social media.