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by Karl Swanepoel | CEO at Topwork

When I was 14 years old, I decided I would never be fully happy or fulfilled without being my own boss. Exactly how I came to this thought at the time is unclear to me. However, in the years since then, experience after experience has made it clear to me that I was right all along.

My name is Karl Swanepoel, and I am the founder of Topwork. I’d love to share some of my experiences here today, in the hopes that it can help you in some small way.

Starting out with design on YouTube

I always enjoyed making things, and starting projects. When I was 13, I started making YouTube channels. After many embarrassing videos and attempts, nothing took off. However, something very positive came out of the experience…

Starting these YouTube channels I had to create logos, banners, and intros. I really enjoyed this process, and through it I taught myself how to use Photoshop, and eventually also how to build websites.

Becoming a freelancer to make some pocket money

When I was 14, I set up shop on freelancing platforms. I wanted to make some extra pocket money, and I figured that selling my graphic and web design skills would be a good avenue to do that.

Pretty quickly, I found problems with existing platforms (such as very high seller fees, and toxic competition between sellers). Part of the reason I started Topwork  – more on that later.

Building websites and Europe’s largest business conference

I started building websites directly for clients, setting up my own website and then contacting potential customers.

Fortunately, I was able to gain some recognition as a young entrepreneur, and was invited to be the youngest ever brand ambassador of The Great British Business Show (Europe’s largest business conference).

Equipped with business cards and an oversized suit, I walked around this event, meeting interesting people and networking.

This all happened during my GCSE exam period, however I had other priorities than revising.

Starting my first (real) business

Over the years, I set up many small websites and projects, however I would class my first real attempt to be a small web agency I set up in my home town.

Starting out with a friend from sixth form and about £200 pooled between us, we were able to grow the business, moving into an office on the high street within two months.

At the time, I was ecstatic about this, however in hindsight we made this move far too early. That being said, it was a learning experience I’m glad I had.

In the end, I decided to close this business down and go to University. I studied Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, and am graduating this summer.

Starting Topwork

After years of experience as both a buyer and seller on alternative freelancing platforms, I came up with the idea of Topwork – a virtual marketplace connecting skilled freelancers and ambitious businesses.

Topwork has lower seller fees than any existing platform, and built in quality control measures to combat toxic competition and undercutting between freelancers.

I decided to enter a startup competition at my University, which I was able to win with Topwork, securing a seed grant to start the platform. Read more about how Topwork started.

My advice for young budding entrepreneurs

  1. Always ask for help – Make contacts, ask for feedback, work with others.
  2. Never give up – Good things take time – always be consistent and persistent.
  3. Follow your dream – Be honest with yourself about your passion and values.

I wish you the best of luck on your journey! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, and if you’re starting a business or starting as a freelancer, we are giving away vouchers of up to £500 on Topwork right now.