traceysinclairconsulting

Writing, editing and legal directories advice

Monthly Archives: May 2012

The perfect getaway – taking a break when you work for yourself

With the summer fast approaching, most of us are starting to think about our holidays. But if you work for yourself, taking a holiday can seem like an unaffordable luxury – especially in today’s economy. However, not giving yourself a decent break is a surefire way to build up stress levels, which can lead to decreased efficiency and even ill health, so it’s important to schedule proper down time. Here are some tips to make yours a happy holiday:

Take a proper break
Put on your out of office, switch off your mobile or BlackBerry and leave your laptop at home! If you spend all of your time checking emails or dealing with clients, you might as well be working. If you run a business, avoid telling your staff they can contact you ‘if it’s important’ – you’d be amazed at how ‘important’ things suddenly become. If you absolutely can’t relax without checking the world isn’t exploding in your absence, then at least restrict yourself to a set time: say, an hour every morning. Make it clear you won’t be available outside that time, and don’t get sucked into dealing with every little thing as it arises.

Tell your clients in advance
I’ve worked with a lot of freelancers, and am always amazed by how casual some are when it comes to letting clients know that they won’t be around for the holidays. While obviously it’s not unusual to have the odd day when you’re uncontactable – and there will always be emergencies no one can predict – if you are going to be unavailable for more than 48 hours, let regular clients know this well in advance, so they can plan their own requests around your availability. Nobody will resent you taking a holiday – but they will resent you leaving them in the lurch!

Know what you need
Everyone is different in terms of their own requirements. Are you a two weeks on a beach person, or do you need an active city break to invigorate you? Do you work better when you take one big holiday, or lots of short breaks? One of the benefits of being self-employed is, childcare commitments aside, you are free to choose your own holidays – so go for what best works for you.

Time your trip
Taking a long weekend when you’re two days from finishing a major order is pointless – you’re likely to spend the entire time worrying about it and wishing you were at work. Holidays should be a time to concentrate on yourself (and your partner/children, if you have them) not fretting about what you’re not doing back in the office. Consider your deadlines and delivery dates and plan accordingly.

…But don’t wait forever
It’s also important to accept that, if you work for yourself, there will never be a perfect time to take a holiday. There will always be things that need doing and a hundred reasons why you should be at work, so it’s easy to keep pushing yourself with the promise that you’ll take a break ‘when things calm down’. Treat having time off as a serious task and timetable it the same way you would any other important item. No business should be so fragile that it will collapse if you take a few days away from it.

Don’t expect too much!
Finally, when you do manage to take a holiday, don’t put pressure on yourself to have the perfect getaway. The aim is to relax, not make yourself even more stressed! If you only take a short break, don’t try and cram so much into it you come back more exhausted than you left. Be realistic about what you want and what you can achieve, and you’ll get so much more out of it.

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How to cope when you both work at home

With the rise in homeworking – and the downturn in the economy – it’s no longer uncommon for more than one person in the house to be working from home (or, more stressfully, for one person to be working from home while the other looks for work). While this can have positive side effects – companionship, mutual support – it can also be disruptive. So how do you cope if your partner or housemate also works from home? Here are some tips that can help keep the peace!

Have separate spaces:  unless you are actually working together (and sometimes even then!) try to have different workspaces. This may not always be possible, of course, but even allocating separate shelves for your work materials or deciding who works in the kitchen and who works in the living room, can be beneficial, so that you aren’t tripping over one another, or getting your work mixed up.

Respect one another’s working style: you may be the kind of person who thrives on clutter and distraction, happy to take frequent breaks and work with the radio blaring in the background – your partner may not. Treat one another with the same respect you would treat a fellow office worker: if they need to focus single-mindedly on one task, leave them to it. Don’t sulk if they won’t take a break and don’t inflict your distractions on them.

Don’t judge! Equally, if you’re the kind of person who likes to get up early and work for eight straight hours, it’s easy to think your partner is skiving if they don’t seem as dedicated. Remember that different people have different rhythms, and different jobs have differing demands. Providing they are getting their job done and handling their share of the household responsibilities, it’s not your business how they spend their time. Unless they ask for your advice, leave them to it!

Agree on who ‘owns’ the house landline: if more than one person is working from home, it’s important to agree who has priority over the landline (or simply agree that the home phone is for personal calls, and that you will use your mobiles for work, or vice versa). It’s a fast track to frustration and disagreement if one of you is desperately waiting for a call but the other is ‘hogging’ the line.

Timetable breaks: taking formally scheduled breaks can reduce the temptation to waste time chatting through the rest of the day. (I know one couple where the husband worked upstairs all day and ‘pretended’ to come home for lunch and to be out the rest of the time: sounds corny, but it meant both worked undisturbed but still had the pleasure of a sociable lunch). Again, though, respect the fact that while for some people a lunch break is an essential part of the day, others prefer to work straight through – don’t try and impose your schedule on anyone else!

Be disciplined: when both of you work from home, the temptation to skive is enormous – that extra hour in bed, the extended lunch, finishing early for a glass of wine… Remember that if you encourage one another with this sort of thing, soon the only thing you’ll be doing together is signing on!

Blogging for business – what to write about

Choose the right format – is blogging right for you? There are many reasons why blogging can be great for your business. It can attract traffic to your website (Google loves regularly updated content); it can help establish you as a thought leader in your field; it can help build relationships with your customers or clients. But it isn’t right for everyone. There are a lot of social media platforms out there, and before you start it’s worth taking some time to gauge which is the right one for you.  If you’re a law firm keen to promote your expertise, blogging is ideal – but if you’re a restaurant trying to build a community, or a crafter trying to sell your products, you may be better off just creating a Facebook page, or setting up a Pinterest account. * Consider your ideal market (and where you’re likely to find them), your content, and the amount of resource you have available, and decide accordingly.

Identify a problem, offer a solution: many people think that a blog should just be a sales pitch – but that’s not what will bring people to your site. The best blogs offer their readers something, and this is often in terms of solving their problems. This can range from the significant to the trivial: a legal blog, for instance, will be focused on issues that can have major repercussions – what does this law mean for me? How do I comply with it, and what happens if I don’t? But not all ‘problems’ are life changing – that doesn’t mean we don’t want an answer. For instance, if you run a furniture business, you might be answering questions such as: what’s the most environmentally friendly material I can use in my house? How do I make more storage in a small space? What are the most hardwearing products for a child’s room? Think about what your potential customers and clients might ask, and set about answering it.

Adding personality: the amount of personal information you include in a blog will, of course, depend entirely on the type of product or service you are offering, and the ‘brand’ you are creating. But in general, readers won’t care about you or your company, so it’s best to limit this kind of information. Some personal content can help humanise your brand, though – so the occasional post about, say, a charity event, can be interesting and add colour. Personal content can also help certain types of business connect with their peers – for example, if you run a small, local business, a blog about your experiences networking and tips about local groups could be interesting and useful. You don’t want to be giving away trade secrets, but don’t be stingy with your knowledge – sharing information can be a great way of building a profile.

Visuals: some blogs can be text focused (eg law blogs) but most will require images of some sort. While you don’t have to use a professional photographer, remember the quality of images will reflect on you, so you can’t just stick up blurry photos taken with your phone! Also, be wary of using images taken from the internet – some may be usable through a creative commons licence (but must be properly credited), but you must be careful not to use anything subject to copyright.

Keep at it! Few things look worse than starting a blog, doing a couple of posts and then neglecting it – what kind of message does that send to potential clients and customers? So only start a blog if you really think you can keep it going, or if you can afford to pay someone to blog for you. (Many writers, me included, offer this service: you can check sites such as freelancer.com for writers with web experience, or do a search under ‘blogging’ on networking sites like LinkedIn).

*It’s worth noting that, while it is a phenomenally popular platform, there is some controversy over the terms and conditions of Pinterest. Do make sure it’s right for you before you sign up.

Adventures in self-publishing

One of the things I enjoy most about being a freelancer is having what is now commonly referred to as a ‘portfolio’ career: my legal directories work, blogging (personally, and for business), web content work, as well as writing fiction. Having had two books published by a small press, when I wrote a more mainstream, urban fantasy novel this year, I decided to experiment with the self-publishing route. So much of my work is in the digital sphere that I thought it would be a useful – and hopefully fun and rewarding – experience, and the immediacy and control of e-publishing appeals to me. While I am enjoying it, it has been a learning curve, so if you’re thinking about e-publishing, whether fiction or non-fiction, the following might be helpful in knowing what to do, and what pitfalls to avoid.

Tips on self-publishing: I spoke to Suzy Greaves at The Big Leap about publishing my book, and wrote some tips on how to get the best out of self-publishing. You can access them here.

Getting the perfect cover: my cover designer – and publishing expert – Caroline Goldsmith wrote an interesting post on designing for digital here.

Below is the final version, available on Amazon here.

Of course, if you are writing a book and require editorial support, do feel free to contact me at traceysinclair23@gmail.com

Dark Dates - a new urban fantasy book by Tracey Sinclair

Dark Dates - my new novel