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Tag Archives: self-employment

Freelancing: Is work-life balance the great freelancing lie?

As I head into my second year of freelancing, I am belatedly realising just how foolish any attempt at creating a work-life balance is. The work I do is highly cyclical in nature, and the deadlines almost entirely not dictated by me (or generally even by my clients); take, for example, the last few months, which have included Chambers UK deadlines (mid-December and mid-February), Legal 500 UK deadlines (mid-February, mid-March, with the deadline for paid profiles the week after the submission deadline), Chambers Europe/Global (first deadline late February), Middle East (start of March) and Asia (start of March/start of April). If all this sounds confusing, trust me it is: I have spent the last few weeks working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week across time zones to try and accommodate all my clients.

But of course when you have a portfolio career, just because one part of your business gets busy, it doesn’t mean the rest of it slows down. I can’t tell my other, non-legal clients that I am putting their work on hold because I have other deadlines – the fact that I have a weekly quota of web copy to get through for one client, and a batch of magazine articles due in the same day as the Legal 500 is, frankly, my tough luck. Likewise, your personal life doesn’t stop: I’m currently in the middle of moving house, and am dealing with family health crises that consume a lot of my time and energy. You’ll understand, then, if I give people short shrift when they keep telling me how relaxing it is to work from home.

I’m not in any way claiming that I actually work any harder than office-based employees – I have plenty of friends working insane, full on hours in office jobs – just that the perception tends to be that, if you work from home, you spend great swathes of your time swanning around drinking coffee and reading magazines (this seems particularly to be true if you’re a woman working from home – I blame Sex and the City for perpetuating the myth that freelancing for women means a few minutes at your laptop, the rest of the time in cocktail bars).  I’m also not complaining about my workload. I feel remarkably blessed to be in such demand.  I spent much of last year fretting about building up my business, and it’s rewarding in the extreme to see it starting to grow, and to get repeat work from satisfied clients. More than that, I genuinly enjoy what I do – even at its most frustrating, it’s something I feel passionately about, and I want to keep doing. If I have to work my socks off to make it a success, I’m happy to do that. Working for myself still gives me a flexibility I enjoy and can use to my benefit – if I want to get up at 4am and work I can, likewise if I feel I need an extra hour in bed one day, there’s no boss to shout at me for not being at my desk at 9am sharp. But I’m realising that, at least in my chosen career, work-life balance is not a day-to-day thing: it’s a long-term haul. There simply will be weeks and months when I do nothing, nothing at all, but work, times when every other thing in my life has to be fitted in around deadlines and demands. There will, similarly, be weeks when the workload is light and if I want to I can skive off and spend the afternoon wandering around the shops or a gallery. This also of course has financial implications – I need to keep reminding myself that this is my lucrative time of year, so the money I earn now needs to be banked as a buffer against future lean times (and to pay the tax man – something which came as a bit of a jolt last year!).

It’s not a way of working that suits everyone, and it’s certainly not the fantasy of self-employment that many people dream of. Personally, I love it – I find it liberating beyond measure to be able to set my own hours and to work to my own, often eccentric, internal clock. But it has made me recognise that the one thing you need, more than anything, when you start freelancing, is realistic expectations: if you go into it thinking it’s an easier way of working, it might come as a bit of a shock. I think that, whatever your chosen field, the first year of doing it freelance is likely to be the steepest learning curve of your life – so, like all great adventures, you need to embark on it well-prepared for the journey.

[And, because I really like making things difficult for myself, I put my new book out this week… Wolf Night is available now from Amazon.]

WN KINDLE final

Networking in a digital world

One of the most important – but often most difficult – things to do when you’re a freelancer is to network. Not only because this maximises your chance of getting more work, but because if you work for yourself, especially if you work from home, it’s all too easy to become isolated.

I recognise that, like many freelancers, this is something I’m not great at and I need to improve – it can feel calculating, or even dishonest: am I just being nice to this person to get something from them? But I’ve found that the best way to get around that is to think about networking simply as broadening my circle, not necessarily with any endgame in sight, rather than spending my time worrying about whether I’m making the ‘right’ connections, or whether they will result in any more work/sales for me.

With this in mind, I’ve been seeking out more writing communities to get involved with. I mentioned in my last post that I have joined the writers collective Strictly Writing – my first post goes live next week – and this week I started contributing to Byte The Book. Byte The Book is a relatively new site, set up as a community of writers, illustrators and digital publishing professionals: it recognises that the publishing industry is changing, and is helping people at the forefront (or sometimes just the sharp end) of those changes connect. Importantly, founder Justine Solomons sees the importance of human connection in an online world, and so organises regular ‘literary soirees’ so that the site’s contributors and other interested parties can meet face-to-face. My first post went live today: a short story in the Writing Showcase and a Book Review, and I’m looking forward to my first meeting next week. If you’re interested in any aspect of digital publishing, it really is worth checking out the site.

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.