How I manage the stress…

…of working as a freelancer when the work isn’t there.

At the beginning of the year I decided that I had taken on too much work in 2018 and that I would slow down a bit because I felt my work-life balance wasn’t right. (see post here) It is now September and I’m reviewing some of my decisions – was I too hasty in January? Should I have been networking a bit more in March?

I like to plan my workload and know when I have projects coming to me, that way I can work out my finances and project my income over the coming months. However I’m now wobbling because although I have a lot of work on at the moment, I need to look ahead to November – January and hope that the work starts coming in.

My clients have also been having tricky times and that does effect when they can hire me. This has meant that projects have been delayed, cancelled out they’ve chosen a different path to launch. All of this I completely understand but it has meant that I feel like I’m lurching from one project to the next without a strategy for my business. Something that can, at times make me anxious.

Looking back, I realise that except for last year, this happens most years in September. I’ve looked at my finances over the past 3 years and seen that I experience this wobble and every time this is what I do:

  • Network! I run through my list of contacts and say hello – gently reminding people that I exist and if they’d like to meet for a coffee/chat.
  • Look back at previous clients and get in touch. Do they have a new project that I can help with?
  • Update my LinkedIn profile with recent successes and projects I’m proud of.
  • Search for new clients – I get on the internet and search for businesses that I know that I can help. Making cold call approaches isn’t ideal but I have found some of my most productive projects through this.
  • Take myself off for a walk, get my heart going and start thinking about other ways that I can boost my income.
  • Tell friends and family that I’m looking for new clients in the coming months. I speak to parents at the playground as well, just in case. This is a tricky one because I never want to seem pushy or desperate (its a fine line…) but it can open up new avenues of work that I would never have expected.

I also know that I have to have a little faith in my abilities and my work ethic – because I work exceedingly hard for my clients and my enthusiasm for the work is always appreciated. Sometimes that can be hard when the diary is looking a little bare.

Early morning walk with Maggie
Go for a walk when I’m feeling stuck. (with my dog, she always helps!)

Other tricks that I *ought* to do include:

  • saving more of my income when the good times are rolling, that way I can stretch my income further. I do this in a fashion but I’m now making attempts to do this properly by creating a new account where I stash my “rainy day funds” so that this can be a comfort blanket to me when I’m stressing about money!
  • Keep a tighter rein on my spending – check my subscriptions (I just realised I was paying £9.99 a month for Dropbox still) and see where I can make budget cuts throughout the year.
  • Start to plan my business more – I’m considering starting to Bullet Journal as I can see how the techniques used there do help keep you focused on your ambitions and you can track your days.
  • Take one working day a quarter and plan the following 3 months work. Start making the contacts then, so that I can feel in control of my work flow or at least know that I am working towards it.

I’d be really curious to know how you plan your finances and/workload because I think that I need to step this up a bit!

How to manage the school holidays…

…and still have a good time!

I don’t know about you but the forthcoming school holidays always fill me with joy and dread. Joy that I get to spend time with my gorgeous girl but dread because I still need to find time to work.

Mum and Daughter

Full disclosure – I take a financial hit during the holidays. I’m not truly working – instead I reduce my hours massively and take on new projects that start in September. I posted about how I save before the holidays in this post and I’m currently beavering away to try and set up work from September.

I do this because I never want to feel torn between choosing work over time with my daughter. I am really LUCKY that I can do this because of my freelance lifestyle. My work tends to be on a project by project basis. I’m not forgetting this and we all know the benefits AND the negatives of a freelance gig but it is a choice I am currently choosing to make.

So during the holidays I do:

Working on the move
  1. Check my email – everyday and I answer anything pressing from my phone.
  2. Work for an hour every morning and in the evening.
  3. Check in with clients – wish them a happy summer or just remind them that I’m ready to start in September
  4. Network through meeting with ex-colleagues for a drink or coffee when I’m child-free.
  5. Plan a day every fortnight when I am child-free and can binge on work stuff/admin
  6. Revise any plans/goals for the Autumn
  7. Assess my financials – where am I in invoicing/earnings.

I can thoroughly recommend that you have a look at the article here by Skills you need website.

Out of Office – taking the financial hit

How I save before holidays…

Going on holiday is great. There is nothing better than going away and having a break from your usual life. The only snag that I have (except missing my dog) is a loss of income. During the school holidays, I take a small dip in income as I do not take on as many projects but I still work and juggle childcare.

If I’m away, I really do not want to take my work with me – I can’t do anything half-a*sed and I want to be away away and not glued to my phone constantly checking emails. It isn’t a holiday. (I’ve written about half-term adventures on this blog post.)

This sadly means that I do have the potential to lose money – I won’t charge clients for work that I’m not doing and I can’t exactly give myself holiday pay. It is the only downside I feel for being self-employed.

I plan, plan and plan for holidays so that there isn’t a major dip in income

How I get around this potential income loss is the following:

  1. Plan my workload – we book our holidays fairly in advance and I know when we will be away, this means I can see the potential income dips.
  2. I tend to take on an extra quick project a month before we leave – this is sometimes a bit bonkers as I’m not only working longer hours but I’m also having to plan our packing. It however soothes me to know that whilst I’m away, income will still be reaching my bank account.
  3. On return, I’ll look at my schedule and see if I can hustle for an extra project as well. This can be tricky because in my line of work, the busiest time tends to be in March and October. Finding extra work in August is often pointless but I’ll try!
  4. Budget – I’ll see where I can save money in the month before my holiday, perhaps not visiting a coffee shop for my Wednesday treat or meeting a friend at their house instead. I’ll also limit my travel as train tickets to London can be expensive.
  5. Blitz the house and attend a car boot sale. I am yet to do this but I have friends that have a clear out and regularly bring back £200.
  6. Lastly I save up every £2 coin that I’m given for a year – this can often add an extra £100-200 to my budget and I really recommend it.
Holiday to mean means switching off the laptop.

Do you factor in holidays with your financial planning or are you happy to work when you can?

Recommended reads:

How to find your 9 to 3

How I got to working the 9 to 3

One of the questions I get asked the most on Instagram Direct Message is how to start working 9 to 3. It is also one of the hardest to answer! For me, I decided that this was the only way I could work and be the parent that I wanted to be. I make no judgement on anyone that needs to work longer or actually prefers to work. I’m all for the idea of ‘do what feels good’ for you. (thank you Adriene Mishler for that great quote!)

My example was set by my Mum who worked as a playgroup supervisor when I was little, before coming a Teachers Assistant whilst studying part-time through the wonderful Open University and finally qualifying as a teacher when I was 14 years old. I always took her presence for granted – she was there for every assembly, sports event and after school group.

Open University

We weren’t loaded and I understand now why we weren’t taking foreign holidays or why I attended the local community college and not a private school. These things didn’t really matter to me – my mum was there when I wanted her.

So when Amy was born, I felt that if I could, I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps – minus the teaching bit. It took time though, I went back to work 3 days a week 3 months after she was born and that increased to 4 days a week for a bit before we moved to the countryside and I went fully freelance (i.e. I was the main childcarer). Do I regret any of it? Not at all.

“The courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

Coco Chanel

Here is my biggest takeaway from my decision – it hits your financial outlook massively. I now earn less than half what I did when I was full-time but my income is growing year by year. It is scary and we should budget a lot more then we do – I am getting better with meal planning so not to waste food/money and we aren’t having meals out every week, let alone every month. We choose carefully where we spend our disposable income – which for us is travel. Our holidays and trips are very important to us as a family and therefore I can *just* about handle not having the wardrobe all my favourite Instagram accounts seem to have. (where do they put all their clothes?).

Don’t get me wrong, I would like more £££ but I’m playing the long game – time with my daughter will fly by so I’m willing to keep my business ticking over and then hopefully step it up as Amy gets older.

So… here are my initial questions when looking to go 9 to 3:

  1. Are you currently employed? Is there room for movement with hours?
  2. Are you qualified to work in a particular area?
  3. Did you LOVE your job/previous employment?
  4. Can you work from home?

Then my next set of questions would be:

  1. Do you want to still work in the same/previous industry?
  2. Are you able to take a refresher course/update your skill set?
  3. How much do you need to earn to keep you afloat?

Finally, I would ask:

  1. What is it that I really want to do with my time?
  2. What are my passions?
  3. What are my dislikes?

After that, I’d look through my answers and see what I could do. Look for examples of people doing the work that you want to do. With publicity, I’m able to work from home, yes, I do travel sometimes and I am trying to look for more local clients instead of travelling to London every 6 weeks. I love reading, admire all creatives and I know I’m good at selling their book/exhibitions to editors. I’m enthused by it. So when I was thinking about my 9 to 3, I knew that the job I already had, really was the best one for me.

If you are unsure or haven’t been working for awhile, I would recommend that after answering the questions above, that you consider:

I have a neighbour that trained as a beautician when her daughter was at pre-school to supplement her income as a personal trainer and another that trained as a Teachers Assistant and volunteered at a local school to get experience. It may be that that job you find yourself doing isn’t what you want in the long-term – that’s absolutely fine! My friend cleans houses 3 days a week but ultimately intends to be a Veterinary Assistant. The cleaning helps to pay her course fees AND gives her a bit of extra income too. I was considering setting up an Ironing business until I remembered that I hate ironing and I’m terrible at it.

It is a bitch but time really does make a huge difference. Plan what you want and then execute it with small steps and realistic expectations. You might not earn vast amounts but hopefully it will help to supplement your lifestyle and get you living the life that you want.

Resources to look at:

  • The Open University offer courses for you to do part-time.
  • I discussed in a previous blog post how I have used Future Learn to help update my skills. These are free online course. Read the post here.
  • 923 have a great blog which feature ideas on how to work 923. You’ll find my post here.
  • I’ve just come across The Early Hour which I’m really enjoying. The creator of the site, Annie Ridout has just published a book, The Freelance Mum that I’m hoping to read soon.