Falling into the freelance trap

…and how to avoid it

I recently read an article in the Telegraph by Maria Lally that was warning mothers to not ‘fall into the freelance trap.” It was published in March 2019 but I do feel that it is still very relevant.

In the article, Lally suggests that by being a stay at home working mum, you actually double your workload – you end up doing the household chores AND your work. Your days are longer and you get the joy of seeing your partner skip out the door each morning knowing that the pick ups, PE kit, swimming lesson taxi driving role is being handled by you.

It is all true – it really is. In the last few years, I have definitely ended up doing a lot more round the house, and I wrote about this in this blog post about ’emotional labour’. Lally only rescues herself from this role by taking an office job which takes her out of the house. Her partner works from home one day a week to help out.

Me and Maggie at work

This is the bit that sticks with me – why should you have to change your job or get an office job to be able to work and live happily? Working from home is no picnic even if I know that I’m envied by my office job friends. There is the inevitable distractions and I do a lot of the housework but I have spent a few years now honing my day structure and this has really helped me.

Here is what I do:

  • From the hours of 9am to 3pm, I prioritise work. It is that simple.
  • Before 9am, I set up the household chores – washing machine is put on, dishwasher emptied , clothes put away, beds made.
  • I take natural work breaks – hang the washing out, or prep the dinner but nothing that takes longer than a work break in the office.
  • After 3pm, I down tools, go pick up my daughter and then parenting stuff.
  • After bedtime, I may get my laptop out and run through a few emails but otherwise, I’ll wait until 9am the next day.

How I am able to do this?

  • I am really honest about my working hours to my clients
  • My husband is aware of the work that I do every day – we have a shared calendar so he can see what I have lined up
  • There is nothing like a deadline to focus you! I work smarter and harder on my chosen limited hours than I was when I worked longer hours in an office
  • I try and not take on too many clients. Does this mean that I am losing potential income? Absolutely but it is a sacrifice that I am willing to make at this stage in my life.
  • It is a juggle and I’m always re-addressing it but so far, this seems to be the best way of working for me.

Suggested reading:

Ms I Can Do It All blog post

Mothers beware of the freelance trap

Working when on the move

How I get work done whilst completing chores…

As I work from home, I tend to be the person that also does the errands – take the car for its service, take back library books and take the dog to the vet. It does help that I do these things during my working hours – it is always easier to get chores done without a reluctant 8 year old following me. But I, of course still need to get my work done too! I live in the middle of nowhere so just popping to the shops for milk is a round trip of 40 minutes – and I do not usually have a lunch break! So here is what I do:

  1. Preferably the day before, I would have written a list of the chores that need doing. I’m not perfect and this doesn’t always happen!

2. Being freelance means that I do choose my hours and I am an advocate of leaving the house once a week to work somewhere else so it makes sense to make chore day, the time that I also work off site!

3. I try and place the chores in groups – by location. This means that I can work out the best way to get everything done. I check library times, Vet opening times and also if there are nearby cafes that I can work in. It may seem a bit over the top, but by planning in advance, it really does save me time!

Notebook and tea

4. Check that my laptop and phone has enough battery. I carry a mobile charger (check that is fully charged too) that I can use as well.

5. If I can, I like to do an hour of work before I leave the house – running through emails and downloading files that I may need. I save everything else on a memory stick that I travel with.

6. I then head out! Making sure that I have my notebook with me too. I’ll use my phone to answer any urgent emails that come through between chores but I will wait until I find somewhere with free wifi before I use my laptop.

Dropbox logo
I rely on Dropbox when I am on the move.

7. The hours can go by quite quickly but if I can get 60-90minutes on the laptop whilst also completing my chores then I am a happy person!

If Wifi isn’t an option, I’ll either work offline or connect my laptop to my phone – this has saved me many times! I’m also a fan of Dropbox for retrieving files (really handy when I’m just using my phone) and iBooks for reading pdfs.

Essential equipment:

  1. Laptop and phone
  2. Battery charger
  3. Noise cancelling headphones
  4. Dropbox app

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:

Guest post for 9 to 3 jobs!

923 jobs logo

Recently I was asked for my advice on how to work from home by 923jobs as part of their #25dayflexup campaign. I was completely thrilled to be asked because I think what they are offering is really great. Just recently I was talking to the cashier at my local Morrison’s who told me that she was able to work 9am to 3pm because she had been an employee at the store for so long. “Hours like that, aren’t really an option for newcomers” she said.

Anyway, please do go and have a read. Their blog is great!

https://www.923jobs.com/blog-9-2-3/2019/1/11/how-to-work-from-home-by-laurathe9to3

How I manage time-sucking clients

Clock image by @sonjalangford
Time goes by…so slowly photo by @sonjalangford

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog and Instagram for these first initial weeks back after Christmas. I’ve been really busy with work and clients. Actually, scratch that, I’ve been really busy with clients which has meant I have been busy with work.

My clients are lovely but a lot of them do not understand the principles of publicity. This is absolutely fine as it is a random industry where you cannot ever guarantee media coverage and therefore a solid return on investment. I pride myself on working really hard for my clients (I sweat blood) and getting them a satisfactory service where their product is featured.

But this does take time – lots of chasing and looking for niche angles. I do spend a lot of time reading books, magazines, blogs and on social media scouting for new places that would suit my clients products. I really love it and I am very lucky that I get to call it a job.

Recently though, I’ve been finding my 9 to 3 getting a little stretched and I’ve been running out of time on some projects. Looking back over my diary (which I keep for work schedules) I can see that my days have been filled with talking to my clients every day. Each call can last an hour. So I have not been factoring in these calls when I agree to work on certain projects. These calls have been eating into my work time – i.e. getting the job done that they are paying me for. Argh!!!

Here’s what I did:

  1. I told them. I said that the calls were taking me away too much from the work. The calls were over-riding the projects.
  2. I set up an agenda for the daily calls which was agreed in email the night before. Unless urgent, we stuck to those agenda points.
  3. The calls could only last 30 minutes at the very most. 15 minutes were preferable.
  4. I sent a catch up email each evening so they could see my progress during the day. This was 3-4 lines long.
  5. We agreed a time to speak every day – normally from 9.30am as this gave me time to assess any incoming overnight emails.

And that’s it! Nothing fancy but it has made such a difference! I’m focused, my client is reassured that I’m working and they can see my progress. Have you had this issue? I’d love to hear your tips because I’m embarrassed to say that it took me at least 10 days to figure out why I was running behind and getting stressed!