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!

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