We are one

Support. Guidance. Advice. 

They were our aims one year ago for Freelance Fundamentals.  We knew we wanted to create a platform that enabled freelancers to share and support each other and a place that we can impart our joint 24 + years’ experience.  But one year in, what have we learned?

In our ‘day jobs’, we both work in research and have clear plans and outcomes for what we want to achieve. Our planned outcomes weren’t as stringent for Freelance Fundamentals.  Our initial intention was to set up a range of platforms to support our aim, plan some key messages and then see if this was something other freelancers found helpful.

We aren’t creatives, social media or marketing experts or copywriters but we are freelancers with  a long track record on solo working. We set up at a time when freelancing was less common and understood than it is now. There were fewer independent people (and especially women) in our field to compare our pricing against; there were no networks  beyond those the suited and booted business breakfast types; social media wasn’t commonplace; there were few co-working spaces; and certainly no apps to support our work.  

We would meet (in the reception of a hotel just off the M1!) over the years as ex colleagues and now freelancers to talk through common issues, mentor and coach each other, and sometimes even bid and deliver work together.  We knew the value that we gained from this support – guidance, tricks of the trade and as others started out in freelancing we would be asked to relay these.  So came the time when we finally thought ‘why don’t we share all the benefits that we have gained further?’ And what better day for two female freelancers than International Women’s Day, on 8 March 2019, to establish Freelance Fundamentals and our website, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn all went live!

Over the year many of you started to join us (thank you!), interact, advise each other and we were featured in Forbes.  We have had some fantastic guest blogs from @Annie_Writes_ and @KarenFcoaching, We’ve even had freelancers make a connection through our group, and come together to provide freelance work for one another! But also, personally, we have gained so much from doing this.  Getting to understand social media a bit better, creating websites and blogs have all been huge learning for us.  We have found that some of our social media platforms engage freelancers better than others. Tumbleweed anyone!! We have seen our ideas and content taken, rebadged and used by others – but that is ok as the message is still getting out there even if it’s not coming from us.  We too have also gained wider support and tips from you!

We have fitted Freelance Fundamentals around our day jobs (and families etc – you know how it is) and they have been pretty hectiv so we haven’t invested the time we thought we might into developing and sharing resources and taking our network to another level.  But that is ok by us, there is always this year. We would love more of you to use us to share your experience and blog and hope that this is also something that there will be more of in 2020.  

We hope that our network provides the experienced support, friendly chat, female perspective and resource for fellow freelancers and helps in your day to day work. Please continue to call out with how we can help and support you as it is highly likely that it will be a path we will have already trodden and if we haven’t then there will be someone in the network that has.  

THANK YOU ALL for joining Freelance Fundamentals, sharing and supporting us and each other and we hope that we can continue to grow together throughout 2020.

Happy birthday to us and happy International Women’s Day! 

Freelancer Pensions: Yes, You Need One (Here’s How)

When you’re bootstrapping your new freelance career, your retirement seems like a distant foggy vision of the future. It’s easy to let your retirement plans slide as you focus on the present – but it’s essential to take care of your future self, today. Here’s how.

Scary Freelance Pension Statistics

Before you start to feel guilty that you haven’t been saving enough for next year’s tax bill, let alone in-30-years’-time-you, hold up. 

When it comes to freelancers and the self-employed, we’re ALL guilty of leaving ourselves last. We’ll pay our rent, mortgage, utility bills, and other life essentials without a second thought. But our pension? Nah, that can wait, we say.

whopping 62% of us say that, actually. (Perhaps more worryingly, 28% of us don’t save for anything, at all, ever. We’re going to have words about that another time). 

The truth is, if you’re saving even a tiny amount each month right now, the wonders of compound interest will do the work for you.

Freelancers: You’re On Your Own

Another reason we leave pensions behind is simple: we’re not forced to do it, and there’s not the same incentive as our PAYE counterparts receive.

All businesses that employ even one member of staff must now auto-enrol them into a workplace pension scheme (if they’re eligible – which most workers are). Staff are automatically enrolled and have to pay a legal minimum of 5% pre-tax salary every month into their pension pot. Employers must also pay at least 3% contributions on top of that – and then the Government tops this up via tax relief, too (by 25% for basic rate taxpayers, tapered for higher and additional rate tax payers).

You can opt-out as an employee, but unless you’re desperate for the extra cash, it’s wise to remain opted-in so you can get the benefits.

As a freelancer, however, you don’t get these employer contributions. Worse, especially when you’re a sole trader, you get to see the money land in your bank account before you have to siphon it off into a pension pot. Employees never see their cash – but as a freelancer, you have to make that “taxes, pension, or ice cream?” choice every time an invoice is paid.

Assess Your Current Pension Situation

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I want you to take a moment to find out if you already have a pension.

Many of us have hopped jobs over the years before taking the freelance leap. It’s likely you’ve got at least one workplace pension lurking somewhere. Use the Government’s Pension Tracing Service to locate your lost plans.

When you’ve got all the details, compare the fees for each plan – and any transfer charges. Weigh this up against the cost of transferring out into a cheaper stakeholder pension plan, like NEST, and if it makes sense to do so – make the switch.

Your Pension Options Explained (In Brief)

Look, I could talk for a week about your different pension options. Your best bet is to speak to an independent financial adviser: they can give you bespoke advice and help you grow your wealth as well as plan for your retirement.

Instead, here’s the super-fast rundown of your pension options – and after that, the number one pension plan every freelancer should start with.

Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP)

If you already dabble on the stock market, this could be an option for you. A SIPP lets you invest in stocks and shares, usually through an ISA to maximise tax efficiencies, to create a retirement wealth plan that suits you.

You can invest in all sorts of things – and would be wise to do so. Diversifying your portfolio is essential to reduce risk on your long-term wealth potential.

The fees for SIPPS are lower than managed funds, because you’re doing all the legwork.

However, if you don’t have significant savings, aren’t sure what a stock even is, or have no other retirement plan in place, this probably isn’t for you. It’s very hands-on, takes time, and leaves you open to the risk of losing your entire retirement fund.

Private Pension Plans

These are often the most common pension plans. You pay your money in and choose the level of risk you want to take.

Your money goes into a group pool for that defined level of risk. If you’re starting your pension early, at least 15 years from retirement, you can afford a higher level of risk. The closer you get to your retirement, the more stable you want your pension investment fund to be. Many providers will automatically move your plan type to a lower-risk one ten years before your set retirement date.

These group funds spread risk across markets. For example, the fund could invest in insurance markets, gold, energy, and other commodities. This means if one area takes a significant hit, but another improves, losses are mitigated and your wealth can grow steadily in the background.

As with any type of investing, your capital is at risk. You could get back less than you paid in.

Lifetime ISAs

This is an interesting one. Lifetime ISAs (LISAs) have taken over the Help to Buy ISA scheme. The big difference, however, is that you can use the savings account to either save for and fund a deposit for your first home – or save towards your retirement.

Available for those aged between 18 – 39 to open, you can pay in up to £4,000 per year. This is part of your annual £20,000 personal allowance for ISAs – so you can pay the remaining £16,000 into your equities, cash, and/or innovative finance ISAs, too.

When you buy your first home, you’ll be able to take this money and add a 25% bonus from the Government. Alternatively, you can keep paying into the account until you’re aged 50. 

The money then sits tight for ten years – yep, an entire decade – gathering interest, locked away from your clutches. When you turn 60, you can choose to take the money out – again, with a 25% Government bonus added on.

Now, a few things to say here: 

1. If you withdraw your money before you’re 60 and not to buy a house, you’ll lose the 25% bonus and face a minimum 6% withdrawal fee.

2. However, this does mean that, if you absolutely HAVE to, you could access these savings in times of dire need (unlike a pension).

3. If you’re not a homeowner yet, it’s a good way to plan for your future – you could use it for a house OR as part of your pension plan.

4. This should not be your sole pension option. You can only save £4,000 a year. 

5. You’re paying post-tax savings into the account, rather than pre-tax earnings. The 25% bonus, however, pretty much evens this out.

6. You can access a LISA when you’re 60 – several years before State Pension Age.

A LISA could be a nice extra tidy sum for your 60th birthday. In addition, unlike a pension, every penny in that account will be tax-free. So, if you want to withdraw a £100,000 lump sum (totally possible – that’s £4,000 x 20 years = £80,000, plus a £20,000 bonus), you absolutely can. A pension, however, will only allow the first 25% tax-free – the rest is paid at basic rate tax (usually).

(Psst: if you REALLY want to confuse things further, you can choose an equities LISA – that’s a LISA where you can invest your money in stocks and shares to try and get better returns. Main pension providers like AJ Bell and Nutmegoffer stocks and shares LISAs to help you try and grow your pension pot. Again, your capital is at risk if you choose this path – but the returns could be significantly better than the 1-2% interest on a cash LISA).

Set Up Your Stakeholder Pension Plan Today

Even if you don’t have a pension yet, set a basic one up now. You don’t need to have a fancy wealth management fund plan with massive charges that invests high-risk stocks and shares and all that gubbins.

Many investment options for your retirement, like SIPPS and equities ISAs, often require a set minimum contribution each month.

A stakeholder pension is the cheapest way to create a pension pot: the fees are capped, the investments are rated as low-risk, and you don’t have to make set contributions each month.

I repeat: you don’t have to meet set contribution minimums each month.

That means you can add money as and when you’ve got it to spare. As a self-employed contractor, that’s a beautiful sentence. In the months when all of your months-late invoices finally get paid, you can put loads in. In the lean months, you can stick in a fiver.

How to Save When You’re a Broke Freelancer

A wise woman and financial fountain of knowledge, Jasmine Birtles, said on the Royal London ‘The Penny Drops’ podcast that the first step to saving is simple:

Pay. Yourself. First.

Don’t wait until the end of the month when the money’s dried up and you’re already worrying about your next mortgage/rent/gym membership payments.

Set up automatic transfers at the start of the month, if you can. If that’s not possible – which, let’s face it, is probably the case for most of us – make sure you divvy up your payments as soon as you get them.

Many banks like Monzo and Halifax, and apps like Moneybox, allow you to set up ‘pots’. Have your invoices paid into a main account – and then it’s really easy to siphon off money straight away into different pots, such as:

  • Pension
  • Tax bill
  • Rent and utilities
  • Easy access savings
  • Fun money

Whenever you get an invoice paid, split it up. Put a set portion of every invoice into each of these pots – such as 25% tax, 5% pension, 30% rent, that kind of thing. Anything left over goes in the ‘fun money’ pot. That’s your ice cream fund.

Doing this – even if it’s a tiny invoice and you’ve transferred just a few quid into each pot – helps create the saving habit. It’s the first step to organising your finances – and preparing for your future.

Annie is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this article. This article does not replace financial advice: before you make any big decisions about your finances, always speak to a qualified independent financial adviser. Your capital may be at risk with some investment types – including pensions. (You still need a pension, though).

Why wait for your birthday to celebrate?

Today I have been freelance, self-employed, a sole-trader, running my consultancy business, for 14 years. Lots of ways of putting it but definitely time to celebrate all of those contracts secured, work delivered as well as the ‘back room’ functions that come with being a freelancer and running a business. Juggling the hats of also being Head of Business Development, HR, Finance, Administration and so on.  You wouldn’t therefore think that after 14 years of freelancing and 20 years as a consultant I still have to watch out for imposter syndrome?

Thoughts are not fact.  Surely the rational part of the brain really should automatically override any imposter thoughts in the knowledge that I have been doing my job for 20 years plus all the other previous experience and training. But it doesn’t, and it takes some reminding from time to time! 

So today, on my freelance anniversary, I am going to take myself for a coffee, celebrate and give myself some credit that it wasn’t all just by luck!

There are various techniques and ways to slay the imposter and those negative thoughts –

  • Affirmations
  • Reframing your negative thoughts with positive ones
  • Journaling
  • Keeping a diary of achievements and reviewing these
  • Coaching
  • Knowing what makes you feel confident and including this in your routine

You may have developed additional ones that work for you?

My key advice though is don’t wait for those times of self-doubt and negativity to raise themselves to put your ‘imposter action plan’ in place, but invest in being compassionate with yourself. Dare I say I feel a little bit of feeling of imposter/self-doubt is good as it keeps you grounded, human and can give you just the spur you may need sometimes to develop yourself and work.  But this needs balancing.  Do use every opportunity to remind yourself of your achievements, give yourself credit and reward yourself.  Monthly goal reviews, at the end of a contract, end of the year…there are lots of opportunities to build reflection time and celebrate success into your routine.

So, who is with me today?  Time for a coffee and a little self-reflection and celebration of what you have achieved over your 1, 5, 10 or 14+ years?

People Don’t Know About Help to Save

Figures released this week revealed that 2.85 million people are eligible for Help to Save… but just 4% of them have an account.

But what is it, and how do you get it?

You Need to Get Certain Benefits to Qualify

Universal Credit is an incredibly flawed system. You know it, I know it, even the Government knows it (though they try to say otherwise).

However, one tiny golden crumb of good in all of it, is Help to Save.

“But if you’re on benefits how can you save?!” I hear the less-enlightened of you cry, wailing into your monogrammed handkerchief.

It’s entirely possible – but not easy. There are problems with this account for those who are too ill to work or who are unemployed: living off Universal Credit puts people into severe poverty. HOWEVER: if you’re self-employed, it’s a good safety net.

Universal Credit Can Help the Newly Self-Employed

In your first year of trading, you won’t have to meet the Minimum Income Floor. That means you won’t need to meet a minimum amount of income every single month just to be eligible for your UC payment.

In the first 12 months of your business, that’s incredibly valuable. Some months, especially when starting out, you’ll have more expenses than income. UC can help take the edge off your end-of-month bills panic when you know there is at least something coming in.

For example, let’s say you claim the basic amount for a person over 30 (no housing or disability payments). That’s £317 a month. People in the Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity Group (the disability element for long-term health conditions) will receive an extra sum. 

When you earn money, you’ll lose 60p off that UC amount for every £1 earned. However, when you’re registered a self-employed, your expenses are not counted as earnings.

So, say you had a great month near the start, billing £1200. However, you also had expenses that month totalling £1800, due to investing in essential tech and other materials to get the business running. That balances out to -£600, which UC sees as £0 – so you’ll receive your full monthly allowance.

Any Self-Employed Person Can Claim

You don’t have to be a new sole trader to claim UC, either. If business has recently taken a dive – make a claim. 

This allowance won’t pay the rent or the mortgage, but it does cover utility bills and basic food. If you need housing assistance, there’s another bit you can claim on top of that to cover your rent. 

Other months, you’ll register a profit above the amount of UC you can earn. However, in your first year, you won’t be barred from my eligibility for the next month. When you’re newly self-employed, this is very useful.

In the second year, when you need to meet the Minimum Income Floor, it gets a bit trickier. However, by then, you will probably be turning enough to meet the MIF or even close your UC claim altogether.

Monthly Reporting Helps You Keep Track for Taxes, Too

When you’re self-employed and claiming Universal Credit, you report your monthly earnings and expenses. There’s a set period every month, and you have to report on the same day every month (annoyingly, this also means doing accounts on the weekend, sometimes). 

It’s easy to do: you’re sent a reminder to log in to your Universal Credit account. Then, you’ll input various income and expenses amounts when prompted. A few days later, you can check your account to find out how much you’ll be paid.

Monthly reporting helps you keep track of your finances. It’s much easier to keep records for four weeks of a business than an entire year in one go – which means when it’s time to submit your Self Assessment at the end of the financial year, you’ve already got your UC reports logged. It’s super easy to use these to complete your tax return!

Where Does Help to Save Come In?

This little-known four-year savings account will give you a return of 50% on your investment. Yes, indeed, you read that correctly.

You can pay in £1-£50 each month for the full four-year duration of the account. At the end of years two and four, the Government pays you a 50% bonus on the highest balance you’ve held in your account. 

You can withdraw money at any time. The bonus is paid on the highest balance you’ve held and not the balance at the time of the bonus payment. Once you’ve qualified for your Help to Save account, you can have it for the full four years. You don’t have to close your account when (or if) you close your UC claim.

So, you could, in theory, pay in £600 over the first year, take out £500 (leaving £100 in the account), and still get a £300 bonus (50% of £600) at the end of the second year. 

If you pay in a regular £50 a month for the full four years, you’ll have saved £2,400. You’ll receive £1,200 as a bonus: the first £600 is paid at the end of two years, and the second £600 at the end of the fourth year.

If you close your account before the end of the four years, you won’t get the bonus and you won’t ever be eligible to open the account again. Once your four-year account is done, you can’t apply for another, either.

Couples can each have their own Help to Save if they meet eligibility requirements. So, between you, you could save £4,800 over four years, and be paid a total bonus of £2,400. As couples must submit a joint UC claim (you can’t have an individual claim if you’re living with your partner or have a spouse), it means you can both qualify for Help to Save at the same time. The income must be £569.22 HOUSEHOLD income – not each. So, if you both earn £300 in one month (£600 total), you both qualify for an individual Help to Save account.

How to Qualify for Help to Save

There are just a few eligibility requirements to get you access to this savings account.

  1. You must receive some part of Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit (or, be eligible for Working Tax Credit and claiming Child Tax Credit instead), and
  2. You must have earned over £569.22 from paid income in your last assessment period.

That’s it.

So, in the very first month you register a profit in your UC monthly self-assessment of £569.23, you’re eligible to open the account. It doesn’t matter if, for the rest of time, you don’t report that high an income. It just needs to be achieved once.

What Are the Downsides?

The main downside is getting your Universal Credit claim to start with. Many people don’t want the stigma of claiming benefits, or aren’t sure they qualify for them at all.

It’s always worth investigating – you may find you’re entitled to more than you thought!

You have to jump through some hoops to get onto Universal Credit. You then have to report your income every month, which is fiddly sometimes but overall does make tracking your business finances easier.

Other than that…once you’ve got your Help to Save account, you’re earning 50% on your investment. There is NO OTHER way to get such returns – especially when you’re broke and have no huge lump sums to invest in stocks, shares, or other risky investments.

The return is guaranteed, you can withdraw your money when you want, and the bonus payment is not classed as interest (so doesn’t count towards your annual £1000 tax-free interest allowance).

Click here to find out if you’re eligible for Help to Save.

About Annie

Annie’s been crafting copy for longer than she dares admit (here’s a hint: she started copywriting before Facebook existed). 

After working for almost every sector imaginable, she found her passion lay in finance writing. As someone who used to hate maths at school, this surprised nobody more than her. She writes for international banks, recognised mortgage networks, and well-known money advice websites.

If you want to talk to her about writing, click here. If you want to learn more about her pets, knitting, or crochet projects, follow her on Twitter.  

Have you got 2020 vision?

Pardon the pun, but the year ahead being 2020 isn’t it only right that you have a clear ‘2020 vision’ for your business? 

It may be that you feel January is the best time to set your goals for the year ahead but why not do it now, so that you can go into the New Year all set and ready to go with a clear focus on what you are aiming for.

You might think it’s a bit over the top to develop a vision as a sole trader/freelancer. But why not? As a freelancer you need to be just as clear, if not clearer, about what your vision is than any other business or organisation. 

Visions are about setting your aspirations. Where does your work fit and what do you ultimately want to achieve? A vision gives you a goal and from there you can work out your action plan on how to get there which will include key milestones, marketing, networking, training that will be needed to achieve your vision. 

The vision may well change as you evolve as a freelancer and grow your business, but it provides you with a path that can direct you day to day, week on week, and from month to month.

Visions will be different for each of us.  For some, the vision may be about how you want to develop your business and deliver value to clients, for others it might be about personal goals – the achievement of a level of income, the creation a different work/life balance, or how you aim to develop as a freelancer.  There are no right and wrong visions. It’s your goal. 

So, perhaps as 2019 is drawing to an end, it is worth starting to have a think about what your aspirations and priorities are going forward to ensure that you go into next year with a clear 2020 vision!

Invest in Yourself: the benefits of coaching

Have you used or thought about using the services of a coach, either in your personal or business life?  During our time working freelance we have both benefitted from coaching. It took Nicola a while to realise that there could be benefits from investing in a coach.  But since this she has drawn on coaching through on-line and group support. The impetus for the coaching was to explore self and work development.  The benefits included increased self-confidence, self-belief and decisions about future direction of work.  Kate called on the services of Karen Foyster coaching to help unpick some decision about the future of her working patterns.

In this blog we hand over the floor to Karen who has kindly agreed to share her thoughts on the help coaching can offer to the frazzled freelancer.

Why might a freelancer need a coach?

People seek coaching for lots of reasons and no two people are the same.  But from my experience of coaching people who work on their own (such as freelancers) there are often some similarities in the circumstances that bring them to coaching. 

Im not sure how Ive ended up here – I’ve never really had a plan”

Many of us don’t really know how we’ve got to where we are – which often means we don’t know where we’re going next either.

“I feel stuck”

There are lots of reasons that we can feel stuck.  Things might be going well but we might be in a pattern of delivery with the same sort of client or work that doesn’t interest us as much as it used to.  Or we can lack courage to make the changes that we know need making.

“I’m not enjoying what I’m doing.  I’ve lost my motivation”

When we work on our own and our motivation disappears it can be hard to get moving.  Understanding ‘why’ is the key.  Is what you are doing still right for you?   Just because something worked for you once it doesn’t mean its always going to work for you.

“I’m having a crisis of confidence”

We might have a new client or start a different piece of work that we’re not used to.  Or perhaps something didn’t go well and we’re not sure why or we’re finding it difficult to recover from it.   When things like that happen we forget the things we’re good at and the things that have gone well for us in the past.

“There’s no line between work and the rest of my life”

Our boundaries can get blurred.  Trying to keep all the balls in the air in life and at work can be exhausting.   We want to do it all.  Usually the answer is about making good habits and learning to do less rather than more.  I’ve worked hard at setting good boundaries but I still have to pay attention to it.

“I know what I want to do but I can’t seem to make it happen”

Who helps or encourages you to make your ideas a reality?  Some of us are good at being accountable to ourselves, others need some external accountability.

“I want to spend some time working ‘on’ my business and not just ‘in’ it”

Ideally we should all be in this position but too often our focus is on delivery.  Coaching can also help when things are going well – for instance using the coaching space to develop new ideas, horizon scan or future proof, or make long term plans.  Business buddies or mentors can also help with this one.

What could coaching give me that I don’t already have?

Coaching helps you to stop, think, reflect and explore.  It provides a space that is safe, open, honest and free from judgement but with constructive challenge and support.  It helps you get out of your own head.

As a client said of her coaching experience –

“How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?”

Saying goodbye to the freelance life

Have you considered ending your freelance life and returning to be an employee? It can appear a hard decision, but should it be?  Freelancing isn’t for everyone; your circumstances can change, and new challenges can appear.

I have freelanced for over 7 years. Most of the time I have combined freelance research and consultancy work with other paid, often part time employment and so would describe myself as a true multi-hyphen; freelance consultant – part time lecturer –  PhD researcher.

If you don’t know what that is, I recommend reading Emma Gannon’s ‘The Multi-Hyphen Method’

Whilst it can take some juggling, the multi-hyphen life suited me and allowed me to have more flexibility to be at home when the kids were little. It also enabled me to dip in and out of different areas of work that I love.

But more recently I started to find the juggle overwhelming.

I am bad at saying no to work and commitments and so found myself with too much work and not enough time to complete that and maintain a happy home life. 

Realising something had to change, I booked in a few sessions with a business coach who was recommended to me. I don’t think I am a very easy person to coach but I was surprised at how useful the sessions were at helping me to reflect and prioritise what I wanted from work. Well I will rephrase that – what I wanted from life.

It became clear that the things that I value most are my family, holidays, keeping fit and healthy. Money and career are lower down the list of priorities and so work in whatever form I choose to undertake it needs to fit in with the more important stuff. But increasingly (and I am sure this will sound familiar) I was finding work overtook those family times. Missing the harvest assembly because I needed to be at a client meeting. Taking reports away on holiday to  work on. Maintaining social media accounts on the increasingly rarer date nights.

I needed to establish some clearer work life boundaries and juggling a multi-hyphen career alongside busy family life was losing its appeal.

So, with the help of the coach, I re-evaluated and took the decision to apply for (and I am pleased to say be offered) a full-time lectureship post in a great local university. It is early days but for me, this time in my life, this feels the right move to make.  I take with me to my post so many skills from freelancing and a multi-hyphen career and who knows I may return again to more freelancing again in the future.

What have I lost?

Some of the flexibility: I am lucky in that it’s not a rigid 9-5 Monday to Friday kind of job but I am adjusting to full time hours for one employer.

Some of the excitement: who doesn’t love the buzz of putting together a great proposal, being successful and being awarded the work?

Less autonomy – I am now a part of a huge organisation and with that come more bureaucracy.

What have I gained?

  • Part of a team – on the flip side, I now have colleagues! Freelancing can be isolating so being part of something bigger feels good.
  • Clearer boundary between work and home – and a big part of that is having an office to go to that isn’t the room next to my bedroom!
  • Regular income – and there’s definitely something to be said for that

So, if freelancing doesn’t feel like it is working for you, re-evaluate what are your goals, values and circumstances?  Freelancing certainly isn’t for everyone and it doesn’t have to be your final career move.

Freelance learnings from September

Can you remember your summer holiday or has that relaxed, sunny feeling faded?  I know, it doesn’t feel long since we were talking about getting back into the working routine post the summer and yet the actual summer feels so long ago!

How to press the re-start button

Hopefully by now you are all back into your usual work routines.  It can take some doing after taking time off or having the children around which often means operating on a reduced workload which all affect your usual routine.  It’s all about pressing that re-start button and 1 -refreshing your goals, 2- finding your motivators, 3 – reconnecting with clients and 4 – re-establishing a routine.  It’s not just after summer though when we can find ourselves lacking focus and motivation or just feeling that it’s hard to work and we also need to press the re-start.  So remember,  implement the four-step process and before long you will be back on it.

 Rewarding yourself

Like a new school term, many of us have started new contracts this last month.  It’s an exciting time as well as busy.  Ensuring all the systems are in place so that your work with your client commences in the most positive way and allows you to achieve the client brief within timescales.  

Securing a new contract for me meant a little reward.  Amongst all the busyness don’t lose sight of your achievements.  A coach once encouraged me to treat myself to a reward periodically, recognising my efforts.  At first it felt odd buying myself something but soon I saw the value of rewarding myself and how this supports motivation as well as building positivity towards what you are doing and have achieved.  After all freelancers aren’t in a working world of bonuses and appraisals so it is even more important to take personal responsibility for your own rewards.

Working together

Being your own boss, working under your own direction, can be a key benefit of freelancing.  However, over the years I have also found so much benefit from coming together with other freelancers to deliver contracts.

I have just started a contract with three other freelancers.  I love this as much as my solo work.  I get the opportunity to work on a larger contract and be exposed to different work that normally as a sole trader I wouldn’t have the skills or capacity to deliver.  The co-worker support is also great and I learn so much from the skills and experience of my freelancer colleagues.  If your work allows, explore opportunities for joint delivery with other freelancers, it is a great way to learn and develop your freelance offer.

What is October going to bring?  For Freelance Fundamentals we have lots of great plans to increase our reach, share skills and knowledge, and provide greater support to the freelancing community.  Watch out this month for some guest blogs from some other great freelancers who have kindly agreed to share their skills and knowledge with you.

Back to School

Getting back in the flow

Is it just me or despite completing my school years some twenty plus years ago, those habits of living by the school year still runs deep?  That feeling of the summer fading like the tan and September being a new start. The need for new goals and, of course, new stationary!  What also comes with that though is finding refreshed motivation to work. Although I have kept work ticking over during the summer, going on holiday and having children around the house has meant that my focus and output hasn’t been at its usual level. So how can we energise that motivation and focus?

I usually try and avoid client work on the first day back.  However, an urgent piece of work that landed in my inbox less than 24 hours after stepping off the plane meant that I had to quickly get back out of holiday mode and park any jet lag for a few days. However, once it was out of the way I meandered around my work without any strong focus so now with September, and a new school term, here are my tips I use to re-gain some much needed focus.

Tidy space, tidy mind

First my workspace, email, files all have a bit of a tidy up.  It could feel a bit like colouring in your school timetable (remember those days?!) when you should be getting on with real work but honestly a clear workspace is so good for the mind.  Starting afresh knowing where everything is means you’re less likely to get distracted at your busy periods by trying to find things.

Review those goals and pick up some quick wins

You may have some goals that you set yourself earlier in the year.  Revisit them.  Are they still fit for purpose? What actions do you need to put in place to deliver them?  Add the actions to a planning list.

If you haven’t goals, what are your aspirations for the next month, three months, six months, year?  They can be a mixture of simple as well as larger goals. I often find that during the time away from work, perhaps after reading a book or having time to reflect, that I come back buzzing with new ideas about how I want to develop and change my world!  Now is a good time while they are fresh and before everyday routines start consuming your mind to jot these down so that they aren’t lost.  Even if they aren’t immediate goals its good to keep them somewhere for revisiting at a later stage,

Now work through the actions that you need to undertake to make the goals a reality.  Little, achievable steps with some realistic timescales.

Place your goals and actions in a place where they will motivate you and you will revisit them.  You can even go to town on them using all that new term stationary!!

From the goals take just a couple of actions that you will commit to delivering this week.  This will be the start of your ‘to do’ list and give you some focus for this week.

Review your contracts

Tick off and add to your work list.  Be realistic about what you will achieve this week and add these to your goals/actions for the week.  There is nothing wrong with easing yourself back in gently and focusing on the easy actions first.  There is something very motivating about achieving actions and ticking them off your list even if they are small. A diminishing list with lots of completion ticks is highly motivating to keep going with the more difficult actions.

Open the in-box when you are ready

Most of us keep a check on the email even when we aren’t officially working so I suspect most of you will be like me and we can feel slightly smug that it won’t be the challenge of returning to an inbox of hundreds of emails that our non-freelance working friends have after they return from leave. However, I do still tend to put an out-of-office on and so will choose a time when I feel ready to start filtering through the messages and start to re-connect with clients.  I usually send a ‘Hey, I’m back’ email to clients and use it as a way to reach out to some of my other contacts who I haven’t been in touch for a while.  Never miss a marketing opportunity!

Pin up those photos

Finally, change that screen saver, put up those holiday pictures.  Nothing wrong with reminiscing and refocusing the mind when you look at a couple of great holiday pictures to remember the great time you had and give some motivation to work towards the next one. 

Back to your routine

Good luck with the new term, we all know that once you find your routine you will be fine.  Once you’ve done the easing back in you need to start back to the daily routine that works for you – time blocking, exercise, visiting a co-working space, listening to podcasts, etc.  and before you know it will be half term! 

Saying Yes

There has been quite a bit of chat recently about saying no to work. Having a set of principles in place which define whether you take on a piece of work – the big questions include:

  • Will it be profitable?
  • Will you enjoy it?
  • Does it play to your skills?
  • Do you have the capacity to deliver?
  • Will you be able to work with the client?

These are all the considerations that I am sure influence whether you decide to take accept a contract. Then can come the task of having the confidence to say no!  But what about sometimes saying yes and accepting a contract, despite it not meeting your criteria and having reservations?!

Over my years of consultancy I have learnt the value of sometimes saying YES to work despite all of the above including feeling massively out of my comfort zone, perhaps feeling I haven’t got the necessary skills, knowing that as a result it may take me more time than I have available and that capacity will be tight. When no is the loudest voice in my head why did I say yes, and what were the benefits of this?

I am guilty that there have been times when I have accepted work just because I didn’t want to say no, but more often than not I have said yes because I was interested in the work despite knowing it may not my skill area or because it provided a new opportunity to work with a new client.  It’s not an easy or safe path though, but sometimes testing new roads and taking risks is worth the fear!

Never regretted saying yes to contracts, there are always positive takeaways

Sometimes saying yes can be harder than saying no to work! You have all these doubts about your ability and confidence to deliver the work or frightened by the risks that things could go wrong but saying yes despite all these doubts and lack of confidence can be the absolute right thing to do for your business and your skill set.  To date I have never regretted saying yes as there are always some positives that I can take away from the contract, no matter how hard it may have been!

Opportunity to grow skills and work portfolio

Without saying ‘yes’ to work at those times I should have said ‘no’ I wouldn’t have grown my skills and in turn my portfolio of work.  My offer has developed and diversified over the years partly due to saying yes.  Don’t get me wrong it is never easy to say yes when there are alarms bells mostly around confidence to be able deliver, but by saying ‘yes’ I have developed my skills and been able to work across a wider area of work. Imposter syndrome can certainly raise itself and a level of anxiety that can be uncomfortable but at the end of the contract there is so much satisfaction and learning that outweighs this. You may even find that you have a skill or interest in an area of work previously unknown. You will also now be able to access a new client base.

Don’t let imposter syndrome stop you

So next time reflect before saying no when you think a contract might be too hard or that you haven’t the skills don’t immediately jump to say no and pass the work on.  You can do this and it is an opportunity for you to develop your skills and client base after all …..

  • The client has confidence in you to deliver the work so you need to have the confidence in yourself. 
  • Recognise the transferable skills that you bring and that can be used.
  • Do your research. Invest in the time to develop your knowledge and skills to do the job required
  • Acknowledge the risks and look at how you might be about to plan and mitigate them
  • You may have fears. It may be hard and be out of your comfort zone but so was starting work as a freelancer and you managed that so there is no reason why you cannot continue to develop.
  • Go on, give it a go, your network of freelancers will support you!