Letters from the heart 2020

Remember that feeling of receiving a handwritten letter in the post and it not being a bill? The personalisation of a letter, the ink to paper containing information drafted with the intent completely for the reader. Lovely wasn’t it?

When I was a child what I loved even more was writing and sending a letter. Using my new stationery gifted at Christmas to write a thank you letter. Crafting the thank you explaining how the received gift would be put to use. In fact, I just loved writing a letter (and stationery, which is a weakness I still hold).

Collective thank you’s

I think I would need a stack of new stationery to write all the thank you’s that are required for 2020.

Collectively as a country there are thanks and gratitude to so many people who have helped us navigate the year – keeping us well, with food and our children educated.

The good and the not so good

It may not have been my most financially successful year and I haven’t been immune to the rollercoaster of the year, but personally there is so much more that I can give thanks to. 2020 has reinforced my values and priorities – the importance of:

  • Communities, friends and family
  • Health
  • Helping and making a difference to the lives of others
  • Great mindset practice, and
  • Following your passion

I acknowledge that I like to plan, don’t like commitments to change and that I need to continue to build a plan b (c and d) into my life. The need to focus on what is within my control. I do though celebrate my strength that I have shown this year and how I’ve used it to help others around me and will keep remembering this when times are tough again.

Reflection is good as it helps us acknowledge what went well, what we can learn and how we can grow.

My personal thank you’s

If I was to write some personal letters of thanks and gratitude this year, they would be addressed to

Consultancy clients I’ve continued to have the pleasure of working with and thank them for the work they do to change and support the lives of vulnerable communities

Coaching clients who have gained self-belief, reduced their fear and broken down the barriers that were in place stopping them achieve. I’m so very proud of them opening up, trusting and working with me and investing in themselves

Office builders after 14 years you have provided me with a little space at the bottom of the garden for my work. Going from working alone to having 3 others in the house during lockdown, this space has been a salvation

Communities in so many guises – the Freelance Fundamentals community, family and friends. I am so very grateful for the friendships and support that have been formed virtually this year.

2021 – what will I make my priority? The first one is buying some new stationery. Afterall, I think after the isolation and video calls of 2020 we all would benefit from a few more handwritten letters dropping onto our doormats?

‘Remember to celebrate the milestones as you prepare for the road ahead’ Nelson Mandela

Making 2021 the year you invest in your mindset and your goals

After the year we’ve had you may be forgiven if it may feel difficult to be a dreamer and feel optimistic when setting your goals for the coming year. But looking at your goals gives you opportunities to reinvigorate and recharge yourself and your work and using your newly developed skills and experience from living through the year of the pandemic. YOU DID IT! Your achievements may be different to those that you originally set but just think for a moment about everything new you have learnt or achieved as a result of working through such an unsettling time?

Know your skills and value and use this for planning the year ahead. Working on your goals for 2021 gives you a chance to rebuild your positivity, be really clear about what you want to achieve, what you are working towards, how you want to feel, how you want to live your life, and have the best possible mindset to ensure that you can achieve them. Remember, you’re responsible for how you feel and how you are deciding to travel through life.

You may have a usual routine for developing your goals and varying success at keeping to them. But working on your mindset alongside your goal development lays the foundations for both your BEST EVER set of goals, an increased likelihood of them being successfully implemented and you feeling more fulfilled. After all, goals aren’t much value if we don’t actually put them in place. It’s no surprise that there are parallels to the strategy development and values articles I have previously written about as one of my key awakenings over the years as a freelancer is that unless as freelancers, we have the right, confident and positive mindset then daily tasks, goals, strategies, development, networking just doesn’t happen.

Spaghetti goals

Development and implementation of goals can feel like a bowl full of spaghetti if we aren’t careful. Lots of random strands without a clear end and no order or prioritisation. By connecting our different strands to a common starting point – our values and vision – allows us to start to be clearer about what we want to achieve. It is as early as value identification and vision setting that work around our mindset, confidence and self-belief needs to be routed.

Start off by giving yourself the bandwidth and time to develop your vision and goals. Using a pen and paper to physically writing down our thoughts supports a connectivity to those ideas encouraging better recall and accountability. You can be really abstract about how you develop your vision and goals, visually drawing, writing, creating a storyboard for example.

Start with your vision, what is your dream?

You may feel that after this year that you have discarded your dreams feeling that they will never happen but having dreams gives you the scope and mindset to live your life to the fullest. Investing a bit of time in reflection of what your dreams are, what your visions are is a really valuable use of time allowing the vision to become yours, focusing your mind on what YOU want.

To generate these ideas think through the senses – what will you/your life/your work look like in the future; who is with you; what is important to you; what do you enjoy and will energise you; how will you feel when you achieve this; what will you or others tell yourself about your achievements. Dream big and imagine yourself achieving all this and keep replaying these feelings.

Starting with where you want to head towards really helps with instilling a clear mindset with a greater chance of you maximising your happiness and fulfilment.

The quick wins and the stretch

Your goals are yours (stating the obvious!) so of course I wouldn’t be dream of being prescriptive over what they should contain but there are however a couple of considerations which will help them become more achievable as they are support your development of a confident, energy fuelled and fulfilled mindset.

Setting a mixture of short and long-term goals to help you get to your vision will really help. Those ‘quick wins’ achieved through short term goals that are delivered within your comfort zone are fuel for motivational energy and confidence. Your brain will soon be telling you that ‘you’ve got this’, just what is needed by your mind to tackle those goals that may be longer term and come more from your ‘stretch zone’ but really help with the growth of your work and your mindset (bringing double value!).

Goals that are about you

Being self-employed, the only person who is 100% vested and responsible for your vision and goals is you. Which means you really need to look after not just your work but YOU! Again, why your mindset, confidence and energy are so important to you AND your work. Think about what drains your inner core and also where you draw this energy from, and invest in it. It could be around relationships, family, money, health and fitness, learning, etc. Include them as goals to ensure that it takes as much weight as your other work goals.  

Find your cheerleaders

What will help you implement and achieve your goals from pinning them up on our office walls to having accountability buddies, we need to find what works for us. Support can usually play a huge part in this. Think of those people who are your cheerleaders – family, friends, other freelancers, a coach. They can play a part in increasing your confidence or keeping you to your timescales.

This may not seem your usual approach to goal setting but give it a try. Remember that they are your vision and goals and you are responsible for how you feel. This next year invest in yourself as well as your work, both you and your work will like the results!

Nicola Hughes has been a freelancer for over 14 years.  She provides consultancy in service development and improvement and is also a Confidence and Freelancing Coach.

If you would welcome a chance to reflect and receive clarity without judgement, understand the root causes and receive help with coping strategies please get in touch – Nicola


Now could be a good time to sense check your values to help you gain clarity

What are your values?

Helping others, loyalty, meaningful work, quality, kindness, family are all some of my values. But does it matter what they are? Well to me, my work and my clients it does.

We all have a set of values. Those things that we believe matter in life. For some of us we may literally wear them on our sleeves for all to see, for others they are less obvious but they do however form part of us, how we work, our relationships, how we behave and live our lives. If you are feeling overwhelmed, lacking clarity about your work and clients, doubting your decisions and lack focus it is really useful to sense check your values. Whenever we are doing something that does not meet our values and needs, we are likely to feel unfulfilled!

Our values aren’t static. Experiencing life, 2020, becoming a parent, experiencing loss, etc. can all affect our values. So even if you think that you know your values there are so many benefits in reviewing and reminding yourself of them –

Help you to be clear on your purpose and focus

Revisiting your values can help you clear that veil of fog that often seems to come when either we are so busy that we lose sight of what we are doing, or when we are wanting to try and develop our work or change direction but literally cannot gain clarity. Thinking about your values can be a great starting point. It can provide a framework from which to think about what work or actions would support and align with your values.

Frame who you will and won’t work with

We tend to like and build relationships with people with similar values to our own. We know that when we start to think about our ideal client that often they have many attributes that mirror our own. In my consultancy work I bring organisations together to work in partnership to a common goal. They all have different focus, structure and operations but finding their shared values is so important as it provides common ground. Where values are shared across organisations, they can share purpose and resources to achieve a common goal and relationships are strong. As freelancers, our relationships with clients are no different. Being clear about your values helps us in our identification of your ideal clients, those people that we do and do not want to work with, people who do or don’t align with our set of values.

Sense of self, stability and security

Do you sometimes argue with yourself over making a decision or how you should react to a situation? Those times when you just aren’t sure whether a decision is right for you or your work. The need to trust yourself.  Clarity around your values can support the building of this trust in your thoughts and actions and having the confidence and self-belief in your response.

Knowing your values can help you in understanding yourself, giving you the stability and security that comes from you knowing what is important to you. When you know what you want and is important to you it brings a level of confidence and stability in your behaviour and response to decisions.

Identifying your values is the easiest of tasks

If we are working close to our values then we will gain an increased sense of fulfilment, and I am sure that beyond paying the bills everyone wants that from their work?

There is such an easy way to have a quick sense check of your values. It can literally take a matter of minutes (or longer if you have the time as it is time well spent). What are your values? List them! I have a prompt list of values – just message me and I will happily send it.

Identify – begin with a long list of values and then keep reducing this down. Aim to get down to no more than 10 values that you feel represent your beliefs.

Reflect – are you working and acting in alignment to these values currently?

Respond – what else you can do to act more in alignment with your values?

Nicola Hughes is a freelancer for over 14 years.  She provides consultancy in service development and improvement and is also a Coach in Confidence and Freelancing.

Nicola can help you reflect, develop clarity, trust in yourself and build confidence to achieve your goals. Please contact Nicola for an informal chat about how she could support you.


Stress Awareness and your Winter Mental Health Plan

Remember back in the spring and summer when we made room for our one daily exercise? It was easy. We spent more time walking, being outside, enjoying the sun and despite the lockdown it had the power to make us feel relatively upbeat. Fast forward (if only!) to November and we face our second lockdown but this time the days are darker and the weather isn’t so great. It is no wonder that many of us are feeling the toll on our mental health and are showing the signs of stress. If this time dragging yourself out doesn’t feel so appealing, what can we do to reduce our stress and help our mental wellbeing?

It is somehow ironic that this Wednesday, 4 November it is National Stress Awareness Day. A week when many of us are feeling stressed by the impending lockdown and the ramifications. Stress can show in various ways both physically and mentally –

  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Feeling fearful
  • Headaches
  • Sense of being overwhelmed
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle tension

Even if you hadn’t realised it, if you are suffering from any of these it could be down to stress. Think about what may be making you stressed?  It could be one thing or a multiple, layering effect of things in our personal and working life that are contributing to these feelings. As a coach we work to understand what are the triggers as this allows you to be really responsive in developing coping strategies. There are lifestyle and self-help techniques that you can take, it is about finding something that works for you and forming new habits like we did earlier in the year.

When we are stressed our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline, those chemicals that we often associate with ‘fight or flight mode’ and being anxious. We need to counterbalance these and it has been proven we are just as able to create dopamine, oxytocin, endorphin and serotonin which are chemicals that stabilise mood and increase sense of wellbeing. This list is by no means exhaustive but that are proven to increase these chemicals and thereby improve our coping strategies to stress:

Organising our time, tasks and achievements

  • Achieving small goals
  • Establishing boundaries to allow us to be in control of our work and time
  • Plan taking breaks into your day – micro breaks away from the screen and workplace
  • Acknowledge and celebrate your wins

Reach out and seek support

  • Draw on your networks, reach out for support
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good
  • Spend time with animals/pets, loved ones
  • Seeking professional support of coaching

Looking after yourself

  • Walking in nature
  • Watching a film, particularly a comedy
  • Getting active
  • Using relaxation and breathing techniques
  • Cooking

Think about what we wear and eat

  • Wearing clothes that make us feel good and confident
  • Eating food that makes us feel good (dark chocolate)

Just like earlier in the year, we need to establish a routine which involves lifestyle and self-help techniques – it is your ‘winter mental health plan’. We know that when we are exercising that our bodies need a rest day, so why wouldn’t we do this for our minds too. They can become so crammed full of analysis of the stressful situations that we find ourselves in that they too need a break and time to regenerate! Investing the time in reducing your levels of stress will help us to regain our clarity, productivity and sense of wellbeing.

What will you do? You’ve got through this before, you can do it again. You have proved that you can fit small lifestyle changes into your day to help your mental wellbeing during a pandemic, so what will you do this time during the Winter?

Nicola Hughes is a freelancer for over 14 years.  She provides consultancy in service development and improvement and is also a Confidence Coach.

As part of the Stress Awareness Day I am offering a free 30 minutes coaching session to up to 5 Freelance Fundamentals freelancers who make contact by 6 November. If you would welcome a chance to reflect and receive clarity without judgement, understand the root causes of your stress and receive help with coping strategies please get in touch – Nicola


A strategy is just a document collecting dust without the right mindset to deliver it

What is the value of having a strategy, vision or goals if you haven’t got the right mindset to implement them?

In my consultancy I am often brought in by organisations, services and partnerships to develop a strategy. After nearly 25 years of writing strategies I have this down to a fine art and I could just write one to the clients’ brief, take my money and say job done.  However, my precursor always to writing one is that I don’t want it to become a ‘dusty shelf document’.  The thought that the vision, aims and objectives aren’t put into place leaves me feeling that actually the job isn’t done!

I have found over my years of consultancy that businesses cannot be purely built on a strategy but also require a mindset to implement and develop them.  My clients need to not only own the strategy as theirs but also have the trust and confidence in these visions to take it forward.  I have been coaching clients and partnerships over the years to do this.

As freelancers we are no different to a service or other larger scale organisation.  Our strategy doesn’t mean anything if we don’t do the work on ourselves to have the confidence, self-belief or right mindset to implement and develop our work. The only difference is that as a freelancer the responsibility for having the right mindset firmly sits within ourselves and not a Board, management or staffing team.

So perhaps when you feel that your vision and strategy isn’t moving forward then it is worth considering is it that your mindset is holding you back?  Ask yourself these questions –

  • Do you lack self-belief?
  • Do you trust and can you make decisions?
  • Have you the ability to say no or do you like to please people?
  • Have you the confidence to negotiate and ask for what you are worth?
  • Are you good at being visible and have the confidence for example to network, send emails, make telephone calls?
  • Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?
  • Do you lack clarity and feel out of control?

These are all things that can limit our abilities as freelancers to achieve the success that we want from our work and also personal life.   Confidence is FUNDAMENTAL to freelancing. Having a level of clarity, trust and self-belief to move forward your freelancing business. As the CEO of your freelancing business it is our responsibility to invest in ourselves to ensure that we have the right mindset to implement our vision and strategy.

Nicola Hughes is a freelancer for over 14 years.  She provides consultancy in service development and improvement and is also a Confidence Coach.

As a Confidence Coach she provides one to one confidence coaching to freelancers to help them look at their life and work with a fresh perspective, identifying what is holding them back and support them in moving forward to identify and achieve their goals. Please get in contact for a chat about how she can support you – hello@freelance-fundamentals.co.uk

Do we actually set ourselves up to fail?

I have been spending a lot of time this week thinking about productivity. There literally isn’t a day goes by when, on Twitter, someone shares that they have had or are having an unproductive day. It happens to us all, right? Those days when things just aren’t connecting. We have lost our mojo. Just cannot quite strike the things off our to do lists. All of which can leave us feeling that the day has been unproductive.

On these days it is highly likely that we will go through a virtual process of beating ourselves up, with negative feelings about our abilities. We will seek solutions to re-find our motivation, probably procrastinate and most certainly have the tidiest houses as we try to avoid said work!  Sound familiar?

Whilst days like these will continue to happen and there are lots of techniques I and others could share around how to re-energise and step back to your work with new motivation, I have also been thinking that perhaps we are also setting ourselves up to fail by the very nature that we are measuring our self-worth by our productivity.

A couple of weeks ago I asked on twitter, ‘beyond financial, what are freelancers other motivations to do the work they do?’ OK, so the responses were limited (hey, anyone out there?) but I have asked around and reasons include a range of things ranging from fulfilment, being able to be creative, being able to have a balance with family life, working for myself, feeling of making a difference.  All these reasons are great and valid motivators.  They are our aims of working, but none of them could be measured by productivity.  Instead they are measurements of self-worth and satisfaction. Of course, I am not naive to the fact that we do have deadlines to meet, after all those bills don’t get paid if we don’t complete our work!  However, most of us deliver the work we do for other reasons that are about our self-worth – our ability to feel satisfied from what we do and these cannot be measured by productivity.  If we only measure our days by productivity then we could be setting ourselves up to fail against why we do what we do!

So, when those unproductive days come again, as they will, do try and reflect about what else you should be measuring your day by. 

Nicola Hughes is a freelancer for over 14 years.  She provides consultancy in service development and improvement and is also a Confidence Coach.

Losing control and confidence

I think we have all felt an element of not being in control the last few months.  This is normal. I know that if I can’t control things it can really affect my confidence. The self-doubt and lack of trust in my judgements set in.

We are very much now in a hybrid time. On one hand feeling that we have ‘been through it’ and have a glimpse of normality again. But equally what we have learnt is there is still an element of uncertainty ahead – will there be a second wave, what will the winter and normal flu season bring? I’m sure I am not the only one who has these thoughts?

The new normal could be felt to be an overused phrase but the reality is that we need to adapt, build our resilience and ensure that we have the tools to regain some control and build our confidence when needed in this new normal.

As freelancers we are usually very much in control of our work.  We develop our own goals, we manage our own workload, we secure our own contracts, we decide our hours and so on. Fundamentally we are very much in control of our own motivation to get out of bed in the morning and deliver our work.  We have to be confident in our goals and abilities to achieve this. We all get those left field wobbles and inner critic but when the Covid-19 tank hit it challenged our control and in turn our confidence from numerous directions – juggling childcare, health, financially, having our workspace invaded by other family members, etc. I know we will all have our own personal experiences and scars of how we started to feel out of control and its effect on our confidence.

We have to keep reminding ourselves that we can only control those things that are within our control.  There is so much which is out of our control and we have to try to avoid the trap of trying to change the unchangeable and spending time and becoming anxious by worrying about those things that are out of our control.  Instead we need to ‘rewrite the rules’ for our own circumstances and this comes from focusing on those elements which are within our control, building resilience in our confidence levels and being able to adapt.

So, what can we do to build back some of that confidence and build in a level of resilience for if and when we feel uncertainty and that things are starting to feel out of our control?

There are a range of tools that can be used depending on individual circumstance to help you write your own rules. Knowing the triggers that make you feel out of control can be powerful information in knowing when to avoid and respond.  So too can knowing those things that you know make you feel good and building them into your everyday routine and life.  That way you are starting to build in some resilience.  Exercise, for example is brilliant as not only does it make us feel good it can control our stress.  Even just a walk – getting up and away from the desk can have a huge benefit. But for you it may be listening to music, reading a book or spending time with a positive friend.

Now is a good time to start planning again. Planning now for September is good as for many of us our children will be back at school (I’m sure I hear a small little cheer from those who have been multi-tasking all these months!) Your mind may feel muddled with where to start because you are busy, you have an inkling that you need to take a new direction or simply because you just don’t feel confident and have the trust in your instincts.  It’s so easy at this time to procrastinate which is why it’s important to keep the planning steps small.  By making them small and achievable you will not only make them more likely to be achieved but you will also start to build that confidence and trust in your abilities to move forward.  The more you tick off the list, get into a routine and move forward the more your confidence will grow, you will trust yourself to do more and you will become increasingly back in control of your workload and business

Above all, don’t be hard on yourself, the feelings are normal. Be kind to yourself, as your own boss it is your duty to look after yourself. Do this by putting in measures to help regain that control and develop resilience to the effect that those things out of your control can have on you.

Nicola Hughes is a freelancer for over 14 years.  She provides consultancy in service development and improvement and is also a Confidence Coach.

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?