Stress Awareness: Be Kind to Yourself

Running your own business is stressful there’s no getting away from that; finding clients, securing work, juggling multiple projects, trying to get paid on time. Add to that you’re often doing this on your own and frequently in and around school hours, I am getting stressed just writing about it! But keeping our stress levels in check is key to being happy and productive.

We’ve asked for your advice on this and have read around the topic and there’s no shortage of guidance out there. 

A common theme is structure. One of the bonuses of being freelance is you don’t have your working life structured by the traditions of being in the office from 9 to 5 but I still have a general routine that helps me to organise my day. On a school day for example, I have a pattern of working 9 til 3pm. I have learnt that I am at my most creative in the morning and so I plan those jobs in before lunch leaving the afternoon for more routine tasks. I might log on again for an hour in the evening to do some admin and plan out the next day. Others have told us about their love of lists to structure and organise their time – I too love a list!

Another common suggestion for being stress aware is building in regular exercise. Now I am no gym bunny but if I don’t get outdoors for a break at least once a day I find I am more stressed and less productive. I didn’t always appreciate this and have often tethered myself to my desk for hour after hour trying to clear a mountain of work. I would go to bed stressed and feeling sluggish. So now whether it’s the walk to and from school, a lunchtime stroll with the dog or a jog around the park I always try and get out every day. I have time to reflect, and so always feel better, energised, less stressed and more productive. 

Being freelance can be a lonely experience. You are the one accountable for it all and at times it can be isolating. But there a lots of groups and networks out there to keep you connected to like-minded people both virtually and in person. Our aim for Freelance Fundamentals is to be that support and network so when you next feeling overwhelmed by it all drop us a message. A problem shared, as they say, is a problem halved. 

How do you cope when a contract goes wrong?

Ever had one of those weeks when a contract goes wrong?  Your confidence has taken a punch, you feel like walking away; throwing blame; feel like you’ve let yourself or your client down; you have thoughts of even starting a job search for an employed role that doesn’t hold the same level of responsibility; and just generally feel like running away from the pressures that come with contracts and freelancing?  Sound familiar?  Well, you are not alone!

I am sure that most freelancers have experienced a contract that hasn’t gone to plan.   It may be that despite your best intentions, planning and hard work, the outputs and outcomes of the contract weren’t achieved, or that it’s ‘just’ been one of those contracts with a catalogue of obstacles and difficulties.  

So, what went wrong and how are you supposed to deal with it when it happens?

Sometimes despite your best planning events happen which are completely out of your hands.  You feel that your proposal and contract were clear; planned thoroughly; you assessed the risks and planned for different approaches; you set aside enough time and resources to deliver; your communication plan with the client was robust; and you had the skills to undertake the work.  Or did you?

You might feel battered and bruised by the experience but it is really important to learn from this.  To coin Kelly Clarkson ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and so as hard it is, it’s so important to take a critical objective eye over what went wrong.


Review what went wrong and what you can take from this.  This isn’t about apportioning blame on others but thinking about what you can learn from what was in your control.  Considerations should include thinking through –

  • Were your proposal and contract clear and fit for purpose?
  • Did you plan the work thoroughly?
  • Was there a clear assessment/consideration of the risks and were these appropriately mitigated against?
  • Did you keep communication channels open and transparent?
  • Did you allocate the right amount of time and resource to deliver the work?
  • How could your work output have been improved?

These are just some prompts but there is so much value in forensically (as painful as it might be) reviewing what went wrong and what learning you can take from this.

Accept responsibility

Once you have pinpointed what went wrong, your part to play in that, and the learning that you can take from this, then accept some responsibility for this!  It’s very easy to pass mistakes off as being down to not having a great client (and there may be elements that are) but I would be surprised if there isn’t still learning and responsibility that you can take from this – even if it is that you should have been clearer or communicated better with the client.

Accepting responsibility can also extend to sharing that learning with the client.  Any client will be far more receptive to you if you don’t just state what went wrong but also share your reflections with them. We are only human and mistakes happen and by taking some responsibility from those mistakes and suggesting how this could be remedied in the future will show you have taken the situation seriously and have provided a solution for the future.

Seek support and move on

We all need someone to talk to, especially another freelancer who will understand your situation and can provide support.  Reach out; use the freelancer networks! There will always be someone willing to provide that needed buddy support.  So many times, we (Kate and Nicola) have provided a sympathetic ear for each other and provided the needed support to remember that it was a one-off event and that you still have the skills and capabilities to continue to deliver your freelance career.

Boy, does your confidence take a kicking though when things go wrong.  Pulling yourself up from this knockback and reinstating some belief in yourself and your work will definitely take some effort.  That’s where drawing upon support comes in and remembering what you have and can achieve.  Nobody is perfect and we will all make mistakes, accept them and move to a positive mindset of seeing the experience as learning.  Mistakes and obstacles have been faced but you will be more resilient and stronger going forward.

Planning for the summer break

The schools round here are out for summer at the end of this week and so today I am planning how to keep things ticking along with my work life whilst I have to manage the six weeks holiday. 

Freelancing is often a juggling exercise – planning, organisation are the very back bone to an effective freelancer.  

I often think that as freelancers we are swan like – appearing to glide across the waters whilst underneath we are paddling away!

We have become adept to the competing demands of freelancing and life generally.  Ensuring that each client feels like they are your only client, being able to respond quickly and flexibly to their communications and requests, deliver the commissioned work to a high standard and within timeframe. This alone takes some organisation and planning without the added pressures of homelife, school holidays or additional careers.

So how do we cope and keep the ‘I’m on top of it’ glide across the water?

We are only human and often have to pull ourselves into check to remember that whilst we bring a set of skills as freelancers we have the same 24 hours as others, probably decided to go freelance as we wanted more flexibility or work/life balance, and we can’t be an expert in every area of business delivery.

This is where the need for good planning, organisation and routine come in!  Over the years we have tested out various apps, used on-line and paper-based day planners, and even back in the day filling in a Filofax diary!! Post it notes, to do lists through to more detailed time-blocking schedules. Some people do this planning on Sunday in preparation for the week ahead, others on a project by project basis or annual planning that is then broken down into a schedule of tasks.  Whichever works for you is good but the end goal is about having a routine of organisation and planning.

It was only really when starting to develop Freelance Fundamentals that I started to rethink about what I do in terms of organisation and planning.  Over the last 13 years it has become that much part of a routine for me that it now forms an integral element of my business function and I don’t see it as ‘yet another task that isn’t income generating’.  For me overall strategy planning which is broken down to smaller deliverables, to do lists, some time-blocking – all undertaken weekly and regularly reviewed and updated during the week is my approach is my model that works.  We are project managers of our businesses – another skill you can add to your CV!


What do you want to achieve but also how do you want to feel?

Mission.  Goals.  Aims. Outcomes.  Actions.  Review.                                 

These are all words and processes that are embedded in my consultancy freelance work with clients.  Whether it be writing a funding application, reviewing or developing a service or programme of work.  There isn’t a day when I don’t touch upon these in my freelance work.  Once reviewed or set I ensure that there are appropriate systems in place to regularly monitor, review, evaluate – in effect hold them to account.  Makes sense, but do we all follow this for our freelancing businesses?  Not the small weekly actions or ‘to do’ lists but actual goals and aims about what we want our business to work towards?

We’ve discussed and thoughts have been shared about goals, having them in sight and accountability systems on our Twitter posts.  Some of you develop annual goals similar to New Year Resolutions and others have weekly goal setting.  Whichever works for you is good, just as long as you have them.  Simply you can’t achieve them if you don’t set them and you can’t achieve them if you don’t implement. But unlike New Year resolutions which have a failure rate of about 80% how can we ensure that we deliver on these goals when we, as freelancers, drive our own motivation; don’t have colleagues, a manager or committee holding us to account for delivering them; and the day to day work and income generation overrides available time to reflect, develop and review your freelance goals.

Many of these goals and New Year resolutions don’t work because they aren’t realistic and there are no mechanisms in place should they not be achieved.  These are some of our thoughts for consideration when developing goals

Be clear on what are your values.  Whilst passion doesn’t pay your bills, be clear about what is your vision for your freelancing business.  Not just about what you want it or the goals to achieve but also about how you want to feel as a result!  I’m sure you all gave this some thought when you started out.  Thinking about what drives you helps with thinking about the goals you want to achieve.  For many of us this is less about money but about what we want to achieve and feel either for ourselves (flexibility, more balanced, less stressed, etc.) or for our clients (support a range of behaviours or values, make a difference to their business, service users, etc.)  Don’t overlook that setting goals which revolve around your own wellbeing are just as important as those about the health of your business.

There are of course wider goals that you may wish to achieve whether they are around a particular product, service, financial income generation targets, client growth or your own growth as a freelancer/business owner.  Therefore, make sure that the goals you set are important to you, after all if they are you will be motivated to want to achieve them.

Be realistic though.  We all love to feel that we can change the world or at least the bit of the world we live in but we have to be realistic about the hours we have in our day and how much of that we assign to our work.  Break down the steps that are needed to achieving those goals.  By breaking them down into actions and timescales allows you to keep it manageable and makes those big goals more realistic.

Identify how you are going to reward yourself when you achieve a goal.  By both having something to aim towards but also by celebrating your achievement will help with the motivation to achieve the goal and future goals thereafter!  It took me a long time to share and celebrate successes and not feel guilty for rewarding myself but honestly it really is a motivator!

Keep a check on how you are achieving against them.  What internally can you do to keep a check such as build into your diary regular reviews, having a visible chart that you update?  Also what external checks can you build into this – accountability through support groups, having a mentor or coach.

Be flexible– the best laid plans and all that!  There can be setbacks, other priorities can take over, circumstances change and so too sometimes do your goals.  That’s fine.  Just review, refine and try and keep moving forward.  It’s not always about achievements but also sometimes about how it makes you feel!

Our Freelance Story 3rd May

Once upon a time…

I’m joking, I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a freelance story.  There is YOUR freelance story and MY freelance story but I would be surprised if they are the same!

The month of May is ‘Tell a Story Month’ and without exception we will all have a story about what led us to become Freelancers and the successes and challenges we face along the way.  Kate and I started freelancing at similar time but our stories and motivations were different.  Of course, there are as freelancers commonalities in our experiences and challenges that we have faced from tendering, pricing, securing work, working with multiple clients, motivation, learning juggling all the other roles to deliver a business of finance, admin, legals, etc. etc.  A list that I am sure that other freelancers can relate to?

Freelance networks (not just Freelance Fundamentals of course, but also other ones geared to specific sectors of freelancing) are brilliant for sharing and learning the stories of others in approaching these challenges as you can bet that even if you haven’t trod that path before then another freelancer has and they have experience you can tap into.

Despite thirteen years of freelancing, we are still learning and these networks are helping us identify areas of our work or delivery that we can develop.  A word of caution however –

‘Don’t get sidetracked into developing or adopting a new practice just because there is some noise from fellow freelancers about it!’

It is unproductive to spend time adopting new practices that aren’t going to help you achieve your goals.  Take the experience and learning which works for you and your aims.

In my freelance role I often work with organisations to improve their services, drawing on evidence from elsewhere but recognising that no two services are the same and that this evidence has to be tailored to suit the particular service and outcomes they are trying to achieve.  Often clients feel that their service needs to incorporate a particular function or process just because it is being pushed politically or because their competitors have that service.  We can also be in danger of this as freelancers.

So, our feelings this Friday are to

  • Celebrate your own unique freelance story
  • Use the networks to share and learn from the experience of others
  • Keep your eye on YOUR goal, taking the learning and implementing what will be productive for YOU to achieve them.
  • Don’t suffer from ‘FOMO’ or ‘Keeping up with Jones’ – be confident in YOUR story and DON’T COMPARE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS TO OTHERS

Let Us Smile 17th May 2019

A week of mixed emotions as my heart has been full of happiness and sadness this week.  My social media feeds have been full with Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 this week.  I have been moved and admired that fellow freelancers and others have shared their own personal experiences of mental health as well as the pathways they have taken to manage their mental health.  Their sharing will not only help raise awareness of mental health illnesses but also helps in understanding that you are not alone in your anxieties, it shouldn’t be a taboo subject and that self help and support from professionals can help.

I am fortunate that I don’t have my own personal story to tell about experiencing a mental health illness.  I am certainly not a professional in this field but reading the recounts shared raised some thoughts with me –

The need to acknowledge and support what others are going through – Whilst I haven’t personally suffered from a mental health illness my daughter has suffered from anxiety.  The journey with my daughter trying to understand her triggers, feelings and respond has taught me several things.  This came back to the forefront of my mind this week reading those shared on social media.   It is the need to understand the illness, empathise and provide support where possible.  We may not be professionals in this field (and in cases professional help may be required) but what we can do is not belittle or dismiss those feelings, listen without judgement and let them share how they are feeling.

The need to understand how you keep your mental state healthy – We may not be suffering from a mental illness, but what can we do to reduce the risks of that happening.  There are many things which are out of our control which can affect our mental health.  However equally there are many things that are in our control, that we can influence to ensure that we care for the health of our mind just like we would our physical health.  Be aware of those triggers that give you a negative mindset or make you feel less positive or low about your life or self.   Be equally aware of what makes you feel good, positive and in good mental health.  Routinely build these into your day and recognise the triggers of when you need to seek support or put in place one of your positive mental health actions!  It is not selfish to build in time for yourself.  It is fundamental.  You are your most valuable asset.  Invest in yourself and look after your mental health.

Finally, I am a HUGE believer in smiling!  I smile a lot! So I wasn’t surprised that I read that researchers have found that smiling helps reduce the body’s response to stress and lower heart rate, blood pressure and leads to longevity. But there shouldn’t be a reason to smile, just do it!  Hopefully my smile will be infectious and I will pass it onto you…

Smiling Is Infectious
Author Unknown

Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too.

I passed around the corner
and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realized
I’d passed it on to him.

I thought about that smile,
then I realized its worth.
A single smile, just like mine
could travel round the earth.

So, if you feel a smile begin,
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick,
and get the world infected!