Working Well when Freelancing can be easy to forget.

With over 2m people freelancing in the UK, more people are turning to working for themselves, but what impact might that have on your mental health, and what things do you need to consider when you’re freelancing to make sure you can work well? We asked Matthew Knight from community support group Leapers – to share his advice on looking after your mental health when working for yourself.

You know the drill – now you’re freelance, not only are you doing the work, but you’re also sending the invoices, finding the next project, chasing those invoices, accounting, marketing, sales, not to mention all of the other stuff you’ve got happening in your life, remembering to take a moment to make sure you’re doing ok can easily fall to the bottom of the list.

1 in 4 people will struggle with poor mental health at some point this year – that’s a huge number, and even if you’ve been fortunate to never have poor mental health, looking after your own emotional wellbeing when freelancing is critical. After all, there are no paid sick days, and not being able to work is not really an option for many of us.

So, we’ve set ourselves a mission: to support the self-employed and their mental health. We’re doing this in three ways:

  1. Awareness – we’re telling as many people as we can that mental health matters, and encouraging freelancers to actively think about it, before they leap into self-employment, and once they’ve moved to freelancing.
  2. Community – we’re encouraging people to join our community, a sort of ’team for people without a team’. Even if Leapers isn’t right, there are many communities which provide a support network – people who understand the experience, people you can talk to about what’s happening, and find ways to work well.
  3. Things – we create tangible stuff which help people maintain good mental health, understand their personal stressors, and put actions in place to manage them. Different people need different approaches, so we create lots of types of things, like podcasts, ebooks, chats, emails, fridge magnets (coming soon).

It seems simple, but honestly, even just the first point – helping people to actively think about the value of looking after themselves, helps people to work well. It’s the small things which have positive impact, such as journaling.

We suggest the best place to start is to take 10 minutes at the end of each day – in a notebook you’ve dedicated to this, write down 5 or 6 things you did today. Then mark each one with how it made you feel: was it positive or negative? Was it motivating or frustrating? Was it fun or stressful? A simple tick or cross. Do this for a week, and see if there are patterns. Do this for a month, and see if the patterns continue. Over time, you’ll start to understand what motivates you, and what stresses you out.

You don’t need to do anything to even manage that stress yet – just actively being aware of it is the first step.

And then, start to talk about it. 

Perhaps within a community for freelancers, maybe with peers, with friends, with your team-mates. Whomever you feel most comfortable sharing when you’re not feeling at your best – let’s face it, we all have off-days, it’s human. Share what you’re experiencing with others, and see how others dealt with similar situations. Listen and learn. Even if no-one replies with much more than an emoji hug, writing it down, putting it in to words, helps you understand the experience better.

Where you go from there, entirely depends on your personal experience, the way you approach challenges and successes, and the sector you work in – but just putting 10 minutes aside every day, to think about your own mental health is critical. We’ve got lots of tools, techniques and approaches, plus the wisdom of over 1600 members sharing the way they approach things, you can be sure to find something useful.

Over 60% of freelancers say that poor mental health has affected their ability to work. Don’t let it get to that point. Put you on your to-do list, and prioritise understanding your own stressors, sharing within your community of support, and finding tangible things to put in place to give yourself some structure and support.

Matthew Knight is a community host at Leapers, a project supporting the mental health of the self-employed. As an individual you can register as a member for free, or find resources and tools at leapers.co. If you’re an organisation who hires freelancers, there’s also guidance on working well with the self-employed via the Freelance Friendly Businesses network at leapers.co/orgs

Freelancer interview: Tommy Minchin, Architectural Technologist

This week’s interview is with Tommy Minchin, an Architectural Technologist I met recently at Minor Oak co-working space in Nottingham.

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Tommy Minchin, a qualified Architectural Technologist and Director of MNCN Architecture Ltd (est. Jan 2019). At MNCN Architecture Ltd we provide a variety architectural design based services that take a project from it’s inception to completion. These include those associated with achieving planning and building regulations approval as well as miscellaneous products such as marketing images. The developments we are currently working on primarily fall within the residential and commercial sectors from small house extensions to large office buildings.

What led you to start freelancing?

I have always been attracted to the sense of autonomy that comes with being a freelancer/self-employed and throughout my early career, had the sense that this is something I would end up exploring. Therefore, when a relative of mine who is also in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction) industry discussed the vibrancy of the market in September 2018, I decided there was no time like the present and decided to leave my job in Birmingham to become self-employed.

What issues have you had since starting up?

  • Loneliness from only working from home (this may seem minor but can lead to major effects on well-being if not supplemented with more social working environments).
  • Misunderstandings with Clients who are less familiar with the life cycle of a construction project.

What things do you wish you’d known before starting out?

  • To incorporate more social working environments in to my weekly routine.
  • To thoroughly explain to all clients the step-by-step process of a building project and the approval that is required to be obtained prior to starting on site.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

The sense of autonomy and flexibility that comes with managing your own time. The incentive of seeing a direct correlation between work quality/effort and earnings. The ability to form a business/life on your core beliefs and principles.

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

I aim to continue to grow as an individual with particular emphasis on becoming a better manager and designer within the ‘MNCN Architecture Ltd’ bubble. For MNCN in particular, the aim is to constantly progress towards ‘creating spaces and places which enhance our daily lives’ while evolving to suit the changing needs of ourselves and our environment. In addition to this, I certainly aim to diversify my portfolio of businesses/services in the future but they will more than likely still relate to those carried out at MNCN.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

While many may believe freelancing is a good idea and could suit them, it’s very easy to fall in to the trap of finding a reason to be content with the comfortable and structured version of life provided by a typical 9-to-5. While there are legitimate advantages to this, it is important to remind ourselves that we live in a time of such a wealth of options and opportunities that we should be empowered to give ‘Plan A’ a go with the knowledge that the comfortable ‘Plan B’ will always be there if needed. With that being said, I’d also like to add the practical note of how important it was for me to have a secondary income while building the business in the early stages. This is something I’d strongly advise aspiring freelances to consider, whether it be reducing the hours at their current job or finding a part-time solution.

Recent survey finds that flexible working increases productivity and improves wellbeing

A survey of over 100 freelancers, small business and corporate employees has found that flexible working could provide the key for delivering growth and productivity for businesses and improving people’s wellbeing in the future.

In the survey which asked people about how their working patterns, to try and throw some light on what the future of work could look like, almost 95% of respondents believed or strongly believed that if people have control over how and when they do their work they are generally able to perform more effectively. Over 76% of respondents also agreed or strongly agreed that working from different environments such as home, coworking spaces or a change in office location enables them to be more productive.

More than 75% of respondents believed that businesses could operate more effectively by using more agile, self-employed temporary resource and 87% felt that business could lower costs by employing more flexible models of working and distributed teams.

While 95% of respondents felt that people could be trusted to work without supervision if the right support is available and, overall, responses show a positive shift in attitudes and perceptions towards flexible working, there is still some education to be done on exactly what it means

Han van Oudheusden, co-founder of collaborative coworking space Works Social, added: “The data we’ve had back has been fascinating. We wanted to challenge the notion that ‘Flexible Working doesn’t work’ and we have done just that. There is undoubtedly an appetite for greater flexibility in the workplace, while flexible working and coworking are fast emerging concepts, they are not yet fully understood and there is some education to be done, but it’s coming.”

Although people reported increased productivity and wellbeing, 46% of people did still feel guilty for taking time out of ‘normal working hours’ and 51% felt stressed in trying to catch up on work they’d missed. There was a fairly even divide in people that felt flexible working undermined other people’s attitudes to how they worked and those that didn’t. Positively though, 84% of people felt more relaxed If they were able to work in a way that suited them.

In terms of getting the most from a talented UK labour market, Ross Cox, CEO at Dispace commented on what this means for the future of work, saying: “I agree with the 95% of our respondents who felt we should be focusing our attention on delivery and effective communication without the need for set hours, days and locations for getting work done. To improve productivity and create a positive sense of wellbeing among employees, we should make it easier for people to be employed by increasing our use of teams that work remotely and on flexible hours.

“For businesses to be successful in the future they should be providing access to a range of workspace solutions that suit the current and future needs of an individual on a day to day basis. That might be reliable technology, coworking, remote teams, virtual meetings or sharing time between home and office working.”

The survey was curated by a collaboration of flexible workspace, coworking and digital nomad ambassadors Dispace, Works Social, and Big Old House, with support from Digital Risks and D2N2. It explored people’s attitudes to the changing world of work from freelancers to full-time employees. Everyone was invited to share what their version of work looks like.

For more information about the survey data and to register to receive a copy of the full report when published, contact Works Social via hello@workssocial.co.

The ethics of ‘faking it until you make it’

Many sources encourage us to ‘fake it until we make it’ in a new career path. If they’re selling coaching/ebooks or ‘growth hacking’ their social media this kind of advice is especially common. There are some ethical issues around this attitude though – both for the freelancer and their clients.

For the freelancer…

Committing to a task or project we don’t know whether we can pull off can be stressful. We’ve all got different levels of stress tolerance. What rolls off one person can cause another sleepless nights or even a breakdown. Especially with creative work, being stressed out gets in my way and reduces the quality of my work. Why add more stress to your life when it can be avoided?

For their clients…

Clients are hiring us to get a job done for them, because they don’t have the skills, time or inclination to do it themselves. They may be looking to us for our expertise and skills. If we ‘talk a good fight’ but don’t actually have the expertise or skills to carry out that task, then in my opinion that’s unethical.

Clients may see or find out that you don’t actually know what you’re doing. This can also lead to a late task or project, or in some cases outright failure. Clients are unlikely to be happy with any of those outcomes, which can result in damage to the relationship or even the reputation of your business.

You can still learn on the job

An easy way around this situation is to be honest with potential clients and tell them we’re not very experienced at this task and seek their consent to give it a go on their project. They may well say go ahead anyway and you can learn together, but some will decline. Either way, the client is aware of what’s going on and you’ll be less stressed about things.

Another solution is to do a test piece of work before committing to the client project if you have time. This shows you the effort required (which will make your quote more accurate), and the piece can possibly go on your portfolio too.

Summary

As we’ve seen, there are some issues around ‘faking it until we make it’ for both the freelancer and their clients. I’d strongly recommend you’re honest with your clients if you’re new to the game or trying out a new skill/tool for the first time so you’ve got their full consent, don’t get stressed and don’t let people down.

This week in freelancing: Saying no, isolation and support

I had a tough week in August as a freelancer for various reasons. A local remote worker who works from home all the time called me and put me back on my feet however! Thanks, S.

Saying No

Especially when taking referrals, saying ‘no’ can be extremely difficult. It’s hard to turn paying work away at the best of times, even if we get the feeling it might be an uninspiring or challenging project. When a trusted contact refers you a lot of work, it can be even harder to say no to projects. A potentially complex three-way relationship can form, with roles and boundaries becoming unclear. It’s easy to end up feeling like everyone’s skivvy and end up doing small value, low quality pieces of work. Doing ‘favours’ for the referrer can often backfire too, when time isn’t logged and the value to each party is not apparent.

There’s definitely value in doing strategic jobs, but it’s also common for things to continue in the way they start. That means clients expecting low rate, high faff, menial tasks often stay that way.

Assorted Issues

As I’ve developed my freelance web design and development skills and my rates have risen accordingly, it’s meant letting go of clients with low budgets or who don’t appreciate what I can do for them. Whether it’s micromanaging, haggling or being a support burden, it’s been better for us to go our separate ways.

I do some work for agencies too, and had to stand firm on payment timelines for a recent project after being asked to offer way more credit than I’m comfortable with.

Internal politics on the client side can rear its head in large businesses, which is why I choose to work for small companies where this is less of an issue. Getting involved in a bun-fight between internal factions can lead to cancelled or delayed projects and endless reworking.

As much as small companies try, the kids being off over summer and their day jobs taking all their time and energy can mean projects sliding. This causes problems with calendaring and cashflow on our side.

Isolation and support

I recently broke up with someone, and one of the hardest things to deal with has been the lack of contact during the day. Working from home definitely has its benefits (no commute, no office politics) but it’s easy to spend all week alone. Co-working or even working from cafes can help this, but I often need my big screen and various computers while testing web designs out.

Isolation has hit me this week, with feelings of sadness and pointlessness to go with it. This has impacted my mental state and output. I messaged a remote worker who has been home-working for several years now saying that I wasn’t feeling too good. He called me and the quick chat with him put me back on my feet when I realised that feeling like this is natural and that others often feel the same way. We organised something for the coming weekend too, so I’ve got a social thing to look forward to. I also got out to a local accessibility meetup last night and saw a couple of folks I know which helped.

Summary

So in summary – remember you can always say ‘no’ to projects and be firm about your terms. It’s OK to ask for support from other freelancers and remote workers if you’re working on your own and not feeling so good.