Freelancing In Uncertain Times

Well my last blog hasn’t aged well, with the UK now all confined to our houses aside from essential shopping and a short daily exercise. So much has happened so fast. I hope you’re all safe and healthy.

Same Same..

In some ways, nothing has changed for my freelancing. Working from home 99% of the time means I’m set up for it and used to spending time home alone. As a web designer, my work is online so I’ve not been forced to close like many face to face businesses. I’m very grateful for these things right now.

It seems to be easier to get food and supplies now after the initial stockpiling panic and while I don’t stand a chance of getting a supermarket delivery, it’s been great to support some local businesses who deliver groceries:

.. but Different

I’ve noticed a dip in enquiries for new projects since Xmas, probably due to Brexit uncertainty. I’ve got a couple of projects on the go but like many other freelancers I was worried about running out of work and then running out of money.

The UK government have come through with 3 months of income support for sole traders based on our previous 3 years of profits, so this is a huge relief if it does go quiet. This possibly doesn’t help some other freelancers I’ve been speaking to, if they are only part time freelance and have lost their main job, or are registered as a Limited Company. Some who do face to face work have lost their entire income within a week.

I was trying to get out and co-work more often but that’s been stopped in its tracks. I wonder whether many co-working spaces will make it through this time.

Adapt and Survive

While there are obviously worries around future client work and finances, this is a good time to work on ourselves and learn some new skills. PluralSight are offering their courses for free for April so I’m learning some new coding skills to improve my potential work streams.

With many ‘bricks and mortar’ companies pivoting to selling online there are also opportunities around that for freelance designers, developers, marketers and other related skills.

Organisations are also stepping up to offer help and support during the pandemic with online chat, support groups and resources. Leapers, who we featured a few months back, have some great content to support freelancers and I’ve also joined the https://www.technottingham.com/ Slack to chat with local tech people.

Who knows how long this is going to last, but hopefully we can stay positive and well and come out of the other side soon.

This week in freelance: Pandemic and business as usual

It’s been a strange year so far: Brexit, Australia on fire and now a global pandemic. While this is unheard of, life just goes on for most of us in a weird kind of way.

I’m working on new & existing website projects as normal, despite widespread concerns about Coronavirus and off-peak scavenging trips to Lidl.

Remote Working

Since starting the business, I’ve always had a ‘virtual office’ and worked from home or co-working spaces whether I’m in the UK or elsewhere. The freelancers that I work with often do the same. One of the benefits of remote working is that the risk of us picking up any bugs is lower as we’re not commuting or sharing an office. We’re all set up to be productive remotely, and easily able to self isolate if necessary too. So despite concerns about Coronavirus and people starting to work from home, we’re able to carry on with new and existing web design projects as normal.

I’m hearing about digital nomad friends coming/going back to their home countries as flights might be cut back and being isolated in a far flung country sucks. Being sick with fever and alone in Thailand was utterly horrible.

Self Isolating

As an introvert and working from home, self isolating isn’t too hard. I’ve been trying to go to the gym more, get out more and do more coworking. Covid-19 has pretty much stopped that in its tracks however. I’ve had a sore throat and headache so have largely kept myself to myself to avoid getting scowled at. To stop myself going nuts I’ve been playing co-op games online with friends (not abusive strangers…) and seeing friends one to one or in small groups. I’ve got a pile of books to read, some new skills to learn (VueJS, what a hot mess) and a knackered old bike to get some cardio.

Self Development

A friend gave me a talking to the other day and I’ve got some new books to read and am revisiting my morning routine to get the day started right. Exercise, reading, meditation and journalling set me up to be focused and productive. As mentioned I’m also learning some new Javascript skills to level up my WordPress development and keep up with the cool kids.

So What Next?

I’m doing a part time college course and I think that will be postponed soon. I’ll be getting food delivered and trying to make the most of the enforced downtime. Work wise, some clients in the online and information industries are carrying on as normal, but some that have face to face businesses are struggling already. It’s going to be an interesting year.

Shameless Advert

If you’re a business needing a new website or an agency needing an extra pair of hands to help during these strange times, drop me a line.

Best VPN For Freelancers

A ‘virtual private network’ (VPN) is essential while working from home, coffee shops and when working remotely (Read more tech tips for freelancers). A VPN can stop the wifi owner snooping on what you’re doing and other people seeing what you’re up to online. While I’m sure none of us are up to no good, online security is increasingly vital and we need to keep all our work data and browsing private.

Choosing A VPN

Searching for the best VPN for freelancers is difficult when most VPN providers have affiliate websites recommending them because they get a kickback, not necessarily because the service is great.

A provider with lots of servers to choose from and that preferably don’t store browsing history logs is a good choice.

Danger Of Free VPNS

Using a free VPN is probably worse than not using one at all – remember if the thing is free, your data is the product. Do you want your VPN provider inserting ads, selling your browsing history to advertisers or watching what you are doing? You’re responsible for keeping not only your own data safe, but also that of your clients. £5 a month for a proper VPN is well worth the investment.

Mullvad has easy to use apps for Mac and PC, and runs on OpenVPN on mobile

So Which VPN To Use?

I used to use Private Internet Access until they were bought out by a company with a dubious history. For such a privacy focused app, I wasn’t comfortable with the new owners so moved to Mullvad. They Mac/PC apps, are much more privacy focused and don’t have affiliates. The app is quick and easy to set up and they have VPN servers all around the world to choose from.

The mobile app has a few steps to set up via OpenVPN, but still only takes a few minutes. Mullvad doesn’t seem to limit speeds, is pay monthly and hasn’t caused me any grief with mailservers or FTP like other providers have.

Summary

Security is important if you’re working remotely or from coffee shops, but choosing the best VPN for freelancers can be tricky. We recommend you swerve the free ones and use Mullvad.

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.