Freelancer Interview: Kerry Needs – Copywriter, Marketing Strategist and Author

This week’s interview is with freelance copywriter, marketing strategist and author Kerry Needs. Kerry has worked remotely as a freelancer and wrote the book ‘Freedom Seekers’ to help others follow her path.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Kerry, a freelance copywriter and marketing strategist. I’m originally from Nottingham and am based here, but I work 100% remotely so I like to travel a lot and work on the move! I’m also a writer and have published a book on remote work and lifestyle design, Freedom Seekers, as well as writing poetry and articles on Medium.

What led you to start freelancing?

I was never a fan of the office; staring at the same four walls has never inspired me as a creative person. I love to be in control of when and how I work, so I made the decision that I wanted to work for myself, remotely. I started in 2015 by testing out Elance (now Upwork). I set up a profile and did a few jobs – I found it pretty easy to make my first $1k, and so after that it made me realise that the ‘digital nomad’ dream I’d always had was achievable.
By coincidence, a friend of mine asked if anyone would like a remote job. I jumped at the chance, and worked for a design agency as a remote based project manager for around 9 months until I went freelance, working with online job sites and getting leads through Linkedin and word of mouth.

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

– It’s a financial rollercoaster – be prepared! I wasn’t, and I think I took the hard route by not having enough saved up. I wanted it so badly that I sometimes worked all hours, applying to ten jobs a day, because the work had dried up. The work comes in cycles – sometimes lots, sometimes hardly anything, and you have to be prepared for that by having a big enough financial cushion. Especially when companies think they can take six weeks to pay you! Thankfully that doesn’t happen often.
– There is a season for everything – ‘Make hay whilst the sun shines’ is really true as a freelancer. You have to make the most of the situation you’re in. It naturally waxes and wanes, as does your energy. For example, on days where I feel really energised I don’t mind working hard or doing a longer day, as there will be a time when I have a lot of appointments or feel rubbish and I naturally won’t do as much.
– It’s all a balance – I’m still learning just how much I should be working as a freelancer. Because my main goal as a remote worker was to have time for creative pursuits and travel, if I’m working a 40 hour week I don’t really feel like spending more time in front of the computer. I’ve met people who, when working abroad, spend most of their time in the office. I have really learned a lot about myself as a freelancer – that I like to work in 2-3 hour blocks, that I need time to write or produce something creative, and that I also need time for learning, planning, and growing the business in the context of how I’m designing my life. I’m always asking myself ‘What’s important to me – am I spending my time wisely?’

What three issues have you had since starting up?

– Being paid on time – This is a disappointing one, because even if you have a contract in place the client can be naughty and delay paying you. It really doesn’t feel good having to chase payments yourself. That’s why I like working on the freelancing platforms; I can see exactly how much I’ve earned that week and I know I’ll be paid within 10 days of completing the work.
– Overcommitting – This is a personal thing I am working out. When I was in Gran Canaria, I would get up early, work, go to the beach, work again, go for dinner, and then come back and work again before bed. It made for incredibly long days as I had a client in Australia at the time. It wasn’t that stressful though, as I was taking breaks and socialising inbetween.
– Loneliness – I am a big advocate of remote work and freelancing, but I do get lonely. My environment really shapes how productive I am. If I’ve been ill and am working from home, I find it hard to switch off. I am really energised when I go to coworking spots, Restation in Gran Canaria was inspiring. It’s about being around people that inspire you, and push you to be better I guess. I do miss that in Nottingham as there isn’t many people of a similar mindset. I set up a Digital Nomads group when I first went remote, it was great and I met a couple of really good people but there wasn’t enough people that were focused on the lifestyle design aspect at the time.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

Freedom! I arrange my schedule. I choose the hours I want to work, and I plan it in my calendar. I love copywriting because you can do it any time of the day or night really.
For example, this week my sister had a baby girl, and we didn’t know when we could visit her in the hospital. I could easily arrange my diary so I could nip to the hospital and meet my niece with my sister and my nephews, which was a really special moment. I’d have missed that if I was in a regular 9-5 as it was at the drop of a hat.

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

I’d like to focus more on workshops, and helping more people design their lives. I’m really passionate about helping people become self sufficient in every way – so to be in control of their work life, the food they eat, their health, their time – everything! It’s so freeing and will really change things if more people are empowered in this way.

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

It’s not easy – but where there is a will, there is a way. The internet has everything you need to know. Do your research, test it out, and work as hard as you can!

Free Download: Daily Planner for Freelancers

I’ve used a variety of to-do lists and productivity tools over the years, and having a clear idea of what I’m going to be working on during the day keeps me focused and helps me achieve my goals. Winging it usually results in wasted time and rushing to meet deadlines.

While there are great diaries like the Passion Planner and Panda Planner available, I settled on this simple A4 daily planner that I printed myself until I went travelling and needed something virtual (Things for Mac).

The Most Important Task

Once you’ve got your priorities straight you’ll have a good idea of what you need to do first – your Most Important Task. Having this written down can focus you and make sure you do this before getting distracted or doing the fun things first. There are spaces for the name of the task, a box to tick when you’ve completed it, and if you are selling services, a box to enter how much this task has made for you.

This is also a gentle reminder of what you’ve set as your most important priority for the day should you get distracted.

Other Daily Tasks

The next box has lines for all the other tasks you have to do today. More than 3-4 additional tasks and you’re probably going to get frazzled and suffer from the Cognitive Switching Penalty which will slow you down. As before, there are boxes for the name of the task, a tickbox to celebrate finishing it and a box for how much it earned you.

At the end of the day you can then tot up how much you made, if your business works like that. You probably know how much you need or want to make a day and this keeps you focused on earning towards this target.

Checking Banks and Updating Invoices

You’ll need to keep an eye on incoming payments and update your invoices or billing system (depending on what kind of business you run) and this is a reminder to do so daily.

Contact List

You’ll probably have a list of clients to contact every day, so here’s a space to list them. Extra points for doing Deep Work including your Most Important Task in the morning and making calls etc in the afternoon. Any missed calls can go on this list too.

Notes

If you’re anything like me you have a variety of unconnected thoughts throughout the day which can easily distract you. This area is a parking place for all those thoughts and reminders for yourself. Writing them down can get them out of your head, stop you forgetting them and allow you to return to them later once you’ve done your Most Important Task and hit your target.

Download the Daily Planner for Freelancers

Click here to download the planner in PDF format.

Summary

In this article we’ve outlined a free daily planner for freelancers, describing how it can help keep you focused on tasks that will help you reach your creative and financial goals.

Do you use a different daily planner? Tell us what you think of it in the comments below.

Freelancer Interview: Martin, Web Developer

This week’s interview is with Martin, a front end developer. This is a particularly interesting interview for me as Martin describes how he went back to the 9-5 after freelancing for a period of time. Read on to find out more about his experiences.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Martin and I’m a Front-end Developer. Coming from a design background, my skills are in digital and user experience design as well as building flexible component-based and accessible front-ends. I decided to focus in more recent roles, on a more Front-end development route; learning and practising modern JavaScript methods and frameworks such as React, Webpack, Node and working with ES6.

I’ve worked in small agencies where I was able to work on branding and designing web layouts as well as building the sites themselves, often in that familiar, pressurised agency environment! I’ve also done some work on larger front-end systems working with back-end dev, for the public sector where accessibility and maintainability become essential.

What led you to start freelancing?

Having gained confidence in all aspects of design and building small sites, I found myself a little stifled at the time, and had built relationships with a handful of small clients who could sustain me if I were to make the jump; just to try it out. I was discovering how I liked to work and what environment suited me best and that I wanted to pursue Development, and I felt freelancing would provide me with the best opportunity to optimise for this, accepting the possibility of failure, but also trusting my skills, and that staying put and never knowing was less favourable.

I was freelancing then for only a few months – and your time freelancing provides you with valuable skills and improved confidence as you take on more projects and make those valuable mistakes.

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

1 – Get a contract, and take a deposit always, no excuses.

It sets a precedent and an expectation that you’re confident, your time is valuable, and you’re there to help your client’s business and brand and they should value that.

I read Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro which is entertaining and gives you the fire under your ass with regard to getting paid and valuing your own time and skills. (+1 for that book, review coming soon – Nick)

While it’s unfortunate to have to diminish our natural inclination to trust and think the best of people, be prepared to expect less than stellar conduct from your clients when money is involved. It’s not adversarial; it’s business. Yes, I got burned (maybe more than once too!) by being too naive when it comes to invoices and I’d recommend anyone starting out to not go through the same, long-winded ordeal by getting commitment before your start.

(see our blog Freelancers: Always Use A Contract & Terms for more info)

2 – Work to a spec and agree on the scope of work.

While at the outset you’ll be eager to get going, it’s important, just as working in an agency, to agree on the extent of the work and exactly what the deliverable is and what’s not included. This is the time to be up-front and not leave anything to chance, and if the scope includes a timeframe, deliverable or support you’re not comfortable with or able to accommodate, then gracefully say No.

3 – Say No.

I’d really recommend the book Essentialism on this point. Don’t take the short term comfort of accepting what comes your way at the expense of your longer-term priorities. Consider the suitability of the work for your personal and business goals and core skills and the match to the client’s requirements, and consider the commitment and support they expect over a period of time.

It’s hard to decline work and may require you to frequently evaluate your priorities. Know what your value offering is and don’t take on something you’re uncomfortable with however tempting, as it’s much harder to get out of it later once engaged in the project, and is never worth the stress.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

Of course being your ‘own boss’ and feeling the satisfaction of helping out an individual and seeing the results of your work in their business success in some area. There’s a satisfaction in being more solely responsible for the outcome, hopefully, a co-creator of it by providing guidance for your client, rather than only a small isolated part as with a larger project.

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

Spending time as a freelancer a gives you a skill that makes you a more rounded designer or developer. If it’s an itch you have on your career path, it’s certainly worth pursuing to fulfil your ambition. Life doesn’t wait!

I’m definitely glad I spent some time as a freelancer before joining companies full-time since. You’ll be endowed with an increased confidence and commercial awareness as well as demonstrating time and client management skills, commercial awareness, and autonomy that can help you to become a more well-rounded, adaptable team member should you re-join a team full-time.

Why did you return to the 9-5?

I started freelancing as a learning experience, and after a stint contracting and having really got on well with a new team, and experienced a lot of learning in a short time at that company, I decided the people I was working with were the kind I’d like to keep working alongside and continue that learning on projects that challenged me!

Going full-time wasn’t something I initially set out to do within a set time, but with Freelancing – as with life in general – opportunities present and you go with what suits your goals at that time. The experience I gained was indeed really valuable too, going into a new team on a full-time basis.

Freelancer work/life balance

Getting the freelancer work/life balance right can be tricky with the structure of the workplace removed. As Bees Make Honey say there are many people who:

“..quit their shitty job working for The Man to pursue their dreams… Six months to a year down the line, they’ve replaced that shitty former boss. Who made them work stupid long hours for little extra pay. Who frowned when they didn’t work through lunch close to deadlines. Who failed to properly recognise their achievements. Who didn’t let them take proper time off when they were ill or their nan was dying. They’ve replaced that shitty former boss, with a shittier new boss. Themselves.”

Here are some tips on how to not be a shitty boss to yourself.

Earn Enough That You Aren’t Working Too Many Hours

Once you’ve worked out what services you offer and your rates, you can decide how many hours to work a day/week/month. We all know people who’ve gone freelance and end up working longer hours than when they were working for a company. Unless you REALLY enjoy your freelance role, working fewer hours is the goal. Earning enough per hour to make this pay is key – and this often comes down to confidence. Setting a high rate or raising your rates can be stressful and emotional for various reasons, but you need to do it anyway.

Do you faff around doing pointless things? If so, make a note of how long you spend faffing around and aim to reduce it. Just because other people work nine hours a day doesn’t mean you have to. At the right hourly rates you can work part time and earn enough to live a comfortable life if you want to.

Stick To Your Working Hours

By sticking to this instead of taking ‘just one more little job’ or ‘helping that client out’ you can help get your freelancer work/life balance right and preserve time to spend on the rest of your life – whether that’s spending time with your family, travelling or playing video games.

Not only does this free up your time, it also prevents you feeling run ragged and pressured into doing things for clients. Feeling like that saps your energy longer term and makes freelancing miserable.

Separate Phone For Work

A good way to keep work within the allotted hours is to have a separate phone for work. This doesn’t have to be expensive – a second hand Android phone and GiffGaff SIM can be cheap. The benefits are well worth the cost, as you can turn off this phone or leave it in the office area when you’re finished. Getting a text/email/call about work stuff while you’re trying to relax drags you right back into the work mindset.

Don’t Open Emails When You’re Not “At Work”

It’s tempting to keep checking emails outside of your working hours. What if someone has an issue? What if you’ve got a new project? What if Indian SEO companies can get you to page 1 of Google?

Keep your recreation time to yourself. It can all wait until tomorrow.

Turn Notifications Off

Phones and other devices usually have notifications turned on for every little thing. Apps and services often rely on our attention and engagement, which results in them pestering us constantly to log in or pick up our phones. These notifications usually aren’t time critical and you don’t need to instantly know that somebody followed you on Twitter or ‘liked’ a Facebook post.

Every time you lose focus you are potentially losing money. Setting aside time every day to catch up on social media or emails is a much better way to manage your attention and get your work done. 

Once your work is complete, you can then pursue other things and keep your freelancer work/life balance right.

Get Recreation Time And Holidays

If you need a holiday, a mental health day or just a plain old duvet day, take it. The whole point of many people going freelance is so they can be more flexible with their lifestyles. Not taking advantage of that means you may as well be working for someone else. So many things come up that we would otherwise miss when working full time – take those opportunities.

Few people look back on their lives and wish they had worked more. (Number two in the top five ‘regrets of the dying’: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying)

Summary

Here we’ve covered some tips to get your freelancer work/life balance tipped in the right direction. If you have any more tips for freelancers on improving their work/life balance, please leave them in the comments below.