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.

Freelancer interview: Rachael van Oudheusden, Big Old House

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rachael van Oudheusden, from Big Old House [www.bigoldhouse.com]. I’m a freelance Marketing and PR Consultant and Copywriter. I help businesses talk to existing and potential customers through B2B marketing, PR and copywriting.

It’s pretty varied. It can involve creating marketing plans, coordinating advertising, writing brochures, websites, editorials, planning and creating social media campaigns or connecting clients with their target media to raise brand awareness.

What led you to start freelancing?

Having spent almost 20 years in marketing communications roles, covering PR, project management, campaign planning and messaging for mainly B2B clients and owner managed businesses, I realised I wanted a bit more freedom and flexibility.

I had a senior role in an agency, which was becoming more operational than creative. My days were more HR than PR. I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I had written something, or even had the headspace to think about writing something.

I felt that I wasn’t delivering for my team or my existing clients well enough. It was time to redress the balance. It was time to look after myself, enjoy work again and choose the types of work I wanted to do and be proud of.

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

  • Accountancy is more complicated than anyone tells you, especially when you become limited or VAT registered. Pay for help if this is not your strength. 
  • It is very lonely, unless you make sure it isn’t. Spending too much time on your own is bad for you. Turns out I quite like being around people. Find a co-working space that is right for you, such as Works Social [https://www.workssocial.co]
  • You will waste your time and money going to soul destroying networking events until you figure what is right for you. And you will. Then it will be worthwhile. 

What three issues have you had since starting up?

Not really issues, more things I didn’t factor in or found harder than expected. 

  • Saying no to business that is not true my original core focus (ideally building, construction property and industrial sectors). When you first start, you daren’t say no to any work in case nothing ever comes along again…it will. 
  • Taking on too much at once and not allowing for ‘thinking time’. Having too many projects and deadlines on at once means that everyone loses – you get stressed, your clients don’t get the best of you and your business suffers longer term (not to mention your sleep). 
  • Business developing faster than expected and not knowing how to manage it all. Delegating to just yourself is a tough prospect when your to do list is longer than a roll of wallpaper. Finding a network of other suppliers and co-freelancers has helped take the pressure off at times. Being freelance means I can give clients the flexibility they need and if I can’t help them, I have built a network of super talented people who can.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

So many good things – variety, opportunities, fun, creativity, sense of achievement. Definitely being your own boss has to top the lot. 

Being freelance means I can give people the flexibility they need and if I can’t help them, I have built a network of super talented people who can.

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

Three years in I am at a fork in the road. Do I want to remain ‘just a freelancer’ or do I want to be ‘Managing Director of Big Old House’? I don’t know yet. I’ve given myself five years to decide and I’m in no rush. I’ve proved what I needed to to myself and the rest is down to the opportunities that might present themselves and if they feel like the right thing to do at the time. 

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

  • Decide what is most important to you – family, money, time, ethics, work-life balance, flexibility, growth, industry sector, personal development and let that lead your decisions.
  • Reassess where you are every six months and make sure you the things you are doing are either what you set out to do, or even better than that. If not, readjust. 
  • Grow your networks and be generous with your contacts. Be helpful, connect people. It’s nice to be nice. 
  • Track your time. (Harvest [https://www.getharvest.com] is great) What are you doing all day? Helps with assessing profitability, understanding how to manage your time and with quoting new projects. 
  • Have a plan and some key goals, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant. One of mine was to visit Japan for a month when I had enough steady work, good enough cash flow and could still pay my mortgage without working for a few weeks. I’m going soon (and not taking my lap top). #proudofmyself
  • Your gut instinct is more important than anything in coming to the right decisions. Ignore it at your peril.
  • Work hard (but smart) and be kind.

Sales Tips For Freelancers

As freelancers we have to sell ourselves and our services to potential clients. Possibly due to shady tactics and high pressure sales from other people and companies (looking at you, car dealers), it’s easy to feel bad about ‘selling’. There’s no need however as it’s possible to sell yourself without any need to mislead or pressure people.

When thinking about ‘selling’ yourself or your services, it can be more useful to think about how you can clearly let people know what you can offer. It’s not hard selling but rather giving them the information and letting them make up their own minds.

Selling Yourself As A Freelancer

When speaking to potential clients, ask yourself can you do the job, and do you want to do the job? You can (probably) choose your jobs now you’re freelance. If it’s a good fit, then let them know and explain how you can help. Stating that you’re a ‘consultant’ or using other vague terms can turn a lot of people off as it sound expensive and it’s not clear what you offer.

I make websites, so if I’m talking to someone and can help, I let them know that I can design and build them a fast, easy to use and mobile friendly website that will help them promote their business. I don’t need to tell them I use Sketch, code in PHP or jQuery and use SASS. They don’t care about that bit – they want the end product.

I believe that confidence and clarity will get you more jobs. If people trust you can do the job, you’re enthusiastic and are clear about the end result it’s an easy choice for them.

Selling your Products and Services

When selling your products and services you can ask yourself is it a good fit and is this what they need right now? Selling people things you know are not fit for purpose or that they don’t need is pretty shady – leave that to telesales drones and used car salespeople. Chances are you went freelance to avoid the shady end of business and do good work, so these questions will help you stick to that.

Ask for the sale

After discussing things with a potential client and providing a quote, ask if that is within their budget and if they’d like to go ahead. There’s no need for months of back and forth or work up front – they either want it or they don’t. It’s up to you whether you negotiate, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to pay your bills and continue to do good work for people.

There are people out there who will try and waste your time either by being confused, or more rarely, because they enjoy it. Don’t let them steal your time – move on to better prospects.

Summary

I’ve covered some selling tips for freelancers including asking if the job is a good fit and if you can deliver, as well as being clear about what you can offer and asking for the sale.

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.