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.

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.

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.

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.