I have been self-employed, freelance, working for myself (whatever you want to call it) for almost two years now. Before that I worked part-time for a young people’s charity and before that I was a student. I am not best equipped to give advice on careers that involve being in one place for 8 hours a day Monday to Friday, having a boss, navigating office politics and relationships or whatever else happens in those mysterious environments.
Self-employment, however, I’ve got a good knack for it. Over the last two years I’ve been successful at my job, I keep on top of my work, I enjoy what I do and I even have scheduled time-off (would you believe it!?)
Here are some things that I’ve learned since being self-employed that have helped me. Obviously, everyone’s work styles are different but maybe at least one of these tips will help you. And if you’re thinking about becoming self-employed then maybe these nuggets of advice with help manage your expectations.
1. Don’t go for pointless coffee meetings/catch ups.
When you first become self-employed if you’re anything like me you’ll get ridiculously excited about the fact you have all this time to do whatever you want and schedule in a million mid-week coffee dates. For the first few months I met up with other self-employed friends, friends who were still students, new people I’d met on Twitter almost every day. I even joined friends with “real jobs” on their lunch breaks. Absolute freedom.
But then I realised I was getting no work done and I wasn’t going on these coffee dates for important business or meetings but just for the simple reason that I could. So they had to stop. Obviously, I still have mid-week coffees and lunches but I keep them to a minimum and work related. To me it just feels like a waste of time otherwise. It ends up causing me more stress because that was time I could have spent working.
It does feel like a rite of passage though so don’t punish yourself if you do this. Just recognise when you start to feel burned out (or preferably before) and set some boundaries for yourself.
2. Learn how to do something, or pay someone to do it for you.
Sometimes your work requires skills you don’t have. You want to increase your value as a freelancer by learning a new skill. Or you need to get your head around all these new administrative tasks that you didn’t know existed before. You have two options here. You either take the time to learn the new skill yourself or you pay someone else to do it for you.
As your career changes so will your relationship with time and with money. Everyone is different. But figure out what each are worth to you. Do you have the time to learn Photoshop? Do you have the money to outsource that job you hate doing? Do you have any idea how to do your own taxes? Check what resources you have (time/money), measure up your strengths and weaknesses and go from there. I have an accountant who does all my money stuff for me. It’s expensive but oh boy does it save me a lot of stress and time!
3. Schedule in breaks and time off.
I will preach this until the day I die. Take a break! (not the magazine). When you work for yourself and you don’t have traditional working hours it is very easy to get swept up in everything and never stop working. There is always something to be done. There is never an end to it. Ever. But working constantly is not fun and not healthy. Again, everyone is different so when you take your time off is up to you but please please make sure you do.
In my first year of self-employment my schedule was all over the place. I would work when I felt like it, sometimes filming & editing over the weekend. I’d take random mornings and afternoons off when I fancied it and work from my bed and forget to eat all day. It was fun, but I was a mess. After I moved out of the warehouse with twelve other people and into a flat with three people, I quite naturally settled into a routine.
Now, I wake up around 8am, I actually get out of bed, shower, dress, have breakfast and work at my kitchen table until 6/7ish or until I have to leave the house for evening activities. The evenings and weekends are mine to do as I please. And oh boy it feels so good. I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, energised and happy. And come Monday morning I am genuinely really excited to start work again.
But even if you don’t have a routine it’s still important to schedule in time-off. Put in your diary, “day off!” and stick to it. Putting an out-of-office reply on my emails is one of the best feelings. Don’t feel guilty for giving yourself time to breath. Also, scheduling days to do absolutely nothing is glorious. That time when you’re not working but you’re also not socialising is so precious and valuable. Use it and use it wisely.
4. Have passion projects.
This is the fun bit. Often people go self-employed because they want to pursue their own projects. It is very easy to get carried away with other work because that’s the work that earns money and pays the bills. Passion projects don’t pay the bills (but they might one day!).
YouTube was a passion project for me and look how that turned out! Not bad. It’s healthy to have side hustles and projects. Things that you love that keep your creative juices flowing and your brain ticking. You might find that they even help you with your other work or you find a way to monetise your passion project. Huzzah! (But then it becomes a job and you’ll have to find another passion project – the cycle of fun continues!).
Currently my passion projects are Banging Book Club and this blog. Neither are making me money at the moment, technically I’m losing money (time spent on them, money spent on books, RSS feed hosting, website domain, blog design etc.) But I love them and they look good on my virtual CV and hopefully down the line I’ll be able to cash in on them as a little cherry on top. Banging Book Club is especially important to me because it’s something that I do with my friends. If you can find a passion project with mates, even better! As long as working together won’t ruin your friendship.
So there are my four tips for the self-employed. Like I said, the whole point of being self-employed is so you can work for yourself and do it your own way so if these don’t help by all means ignore me and do your own thing!
If you have any other tips that work for you please let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear them.