The First Six Months

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Wow – the end of June on Saturday marked the end of my first six months running Libro full time, with no safety net of an office job (but plenty of safety nets in terms of savings and experience!).

I thought I should mark this in some way, so I’ve changed the photo on my Facebook page to give myself some flowers, and I’m writing this to review the past six months. Has it gone as expected? Has anything surprised me? Am I actually doing OK? Am I happier? Am I enjoying myself? What have I learned?

Has it gone as expected?

In a word: no!

But in a good way. Each time I dropped a day at the office job in 2011 I experienced a small “slump” where the work coming in, and the profit made, dipped a little, just for a month. So I expected a big drop, a fallow period, especially as I had Jury Service to contend with at the beginning of January.

In fact, to tell you the truth, I was quite looking forward to a little rest. I’d actually finished my library job on 12 December and had worked solidly since then, gaining a new client and working over Christmas, including through a cold! But … it didn’t happen. I had obviously gathered a good number of regular customers, and adding a new one into the roster made a big difference. Also, some of my regulars increased the work they sent to me, as I had told them I was more available now, and having more hours available to work made me able to, well, do more.

Basically, the work ramped up right away, and I’ve been working pretty well full-time hours ever since!

Did anything surprise me?

I have to admit that I’m a little surprised that I’m sitting here, working full time on my business, keeping busy and earning well.  I didn’t think I was going to FAIL as such, because I had planned everything out, and by the end of March I knew that I was earning enough to keep myself going. But I’m actually doing better than I’d expected, in terms of busy-ness and in terms of income.

I think I’ve surprised myself with my success – a few years ago, I could never have dreamed I’d be doing this! I’m not being smug about it and it has come with a LOT of hard work, and I should have had the faith in myself not to be surprised at this point …

Have I surprised anyone else, I wonder? Friends who’ve known me for years and newer business friends? I’d love to know!

Am I actually doing OK?

In terms of income, I’m happy to admit that I’m earning more than I have in any other job I’ve had (only a little more than the highest-paying one, but still). And now I’ve got through the double tax year and out the other side with my tax payments safely set aside, knowing what I owe and what I could take home, I am taking home enough to live on and to treat myself (and my patient friends who graciously accepted cheap / badly planned / cheap AND badly planned Christmas and Birthday presents for a few years). I’m not rolling in it, and I have turned into neither Richard Branson nor Mrs Thatcher, but I’m doing well enough to be happy with it.

In terms of clients, I have a fairly full roster of regular clients of various kinds, keeping my work varied, from editing non-fiction and fiction books to transcribing international conferences and journalists’ interviews to localising web and marketing text for all sorts of companies.  My website and blog are getting more hits every month, and I do like looking at those stats!

Physical health wise, I’m eating well and getting to the gym a lot more, walking to meet Matthew after work, etc. Mental health wise I am a lot less stressed and I thrive on working on my own but having virtual colleagues via social media and business contacts and friends via various networking groups. I also have more flexibility and time to see friends and spend time with family.

Another important thing for me is helping people and giving back. I’ve been able to put together some great resources for students, Word users and other small businesses – OK, they bring people to my website, but I also love being able to help people out. My Saturday freelance/small business chats are going well, with a year’s worth done so we’re onto a combo of updates and new interviews. I love being able to showcase other small businesses and share our stories with people thinking about making the leap into self-employment or business ownership. And I’ve been able to help out other businesses and groups at the Social Media Surgeries, etc., too.

Am I happy / enjoying it?

Yes, I am! I’m so much happier and relaxed than I was even before I was working part time and running the business part time. This kind of lifestyle really suits me, and I genuinely enjoy the work. It’s great to be able to use my abilities and stretch myself, and I love knowing I have those regular clients out there and hearing how they are getting on and interacting with people all around the world, from China to Canada.

Specifically related to the full-time aspect of it, I love the fact that I do have more time for other projects, reading, Matthew and friends now. It might not look like it sometimes, but I am working fewer hours compared to when I was employed and self-employed at the same time. And I’ll admit that it’s nice to have a bit of money after a few years of hard saving and being very frugal indeed.

What have I learned?

The most important lessons I’ve learned are …

  • Embrace new opportunities, whether that’s new kinds of client, new kinds of work, presenting at training days or whatever
  • Don’t worry if it goes a bit quiet: it will pick up again and I can use the time to recharge my batteries
  • I can do it – and I must trust in myself and my relationships with my clients that I can
  • Eat a lunch made of more than one food group before 2pm and go outside every day and all will stay reasonably well and healthy

Thank you!

I’d just like to put out a big thank you to …

  • My clients, regular and one-off
  • Those clients who have been able to give me references and recommend me on to new clients (some of you can’t do this owing to NDAs, I know!)
  • My readers of both my blogs – whether you comment or not
  • The people who have kindly shared posts on Facebook, retweeted on Twitter or even featured me on their own websites and blogs
  • My online friends who I’ve never met but are there for good times and bad
  • My patient friends – it’s much better now, isn’t it!
  • Matthew, for putting up with me, for embracing and celebrating someone who’s changed an awful lot since you met them 11 years ago, and for tech support, of course!

Here’s to the next six months … and onwards!

Home alone

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I’ve been Home Alone for the past just-over-a-week. Not only that, but it’s been the longest Matthew and I have been apart since we got together over 10 years ago!

I thought it would be harder because I work mainly at home now, mainly on my own. I was a bit worried about turning “feral”: you know, not obeying my rules for Home Workers, eating odd things at odd times, sleeping through the alarm, waking up at 6pm and thinking it was 6am and getting my days inside out, all that.

Actually, it was OK.

I think that, because I’m used to being on my own in the house during the day, it was easier during the evenings. Because it’s lighter later, I was just up here in my study a lot, and when it did get dark, it was nearly bedtime, whereas I’ve been up here in the dark before Matthew’s even due home in the winter.

I also made doubly sure that I had something planned to do every day. Thanks to my super friends, this worked really well, and I was out of the house, spending time with different people, or having them round. I slept OK, I ate fine, and although I did miss Matthew, we “talked” every day via email, googlechat or Skype, so we were never that far apart.

So if you’ve started working from home and you’re worried about that inevitable “home alone” time when it comes … here’s the report from the other side of it: it’s not too bad!

Keeping calm and carrying on

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This picture was taken in Kairouan, Tunisia. It’s the place in the whole world where I feel most calm, peaceful, happy and at home. Yep: a desert town in the middle of Tunisia. It’s a holy place, with a huge mosque, but also a bustling and lively town. Why the connection? I put it down to my theory that my Spanish ancestor originated from North Africa and that it’s some blood connection with the place. I’ve been there twice, felt the same both times. Anyway, I was reminded of this photo when I was adding it to my Facebook page, and I want to put it on here to remind me of happy and calm times.

This post is a quick update on how time and client management is going here at Libro Towers. Many of you were kind enough to read and comment on my previous post where I wondered out loud how to manage a slightly-too-busy schedule. I had loads of advice and was also mulling over various options I had put together: I’m pleased to report that things are going a lot better and more calmly now, even though I’ve just had my busiest week to date!

Managing regular urgent work

I’ve had a breakthrough here, in that I’ve managed to organise back-up for a couple of those clients who are regulars, and great customers, but send me often large files at often short notice. I had already raised the “what if I’m busy, what if I want to go on holiday” issue with them, but we hadn’t got round to discussing it further. Not their fault, not my fault, just timing. Then – crunch time – I have a big semi-regular project on this week. And a big file came through from a regular. In consultation with them, I sourced someone who could do the work, explained it to them and provided back-up as they did it (it wasn’t quite the sort of work they are used to) and was pleased to find that a) the client was happy with their work; b) they were happy doing the work; c) it worked fine to have them invoice the client direct; d) the client is a good payer so everyone was happy there; and e) the client is happy for this person to provide emergency cover in the future.

Hooray! and this just shows that persistence works, and that often solutions come through when there’s a practical issue rather than just a theoretical one.

“Make them pay more”

A strong theme in the comments on the post was around making clients pay more in order to (I think) a) put them off and b) make sure I am being compensated adequately. As I have explained, I adjusted my prices in January of this year so that I was charging a more fair rate (for me!) for the writing services I offer, and moved editing and proof-reading work onto a full per-word rate, allowing for more predictability and again a fairer rate for me, as I had been under-charging. So I haven’t adjusted any current clients, as that would not be fair, and I am charging industry standard rates now anyway. There was an issue with students I’d worked with previously sending me more work on the same project and me feeling I should charge them the old, per-hour rate. But this turned out to be a red herring, as I have actually worked my way through all of those, and all student clients are now on my new rates anyway.

Turning down work

I was doing this already and have continued – anything that looks like it will be a one-off small job (and I don’t have time to do it right then) or is not part of my core set of services, now gets rejected or referred on to a colleague. In the last couple of weeks I have turned down a couple of small localisation jobs, passed on some student enquiries to a recommended friend, and passed on the opportunity to do some virtual assistant work for a current client, directing her on to another recommended friend who is doing well providing that service to her.

Getting support

I was quite amazed how much just writing that Keep Calm and Carry On post helped me sort things out in my head. I was good at letting current regulars know when I have a big project on (that’s just good customer service, I think) and better about talking through individual issues with business colleagues already, but I was also inspired to set up a local “networking” group (I was originally going to call it Cafe Of Pain, which I liked but some others didn’t – it’s  now the Kings Heath Homeworkers’ group) whereby local people can pop a note on the Facebook group or Twitter if they just need a quick coffee and a chat. This has nine members now and I have met up regularly for “grown-up homework club” with one friend (she does her language class homework and I work on my research project). It’s making a difference just to know there are local people around one can call on or meet up with in an informal way.

In summary

  • It’s good to talk
  • Solutions in business usually seem to come out of practical rather than theoretical situations
  • Things are getting better and will hopefully stay that way
  • People who read this blog are marvellous

Kings Heath home workers’ support group?

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I should explain that I wrote a post from a slightly different angle on this subject, deleted it after realising it was a little misjudged, but have rejigged my idea slightly. So, here goes …

When you work at home, sometimes you need to get out, maybe see some other familiar faces, have a moan or a celebrate or a chat or just get away from that desk. But you might not want to get all dressed up and off into town for one of the myriad co-working and networking events that go on there if you live in a suburb like, for example, Kings Heath.

Meetups like Jelly, Social Media Cafe, Entrepreneurs Meetup etc. are great, but they’re once a month and you do still need to be on networking behaviour rather than hair standing on end / in tracksuit bottoms behaviour. Organisations like the Moseley Exchange are great if you want to go and co-work with other people. Not that I’m suggesting we all lurch up the High Street like a bunch of zombies, without our laptops, but I think there may be a need for a more relaxed, local get together for people who work from home / run small businesses etc.

So, here’s my idea:

  • We have a designated cafe and a designated time. Say Costa in Kings Heath, 11-12 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.
  • No one HAS to be there. There’s not an organiser who’s going to be there every time. It’s just a space if people need it.
  • But that’s the time when you can go and get out of the office, see if anyone’s around, or just meet other home workers, small business people etc., not in an “impressing, networky” sort of way, but an honest “Phew – a sit down looking at a real person” sort of way. If you want to dress up, fine; if you want to show up in your pajamas, also fine.
  • There might not be anyone else there: but then at least you’ve got out of the house, and that’s something we all need to do from time to time!
  • You can send out a message on Facebook or Twitter saying you’re going and is anyone else but it’s not like begging people to come and meet you as a one-off or an overly formal arrangement, because it’s an established, informal pattern that’s already vaguely set up.

I’d love to know what you think, whether you’re local and want to give me ideas of when and where and who, or you’re not local but you’d do it if you were. Some questions to look at …

  • Where?
  • When?
  • How often?
  • Do we want to set up a Facebook group or Twitter something (hashtag, list?) to help people see who else is going?
  • Any other thoughts?

I hope this is a useful idea for people – let me know!

STOP PRESS we have a Facebook group now.

EDITED 24 AUGUST 2013:

We appear to have featured on a podcast, although I have no idea how they picked up on this rather elderly post – they are complimentary and I have got in touch to say thank you, so I thought I should provide an update:

This idea turned into a Facebook group which is solely used for arranging meetups, and a meetup at a local cafe approximately once a month. We’re made up of translators, editors and writers in the main, with a film maker too, and of course others are welcome to join. We do have a little moan over a coffee, and some of us meet up at other times, too. I also started a private Facebook group called Editors’ Rah and Argh which is a safe place for fellow editors to share things good and bad and make each other laugh and/or feel better. These and other friends I chat to on Facebook chat and Twitter give me the “water cooler” time it turns out we all need!

My first proper full-time week

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My first full-time week

So, this has been my first proper full-time week with Libro. In December, although I worked just on Libro for the second part of the month, I was still employed by the University and being paid by them. The first two weeks of January were supposed to be my Jury Service weeks: in the end, I wasn’t called for a case and only did four half days there, but I’d put off work (or done it in advance) so, certainly in the first week, I didn’t have the usual amount to do. I had the rest that I should have had over Christmas, in fact. But this week, it’s just me and Libro.

Work

I’m going to record a “typical week” later on in the year, just like I did when I was doing two jobs. I don’t feel things have settled down enough yet to know what a typical week is, so I’ll just summarise what I’ve got up to this week. I’ve edited articles for two regular clients and documents for one of those. I’ve proof-read a PhD and some smaller academic pieces; the PhD was for a new direct client and the other pieces were for a student proofreading company who contract out work to me. I also edited a local history book and converted it into e-book format for the author, edited a downloadable document for another regular, and typed up a transcription of an interview for my journalist client. I have done 33 1/2 billable hours, plus more hours doing admin and marketing, including responding to requests for price and service quotations.

Non-work activities

Or maybe I should call some of this non-billable-work activities! On Thursday, I went to my first Jelly co-working event. This is a monthly get-together organised by a local writer and event organiser, and I’ve been keen to attend for a while, but it falls on a day when I would normally have been working at the Library, and it never felt right to take too many days off for networking. This event takes place in the Jewellery Quarter, which is a bit of a walk across town, but in a cafe I know well, and we all sat around a big table, laptops out, working and chatting. The other attendees were a mixture of people I’d met before and new people, and it was a very nice, sociable occasion. I have to do most of my work in my quiet office, and I did plan to write up some blog posts, but ended up working on a client’s thesis, which was perhaps the wrong project to choose. But I’d definitely go again. I’m going to write up a review of all the networking and other events I attend in another post: I had planned to go to something called Likemind on Friday morning, but having had lunch at Jelly, I had taken a bit too much out of my working days, so left that for another month.

Other activities included writing up some blog posts: I’m doing a series on how to use Word effectively, complete with screen prints, and I went through and created draft blog posts for all the Troublesome Pairs people had suggested (see the Libro blog for all these). I like to get ahead with blog posts so I can just publish them quickly when I’m busy with other work.

I also had Friday evening and most of Saturday off for my birthday. Had a lovely time and it was good to relax and see friends.

Is this different from having two jobs?

One difference I noticed quite markedly this month was the effect a long day of Libro work had on my life and energy levels. On Wednesday, I had to get through proof-reading most of a PhD thesis, plus some other bits and pieces. I ended up working an 11 1/2 hour day (I did get out, to the gym, for half an hour of rowing!). I worked late, and I was tired by the end of the day. But it was great to know that if I needed to, I could rest on Thursday. Actually I ended up getting up early to complete a job I’d had to put off from the Wednesday, but just knowing I wasn’t going to HAVE to get up at a particular time and get myself across to the office was great.

And … this is going to sound a bit smug. But you know that Sunday Afternoon Blahs feeling, when you know you have to go back to the office on Monday? Well, not only have I not had that for a couple of weeks; today I had the Sunday Morning Whoos, when I realised I wasn’t going to have the blahs this afternoon!

One disadvantage of leaving the day job

Some of my ex-colleagues came to my birthday dinner on Friday night. I hadn’t seen them since my last day, and two of them live a little way away, which makes it hard to just meet up. I realised that I really miss them all – more than I maybe thought I would. Does that sound horrible? We all have colleagues we get on with, but we also all have people from old jobs where we’ve said, “Ooh, keep in touch, we must go out some time” … and then don’t. Well, I want to see these people more, and I’ve already emailed them to say so!

In conclusion …

It’s been a good week. I’ve read more and seen my friends more. I’ve continued networking and marketing myself, and I’ve worked hard for my customers. Life is easier and more flexible – I’m certainly enjoying being able to go to the gym in the day time, when it’s so much quieter. I have also hit the middle of my three monthly earning (that’s money physically coming in to my account) targets already, and on aggregate, have hit my billable hours (money going onto invoices, but not always yet in) target per week. I hope this stays the same next week …

My first week of full-time self-employment

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Liz in the office

Well, it’s late on Sunday of my first week of self-employment: I had my leaving do on Monday and it’s been go, go, go ever since!  Before last weekend, I just had one transcription booked in for this week, coming in on Thursday. “Fine,” I thought, “I can get my Christmas cards and the cleaning done, and have a bit of a rest”. Well, it wasn’t quite to be like that.

I had an enquiry about a job while I was actually at my leaving do. Thank goodness for the BlackBerry and the fact that I’m almost teetotal these days! I sent a holding message with details of my availability and pricing, and negotiated that job, copy-editing/proof-reading part of a professional rulebook (I was both checking the spelling, etc., and comparing it to last year’s book to make sure no differences had crept in), the next morning: I got it in right away with a deadline of Thursday morning (which moved forward eventually).

I had an edition of the club magazine I’ve been editing for nearly 2 years in on the Monday night, too, plus some pieces from a student proof-reading company I work with and a feature to write from a regular. So that all got done on Tuesday. On Wednesday I finished the big project and did a little bit for a new client. I managed a trip to the gym and I had a Christmas meal with my friends from BookCrossing. I don’t know if I’ll be doing much more BookCrossing this year, but I do want (badly) to spend more time with my friends. On Thursday, having still not written my Christmas cards or done the cleaning, I did more student work, polished a translation from the Polish, did an hour or so of copy-editing for another regular, and popped into town to have a meeting with a potential new client about writing a set of blog posts for them. When I got home, I wrote out my Christmas cards and went for a chilly run.

On Friday, I emailed confirmation of our meeting to the potential new client, looked at a chapter of a PhD for a client whose other chapters I worked on last week, did some more student work, and posted my Christmas cards, AND did the cleaning! Hooray! On Saturday we had a family lunch and then a party at M’s bosses’ house to go to: I transcribed for one of my regular transcription clients and did some student work in the morning before I went out. I got home to a message from the new client that they would like to accept my price and service offer and asking for my invoice for their deposit. And today I finished that transcription and did a bit more copy-editing, around going to the gym and watching the Strictly Come Dancing final on catch-up this morning and visiting a friend in the evening, with a crisp and icy walk home.  I also emailed my regulars to tell them about a commitment I have early next year which may affect response times for a little while.

I have two transcriptions to do for my journalist client and a web page to copy-edit for next week, plus doing final edits and some reference checking on a non-fiction book I’ve been working on for a while. I have a novel and a PhD due in, too.  I have promised to have Christmas Day off!

I wrote out a list of New Job Resolutions, mainly around going outside in the daylight and having proper lunches, and I can report that I have achieved both those things all week. I’ve kept warm, chilly looking picture above notwithstanding!

I’ve done 29 hours 15 mins of billable work this week, beating my targets, and I’ve brought in almost my target for the month in incoming payments, so I’m really pleased about that. I know every week won’t be this good, but it’s been a good one to have to help with the transition into full-time Libro.

However, although in my head I understand I am now with Libro, I have to support myself, etc., etc., I’ve realised that I haven’t really come to terms with it yet. It sort of feels like I’m on annual leave from the library job and will be going back there afterwards, and I suspect it might only hit me after the New Year. Hm; we’ll see how that goes!

Go on: inspire me!

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As I trembled on the brink of my momentous Last Day In Employment this evening, I threw out a distress flare on Facebook and Twitter. As you do. My old school friend, Kathy, came to the rescue with some lines from our school song!

So: share with me YOUR inspiring school song! Polite versions only, please. But if you’re our age or older, I bet you had one …

What if the lessons of life grow harder?

What if they bring no gain?

Still we can work for the joy of working,

Play up and play the game!

Courage and honour as England’s women

Think of the school on the hill!

School on the hill top, keep our devotion

True among all life’s fears.

Let our tradition of Courage and Honour

Grow, Grrrow with the passing years!

(copyright TGSG, I suppose. No intention to steal it. Just share a few lines, eh?)

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