Another good week

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I’ve had another good week this week – good in terms of Libro work and also in terms of work-life balance.  I did miss the Entrepreneurs meetup because I had some work coming in at the same time, and also meeting a friend for a birthday coffee … but I also had AN AFTERNOON OFF on Thursday! I went away from my desk, away from my office, away from my house, away from my city … and had lunch and a book shopping expedition with a friend from America who was staying in Stratford. Yes, I did have to tell my regulars who send me urgent fast-turnaround work, and yes, I did have to work right up to the moment when I left the house, and check my BlackBerry on the way round, but I did have an afternoon off.

I also went to Social Media Cafe on Friday morning and had a lovely time catching up with business chums and meeting new people. I did do some work and there is a photo of me doing so, but it was fine to whip out the laptop, polish off a quick check of someone’s English translation (I was charging by the word, not the hour: I wouldn’t work in a public place if I was doing the latter), then close it and carry on networking. It was quite funny to think I was caught out working when I should be chatting, though! And I went to the BookCrossing meetup on Saturday, too.

Apart from those social/networking occasions, I had a guest blog post published and was quoted in an article about the rise in numbers of self-employed people, spent a few hours delivering business directories for the local Business Association (I’m in the directory: v. exciting!) and even found time for a bit of work: mainly proof-reading and editing but a bit of writing for my retail shelving client and another business listings client, a little bit of transcription, and a localisation using some software with which I was previously unfamiliar.

I’ve hit all my targets for income for January and my billable hours targets for each week (how much I earn, rather than how much comes in), which is handy, as I wrote a post about Goals over on the Libroediting blog. Oh, and a quick plug for my friend Ali’s new book blog, which I helped her set up today, including a rather hefty import from her LiveJournal!

Looking forward, I have booked in to do some more transcription for a client I worked with just before Christmas, and I’ve got 2 new coaching clients, both doing Master’s degrees, who I will be working with through to their dissertation submissions. So it’s looking positive on the work front, and I’ve got some coffees and lunches with friends planned too.

Oh – if you’re an entrepreneur or self-employed person with a long-suffering (or not suffering) partner, friend, husband or wife, do ask them to contribute to my article about what it’s like living with one of us lot: here’s a place to respond.

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 …

Exactly how I did it

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I’ve been asked by quite a number of people exactly how I have made the transition from part-time “pin money” business to full-time business that is able to support me. Here’s the thing: I haven’t done it yet! I’ve just gone full time, and I’m pretty sure it will work … but the fact that I am pretty sure that it will work, and that I have back-up information and statistics that make this clear to me, is enough for me to think it might be useful to set it out. So, a mixture of practical and exact things I did to make it happen:

I’ve kept records – right from the start (and thanks in large part to the HMRC course I attended just after I set myself up) I’ve kept records of my invoices and outgoings on a spreadsheet. I have always grouped my income information monthly and my full incomings and outgoings yearly (based on the UK April-March financial year, which is Libro’s financial year too). This means that at any one point in time I can see:

  • Which invoices are still outstanding
  • My income for this month (and previous months)
  • My income, outgoings and profit for the current financial year, as of today

It was quite easy to do this, using fairly simple Excel skills, with the main invoices sheet feeding information into the other sheets as I go along (no retyping: no room for error)

I’ve had goals – I’ll admit: when I started Libro I had no idea that I was ever going to take it full-time. I thought I might end up working at the day job part-time, but not that I might give it up altogether. But as I realised I was working more hours on the two jobs than I really wanted to, I set goals for myself, so I could see when I would be able to drop a day at the day job in favour of Libro. This is how I did it:

  • I worked out how much money I would lose per month if I dropped a day at the library. To do this, I divided my monthly gross salary by 5. So to move to 4 days a week and replace the lost income, Libro would have to earn 1/5 of my monthly library salary per month.
  • I added a column to my monthly income spreadsheet called “Against 1/5 target”. The amount in that cell for each month was my 1/5 salary minus my Libro earnings for that month. So if the amount needed to replace my salary was £400 and I earned £350, then I had brought in -£50 against target. Or was £50 under target.
  • I made this into a graph – a great way to see immediately where I was against target
  • I added a cumulative target too – this meant that if I made £350 one month and £450 the next, my records would iron out the ups and downs to show if I was covering targets on average.
  • Once the 1/5 target was being achieved every month for 6 months, I knew it was time to negotiate dropping a day at the library and did so, starting the new regime in January 2011.
  • Then I repeated, using a 2/5 target. In fact, I started these columns off at the same time, and used them to show me that I could drop a second day in May 2011. Which I did.
  • 5/5 i.e. total salary replacement was my next target. But targets should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) and that was a bit scary at that point, and seemed too far away. So I sorted out some interstitial targets of 3/5 and 4/5 salary replacement. In fact, I cheated slightly – because I was managing to live on 3/5 of my salary at that point, I adjusted these last 3 to be a bit lower, giving me a lower target to replace, knowing I could live on that lower amount.

I saved up – Once I realised that I was likely to want to move to a more part-time basis with my job, I saved and saved and saved. It helps that interest rates are so low, oddly enough: I am happier to sacrifice my savings to living expenses, knowing that they wouldn’t do much in a savings account. But I made sure that I had a whole year of living expenses saved up before I left my job, so 2012 is covered.

I cut costs – By hoarding Amazon vouchers for when I had to have new books, using BookCrossing and charity shops as other sources of books, not buying new clothes, etc., etc. – all very boring stuff – I managed to live off my reduced wages from the Library through my part-time year. This meant that all my earnings from 2011 and 2012 can go to paying my way in 2013.

I worked hard Because I always needed to be working enough to replace my salary for a good few months before I dropped the day in question, there have been three periods in my Libro life (Oct-Nov 2010, Mar-Apr 2011 and Sep-Nov 2011) when I’ve been working rather too many hours in the 2 combined jobs to be entirely comfortable. But I’d rather have it this way than leave myself vulnerable. But it has been hard to do 7.5 hours at the library, come home and do 3-4 more some evenings, and maybe 5 each day at the weekend.  And no one got anywhere without working hard, really.

I made sacrifices (and so did other people – sorry!) – I had to prioritise Libro. So I have had to postpone or cancel meeting up with friends; accept that I can’t keep up with my Twitter and Facebook timelines; not spent as much time with my Other Half as I would have wished and certainly not gone on trips out with him; practically given up reading for pleasure; not spent out on anything unneccessary … but you don’t get anywhere without some sacrifies, and I knew by a certain point that this would be temporary.

I was pretty darned blatant – I told everyone what I was doing. I cajoled and begged people into giving out my business cards, into retweeting my Tweets and sharing my Facebook posts. I started going to networking events – everything I could to do raise awareness of the business. I asked for references and testimonials, I asked for recommendations; I carried on marketing myself even when I was busy with work already.

I did all the other stuff I have blogged about on the Libro blog regarding how to run your small business. I won’t repeat that here. Pop over there if you want to see.

I said it out loud – at one point this year I started announcing to all and sundry that I was aiming to leave the day job. I took advice, I asked for support, but I claimed it for myself. Powerful stuff, if a bit scary.

So there  you go: that’s how I did it. It’s one way, it might not be the best way, but it’s (hopefully) worked for me.

I hope this has been helpful – do tell me (and share it) if it has!

Book review: Alastair Campbell – “The Happy Depressive”

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(Bought 13 January 2012 – Kindle)

“I hope that by the time I die I will have played a part in ending the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness”.  Alastair Campbell, I think you’ve played that part already, and this book will help you do more to achieve this goal.

I bought this book on a whim, because  a friend Tweeted that she’d bought it (internet marketers, take note: it wasn’t even a review. It was a note that she’d bought it). And I’m glad I did. Loosely based on Campbell’s Happiness Lecture at Birmingham University (my alma mater and ex-employer, but no, I didn’t manage to get to the lecture), this extended essay is a very honest and personal discussion of what it’s like to be depressed: what it’s actually like, in detail. It’s also a musing on what “happiness” is and whether a depressed person is every truly happy, and a discussion of the things that help Campbell, and might help other people. He’s careful to avoid preaching and telling people what to do, but the concrete examples about how altruism, exercise and the application of his mind to new things help him will surely bring comfort to people who aren’t so used to managing their depression. I’d forgotten he’s a runner, but that made sense – running certainly keeps me sane, and not just because I’ve got a busy lifestyle. And there’s much more to identify with, personally – I’m glad I’m not the only person to sob my way through Olympic or other major sporting events, for a start!

But it’s not all personal stuff: the political features heavily, too – but that shouldn’t put people off, as it’s the author’s main arena, or was for many years, and he has much to say that’s of real and practical interest. I was pleased to find an actual explanation of the Bhutan Gross National Happiness idea rather than the usual glib reference to it – spelled out and explained, it makes a lot of sense with its discussions around sustainability and support. There’s a fair treatment of Cameron’s aim to improve happiness in the UK population, and a notable discussion of the way newspapers have become more and more negative, feeding, to some extent, a culture of miserable envy.

Brave, intelligent, moving – often funny – well-written … the only fault of this book is that it’s not long enough! I’ve already recommended it to someone looking for resources on how to explain their depression.

This should be required reading for anyone who deals with the political, medical and social implications of depression and other mental health issues. Anyone who is or has been depressed (I’ll count myself in that band: this is about honesty, after all). Anyone who has a friend or family member going through depression. Oh: that would be everybody, then.

You can buy this book from Amazon here.

Book reviews

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I’m getting a bit fed up with LiveJournal, which is where I normally post my book reviews, as the site is down – again – just when I want to post up a load that I’ve written. So I’m going to pop them here for now, and I might keep them on here in a weekly update or some such. Does this make sense? Do you like the idea of having all my more personal stuff in one place, or should I keep this blog for my Libro full time experience? (Note that one of the things running Libro full time will give me is more time to read … so there is a link).

So here are two of the latest ones, and the other one will be on its own so I can let the author know how to find it!

A.J. Jacobs – “My Experimental Life”

(bought 14 July 2011)

Known for his long experiments like reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica and living by the Bible for a year, here Jacobs presents a (short) collection of 9 shorter-term experiments. This book seems to mainly be constructed from articles he has published in Esquire, etc., with updates, but an odd point was that, although many were clearly from different dates, he refers at a couple of points to his “year of experiments”, making a whole out of something that doesn’t seem to have been that. Hm. Some were interesting, like outsourcing his life to India, and he learns from being as rational as possible for a month: I also liked his last experiment of doing everything his wife asked for a month, and there were some laugh out loud moments. But it did seem a bit piecemeal and cobbled together, and left me wanting more.

Sinclair Lewis – “Free Air”

(Kindle)

My third Sinclair Lewis novel after “Arrowsmith” and “Main Street”, and I really like his portrayals of early 20th century America and Americans. Here we find Claire, driving her father from New York to Seattle, and Milt, a rather unsophisticated man she encounters on the way, who determines to look after her and captures her heart, but finds himself out of his depth. Well written and very perceptive on the effect of our social surroundings on our character and behaviour. An unfortunate animal death notwithstanding, a fine book, and an author I will continue to look out for.

 

A-Z of important things

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I got the idea for this post from Emily Quinton, who posted a list on her new blog. This will hopefully represent things that are important in my new life as a full-time freelancer, or need to be made more so this year.  Oh, and the picture is related to P!

A is for authors. I really respect people who can write creatively (I can write, but my talents lie on the marketing / informational side of things) and who have the determination to see the whole project through. I’m passionate about helping authors who are going down the self-publishing route to avoid being ripped off by the unscrupulous companies that exist out there, and showing them how they can get their work in front of their audience at a lower cost, for example by publishing e-books rather than print books.

B is for BookCrossing. While I keep some BookCrossing Zones going, I’ve really scaled back on this hobby, which is a shame; but the admin does take time that’s been filled by Libro activities. I did enjoy doing some wild releasing on Christmas Day, so I’ll get back into a bit of that. But nothing like I used to do. I have met some lovely people through the hobby and maintained those friendships, but times change and we move on.

C is for colleagues. I do miss my colleagues from my old office, but I have virtual (and real-life) people who are filling that role. On Twitter, I’ve found a group of people who are up early, like me, and we all say “good morning” first thing. Then there are various people who run small businesses or work from home in Birmingham, who I see around and about and meet for coffee, and then my fellow editors, all over the world, with whom I swap thoughts, ideas and questions.

D is for diversity. When I launched Libro, it was as a proof-reading company, mainly working on student dissertations and theses. Since then, I’ve added substantive editing, fiction editing, transcription, localisation and copy-typing to the mix. All fun, and keeps me on my toes.

E is for Ethiopia. Since I started working at the University of Birmingham Library and found out about it, I have supported a charity, LUCIA, run by library staff, which in turn supports women and children in Ethiopia. I love doing sponsored events knowing that the LUCIA ladies can tell me exactly who I’ve helped and what I’ve done for them with the amount raised.

F is for friends. I did apologise in advance to my friends at the beginning of 2011, the year when I worked part-time and ran Libro part-time – and that apology was warranted, as I did miss several important developments in people’s lives, didn’t reply to emails very quickly, and when we did meet up, often arrived late and/or left early, citing work as the reason. I will do better this year!

G is for giving something back. I didn’t go into freelance work just to make money and grasp – I like to help people (see below) and I like to give something back. That’s why I share my experience and give out the odd hour of free work to people just starting up, through events like the Birmingham Entrepreneurs meetup, and help out at the Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery every month.

H is for helping people. I became a librarian because I wanted to help people, but sometimes it’s hard to feel you’re really helping individuals when you’re sitting in an office buying books for courses. Now, I know that I’m helping people with their English skills, their marketing, helping translators to produce the best text possible, etc. It’s a good feeling.

I is for Iris Murdoch. She’s my favourite author and I’m writing a research project on her books and reading groups. I re-read at least one of her books every year or so.

J is for jelly beans, which fuel my running. I’ve loved running since I started doing it seriously about 6 years ago. I’m slow, but I’m getting faster, and I’m proud that I can keep going for ages, and have run 4 Birmingham Half-Marathons, all supporting a small charity.

K is for Kindle. I haven’t given up buying, being given or reading “tree books” but the Kindle is so useful when you don’t want to drag loads of books around with you (for example, on holiday). I’ve also found a lot of books I like available free of charge, as they’re out of copyright, and picked up some useful business and social media books very cheap via special offers.

L is for Libro, of course, the reason I’ve given up employment for self-employment

M is for Matthew, who has provided meals and tea with horrible regularity, computer support at the drop of  a hat, and put up with having to sit in the corner with his blog reading if he wants to spend time with me.

N is for networking, something I’ve got to grips with and come to enjoy over the last few years. Someone commented recently that I couldn’t really be a librarian, because I’m outgoing and not shy. We’ll leave the library stereotype for a moment, but I am actually pretty shy, I’ve just learned to hide it. Nobody wants to labour away trying to winkle me out of my shell, so I go out there, take a deep breath and plunge in. I do have to have some own time afterwards, though!

O is for obsessiveness. If you run a small business, you have to be a bit obsessive – but I use many of the others things on this list to counteract this. I also need to be obsessive about details and consistency in my work. Here, it’s fine to be like that. But I do try not to shriek and shudder (too much) when I come across bad grammar or dodgy punctuation in real life!

P is for photography. I have a decent camera and like taking photos, but this, again, has got a bit subsumed recently. I’ve decided to use some of the images I’ve produced to illustrate this blog, hence the picture on this post (I wonder if anyone knows where I took this).

Q is for quiet time. Being an introvert, I need regular periods of time on my own, recharging. Luckily the people in my life understand this! I also need a quiet environment in which to do my work – although not too quiet; I enjoy being able to hear the sounds of the street outside. Quiet reading time after a hard day’s work: even better! A country walk that’s quiet except for birdsong: bliss!

R is for reading. Reading is another thing which has suffered while I’ve been growing Libro. But I’ve already got back into it in a big way, and I’ll carry on making time for my oldest and favourite hobby.

S is for stereotypes. I spent years with my bun, glasses and cardigan getting cross about librarian stereotypes. Now I come up against the business ones: I’m going to be obsessed with money, try to claim more against my tax than I should; I’m going to change and become hard-nosed and lose my decency. Nope!

T is for Twitter. It’s a great marketing tool and a good way to connect with people. I have got work, including long-term regular clients, through Twitter, and it does help me feel a bit more connected to the world.

U is for understanding. Something my friends and family have had to have over the last few years! And something I’ve had to develop too. Understanding when I work best. Understanding that one late payment isn’t the end of the world.

V is for validation. Everyone needs this. I get mine from seeing my Gantt chart coloured in, from seeing I’ve got projects booked in for the future, and from balancing my books and seeing my profit grow. I’m also validated by the lovely comments from clients, and from when people I’m close to tell me they’re proud of me.

W is for Word and Excel. Where would I be without these two? I learned to use word processors with WordPerfect, which was great, and I would be lost without these up to date versions. I do the majority of my work in Word, using Track Changes where I need to show my working. Excel is used to track my income and expenditure and for my Gantt chart which tells me what I have to do and the deadlines.

X is for eXercise. I know, I cheated. But I don’t have a xylophone. Exercise keeps me sane, it really does. If I’m upset or stressed, or need to mull things over, a run is just the thing. If I need some human contact and to straighten myself out after sitting at my desk all morning, I’m off to the gym. Keeping strong and fit has been important to me for a number of years now, and it’s even more important now I work from home.

Y is for whY do I do this? Yes, another cheat. But why? I love being my own boss. I can go to the gym or read when I want to (within reason). I can do a creative and interesting job. I can choose my clients (again, within reason). It was getting too much, having two jobs, and that plus my trusty spreadsheets told me it was time. I’m choosing to believe this and go for it.

Z is for zzzzz – I need to get more sleep this year. My bedtimes crept back and my mornings stayed early, and I know I do best on at least 7 hours of sleep!

THOMAS HARDY – Far From The Madding Crowd

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Bought 1980s, read for the Hardy Reading Project

A truly amazing book: rich, beautiful writing and a page turner. A big step forward in his writing, I felt. Proud Bathsheba thinks she can outwit love but is floored bu it; her suitors have very different fates from one another and the landscape, the stars and the animals provide a wonderful backdrop. The local farmhands are done with a lighter touch; still comical but not so laboured, somehow, and there are some beautiful scenes, for example Gabriel's observation of the movement of the stars. My favourite quotation was another bird-related one: "No Christmas robin detained by a window-pane ever pulsed as did Bathsheba now" (p. 247).

I studied this for O level but had forgotten the story, although certain rather random scenes and descriptions, such as Gabriel's face and the round hill he stands upon, were very familiar. Truly a privilege and a joy to re-read this book.

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