Well, I’m at home anyway …

6 Comments

window screenLast summer, we had a load of work done on the house, including having all of the exterior paintwork done and a new front door. Cue anguish, hours of sorting things out, and sawdust EVERYWHERE. Did we (especially I) learn? No we did not. This summer, we had Terry in to hang pictures (only eight years after we moved in), do other bits and bobs (including installing a new floor in the cats’ toilet) and make cat safety window screens. We also had a company in to replace the roof of our bay window.

Now, Terry is pretty self-sufficient and very quiet – but you can hardly give a man 12 pictures and ask him to hang them around the house without being there to tell him where they go. Or expect him to know how tall you are so he can fit the locks on the window screens. And the roofing men, while efficient and good workmen, sang. Constant snatches of popular tunes and TV theme tunes from the 1920s through to now.

It wasn’t M’s fault, it was probably my fault: there was an assumption that because I’m at home all day, I can project manage these things. As I said, did I learn nothing from last summer?

Last week, I did the usual 34 or so hours of paid work. All I can say is, it was handy that M was away for work, because I had the whole of Monday and over half of Tuesday with the roofing men banging and whistling, and most of Wednesday needing to be on hand at various intervals to demonstrate my ability to reach fixings on the frames (I did have tranches of time when I could get on with stuff that day, thanks to Terry’s ability to refrain from singing while working). I had work in which can’t really be done on a laptop, and I certainly needed to be around as the roof men were an unknown quantity and I needed to be on hand for Terry. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up working really late on several evenings in the week, and most of the weekend, two things that I normally pride myself on not having to do any more.

Yes, it’s good to be able to be flexible. No, I don’t feel that I’ve been taken advantage of, apart from by myself. But being flexible because you like a flexible lifestyle or have one dentist appointment at a time unpopular for office workers and working all the hours there are because you’ve booked in too many other responsibilities during the day are two different things.

picture on the landing wall

A picture hanging on the actual wall!

Next time we have work done, we’re going to do this: (a) arrange for me to book some actual time off to look after it, (b) arrange for M to have some time off work to manage at least part of it while I work. I will also try to make sure I have work that I can do with a laptop when I’ve got potentially noisy workmen in.

Well, it’s all part of the learning process, I suppose. How do you manage this kind of thing? Are you put upon, or do you bring it upon yourself?

—-

Want to read more about my adventures in full-time self-employment? Sign up for email updates, add this site to your RSS reader, click on the categories to the right, or have a look at my book!

The holy grail of passive income

11 Comments

cholesterol coverPassive income really is the Holy Grail of many small business owners. Why? Because it’s money you make without trying. Well, not really: you have to try initially, but once you’ve got your passive income stream going, it carries on flowing, whatever else you might be doing.

What is passive income?

Put simply, passive income is money you earn without doing anything for that particular chunk of money. Confused? Let’s look at some examples.

You write a book and sell it through a bookshop or online as an e-book. People can buy it whenever and there is no demand on your time and effort once you’ve produced it and got it ready for sale.

You set up a referral link to Amazon on your website so that every time someone clicks through and buys something from Amazon, you get a percentage back.

You accept advertising on your website. You say OK to requests to place adverts (this is different from having a free blogging or website service that has adverts applied to it unless you pay the provider not to do that) and make the requisite part of your website available: someone else pays you a regular or one-off fee to host that advert.

Get the idea?

How do you start earning passive income?

Most people will do something connected with what they’re doing already. Here are some examples drawn from Libro clients and people who’ve taken part in my small business chat feature:

  • An author has created e-books and downloadables on how to publish an e-book, based on her experience publishing her first book
  • A hypnotherapist has created CDs of hypnotherapy sessions which people can buy online
  • A business advisor has franchised her business, so people pay her to run a similar business under the same brand name

You can see that in all of these cases it’s not magic, effortless income: you have to put some kind of effort in first, be it negotiating with an advertiser or creating a resource or franchising model. But once it’s done, all of these people can get on with their every day life, knowing that their efforts will be bringing in income.

How am I developing a passive income stream?

For my normal run of income, I do some work, whether it’s transcription, editing or proofreading, I charge my client for either the hours I spend or the minutes I transcribe or the words I edit, and I can’t do any other similar work at the same time. One piece of work for one client, one chunk of income at a time.  That’s fine, but will only go to a certain point. So I have developed a couple of streams of passive income, and while they’re only trickles at the moment, I hope to expand at least one of them in the future.

  1. Referral fees. Having checked out their services and assured myself that they do a good job, I recommend self-publishing authors to use a print-on-demand publisher I know (this saves the authors having to pay upfront for millions of boxes of printed books that they have to sell themselves or, hopefully, getting ripped off). I am very clear when I recommend that I will be getting a small referral fee for this – so I’m not duping anyone into going for a service only because I will benefit. I haven’t made much out of this so far, but it’s there and something is better than nothing!
  2. E-books. I published my first e-book, How I Conquered Cholesterol, a few months ago. It’s selling small numbers steadily – OK, about 20 per month so far. It’s made me around £40 in royalties so far – again, not much, but not nothing. It took me a few hours to write, so I haven’t made back my initial investment in terms of those hours being worth money if I’d “sold” them to other projects – but I did this in down time, I didn’t cancel any bookings to do so, and most importantly, I learned all about publishing e-books on Amazon from the process, which helps me understand what some of my clients need to go through.

For the future, I’m planning another e-book based on this Libro Full Time blog, detailing how I went full time and what it was like. This actually fits better with the rest of my activities than the cholesterol one, and I’ve certainly got more contacts and friends in the small business world than the heart health one, so I’m hoping that one might do a bit better.

Remember to record your passive income in your accounts

Passive income doesn’t come from an invoice. That doesn’t mean that you can leave it off your accounts sheets, not pay tax on it or not record it at all! Here’s what I do …

  • I keep paperwork for any passive income that comes in. Amazon sends me a statement when they send my royalties. These come straight into the bank account I registered with them. The publisher, at my request, sends me a statement of which people came to him and how much I am making for each, then transfers the money into my bank account.
  • I have a section on my accounts sheet for passive income, so that tots up and makes up part of my turnover and thus profit – and it can then be easily recorded in my bank reconciliation, too.

Have you tried getting a passive income stream going? What have you tried and how has it gone?

On getting slummocky

2 Comments

Working desk

Slummocky is a great word, isn’t it. I (re?)discovered it when reading Stella Gibbons’ “Nightingale Wood”. To be slummocky is to behave in an indolent or careless way, and a slummock is a slovenly person.

Now, of course, I’m NOT slovenly or careless or indolent. But I tell you what I have been doing, and that’s letting the admin slide.

Not the invoices: no, of course not. I’m not actually stupid, and I would like my money to come in nice and regularly, thank you. And we all know that I run my accounts and do my tax return almost obscenely promptly every year.

But there are other things: deeper, darker, murkier things, which must be done when you’re running your own business. Things like Bank Reconciliations. And like all admin or indeed everyday things, they are far better done regularly, in small doses, rather than in one great slummocky lump when you have started to panic about the huge bulk of them waiting to engulf you …

Bank reconciliations

The basic principle of the bank reconciliation is that you go through your accounts and your bank statement, and make sure they match up. A bit like the old-fashioned practice of balancing your cheque book – and we all do it to some extent, I’m sure, popping in to check the bank account online and make sure there are no unusual or incorrect transactions.

My friend Aly Mead at Silicon Bullet has written a great article on this subject; it’s particularly good to read the article if you do your accounts in Sage or a system like that. I run my accounts via a spreadsheet (which I do keep scrupulously up to date) recording invoices raised and paid on one sheet and payments and charges on another.

Basically, I turn these two sheets into one long list of incomings and outgoings, listed by transaction date (i.e. the date the invoice was paid or payment made) (Spreadsheet A) and then I download a spreadsheet version of my bank statement (Spreadsheet B), and compare the two. I write the line number of the item on Spreadsheet A into a column on Spreadsheet B and vice versa, and then I rather satisfyingly colour them in green. In a basic version, the two look like this:

Bank reconciliation example

Even though the entries aren’t quite in the same order, I have matched them all up, and the running total is the same for both. I pop the accounts spreadsheet into the same order as the bank account spreadsheet at the end (I do this by sorting the spreadsheet by that column) and the two should match up.

Keeping up with the admin

If you do this every month, it’s simple. It’s like housework and ironing and all those other chores (actually, I never do ironing, but that’s probably for another time). I only have between 20 and about 35 transactions per month. Which is fine when it’s one or two months, not so great when it’s … erm … nine.

And there are always little tweaky issues. I have missed putting a couple of payments in the right place on my main in/out spreadsheet, and forgot to record the info about a mystery payment, all resolved with the client a couple of months ago. I’ve also forgotten to pay myself back for membership of a website that I paid for using my own credit card. There is probably only one little issue per month, but when there are a few months to go through …

The other thing I’ve been a bit lax about is moving payments from other places. I have a PayPal account and a few regulars and one-off clients pay me by PayPal. I used to withdraw each payment immediately to my bank account, so it created one line on my bank statement which matched at most one in and one out on my accounts spreadsheet. But I’ve let these build up before withdrawing, which means I’ve got one line on my bank statement which matches five or six sets of incomings and fees on my accounts spreadsheet.

That will be changing, too.

Reforming my ways

I wrote this article to remind myself how hideous it is doing your bank reconciliation if you leave it too long. It’s taken me a good few hours and given me a thumbing headache. Don’t be slummocky: little and often wins through!

Do share any tips you have for making yourself do this stuff, by the way!

Back to school …

Leave a comment

Ink pots on a deskThe autumn is a traditional time of renewal and change for me. Decisions are made, changes are implemented.  In the past I’ve bought a flat (and sold it) and made plans to move in with my partner in the autumn, left jobs and started jobs. Of course I also made the big decision as to when to go full time with Libro last autumn! It always feels like the start of something; not the slow decline into winter, the ageing of the year, but a time of renewal, warmth indoors and frosts outdoors, time in my head, not time with the sun soaking into my skin …

I think this is probably more to do with the UK academic year than anything else. And, in connection with that, this Autumn feels more than a little odd.

I did some pondering about this and I realised that there have been very few years in the 40 I’ve been on this earth so far in which I haven’t had some kind of “back to school” feeling. And yet I don’t have that this year. To break this down …

  • 1972-1975 – Too young for school!
  • 1975-1992 – At primary then secondary school, then University, then working at the University Library.
  • 1993-1995 – No back to school! Working in various jobs
  • 1996-2004 – Working at EBSCO. Our renewals period was Sept-Oct each year, so that felt like the start of a new year all over again
  • 2005-2011 – Working at the University Library. No, contrary to popular opinion, we didn’t have the summer off, but of course back came the students after the pause of the summer vac, and it all started again …

So that’s, what, 7 years out of 40 when I haven’t been somehow going Back To School in one form or another. No wonder I feel a bit odd!

Back to work

In some ways, this autumn does feel like going “back to” something. We had quite an odd summer, all in all. We had workmen in through the summer, not just lovely Terry the decorator, but a door man and a hedge man. This meant a change to my routine – as I am by default “The one who’s at home” I had to be dressed reasonably normally, able to answer questions, and making decisions on all sorts of things. I had some time off work for the Olympics, but because we had a “real” holiday booked, I couldn’t be as unavailable as I’d have maybe liked to be, so I ended up scrabbling around working between TV viewing, and it wasn’t as satisfactory as it might have been.

Then we DID have our holiday, and that was lovely, and I learned that I CAN have an actual week away from the internet connection (and even phone connection) and Libro wouldn’t dissolve into nothing.

And then I had my Iris Murdoch Conference (more of that later) and now I’m back and starting into the run of working life up to Christmas.

So, what’s changed?

It’s still my time of change and renewal, and I guess it always will be. Fine – some people’s season and renewal is the spring, some the summer (what’s yours?) and mines’ the autumn. In a way, this feels like the start of Libro full time, more than January did. I’ve been able to reflect on the past 9 months, see what’s worked and what hasn’t, and have a think about the way forward.

There are no big changes coming, nothing exciting, nothing shocking. I do know I’ve been working a bit too hard, a few too many hours. Some of that is unavoidable – other people’s deadlines slipping, and crashing into work that’s already been booked in. I’m getting good at batting away all other small new jobs when that kind of thing happens. I’ve also built up a good roster of people to whom I can refer work I don’t have time – or don’t choose – to do, which means I can say “no”, but, crucially, I can say, “But I can give you the name of a person who might be able to help” – and that makes me feel better.

I’m lucky enough to have a good set of regular clients. Over this year, I’ve become more choosy over who I add to my client list – clients I think will become regulars, the kind of work I enjoy doing, the financial aspects that make it worth doing – or with the less well-paid gigs, other factors such as enjoyment of the actual work.  I’m looking at the areas of work I do and paying attention to what I like doing and what I don’t enjoy so much. Some aspects of my work will diminish in importance as a result of this sifting. And I’m glad to have people, as I said, to refer new prospects on to if they come to me. For example, I don’t think I’m going to take on many Master’s coaching students this year. They are interesting to work with, but the unpredictability of the inevitably urgent work makes it hard to plan my week and be able to support the students. Luckily I know a great woman who is brilliant at taking students through their academic year, so off they go to help her build her business!

Autumnal balance

Autumn’s a time of balance, isn’t it. The year on the balance, tipping into the end of the year, towards the depths of winter. So there’s going to be more balance here. Watching those autumn TV programmes with Matthew.  Taking advantage of our new RSPB membership. Spending some time on my research project. Relaxing a bit now I’m half way through the financial year and know how I’m doing …

It might not be back to school for me this year, but it is back to a more balanced life, after a frankly odd summer.  How’s it going for you?

Paper is sometimes best

3 Comments

Sometimes paper is best!

I was looking at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders website and musing about how I almost never do work on paper manuscripts (once in well over 500 jobs), and then the doorbell rang and my new to do list stationery had arrived … so that’s one thing where I do stick with paper.

Well, one of two things.

With my to do lists, I have flirted with Google Calendar / Tasks and I do put meetings, events and appointments like Skype chats or phone calls in there. But all through my working life, I have had a paper to do list, and, you know what? That’s what I like to have. I had been using one of my few Libro notepads to keep it, but I’ve now bought a special book – appointments on the left hand page and Things To Do Today (why is that capitalised when the name of the book is all lower case, though?) on the right. With tick boxes and everything. There is also room for notes, which is handy for those phone calls.

The other thing I keep on paper is my customer records. Not entirely: I keep a note of people’s pricing and other terms on their contact details in my gmail account. As I do work for people, I either create an invoice for that piece of work, including details of the time spent or word count, depending on how I invoice them, or add the project to their current monthly invoice But I have an A4 spiral bound book with a section for each major client and one for one-off/student clients.  This is where I note down the date, time, word count and charge for each job I do.

I like writing. I like pen and paper. I like using fountain pens with different colour inks. I might do all my editing, proofreading, writing and transcription on the computer, and I might have an online book review blog; I might even have a Kindle … but when it comes down to it, I read real books too (mostly, actually), write my book reviews in a nice notebook first, and keep paper records and to do lists.

You don’t have to do what is most up to date and modern. Everything doesn’t have to be In The Cloud. Do what you feel comfortable with!

A typical day for Libro

10 Comments

See, I do relax. Here’s me at Easter, hanging out with a friend!

It’s great working for myself full time, but sometimes I am reminded that not everyone realises that, just because I might mention I’m working at, say 6am, and again at 10pm, that doesn’t mean I’m working as such for the whole day. If I was, that would be a bit worrying, of course. Anyway, I thought I’d note down a “typical” day in my life now (and contrast it with one from my former office-part-time/libro-part-time life, too). Note that these are example days, but they are common ones.

A typical day now

6.00 – 8.00 Get up. Check email and work for about 90 minutes.

8.00 – 9.00 Breakfast with M. Shower.

9.00 – 9.30 Check and answer emails, check Facebook and Twitter. Publish a blog post.

9.30 – 11.00 Work of various sorts – projects large or small

11.00 – 11.30 Cuppa and a drink of squash. Emails and admin

11.30 – 12.30 More billable hours

12.30 – 14.30 An hour at the gym, lunch and shower

14.30 – 16.00 Work.

16.00 – 16.30 A soft drink, a cuppa (a bun?) and some emailing.

16.30 –  18.00 Work.

18.00 – 19.00 Either work or walk down to meet M on his way home from work

19.00 – 20.00 House admin and dinner.

20.00 – 21.00 Maybe an hour of work if I’m busy or have tight deadlines. Otherwise, TV etc.

21.00 – 22.00 TV or reading.

22.00 – 22.30 Check email, last minute bits and bobs, check personal email

22.30 – 23.00 Get ready for bed, a bit of reading.

23.00 Bedtime.

So that gives me between 7 and 9 billable working hours – usually more like 7, which is what people do in an office, of course, just not so spread out through the day.

And in a week of days like this I will get out to the cafe to meet friends at least once, pop into town or meet a friend for dinner, and have some time writing up blog posts etc.

A typical day in 2011

On a day when I worked in the office and at home, my day would look like this:

5.45 – 6.00 Get up, check Libro email, maybe do some Libro work

6.00 – 7.00 Breakfast, shower, get ready for work.

7.00 – 7.30 Travel into work.

7.30 – 13.00 Working at the Library.

13.00 – 13.30 Lunch. Check Blackberry and reply to Libro emails / make calls.

13.30 – 15.45 Working at the Library.

15.45 – 16.30 Travelling home.

16.30 – 19.30 Cup of tea then working till M gets home and beyond. He makes my dinner.

19.30 – 20.00 Hasty dinner.

20.00 – 22.30 Working on Libro projects.

22.30 – 23.00 Getting ready for bed.

23.00 Bedtime.

That was 4 then 3 days a week through the whole of 2011 pretty well. Phew! I would have a day like the above one 1 or 2 weekdays a week and work solidly at the weekends. Not so much gym, certainly not any cafe with friends, not so many blog posts, not so much reading!

Writing this post, and the reason for writing it, has got me musing about “presenteeism” and the way it creeps into self-employment. Here’s my article on that topic on the Libro blog.

On Bank Holidays

4 Comments

When you work in an office, Bank Holidays (or public holidays, or whatever you call them in your country) are really important. There’s lots of discussion about what you might do on the Bank Holiday, and what you did, afterwards. Lots of chat about “don’t forget not to come in on Monday”. People who have odd working schedules get upset or pleased about how Bank Holidays are treated in their pay and holiday schedules (if you don’t usually work on a Monday, do you still get an extra holiday, etc., etc.)

If you’re a freelancer or run your own business, especially if you work from home, alone, let me tell you that Bank Holidays disappear into the ether. They do not matter. They might as well not exist, except that a) there might be extra people around the house, startling you with their presence occasionally, and b) people might expect you to be free to do stuff.

I’m not sure if this is limited to people who, like me, have a lot of international clients whose public holidays are at different times to ours. But I bet anyone with a big project to complete doesn’t stop just because it’s Bank Holiday Monday. I’ve coped OK with this double one for the Jubilee, but the  early May one was a different story. Up the stairs I popped at 6 am, as usual. “See you at 8 for breakfast,” I cheerily called to M, as usual. “Eh? What?” I’d completely missed the memo that there was a Bank Holiday. Oh, because there are no memos when you work alone …

By the way, I have been known to check what day it is, or whether it’s morning or afternoon, when entering the gym, for example. I know which column I’m in on my Gantt chart, and I’m never startled by my deadlines, but I do hope that other home / lone workers are the same and I’m not starting to go a bit odd …

Older Entries