Give me a break! Well yes, I will

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Tea! The other month, I had an interesting time with busy-ness and quietness. I’ve been reflecting on it and mulling over this post ever since.  Having been wondering if I’d been overdoing it yesterday, I realised it was time to post this out into the world.

I had had quite a busy week, with one big project and lots of small to medium ones. It involved a lot of juggling, one late night, and a Thursday when I hammered through lots and lots of bits and bobs, to the possible consternation of onlookers. I even had to turn down some work (new work, so as not to let down my current clients) and deflect some other work to my trusty emergency support proofreader, Linda (thanks, again, Linda). Matthew had to cook dinner for an invisible girlfriend, only briefly seen foraging for food and tea …

But I am getting better at taking breaks, honestly. So when it got to the Friday and I’d got through the bits of work I had deadlines for, I then had a lovely long extended lunch break with a friend and her small daughter in the park, and a good long trip to the gym in the early evening, before stopping work for the day. At the weekend, I worked around the rest of my life, working on projects early and when Matthew was out or wanted to watch TV. I even had a good long read in bed after breakfast on Saturday.

The post I wrote about presenteeism has helped me here: I realised that I posted a lot about working on social media, and was perhaps thinking too much about how much I work. I haven’t scaled down what I do, but I’ve been aware of not taking too much on, and have obviously become better at scheduling things in and knowing how long jobs are likely to help. Keeping my reading journal on this blog has helped me to be more aware of making time for reading, and I make an effort to have time for friends and Matthew.

I feel like I’m getting it more right. I look after myself in the busy spells (and can usually predict them so I can work up to them and come to them healthy and relaxed) and don’t panic in the quiet spells, taking that time to have some time out and enjoy myself.

I managed pretty well in the Olympics, watching most of the sport I wanted to see, and fitting my work around it. And I had a holiday in a place without reliable wi-fi at the end of August, and survived, just about, having pre-warned my regular customers that I wouldn’t be very available, and managing to relax about the whole thing.

As it comes up to a year since I left my library job and stopped trying to fit two jobs and the rest of everything into one life, I think I’m getting there with getting the balance. And I’ve also been refining my customer base a bit, which is something for another post.

If you work for yourself, how are you managing with this aspect? Do share!

But … how CAN I be ill?

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I have been asked before “What do you do if you’re ill?” And then I WAS ill, last week. Just a cold, but not very nice.

Obviously I don’t get paid sick days, being self-employed (I have looked into this, with the help of ace accountant, Emily Coltman, from Freeagent and discovered that there is a similar thing to Statutory Sick Pay that you can claim if you’re self-employed). But the odd day or two just get dealt with, basically. Anyway, here’s how I cope with being ill and being self-employed.

Don’t get ill

This is the main one. And it’s not an admonition or a command: it should really read “I don’t get ill”. I had one cold in December 2011 and I’ve had one in September 2012. I honestly don’t recall any in between. The reason must be that I don’t work in an office any more. When I did, I was very careful about not coming in on the first day of an illness, and covering myself liberally with alcohol gel stuff before touching any handles, paperwork, etc. But not everybody was, and so while I didn’t pass all of my bugs on, I certainly caught everything going (once I famously came back from a flu bug only to catch a stomach bug, immediately). Add to that working on a campus full of students from all over the country, and world, or, before that, commuting on the Tube, and there you have it. Now I live in my little home office bubble, and there’s only M to catch things from …

Don’t work through it

When I was employed, if I felt unwell, I’d take the first day of illness off, stay in bed, and would recover much more quickly from the same bug than people who dragged themselves in. Last Christmas, I didn’t do that. I had a fair bit of work on, but I’m sure I could have shuffled it around. But I didn’t, and I was ill for longer than M, who had the same thing but was on holiday from work so not dragging himself anywhere. This time around, I took the first bad day pretty well off, just covering a small bit of work that needed doing urgently. M has dragged himself in with the same bug – and I’m getting over it more quickly.

Do work through it

Well, sometimes there are deadlines that have to be met. But I followed these rules this time, and aim to again:

  • Just do what has to be done. No extras. No blog posts. No spreadsheets, just the work that must be done, then stop
  • Do it at the best time for me – after a decent lunch with some lucozade and painkillers in my case
  • Be kind to myself: it will take longer to do than normal, and that’s fine

This way, I’ve got what needs to be done, done, but have got enough rest, too.

Have back-up

This luckily hasn’t applied this time, but back in the summer I had a somewhat spectacular reaction to an immunisation. Luckily for my clients, I had heroic Linda all set up – literally as a  named back-up for some regulars, but available to have one-off work passed to her, too. There was no way I could work that day, so I let the regulars know to send work to her, and batted any enquiries over to her, too. No loss of professionalism there!

I hope this has helped clear up this mystery. If you’re a self-employed person, how do you cope when you’re ill?

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!

New resolutions

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I’m still climbing up the path to being completely sorted out in my new working-from-home life. Regular readers will remember that I wrote down some Home-Workers’ Resolutions when I first went full-time with Libro, based on what I’d learned while doing it part time.

I’ve been doing it for nearly 4 months now, and all is going really well – the work has expanded to fill the space, and most of it is from a good roster of regular clients, giving me a range of different tasks for different kinds of people and companies. I’ve recently added another transcription client and another localisation client to the mix. But I have learned about a few more tweaks I need to make, and writing this post, writing them down, will hopefully help me to achieve them (as the original post did).

Have my lunch by 2 p.m.

I’ve got a bit bad at this one. Hence writing this at 2.29 p.m. I get into what I’m doing or I go to the gym late, and time is ticking on … It’s not necessarily BAD to have lunch late – I have my breakfast later now, so that I can have a chat with Matthew first thing, so I’m not fainting by this point, but it is important to have regular anchors in your working day when you’re alone all day, and I think this one is important.

Leave the phone alone during meal times

I’m REALLY bad at this one. In my case, for “phone”, read “Blackberry”. All those little email messages binging into my phone with that tempting noise. And I do have a lot of regular clients who need work doing at short notice. But, honestly, in the time it takes to consume a meal, is anything so urgent going to happen that it would really matter if I put the phone to one side? Do I need to be twisting round to grab my phone, only to find it’s spam or bacon*? I’ve started to try this at lunch and will extend it to dinner, too. Fair enough, I will have the phone within reach in the evening, and it’s by my bedside as I find it comforting to just check if something’s come in without getting out of bed first thing. But mealtimes will henceforth be sacred.

*bacon is stuff you’ve signed up for but then feels almost like it’s spam when you receive it – newsletters and updates, that kind of thing.

Spend at least a little time every day doing something that I love

I’m getting better at this one – hooray! In my case, this thing that I love is reading. I was missing reading: I’ve always been a big reader and love reading and reviewing what I’ve read. This nice new home for my book reviews has helped with this. And I’ve taken to grabbing a book when I’m on the way to the gym once a week, and reading on the exercise bike (yes, I still have a good, hard workout!). I’m happier as a result, and less panicky about the size of my Mount To Be Read. Even if you love your job, do a little different thing, whether it’s watching the telly, reading a magazine, or having a bath. If it’s a special thing you can do every day, like reading, so much the better!

I’ve updated the Home-Worker’s Resolutions page with these: and as ever, do let me know if you’re a) following the resolutions yourself or b) have any more to contribute!

Liz Broomfield, Professional Editor and Writer

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Here’s me looking all professional (thanks again to the wonderful photographer, Adam Yosef).

The reason I’ve posted this? Well, I did my Self-Assessment Tax Return on Sunday.

Not only did I earn what I would consider to be a Living Wage with Libro last year (quadrupling my profit from 2010-2011), but I also didn’t lose as much of it to the tax man as I thought I would (see the posts on my main Libro blog about Payment On Account and on the outcome of my Tax Return).

So, I am able to support myself with my freelance work. I didn’t, to be honest, think I’d get to this point for a while. I’m not saying I’m rolling in money, but I’m certainly OK for the odd coffee out, and a holiday, although I’d be on a tight rein financially this year  (because of the double tax thing) if I hadn’t got some money saved up from when I was in full time employment.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m being smug or showing off about this. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and I’ve worked very hard, but mainly I’m posting this to share with you that it is possible to do this, if you plan carefully, work hard and stick with it. I’m not a natural entrepreneur, and I’ve had pretty much a zero marketing budget; I’m lucky enough not to have too many business outgoings, but I am proving that it can be done.

First action for this financial year: take Matthew out for a slap-up meal (on me, not expenses!) to thank him for his patience and forbearance!

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!

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