A typical week … now

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A few months ago, when I was still working at the Library 21 hours per week, I wrote this post about a typical week, so that I remembered what it was like trying to manage the two. Now I’ve settled into some kind of routine working at Libro full time, I thought it was time to repeat the exercise. So here’s a “typical” week (if there is such a thing) these days …

Monday 19 March – got up just after 6, came up to the study, worked on this post then got down to finishing off proof-reading the third chapter of a PhD a client’s sending me in batches. I also put the finishing touches on a localisation I’d done for a big newish client – the client had answered some questions and I updated my “translation” on the software accordingly, signed the job off and added it to their monthly invoice. I had breakfast with M before he walked to work. I then did some admin to do with an event I’m speaking at in June, and settled down to a good session on another client’s PhD. It’s my exercise rest day, so I can get some good long working sessions in.  I had a good, healthy lunch and went for a walk up the High Street to pick up a few things: a real benefit of working from home is being able to pop out the shops at quieter times in the retail day (I’m also spending less, although I’m not sure how, as I’ve never been a big spender anyway) and lunch and day time trips out are a good, healthy habit since I sorted out my Homeworker’s Resolutions. Back home and I had a few little bits in from regulars before doing another localisation session followed by some more PhD. I popped out to meet M on his walk home then had a quiet evening, interspersed with the odd email from a client, dealt with on my Blackberry.

Tuesday 20 March – I had some work in during yesterday evening / overnight – three student essays, two of which are from people I’m taking through their Master’s course. Oh, the luxury: if this had been in the Old Days, I’d have been frantically working on my previous projects before starting these. I completed one and started another before breakfast: while putting the bibliography of the first one in alphabetical order, I was inspired to put together a blog post on how to do that, so I created the screen shots and a draft blog post for that before getting on with the next essay. After breakfast I responded to a few emails asking for price and service quotations before continuing with student essays. I went to the gym, booked in another job with a regular client which involved downloaded and learning some new software, and after lunch met an editing friend for a walk in the park and a chat about business – she’s someone I recommend academic enquirers on to when I’m too busy to take them on and we needed to discuss a few things, and it was nice to do that in the sunshine. Then back to my desk for another editing session for some regular clients. I then ended up struggling with some recalcitrant software which meant I got behind and had to spend some of the evening after dinner working.

Wednesday 21 March – up early as usual and a couple of hours of PhD editing before breakfast. I realised the table numbering in the thesis had gone awry so emailed the client with the options. After breakfast I published my blog post on adding Contents Pages to Word, publicised that and continued with the thesis. I popped down to the Post Office depot to pick up a parcel (I’m here almost constantly; how did it not get delivered?) and then up to the cafe for a regular “grown-ups’ homework club” / catch-up with a fellow freelancer and friend. It’s good to sound off about how things are going and chat about plans as well as just relaxing and seeing a human face. I set up a Facebook group to co-ordinate this a little while ago and it’s proved an excellent addition to my week. Came home and did a quick edit of a text translated from Chinese, and after lunch wrote a press release for a medical client. I worked some more on the PhD, went to the gym and did a little more after dinner. I explained why I’ve got to pay my tax twice next year to M (oh, the thrills! I’ve commissioned an article on Paying On Account from an accountant for the Libro blog). A good balance today although another evening spent away from “family time”.

Thursday 22 March – I worked on an academic article in the morning, including checking all the references were there (they weren’t) and tracking down the missing ones, as well as making sure everything conformed to the author guidelines set out by the journal the article was being written for. That was fun and a bit more challenging than some of my work. A few payments in (including a big one I’ve been waiting for anxiously, which achieved my targets for this month and next!) and I checked a press release for a regular before getting down to working in the Scrivener software for my author client – I’m helping her combine her articles into a book. She’s provided lots of guidance for me on what she wants, which is marvellous and very helpful! I also put a wash on – how lovely to be able to see the sun and get a wash done and out on the line: I’d have been in the office this time last year, looking at the sun and knowing it wasn’t drying anything on my line! I then walked in to the University (3 miles), got my hair cut and walked back again (3 miles) before doing a couple of hours of PhD work in the evening. I had commissioned a guest blog post on Tax Payment on Account from a great accountant I met recently, and was thrilled to have that come in to me by the end of the day; I’ll publish it the week after next once I’ve tidied up the formatting and written an introduction.

Friday 23 March – I’d had lots of requests to do projects in through the evening and, in fact, the night, so had to crack on: finished proof-reading an advert and localising some company communications before breakfast, then published a troublesome pair blog post, wrote an article about a man and his dentistry, localised some information on electric cars and finished the big thesis I’ve been working on all week. Phew! Another wash out on the line, lunch and then a couple of hours on some more chapters I’d had in from my other thesis client, before treating myself to an hour on my Iris Murdoch project in the cafe before meeting a contact to chat about some work she’d like me to do writing for her website. I went to the gym and was set to do some more work after dinner, but unfortunately a house-related mini-emergency took up the rest of the evening, leading me to cancel plans for Saturday afternoon. Nothing changes there, then …

Saturday 24 March – This is where it gets tough. A late evening and then disturbances related to neighbours in the night meant I had to drag myself upstairs to the study to try to complete the work I’d promised my client by mid-morning, which I should have got on with last night. I had at least written up my Saturday freelancer chat, so that was ready to just publish and promote before breakfast time. Fortunately, the first work project was continuing with a PhD I was fairly familiar with, so I could press on, knowing I was already aware of the writer’s style and common errors. If I’d been too tired to do it, I wouldn’t have, but I was just weary, and worked on it as well as I would normally do (maybe a little more slowly: I’m glad I charge by the word and not by the hour nowadays!). I finished that, sent off the chapters, worked on an issue of a magazine and put in a couple of hours on my author’s blog-to-book project: I did also go for a walk in the park and didn’t work after dinner time.

Sunday 25 March – Oh no: the clocks changed! I also found out I had a community meeting in the afternoon, so I didn’t get the lie-in I’d hoped for (but I couldn’t sacrifice my run). I finished my author’s work and started a new PhD chapter, did my run, had lunch, finished the PhD chapter and sent it off, then started a transcription project I have had in from my student proofreading company – 5 hours of lectures to type up for a student (!). I got on quite well, so not too much worrying about finishing it. I also had quite a long piece of work from one of my translator clients, which came in just as I sat down to watch the TV with Matthew …

Conclusions

It’s still a juggling act – between work, personal and social life and exercise. But it’s not between work, work, personal life and exercise, at least. Not having fixed, monolithic hours to go to the office makes things a lot easier, although it’s easier to cancel fixed items like networking meetings, which I really shouldn’t do. I still get tired, and I still work a few evenings, but if I work in the evening it’s often because I’ve done something in the day time: it’s rare for me to truly put in a 10-hour day! In terms of working hours, I did 40 billable hours this week, with perhaps another 7 or 8 admin hours. So that is actually about 6-7 hours more than before, although without the commuting time. Note that I’ve done 35, 18 and 36 hours in the other weeks this month: there is no such thing as a typical month.

I’m going to write about the general changes I’ve found in my life over the past three months in another post, but this should serve as a (n interesting?) contrast to my week “before”. It feels better … it’s definitely paying better, per hour and generally, and I’ll run this exercise again in another few months to see if anything’s changed or resolved.

How to be an overnight business success

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Someone posted on Twitter the other day that people should follow me because I’ve built up my business so quickly.  And yes, through the first 50 days of my full time business adventure, I have been running at full capacity. But I don’t feel like it’s been an overnight success, and here’s why (and why I think that’s a good thing).

You’ll have read all about the way I started Libro by now, so I won’t bore you by going on about that. But how have I brought that up to full capacity since I went full time? It’s been a combination of things:

– having a good set of regular customers I can rely on to keep sending me work

– having a marketing strategy which keeps people aware of what I do

– carefully using a few sources to help me gain more work

– keeping careful track of what I can and can’t do, and being selective about what work I take on

These all mean that I could grow the business slowly while I was part time, and then ramp things up to fill in the full time hours.

Keeping regular

I’ve built up a roster of regular customers over the last couple of years – some who send me lots of work, some who send me something every now and again. I’ve made sure to keep them happy, keeping them informed of when I was available when I worked part time, setting sensible expectations and being reliable. I’ve also kept these diversified, from editing, to writing, to transcription. I let them know first when I went full time, I have kept them as my priority customers, with others fitting around them – and they have rewarded me by sending me more projects to work on.

Read all about it!

My Libro blog is primarily written to be useful and helpful, of course. But my aim is also to drive business to my website. Do a quick Google search for “troublesome pairs”, “spelled or spelt” and “what is a transcriber?” and you should find me on the first page of results. This time last year, I instigated a policy of making sure I got hits on the website every day, and often had to go and publicise myself on different fora to do so on a particular day. Now I have lots of hits every day, I never have to do that, and most of my hits come from search engines.

I have also kept on networking and using social media. All of this ensures that I have a steady stream of new customers finding me and heading my way.

Paid help

I looked at a lot of freelancer websites when I started out – where you register and then bid for jobs. But I was never successful and I found that I was constantly underbid by companies offering the work for peanuts. Thanks to my friend, Sian, I found www.proz.com which is a site for translators. I took out a paid membership last year, which means that people who want editing, proof-reading, transcribing and localisation services are given my details and can come through to me for a price and service estimate. Some really good, regular, clients have found me this way, with minimal effort from me (setting up my profile and then of course responding to questions and requests for quotations) and it was well worth choosing this one site to use. Getting a recommendation to use the site from someone else who had success with it was key here.

Being choosy

I gained great experience in being choosy and setting expectations when I was juggling the business and my part time job. Now it’s a case of juggling projects large and small – my Gantt chart is my friend here, but so is being honest about myself and my abilities. I’ve been working a lot on a big transcription project and other ongoing work recently, and I know that around 40 billable hours is the maximum I can really do in a week – it’s hard work that involves a lot of concentration, and that’s not counting admin time.  I am lucky enough to have a few people I can recommend a prospect to if I can’t take on their work, and I am getting better at doing that rather than taking too much on. That way, I can make sure I do a good job for my customers, and keep reliable for my regulars.

The next step …

I’ll write another post about where I go from here, as I’ve had a few questions and suggestions recently. I’m really happy that I have avoided the quiet couple of months I was fearing when I went full time, and I did take the day off today …

If anyone else has recently gone full time self-employed, I’d love to hear about your experiences and how you’ve grown to fill those new available hours!

What I did in January

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Just to alert my readers that I’ve posted my What I Did In January update on my Libroediting blog, for a more work-orientated view of things …

What I got up to in December

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I do a monthly update post on the main Libro blog at the beginning of every month, detailing what I did in that month. I thought my readers here might be interested in those, as they give a flavour of the work I actually do, day to day. So, you can pop over and find the December one here, and if you want more, the What Do I Do category is a good place to start (all the categories are in a “cloud” in the right hand column of the Libro blog. Of course I’ll be recording another “typical week” again soon, too. Once I’ve got the atypical weeks out of the way!

A typical week (before)

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I thought it might be useful to write down what happens in a typical work week, just before going full-time with Libro. The work level does usually build to a peak just before I drop some Library hours, and then has a terrifying slump directly afterwards. Anyway, this is what I have done this week:

Monday 28 November – I posted a blog post in my Ron’s Rants series first thing – handily, I’d managed to write up a few posts in advance so could just publish them as I went this week. I worked 7.45-3.50 at the Library. Rushed out of the house as soon as I got back with some post as I needed to wait in for a parcel for M on Tuesday. Came home and did 2 hours’ transcribing and some other bits and bobs. Watched Made in Chelsea for light relief.

Tuesday 29 November – a Libro Day. Did another hour of transcribing; spent 2 hours editing a dissertation in pdf format (annotating it with special software but, even though the English was good, it took me longer than if it had been in Word); spent over 3 hours editing a paper for a journal (including ensuring the bibliography was as the journal requires: this was actually the most time-consuming part); did some bits for a translator I work for. I also did some admin – writing and responding to emails, requests for quotations, etc. I had a proper lunch (hooray) but didn’t get out of the house until after dark, when I met M (my Other Half) in Sainsburys to get some bits and bobs. I try to get out of the house during daylight, but this wasn’t possible today!

Wednesday 30 November – another Libro Day. Published a blog post about emotions in business that I’d been inspired to write last week. Finished off the transcription I was doing in 1 hour 45 mins including spell-checking (a two-person Webinar for a lovely client – the topic is interesting to me, which does help, although I will transcribe just about anything!). I edited another article for yesterday’s client, but a shorter one this time that only took a couple of hours and did a localisation into British English for another regular – this time a website for an international company. In addition to all this I found time to do an hour or so of cleaning (we reimburse me the amount we used to pay our cleaners from the household money to do the heavy cleaning: mopping, hoovering stairs, etc.), cook a batch of meals so I have a quicker dinner time in the week, and go for a 35 minute run (in the daylight!). Before dinner, I got most of my monthly invoicing done – most of my regular clients are sent one invoice a month for all the work I have done for them during that month. What I didn’t do was go to the Birmingham Entrepreneurs Meetup, a monthly event in town that I do enjoy. But I just didn’t have the time and had to send my apologies.

Thursday 1 December – a Library day so worked 7.45-3.50 again. I wrote my first post for this blog at lunch time after deciding to launch it during the morning! Came home and recorded the payments that had already come in from yesterday’s invoicing (I like the beginning of the month). I went through the document one of my coaching clients had sent me for half an hour (I am helping them to get down to writing up their thesis) and replied to a request for a quotation. Then I stopped for the evening and went for a run with M before dinner. After dinner, some frantic BookCrossing admin (a hobby I used to spend a lot of time on!) then some relaxation time, watching a bit of telly.

Friday 2 December – woke up early and sorted out some more books, then lugged them into the Library to stock the BookCrossing Zone I set up here. A colleague took over running the Zone a few months ago, but I like to keep it filled up when I can. I published a prepared Troublesome Pair blog post on the Libro blog. A normal day at the Library, worked till 3.50 then home for some Libro bits and pieces … I logged in to an admin site to upload a business feature onto a client’s local business pages (he’d called me on the Libro mobile to ask me to do it this morning but I’d left the phone at home – this is one of the stressful things about my double life) and finished off negotiations on a piece of work for the weekend, polishing some translated English. I took delivery of some boxes of business directories for my local Business Association – I joined a few months ago, will be on the Committee from January, and M has kindly offered to help me put them through letterboxes tomorrow (my friend at work suggested that this might be so he could actually spend some time with me: I fear she’s right!). Off to the gym to get some exercise in and see a friend who goes on a Friday evening and then relaxed for the rest of the evening. This is actually proving to be quite a light week, but you can see I’m still doing something for Libro every day …

Saturday 3 December – I did a bit of housekeeping before breakfast, putting together, publishing and publicising my weekly “Freelancer/Small Business Chat” feature on a small business – this time Purple Dog Network. Then I had a bit of a read in bed – a rare luxury – before we got ourselves together for the day and spent 2 hours delivering the local Business Association directory to 480 addresses on our road and surrounding side streets. Harder work than I thought – lots of exercise opening gates, running up paths and pushing the book through all sorts of letterboxes! After a late lunch, bought at the Farmers’ Market, I put in a couple of hours working on a translation from an Eastern European language into English – my job was to polish it to make it look like it was written by a native British English speaker. I then spent 30 minutes or so working on a few blog posts for two friends who I help out for free (in one case in return for a look over my accounts every now and then). I recorded another payment from a regular client in my spreadsheet, noting that I’d hit the first of my range of 4 income targets for the month (this one was “replace the money from the 2 days I didn’t work at the library”) and then I was free for dinner, a bit of BookCrossing admin, etc.

Sunday 4 December – a billable-hours free day, I managed to work in my usual Sunday pastimes of a run in the morning, and a visit to the local cafe with a friend in the afternoon. I almost always get the run in; sometimes Libro stops me going to the cafe, mainly because I know I’ll be at the day job on Monday. I put in a couple of hours writing blog posts in the afternoon; I like to get ahead of myself, but I didn’t have one written for Monday and I needed to put together a guest post I’m publishing in the week. I also wrote my newsletter as I’ve realised the next edition is due this week. I also, excitingly, wrote an abstract to submit to the Iris Murdoch Society to see if they’ll invite me to contribute a presentation to the IM Conference in September 2012. Something I really need to do once I’m full-time with Libro is give some time to my research project (this is what it’s all about) and I hadn’t really found time to get this done!

Summary – so, actually this wasn’t a hugely, horribly, frantically busy Libro week like some have been. I did 14 hours of billable Libro work (covering my billable work target) but of course also I did a significant number of hours on admin, including monthly invoicing and the writing today. So it’s more like 18 or so hours if you add those in. Plus the 21 hours at the library. Plus two hours delivering those directories … In the weeks previous to this one I’ve done 23, 20, 16 and 18 hours on Libro, which makes it a lot more difficult. But there you have it – a week in the life “before” …