Well, I’m at home anyway …

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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?

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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!

The holy grail of passive income

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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

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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!

Paper is sometimes best

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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

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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.

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.

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