6 Learnings from my First Year as a Freelancer
It has now been over a year since I launched Blue Sage Support and I have spent some time at the start of 2019 reflecting on my first year as a freelancer.
I can say that it has been exciting, challenging, hard work - but most of all rewarding. Working for yourself is totally different to working as an employee and there are definitely pros & cons, but I like to look at the 'cons' as 'learnings'...
Here are 6 learnings that I wanted to share as part of my 'Freelancer Journal' - which sadly got a bit neglected last year (see Learning 4!)
1. You’ll end up doing work in areas you may not have expected to.
Having always worked for large companies, there was always a department responsible for specific roles or areas within the business. The PA role does mean that you tend to coordinate with these departments, but as a VA I have thoroughly enjoyed taking on a project & being solely responsible for actioning it's delivery. I have learnt skills that I probably wouldn't have had a chance to before whilst in corporate roles, such as learning Wix to build my own & client websites.
2. It's important to continue learning.
You will need to be proactive in organising (and paying) for your own learning as a freelancer. It could be easy to get a bit complacent on this, but I believe it's important to keep on top of market trends & developments that could then save you & your clients' time - which is one of the main objectives for a VA.
Attending conferences or talks etc. also presents the opportunity to meet prospective new clients & get your name out there.
Some conferences give discounts for the self-employed too, so it's not always as expensive as you might think.
3. Being self-employed can be a bit lonely.
One of the reasons I became a VA was that I was keen to seek an 'alternative' way of working. I had experienced my fair share of office politics and had been made redundant from the latest restructure at my last office job. I realised that a high percentage of my time was taken up with politics & dealing with other issues. I had always enjoyed working from home & found that I got so much more accomplished on those days.
A year in and I do still love working from home & focusing purely on the work & not the politics, but it has to be said that it can get lonely if you are by yourself all day, every day. I have found that after a couple of days at home in a row one can start to go a little stir crazy! So one thing I want to get better at this year is attending meet ups for local companies.
It's also great to have someone you can talk to if you experience any issues – “a problem shared is a problem halved” as they say and things can become magnified in your own head. When you air issues troubling you, they can seem much smaller as soon as the words leave your mouth.
I have just started seeing a coach (Mark from Smash the Box, who I recommend!) This has been great in getting me to see things objectively & also keeping me on track to accomplish what I want to. I took all these resources for granted when I worked for corporations, but I do think it's important to invest in yourself & your business if you want to grow.
I also recommend getting a pet if you work from home!
4. Make time for yourself & focusing on your business.
Last year I got very focussed on client work, which is of course important, but I have learnt that it's also important to make time for yourself & for focussing on your own business. Without doing so, it's easy to feel burn out & lose focus on why you are doing what you are doing.
I have started treating my own admin & business development as I would a client and am carving out time into my schedule for it.
I have also learnt that the 9-5 work day is institutionalised into my brain and I feel guilty if I am not working during these times! I have to remind myself that I am my own boss and can enjoy any down time away from the computer guilt free, although I tend to do my own admin when client work is quiet.
5. Bring routine/healthy rituals into your day
Aside from carving up my day up into client work/admin, I have found that the key to being self-employed & based from home is to have routine & healthy rituals. This is to avoid becoming the classic image that some people see when they imagine the home worker, of sitting around in PJ's watching 'Homes Under the Hammer'! This idea of the home worker is kind of outdated now that flexible working is so prevalent, but you will still come across people that think this is how you spend your days..!
I like to start my day early as I'm most productive in the mornings and the great thing about working from home is that there is no commute, so you can start whenever you want! I try to get out for a run a couple of times a week at lunch time. I find that this resets & motivates me to have a productive afternoon. Office workers have gotten really bad at taking lunch breaks & I think it is very important to get some air & precious headspace if you can.
6. Invest in a good set-up.
I started out working at my kitchen table, which is fine if you are working from home on the odd day, but I soon developed back ache after a couple of months. I then bought a laptop stand, keyboard and mouse and a decent office chair. These all helped, but getting a monitor and using that alongside my laptop to double screen was a game changer! So, now I am sorted (until I get my dream home office in my future country house overlooking a private lake!)
To summarise, becoming self-employed has involved both investment of time & finances in this first year, but the cons/learnings have really been worth it. I have learnt so much & am now looking forward to sharing these skills with my clients. What could be more rewarding for a VA & small business owner? :-)