Every morning, without fail, my phone bleeps all manner of notifications – most annoyingly of course are the numerous alarms in place to get me out of my pit. But one particular chime is for that app ‘Timehop’ with the funny looking dinosaur. And before I get up, I usually have a quick scan through it – and it usually drags up memories of this time last year when I had just been made redundant and was frantically job searching.
And yes, that was a scary time. Applying for job after job and watching my bank balance slowly dwindle away. All my years of reinforcing my strong beliefs of Law of Attraction and Positivity was being put to the ultimate test, and my god was it a lifeline!
As I’ve said before I decided finally in February this year to give up looking for employment and employ myself. And why not! I had basically the same pc I had at my old work (modded slightly better) and people were already asking me for work.
So I threw the application forms and CVs from my sight and started putting together my own company. And Phoenix Designs was born! Named after a storyline I’d had outlined for years (19 books in total!!). I sat down and wrote out a plan for self-employment.
Year One was simple – ‘Survive.’
Somehow I knew I would be ok if I worked my ass to the bone and kept a positive outlook, and looking back now I can be proud of myself for getting this far. From working out Daily routines which constantly changed and evolved, to trying out new programs that would aid productivity, to enlisting the help of friends – old and new to get me through. There are far too many to list here who have helped me, but my family know how supportive they’ve been, and how grateful I am. My friends too – driving me around when I needed it (Kev), showing me the ropes (Dan), as well as countless others supporting me have been invaluable. Even my little flat mate Wendy has been amazing, not only for helping me out with rent on the odd occasion I wasn’t paid on time (and never complaining once!), to simply giving me the human interaction that is lacking from a job you do from home. I don’t think her or her boyfriend Steve know how much it means just to say hello to them and break the cabin fever.
Also my fantastic pal Annette – giving me personal coaching and calming my fears etc has been incredible. Reiki healing, EFT, meditation, hypnotism. as well as simply being an amazing friend has proven invaluable and I’m not sure I would have made it through the year without her help.
Those closest to me know how hard I’ve work this year, often easily putting in 20hr days across a week. But I never seem to have any problems sleeping from the second my head hits the pillow. I never seem to need much sleep which is always a bonus.
So I guess now, it’s time to figure out the journey from here for the next year. Obviously my own projects have taken a hit this year, I’ve barely written or illustrated anything. Even my reading has been completely pushed to almost nil (Sharon Van Orman! I promise I’m still on with your book!!! :D). So next year I’ll be dedicating a portion of each day to these tasks as they are still part of my dream and should be nurtured accordingly.
Could I go back to working in an office or studio? Probably not now. It used to take me two hours to get to work and another two home. Now my workplace is roughly three feet from my bed. I also love making up my own rules and systems, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and knowing full well that I have full responsibility when it comes to customer satisfaction.
And so, what can I tell you I’ve learned? What tips can I give to help anyone else starting out this way? I guess I should be careful what I say, as some veteran designers may disagree with me. But you know what? Screw them. This is my blog and I’ll tap out these tips as I see fit.
1. Think in terms of ‘Time’ not ‘Money’.
This is something that took me quite a while to figure out. Time is now your currency. So instead of thinking you’ll charge £x for a project, think how long it will take of (uninterrupted (I’ll get to this) work to complete and charge accordingly to a set (immovable) rate of something like £15 or £20 per hour. If you work for a company who pay a set amount for a piece of work, then make sure that this also fits into the time/pay system.
One other thing to be aware of too – now you work at home, many people will assume to do jack shit all day except watch Jeremy Kyle and thus are ok to pick them up, wait for a package, relieve their boredom on their day off etc. Now I’m not saying not to do these things; after all, you’re a freelancer and can work when you please! Just be aware that doing these things cost you time, and in essence money. Give your time with care.
2. Forget your website at the start, get work first.
This may sound like a catch-22, because you need people to know who are in order to get work. But this was advice I was given when I was starting out and it was true! You can spend forever perfecting and crafting the ultimate website to draw customers, only to wait…..and wait……for nothing. Even in today’s world of online dominated culture, nothing does more for advertising than word-of-mouth. Your freelance might cough and splutter for a while whilst you get started, but once you’re rolling then you can spend time on your online presence. If you must, a quick Twitter and Facebook account at the start will be just as effective. In fact! These are probably a must as you connect them to your personal profile letting all your friends and family know what you do. There’s an awesome book for mastering social media called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook which I insist you get! 😀
3. Find your own Routine and Systems,
To date now I have had three revised daily routines stuck to the side of my pc, which I continue to change as time goes by. An 8 hour day is a short amount of time to cram in emailing, ordering, calling, messaging, invoicing, eating, financing, and of course – actually working! So getting a routine sorted is paramount in succeeding.
4. Using to-do lists and programs to aid productivity.
It took a while to find a program or combination of programs to feel right in helping to get things done. I’d say Evernote is great but I found myself barely using it. And the same story is with a lot of other programs. In the end I settled on using a combination of Asana for all my main to-do lists and Wunderlist for everything else (money owed, money earned, amends received etc). Asana is great and I have it running constantly on my laptop at the side. If a project comes in you can log it into the site and work out what day you can do it. Then when that day arrives it automatically populates the day’s tasks with the project. Simple yet awesome.
5. Exercise to maintain energy.
Again this comes as almost a paradox as how can you burn energy to get more of it? Bizarrely it’s true though. Now I’m no gym freak or anything like that, but I do have my kinect set up in the living room and do my best to do an hour’s exercise a day. I notice on days I don’t do any exercise I get lethargic a lot earlier. So get out of the chair and do a little exercise.
6. Get out.
Since my desk in my home it’s easy to be stuck in all day and not get some fresh air. I’m fortunate to live beside the sea and a lake which makes my lunchtime breaks a lot more peaceful. Of course if it’s hammering down with rain I won’t go out at all! Ha!
7. Clearing your mind.
This seems to be the biggest cause of procrastination ever, and it’s made even worse when such vast amounts of information is at our fingertips. All day your mind could be buzzing with a million thoughts – I wonder what I’ll have for tea? Who was the lead role in Flash Gordon? I wonder how Aunt Bertha’s 90th party went on. How were the pyramids built? Does Kim Kardashian’s arse have it’s own Twitter account? Before you know it, google is opened, searches are made, Facebook is delved into, 15 things you never knew about Made in Chelsea is read, leading into an endless line of humourous Youtube videos, and shit!! Four hours have passed! What the hell happened?! Even worse, you can barely remember a thing you’ve just looked at?!
Then of course you begin kicking yourself over it, promising tomorrow you’ll do better. Then the cycle repeats.
So the key is to remove this chatter from your mind so you can focus on more important things – like earning a living. But how do you do it?
Well personally I use the first hour of my day to quickly scan what I need to – get out my social network cravings before my brower locks out Facebook for the day (using a Firefox add-on called Leechblock). Then before I exercise I’ll do fifteen minutes of meditation. If you’ve never done it you’ll be surprised how just fifteen minutes of sitting in silence can calm the mind. Try to remove all distractions too. Having an xbox or tv in the room is just asking for trouble.
This is now where I’ll sound like a hypocrite! Sometimes if I’m doing a mundane piece of work, I’ll put on a film (one that I’ve either already seen, or one I don’t have to pay much attention to (so something action packed is out!) as I find the ‘moving wallpaper’ easier to work to.
Also something minimalistic to listen to works wonders too. Spotify has plenty of focus related playlists.
I think this is one area I excelled at from the start. I guess in today’s society, online scamming and corporate cold-heartedness have made many customers wary. If you can talk to them as a real person and get your emails and phone calls clear and upbeat, then client’s will realise you’re an actual human being, rather than a faceless set of templated responses. I’ve realised that a informal email to a client works better than a stiff multi-syllable worded one. You’ll come across as far more trustworthy and have their interests rather than their payment as the main priority.
Obviously don’t go overboard with this as some clients will see you as a walkover. Keep a level of professionalism and dignity. It helps if you get across you’ve been doing this for years – subconsciously people believe if you’ve been around a while, you obviously know exactly what you’re doing and will be thus less likely to be played like a buffoon.
9. Get your finances in order.
It’s hard to get this right after a long time of having a set wage paid directly into your account. But you’re in the thick of it now. Invoices, chasing payments, dealing with clients who refuse to pay, working out taxes and self-assessments – it’s a complete pain in the arse, and also very rewarding. I’m no expert in this area so I can’t give out any real advice – except this. Log and note down absolutely everything. Receipts, invoices and expenditure. You’ll be glad you did in the long run.
10……….you know……screw it! Ignore everything I said.
Take what you will from what I said above, but everyone’s situation is different. I think the best advice I can give is to dive in head first and make your own systems and way of working. If it doesn’t seem to work, then change it until it does. There will be a lot of trial and error but that’s how we grow and evolve. If you’re struggling for work, hammer everywhere you can online and offline. I was doing facebook cover photos on FiveSquids and contests on Freelancer. It all helps. And if you only put out work you’d be happy using yourself – you can’t fail to have clients drawn to you.
11. Never Give Up!
This goes without saying. Some days you may be riding the highest clouds, the next you may be wondering if you’ll even make it through the day. Nobody said it’d be easy, but once you’ve made it you’ll be so happy you did. Just remember, bad times come and go. And if in that particular moment of strife you’re still alive, then you’re able to change the future. Just focus on the present, and do what you need to. Be the inspiration to others and show the haters you won’t ever back down.
And so, on that note, I’ll get back to my day’s task at hand. 😀
Here’s to 2015!
And if you’re still reading this, thank you so much. It’s very much appreciated. Have a fantastic New Year!