Most of my working life I have operated as a freelance consultant and coach. I have experienced the pit-falls and advantages of the freelancer lifestyle, first hand.
Working as a freelancer means that you can work whenever you feel like it and in any way that suits you, it's one of the main advantages of being a freelancer. It is also a major pit-fall. Some people are simply defeated by the freedom. Without a regular schedule (or a boss), making sure work gets done can be challenging. Here's what I wished I had know when I started out.
Have a plan.
It's vital that you create a plan of work and stick to it. This helps you maintain a work life balance and makes sure you know what needs to be done each day. It also prevents you from working too much. This may be surprising, but some freelancers never 'switch-off' and this inevitably leads to burnout. When creating your plan remember to allow time for mundane things like paper work, filing, accounts and professional development.
Work with your natural rhythms.
We all have our own 'body-clock' and associated 'Circadian Rhythms'. It's the age old early birds vs night owls. The good news is that you can create a schedule that works for you. If you are most productive in the early morning, start work early, otherwise think about starting your workday after lunch. The combinations are endless. I'm an early riser so for most of my freelance life I have divided my workday into three sessions. 05.00 to 08.30, 09.30 to 12.00 and 19.00 to 22.00. This gives me lot's of free time and 9 hours of productive work every day of the week. Naturally when projects and deadlines require more hours I adjust, but I try hard not to let this happen especially as I march deeper into my 60's.
Tell everyone who needs to know.
Once you have your schedule set, inform the key people in your life. This is a big issue especially if (like me) you work from home. Letting colleagues and clients know your schedule and availability is important especially if international time zones are an issue. That said, I have found the biggest issue as a freelancer working from home is the people with whom you live. It's amazing how easily working hours can be eroded by well-meaning interruptions from family and friends. As silly as it may sound I would constantly tell those around me (especially the children) that when my door is closed they should imagine that I'm on a desert island with no means of communication.
Use your plan to monitor your working hours.
I always try to keep in mind that I work to live not the other way round. Any work plan you make should work for you not against you. This means that it's up to you to make sure your plan delivers results. Part of your plan should be to take some time to reflect on what you are doing. Within this there are three important questions. Are you getting things done? How are your energy levels generally? Do you have enough time and energy to support a healthy personal life? If the answer is no to any of these questions it's time for a reboot and a new plan.
Rest when you need to.
Flexibility is the biggest advantage of being a freelancer. Health, fitness, and personal relationships can come first but only if you allow for them. The perfect working day is an illusion. There are always unforeseen interruptions. Design your plan and timetable to accommodate them. The simplest example from my working practices is to always allow for time before and after a task. This has two advantages. Firstly it stops me from rushing from one thing to another. Secondly this 'buffer-time' builds up over the day and makes moving things around easier.
Make your rest time count.
Think and Grow Rich author Napoleon Hill reputedly talked about the importance of planning your work and then actually working the plan. The problem in our world of communication overload is that people don't prioritise down-time. If you plan to take a break do just that. Resist the urge to check emails and consider turning off your phone. If you need a business reason for this, recent research suggests that people who only check their emails at set times during the day work more efficiently and are less likely to lose focus compared to those that, insist on dealing with things in real-time.
To sign-off. Well planned freelancing should give you control over your work which in turn should help you be efficient, productive and maintain a sustainable work-life balance.
Continuing the theme of remote working. Working from home has become a regular part of life for many of us, especially if you run your own small business. There are many adjustments needed, but most changes are made easier if you have the right tools. Here is my take on what's needed for your home office.
A Good Computer with Reliable Internet.
The very basics are a good working computer and a reliable internet connection. Within this there are some variables. A desktop gives you a bigger screen and more raw computing power, but a laptop gives you the option of working on the go. Your regular household Wi-Fi is probably enough for remote working, but you should consider adding as much bandwidth as you can afford. I have chosen a laptop connected to an ultra wide monitor via a USB Hub hardwired to the fastest internet connection available.
Remote working requires some kind of communication tool beyond email to talk to your colleagues and clients. Email gets clunky and hard to manage. Messages pile up on threads. It's especially inconvenient when you have a team of people talking together. A chat platform like Slack or Skype is a much better option. You can talk throughout the day as if you were together at the office. I must admit for my purposes I find messaging from my iPhone and laptop is all I need. Mostly because I can't help thinking a stream of chat would disrupt my day too much.
Another new normal are online meetings. Zoom seems to have become synonymous with the video conferencing software used for virtual meetings. There are however other providers like Microsoft Teams that also you to see all participants and take advantage of other features like screen sharing. Paid or free versions these are must-have solutions that you will need to be comfortable using.
If you're collaborating on projects with other people, you'll need a project management program. If you are part of a bigger organisation you will be told what applications to use. For smaller businesses a freelancer approach may be all you need with collaboration tools like Trello. Again I have to say that I have never progressed farther than combining Evernote, Dropbox and what Microsoft calls 'co-authoring'. The basic message is that you need a secure way to share editable documents and timetables.
Cloud storage allows you to store files in the cloud rather than on a physical device. The advantage is that you can access these files anywhere. It also gives you more storage in addition to what your computer can handle. The simplest and most popular are Google Drive and Dropbox but be careful especially when deleting files. Syncing is great for remote access but it's not the solution for backing up or archiving of files.
Eventually there will be fully functioning cloud computing where the local device is just a terminal to access files stored in remote servers.
If you're going to be taking your work on the road, you may want to consider a stand-alone 'pocket' Wi-Fi device. This is a small device that gives you your own dedicated hotspot. It is a business alternative to using the hotspot capabilities of your mobile phone. It allows you to use Wi-Fi anywhere, you don't have to rely on unsecured public networks and you can control your costs.
Today there is a huge selection of tools and apps that help you stay organised. Working remotely without a boss or office structure can lead to distractions, poor time management which in turn can lead to missed deadlines etc. Tools like online calendars, automated to-do lists, and time trackers can help keep track of your business. Many of these tools come free and are easy to use but you must take the time to learn them, set them up and above all use them.
Today video calls are a fact-of-life for almost everyone working remotely. If you have found yourself constantly on video calls throughout the day you have probably gotten into a way of working that streamlines what can be a daunting process. If you are new to the whole thing video calls can be a bit awkward and difficult to get used to at first. Having delivered 100's of sessions over the last two years, I now have a process and a dedicated space, with external webcam, lights and microphone. Whatever your situation here are 8 tips to help you make your video calls as smooth, natural, and compelling as possible.
1. Check Your Internet Connection.
Before your call, make sure you have a strong internet connection. Where possible I always use a hard-wired connection. The 'freezing' that comes with a bad connection can be extremely distracting and even drop the call. I like to have my phone as a back-up, I quit my mail-server (email is a big drain on resources) and I ask my household to minimise their internet usage (just while I'm on the call). As a side-note, get the biggest connection package you can afford. A larger capacity will minimise these problems.
2. Pay Attention To How It All Looks.
Two big issues in presentation are how you look in the foreground and what's happening in the background. It's a good idea to dress for your video call as you would for a physical meeting. Wear whatever you would wear in the real world. This will help create a good impression and put you in the correct mindset for work. Experiment with the angle between you and the camera. Avoid extremes, too close or too far away are equally bad. Pay attention to your background. At a basic level this just means tidy up. Hanging clothes, kids toys or personal items are at best distracting at worst embarrassing.
3. Act Like You're In A Meeting.
During the meeting, keep in mind that PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU. They can see your facial expression and can tell whether you're listening or not. Active listening (nodding and smiling) can be more important on video calls than it is in person. Look like you are interested and engaged.
4. Lighting Is Important.
Before the call, check out your lighting. Turn on the camera and see how you look. The aim is not to appear too dark or too washed out. The first thing to do is to try out different lights to see what looks most natural. For a more professional look, avoid direct unfiltered lighting and try to light the area immediately behind you. Don't sit in front of a strong light source like a daylight window. Fortunately there is a lot of specific help to be found on the internet.
5. Punctuality Matters.
Just like in the real world, be on time. To avoid complacency I allocate at least 20 preparation time before every meeting and I always connect before the published meeting time. If you are running the meeting it's good practice to create an agenda and stick to any time limits. I try to start by summarising the reason for the meeting and how long the whole thing should take. I like to finish on time (let people to leave the meeting) but allow for anyone that wants to stay on to chat or ask additional questions.
6. Mute Audio As A Default.
Most importantly mute yourself when you're not talking. This minimises the impact of any background noise you have become accustomed to and avoids any "Honey I'm Home..." moments.
7. Video Is Not Your Friend.
A quick search on the internet will bring up some of the hilarious 'fails' where people simply forget they are on camera. On a more mundane level if you find yourself having the move around (or deal with an errant family member) turn the camera off.
8. Be Prepared For It All To Go Wrong.
There always seems to be problems technical or human or both. So always have a backup plan and tell people what it is, early. For example if it all fails have an alternative time slot or switch to audio only or record the meeting so that anyone having problems can catch-up later.
The good news is that video calling technology is getting better every day, it's consistent and easy to use. All it takes is a little practice.
The builder I have chosen to build customer websites cannot deliver 100% customisation. It would also struggle with sites that need 1000's of pages. It's not the market this type of builder looks to service. Most small businesses (including most of those I talk to) only need branding in the sense of site colours and logo. Their main concern is getting a professional looking website that doesn't break the bank or require payments for every single update needed.
To meet clients needs, as I see them, I have chosen what I consider to be the best solution in its class, but it occurred to me that it might be helpful to outline the pros and cons of online web building software generally. Before we get going I have to say that one of the great things is that after years of experience with this type of website development I have discovered there is nearly always an acceptable work-around for most limitations. The good news is that our clients don't have to waste time working out what they are.
When talking to small business owners, especially those just starting up, I often emphasise three core principles. Know where you are going, focus on what's important, understand the importance of good communication. I realise that these are just the tip of the business iceberg and for people who want to dive further into this huge subject this book is a great starting place.
I run a couple of small businesses and have a bit of a software addiction so I have tried out lots of software/apps but these are the ones that managed the test of time and sit up front in my 'dock'. I'm Mac based so naturally the apps are mostly MacOS but they mostly have their counterparts for other operating systems. Also my reason for choosing the apps may be helpful.
Hopefully this blog provide some insight into what we offer, provide inspiration for you to build the website you have always wanted and help with developing your business generally.