What I’ve learned from my first month of freelance life
Last month, I had my leaving lunches, I sent my farewell email, and said goodbye to office life. I set up the very next day on my own, and became fully self-employed for the first time.
And so far, I’ve got to say, freelance life has been absolutely brilliant. I love the flexibility, I love spending a bit more time with my kids (although I can’t actually work from home, see here for more of that) and it’s been a lot easier than I’d expected.
But it’s never quite as straightforward as that, is it? There have been a few learning bumps in the road. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned from my first month of freelance life.
1) Cash flow management is a skill.
I’m still learning it. Not everyone pays on time, and of course, not everyone pays on the same day. As it’s only been a month, in theory, this will even out over time but increasing my ‘just in case’ pot is a priority for me now.
2) There is more work out there than you think.
I’ve been really surprised at the different types of work I’ve been able to take on. I fully expect there to be times to come where I’ve not enough work to cover all of my expenses, but for now, I’m delighting in a full schedule.
3) I really need to learn to say no.
I’ve had a few conversations so far where I’ve thought ‘I really don’t want to do this work’. But I’ve written a proposal anyway, because that’s what you do, right?
In the end, I haven’t worked with those people, because THEY have decided not to go ahead, but why couldn’t that have come from me in the first place? I would have saved myself the time and energy writing a proposal, and the stress when thinking about whether they’d come back and hire me!
4) I need to manage my time better.
My plan was to only charge for half days or full days, so that I’d have plenty of buffer space. But I’ve worked out that I’m really under-estimating how long some things take me, and I haven’t accounted for the admin time involved in particular projects.
Writing proposals, writing invoices, sorting out my accounts, replying to emails – these things really add up, and I need to be more realistic about them.
5) Taking a day for myself is crucial.
When I left work, I said I’d take Wednesdays exclusively for myself. My kids are out of the house all day, Peter’s usually out all morning, so I’d planned to spend a couple of hours in the morning doing things like planning or accounting, or see someone socially, but focus most of the day on self-care.
As the mum to two small kids, I literally don’t have any other time for this, and I wanted one of the benefits of leaving the office to be taking more time for myself.
Then, of course, things were much busier than I’d expected, and I haven’t been doing it. I need to do some mindset work around prioritising myself. It’s only one day!
6) I need to set up a new email account for my business.
One of the upsides to working on discrete projects is that I can be completely focused on them. And when I take a break (or have a day off), I don’t want to be distracted by other email.
In theory, I know the quick answer is just ‘turn email notifications off completely’ but I quite LIKE getting email notifications. If there’s a nice email from a friend or a newsletter I love getting, I want to know it’s there waiting for me when I’m ready to read it. So I don’t really want to turn them off.
But every time a work request comes through I either get distracted or stressed. Or both. Neither are very good options. So on the list this month is to set up a new account that I can put an out-of-office on (ie: this account is checked between x and y times, you may not get an answer straight away, etc) and just check when it makes sense for me, rather than getting work notifications when I’m trying to do something else.
And then I need to do all the admin of telling everyone to start only using that account and changing every website I use for work over to the new address. You might be able to see why I’ve been putting this off.
7) It’s time to change my word for the year.
When I started 2019, my word for the year was Brave, because I was anticipating making these big changes in my life.
Well, now I’ve made them, and it doesn’t feel quite right anymore. Freelance life has been far busier and more rewarding that I’d expected, so instead of wanting to feel brave about it, I’d like to bring about a sense of ease. In my work, in my days, in my life generally.
Not that I want it to be easy – I want to feel financially secure, feel secure about the clients I’m working with, and have a plan to do more of the things I love doing and less of the things I find stressful.
There are some other things to add to this list, of course. Things like “National Insurance is an additional tax you need to account for, dummy” and “You probably do need an accountant, at least at first” (still working on that last one).
The most important thing is: so far, I have LOVED having to learn this stuff. It’s genuinely exciting, and every time I figure something out it helps me get a bit closer to that ‘ease’ I’m looking for in my every day.