Moving from the city to the country is giving me some strong freelance feels
As August begins, the world is not completely working from home anymore. We were all – whether freelance or staffers, on a contract or hustling – suddenly working from wherever home was due to lockdown. And now, as lockdown eases a little (depending on where you live, of course), freelancers have gone from a total Work From Home scenario to perhaps going back to a (socially distanced) co-working space, or a local café.
In my world, there’s an even bigger move afoot. On August 6th, after many, many months of to-ing and fro-ing, I’m leaving London behind and moving to the Oxfordshire countryside. And one big topic that’s come up when telling people is work. Will I still do what I do? Will I do something else once I’m not in London? Will I work for the same brands and clients? Can I be a journalist and writer outside of London?!
Of course, they’re questions I have also asked myself!
You see, I’ve been self-employed on and off for nearly 15 years, but I’ve often not worked from home. Over the years I’ve done a lot of what’s known in my industry as shifts. I would be booked for anything from a week to a month to three months, to work in-house on magazines and newspapers. I’d take the role of a writer, doing anything from a topical piece for the magazine’s website to a longer report piece for a monthly mag. I would go into the office, be part of the team, sitting alongside them, sharing tea rounds and the stationary cupboard.
I loved the mixture of shifts and working from home that I built as a freelancer. The office world reminded me how lucky I was to work from home sometimes, while being at home reminded me what I enjoyed about the office. I could juggle different projects – being on ‘shifts’ didn’t mean that I couldn’t write for anyone else, so I’d often find myself doing a week or month of shifts, with writing for other brands or clients in the evenings and at weekends. I might go to a café on a lunch break to do a phone interview, or stay late to research something new. I was busy, kept on my toes, and usually enjoyed the commute, either reading a book or writing something on my phone, making notes and plotting away.
As lockdown began, I was on a three-day-a-week contract, and it was due to last until mid-May. Thankfully, they kept me on for the contract and I really enjoyed the work. Suddenly, though, the shiny new office I’d been going to (which even had a sparkling water tap! The dream!) was off limits to all of us, and I was ‘on shifts’ but working from home. It was a huge adjustment for all the team to work remotely, I know, but I also felt sad as the ‘office’ part of the role was suddenly not there for me.
Now, with moving imminent (or done, depending on when you read this), I won’t be able to do shifts anymore. Gone is the commuting option – my new place is nearly two hours from London. And it’s got me pondering on whether it matters where we work from as freelancers. In particular, whether London – or any big city - is ‘the’ place to be, and if we can thrive as self-employed businesspeople outside a ‘big smoke’.
It didn’t take lockdown for freelancers to realise that working from home can leave us anxious, lonely and depressed. A survey in November 2019 (which I was asked to comment on, no less!) found that 64% regularly feel lonely. Even working in a big city, we can feel isolated as freelancers. I’ve wondered if working in a more rural setting will be lonelier - or if I’ll make more of an effort to connect because I’m not in the city.
Confession: I don’t love working from home!
Do you feel the same? For me, the variety of going into different offices on contracts, or even choosing to work from a library or café, was what brought balance and, in turn, a calmer sense of wellbeing and better mental health. Flexibility, routine, seeing other people, interaction, sharing ideas, laughing together, feeling part of something; it all added up to a happier work/life balance for me.
During lockdown, I truly saw for the first time, as I think many freelancers did, what it was like to work from home 24/7. And it’s hard. It’s really isolating sometimes, and being in your own work head day after day can create a tornado of confusion, anxiety and over-comparison. As I see it, the big change for freelancers during lockdown was the choice. It’s one thing to choose to work from home, another to ‘have’ to. As freelancers, not working in a dedicated office doesn’t mean we never leave our homes!
I know that once I move I’ll need to find a place to work that isn’t home, to bring variety. In my dream world that’s the fancy Soho Farmhouse… but it could be a local co-working space or even the local library or café. I know I need to mix things up to stay balanced, that’s for sure.
Working from home aside, people also wondered if there would be less work once I quit the inside of the M25. Research and networking so far has shown there will be clients and new work. I’ve realised that London seemed to be the place where all the work was, but actually that was only because that was the work I sought out. I was in a catch-22: Living in London so finding work in London. Will it be the case that living outside of London, I’ll seek out work elsewhere? Well, that’s the plan!
And I hope to be an example of non-city freelance living, for sure. And that by writing about this people who are planning to quit the city will feel like they aren’t alone.
As a journalist, London was where the magazines were – all roads led to London if you wanted to work on a mag or even be a freelance features writer. But is that the case anymore? And is it the case with other industries, too? Shifts have become fewer and father between in recent years and, in my industry, the day rate has barely changed. So what was quite a good day rate ten years ago is not so now.
Moving away was part of a work decision – I wanted to ditch the shifts. To stop relying on them as a source of income, so effectively I forced myself to generate income elsewhere. Scary, but very empowering!
Removing the lure of those shifts has made me think more about other income streams. In turn, that’s given me renewed confidence in my abilities. After all, if you choose not to be paid a small amount anymore, you’re effectively saying you’re worth more, right?
Furthermore, not interacting with a client you don’t want to work with – in this case, the ones offering shifts – is a big freelance step and one that’s challenged me. But it’s felt good and I’m glad I’m going for it. Has that happened for you in some way, too?
Moving has given me a lot of space and time to think about what I do, how I work from home and how that works for me. I have to say, for the first time in my life I feel like I’m truly ‘Freelance’! And lockdown has been a good test for me, of what’s to come. Can I really work from home 24/7? I’ve found a better balance, now, through practice, and I’m glad that I had the chance to try that out before the big move.
There’s definitely a kudos associated with London – or is it a fake kudos? Plus, there’s financial pressures that come with living in a big city – not everyone can afford city rents or prices, and it seems more and more ludicrous to me, in a post-lockdown world, to expect people to try and pay the rent in London or another big city to make it in their industry. If you’re freelance, surely that means by its very definition that you can work from anywhere? Why put up with the stresses of city living when we operate on Zoom and via email?
The positives of working from home
For many of us, working from home is a mental health godsend. The lovely Fiona Thomas speaks about this for the launch of her book, Out of Office. There’s an extract here.
I enjoy working from home for many reasons: I can be free to be me without having to worry about how workmates see me. I can have a stamp and a cry if I want one! I can stay in bed later not worrying about the trains coming and going from the station that I should perhaps be on. There’s no manager looking over my shoulder at what’s on my computer screen. Nobody tells me when it’s ‘put on your bra o’clock’.
I enjoy having my own desk – many of the places I’ve ‘shifted’ used hot-desking and it felt quite impersonal to me. I am seeing more and more that there are plenty of ways to be freelance and not live the big city life. In fact, two of my podcast interviewees, Caroline Corcoran and Bec Evans, both speak about leaving the big smoke for more rural climes. Spoiler alert: Neither regretted it! In fact, I don’t hear much about people regretting the move out of a big city.
I hope – and I already feel this to be the case – my business, brain and heart, will have time to breathe, to take stock and to make new plans. I’m glad I’m being forced to think sideways when it comes to my work. Yes, much of my industry is still in London. But especially now, in the pandemic, that’s changing. There are also work opportunities where I’m going that I haven’t found in London.
We worry about being remote, but as people who work from home, are we remote anyway? Does it matter where we plug in the laptop? Indeed, can plugging it in somewhere less city-based be a good thing for our mental health? There’s no denying that the traffic I hear outside my current office window will be replaced with countryside sounds, and that I’ll have a bigger garden to sit in and have my morning coffee. Get ready for a lot of countryside views on the Instagram Stories!
Will moving out of London be the death knell for my media career? I have struggled with that, and a look at a relevant jobs site for my industry says LONDON LONDON LONDON when it comes to jobs. But then I read a little deeper – most of the jobs on that site are contracts, or full time jobs. Freelance jobs that are listed as London are contracts, and I’ve made peace with the idea of not doing those ‘shifts’ anymore, which is often what a contract is.
But I am keen for the challenge, for the non-city adventure, and to show others that there’s more to freelance life away from tube lines, open-all-hours shops and the speeding buzz of the mopeds that’s the soundtrack to my working day. Freelancing is an adventure in itself, and I hope that this is just another adventure within that.
Do let me know if you live in a city or made the move and what it means for you! If you’ve related to this, do share on Twitter or Instagram: Tag @freelance_feels for both platforms.
Insta links to make you think will be back in September.
In the meantime, do follow some of my latest podcast guests on instagram! Episodes are all on Apple Podcasts. I’ve spoken to luxury wedding planner Sarah Haywood about the wedding industry right now (she’s very passionate about it and has started the hashtag #whataboutweddings) and Hannah Read-Baldrey spoke candidly about loss leading to a business decision in her episode.
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There are two more episodes of the podcast coming for Season three, and then it’ll be back in September, as will this newsletter, looking at ‘going back to freelance school’ and whether we should invest in training, how we carry on learning as freelancers and whether we can ever stop learning in our world…
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Podcast of the month: Linking in with Louise
I’ve been using LinkedIn more and more. Did you know that there are LinkedIn trainers?! That they can help you build a better profile that showcases you more?!
I did a weeklong challenge by Louise Brogan and really found my eyes opened to how LinkedIn can help us as freelancers. LinkedIn can be quite Marmite, but especially now we are all working more remotely, it’s key to connect. I am sure I’ll be using it more as I make the move out of the city and look for freelance opportunities more local to me.
Louise has loads of great advice – things you might think are obvious but that you don’t do.