September: Back to 'Freelance School'

Hi there, freelancers, how’s things? September means the return to school, and however strange or stilted that is going to be for everyone, it has got me thinking about going back to school as freelancers.

I know for many of you that you’ll be reading this having nervously waved your children off to school, some for their very first day. (Freelance hugs to you if that’s the case!). I’m not a parent, but know many freelancers who are, and I salute anyone who has kept working to any extent since March with kids at home.

Now, as school returns, it feels like time to ‘hunker down’ and be serious about work and business again, too. I admit I’ve had a bit of a quieter August, some laid back days while moving house – but today is ‘back to the desk’ day. If it’s the same for you, you might, like me, be thinking ‘how will this ‘term’ be different for me?’.

I actually loved school when I was growing up. I went to a boarding school but as a day pupil and I wanted to stay over! When I left my primary school because we moved house, I told my parents I would go back every day by helicopter! I used to love everything from the discipline of the classroom environment to the new stationary.

Now I’m about to turn 43, school is quite a long time ago – university is even over 20 years ago now. So the idea of learning and being in a classroom is quite alien. You probably wonder what else you might have to learn as a freelancer. Surely it’s all ‘learn on the job’, right? But I’d argue that training – AKA freelance school – is a necessity. It’s just a case of us working out what training we want or need, and how to fit it in to our actual work schedule.

In a staff job, training is often offered now and then (sometimes obligatory!), and is usually paid for by the company. There might be day workshops, visiting speakers, IT training, all manner of things you can get through a staff job to progress, develop skills and get more knowledge about your chosen work subject. Sometimes you can dabble in something completely different – so you might be a designer but able to do some SEO training through work. Or you might be in HR and given mental health first aider training.

But as freelancers, we don’t have that option, and the idea of choosing to take part in training can seem a bit indulgent and, of course, costs money from our own pockets. We don’t get appraisals, which can often be the route to training – and we don’t often see what’s out there for us, training-wise, like we might on a staff intranet with updates on in-house training. We often have to seek it out, or follow people to find out what courses they’re offering. That all takes up time, too.

But I believe it’s essential as freelancers to learn more, to study our craft and to develop new skills at ‘freelance school’. By freelance school I mean anything which is training or learning of any kind about your freelance business. It could be a full-on MA or degree course, or it could be an evening class or a one-off webinar. It doesn’t have to be in your field, either. For example, last year I did a sitcom writing course! And, one of the best things right now is that a lot of the learning you can do as a freelancer is online. This is fantastic if you are at all anxious about going to a class or webinar in person. It also means you can access the course from anywhere in the world – bonus!

One first step is to think about what you want to learn. I’d say to ask yourself whether it’s for work-work or work-ish-work. For example, the sitcom writing course was more an exploratory exercise for me, and the biggest thing I learned is that I don’t want to ever write a sitcom! But the flipside of that is that I know I prefer writing articles and books.

I also learned how sitcoms are made, the software used to write scripts and about how to write the dialogue. As an exercise in a new kind of writing style, it expanded my own thoughts on how I write blog posts. But it hasn’t brought me any income. That can be a hard outcome when you’ve paid for a course.

Freelance school feels

The feels of going back to freelance school are, of course, super strong. It can feel like a huge risk, especially if you’re spending money that’s money that might be needed for bills, or family, or just, well, YOU. There’s that moment you click ‘buy’ on the course and think about all the other things you could have spent that money on, and then you worry about the time it’ll take up to do the course and whether you can ‘afford’ that.

Then there’s the ‘new kid’ feels. Remember, everyone will be feeling those on day one, too. But that doesn’t make them go away. You have to log on, to schedule the time, to be alongside peers who might know more than you. Just like going back to actual school, being a newbie at freelance school can feel daunting.

Over the summer I was slightly late to the webinar party but joining in with them – going to summer school, you might say - gave me so many different boosts to my freelance work. Not only did I learn new things (for example, how to freshen up my LinkedIn and about blogging to raise your business profile) I also met new contacts and it helped my confidence, too. I felt a mixture of nervous, over-qualified, too busy and under-qualified every time I looked at a webinar or course. Did I want to commit that hour (really, it’s just an hour!) and put myself out there?! What if other people on the course judged me for being there or asking a question?

The thing is, often, when we’re back in the ‘classroom’ we can have lightbulb moments about our own work that aren’t even related to the topic, too. I might have a feature idea or two while I’m in a webinar or clarity on my own projects as I see others producing theirs. I want to run webinar workshops this autumn (I know, I’ve been talking about it for ages!), and seeing others do it, in real time, actually made me think ‘YES I could do this!’.

There is always something to learn, and I think freelance ‘school’ is like going back to the gym in a way – the more you get into it, the easier it is. So, I would encourage you to sign up to different webinars, invest a bit of money and see where it takes you. For example, I’m doing a webinar on SEO in October, and it’s cost me £13. That’s less than I spent in Aldi the other day! Remember to put the receipts for any classes you do through the books, too. This is an investment in YOU and your business. It’s not, as it might feel, an indulgence or something ‘off topic’. It’s a direct investment in you, your brand, your business and the future of all those things combined.

And finally, remember, if you’re not enjoying it, you can always leave. I’ve done this from a couple of webinars – that’s the beauty of it being online. You can either just disconnect, or I’d recommend politely saying ‘bye’ on the chat, thanking the host and then going about your business elsewhere!

Side effects of freelance school

There are also other great side effects when you sign up to a course or webinar. Since doing a pitching course earlier this year, I’m now in a Facebook group with other alumni, which is invaluable! So, there can often be more to the course than just turning up every week or every day for a week. Thanks to webinars I’ve gathered more like-minded followers on social media, and podcast guests, too. That’s the thing with the online ‘school’ – you can often speak to the ‘teacher’ via messaging or chat, when you might not get that time with them in person. I know, this might sound geeky, but I like doing a course because I like homework, too. It can be really liberating to be learning something out of your comfort zone. To have something to do that isn’t ‘actual work’.

Let me know if you’ve been signing up for courses or have decided to go for it after reading this newsletter! I’d love to know about courses you rate and would recommend, too.

What I’ve been up to this month

One of my big goals is to do more speaking and that’s been going well this month. It’s something I give a lot of time to trying to build and it feels like it’s paying off! I’ve appeared as a guest with Book Machine (that one was live but I think if you’re a member you can watch again), and recently recorded for the Freelance Party Broadcast podcast talking about freelance rejection and how I cope with it (not always well!). I was also on the podcast 45NotOut discussing freelance life and what advice I’d give my younger self. I was very proud to be featured in a round up of resources for freelancers (alongside some other great enterprises, too) on Response Source, too!

I wrote a piece for the Telegraph about at-desk wellness services and their pivots during lockdown and another on goal setting for freelance site Underpinned.

I was in two minds whether to share the above paragraph as it felt quite ‘showy offy’ – is that a familiar feeling?

It’s made me realise we are just not the best at bigging ourselves up, are we?

So I’d like to set you the #MyFreelanceWins challenge. Share on Instagram three things you’ve achieved over the summer and tag me, using the hashtag, too. Let everyone know what’s been going right for you this year, and what you’re proud of.

Freelance Feels: The podcast for humans who work for themselves

I’ve been a bit all over the place with the schedule for the podcast (let’s blame summer and moving house!), but there’s one more episode to come this Friday (Sept 4th) which is with a freelance vet, and then it’ll take a break until November.

That will be a YEAR since I launched the podcast!! The first episode was on October 8th and in that year I’ve produced 33 episodes! I’ve felt so lucky to speak to the range of freelancers who spent time and energy speaking to me and the line up for Series 4 is looking amazing.

You can catch up on all the episodes so far on Spotify, Apple, Podbean and others.

If you like the podcast, please do subscribe and rate and review it. Much like with books, reviews help the podcast stand out and also give me a lovely warm feeling.

Insta links to make you think

Five accounts I’m loving and that I think will inspire you, too:

@selfemployedclub Networking events and training from marketing expert Shona Chambers.

@hollytucker Founder of Not on the High Street and Holly&Co, a very inspiring account about entrepreneurship!

@gracehollidayfreelancer I was on a panel with Grace this month and she offers webinars, too. Check her account for updates.

@myfrugalyear Clare Seal wrote anonymously about her financial challenges and now has a book out - great for any freelancers concerned about cash flow or debt.

@natalietricecoach Natalie kindly gave me her time and wisdom when I was researching some courses this summer. Follow her for PR training updates.

Freelance podcast of the month

I’ve just discovered the podcast How to curate your life and I love it! Lizzie Evans focuses on work life balance in her podcast it’s lovely and upbeat, and topics include two of my faves, manifesting and values.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please do share it and encourage others to subscribe. Loads of buttons for you below!

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