Mid May Musings: Kindness in the freelance world

Hi! This is a mid-month special newsletter to mark Mental Health Awareness week.

The theme is kindness, and it’s given me plenty to think about.

To mark the week, I interviewed Chris O’Sullivan from the Mental Health foundation and it is such an interesting conversation I wanted to share some of his insight as well as a little of my own.

You see, I’m very unkind to myself as a freelancer. Self-judgemental, putting myself down. I’ve used words like useless and failure… I often berate myself for time-wasting, or not getting the to-do list done, or not posting enough on social media, for being a bit crap with spreadsheets.. the list is ENDLESS.

Do you relate to that?

But I also have a kindness barometer, I think. I am kind to myself, sometimes, and I’m not totally averse to believing in my own work or congratulating myself when something goes right! I try to return kindness when it’s been given to me. There’s a reciprocity there, for sure. I’ve also had to learn to be kinder as a freelancer. To share more, to collaborate when before I was perhaps closed off to it. I try hard to make sure I practice self-care – to be kind to my body with good food, exercise and bubble baths, too.

The idea of being kind isn’t a simple one. We can’t just be kind all the time, sharing our energy and contacts. We’d burn out. It’s something that came up with Chris.

You can listen to the full episode with Chris on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Kindness with client relationships

It can often feel like a client is being unkind. Well, I think so, anyway! It can feel like we’re being taken advantage of, as they ask for extra amends or work that’s outside the contract remit. Or a call that’s not in the usual working hours you agreed. Some clients have, recently, unceremoniously let freelancers go.

Some, though, have done so much more kindly. Perhaps you had a contract cancelled with the promise of renewing later this year. Or perhaps they called, rather than emailing, to say they needed to cancel the contract. A little nod to kindness like that can make all the difference as it gives a feeling of respect.

We often go over and above for a client, perhaps out of fear rather than immediate kindness. Chris revealed that he spoke to some of his freelance friends for the podcast episode, and: “One of my friends was saying that they had squeezed meetings in amongst jury duty, one stuck a smart top over their PJs to do a Skype interview for a job whilst sick,” he said.

They told him they’d done in-depth interviews whilst in bed and completed reports from a hospital bed. Chris said: “If you have the kind of razor-sharp client focus that you need to succeed as a freelancer, it's very easy to write yourself a check that you can't cash on your boundaries.”

Too right! We just keep going, don’t we? How many times have you done things for a client that aren’t on the brief? Kindness to them might, in turn, be unkindness to yourself and your own mental wellbeing. If it impacts on time you’d spend on other projects, or with family, or frankly, vegging out, is it kind? Or are they unkind for asking?!

Kindness during the coronavirus epidemic as a freelancer

It’s a real challenge to keep ‘doing your freelance’ during lockdown, Chris added. “There is a certain flexibility but there's also precarity, it can be really hard to make a good living or support a family depending on what your freelance is and what you're able to put in. Lots of people choose self employment for the flexibility, which is great, but sometimes, and obviously, increasingly, people are choosing freelance and entrepreneurial careers as a way to rebalance corporate careers or after a period of illness or after a period of change.”

Is it kind to choose self-employment, a better way of working with more flexibility? Or are those who go for it (especially those who might be choosing to do so during the pandemic and beyond), being unkind to themselves and giving themselves a huge challenge?

“I think I think if I were to go self employed, the idea of freedom would be great, but the practicality would be a real challenge. And so I doff my hat to people who are able to do that,” says Chris.

I doff my cap to you, too, and you should doff your cap to YOURSELF!

On doing favours as a freelancer – kindness doesn’t mean giving all your time for free!

One big thing which came up during my chat with Chris was the idea of confusing kindness with doing everything for other people and burning out or getting nothing back in return.

He alluded to Brené Brown and her concept of ‘Clear is kind’. You can read her blog post on it on her site brenebrown.com.

Essentially, taking those out-of-hours calls from clients, doing all the amends, perhaps an extra day’s work because they need it, isn’t kind to you. And it’s not kind to the working relationship. Instead, the kind thing to do is to be firm and say you will need to discuss terms for the extra work. I know it’s hard, as there’s a fear of losing the client or the work, but we must try to do this. It sets the tone for future discussions.

And this includes working for free! If a company is struggling right now and asks you to do work for free, the answer has to be no. You are not being kind to yourself by working for them for free. They are not being kind to you by asking. Now, more than ever, freelancers need to be paid for their work!

Chris says in the podcast: “You know, freelancers are often asked to do people favours or mates rates, pro bono work. Or a couple of hours extra, but we can't pay you for it, but it'll set you up for the future… That can quite quickly change from this idea that you're giving skills or time as an act of generosity to feeling a bit used. I really like this idea of authentic collaboration and showing vulnerability appropriately. Be altruistic if you want. If you're a broadcaster, and you could go help a community group set a podcast up. But recognise how that is fitting in with your business and don't give away your business and all the time that you have.”

How you can be kinder / Sharing the kindness as a freelancer (with balance)

Do you find it hard to share your freelance contacts and work? I often have and I still do. We get protective. But sharing can be done in a way that brings a lot of kindness and can bring kindness back onto you, too.

Chris O’Sullivan has some great advice. “You could you can go and make a recommendation on someone's LinkedIn. You can send someone a note, when you've seen that they've done a bit of work and say, ‘I really liked that piece of work, I saw your name on it’. And if it's a rival, you can you can send it to a rival and say, ‘I wish I'd got that piece of work or I bid for that piece of work, but I'm glad you got that’. I see that's a real challenge. Because then there's an element of transaction. Are they going to see that as you poking at them? You know, does it matter?”

Try responding to posts on Facebook groups more, tagging a contact or freelancer on twitter when you see a shout out. See if you can lend your skills to someone who asks in a forum.

Being kind in this way will add up, little by little. And you never know who’s going to (hopefully) be kind to you in the same way in return.

Mental Health Awareness Week runs until Friday 22nd May. To find out more, go to mentalhealth.org.uk. Chris is on Instagram @chrisosulligram and the foundation is @mentalhealthfoundation. Share your thoughts and this newsletter, if you think it’s something people will enjoy using the hashtag #KindnessMatters

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May the freelance force be with you

As freelancers, we often feel out of control. And right now, that’s stronger than ever for me.

I’m not a Star Wars fan but it’s well known that today is ‘Star Wars’ day – “May the fourth be with you” is a regular greeting right now.

Last month I mused on feeling a freelance fool. Now it’s time to start shedding that cloak and grabbing the freelance power where we can. There’s so much we can control, if we choose to, or try to. It takes time, though, and some days the battery will be back on ‘low’ but knowing when and where and how to plug back in is crucial. It’s something I’m working on every day. I want to urge you all to think of – and try – ways to gain back that feeling of power and control so you feel more energised about your freelance business.

And so, May’s newsletter is about reclaiming your freelance power. Finding and engaging with the things you can control. Believing in yourself and surging forward with the things that matter to you and are within your power to work on or change.

Circumstances have put a halt to much of our business. Contracts are cancelled, projects are mothballed or work is halted, and commissions (well, in my world) are hard to come by.

With some clients, there is a trust that we have to dig deep to find when they tell us that a project may or will be back up and running as soon as possible.

We hear from people we are working on projects with that things are on hold – and we have to hope we’ll still be the person for them when the work gets up and running again.

It can leave us questioning our own worth and viability as a business, especially when we’re in an echo chamber of our own homes and the voices of people in our industry.

It’s exhausting to ‘keep at it’, don’t you find? But keep at it we must, somehow. To shake off that feeling of doom that we’re wearing like a duvet, to say ‘ok, I’ll keep trying’. To dry our tears, if there are tears (there have been tears) and to say ‘ok, I’ll try something else’, when plan A isn’t working. If all those emails to possible clients are falling on deaf ears, it might be time to post on Linkedin more, for example, or seek out new contacts.

If our freelance careers feel like embers right now, then it can be hard to think about trying to get that fire going again. But it can take just one little spark to get the flames crackling.

I had a day recently where I descended into a real pit of ‘I’m useless’ and things like ‘What is Freelance Feels even doing, anyway?!’. Have you had one of those? The frustrations of not understanding something to do with tax and the unanswered pitches I’d been sending out, coupled with a messy desk left me feeling very out of control – I felt like I had no power over the future of my business, no ability to even try and harness some.

Being freelance, many people say they can’t wait to be their own boss and I often say ‘careful, you’ll probably have three’, meaning all those different clients.

Their demands can be, well, demanding, and it can leave you feeling powerless again.

But at the same time, as a freelancer, there is so much power in what we do. We have chosen to take this path – there’s a power in that itself. Then there’s the power of choosing to do what we do every day. The strength we have in ourselves to say, ‘I’ll be my own boss again today’, to send another email, to post on another Facebook group looking for work. We are tenacious, hardy things – cacti, remember!

It’s time to try and take control and reclaim the power over things right now as much as we can. Here’s some thoughts…

Reclaiming the power with clients

I often feel powerless when it comes to clients. I think this is partly because, for me, clients are commissioning editors rather than someone I have an ongoing contract with. So rather than us having an arrangement as you might with a client if you were, say, a web designer or a copywriter or a builder, I do ‘jobs’ (articles) one by one for different clients all the time. So I am often on the back foot, subject to their terms and conditions, and not having a contract between us because it’s just one article.

It can leave me feeling completely powerless.

It’s up to the client when they publish (And sometimes, if they pay on publication, that can mean when they pay me, too). It’s up to them how it looks – from the headline and the edit to the design and what images they use.

It’s up to them whether they turn my piece into a one-page piece with one photo or a three-pager with five photos. The price is the same, it’s for the copy filed, not what they do with it.

The editing process can make me feel pretty powerless, too. Some editors send endless questions, almost doubling the amount of words you actually write before it’s edited back down to a publishable length. It can feel like they are literally tearing your work in half, or writing all over it with a red pen. You might have had this with clients, too, or people you work with in-house, perhaps, on certain projects.

The question is, how to reclaim the power in this situation?

1)    I don’t pitch to certain editors anymore. This is hard as it means cutting off income stream. But after some bad experiences I believe it’s best for my mental health.

2)    I’m also re-considering how I pitch; If my emails aren’t landing, is there something about that I can change? While I feel powerless about the lack of replies, perhaps I can change that by making my pitch more ‘them’ and redressing the power balance before I send the email.

3)    I am trying to find new clients who are more in a certain sector – for me, that’s business and freelance-focused publications.

4)    I’m learning from other freelancers. There are so many of us battling with client demands – and I think right now, any client demand would be preferable to none, right? But I’m seeing lots of posts on Facebook groups and taking comfort and inspiration from them. People who are fiercely chasing money from clients who might be saying they can’t pay right now, or people who are changing freelance direction to weather the storm. There’s a real power in reading about other people’s experiences and knowing you’re not alone in this.

Doing something for you and your business

Can’t control the client work and interaction? Then it’s time to control the things you can about your business. That could be re-vamping your website, having a shake up of your social media profiles, or even starting a newsletter, blog or podcast.

There’s plenty we can do to help our brand grow right now that we don’t need permission from an external source for.

I’ve been updating my mood board – if you’re not au fait with these then essentially it’s a board of words and pictures about the things I want to achieve. I use a pin board and cut things from magazines and newspapers. A mood board helps me remember my long-term goals which is helpful right now when the day to day can be up in the air.

It could be as simple as updating the link in your Instagram, or something as deep as re-designing your logo. But think about what you can control right now and harness that feeling of power.

Unfollowing the power-seizers

A recent chat with Bec Evans – author How to Have a Happy Hustle - who has also been a podcast guest, revealed the idea of productivity shaming. Oh, how I relate! I suffer with this so much and social media is one of the areas where we can often feel powerless. It’s more a powerlessness against our own progress I think, rather than other people. We’re powerless to stop someone sharing their success, or their work wins when we’re struggling. We feel powerless when someone we’ve reached out to for an interview or collaboration ignores us, for example. Hey, that’s their prerogative, but doesn’t mean we feel any more powerful!

So there’s one simple thing, which I have done recently. Unfollow. Just take them out of your eyeline. You could mute, if you prefer. But the idea here is to reclaim the power by choosing not to have them actually in your phone. You see what I mean?

Many people I speak to for articles and the podcast often speak about turning off notifications on our phones, and I’m a huge fan.

Baths and housework… and other practical non-work things

I’ve been finding a lot of power in doing things while I wait for the work power balance to re-set. Housework, a daily bath, tidying my desk… things that I can choose to do that nobody has to give me permission or a commission to do…

I recommend it! Find some non-work tasks that you can control and feel that power.

I know it might feel like the last thing you want to do right now, but reclaiming your freelance power, even in one area of work, could be the little spark that ignites the flame again for you. I hope so.

Upcoming collaborations

I’m taking part in some online webinars in the coming weeks – this Tuesday I’ll be speaking with Sabrina Bramble from My Staff Room – join us 1pm Tuesday May 5th where we’ll be spending our lunch hour talking on how not to sell yourself short. More info here.

And later in the month I’ll be doing a Q&A with Press Pad – more info on Instagram when I have it but you can check out their insta for updates, too.

Freelance Feels: Wellbeing workshops

I’m planning some online workshops of my own – date and content TBC but keep your eye on my Instagram for updates. The idea is to use worksheets to help people consider their freelance feels at that moment, and then all discuss what we might be able to do about it.

Freelance Feels: The podcast for humans who work for themselves

I can’t quite believe that the podcast is nearly reaching the end of season 2!

Lockdown has actually proven to be a productive and positive time for the podcast, which is creeping up nicely towards 3,000 downloads.

In season 2 I’ve had some bonus guests, the most recent being fitness trainer Julia Buckley, who has set up morning exercise routines on her Facebook page (they’re free, if you’re a morning person, you can join her at 8am). She spoke about the power of living by water – she’s on the South Coast of the UK – and it really stuck with me. While she can walk by the sea, and take in that vast body of water, and the power it has, we can all find power in water somewhere, we agreed. For me, it’s the ‘new river’ near my flat, a short waterway which used to bring water into London.

For you it might be a pond, a lake or even the water coming from the watering can or hose as you water the garden or your houseplants.

Or, hey, those baths, too! There’s a stillness in water, too, which can be calming.

Listen to Julia’s episode here.

Then there was the power of making a house move, which Nicola Slawson talked about in her recent episode. Nicola talked about single life when you’re freelance and why we should all start a newsletter (you can see info about hers in the insta links). Yep, you guessed it, being in control of the newsletter content is a big part of why we do this, and it gives you a fantastic positive power boost. You can download Nicola’s episode here.

Illustrator and lettering artist Jennifer Hines explained how it feels to do two tax returns – one UK and one US! – as well as her journey to freelance and making pizza in lockdown. Listen here.

Finally, there were wise words from TV producer Adeel Amini, who spoke about how it’s only through our own behaviour as bosses – if we have a team working for us – we can make lasting changes to the way freelancers are treated. Listen to his episode here.

Insta links to make you think

Cheryl Strayed @cherylstrayed

I recently watched the film of her walking the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild, and Cheryl’s story is one of truly choosing to do something you can control – although then finding that thing can bring elements that are out of your control… She’s now a motivational speaker and writer – and friends with Reese Witherspoon who played her. Watch out for a big little lies cross over if you decide to watch it (I’d recommend it, it’s a powerful watch right now. Think you’ve got it hard… wait till you see her pull her own toenail off!)

Calm @Calm

I mentioned Calm in a recent piece I wrote on making the most of your ‘commute’ time – Calm has a post with suggestions of mindful invitations for May and I’m going to try meditation this month, too.

The Single Supplement @thesinglesupplement

The Single Supplement is the brainchild of Nicola Slawson who was a guest on the podcast recently and is also a newsletter focusing on single life. Honest and relatable, even if you’re not single.

The Paw Post @thepawpostuk

I’ve picked the Paw Post as it’s such a unique idea – Rachel Spencer helps pet businesses with their press coverage. Also lots of cute animal and dog pics, plus she’s started a podcast, too.

The stork and I @the_stork_and_i

Mel Johnson is a good friend, and her platform helps women who are considering solo motherhood. Her account has really honest posts on her own life – very inspiring whether or not you’re a parent! She’s helped me a lot with coaching and is a very positive, ‘get things done’ person.

Podcast of the month

This month I want to flag a podcast focusing on male mental health (rarer than you’d think – lots of women producing them, not so many men).

It’s Phone a Friend with George Ezra. He calls up friend Ollie, and they have a chat every week about mental health (warning, there’s swearing).

He talks about comparing yourself to other people - you don’t imagine successful singer-songwriters get that, do you? They’re too busy being on stage and famous, right? He’s lovely and honest and his voice is like treacle.

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April: Freelance feels and feeling a freelance fool

The clocks have gone forward, the calendar has flipped and suddenly it’s April. And the world is upside down.

April’s newsletter was going to be all about how freelancing is more of a marathon than a sprint, as it’s the London Marathon this month. I say is – obviously, the word now is was…

I am so gutted for anyone missing their marathon moment, I ran (AKA jogged) the course in 2005 and it was hands down one of the most painful and rewarding experiences of my life. You see, SO like freelancing!

But as the event (and indeed, life, really) is postponed, so are my musings on that analogy. And instead, since April 1st is April Fool’s Day, I want to have a think about the ways we often feel a fool as a freelancer, and how we can kick them to the kerb.

My ‘freelance fool’ history

It’s actually my freelance-versary this month, as I went freelance in April 2017 following redundancy from a newspaper job. I’d kept up freelancing on the side when I could and realised that this was the opportunity I needed to look in different directions, especially working for digital publishers and building my skills in that way.

But alongside those positives were plenty of negatives, and one of the biggest was feeling foolish.

You see, I was very successful when I was in my staff job. I’d written lots of first person pieces, was known to all my PR contacts for being ‘Jenny from Metro’ and even had a dating column. I was very proud of my job and loved the kudos it brought. I went to New York to write about the dating scene, to Glastonbury and reviewed all the newest restaurants in London. Packages arrived daily - anything from new homewares to cookbooks and make up. My opinions mattered - people wrote letters to the paper in response to my articles!

Then, suddenly, I was ‘just freelance again’ and I spent quite a while fielding emails not so much asking what I was up to, but who the person could contact at Metro now I was gone. Of course, that’s business, but it smarted.

It was like I’d been dumped but everyone still wanted to meet up with my ex.

Coupled with the fact that I was now pitching and looking for work again and being asked ‘so, why did you leave?!’ all the time, and I felt pretty foolish.

As we all know, thankfully the experience turned itself around and it enabled me to see the possibility of building what is now Freelance Feels – the podcast, blog, newsletter and Instagram account, which is close to 1500 followers. (Hoorah!)

But those feelings of foolishness persist in my freelance life across lots of different parts of it, and I want to share what I do to try and work through them.

Feeling a fool on social media

It can often feel like we’re in the wrong freelance ‘pot’. Trying to fit in with the terrarium gang while we feel like we’re in a regular plant pot.

It’s easy to see ourselves as lacking, and we live in a freelance bubble, often not speaking to people or seeing anyone for days at a time. And right now, that’s amplified. This ‘at home’ life is often the way for freelancers – it’s the situation I was in last year when I set up Freelance Feels. At home, not knowing when work would come in again, or where from I was in a real period of ‘famine’. I felt like a total failure and fool as a freelancer. If I didn’t leave the house for a run or to go to the shop, 5pm could roll round quite easily without me speaking to anyone or getting any fresh air.

Then - and now - I would scroll through social media and see lots of other people posting their own work and thinking ‘oh, they got a commission today’… And down the rabbit hole of ‘I’m not doing it right’ I would (or do) go.

One of the things I like to do is play the fool on social and that is usually on Instagram stories. Talking about my day, sharing daft things like my failed flapjacks that are now (thanks to a bash with the rolling pin) ‘granola’ and my un-brushed hair gives me a sense of control in the social media landscape.

Pitching fool feels

A big part of my freelance life is pitching. Whether you’re a journalist, like me, and pitch ideas, or do other freelance work, it’s likely you spend a large part of your life pitching your ideas (AKA your babies, right?) and yourself to potential clients or existing ones who might have budget for new work.

It’s exhausting, and as podcast guest Amy Nickell called it, the ‘pitching abyss’ can make you feel rubbish. She referred to being ignored (which happens daily) as ‘professional ghosting’ and I agree. You can listen to her episode here.

It’s so hard to keep your confidence up when you are being ignored – I get that people are receiving a lot of emails, but it doesn’t stop the feels when someone replies ‘No thank you!’ as one did to me a while back. At 11pm. Thanks for the pre-bed ‘FOOL!’ feels.

But then there’s a lesson to be learned there. The simple one is ‘don’t check your emails at 11pm’. Just because someone’s sending the message doesn’t mean you need to take it on board when it’s wind-down time. Also, perhaps if someone behaves that way towards you it’s time to find a new contact to pitch to and leave them and their late-night emails to it.

I actually went back to ‘pitching school’ this year and it’s taught me a lot. I think, as freelancers, we forget we need training, and that we’d get it in staff jobs. So paying out for a course or online training might seem like an extravagance but I’d argue it’s essential if you want to grow skills, connect with like-minded people and build your confidence. The course I did is by Muse Flash Media.

Right now, there’s an overwhelming amount of online training right available! If you’re not in a one-on-one coaching Zoom session you can join a workshop or masterclass. I did allude to the overwhelm in the mid march newsletter, but if you are keen on some training, I’d say take a step back before signing up. Think ‘would I go to this course or seminar in real life?’. Then look at the cost and time. Do they fit with how you like to work? If yes, then go for it, but try and only do one or two maximum a week. Just like you would in real life.

The course I did really did build my confidence and inspired me to begin a pitching spreadsheet, which I had never done before in all my years of pitching. Now instead of feeling foolish when I get a ‘no’ or no reply, I can simply mark it on the spreadsheet and go to the next person. It’s turned my pitching feels from foolish to being in control. It’s something my podcast guest Rosie Mullender spoke about in her episode, and you can hear more of her advice here.

Feeling a fool in person

Doing in-house work, or meeting someone for work can leave you feeling like you might not fit in. Well that’s not happening right now! But it happened a lot for me in the past and I’m sure it will the future. I guess the change right now is I’d LOVE to be able to feel a bit out of my comfort zone at a networking event!

Instead, right now, I feel a fool when the software I need to use doesn’t work – which is a lot right now! One way I’m dealing with this is going audio only. If you’re sick of seeing your own face on video calls, simply say so. ‘I’d like to switch to audio if that’s ok with you!’ seems to be working as a way of suggesting it right now.

Seeing things from another perspective

I facetimed my niece this week, who lives in France. Over there, it’s not April Fool’s, it’s Poisson D’Avril (April Fish) and you make little fish and pin them to someone’s back, trying to make sure they don’t notice. It’s funny to think of a tradition here – making a verbal practical joke – being a more physical one somewhere else.

The point here, is that in different places, things can have a different meaning. Remember that you are seeing things through your own freelance lens. It might be time to take a step back, speak to another freelancer and see how they might approach things. Run your pitch or idea past them, as you would a colleague.

Being yourself is the best way

For inspiration, you could look at and follow people who are being themselves right now and flourishing. Joe Wicks is the perfect example – and he’s shown he’s not infallible by chatting about his down days and showing the chaos behind the scenes at home, too. Bravo, Joe!

Freelance Feels: The podcast – remember to shout about your successes!

Recently I spoke to Ed Goodman, founder of Facebook group ‘Freelance Heroes’ for a bonus episode of the podcast. You can listen to the episode here.

Ed tapped into the anti-fool feelings, when he spoke about how it’s ok to shout when things are going well  - as well as when they’re not.

“I have no doubt that there are freelancers out there who are not experiencing the concern and worry that other freelancers are having and they should be entitled to turn around and go: ‘I've just had a new order. I'm so relieved. I'm thrilled about it.’ It's as important to have that outlet as it is for someone to go ‘I'm dreading it. I don't know what to do’.”

Another guest, behavioural change specialist Shahroo Izadi had the brilliant advice to focus on ‘Progress not perfection’. There’s a mantra to stick on your mood board!

Podcast of the month: Creative Boom

Katy Cowan is founder of freelance creative platform Creative Boom (which now has a forum she created during coronavirus) and the podcast is conversations with creatives… lots of upbeat and positive vibes for the current ‘situation’.

Insta links to make you think

Some accounts which are making me grin or giving me a lift through the coronavirus shutdown

@noel_fielding Escapism at its finest - running an online art club to keep us all entertained during isolation, Noel shares his own art – and some random selfies (such as with a pot noodle).

@howmental has some lovely inspirational illustrations.

@natgeotravel Because if we can’t go out, the world can come to us through beautiful photography.

@fionalikestoblog Fiona is the author of Depression in a Digital Age (pertinent right now) and we chat a lot on Insta. We were hoping to meet at an event a few weeks ago but it was postponed – I was gutted as I was so looking forward to it! She’s great on stories, and inspired me to wash my hair, which made me feel LOADS better.

@chateaudelaruche This is the account for a renovated chateau in France and I spoke to the owner, Rebecca Jones, for the podcast back in January. We had no idea of the lockdown ahead of us as we discussed how it feels to leave your old life behind and start afresh in a new country. And going into business with your husband! Another account which will bring some escapism if you’re stuck indoors 24/7 right now.

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Oh, and one last thing - if you fancy a giggle, you can’t go wrong with Matt Lucas’ Baked Potato song

Mid-March musings: Working from home feels

Freelance Feels was always planned as a monthly newsletter, but things for freelancers – and everyone, of course – are in disarray (AKA total meltdown) with Coronavirus so I wanted to share some feels on working from home and the way things are changing for us all right now.

If you know someone who might benefit from it, please do forward it on! I’ll touch upon the working from home feels, the virtual meet ups that are all happening and social media feels when you’re at home 24/7.

Working from home feels…

I confess, and this might seem strange as a freelancer, that I don’t love working from home. It’s never 100% suited me, and that’s why I often do in-house contracts or shift work. Going into an office helps balance things for me. It gives me routine and a commute where I might read or do an Insta post for Freelance Feels. It gives me a feeling of community and a place to call ‘home’ for a while alongside my work from home life.

Working in-house can make me grateful for the days or weeks when I am working from home and it also helps with networking. I’ve found that shifts can help forge new contacts (there are often other freelancers in a shared office and meet people from other departments such as advertorials) and it motivates me to do my other freelance work as the windows to do so (before and after work, or at weekends) are smaller and I work well to tight deadlines.

So this week as I began working from home for my in-house client, remotely checking in on Skype and loading content to Wordpress (and missing their fancy new office which has a free coffee machine), I really felt for anyone who found themselves in the same position. I felt out of my comfort zone, too!

So more than anything I want to say I feel your feels. You have solidarity and virtual support here - I am feeling it all, too. I know how you are feeling if you’re not used to working from home even if you’re freelance. Maybe you’ve had to leave your co-working space or abandon that favourite café. The choice of where to work has been restricted and if you’re used to going out and about, perhaps to a different location than home then this can feel strange.

Just because we’re self-employed doesn’t mean home is our office 24/7 normally, does it?! When working from home isn’t through choice, it’s challenging. It feels like someone shoving you from the side and you having to right yourself. And of course the right thing is to stay home. But, oh, the feels of it all.

I understand if you’ve had work cancelled and I understand if you are looking at social media and your inbox and operating with an underlying sense of panic. It bubbles away inside me like a little river of lava, and I live in fear of it erupting.

I also understand that there is a difference between working remotely and working from home. People who are working from home (eg those who have been sent home) have a lot of physical challenges – organising their space, or their Internet connection, their remote working practice with their team such as meetings. But they do not have the extra pressure of having to hustle for work.

Many freelancers work from home and their work lifelines have been cut (eg clients have cancelled work or contracts). If that’s you, I feel your feels. I have had two commissions cancelled and one held over as the magazine will be down paging. I understand, but it was hard to deal with three in a week!

Personally, I think it helps if you’re freelance to remind yourself that you are working from home not just remote working and you deserve an extra mental health break for that. Try not to go into overdrive and start working 7 days a week as you’re likely to burnout and that won’t help anyone.

Yep, it’s a lonely world for freelancers – and if you’re now working from home suddenly you might find this too. I wrote this for the Freelance Feels blog on being lonely as a freelancer, hope it might help you.

Time to reach out..

Yes, yes, sorry I said it. But I am a bit strangely fond of that phrase.

And now is the time. It won’t hurt to email some contacts and see what’s going on with them. Be friendly and get a dialogue going – it might not be an instant work offer but it could build the pathway to work in the coming weeks. Or after all this is over.

Could be they are desperate for someone to do what you can do. And they might be so panicked your name slipped from their mind. A friendly reminder you’re around/available is a positive action to take.

To call or video, or hide away?...

Everyone is sharing snaps of their fabulous five-way convos and morning meetings that they’re having. The way we can communicate and work remotely is great – for most. But there are some who won’t want to do video chats. For whom meetings are already a minefield, let alone when they have to show that they understand a certain technology or are worried someone’s judging their home!

I like a video chat, but to a certain extent. Apps/sites that work for me are Skype or Zoom. I use Zoom for the podcast and you can do a call with audio only. Be honest if you want to do that, I’m sure the other person won’t mind.

Video calls are useful because not only do they mean you have to get dressed and (sort of, at least) brush your hair, they mean you interact as closely as possible to being with the person.

Phone calls can be good as they change the way your conversation flows. There’s a more intense listening experience there and arguably you have to focus more on the chat as you can’t be distracted by things around you on the screen. I wrote about it this week, in fact.

Space out calls, too. I did three podcast chats in one day last week and I was exhausted. Lesson learned.

Virtual meet ups

I’m pondering these as there are LOADS being arranged. I am actually a bit freaked out by them, and the idea of operating completely online.

I’m kind of an in-person person. I like to call my experts and interviewees when I can, rather than get quotes on email. I like to go to networking events. I like to go to workshops and ‘days’ and do things in person.

I find it helps the balance as a work-from-homer to be able to go to things and talk to people. For example, I have tried where possible to do my podcast interviews in person. Don’t get me wrong I still feel very nervous in these IRL situations. But I embrace them as I know they are always a winner. Meeting in person always gets the best results for business and building a relationship in my experience. There’s the interaction, hearing them, seeing what they are wearing, smelling the person, even.

But online seminars and workshops are going to be the norm for now. I know I need to adapt and embrace. Personally I’ve not joined any yet! I feel overwhelmed enough with trying to get work done and think about the other things like supplies and health.

We’ve gone from nothing to millions of virtual meet ups in one week and I for one am finding it quite overwhelming. So if you are too, then I feel your feels.

We don’t go to a seminar or workshop every day normally, so just because we’re working at home or isolated doesn’t mean we can suddenly deal with that level of interaction. Suddenly doing everything online and ‘meeting’ with everyone who offers is exhausting and not ideal for our screen time, either.

I know they’re invaluable for many but I’m just saying try not to join them all because it’ll probably give you a lot of overwhelm. You’re also not failing at business if you’re not in every single online forum chat about freelancing.

So I would say dabble in some online interaction if you can and have time – maybe join a Facebook live chat first rather than jumping in to a whole day’s online workshop. Don’t sign up for every single one you see advertised, just like you wouldn’t sign up to every event you’re emailed about.

Switching off feels

And how about downing tools? This newsletter from Adam Pearson is a great take on switching off. The fight to find work, to do things, to progress with work plans is a hard one and his attitude to say ‘fine, I’m going to take a break’ was amazing to read. It’s like he’s giving us permission to consider the same thing. I understand that for many this is not an option. But if it is, why not try it?

Social media feels

Now if you’re a follower of the newsletter you’ll know I extoll the virtues of social media for connecting and building your brand and Facebook groups as a way to connect with other freelancers. They are a godsend right now.

Stylist magazine has started one for people working from home –I’ve joined to see what kind of connections I can make and see if I can help with my own experiences.

I will name check again Freelance Heroes (podcast with founder Ed Goodman coming soon!) and Being Freelance Community (founder Steve Folland chatted to me for the podcast which is a very cheery chat) as well as reminding you to search for groups in your area of expertise or work (I’m in some for podcasters and local entrepreneurs in my area, for example).

I’d also like to draw your attention to Work Notes, which is a great resource. And Underpinned is a great resource for freelancers.

But not every group or thread will be for you. Social media can be a bit scary right now. And if you’re struggling to adapt to work from home, there will be a limit to how much you can read without floundering.

Recently, I made the decision to leave a Facebook group and I don’t miss it! Clearly wasn’t the one for me, and I’d say that if a group comes up on your feed – or someone you follow on insta or twitter – and you feel negativity, consider muting or leaving it. You don’t need that extra worry in your life right now. Walk away - you can always rejoin in the future. If they don’t let you back in then hey, proves you right really.

We often forget about Linked In but I would argue it is a good resource (I’ve found work there), so it could be a good time to focus on your bio, your contacts and posting work and availability there. See what others are sharing, and what companies are making changes in light of the news. It could be you can help them as they move to home working and need advice or freelancers to help their business carry on.

The same goes for your CV and profiles. If you have time, because work is scarcer, then dedicate some of it to sprucing things up again.

Can you add new projects to your website? Mine needs a bit of a spruce up and it’s on the list for the next week. It’s your portal and if you are hoping to keep work going then that portal needs to shine.

Freelance Feels: The podcast for humans who work for themselves

I am so proud of the Freelance Feels podcast and I hope it might help either freelancers now housebound or those working from home who want some solidarity and support. Here’s the entire season 1 and first two eps of Season 2.

They’re loading every Monday lunchtime now for Season 2. There’ll be some bonus episodes in there, too, as I connect with people in the freelance community who are perfectly placed to offer support and advice. So two Eps will be landing w/c 23rd March!

Share Freelance Feels: The newsletter for humans who work for themselves

Thanks for reading – if you’ve enjoyed then please do share or forward to someone who might appreciate this. You can follow Freelance Feels on Instagram @freelance_feels and there will be more on the blog in the coming days and weeks www.freelancefeels.com

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March: Putting the spring back in your freelance step

Hello fellow freelancer! Greetings from sunny Hampshire. As I write this, I’m dog sitting for my dad, in his thatched cottage, so I am sat with the sun coming through the window, a spaniel in her bed beside me and a hot cross bun and cup of tea on the go. Add in a pheasant perched on the fence and some rabbits on the morning walk, and it’s altogether an almost Cadbury-esque springtime scene.

The thing is, it’s all very well when the sun comes out and things feel rosy, but it’s not always the case. A year ago, spring 2019, it was very much not the case for me. I was struggling with freelance life, big time, and I didn’t even know if I could or should be freelance any more. I was fed up, depressed, confused and unhappy. And I knew, as spring began to, well, spring again, that I had to try and take action.

All through winter, I’d been struggling to find work and berating myself for not having enough to do, not earning much. It had a knock-on effect. Because it’s easy in hindsight to see that if you spend half your day calling yourself useless and a failure, you’re not going to have the oomph to pitch or look for new work, to update your CV or network in a positive way. But that’s exactly what was happening.

Freelancing can be hard at the best of times, but when it’s also cold, dark and grey outside, that can immediately translate to your work life, too. But a year ago, as now, the skies began to lighten in the evenings, and I decided to try and embrace freelancing again. A year on, I’d like to share some thoughts on how we can all put the spring back in our freelance step.

Time to tend to your freelance garden

Recently I was asked to speak on a panel about freelance wellbeing, for new platform My Staff Room. One of the questions was about how to keep ‘hustling’ – that is, how to keep marketing yourself in the quiet months. The analogy that came to me as a reply was about freelancing being like gardening. And it seems so fitting for this time of year, with spring dawning. I am reminded by my garden-loving partner that Gardener’s World starts again soon – Monty Don will be on screens telling us all about helping our gardens wake up again.

And so with our freelance life, things can seem a bit like a garden or the country landscape in winter. Dormant, and not in need of attention. And, as a result, we often neglect them. We don’t go out and check over the flowerbeds, or have a look at the lawn, or pick up the grasses that might have fallen in the heavy winds. Just like we might not pay attention to our social media profile, or CV, or reaching out to new clients in winter.

But we need to do these things, little and often. And if we haven’t, now’s the time to start again. If we want our freelance garden to bloom all year round, we need to make sure we are tending to it at least a little bit all year round. And spring is the time to step things up again. Here’s my suggestions:

Revisit the seeds of a dormant idea or plan

Perhaps you were thinking of contacting someone or starting a new project back in December or January, but things were a bit quiet and you put it off. Now’s the time! Like getting back out into the garden, it’s time to have another think about that project, or building the one you have been plotting.

As an example, I’m planning Freelance Feels workshops. They’re baby plans right now – maybe like if I decided I wanted to begin a veg patch from scratch. Research and planning are key with that one. But it’s time to give that a go, to get thinking about it. To see if those little roots might take hold and grow into something bigger this year.

Curate your social media feed with positivity and mental health champions

One of the good things about social media is that it can be a place to find community and support when you are feeling really down, unhappy or challenged by freelance life. As well as other freelance accounts, I follow lots of illustrators and mental health advocates who can bring a dose of positivity and realism into your feed. It can really help among all the other social media noise.

Time to spring clean the work stuff

Is there a client it’s time you parted ways with? How about a brand or client you’d like to work with and have put off emailing? Is it time you signed up to that course, workshop, or applied for that part time role that’s been winking at you from Linked In? I suggest – and I shall be doing this – spending half or a full day spring cleaning all your work ‘things’. Going through what’s working for you, seeing what you would like to add to the ‘to do’ list.

How old is that profile picture? Does your twitter bio have the best link to your work or services in it? I like Linktree if you want to spruce up your bio link to have more than one hyperlink in it. We might not use our CVs quite so much as freelancers, but I was asked for mine recently and I realised it’s called JennyStallardCVNovember2019. So even changing the name is spring cleaning!

Consider going ‘back to freelance school’

If we were in staff jobs we’d be getting training opportunities all the time, right?! But we forget to do it for ourselves. And it can seem hard to feel like we can justify spending money on a course when we have other bills to pay. But I do truly believe that investing in some training could be the key to unlocking more of your potential as you head into spring.

I signed up to a pitching course recently, and it’s been so great not only for my work but also my confidence. I am so enjoying going through my pitches and seeing where they’re letting me down, or they could be enhanced. Sure, it’s extra work and there is no instant monetary reward, but I am hoping that investing time in professional feedback for my work is going to recoup me dividends way, way into the future.

It’s also a good idea to join a course because you might meet more freelancers and that in itself could bring more work in. You never know who’s also signing up and who they know!

Coaching and co-mentoring

Thanks to the suggestion of podcast guest Steve Folland of the Being Freelance Community, I have also begun to dabble in co-mentoring. I’ve had coaching before – and it’s great – but it can be intense and it also might be beyond your budget.

Co-mentoring is quite simple – find a freelance friend who is up for speaking once every week, two weeks or month depending on schedules (I’d say fortnight is enough gap though, so you are accountable) and then have a call or video chat. Talk about the things that are challenging you, the things that you are putting off, the things you need to get done. The other person makes a note and checks in with you – and vice versa. You can catch up in-between sessions with texts or emails – gently checking in with them about how they’ve got on. And knowing that someone is going to check in with you will keep you focused, too.

Re-connect with exercise

I admit that I have been terrible at going to the gym lately. I just completely lost my gym mojo. But as March begins, I know I need to get back on it, as regular exercise is such a cornerstone of my mental wellbeing and it has a huge knock-on effect to my freelance life when I have exercised. So whether you’re a walker, runner, swimmer, climber, horse rider… it’s time to get back into it if you’ve been avoiding the exercise. Hey, gardening counts, right?!

Book a networking day

There are two networking days coming up this year which are for freelancers – I went to both last year so I can confidently say I think both are well worth attending!

The first is Freelance Heroes Day (May 15th) – this is run by the Freelance Heroes community and has talks as well as a lunch (who doesn’t like a lunch?!). This was the first event I went to that really made me realise there were just so many of us out there, all different self-employed people, and that there was space for everyone. In the media, things can be very competitive, tribal even, but Freelance Heroes has really shown me that freelancers have each others’ backs and are collaborative souls.

The second is IPSE National Freelancers Day (June 18th). This is a whole day of talks, panels, workshops and keynote speakers. I think last year you could get a headshot taken or listen to a live podcast recording – it’s an empowering day and a fantastic chance to shout about your business to other like-minded freelancers.

Trust

Another thing that’s easy to say in hindsight but this is a word I rely on so much I’ve considered having it tattooed on my arm! It’s hard to trust things will come right again, but then they do and we think ‘Oh I should have just trusted, kept working and trusted things would be ok and there would be a way forward’.

Remind yourself that you need to trust alongside the hard work. Write it on a post-it and stick it to your screen – or make the picture below your screensaver on your laptop or your phone. I’ll post it on Instagram, too, so you can screen shot it if you’d like to.

Freelance podcast of the month: Freelance Party Broadcast

This one’s from Freelance Corner, a platform for freelancers. Hosts Faye and Jess answer a listener’s question with the help of an industry expert. There’s also a fun episode on what to buy a freelancer for Christmas! They’re up to 13 episodes, so doing well since November 2019 – I’m looking forward to what else they cover in 2020 and beyond!

Insta links to make you think…

This month’s Instagram accounts that will hopefully bring some freelance and gardening inspiration…

@themontydon Well we have to include Monty, the Don of gardening! On my list of dream podcast guests. Great dog photos too.

@marian_keyes I’m such a fan of Marian and she recently replied to a comment I made on her insta – swoon! She’s a self-employed author and I love her feed because there is a mixture of such honesty and humour it’s addictive. Don’t believe me? Have a look at her posts when she went to Sephora on a whim.

@noughticulture AKA Alice Brookes. Freelance gardening writer and author Alice’s feed is a lovely bright dip-of-the-toe into gardening whether you have a window box or a field at your disposal.

@notestostrangers AKA Andy Leek. I’ve followed Notes… for a long time and founder Andy has a very interesting story on burnout and then moving from advertising to his current ‘notes’ project.

@j.l.perrone – AKA On The Ledge, a houseplants podcast and blog. I love houseplants and think they are really beneficial to our mental health – this might inspire you to get some for your home office this Spring if you don’t have a garden.

Freelance Feels: The podcast - Season 2 coming soon!

Season two of the Freelance Feels podcast will be starting on Friday March 6th. Guests include Rebecca Jones who runs Chateau De La Ruche from Channel 4’s Escape to the Chateau DIY, addiction specialist and author of ‘The Last Diet’ Shahroo Izadi, Illustrator Jennifer Hines (who created the Freelance Feels podcast logo), co-founder & joint CEO of the flexible working community Hoxby, Lizzie Penny, and Rachel Bridge, author of How to Work for Yourself – plus others! I hope you enjoy it and it helps put even more of a spring in your freelance step.

Thanks for reading! Here’s where you can find Freelance Feels…

You might already have a spring in your freelance step – if so, hoorah! Keep building on that. If you haven’t, I hope these musings have helped. For more, you can find Freelance Feels on Instagram @freelance_feels where I often explore the feels in person on stories, and the site’s www.freelancefeels.com

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