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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