Last Thursday evening I chaired an event at The Cuckooz Nest working space. It's a pretty cool concept whereby you get to rent office space and get access to a nursery at the same time. It's perfect if you're in the early phase as the nursery goes up to age two and also gets you out of that isolation that can come with being stuck at home and still having to work from your kitchen table.
Annie Ridout (The Early Hour), Kelly Ford (Book of Mum), Candice Braithwaite (https://www.candicebrathwaite.com), Lisa Williams (The Hotbed Collective) all talked about the challenges of freelance life and tried to provide some tips for working parents on how to survive and not just go back to the 9-5.
I thought I'd try and write down the top few things I took away and found geniunely useful as a newbie freelancer so here goes...
Dealing with Professional Jealousy
This is something I've touched on before but we talked at length about how easy it is to feel jealous of other people in this game. A quick trot around social media and all you can see is people fronting about how successful they are. We're often stuck at home, it's foggy outside, the cat has been sick down the radiator and being confronted with all the rallying cries to 'nail it', 'be a winner at life' are bloody tiresome. What was interesting was that all of us suffer from this kind of professional jealousy. It does't really matter how successful you are in reality or not. Lisa pointed out that it's based on the assumption that success is a scarce resource and instead we should think something like -'if she can do it, then so can I'. Women are particularly bad at doing this because we just don't feel like there's enough of it to go around. We've been bred to be competitive with one another (this is often about the way we look but professional jealousy is rife). I still have some way to go with this more sensible approach but like the idea of focusing on limitless opportunities versus my current mindset which is - Drat that's another book deal gone because that bitch has nicked it.
We all get uncomfortable talking about money but Annie had some interesting tips on how to negotiate payments with new clients. Instead of going in with a set figure (and risking undercharging or pricing yourself out of the job), ask the client what payment they have in mind. I myself have found charging for time hard. In my marketing job, time was expensive and it wasn't unusual for Directors to charge over a grand a day. If I asked for that now then I'd never work again so it's trying to find a price that shows my level of experience but doesn't mean some feisty, young, cheaper freelancer takes the project from under my well-worn feet. Traditionally women aren't very comfortable talking about money but Annie has been super transparent about what she earns (https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/may/19/work-freelance-annie-ridout-how-i-spend-it)
We need to become more open to talking about money generally or we'll never know our worth. KNOW YOUR WORTH. And find out what other peers are charging too- it's pretty illuminating.
Opportunities and recognising the good ones
As a freelancer there is often the balance between doing stuff that you LOVE or you think will raise your profile (this is often how clients persuade you to work for zilch and is one you need to really think about) and then the stuff that pays top dollar (but might involve sitting in a viewing facility talking about mushy peas for three nights on the trot).
For me writing is what I really enjoy but it's no secret that writing content isn't brilliantly paid or paid at all. I also love our Hotbed podcast but again that's a 'long-game' and aside from getting lots of sex toys, doesn't pay the bills (why can't utility bills be paid in sex toys I wonder?)
Market research is more lucrative. Having a satisfying freelance career is about trying to find a balance between stuff that pays the bills versus the stuff that puts lead in your pencil. It helps to think of each opportunity as either being in the 'pays well' or 'passion' camp and proceeding accordingly. If you have a husband that's a hedge fund manager then you can ignore all this and do just make knitted dog hats all day and sell them at swanky boutiques in Kensal Rise.
Lisa had some great tips on how to create networks so you don't feel quite so isolated. I kind of love the isolation of working for myself but there are also days when I feel like I need more than a cat to have a chat with.
One idea is getting a group of local freelancers together and organising an activity together. Or checking out online support groups. For example there are quite a few freelancer forums on Facebook that can be super helpful if you're a journalist or a broadcaster. Communal work spaces are a good idea too even if you can't afford to do it all the time. Being around other people sometimes and able to chat about lunch/Love Island/Zara is no bad thing if you want to stay sane.
This was possibly the most interesting part of the discussion. When you're working from home it can be difficult to switch from parent mode into work mode or vice versa. You end up checking your mails whilst trying to do make a Minion out of Playdoh or typing a work document into your phone whilst trying to sort a dispute in the park. This can feel stressful. You basically stink at everything.
I loved Candice's approach - she basically said that as a black woman, the first in her family to reach the level of success that she's reached, she WANTED her kids to see her working - she realised that success could never be taken for granted - therefore work wasn't a thing to feel guilty about. Lisa added that she was hopeless at combining children and work time so tries instead to keep the two as seperate as she can. For me the biggest addiction is social media- and social media often isn't WORK and is instead just looking at a nice frock Erica Davies has recommended. So my guilt is more about WHAT I'm spending my time doing (mindless consumer retail scrolling) and I don't feel so bad if I'm actually doing something worthwhile i.e. writing my book.
Overall it was a great event. I should also add that it wasn't a paid event. That's all part of the new being 'transparent' about money thing you see. It would be easy to think 'look at those blaggers, getting paid to have a natter about work' but the reality is often different. The reality is never quite as rose-tinted.
I did the event because I like the concept of 'Cuckooz Nest' and am interested in finding out about freelancing and hanging out with women that inspire me. Like each work opportunity, I have to size it up and see if it's worthwhile.
And that's the tricky thing about freelancing- there are dead ends and waste of times, there are things that look exciting but never come to fruition and projects that are confirmed but then fall apart. There are nights when you can't sleep because you don't know how you'll survive, let alone ever go on holiday again. Then next you're busy but facing a month with a diary with a big white space inside.
It's not for the faint-hearted.