It is one year today since I started working as a freelancer full-time. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the year and the lessons learned.
This time last year I had just come back from a trip to visit my lovely sister in LA. I had seen her living her freelance composer life and had been very impressed. Now it was my turn.
I had big plans. My freelance life consists of three businesses: the Ruth Amos author business (non-fiction), the R. J. Amos author business (fiction), and the Fix My English business (editing). The idea was that the editing would help pay the bills as the author businesses got off the ground. I had listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of books and I was eager to put it all into practice.
And it’s been a fantastic year.
There have been ups and downs – I wouldn’t recommend losing all thyroid functionality in the first year of starting your own businesses for one thing. But it’s been a joy to be able to run with my ideas, to see where they lead me, to experiment and try new things. I have launched two books in the last twelve months, both big highlights of the year for me. I don’t think that I have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve heard that the second year of full-time life at home is more difficult than the first. I guess we’ll see. I’ll let you know this time next year.
Anyway, here are some lessons I have learned in the last year:
1) Having backup savings is really important.
Every piece of advice you see when you’re thinking of going freelance tells you to have at least three-months and even six-months worth of expenses saved. I could not agree more. It has been a great comfort in the lean times (like over the summer where I didn’t get an editing job for four straight months) to know that there’s a cushion to fall back on. It takes the pressure off and allows you to be creative in your activities and to think more long-term when you are planning your future undertakings. It takes away the panic, and we know that panic leads to bad decision-making.
2) Streamline Online.
All of my work is performed on the internet. Without the internet I wouldn’t have any of my businesses. This has meant that I have needed to learn some online marketing techniques. And it was around January when I realised that the editing online personality I was trying to build was different from the author online personalities and that one of them had to go.
I tried keeping the editing on LinkedIn and just advertising the author businesses on Facebook and Twitter. That worked better, but it was a lot of marketing work for very little return.
In the end I decided to go a different route for my editing business, working with other businesses who source the work (academic and technical editing) and not trying to do all the marketing myself. This was less satisfying than doing it all by myself, but I had to decide which business I wanted to build up, and that is my writing, of course. I just had to let go of some pride.
So now I am myself on social media, like I am myself in my books. A bit silly, hopefully fun, caring about my friends, sharing ups and downs, sharing about God.
And as far as the editing is concerned, well, now that I’m not trying to do it all myself, I’m actually getting work and managing to make some money. So that turned out to be the right decision.
3) Flexible time does not mean unlimited time.
I was very fortunate coming into this work that I had been trained as an academic. In the work I had done before I didn’t have anyone clocking me in or out, I was responsible for getting the work done. Working for myself was similar, and I knew how to discipline myself to focus. I have not been spending my days lost in social media, YouTube, or Netflix as some warned me I might be. But I have enjoyed the flexibility of being able to get out for a coffee with my friends and doing extra activities at church during the day.
When the editing load was light, this was fine. But as my business has grown and the workload has increased I have realised that I need to be much more careful with my extra-curricular activities. I think I need to read ‘My Year of Saying No’ again, prioritise, and then say no to some of my activities.
Related to this:
4) Book holidays first.
The year has a rhythm. Unfortunately in Year One you don’t know what that rhythm is. As the year passed I didn’t know when would be a good time for holidays so I didn’t book any. In freelance work, if you don’t have work to do for a client, then you have work to do to get the next client. I just kept going with the writing, marketing, editing, podcasting, all the bits and pieces that just roll on week by week. This, of course, has led to me feeling very tired and lately I have realised what a bad idea a holiday-less year is. So I have now booked myself two weeks of holidays to be taken in a few months time when the Very Big Editing Job I’m working on now will be finished.
I have a bit clearer idea of what the rhythm of the year is like now, but even if the next year turns out to be full of opportunities for the whole 52 weeks, I realise now that I don’t have to take all of them. I will be booking holidays and sticking to them in the future. Rest is important.
5) Exercise must be booked in too – incidental exercise doesn’t just happen.
I work from home. My desk is about ten steps from my bed and another few steps from the bathroom. I don’t have to walk up two flights of stairs to go to the staff loo anymore. I don’t have to walk the three blocks from the carpark to the office. I don’t have to wander down the hill to the café to get a coffee at lunch time. If I am not careful I can walk less than a thousand steps in a whole day.
I have started using the pomodoro technique to help with this. This is a timer app I have on my phone. It runs for 25 minutes during which I work solidly, then it gives me a five minute break during which I jog on the spot, stretch, hang washing out, clean up the kitchen, and so on through the day. This is not enough, of course. I need to also make sure that most days I have a good hour-long walk, or head to the gym for some weights.
I want this lifestyle to continue on a long, long time. And to do that I need to take care of my body, give it good food, and good exercise. I am not just a brain and fingers, I am a whole person, spirit, soul, and body and I want to look after all of myself.
6) Keep talking to your friends and family.
So much has changed this year and the change is continuing. I think that change is the only definite thing in my life.
In all this it has been essential to keep talking with Moz, to get an outside opinion on it all and to keep him appraised of all my goings on. He is not my boss, but it always helps to have a friend to share with and to be accountable to so that you don’t end up going off on a tangent accidentally.
The weeks slip by, the months follow them, and before you know it, a year has passed. By talking with Moz on the way through I have been stopped from spending too much time on the wrong activities, or pushing the wrong agenda for too long.
I have other family members I talked with regularly too that help me to see my life from the outside. And while I work online, I need to meet with my friends in real life and keep a grasp on what the real world is like. As I said, I love my coffee dates and the things I do for church.
Communication is essential. Community, both online and in-person is one of the most important things in this world. I hope that I am helping build that by what I write and what I do.
So there are a few things I have learned this year. There is so much still to learn. When I was brainstorming this list. I could think of so many things that I still don’t understand. So many lessons that I am in the middle of learning. Hopefully they will make it onto a ‘lessons learned’ list for a future year.
Thank you for being a part of my community as I walk this journey. I am hoping I will have many more years doing this, it’s great fun!
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