Lessons Learned: One Year On My Own

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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.

the writing den

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.

time money

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.

Priorities

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.

teapot and cup

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.

walking into sunset

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!

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They (usually) come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

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My Big Break

The following four blog posts were written while I was away on a break and uploaded upon my return, so the tenses may be a bit weird but I hope you find them enjoyable anyway!

Have you all been wondering where I’ve been? The last four days I’ve been away on a break in St Helens at a friend’s shack. It’s been planned for a while – it’s the only time that DH and I can get away together for four days and I’ve felt the need for a holiday for a while so we jumped at the possibility.

A very big part of the idea for me was that I would take a proper break not only from home and from work but from social media as well. That I would concentrate on reading and writing and get some significant work done on my novel. That I would learn how to concentrate for longer lengths of time without having the constant distraction.

What this has meant is that at a time when I am actually doing Facebook-worthy activities I am not posting them. I am not answering messages, I am not even reading my email. I am limiting my internet to checking on DS’s progress in Fiji and my parents progress moving house.

You know, this would be a lot easier if I were actually out of contact with no access to the internet, but my phone is still receiving email, still telling me that I’m getting messages and I am having to actively ignore them. I’m grateful that I can still be in contact especially that I don’t have to worry that I’ll miss big news from Fiji. I think I would have struggled with leaving for four days if no-one could contact me in case of emergencies. However, if you actually wanted my input these last few days, I apologise if I’ve hurt you, but I needed the break.

There is a lot more time on holidays. All that you have to do is read and walk. Walk and read. If you’re not reading, you’re exercising. Or eating. It’s a pretty simple lifestyle!

That’s not quite true. This shack is pretty rustic but it has a TV that we watched last night. The night before, we played scrabble and I reckon there’s a bit of crib going to happen as well. And then, I’m working on my novel – working on an overall plan that shows how each character develops and making sure the the structure of the book holds together. It’s a great project to potter on over a long weekend.

But we’ve done a fair bit of enjoying nature – on the way here we climbed the rock at Bicheno and rock-hopped over to the blowhole. We didn’t expect great things from the Blowhole but it was a whole (hole!) lot of fun. Just when you didn’t expect it the spray would erupt and get the unsuspecting bystander all wet.

On our first evening here, immediately after we pulled up in the car, we wandered down to the water that we can see from the shack windows. We stood on the side of the road and looked down at the crystal clear water and a skate swam slowly past.

Yesterday we walked from this shack into St Helens proper on a little path that follows the road along the side of the bay, past beaches and small cliffs and rocky foreshores, and over bridges and through into the township. In the evening we walked the other direction, along the beach and then almost to the point on the other side. This morning I walked down to the jetty that sits at the base of this property and watched the little fish swim around – some tiny fish and a couple of puffer fish about the size of my palm.

Towards lunch time we went to Binalong Bay and found an amazing rock pool. Tiny shrimps were picking the food off the rocks, tiny stripy fish swam around in schools, then there was the little pink and the little greenish-grey fish lazily making his way around the water in front of us and some other red fish that were very  shy and spent most of their time under rocks. Then occasionally we would glimpse some fairly large fish, as long as my hand, plain grey or with vertical stripes they would zip past and then go out of sight again. Right at the very end as we reluctantly made our way back to the car I saw a large crab scuttle down between two rocks. And all this doesn’t include the pelican that was happily waiting for fish scraps from the men fishing on a nearby jetty.

Binalong Bay

After Binalong Bay we drove up through the Bay of Fires area and stopped for lunch on a white sand beach with turquoise water. Beautiful clear water with gorgeous waves. It was like we were in another country – it was so different to the beach back home. We ate our sandwiches, then drove to the end of the road, stopping for more rock-hopping here and there. One of the other tourists said that there were dolphins, but they ran away when they saw me coming (like they usually do).

Empty beach

This isn’t Binalong Bay but another completely deserted beach that we walked along near St Helens Pt.

The rest and the exercise are two great companions. The view of nature, unspoiled and beautiful, out the window is just a huge refreshment to the soul. The rock-hopping and wandering along beaches and through bushland and all of the nature we’re getting to see, it’s all a joy, a great joy. I knew I needed this break, I needed it so much that I was scared that the four days wouldn’t be enough, but every minute is doing me good and I know I am blessed to be here. I’m unwinding. It is good.