How to keep learning as a business owner

When you’re head down in the daily business routine, the idea of learning can seem unmanageable, expensive and sometimes scary.

Perhaps the thought of fitting learning into your already hectic schedule seems impossible, or you feel that you just couldn’t afford to pay for a course.

Learning, however, isn’t simply arrived at by attending courses, although that is one option.

There are so many other ways to learn that will benefit both you and your business, and best of all, a lot of them are free.

Assess for knowledge gaps

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Well, that seems a tad obvious. Of course, you don’t know what you don’t know.

But what if you ‘could’ know what you don’t know? Wouldn’t that be useful?

This assessment could be of you, your business team as a whole, or just a section of your employees, but I’m going to write this from the perspective of a one-person assessment.

What do you know? That’s a great place to start. You could include:

  • skills
  • knowledge
  • experience
  • qualifications
  • tasks

Get down to the detail of what you can do. You might want to include skills that you don’t use in your day to day work. For instance, I used to write murder mystery plays for a living. That isn’t a skill I use in my copywriting business, but it’s definitely helped to develop both my writing and business experience.

When you have a complete picture of what you know, take a minute to pat yourself on the back for having achieved all of this.

Next, look at your role. Write up a job description, the kind of thing you would come across if your job was advertised. Try to be as cold and detached as you can. What are the tasks and responsibilities involved? Who do you communicate with in this role? What experience and qualifications are required?

When you’ve finished, compare the job description with your list of what you know. Are there any gaps? Don’t be down on yourself if there are. You’ve simply found a way to improve your business skills.

Where there are no gaps, take the assessment a step further. Future proof your skillset.

There are three approaches you can take to this:

Who is your dream customer?

You have the skills and knowledge to do your job and serve your current customers. What about the customers you want to work with?

I’m not suggesting that you don’t want to work with your current customers. What I’m getting at here is your dream customer.

For instance, a florist provides wedding flowers as part of their regular trade but it’s on an individual basis and mainly reliant on local visibility.

Their dream client is a nearby country hotel, which as a wedding venue includes flowers in its wedding package.

The florist dreams of being the key supplier to the hotel, with regular (seeing as the hotel is fully booked for weddings months in advance) and extensive (the wedding package includes floral displays, bouquets, buttonholes and more) orders.

To land their dream customer, the florist might have to develop their floristry skills to meet the ever changing trends in wedding fashion and flowers.

What skills do you need to learn to serve your dream customer?

Developments that affect your industry

Are there any current changes taking place that will have implications for the industry you work in or the job you do? This could be an update in existing technology or the introduction of a new law.

One excellent example of a cross-industry development is GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which was introduced in 2018, stating how data is handled and processed and safeguarding the related rights of individuals.

Do you need to learn a new skill to make sure that your business continues to be both competitive and compliant with the law?

Where do you want to take your business?

You may well know everything you need to know for your business as it exists in its current form but what if you decide to specialise in some way?

Maybe you want to focus in on the type of clients you serve, or drop certain services so you can concentrate on the ones you’re really good at.

For instance, a virtual assistant realises that the clients whom they enjoy working with the most are coaches, and decides to offer their service to that sector only. They investigate exactly what a coach needs from and values in a virtual assistant, assess any gaps in their knowledge, and learn any missing skills.

Using any, or all, of the above approaches can flag up a potential area of learning that may help develop your business.

Decide how you will learn

You’ve identified your knowledge gaps and know what you need to learn. The next step is to decide how that learning will take place.

As I said before, this doesn’t have to cost any, or a lot, of money. It will take time and effort though.

Exactly how you bridge your knowledge gap will depend on you, your business, your resources and what you need to learn. There’s no one answer for everyone.

Look to your competition

I don’t see my competitors as combatants to be defeated. I see them as another source of learning.

This is where the value of networking comes into play. That could be physical networking – attending events or, yes, even using the phone – or it could be online networking in the form of LinkedIn or Twitter, for instance.

Keep an eye/ear on your competitors. What developments are they seeing in your industry and what changes are they making? Could you learn from their advice and experience? What are they saying about their own customers?

Listening to your competition can be a learning experience in itself, or it can point to areas of learning that you need to consider.

Keep up to date with the legal stuff by finding the experts

I know, this isn’t the most exciting of topics but as a business owner you are required to keep up to date with the legal aspects of your business, including tax and other HMRC dealings.

One way to do this is to find the experts out there, people like Suzanne Dibble for GDPR, Savvy Woman for financial tips for women, or a small business accountant like Ruth Prins. HMRC’s website is generally kept up to date and worth using as a starting point but equally useful are:

Read

Ok, so this will cost a few pennies, but books (physical or e-book) are still an excellent way to brush up your skills or learn new ones.

I’m currently reading The Art of the Click by Glenn Fisher and Copywriting Made Simple by Tom Albrighton. This isn’t because I don’t know how to write copy. I do. That’s what you’re reading now. I am, however, keen to learn from those further along the copywriting path. Both Glenn and Tom have much more experience in the word trade than me and I’m happy to be guided by them.

Plus, I like to read. And I like real books to put on my overloaded bookshelves.

Beyond learning from a book in the initial read-through, it’s also a great reference to return to, and the author is a new face in your industry too. While they may not always be available to network with, they may be someone to follow online and keep track of their blog posts and future books.

It’s not just books though. There are all kind of trade magazines out there, depending on your job, magazines like Cow Management Magazine, Earthmovers and Caring Times.

Remember the experts I mentioned above? There are sure to be experts for your job and industry too. Seek them out. Read their blogs and articles.

Finally, what about newspapers? Whether you read your news online or buy your copy from the newsstand, newspapers can be a great way to learn new things:

  • News – that’s an obvious one but knowing what’s going on in the world can flag up any implications for your business
  • What’s happening with your current clients and their industries?
  • New potential clients and business opportunities
  • Changes in the law
  • Developing trends

Courses

This was going to have to be mentioned eventually. Courses don’t have to be bum-on-seat classes though. Many courses can be accessed online.

Your exact requirements will be individual to you. For more official learning, the professional bodies such as HSE are always a good place to start when searching for course providers. Equally, those experts I talked about may provide courses too.

Although there are free courses available online, the majority of courses will require some level of investment.

Why should you keep learning?

You know how to run your business and you’re tootling along nicely, thank you very much. Why should you go to all the bother of continuing to learn?

Here’s the thing. Business success is a moving target.

Or to put it another way, nothing stays the same. Laws change. Markets disappear. Customers come and go.

You can protect your business by keeping up to date with your competitors and all the developments that affect your business. The easiest way to do that is to keep learning.

Learning increases your value. With each new thing you learn, you grow as a business person.

Finally, learning opens your eyes, whether that’s to new opportunities, a new direction for your business, or simply how to do your job better.

 

 

 

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What to do when ‘real life’ gets in the way of your small business

What do you do when your non business life puts up a brick wall that stops your business in its tracks? That’s the problem I was faced with a couple of weeks ago.

I had the beginning of 2019 all planned out, returning to work on 7th January, ready for a full, uninterrupted first week, knowing that the following week would be difficult but manageable as work was carried out on our house.

Well, that was the plan.

First, we had a call from the company carrying out the work to ask if they could bring the job forward a few days. Eager to improve our home and having been told that the renovations wouldn’t get in the way of my work, we said yes.

Next, we received a visit from the man in charge of the team and it quickly became clear that the full implications of renovating our home hadn’t been explained to us. Every room in the house was going to be affected and mostly all at the same time. There was no chance to unplug and move to a different spot, short of relocating to a cafe or McDonalds.

When it was all finished, and the house was liveable again, I settled back down at my desk with a coffee and the dog at my feet. Now, I could get on with some work.

The phone rang. It was my daughter at school. “Can you come get me? I’m sick.”

So, what do you do when this kind of thing happens, when ‘real life’ says, “Oi! You! Don’t think you can ignore me. I’m putting my size 12 loafer down. Pay attention to meeeeeee”.

Swearing is one option but that only offers relief for a while, so what else can you do?

Assess the battleground

Firstly, how long will the interruption last? Are you forced to down tools for just an afternoon, a week or longer? Is the interruption ongoing, occasional or just a one-off?

Who will it affect? What client work will this get in the way of? Can you reschedule any appointments or meetings?

Can you delegate or outsource any of your workload?

Is it possible to work around the interruption, even partially?

Will re-locating to work somewhere else help? Yes, there’s always the cafe scenario but what about a co-working space? Do you have a fellow business owner who could lend you desk space at their office or home for a while?

Is there anything that cannot, under any circumstances, be cancelled or moved?

Communicate

Once I knew that I wouldn’t be able to work during the renovation, I got in touch with my clients to let them know.

You might also need to tell your suppliers, your staff members, freelancers and contractors that you work with, and anyone else who’ll be affected.

Make sure you have ready prepared answers, like how long you’ll be unavailable, reassessed deadlines and what communication there’ll be during the interruption.

Prepare for future ‘real life’

With all the best will and forward planning in the world, real life still manages to trip us up on occasion.

However, if you can put together a process, even a vague process, on how to cope in the case of illness, no electricity supply, or any other business interruption, then you’re halfway towards handling the situation.

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Closing down for the festive break

The time has come to shut up shop so that I can spend some quality time with my family.

I close the work shutters at the end of today,  Friday, 21st December 2018, and won’t be back at my desk until Monday, 7th January 2019.

During that time, I won’t be responding to emails but if you’re happy to wait until the new year to hear back from me, then please do drop me a line.

Now, mince pies, the final Christmas present wrapping, and a couple of glasses of festive spirit await so all that’s left to do is wish you a wonderful holiday. May it bring you all you need.

See you in 2019.

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Looking back over 2018

December is here and the end of the year is on the horizon. I’ve plans afoot for 2019 but first, I thought I’d look back over what has been a busy, productive and generally incredible year for me.

January, February & March

My career as a freelance copy and content writer began back in 2017, but this year I made it official, launching my business website in January.

I introduced myself in Who is Fi Phillips? featuring probably the only photo you’ll ever see of me on here.  I told you a little bit more about me and my business in How and why I chose my logo.

As a content writer, I’m never happier than when I’m writing blog posts for my clients so my second post in March was 7 reasons to have a business blog.

April, May & June

In April, I explained Why I price by the job (not the hour) and why I was terrible at selling make-up in How to be authentic in business. Finally that month, I asked GDPR – are you ready?

In I’m a business – just like you, I explained why I was the ideal person to offer a copy and content writing service to small and medium businesses, what I had learnt so far in 2018 and exactly which experts I turn to for advice.

July, August & September

I started July with Release the Kraken: Content marketing with a dash of Monster (I still love that title), explaining why I was impressed by the content marketing of my favourite tipple.

In Stock Photos: Where I find mine, I shared the stock photo websites I go back to time and time again for beautiful images.

Heading off to warmer climes in August, I left you with Even a freelancer needs a break – the importance of taking a holiday.

When the summer holidays came to an end, my teens returned to school, and I was left with a relatively quiet home again, I shared How to ease back into work after the summer break.

October, November & December

In October, I was featured in 28 women share their top business tips by the wonderful Talented Ladies Club.

With Halloween days away, I posted My 5 fears of going freelance (and how I handled them).

On a rare quiet day for me, I shared 5 things to do on a client quiet day.

With Christmas galloping ever nearer, I wrote about How to prepare your business for the Christmas break.

I also received a glowing client testimonial which you can find on my home page.

Looking back

It has been a year of growth, of productivity, and of eye-opening learning.  What more can I say? I love 2018!

Looking forward

I don’t want to rest on my lovely laurels so in 2019, I want to stretch myself even further – more learning, more variety and more clients.

If you feel you could work with me in 2019, then get in touch. Let’s face the new year together.

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How to prepare your business for the Christmas break

December begins at the weekend – the month for opening advent calendars, unconsciously humming Christmas songs (I keep finding myself falling into ‘Let it snow’ – no really, don’t let it snow), and filling up on mince pies.

This year, one of my friends set up her Christmas tree and festooned her house in festive sparkle as soon as Halloween had ended and another super-efficiently finished her present shopping in September.  Everyone seems to have donned their blinkers intent on the finishing line that is Christmas Day.  I’m still in denial (apart from the mince pies).

But what about your business? Have you thought about Christmas preparations for that? How will your business handle the festive break?

Whether you’re a sole freelancer like me or run a medium sized business with staff, there are a number of common preparations that can help us all in the run up to Christmas.

Christmas closing times

When are you closed over the festive break? Personally, I’ll be closing up shop at the end of Friday, 21st December and not opening again until Monday, 7th January.

Every business is different and you’ll have many things to factor in when deciding on your closing times such as the industry you work in, your clients, your working practices and even your staff.

Will you split the festive break with open days between Christmas and new year’s day?

How are you going to make it clear when you’re shut? Is it sufficient for you to announce your closing times on your website or social media?

Do you need to contact your customers and mailing list to tell them when you won’t be working and responding?

Don’t forget your staff and suppliers.

How about new customers contacting you over the festive break? How will they know you’re closed?

You may even wish to set up an ‘out of the office’ autoresponder on your emails.

Making it clear when your business is closed removes any chance of a disgruntled customer or a missed order.

Schedule blog posts and social media

If you want to continue to publish blog articles on your website and posts to your social media accounts over the festive break, take advantage of scheduling.

Whether you use WordPress like I do, Squarespace, Wix or another provider for your website, there will be a way to schedule your blog posts for a future date.

So for instance, if you want to blog ‘Merry Christmas’ on 25th December, you can set that post up in advance to appear on the big day.

There’s a whole host of scheduling software for social media out there too, for instance:

I also use IFTTT to connect my social media accounts (e.g. Facebook to Twitter).

You can schedule posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter themselves too.

Of course, if you need help scheduling posts to your social media accounts, I’m always happy to take that workload off your hands. Just get in touch.

Re-assess your workload

What I mean by this is:

  • What jobs and projects need to be finished before the Christmas break?
  • What can be left until the new year?
  • Do you need to make any preparations for work left until the new year?

A good way to approach this task is to divide your workload into work for customers, non customer work related to your business, and anything else.

What deadlines have you and your customer set? Do these need to be revisited?

What work do you need to complete on and for your business itself? Who else is involved in this work?

If you are leaving work until the new year, do you need to notify any involved parties about this?

Re-assessing your workload now gives you the chance to write up a plan for when you return to your ‘desk’ in the new year.

Chase unpaid invoices

Yes, I know, in the run up to Christmas you want it to be all mirth, and gin (hang on, maybe that’s just me), and joy to all, but you still have to pay the bills.

If you have any unpaid invoices that are past their payment terms (14 days, 1 month, etc), then chase them.

Once your customer is closed/on holiday for Christmas, you won’t be able to contact them about the money they owe. You’ll simply have to wait until the new year.

Contact them now, in a polite but firm manner, so you won’t spend the festive break worrying about your cashflow.

Look at your to-do list for the year

Remember that sparkling plan you put together at the beginning of the year with all those tasks? How many of those tasks have you actually completed?

If there are still outstanding tasks that you haven’t got round to, try to figure out why:

  • Were they completely unrealistic from the outset?
  • Have they, for some unforeseen reason, become impossible or difficult to complete?
  • Has the task been delayed or remained incomplete due to the involvement of another person?
  • Is the task a nitty-gritty job that you just don’t want to do?

The first three reasons for not ticking tasks off your to-do list are incredibly useful and will inform your plan for the new year.

However, if the final reason is true, decide whether the task is necessary and if it is, then do it.

It might be your tax return, backing up your computer, filing, or networking. Whatever it is, especially if you’re a sole self employed worker, get on with it.

The Christmas break will feel so much better knowing that you have a clean slate for the new year.

Switch off

I don’t just mean the computer and the office lights. When you finally finish for Christmas, however many or few days you take off work, toss away your business hat and ‘be’ on holiday.

You’ve worked hard this year. You deserve a break. As much as you’ve committed to your work for the last twelve months, commit now to replenishing your batteries at home or wherever you spend the festive break.

If you can do that, you’ll return to your work rested, refreshed and still smiling from all that festive goodwill.

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5 things to do on a client quiet day

Today, I have what I call a ‘client quiet day’.  I have a little client work, but not enough to fill a working day.  Is that worrying? Am I distraught? No and no. I’ll tell you why.

For me, a client quiet day is a rare opportunity to step back and take stock. Yes, I’ll still keep an eye on my emails and an ear out for my phone (just in case some new client work comes in) but I can set my own deadlines and plans for the day.

Here’s what I do on a client quiet day.

Figure out why I’m having a client quiet day

So I’ve told you that today is a client quiet day and that for me, that means a little client work.  For other people, a client quiet day might mean no client work at all, or it might be a client quiet week or longer.

When I have a client quiet day, the first thing I do is ask myself why I’m having a client quiet day.

  • Has all my work dried up, with nothing on the horizon? If so, then I need to  find more work. How am I going to do that?
  • If one project or job has come to an end but there’s another one about to start, how can I make sure that everything is wrapped up for the finished project in readiness to begin the new project?
  • Am I mid project but waiting for information or a decision from a client? If I’m having a client enforced quiet day, then is there anything I can do on that project in readiness for when I hear back from my client? Can I speed up the client’s decision in any way? Do they have all the information they need to make that decision?

Knowing why I’m having a client quiet day means I know exactly what I have to do next.

Re-assess

Having the time to remove myself from my client workload allows me to step back and re-assess my business.

  • Do I need to find more work and possibly new clients? How am I going to do that?
  • Am I happy with how my current client work is going, including all the processes involved in that work?
  • Is my client happy with the work I’ve done for them and our working relationship?
  • How is my work-life balance?
  • Is my pricing structure up to date?
  • Am I underestimating the scope of the jobs I take on (all those extra hours spent on emails to and from my clients, for instance) or do my working practices need to be slim-lined?

A client quiet day allows me to take a step back from my business and see exactly what is, and isn’t, working.

Blitz the admin

Not having client work to do means that I can work ‘on’ my business, rather than in it.

So today’s admin blitzing includes tearing through my email inbox (delete, save or action), updating my financial spreadsheet with income and outgoings, checking that my online presence is consistent and up-to-date, writing this blog post and backing up my computer.

It doesn’t make my heart skip a joyful beat, but blitzing the admin does carry a level of satisfaction. Spit spot.

Catch up with my networking

Now, yes, I know, we should be networking all the time like the social business butterflies we are but personally, I find that real life (especially the real life that pays the mortgage) can often get in the way.

However, on a client quiet day, I don’t have an excuse.  I use the time to catch up with online contacts, offline contacts and generally find out what everyone is up to.

LinkedIn is a great place to start but sending out emails and actually talking to people (albeit on the phone) does the job too.

Make time for Fi

One of the benefits of working for myself is that I can choose when to work. If I want to start earlier one day, then it’s ok to finish mid afternoon. If a doctor’s appointment breaks up my morning, I can move those hours to the early evening instead.

When I have a client quiet day, I try to do at least one thing just for me. Not for my business, not for my family, or anyone else.

It might be meeting a friend for coffee, or watching a film on TV, or getting my hair cut. It could be something as simple as reading a couple of chapters with a cup of tea.

When you work for yourself, especially when it’s just you as a freelancer/sole trader, you work hard, donning all the business hats and taking the complete load on your shoulders.

We all deserve a treat now and then.

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So that’s my client quiet day. What does yours look like?

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My 5 fears of going freelance (and how I handled them)

When I decided to work as a freelance copy and content writer, it felt like the proverbial penny had slipped into the perfect slot.

I had the skills, I had the experience and I knew how to run my own business. Job done, eh?

But then, the fear began to seep into my enthusiasm – the fear of failure, the fear of ridicule, and finally, the fear of just not being good enough.

And yet here I am, successfully working as a copy and content writer (with a side order of social media) and getting paid for it too.

So how did I get over my fears?

A lack of confidence

This was the first ‘fear’ I had to overcome – the feeling that I wasn’t good enough, in any way possible, to work as a freelance writer.

So I did what I normally do when I have a decision to make. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and break it all down.

  • What are the benefits of starting my own business?
  • What are the disadvantages of working for myself?
  • Do I have the skills to work as a freelance writer?
  • What’s the worst case scenario if I start my own business and fail?
  • Why do I want to do this?

For me, the benefits massively outweighed the disadvantages, and the worst case scenario actually wasn’t life-ending.

Breaking it down in this way can help to remove the brain fog or paralysis that can develop when faced with an important decision. Try it.

Publicising ‘me’

As there’s just me working in my business, I’m not only the person that any clients will deal with but I’m also the face of my business.

What do I say about myself? How do I introduce myself? What if people don’t like the face of my business (me)?

Instead, I flipped that around and concentrated on what I could offer to my customers. On my website, you’ll find my ‘about’ page explains exactly that – how I can help.

And just in case people wanted to know about me personally, I revealed a few details in my first blog post.

Will I be taken seriously?

This one is all about respect:

  • Will customers respect me and my skills sufficiently to hire me, treat me well and ultimately, pay me?
  • Will my work peers respect me enough to network with me, share my social media posts, and refer me to potential clients?
  • Will my family and friends respect that I have the skills to work as a freelance writer and that working freelance from home is a ‘proper job’?

This took a slight change of mind set.

Can I take myself seriously as a freelance writer?

If I can do that, if I can respect my skills, experience and the value I can offer to a client, then the rest – respect from clients, work peers, family  and friends – will follow on.

How will I find customers?

This is the dilemma all self employed people face. Where do we find work leads?

There’s no easy fix here. It’s a case of hard work and perseverance:

  • figuring out who your customer is
  • finding out where your customer is
  • deciding what your customer wants

I work for other businesses so an ideal place for me to find customers is LinkedIn, the business social network.

And yes, you do need to network. And yes, you do need to research what your customers want. And finally, yes, you do need to get involved in marketing your business.

Like I said, it’s hard work but worth it.

The legal stuff

This is the nitty gritty element that many people forget about when starting up in business.

However enthusiastic and excited you are about setting up your new business, the backbone of that business will be issues like tax, customer contracts and data protection.

I worried about this the most. The idea of  drafting contracts and safeguarding customer data terrified me, so l grabbed another piece of paper and my trusty pen and broke it all down.

  • Registering as self employed
  • Accounting
  • Tax, national insurance and tax returns
  • Business insurance
  • Data protection
  • Customer contracts

Then I researched the hell out of all of these subjects. The HMRC provide plenty of useful online guides, and I turned to an accountant friend, the wonderful Ruth Prins who provides accounting services for small business owners, for advice.

Other places that proved invaluable in finding out about the legal stuff were the business groups I joined on Facebook, for instance:

Remember the networking I mentioned above? This is when that comes into play too.

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Sometimes fear is good; it keeps us safe. Often though, it’s a gut reaction to change.

How did you get over your freelancing fears?

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

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How to ease back into work after the summer break

Today marks the end of the second week of my teens being back at high school. Although I loved having them around over the summer holidays, their noisy *cough* enthusiastic presence over the break did rather throw my work routine out of kilter (in fact, out of the kilter and into next week). By the time September rolled around, I was more than happy to wave them off to school.

The first day they were back, I sat down at my desk with my computer and my coffee, all ready to take advantage of the peace and quiet and lack of teenage demands, and came over all deflated. I felt lost.

I’ve worked over the summer, with the exception of a two week break, but it’s been a battle to maintain any level of focus. Add to that the fact that many of my business contacts have children to tend and/or holidays to take, and my usually well-edged business path appeared suddenly overgrown and a tad vague.

So how did I get back on track?

I re-assessed my business

What’s working and what needs to be improved? Is there anything that should be cut out altogether?

I took a fresh look at:

  • my clients
  • my usual workload (both paid client work and work on my business itself)
  • my skills
  • my business practices
  • the value of earnings against effort
  • any possibilities to diversify
  • whether I needed to diversify
  • my income – was it sufficient or did I need to earn more?

I knew that one of my businesses wasn’t working anymore, or more accurately, the time I was spending on it wasn’t reflected in earnings. It’s a business that has been with me for over 20 years but I’m not the same person (with the same interests) that I was back then. In the end, I decided that I would close that business in the new year so I could concentrate more of my time and effort on this business instead.

I examined my boundaries

Working over the summer holidays meant moving my hours around to fit in trips out with the teens. With them back at school, I can return to my usual working hours.

But do those ‘usual’ hours still work for me?

What about boundaries with clients? And boundaries with friends and family too?

Checking your boundaries at least a couple of times a year is always worthwhile.

I checked my Inbox

Thankfully, I’d kept up to date with my emails but when I faced the backlog after my two weeks’ holiday, I didn’t know whether to be impressed that I was so popular or run screaming from the magnitude of emails waiting for my attention.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I deleted any shopping related emails.  I know that sounds harsh but I spent far too much money over the holidays. I don’t want the temptation of 30% off at Monsoon or a reduced membership to a specialist gin club at a time when I badly need to refurnish my bank account.
  2. I then looked for emails from friends and family and saved them to a folder for later, out of work, reading.
  3. I did the same for emails from businesses that can help me keep up to date with my skills and knowledge, so for instance, blog posts about developments in social media management.
  4. Any emails left after that culling, were work-related and I worked through them one at a time.

I wrote a To-Do List

Having re-assessed my business, examined my boundaries and sorted through my emails, I was fully equipped to create my To-Do list for the following week, the rest of the month, and to the end of the year, with one proviso – things change.

Any To-Do list should have an element of flexibility about it.

I caught up with my business contacts

As a home-working freelancer, it’s easy to become isolated from the world out there. You can’t assume that people will read your social media and blog posts, and hence know what’s going on with you. Sometimes, you have to reach out.

So I dropped an email to my clients to say “Hi, I’m back”. I replied to any outstanding work emails that required a response (and even those that didn’t, again, just to say ‘hi’). I checked my social media accounts to see if anyone had sent me a message, and to find out just what was going on in the world.

I got an early night (or two)

During the summer break, my bedtimes were all over the place, as were my energy levels.

Knowing that I have to be up at the same early time every weekday during school term time means that if these middle-aged bones are going to survive, I have to get (at least) seven hours sleep every night.

If your brain is still on holiday hours (as mine was for the first few days), keep a notepad by your bed to scribble down all those thoughts, ideas and worries that keep you awake.

I eased into work

There’s a temptation to have this ‘burst’ of energy and productivity on your first day back. Part of that, for me anyway, is the enthusiasm of getting back to work and not having to fend off teenage demands for a few hours at least.

The downside to setting this expectation of  let me at ’em is that (a) we burn out and/or (b) we don’t accomplish our targets and then feel incredibly guilty and down. Don’t beat yourself up like that.

On your first day back, maybe your first few days, be kind to yourself and take it easy. I’m not saying that you should do nothing. What I am saying is that it might be a good idea to allow yourself that time to acclimatise to your September work routine without unrealistic expectations.

 

So what about you? Has September spelled a blissful return to work or are you yearning for the summer holidays? Which ever it is, have a wonderful September.

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Even a freelancer needs a break – the importance of taking a holiday

First things first, I’m going on holiday! *watch Fi do her little happy dance*

My holiday wardrobe has been updated. I’ve dragged my teens round the shops until they gave in and agreed to buy new clothes (“No, you can’t spend the holiday in jeans and a hoodie. You’ll scare children in the swimming pool.”). We’ve even arranged for the dog to stay with Grandma.

All that’s left now is to let you all know that my last day at work will be Thursday, 16th August and then I’ll be away on a jolly until Monday, 3rd September.

I won’t be reading or answering work emails during that time, so if you do drop me a line don’t feel neglected (it’s not you, it’s most definitely me relaxing with a cosmo somewhere Greek or reading in the back garden) if I don’t respond until I open up shop again.

I could leave this post here but I thought I’d share with you three of the reasons why I’m so excited to be going away (besides the time to catch up on my reading and cocktail-quaffing).

I’m excited because I know that when I return from my hols and settle down to work again, I’ll be a better freelancer and writer. Here’s why:

Exhaustion

Ok, I’m not keeling over, yet, but equally I need a break. As freelancers, we’re probably most prone to overwhelm from doing it all. We do the work (in my case, writing), keep track of our finances and fill in our tax returns, market our businesses all over the place, and generally do it all.

I don’t have a back-up team to sort out my invoices, maintain my website or wear any of the other business hats. It’s just me.

Emotionally, psychologically and sometimes, yeah, physically too, we need a break so our brains can go to mush for a week away from our business life.

Mush is good. For a week. Possibly with cocktails.

Perspective

Another effect of ‘doing it all’ is that we can become so close to our business, so caught up in the day to day routine and concerns, that we lose the ability to see the bigger picture.

If you’re nose up against a tree, that’s all you can see. The beauty and wonder of the forest glade beyond and the paths leading from it are out of sight.

When we lose perspective, we lose the opportunity to look ahead and plan where our business is going. Is what we’re doing actually working? If not, how could we improve it? What new opportunities are there out there? What’s happening in the world beyond our four walls?

When I’m away on hols, whether it’s abroad, at the local Haven site or just taking a break at home, I can see the bigger picture because I’m not nose-down to my keyboard.

Bring back the love

It’s all too easy to begin to take our business for granted, even to dislike it. Maybe a client is impinging on our weekends, or there are unpaid invoices. Perhaps it’s just the constant workload which is getting us down. Whatever it is, it can rob us of the enjoyment we used to take in our work.

And here’s the thing. If you’re like me, you started down the path of self employment because you wanted to work at something you love, something you know you’re good at and that makes you feel worthwhile.

Taking a break, and removing all of those annoyances, means that when I return to work I’m happy to be there.

*

So there you are. My reasons for not feeling one tiny morsel guilty for taking a holiday.

Have a wonderful remainder of the summer. I shall see you in September.

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Stock Photos: Where I find mine

When I started my online existence, many years ago, the only photographs I used were my own, haphazardly taken on my mobile phone or the occasional holiday shot. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Nowadays, I do, on occasion, use my own photos, but for the most part I reach out to the people who do this kind of thing professionally, supplying stock photos, either free or paid for.

Paid For

The first company I came across when I began my search for stock photos was iStock.

Their photos are royalty-free so as long as I adhere to the conditions of the related  license, I can pretty much use them how I wish.  iStock supply a wide range of photos, illustrations and videos and I’ve never failed to find what I want on their site.

Free

More recently, I’ve come across a lot of stock photo suppliers who provide their photos for free. Some of these businesses charge for a section of their photos while offering free ones as well. Other businesses offer a completely free service.

The selections offered by each of these are generally smaller than that offered by iStock but with the increasing number of stock photo providers out there, I can usually find what I want if I search a number of these websites.

If you do use free stock photos though, make sure that you adhere to the related usage conditions. Some of the photos will ask for an attribution link (basically, a link back to their website or at least a mention of where the photo came from), while others ask for a cup of coffee or sometimes nothing at all.

Here are the ones that I go back to time and time again:

Membership Sites offering free stock photos

In my search for beautiful stock photos, I came across two membership sites that offer free stock photos, regardless of whether you join up as a member, although obviously membership provides you with even more free stock photos. These are:

Apart from one photo (so far) on this website, all the others are stock photos from one of the above suppliers because as a freelance writer, I just don’t have the time to stage and take beautiful photos like the ones in the image at the top of this blog post. I’m too busy writing.

What about you? Where do you source the photos for your business from?

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