Healthy Working from Home #StayHomeSaveLives

healthy working from home

What a difference a month makes. At the beginning of March, we all had Coronavirus on our radar but the idea of staying at home to stay safe certainly wasn’t.

Okay, a lot of us could see this coming, but there’s a difference between thinking ‘this is going to mean a few people taking a few weeks at home’ to almost the entire population staying in their houses seven days a week, except for exercise and necessary trips out.

I’m lucky. I work from home and my husband is a remote worker, so we were already used to spending our working hours in our house in North Wales. We have older teens, one due to finish high school this year and the other at college, so they weren’t averse to the extra time they get at their computers (when I’m not reminding them to do their chores and keep their brains ticking over with some online learning). My dog is completely happy to have her entire pack home all the time, so she can take them for walks.

There’s a wealth of articles out there on how to cope with surviving the Covid-19 lockdown from doctors to counsellors to entrepreneurs, but having been a homeworker for several years now, I thought I’d share how I keep healthy working from home.

I have a routine

Things have slipped a little since the lockdown began. I’m not up at 7 to drag my teens out of bed and run the youngest to school. I have an extra hour (and maybe 30 minutes) each morning before greeting the day, but I still have a rough routine during the week:

  • Morning – work
  • Lunch break
  • First half of the afternoon – emails, social media reading and posting, planning
  • Second half of the afternoon – work

My brain works best in the morning and as the afternoon heads towards evening, so that’s when I get my work done.

Without a routine, I:

  • lose track of time and ultimately waste it
  • lose track of my workload and don’t get enough done
  • fall foul to distractions (like that social media I mentioned above)
  • find it impossible to plan ahead

Having a routine also helps me to maintain my mental health. When I have a routine, I know what to expect and my day has a shape to it, rather than subsiding into an endless grey mire.

Why is this important? As an anxiety sufferer, boredom is my arch nemesis. When I’m bored, I spend way too much time in my head. I overthink things, see all the worst case scenarios at once, and forget to live in the real world.

I balance caffeine with water

When you work from home and the kitchen is probably close to hand, it’s easy to forget just how much coffee or tea (or cans of coke) you have drunk during the day. Hands up, this was me when I first started working from home.

As an anxiety sufferer, I really should avoid caffeine, but I just can’t get a taste for decaf coffee and tea so what I do instead is balance the amount of caffeine I’m drinking with plain, old water.

I know what a lot of you are going to say: water is boring. More importantly though, water is good for you. It counteracts the negative affect that caffeine has on our bodies, is great for our skin and bolsters our energy levels. What’s not to like about that?

So, when I have a mug of coffee or tea, I follow it with a glass of water. It took a few weeks to get used to, but now it’s just a habit.

Put the lid back on and step away from the sweetie jar

Another habit that’s easy to fall into when you work from home is having sugary snacks on a regular basis.

There’s that packet of custard creams calling to you, or your kids’ supply of chocolate bars. Before you know it, you’ve absent-mindedly polished off an entire packet of biscuits, had two (large) slices of carrot cake, and are panicking that your kids may soon start asking where the multi-pack of Kit Kats has gone to.

I’m no different to anyone in this. I can easily fall into the habit of eating way too many sugary snacks. What I’ve found works for me though, is to give myself a healthy alternative.

So when I find myself thinking of sugary snacks, I have no excuse to indulge because I’ve stocked up on:

  • fruit (yes, I know fruit has sugar in it but along with the sugar there’s all kinds of nutritional goodies too)
  • roasted but unsalted nuts
  • carrot and cucumber sticks

And yes, I do sometimes have the odd biscuit with a cup of tea. I’m human, after all.

I take breaks

I always make sure that I take a lunch break away from my desk, but I also take breaks throughout the day too, even if that is only to get a drink or throw a ball for the dog.

Taking a break from your work is beneficial in several ways:

  • Taking a break allows you to stretch your body and reset your posture. Personally, it’s all too easy for me to become hunched over my keyboard.
  • It forces your eyes to focus on something else. When you spend time at your work station, your eyes will generally remain focussed at a particular distance (for me that’s my computer screen). Taking a break enables you to keep your eyes healthy by focussing on a different distance, such as the view out of the window.
  • It allows you to reset your mindset. I find this works especially well for me when I’m stuck with what I’m working on. If I take a break and do something mundane like getting a coffee or taking a breath of fresh air in the garden, nine times of ten my brain comes up with how to get unstuck by the time I return to my keyboard.

I limit my social media intake

At the moment, most people are spending way more time than usual in the online world. It’s how we get up to date news, carry out our work and stay in touch with friends and family. There are downsides to so much online time though.

What we read online can begin to colour our view of the world and our own place within that world. Of course there’s a lot of upset, heartbreak and scary stuff going on at the moment, but we can become so obsessed with online content that we forget that we still have a loving family or a safe roof over our heads. There is so much that we can’t do anything about at the moment, but there are still a lot of factors we can control.

We can become so drawn into checking for news updates on social media, that it eats away at the time that could be spent more sensibly on work, rest or with loved ones.

While social media can provide us with a wonderful opportunity to connect and promote our businesses, it can become a drain unless we begin to see it as a tool rather than a window.

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Whether you’re a key worker still out there, working from home or simply self-isolating, please stay safe. We’re going to get through this, together.

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How I got organised for the new year

how I got organised for the new year

Since as far back as the middle of November last year, my email inbox has been inundated with messages about how to get organised for 2020.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve received all kinds of useful advice, but for me it all comes down to one thing.

What suits you best, specifically, you as an individual business person? Whether you’re a freelance sole trader or have a business that employs a number of staff, you are unique, with your own concoction of skills, experience, quirks and preferences.

So how do you organise yourself for the new year with your own personal needs and likes in mind?

To app or not to app?

Some people positively salivate over apps and software, whether on their computer, tablet or phone. They love to tap their lives into the latest online gadget and have access to their business world wherever they are.

At the other extreme, certain individuals may prefer to use paper (yes, paper – don’t look so shocked) diaries, calendars and notepads instead.

Most of us are somewhere in between those two on a slider that switches between the app salivators and the paper-lovers.

Would you rather organise yourself through apps, software, gadgets, paper diaries or a mixture of those? What suits you best?

How complicated is your life?

What does ‘organising your life’ mean to you?

Is it just about work? If so, does that mean organising the business you run, or do you work on an employed basis too? Do you have just one business, or several? If just one business, are there different strands to that business, for instance, do you work as both a copywriter and a social media marketer?

Maybe organising your life means that you have to take into account other activities, such as charity work or a hobby.

A lot of us have to factor in our personal life too:

  • child care – both from a time, effort and expense point of view
  • spending time with family
  • hospital, doctor and dentist visits
  • involvement with your child’s school, even if that’s just the yearly Christmas concert
  • holidays and time-out

What do you need to include when organising the year ahead?

Who else do you have to involve?

This is a little like ‘how complicated is your life?’ but not entirely. One factor of organising your life will be your reliance on and responsibility towards other individuals.

Or to make it simple, who do you interact with on a regular basis? It could be:

  • your business partner, or your employees
  • your spouse, life partner and family members
  • your customers
  • your suppliers
  • your bank manager, accountant or HMRC

Why will any of the above have an effect on the method you choose to organise yourself? Let me give you an example.

Years ago, I worked for one of the directors of a further education college. At that time there was a push from the powers that be to have all directors and managers move from a paper diary method to using a Blackberry phone that could be synced with the shared online diary back at the college.

My boss resisted. He liked his paper diary. Moreover, he didn’t like being tied down. If appointments were to be added to his diary, he wanted to know about it first. He didn’t want his time being scheduled away behind his back. So, every time he returned to his office, we would sit down with his paper diary and mine to make sure they matched.

The way he organised his work life, i.e. his paper diary, didn’t work because the other college directors and managers needed to know where he was and when he was available at all times, not just when  he and his diary were back at college.

How does this all apply to me?

The title of this article is ‘how I got organised for 2020’ so it would be wrong of me not to explain how I applied all of this to my personal situation. All right, here we go.

To app or not to app?

You know I mentioned that slider between the two extremes of app-zealot and paper-devout? Well, I’m firmly in the middle area. I love my computer and my phone, with a fair helping of apps and software too, but I also love to write by hand, hence the pile of notepads waiting to be used in my office.

I’m comfortable using either method, so my form of organisation is a mixture of the two.

How complicated is my life?

2019 was an outstanding year for me, although not necessarily as a copywriter. While I kept my copywriting business quietly ticking over, I found a publisher for my novel.

Yay! Woohoo! I’ve got how much editing to do?

My novel was published at the beginning of October 2019. You can find more about that here.

What that means for 2020 is that I’ll be heavily involved in the ongoing marketing of that novel and working on the next novel in the series too.

I’ll also be carrying on with my copywriting business and all that brings with it, whether creating content to promote my business, writing client copy, or interacting with HMRC.

I have a family (husband and teens) to consider in how I organise my time too. In fact, I started out as a freelancer to give me the freedom to do exactly that.

Organising ‘me’ therefore means planning out how I will deal with all of the above.

Who else do I have to involve?

Well, I’ve already mentioned my family. My teens no longer need me as much but there’s still tasks I carry out for them, appointments to make, and reminders to keep track of.

My involvement with my publisher won’t come into play so much until they’ve had the first draft of my second novel and the editing process begins. At that point, there’ll be an agreed timetable to work to.

Interaction with copywriting clients generally takes place by email but again, there’ll be jointly drawn-up deadlines to meet.

Of course, there’s always good old HMRC to have that yearly chat with too.

So what do I do?

What works best for me is a combination of:

  • yearly vision board
  • yearly bullet journal
  • calendar on my phone
  • spreadsheets

People construct and use vision boards in all kinds of ways. For me, my vision board is a combination of text and images which set out my main goals for the year. I display it as the wallpaper on my computer because (a) I don’t have the wall space for a full-size printed out copy and (b) it’s constantly there so I can’t ignore or forget it.

My 2020 vision board has goals related to the success of my debut novel, how much I want to earn this year, my health and family targets too.

It’s a way to remind myself what I’m striving for.

The next item is my bullet journal. What’s a bullet journal? It’s an all-encompassing organisational tool that captures information such as your diary, your to-do-list, and your thoughts and notes, in a written format.

I’ve seen all kind of beautiful and creative versions out there, but mine is a very simple and straightforward version.

I have a contents page, a key for the bullet journal symbols (event, task, done, carried forward, etc), slots for each month to enter reminders and events, and room to write a list of everything I have to do in the current month. If I need to make notes on a project, be it business or personal, I can write that down in my bullet journal too.

Why do I use a physical bullet journal over something online?

  • I can keep all my thoughts in one place, rather than having to go searching through scattered computer files or paperwork.
  • It’s easy. Once I’ve set up the diary pages, index, key and so on, I’m away. There’s no need to log-in to a system. It’s a pad and a pen. What could be simpler?
  • It’s cheap. I use an A4 Pukka pad, and a pen and ruler.
  • It’s a physical book. Ok, I admit that this is completely personal to me, but I love to write by hand and use paper and pen. It helps to fix information in my memory and allows me to think things through.
  • It’s private. I’m the only person who will ever see my bullet journal. I don’t have to worry about my computer being hacked. I’m never going to share it with a client or associate. It can be as messy as I like. It is truly ‘for my eyes only’.
  • It’s personal. I design my bullet journal around what I need from it. I don’t worry about what other people do in theirs. I don’t shape it to anyone else’s design. This is my bullet journal. It suits me.

I record reminders, events and appointments on the calendar on my phone and then sync that with my computer. What this means is that I have access to my calendar wherever I am, so if I take a client call or my youngest teen’s school gets in touch, I know exactly when I’m available.

I use spreadsheets. I know, spreadsheets have a definite Marmite appeal: people love them or hate them. Personally, I find them an easy way to keep track of project timelines and progress, and my earnings and outgoings. They’re easy to read, easy to interact with and easy to forward on to a client, my publisher or even HMRC.

My way of organising myself and preparing for each new year suits me, but it won’t be right for everyone.

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So there you have it – all the considerations that could help you decide how to organise your life as a business person in a way that suits you as an individual.

How did you get organised for 2020?

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Taking a Christmas break

taking a Christmas break

It’s almost that time of the year again – the festive break, the end of 2019 and the beginning of not only a new year, but a whole new decade.

I’ll be closing shop on Thursday, 19th December 2019 and opening up again on Tuesday, 7th January 2020.

However you spend it, all the best for the holidays and a wonderful new year.

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How to work from home in (very) hot weather

how to work from home in very hot weather

The summer sun has arrived all of a sudden. The weekend was bliss with its lie-ins,  countryside walks and an excuse to chase the ice cream van. The working week, however, has turned into a sticky, sweaty challenge.

So, how do you cope with hot weather when you work from home?

Drink water – lots of it

Hands up, I admit that I drink far too much coffee and tea for my own well-being. It’s a terrible habit but I don’t think I’m alone in worshipping the hot beverages goddess.

When the weather is sweltering, though, caffeine-rich drinks can quickly dehydrate you, which in turn messes with your capacity to think (or in my case, create and get the words down). When I work from home in hot weather, I limit myself to one mug of coffee or tea in the morning, and drink water for the rest of the day.

I also avoid squash, pop and fruit juice because although they may be tasty, it’s the ‘untasty’ water that’s going to keep you hydrated and healthy.

Find water boring? I get a bit fed up with it sometimes myself, so I’ll swap still water for sparkling, or add a little lemon juice. Another option to alleviate the taste-boredom is to have a piece of juicy fruit in between your drinks of water. Melon is ideal.

Open the windows

I do my best to open as many windows as possible, and doors too, to get the air circulating around the house in an attempt to avoid creating hot spots. You know what I mean, where you walk into a room that has been closed off and the dry heat melts the skin off your face.

The downside to this airy, breezy solution, however, is where you suffer from hayfever, as I do. Take a regular antihistamine or, like me, face the possibility of being gorgeously cool but streaming and sneezing all over the place. I take the tablet form but the nose-spray version works much better for my husband.

What if you can’t open the windows? Maybe the passing traffic is way too noisy or there’s a security issue. Invest in a fan. They don’t have to cost a lot of money. It could be a desk fan, a tall fan that stands on the floor, a USB fan plugged into your computer or a handheld fan.

If you want to spend a little more, you can even buy an individual air conditioning unit these days.

Dress for the weather

I’m going to shatter any images you may have of me, or any other work-from-homer, spending our days in pyjamas. I’ve never done it, and I honestly don’t know any freelancer who has. Having said that, one of the joys of working from home is that I don’t often have to attend meetings so I can wear what I want.

My general working (well, living) uniform is t-shirts and jeans. In hot weather, though, I rediscover my legs. Jeans are put away, and  are replaced with skirts and cropped trousers.

Even where you do have a client-facing element to your job, smart clothes can still be lightweight and cool. Cotton and linen are especially ideal for the summer.

Work in the coolest part of your home

Where do you work at home? Office in the house? Garden pod? Kitchen table? When the weather is beyond hot, is your workplace lovely and chill or a mind-impeding hot-house?

If your usual working space is too hot to operate in, why not move to another location? If your kitchen’s stone floor is a delight to walk on in bare feet in the summer, work there. If your bedroom is cooler than your office, move in. Is there a shady patch in the garden that would be ideal to work from?

You never know, the new location may provide fresh inspiration too.

Work different hours

If you can set your own working hours, and the 9 to 5 slot is hampered by the summer heat, then why not work at a different part of the day or evening?

Could you begin an hour or a couple of hours earlier each day, before it gets too hot? Or maybe working in the evening would suit you more.

Stretching your working slot, to start earlier and finish later, could mean that you can take more breaks during the day.

Get enough sleep

When it’s hot on an evening, getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult but unless you can shift your work hours around, you probably don’t have the luxury of a lie-in or an afternoon siesta to catch up after a sleepless night.

Most people know how badly sleep deprivation can affect our health and exactly how to help ourselves get a decent kip, but these are the basics:

  • a cool room (open windows and a quiet fan – start cooling the room down as early in the day as you can)
  • no caffeine after mid-day
  • don’t eat just before bedtime
  • switch off the TV and all your screen devices at least an hour before bed
  • if you need to relax before you can sleep, read a book (an actual one – no screen devices, remember) or have a cool bath
  • drink a glass of milk.

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Hot weather doesn’t have to be a torment when you work from home. You just have to prepare and think ahead.

Enjoy the summer.

Image courtesy of Stanley Dai on Unsplash

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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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