For the first time in my ten-year freelance career I took July off from all client projects*.
Rewind six months.
Back in January I was feeling worn out. Juggling ten different contracts, I was run down and lacking in motivation. Projects had been delayed. Work was contracted and subsequently cancelled without explanation. And I was experiencing a big dose of imposter syndrome on projects that just didn’t feel quite right.
Working with a business coach, it became clear that I needed to evaluate what I was doing and why. And it’s no wonder really. I hadn’t revisited my brand values or overall approach since I started the business in 2008.
It took months of planning to be able take July ‘off’. I had to:
- prepare and manage my cash flow very carefully
- be strong at saying no (to new projects, project extensions, and ‘can you just’ emails)
- manage the expectations of clients and any ongoing projects around my availability
- secure work for August so I had new projects lined up.
But it’s been well worth it. From business planning and creating my new brand (launching this autumn) through to updating my CPD plan and making headway with side projects. I’d describe it as liberating, refreshing, stress-reducing, cathartic and busy. It took some adjusting. At times it felt self-indulgent. I often felt guilty. But in any moments of doubt I remembered that I was giving myself permission to work on the business, and that it was more than OK to do that.
So in case this is useful to anyone else — especially those who’ve freelanced a while — here’s what I’ve taken on board from the whole six-month process (including July):
1. If things don’t feel right with your business, find time to pause, refocus and reset. Don’t panic and start thinking freelancing isn’t right for you — you might just need to make some adjustments around what type of work, and how much you’re taking on. Remember why you started your business in the first place
2. Wherever possible, only work with clients who match your own values (and be clear about what these are)
3. Think carefully before writing a proposal and/or taking on a piece of work. Does it meet your perfect client brief? Will it overload you? Will it add something new to your CV? There are times where saying yes to a project and worrying about it later is a good thing to do. But it can also be extremely stressful, especially if it’s not your area of expertise
4. Position business planning, admin, finance and so on as a piece of work in its own right. Treat your business the same as you would a client project, allocating time to it each week or month — block time out in your calendar and stick to it
5. Sometimes clients are willing to wait for you and/or agree more realistic time frames. I’ve been astonished at how flexible time schedules can suddenly become if you have an open dialogue about your availability and/or what’s realistically achievable
6. Try and meet someone new each week — inside and outside your line of work. Connections and continuous self-marketing are key to gaining knowledge and business development, and it’s very easy to get complacent when you’ve been freelancing for a long time
7. Hire people to work on project admin or work elements that gives you time back to spend on more constructive — or enjoyable — parts of the job (and build these costs into your proposal fees / day rate)
8. Your brand is important and should be regularly reviewed and refreshed just like any other business. And I mean brand in its true sense, not just your logo
9. Switch off social media and email to get more work done. It is OK not to be available 24/7, as I talked about a while back
10. Exercise. Even just ten minutes’ walk away from your screen can give you some headspace. And means less guilt over that afternoon piece of cake.
Taking a month off client projects is not going to be a one-off. I’ll definitely do the same next year, and will start planning early for it.
*Except interviewing visitors at Fountains Abbey. But I was cool with that.
Marge Ainsley is a freelance cultural consultant, trainer and professional facilitator.