Many wonder about what I do when I’m not contracting so I thought I’d write about it. Other freelancers will recognise the various enquiries ranging from the straightforward, “have you got a job yet?” to the more subtle, ‘“it must be wonderful to have so much free time.” Whether you’ve asked me directly or just been quietly curious, this one’s for you. If you’re thinking about it or are new to freelancing this may give you some useful insights or ideas. By the way, this isn’t exactly true to the title because there isn’t really a typical day - but it ranks quite well as a headline. One of the advantages of how I structure my working life is that I can change up my routine when I want to, within reason.
Firstly, when I don’t have any contract work, I’m not unemployed. I’m self-employed, the director (and sole employee) of my own company. I pay myself a salary every month, even if I am not in a contract. That salary is funded by my company’s previous earnings. Secondly, I’m not always necessarily looking for another contract straight away - although I’m always open to discussing opportunities for any leaders or recruiters reading this! I’m fortunate in that I only need to work (for money) part-time these days. But as an interim resource for busy teams, it’s most likely that the contracts I take are closer to full-time. Months when I am contracting can get pretty busy. Therefore, my version of part-time is months-on, months-off.
So, I tend to take the first couple of weeks after a contract finishes off paid work and business development completely. Think lie-ins, Netflix and increased attendance at the gym. But all good things must come to an end and then I make a plan. It’s usually divided into ‘business’ and ‘house/self’ and it’s high level ambitions for each that I want to achieve before my next round of paid work. The personal stuff isn’t really that interesting so I’ll focus on the business side, using what I have been doing since April as an example. My high level list was this: website, online presence, office, communities, training. Yes, it needed more work to be usable as a plan - that thinking time takes a while too.
I updated my website content for my last contract and rewrote the existing pages, then added some pages to make it compliant. I do this myself using a fairly idiot-proof website builder. I added a blog and started posting regularly. (Getting inspiration for and then writing content takes ages by the way - I’m a numbers person, remember.) I also updated my CV and LinkedIn profile, but confess I sought professional help for those, which meant I only needed to draft the raw content. Next came engaging much more regularly on LinkedIn, for any post you have seen of mine I have probably read, commented or engaged with at least 10 others. I spend far more time on LinkedIn than Facebook because that’s where my biggest audience hang out. I only know this from also having set up and tracked how well other platforms work for me from a business perspective: Google My Business, Facebook Business and Twitter. I also bought a mailbox so that I could have a corporate email address from my domain - let’s just say the support team at my web-hosting company really earned their fee, I’ve not got the greatest grasp of how these things work. That was May basically - business admin.
An interesting conversation in June reminded me that I needed to get some software sorted out. My previous contracts have provided me with a laptop + office software, but I want to be ready for any commercial situation. For personal stuff I get by with Google, but I decided to invest in MS Office for my business. Although it was fairly straightforward it still took a technophobe like me a little while to get every application running smoothly - you tested my patience, Skype for Business! Hats off to the tech support team again at my hosting company.
Also in June was some serious business reading and National Freelancers Day (covered in my previous two blog posts.) NFD was a big deal for me because I don’t like crowds, but I got to meet some other freelancers IRL who I interact with in the Freelance Heroes and Being Freelance communities. At NFD I had some professional headshots taken and also shortly afterwards started to explore online marketplaces because one of those platforms was a sponsor for the event.
I set myself up on two online marketplaces, but nothing interesting to report so far. I’ve done one tiny piece of work on one, but I continue to respond to requests and scan the opportunities to give them a fair shot. So I moved onto training. After some research, I subscribed to DataCamp and have currently completed 22 courses and 3 projects in R (c. 100 hours coding.) I’m at the point now where I’m confident enough to run a project using it which is a big step forward on this time last year. Obviously, I’ve done my homework on a backup and know what the investment would be to buy commercial software if I need to. Sticking with the organisation theme I also: started to use Asana to track all this progress; set myself up on HubSpot to get my conversations about business opportunities in some kind of order; enrolled on GitHub to get my side-projects under control. June = business systems.
Every week, I volunteer one afternoon at a school during term-time, one morning in a charity shop and have just started as a befriender at my local hospice. That probably totals about a day a week on average, give or take. They’re all local roles so the travel time to and from is negligible. The school role involves a little bit of prep beforehand and I’m always in trouble with the kids for not remembering to restock my sticker collection frequently enough. I have so far successfully kept these commitments up while I have been in contracts too. This is partly due to what I have chosen to do - only the school has a fixed minimum time commitment, so I can prioritise paid work over the other two if I need to, especially because I tend to do more for those charities I have more free time. It’s also thanks to the companies that I have worked with too, who have trusted that I will get their work done and can accommodate a few hours a week when I am not contactable during office hours - thank you.
I don’t formally log my time when I’m not in a contract but if I add up the time spent on the business related activities above, include emails/phone conversations, routine admin like bookkeeping, time spent interacting in business-related communities, or more random activities like speaking with journalists or researchers, I reckon I clock up about 20 hrs/wk when I’m ‘not working.’ Something to ponder on before you tease a freelancer for taking lots of (unpaid) holidays, or as a hiring manager judge someone on the gaps in their CV without asking them what they were doing. Or if you’re someone thinking that self-employment is for you this may be a useful peek into what it entails. Now that I’ve done it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
ps. Now that I’ve ticked everything off my current business list I’m exploring opportunities for my next contract.