I’ve been freelance since 2015 and let me tell you, it can be lonely. Sure it’s great being your own boss and all, having flexibility and setting your own goals but often it can be pretty isolating. I’ve had lots of days in the past where I didn’t speak to anyone until my husband got home in the evening. Trust me, that’s not good for anyone’s mental health and wellbeing.
Not to mention there’s no one to run ideas past, ask for feedback on a piece of work or advice on how to handle a situation.
So over the years I’ve built a few techniques to help me look after myself. I hope they help you too. And if you have any to share, I’d love to hear them in the comments!
Find a tribe
According to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), there are 74,000 freelancers in the UK. That’s a whole lotta people to connect with! But where do you find them…?
My favourite place to connect and chat to fellow freelancers is over on The Freelance Lifestylers Facebook group run by Emma Cossey (Ward). It’s brilliant. Not only can you ask for advice or support with any issues you may have, you can also have a vent or a rant if you need to.
Sometimes the things people post are just laugh out loud – like talk of how to keep warm without putting the heating on constantly (cat warmer, anyone?). It’s nice to feel part of a community, even if it’s virtual.
Get an accountability partner
This is a tip I picked up from fellow friends and freelancers, Fran Swaine and Lisa Clavering (who are each others accountability partners). Basically, find someone who wants to partner up with you and then you keep each other in check through weekly calls (or daily WhatsApp voice notes in my case).
My accountability partner is Jen Lowthrop, who is an Agile digital consultant and happiness trainer. Like me, Jen is also a trustee of a charity and, a dog lover and a fellow travel blogger – so we have loads in common.
At the end of last year, we shared our goals for 2020 and how we might achieve them. We also send each other our weekly to-do lists and then send updates when we’ve ticked off tasks. As well as having someone hold me to account (which is great for my productivity), the best thing about our relationship is that we support each other, offer advice, run ideas past each other, lend a sympathetic ear and give each other a firm kick up the butt when needed.
I know that if something is worrying me, or if I’m feeling impostor syndrome creeping up on me, Jen will help put things in perspective. And vice versa. It’s like having a cheerleader and business coach in your pocket.
Organise co-working days
Sometimes it’s nice to work alongside someone, even if you’re not necessarily working together on a project. Just having company can make a world of difference. Plus you can of course have a chat from time to time. Just make sure your co-working day doesn’t turn into a social occasion where you don’t get any work done (been there, done that. It’s not helpful.)
Join a co-working space
Last year I decided I was tired of working from home as it was affecting my mental health so I looked into co-working spaces. The problem is – in London anyway – they are so bloody expensive.
It was by chance that I happened upon an Instagram advert advertising The Wing, which was opening a branch in London. It’s a community and co-working space for women to take up space, be seen and be heard. When women gather we can go further, faster, together.
Update: The Wing closed down in 2020.
As The Wing closed just months after I joined, I found an affordable co-working space nearer to my home. It’s brand new, bright and filled with lovely plants!
If you really can’t afford a co-working space, see if you can work in a client’s office one day a week. Or, take my tip and work in-house from time to time.
Take a lunch break
You would take a lunch break if you were employed* by an organisation so why wouldn’t you take one just because you work for yourself?
I find that by taking a proper lunch break, I not only add routine to my day but it also makes me more productive in the afternoon.
*Ok, actually many people in-house DON’T take a lunch break, preferring instead to eat at their desk and work through it. Please don’t do this. It’s not healthy. Everyone should take a break – get some fresh air, read a book, chat to a colleague, meet a friend, visit a gallery etc. Did you know that if you worked through your lunch break every day, you’d be working an extra 235 hours a year? For FREE.
For me, going to the gym, going for a swim or running in the morning really sets me up for the day. Maybe it’s the endorphins or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve already accomplished something before starting work that helps me with my wellbeing.
I particularly enjoy swimming as my phone stays in the locker and I get to have around 40 mins of no screen time or even music. Also, when I swim I just count laps so it’s quite monotonous but relaxing.
I don’t exercise every day, usually every second day, but I do notice a change in my focus when I find time to exercise.
Know your productivity levels
One of the best things about being freelance is setting your own hours. You are not tied to a 9 to 5. I know that I’m my most productive early morning and the least productive after 3 or 4 pm.
That’s why I prefer to start my working day at 7 or 8 am and finish when my productivity begins to wane.
It’s also really important to try stick to an eight hour day when possible. As freelancers, we know there are times of feast and famine but try not to over do it in those ‘feast’ times where you’re working all hours of the day to get your work done. This can lead to burnout.
It’s really important to set boundaries when you freelance. Think of it as your own Employee Handbook. Make it clear to clients your working hours and how you prefer to be contacted.
Recently I had to tell I client who was texting me at night that they needed to email instead. Those texts were encroaching on my personal time and putting my head back into work. Similarly, I don’t have WhatsApp notifications enabled either. If clients need to get hold of me then email is best for me and if something is urgent, they can always call.
And when you go on holiday, be sure to tell your clients well in advance and set an out of office on your email. Don’t be tempted to check in constantly. You deserve a rest too.
And on that note…
Go on holiday
If you were employed, you would be entitled to paid holiday leave (usually 25 days in the UK). Of course as a freelancer there is no paid holiday, however that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any.
Taking a break is so important for your wellbeing and to recharge your batteries. Take as much, or as little, as you need and can afford. And a holiday doesn’t necessarily mean having to go away – a staycation is still a holiday!
If you can’t afford to take off a week or two at a time, then consider a day off every month or a long weekend every couple of months.
At the end of 2019 I authored A Wellbeing Guide for Comms Professionals with CharityComms. It’s packed full of expert tips and techniques and case studies. It’s aimed at comms professionals but really it’s for everyone. You can read the free Wellbeing Guide for Comms Professionals here.