Project Planning

Project planning is something that I have always felt pretty comfortable with. I always begin with a Task Analysis, something I have talked about in an earlier blogpost, and as someone who loves a To Do List as well as clearly agreed deadlines and processes, project planning is something I genuinely enjoy and always appreciate once the project is underway. It not only allows you to ensure that you remain on schedule and budget, but if done properly (and if you want that level of information), you can use it to evaluate the delivery of a project once complete.

Lately, I’ve been spinning a lot of plates and I felt that my current system – a combination of a detailed calendar, which includes notes on tasks and how long I’ve spend doing them, plus my trusty To Do List in a notebook – wasn’t working anymore. I needed more of an overview of my calendar and I needed to stop scouring my notebooks and emails for something I knew I’d written down but couldn’t remember when.

After winning two contracts recently that require delivery over the next six months or more, it made me think that I needed a new project management system in place if I’m going to keep on top of everything and work effectively.

Project Management is a topic that comes up frequently in online freelance groups, usually in the form of someone asking for advice about how best to keep on track with everything. Some use specific project management software e.g. Trello and Teamwork; others have created their own systems that work for them.

After exploring some of the available software options, I decided that I really couldn’t be bothered to learn yet another platform and that good old Excel would do the trick. And after some trial and error, I created my glorious new Project Management spreadsheet.  Whilst I’d love to share the actual spreadsheet with you, I can’t – it contains personal and financial data. Instead, I thought I’d talk you through it in case any of it is of use to you.

The spreadsheet itself is really very simple…

Calendar Tab

The first tab is a visual calendar that lets me see, at a glance, when I’m busy.

It’s set up with Months/Weeks running across the top in Rows 1 and 2, and live projects listed out down the side in the first column. Each project has been assigned a colour.

I block out weeks, colour-coded by project, according to the agreed project timeline. This allows me to see when I’m working on multiple projects in one week or if there are weeks that are currently free that I can shift some work to and therefore take some pressure off.

Project Tabs

Each live project I am working on has its own tab.

On each tab I include everything I can about the project so that I’m not having to route around in multiple places to get an answer.

Each tab includes the following:

On-Boarding Client Checklist

  • Is a contract in place?
  • Has a payment schedule been agreed?
  • Who are my key contacts?
  • Have I connected to key contacts on LinkedIn?
  • Have I got permission to talk about working with the client on Social Media?

Project Details Table

  • Client name
  • Project title
  • Total fee
  • Total number of days / hours assigned
  • Key contacts names and email addresses
  • Project timeline (agreed during the brief/proposal stage) listing out broad activity and any key dates

Project Outputs

All agreed project outputs that are agreed at the beginning of a project are listed out in a text box. I use this as a checklist to ensure that I’ve delivered all of the agreed outputs, and if I produce anything outside of the original scope of work, I make a note of it here so that it doesn’t get forgotten about. This allows you to keep a track of any added value you bring to a project.

To Do List

A detailed To Do List is included in a text box. I typically set out the list based around my initial Task Analysis and then add to it as the project progresses / things come up.  As I complete tasks, I delete them from the list.

Invoice Schedule Table

Most of my projects require multiple invoices because I typically ask for a portion of the total fee upfront and then agree a payment schedule for the rest, usually based around the delivery of key phases/outputs.  This table lists out:

  • All the invoices related to the project e.g. Invoice 1 of 3, Invoice 2 of 3, Invoice 3 of 3
  • The corresponding invoice number
  • The date the invoice was issued / is due to be issued
  • The invoice amount
  • Whether the invoice has been paid or is outstanding
  • Total project fee

Off-Boarding Client Checklist

  • Has the client been sent the final report/files?
  • Has the final invoice been issued?
  • Have any outstanding invoices been paid?
  • Has any client personal data been securely destroyed? (if appropriate)
  • Ask client for a testimonial.
  • Add testimonial to website and/or CV as appropriate.
  • Organise and archive project files.

And that’s it. It really can be as simple as a couple of tables and text boxes. I’ve been using it a few weeks now and feel that it’s already helped me to keep on top of things more, and its given me an overview of my diary for the rest of the year, which is something I was lacking before.

I’d love to know what you do when managing projects – any tips and tricks to you’d like to share? Is there some software you just cannot live without? Or are you more of a pen and paper person? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

Is it you, is it me?

We’ve all been there right? Rejection sucks. But it’s all part and parcel of being a freelancer so as harsh as this sounds, you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Since I went freelance, I’ve pitched for a number of contracts where it didn’t work out and the client decided to go with someone else. Did I take it personally? No – and this comes from someone who normally wears their heart on their sleeve. Outside work, I take a lot to heart, but business-wise, I’m pretty good at separating personal feelings from potential work. Once I get a contract, I’m all-in, I’m totally invested. I want to do the best for my client and ensure that they are happy and satisfied with the work I produce – that is massively important to me. But potential work; work that I haven’t actually got yet; I generally roll with the punches.

Not taking things personally aside, my Top Tip would be DO NOT PROJECT. When you put in a proposal for work, never think of it as in the bag and start projecting what that would mean – in relations to your business, financially, whatever, just don’t do it. Instead when you submit a proposal think ‘it’ll be nice if that comes off’ and then put it to the back of your mind until you hear back. It’ll save a lot of over-thinking and disappointment down the line.

Here are my other tips for dealing with work rejection. First up, deal with your feelings:

  • Accept it. Accept that in this case, whilst you may feel you are the best person for the job, someone else doesn’t. That doesn’t mean you’re not good at your job, it just means you weren’t right for this job and that is totally fine.
  • However you feel about it, you’re allowed to feel. But try to keep those feelings in perspective. Don’t start spiralling and overthinking things. Remember that you are good at what you do and an unsuccessful proposal doesn’t change that.
  • Focus on the wins. When I was only a few months into freelancing I pitched for a big contract that in my mind, I had no real hope of getting. Instead I got to interview stage, and whilst I ultimately didn’t get the job, I felt really good about the rejection. Why? First of all, I got to interview stage when I didn’t even expect a response. Secondly, following feedback I learnt that I’d been up against two long-established companies who could bring extra resources to the table. And finally, I made a new connection which has since led to another contract.

Once you’ve processed how you feel, it’s time to move on to the all-important formalities.

  • Say thank you. It doesn’t matter how far you got in the process. Whether you simply submitted a proposal and didn’t make it through to the next round or whether you got as far as interview and presentation, thank the client for the opportunity.
  • Ask for feedback. You won’t always get it but if you do, accept it for what it is. Personally, I’ve found the feedback experience very positive. It can give you insights into things you may need to improve, it may have been about fit or perhaps you lost out to someone with more experience than you. All feedback is useful.
  • Ask to stay in touch and ask them to bear you in mind should they need any future work. Then connect on LinkedIn.

And that’s it. You will get rejected at some point I’m afraid, but there are always more contracts in the sea.

How do you deal with work rejection? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

Just Say No

As a freelancer, especially a new one, it’s extremely tempting to pitch for every proposal that comes your way. When it’s feast or famine, you should take what you can get right? Wrong. You can save yourself a lot of pain in the long term if you carefully and honestly assess whether you think it’s a right fit before you spend any time on a proposal.

Don’t forget that proposals take work! On average, I’ll spend at least half a day writing and finalising a proposal, not to mention the associated thinking time prior to writing it. I have a day rate and I try to think of any work I do (including writing this blogpost) in those terms, even if I am spending time doing something for my own business. Time is money and all that.

So how do I decide when to pitch and when to say no to work? I follow some simple rules…

Do I want to do it?

So far if my initial internal response has been no, I haven’t pitched. That may change as work dries up, who knows. For now, I like having the ability to decide what work to pitch for and what work I want to avoid.

Be gracious

If someone sends a brief my way way or I’m specifically asked to pitch for something, I am always appreciative of the opportunity and thank that person for considering me in the first place. I give a brief justification as to why I’m passing on the opportunity so they aren’t left feeling confused, blindsided, or duped, after all, I don’t want to burn any bridges. And I ask to stay connected – just because I’m saying no now, doesn’t mean I’ll always say no – so I ask them to keep in touch and bear me in mind for future projects.

Be honest

I am totally upfront about what I can and can’t do and I don’t sign up to work that I know I don’t have the skills to deliver. From experience, the client/potential client has always massively appreciated my honesty – saying no in this context saves everyone a lot of time and future headaches. And saying no doesn’t always lead to a negative outcome – three personal examples being:

  • A potential client required some work that was outside my skills set. I told them what I could do and sought approval to engage a subcontractor to deliver the elements I couldn’t, the client agreed and consequently I am delivering the bulk of the contract whilst working with an associate I know can deliver the bits I can’t.
  • Flipping the above scenario, for four contracts, I have been that subcontractor/associate engaged to deliver particular parts of a proposal that is being led by another freelancer.
  • A freelancer approached me to deliver some work in a subcontractor/associate capacity. I recognised that the work was outside my skill sets; told them as such and recommended someone I thought who could help. They appreciated my candour and I didn’t get the job; but I did get a potential lead for future work after I told them what I could do.

Know your time commitments

There’s a job that I’m not pitching for this week because I know I’m too busy with other work during the project’s timeframe. I have to consider my existing clients and ensure that any new work doesn’t detract from my commitments to them. It’s important to me that my clients are happy. In this instance, I can’t commit the necessary time that the potential project requires and therefore wouldn’t be able to produce the standard of work that I’d like, so I’ve simply not pitched.

Know your worth

Since I started freelancing, there have only been two briefs where I’ve looked at the scope of work then looked at the proposed fee and just thought no. In both instances, I didn’t pitch. I valued my time more.

Out of the work I have pitched for, only a third of the briefs have come with a defined budget. For the rest, I submitted a task analysis and cost breakdown based on my day rate to reach a final proposed fee.

When considering a brief with a defined budget, my starting point is to take the proposed fee and divide it by my day rate to establish how many days’ work it equates to. I then estimate how long it would take me to deliver what they want. Can I do it within the budgeted time? If not, am I willing to spend longer delivering the work for a lower rate?

It’s time to make a pros and cons list – what are the advantages/disadvantages of doing the work? I weigh up the reasons and then decide how flexible I can be with my day rate – something I’ll discuss more at length in a future blogpost.

Go with your gut

This is a bit vague but you all know what I mean. If you get a bad feeling about a potential job/client and can’t shake it even after asking the right questions, go with your gut, it’s probably right.

So far I’ve only experienced this once. A potential client who had asked me to pitch supplied a brief that made me think they didn’t know what they actually wanted. There were conflicting objectives within the brief and despite trying to gain clarity, I couldn’t. I decided that no matter what I delivered, it wouldn’t be right because there wasn’t a clear original common understanding, so I politely declined.

Get it in writing

If I successfully pitch for a job, I make sure that before I begin work, I have a contract in place that outlines the scope of work, objectives, deliverables, timescales, fees and agreed payment schedule. It is important that everyone is on the same page before a project begins. I typically say no to any work taking place until a contract has been exchanged. Not only does it give me better legal standing should any dispute arise, it also outlines what work I have agreed to, and if I’m asked to do more, I can then negotiate that as additional work.

Be prepared to down tools

If I have an agreed payment schedule and am delivering the work but not being paid, without good reason, I say no to undertaking any future work until the problem has been rectified and payment has been made. I’ve had to do this once.

Ooof that was a long list! Apparently I like saying no. It’s empowering.

When do you say no? Have you ever regretted saying no? Have you ever wished you’d said no? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

One year on…

It’s not quite the anniversary of when I was sent home to work remotely as COVID-19 took hold of the country – that was a week ago and to be honest, it passed me by without me realising. But the one year anniversary of when we first went into Lockdown has just passed.

That year has gone both incredibly slowly and quickly for me.  The first few weeks were a blur as we tried to juggle working from home with having two under 5s around. The one saving grace being that because they’re so young, we didn’t have to home school. Shout out to anyone who managed to navigate that nightmare!

Once I was furloughed, everything slowed right down. We all got used to the ‘new norm’, I bought anything that could keep the kids entertained without us actually going anywhere, we painted rainbows, we baked, we went on walks, we clapped. In July, I decided to take voluntary redundancy and everything slowed down more as the clock ticked down to my leave date on 31 October 2020.

And then everything started to speed up again as I tried to prepare as best I could for the future. I built my website, I spent time on LinkedIn, I tentatively took my first freelance contract (with permission of my employer as I was on notice) – I did whatever I could so that I’d be ready to hit the ground running when I could actually go self-employed in November.

Since then time has been moving fast. I’m busy, working on a variety of interesting projects with some really lovely clients. The kids are back in nursery so I’m sort of back to a usual working week, albeit with a lot more breaks, naps and random days off (after all, I am the boss).  For me, it’s relatively good and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

Depressingly though, theatres, museums, galleries and other cultural institutions are still closed. Some have mothballed, some have been re-purposed for the immediate future, some managed to pivot and offer up digital content, some re-evaluated their offer and managed to support their communities in amazing ways, but the ability to be able to share experiences with other people is still very much missed.

So one year on, I’ve reflected on the things that I miss, the things I definitely don’t miss and the things that I have much more appreciation for. We all know I love a list, so here goes:

Thing I Miss

The People

God I miss the people. That was the best thing about working at The Lowry – the people. They were all so enthusiastic, passionate, knowledgeable and friendly. It sounds corny but there really is a ‘Lowry Family’ – that’s why so many people are still in touch with those who have moved onto pastures new. It’s not because we like networking, it’s because we genuinely like each other and when someone goes, they’re missed.  I miss my morning chat at Stage Door. I miss catching up with the early birds (those in before 8.30) as I passed through the main office with my first brew of the day. I miss the people I shared my office with. I miss my team. I miss the artists, companies and agencies I worked with on a daily basis. I miss the volunteers. I miss visitors and audiences. I miss them all.

My Team

I miss the people obviously, but I also miss being part of a team. I miss being able to look up and simply ask the person next to me a question. Or, as was more usual in my case because I wasn’t in the main office, pick up the phone or go for a wander (and another brew) and speak to the person I needed to speak to. I miss sharing and bouncing ideas off other people. I miss working on collaborative projects. I miss the support. I miss going for team lunch.

An Office Chair and Decent Kit

I’ve already lamented this in my previous blog post. Never again will I mock health and safety desk assessments. My back is ruined. As soon as I have a few more contracts in the bag, I will be investing in an office chair and hopefully a new laptop.

A Finance Department

So underrated, often taken for granted, yet so essential. Now I have to actually engage with this process. When I say engage, I’ve got myself an accountant and some accountancy software to make life easier. I am not built for this. I want someone to chase my invoices for me.

Cheese Pie

Anyone who tried this in the ‘Village’ (staff canteen) at The Lowry will understand. It was on the rolling menu once every six weeks. I’d probably fight you for it.

Things I Don’t Miss

The Commute

My commute, like it is for many others, involved a lot of rushing about as I was responsible for the kids’ drop-off on the way. I worked a 4-day week so on the days I was in work, the kids would either be at nursery or with one of their grandparents. This involved a lot of rushing around and planning at home – trying to get three people out the door with everything they need is hard work. I also had to ensure that I could set off for work, from wherever I’d dropped them, during that sweet spot in traffic before it adds another half-hour to your journey. After work, I’d always be rushing home – mainly because I missed my kids but also because if they were at nursery, I’d be fined if I was late collecting them. Life without a commute is way less stressful. I will grant you, however, that I miss the two hours of solitude as I sat in traffic. Anyone with children will understand. Silence is golden.

Unnecessary Meetings

I think most will be able to relate to this. I’m not saying meetings aren’t valuable – of course they are. So far, I’ve not actually met any of my clients face to face and that feels weird to me. Sure we’ve met on Zoom/Teams what have you, but it’s not the same. So in some ways, I do miss meetings. What I’m talking about are meetings about meetings, meetings for meetings sake, meetings with no agenda (not even a loose one) – I don’t miss those.  

Internal Politics

There are no internal politics now, apart from my husband’s indecisive lunch requests – that’s annoying. I’m a Limited Company of one and I only have myself to answer to.

Working in an Office with No Window

Don’t get me wrong, I liked my office and the people within it but a window would have been nice.

Fire Drills

Things I Appreciate More

Time

Time is now my own. I’m in control of when I work, how long I work for, to some extent who I work for and with, as well as what work I produce. I also have more time because I don’t have a commute, have to attend regular meetings or get involved in things/projects that don’t strictly concern me. The time I spend on client projects is dedicated – I’m not pulled in multiple directions trying to deliver other elements of a job description – and my work is of better quality as a result. I can take time off without asking anyone. I can go for a walk with my neighbour, have a bath in the middle of the afternoon or watch a film without being disturbed. It truly is liberating and I value my time so much more now. My work-life balance is a million times better.

My House

I love our house. It has always felt homely and like a sanctuary from the rest of the world. But whilst I love my house, but we were never meant to be inside is 24/7/365 – it’s not natural!  Even those who worked from home before all this had other places to go and people to see. None of us were meant to spend this much time at home and it shows. The wear and tear of our house has been significant over the past year. There are now cracks in the plaster where there weren’t before, the carpets are more worn, a multitude of things have been broken. These things will all get fixed with time but it’s made me appreciate the basics at lot more.

My Relationship

Without being overly soppy, I’m extremely grateful that I have a supportive partner and that we still very much like each other even after being locked down for a year. The past year has put a strain on many relationships – I don’t mind admitting that we have bickered more during this period than at any other point of our 22-year relationship, we’re all human and lockdown has been hard. I’m supremely thankful that we have emerged unscathed, especially when others have not.

I’d love to hear from some of you. What do you miss? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

Remote Working

As we hurtle towards the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 crisis and the country entering national lockdown, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the workplace has changed.

For those that had to continue to go into work to deliver essential services, we owe you a huge gratitude. You are the everyday heroes who stepped up and worked incredibly hard when it was needed. Emergency services and health care staff, shopkeepers and supermarket staff, delivery drivers and postal workers, cleaners and refuse collectors, teachers, chefs, community workers,  volunteers and carers – thank you for keeping everything going while the rest us were furloughed or working remotely.

More people are working remotely/from home than ever before, some are also trying to juggle the nightmare that is home schooling (not me, I’ve dodged that bullet due to my kids’ ages), people’s availability has been affected by personal circumstances, lots of people haven’t set foot in their workplace for nearly a year, some people (like me) have left jobs without ever saying goodbye and some people have started new jobs without ever seeing their desk or meeting their team mates in person. It’s fair to say, the workplace has been hugely affected by everything that has gone on.

And when things do start to open up again, everything will be different. There will be COVID-safe policies and procedures to follow and social distancing to maintain.  Some organisations have already said they won’t be returning to 100% office working; others such as Twitter, Facebook and Shopify, are now offering staff the opportunity to work remotely on a permanent basis. Conversely, Boris Johnson has dismissed the idea that remote working is the new norm, stating that commuters will return to offices in “a few short months” and that “British people will be consumed once again with their desire for the genuine face-to-face meeting that makes all the difference to the deal or whatever it is” (The Guardian).

My husband and I are currently both working at home. We don’t have a massive house – what was the office is still the nursery – so we’ve found ourselves sharing the dining room table. In terms of work, he has an employer so his working pattern fits within the traditional Monday – Friday structure with weekends off, and at some point, he will be expected to return to the office. I am my own boss so my working pattern is structured around our kids and their schedules. The obvious benefit of this is I get to spend a lot more time with my family, which is fantastic. I feel this particularly because I took a short maternity leave with my second child, which I invariably feel guilty about, and I really feel like I’ve got that time back with him. But whilst all this extra family time is great, it means a lot less work time for me.  Often, on the days the kids are in nursery, I barely look up from my laptop because I know I have a set amount of hours to get the job done. If I don’t finish what I need to during the day, I pick it up again after the kids have gone to bed. A few weeks ago, I found myself formatting graphs at 11pm whilst watching Taskmaster repeats. It’s a good job that I love Excel.

That’s not to say I’m complaining. I actually love what I’m doing – the work is interesting and varied, and I’m incredibly grateful to have clients and nice clients at that. I know how lucky that makes me and I appreciate it immensely because taking the leap from full-time employment into the freelance life was scary! I may be working condensed or odd hours but I am working, and I’m working a lot less than when I was employed. I am also able to switch off, something I was struggling to do before as I raced around trying to deliver my role along with whatever other projects had come up, and still get to nursery on time for pick up.

I used to think working from home was the dream – what could be better than not having to schlep into the office every day and having meeting after meeting? In reality, whilst I enjoy working at home, I do miss contact with others – I miss the buzz of the general office environment, I miss the support you get when working in a team, I miss catching up over a brew or going for a quick walk with a colleague, I miss having people there to bounce ideas off, and, more than anything, I miss meeting my usual gang for lunch and setting the world to rights. That being said, working from home is pretty awesome – you just need to get the balance right…

Tips to improve remote working

  • Get dressed – as tempting as it is, don’t sit around in your pjs.
  • Don’t turn the TV on. Your new best friend is the radio. Our station of choice is BBC6 Music. We like to play Mary-Anne Hobbs Bingo (ding ding ding whenever she mentions John Peel). We occasionally mix it up by putting on a record – something we rarely do these days as small, sticky hands are usually nearby and they do not mix well with vinyl (we cannot have anything nice).
  • Have some sort of structure. Mine is respond to emails first thing, write a to do list, work, walk, work, lunch, work, get the kids.
  • Sit at a table if you can – don’t sit hunched on a sofa/bed if you can help it – and sit on something comfortable. If you can, get a proper office chair. Take this from someone who has sat on a piano stool since November. I’m currently on the lookout for a suitable chair – my lovely neighbour has loaned me hers in the interim. I will never again mock health and safety desk assessments. I took having the right equipment for granted.
  • Take regular breaks – even if it’s just to make a brew (I always have one in hand) and stare out of the window for 5 minutes.
  • Make sure you stop for lunch. I wasn’t doing this at first and would just woof down some food without looking up from my laptop but now I make sure I take at least 30 minutes and actually notice what I’m eating.
  • Get your daily exercise! It’s extremely tempting for me to power through whenever I’m child free – it’s the only time I get any work done. However, I’ve started taking a daily socially-distanced walk with my next door neighbour. It’s great – we both get fresh air, we can use each other as a sounding board, offload frustrations and enjoy a break from the screen.
  • This one is a bit of cheat as I haven’t actually put it in practise yet (due to lockdown restrictions) but when things do begin to open up, I have plans to meet with a freelance friend once a week for a coffee. We’re going to treat it like a mini team meeting –  updating each other on what we’re doing, asking for advice/help if needed, peer reviewing each other’s work etc. and, most importantly, eating cake.

I’d love to hear from some of you. Do you have any remote working tips you’d like to share? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

LinkedIn Tips

Okay, okay, this blog post is very late but there was Christmas, then I hit the ground running in the New Year with three different contracts and an interview to prep for, so apologies that this is late! I’ve been meeting myself coming backwards.

As promised, I said I would talk about LinkedIn in this post. Full confession, I am (much like a lot of people in the arts and cultural sector) a late adopter when it comes to LinkedIn. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always seen it as more of a corporate space.

I joined in 2017 after much badgering from the good husband (who has been on it for years). I was returning to work after the birth of our first child and I had made a conscious decision to really focus on my career development and the necessary networking that would go alongside it. So I joined LinkedIn, filled in my profile and got connecting left, right and centre. It wasn’t until I had a career coaching session with the lovely Kym Bartlett, that I realised that maybe…

  1. I hadn’t been using LinkedIn effectively
  2. That there is an etiquette (who knew,  not me)

If you use LinkedIn all the time, the following tips may seem really basic, but as a newbie to the platform, I found them useful:

Update Your Profile

This is your shop window as it were – it is how people are introduced to you and first impressions count.

  • Pick a suitable profile picture – it should be recent, actually look like you, and a close-up shot (not a long distance one). You should look friendly and approachable.
  • Use your headline – it doesn’t have to be your job title, it can include a little more about you and what’s important to you.
  • Don’t leave the summary section blank – this is your chance to really sell yourself. Don’t just list your previous roles and skills; explain how your skills can help potential clients and what difference you could make to them.
  • Ensure your employment history is up to date.

Think About Your Skills

Go through LinkedIn’s list of skills and select those that are relevant to you – this provides a mechanism for other users to endorse you. This helps reflect what you have included in your headline and summary and allows people to endorse you later on. Try to only include your core skills i.e. your specialities, as opposed to a long list of generic skills.

You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Yours

Endorsements from others are a great way to increase your credibility. Go through your network and identify connections that genuinely deserve an endorsement. If they don’t reciprocate, don’t be scared of reaching out with a private message asking them to endorse your skills too. Remember, that the worst they can say is no. 

Recommendations

Same goes for recommendations – personal testimonials about the experience of working with you –don’t be afraid to reach out to your connections to request one. Again, the worst they can say is no.

Grow Your Network

This is where I hold my hands up and admit I was doing LinkedIn all wrong! I was hitting the ‘Connect’ button in the same way that I’d ‘Add Friend’ in Facebook. I’d send the request and if they accepted brilliant, if not I kind of forgot about them. I didn’t send an introductory message, a follow up message, nothing – I just hit that ‘Connect’ button and hoped for the best.

In terms of etiquette, I have since been informed that when requesting to connect, you should send an introductory message explaining who you are, why you’re connecting with them, and mention any mutual colleagues etc. to give you some context. And obviously, don’t go in with a sales message in your first communication.

Some ways to grow your network include:

  • A very quick way to grow your contacts it to synch your profile with your email address book and see who LinkedIn suggests you connect with.
  • If, like me, you have left an organisational setting and gone freelance, make sure you go through your old work contacts and connect with them.
  • Identify your competitors and connect with them. If you connect, then you can look at their network and see if there is anyone you should be trying to connect with yourself.
  • Take advantage of free trials e.g. Sales Navigator can help you with prospecting.

That’s it, my LinkedIn Tips that while basic, will help improve your profile. I’d love to hear from some of you. Do you have any LinkedIn advice you’d like to share? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

The Top 5 Things to Do First as a Freelancer

5 minute read.

When I accepted voluntary redundancy in July, due to my 3 month notice period, I had some time and some breathing space to really think about what I wanted for my future before actually being made redundant on 1 November.

I am extremely lucky in that I have a very supportive husband who advised me to use that time to take a month off just for myself; to process what had happened, to grieve for a job that I loved and to get some rest and relaxation while I could. Which I did – it was glorious, I baked and watched loads of box sets whilst the kids were at nursery.

However, I knew I couldn’t sit around binging Schitt’s Creek forever, so in September, after deciding I wanted to go freelance, I started to put my plans in action. Here are the Top 5 Things I did First…

What kind of company are you going to be?

I have luck on my side as hubs works in accountancy and finance, so he was able to tell me what my options were, of which there were three:

  1. Sole Trader – you’re self-employed and run your own business as an individual. As a sole trader you keep your post-tax profits but are responsible for any losses your business makes.
  2. Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) – you officially work in partnership with at least one other person/company and you each share responsibility for the business’s expenses and losses. You share the profits once all parties have paid the tax on their share.
  3. Limited Company – if you want to be legally distinct from your company, a limited company keeps your business finances and liabilities separate from your personal finances. You need at least one director/shareholder and there are more rules.

I chose to set up as a Sole Trader and registered as such with HMRC, which was super easy to do. Now that I’m a few months into freelancing, I’ve got myself an accountant (not my husband) and they are currently arguing that I should change to a Limited Company. I’m still deciding, so watch this space!

What services are you going to offer?

For some, the answer to this will be clear. If you’re a specialist then obviously that will be the focus of your business. But what if you have quite a broad skills set? Are you going to be a jack-of-all-trades? Or are you going to focus on a particular area? A fellow freelancer also asked me if I wanted to be the kind of freelancer who ‘helicoptered’ into organisations needing temporary contract support e.g. covering someone’s mat leave. Only you can decide what’s right for you.

Choose what you are going to call yourself and buy your domain

I stuck with my name and added the word ‘consulting’. I did this because I’ve worked in the arts and cultural sector for 18 years and certainly within the Manchester area, I am known by industry colleagues. It was also much simpler than trying to think of a swanky creative name.

I had zero experience in building websites so I asked a chum who is into all things digital, where I should begin. They were incredibly helpful and gave me the run-down on all the service providers – I eventually settled on WordPress – and then they set me off building it. It may be quite a simple site, but I was so proud of myself once it was done.

Register with HMRC

Up until now, I have been employed so have had pretty much zero to do with HMRC directly – the accounts team took care of all that.  But I’m going to say it… tax does not have to be taxing! HMRC are a lovely and helpful bunch, and they had me registered as self-employed in a jiffy. You’ll be filing a tax return once a year so keep a record of everything you earn and what you spend on your business. You can offset some of your business expenses against the tax payable, so keep all your receipts! I decided to splash out on an accountant because time is precious and with two smalls running around at home, I’d rather someone else do my paperwork so I can spend time with my boys. I have however, appointed hubs as my in-house book keeper and, if required, invoice chaser.

Put Yourself Out There

I used to hate networking but it’s absolutely essential as a freelancer. Over the last few years, I have learned to embrace networking and honestly, I’ve had some of the best conversations with people I may not have otherwise met/talked to. These days, due to COVID-19, most networking is done over LinkedIn (the topic of my next blog post) or Zoom/Microsoft Teams/Google Hangout, whichever digital meeting room you’ve been invited to.

Have a presence. Tell people about yourself. Make yourself known. This could be on digital platforms like LinkedIn or it could be simply reaching out to old contacts to let them know you’re now freelance and available for work if they’d ever like a chat. It’s scary I know but you are your own champion. You need to put the time and effort in.

That’s it, my Top 5 Things I did first. I love a Top 5 or a Top 10 for that matter… maybe I’ll do a follow up post.

I’d love to hear from some of you. What are your tips for setting up as a freelancer? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether. And if any of you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share, I’m sure myself and others would appreciate them.

If you’d like to get in touch, please visit my website

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here

New to freelance? So am I!

5 minute read

Hello

I’m Kate, and blogging, like being freelance, is completely new to me. I don’t know why I haven’t done it before. It’s probably a combination of not feeling like I had anything to say, and general lack of time. So what’s changed? Well, now, I have oodles of time. I used to work a busy four-day week, often working into the evenings trying to cram everything in. Then in March, like for countless others, that disappeared overnight when I was furloughed due to COVID-19.  I also feel like I now have something to say. I’ve been freelance since mid-October and it has been a steep learning curve. I’ve learned so much stuff in the past eight weeks and people have been so helpful that I really want to share what I’ve learned in case it helps any other new freelancers out there.

But before I do that, I want to tell you a little bit more about me and my background. I’m 39. I’ve been married to the good husband for nearly 10 years but we’ve been together for over 20. I have two pre-school kids running around at home, and until very recently, I was Head of Visitor Insights at The Lowry in Salford Quays.

Now here’s the bit I always feel funny saying out loud… I worked at the SAME organisation for over 18 years. I realise that’s unusual and that most people my age will have had many roles in various companies – it’s literally a question I dread in interviews – but I joined The Lowry in Salford Quays straight out of university in 2002 and until now, leaving hadn’t ever really been on my agenda because they always supported me and developed me further.

Sure, I looked around from time to time but I loved it there. It’s a great organisation full of the most wonderful, creative and friendly people – I’ve made some of my closest friends working there. It really was my dream place to work.

I started out in their Learning & Engagement Team as their Administrator, moved into their Ticketing Team working in Group Sales, and then in 2005 landed where I actually wanted to be, in Marketing. To get there, I basically offered my services for free and worked on marketing projects in my spare time until they gave me a job as Marketing Assistant. Once there, I worked my way up to Marketing Executive running marketing campaigns then became Print & Publications Manager, responsible for all Lowry-produced print and the supporting analysis. This is when I fell in love with data.

Data is the beating heart of any organisation; and when it is robust, understood and interpreted properly, it can bring powerful insights that can be used to inform strategy. I find data utterly fascinating. I can’t get enough of it and that’s why I then used my time in work to become its advocate. And not just in work, in the sector – I became much more active, getting involved in sector-wide projects and sitting on an insights panel that met quarterly with Arts Council England. Eventually along with some colleagues, I co-founded a new professional network, Culture Insights Professionals (CIP) – aimed at those working in data and insights roles in the arts, cultural and heritage sector. But that’s another blog post.

Back at The Lowry, my role developed alongside the ever increasing demand for data and evidence based insights. The first to include a focus on data was Audience Intelligence and Brand Manager. In this role, I was responsible for much more data analysis and insights, and led the CRM strategy. But I was still producing print and it took up a lot of my time and there was so much more data to explore. Within a couple of years, the need for data had grown again and my role changed to Visitor Insights Manager, with a sole focus on data, research and insights. Then with the glorious arrival of GDPR, and I say that completely without sarcasm, who knew I’d love GDPR almost as much as I love data? I became Head of Visitor Insights responsible for everything that came before but with some bigger projects and the added responsibility for over-seeing the implementation, delivery and on-going compliance of GDPR on top. And I did that until COVID-19. Bloody COVID-19.

The arts and cultural sector, as I’m sure many of you know, was absolutely devastated by lockdown. Organisations across the country shut their doors with no idea of when they’d next be able to open, let alone welcome visitors and audiences again and under what conditions that would be. They lost their income overnight, staff were furloughed or put on skeleton staff, countless casual workers and freelance staff lost their future income and in some cases their jobs, volunteers lost their shifts, visiting companies, artists and producers lost their events and tours, and the Government were silent – it was awful. By the time the Government bailout was announced, it was too late for some; countless people had already lost their jobs, skills and knowledge were being lost from the sector, and many organisations had entered into consultation, The Lowry included. The Lowry really tried to do the best by their staff and offered their own job retention scheme but after two lots of maternity leave in the last few years, my family and I couldn’t make it work so I opted for voluntary redundancy. And that is the story of how I ended up here, someone new to the world of freelance, providing data services, research support and insights to arts, cultural and heritage organisations and those working in the sector.

As I say, I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks and I want to share it with you in case even a tiny bit of it helps. So over the next few posts, which I’m aiming to post fortnightly, you can expect to see:

  • Top 5 Things to Do First (when setting up as a freelancer)
  • LinkedIn… who knew there was an etiquette? Not me!
  • What I’ve been up to work-wise

I’d love to hear from some of you. Are any of you new to freelance? If so, please introduce yourself in the comments section and tell me a little bit about you. How are you finding it?

Are freelance hints and tips, ups and downs the sort of thing you’d find helpful? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether. And if any of you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share, I’m sure myself and others would appreciate them.

And if you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me here