I’ve been self-employed for six months now. In some respects it seems like only yesterday that I was writing my blog post about my first day as a freelancer, and in some respects it seems like a lifetime ago. So what have I been up to in the last six months? Here are some of the things I’ve been working on:
- leadership development programmes
- facilitating action learning sets
- providing coaching
- developing and delivering workshops (including the one on statistics; blog post about that to come with some Very Important research findings)
- analysing usage data
- evaluating training
- researching user needs
- planning conferences
- writing articles
- reviewing articles
- researching and writing blog posts
- attending events
I’ve also booked a holiday (Vegas and Orlando, so excited!), visited some local attractions, been ziplining, had a spa day, visited the cinema quite a few times, taken time out for lunch/coffee, and spent time with family and friends. It’s not all been fun fun fun though; in fact there have been some pretty low times too.
Many people have said I’m brave to have taken the leap to self-employment and have asked me what it’s really like. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a little bit about what my experience has been like so far.
The positive aspects have included autonomy, authenticity, and fulfilment.
The biggest thing for me has been how empowering it has felt to be able to be more in control of all aspects my work; the projects I focus on, the way I work, and when I work. I was fortunate to have a good level of autonomy in my previous job (it’s something I value highly), but freelancing takes this to a whole new level. Obviously, there are some things I have to compromise on at times, but I have a lot of freedom.
Linked to the above in that I am more in control, but authenticity is more about allowing me to be truly myself. I wasn’t really aware that I wasn’t doing this before, but there has been a definite shift now that I’m only accountable to myself and am not part of a bigger organisation that I represent. Again I’ve been fairly fortunate in previous jobs, though there have always been times where the direction of a project/service/organisation isn’t the direction I would choose – I’ve always been happy to support the decision that has been made, but it occasionally was in conflict with what I would have done. Now my organisation is me, so there’s no potential conflict anymore.
The main reason I chose to go freelance was to enable me to focus on the work I find really fulfilling, and I’m pleased that so far that is mostly the case. That’s not to say I find everything I do fulfilling (who finds every email or meeting fulfilling? I still have those), and it’s not to say I didn’t find my previous work fulfilling (I confess I do really miss some of the work I used to do and one service in particular!), but in general I’m now able to spend more time on things that I find fulfilling, whether they’re paid or voluntary, whether they’re within traditional working hours or outside of them.
The more negative aspects have included isolation, self-doubt and uncertainty.
An obvious one of course, but I’m surprised how much this has impacted me. I’ve been a predominantly home-based worker for a few years now so am used to being independent, and in my previous role my organisation consisted of myself and my (part-time) manager who I saw perhaps every 2 months, so I didn’t think I’d really notice much difference in this respect. However, I was part of a number of different project/service teams, and although we all had defined roles, we were in regular communication and we helped each other out. It’s the small things I miss like being able to ask someone for feedback on a partial draft or asking someone to help me out with something when I’m busy, or being able to offer help to my colleagues when the situation is reversed. I do still work in collaboration with others, but I definitely want to do more of this in future, both to help reduce the isolation and also to improve the quality of the work – bouncing ideas off someone else always helps me.
Linked to the isolation is the fact that I have to rely on myself a lot more for confidence and reassurance in what I’m doing. When you’re working with others you’ll often receive regular thanks and appreciation from colleagues and, for most people in the library and information sector, from users. I do still receive thanks, but generally not as often. To take an example, when I’m delivering a workshop on my own I’m usually fortunate and receive thanks after the workshop in the form of verbal thanks and formal feedback. When I’m delivering a workshop as part of a team, even before the workshop has begun I might receive thanks for setting a date, organising the venue, setting up the booking system, promoting the workshop, working on the agenda, developing content, preparing materials for any practical exercises, checking a colleague’s slides, testing materials, turning up early to help set up, bringing a sign in sheet, organising name badges, etc etc. It might sound needy to want to be thanked for every small thing you do, but when you previously had that and you lose it it’s definitely noticeable! There are times where this lack of feedback affects my confidence and can lead to self-doubt.
An obvious one, but one that I’ve certainly experienced and probably the biggest struggle so far. My partner is also self-employed so from a financial perspective we live in a constant state of uncertainty. As a freelancer you can’t really be certain about your financial situation until the money is in your bank account (which is often a very long time after you start the project!). It’s not just financial uncertainty though, it’s also your time and commitments. Plans change on a regular basis, and particularly when it comes to project-based work. When you’re employed by an organisation, these changes can usually be absorbed fairly easily by adjusting other things or helping each other out. When you’re a freelancer and working on a number of different projects, sadly there’s not much you can do when things are cancelled or rescheduled; there’s sometimes a bit of leeway you can flex to but generally it’s down to you to sort out the problem. It can lead to a feast or famine type situation and the mental energy needed to deal with either of those circumstances is high.
The verdict so far
It’s not been plain sailing by any means, especially with some other life changes I’ve been dealing with, but overall I absolutely love freelancing. It suits my way of working and has definitely been a positive move for me. I can’t say for sure if freelancing will be a long-term career choice for me, but for right now it’s brilliant.
So far I’ve been very fortunate to have been contacted by organisations inviting me to work with them on some great projects. Over the next few months I want to continue to strengthen collaborations and I also want to make more time for developing new things including:
- Support for people and organisations wanting to do more research (including a series of practical research workshops, blog posts, and hopefully videos)
- Providing coaching to individuals and organisations
- Helping other people develop coaching skills and put them into practice in action learning sets
- Getting back into the habit of regularly sharing my learning (e.g. book reviews, blog posts, possibly some vlogs)
I’m also really keen to get involved in more practical research projects in libraries; please get in touch if you have an idea for research and would like support, whether you’re seeking advice or looking for additional resource to help progress the research.