May 2017 Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

In February 2017, I decided to start sharing my monthly business reports. In these reports, I discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I made towards my 2017 goals. I also give a snapshot of my earnings.

May continued to be a purposeful slowdown period for my business. I focused on getting everything ready for the new baby and took some time off. Still, May ended up being a more profitable month than April.

Here’s what happened in May.

Positives

  • Continued low stress/routine work

I have a few clients that I’ve worked with for years and I continued working on their projects through May. This work is usually low stress and doesn’t take a lot of time so it was perfect for my slowdown period.

  • Prepared for maternity leave

I met with a local client to discuss my leave and sent off documents detailing my maternity leave to other clients. I wanted to make sure I had this done in advance because Norah came almost three weeks earlier than her due date. Unfortunately, being self-employed means that I will not be receiving any benefits or pay during my leave, but it also gives me the opportunity to choose how much time I want off and come back when I’m ready.

Negatives

  • Less income coming in

I will continue to bring in less income until September when Norah starts preschool and I establish a routine with my son. I don’t have the time or energy to hustle for more business right now.

  • End of nap time work session

Norah started phasing out naps in February and has completely stopped taking them at this point. This has been a bit of an adjustment because I did at least 2 hours of quality work during her naps each day. My schedule will continue to shift and evolve as my son is born in late June/early July and Norah enters preschool in August. Fortunately, I mostly roll with the punches and I’m motivated to find ways to balance everything and make it work.

  • Not enough time to work on EBA

I’m still working on the Elite Blog Academy course, but unfortuntely with the lack of naps and general pregnancy exhaustion I haven’t had much time to do anything towards this personal goal. I hope to have more energy and time to work on this in the last half of the year.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

I don’t want to say this goal is impossible for this year, but it will be difficult. I have a lot of ground to make up from my lost clients before I will be at the “increasing income” level. Right now I’m trying to get back to where I was in January.

2) Get another local client

This goal is on pause until September.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

Hopefully, we’ll get something put together by late summer/early Fall.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

This goal is on hold until 2018.

Income Snapshot

Income statement May 2017

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

 

Why Freelancing is Great for Small Town Living

I live in a relatively small town of 10,000 people. The adjoining metropolitan area has a population of 150,000 people. While there are opportunities here, they are not always easy to find.

When I decided to start freelancing, one of the biggest perks was being able to work with people who weren’t from around here. This gave me an opportunity to meet people that I’d never have a chance to interact with as well as to charge rates that people here would not be able to pay.

At one point in my career, I thought I’d need to move to the suburbs or a major city to achieve the goals I set for myself. Freelancing showed me that isn’t the case. In fact, I think being a freelancer in a small town has more perks than being a freelancer in a big city. Here’s why freelancing supports small town living.

Bigger opportunities and more of them

Freelancing, or even just working from home, opens the door for more opportunities than local job hunting. You can work for any company, located anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your home office.

Freelancing allows you to work with many different companies and learn their best practices. This gives you an opportunity to advance your skills, offer more services, and demand higher pay.

Freelancing in a small town means you aren’t limited to working in the companies or industries in your area. You are able to apply for remote positions around the world; all you need is a reliable internet connection. Freelancing will give you access to bigger opportunities than your town can offer.

Often it can be difficult to find a job in a small town because the competition for one position can be high. In an area with a high unemployment rate, there are potentially hundreds of people applying for the same position. As a freelancer, location doesn’t matter. You are able to apply for the jobs that directly relate to your skills regardless of where you are living. This gives you a much larger pool of opportunities to draw from.

Higher pay

Typically, a company or individual will gear their budget to the cost of living in their area. If you live in an area with a low cost of living, like myself, you will get the benefit of your money stretching further than someone in a higher cost of living area.

When I work for a San Francisco based company, I am paid San Francisco wages even though I live in a much cheaper area. A marketing person making the average $75-$100K per year there may have trouble making ends meet, whereas the same salary where I live would be almost double the median household income.

Your quality of life can be a lot higher while freelancing in a small town than it would be in a big city.

Better job security

In some cases, you will have more job security while freelancing because your job is not tied to your local economy. For a person that lives in an area where things aren’t going too well, that’s a great thing. My town routinely has businesses close their doors and large companies leave the area. This has been devastating to some families. Having a location independent job, like freelancing, can prevent the local economy from affecting your family.

Many of the companies I work for are based in up and coming areas where business is booming. I get the benefit of their expanding economy without having to move there.

One of the best (and potentially worst) places to find freelancing work is out of Silicon Valley.

Often startups provide awesome benefits and pay, but the jobs can be gone in the blink of an eye. Five months after I left the startup Zirtual, they imploded and over 400 people lost their jobs. Thankfully, many of my former coworkers were able to take their skills and start their own virtual assistant businesses.

That said, job security is not guaranteed with any company in any city. Freelancing allows you to work in different cities while minimizing the risk of their economies. It also allows you to have multiple income streams coming in so that one client quitting will not kill your business.

Exposure to trends

Finally, a non-monetary benefit to freelancing while living in a small town is exposure to trends you may not have heard about otherwise.

Things that are popular on the coasts often don’t make it to the Midwest for months or even years. Freelancing allows me to stay on top of business and popular trends. I can use this information to appeal to clients in larger metropolitan areas without actually living there. This knowledge allows me to keep my rates competitive with those freelancing in bigger cities.

Freelancing is a great option for those who live in small towns. You get the benefits of bigger city wages, opportunities, exposure, and job security without giving up the community and space to roam. If you live in a small town, before you think about moving to a big city to pursue your dreams, give freelancing a try!

Why freelancing is great for small town living

Setting Boundaries With Your Clients

One of the hardest things about working for yourself is setting boundaries with your clients. While there are clients who will respect your limits, there are others who will continually push or break the boundaries you set up.

Before you start working with a client, make sure you have set boundaries in your own mind. Take some time to brainstorm what your boundaries are.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my hours of operation?
  • How do I want my clients to get in touch with me?
  • Will I answer calls or emails outside of my hours of operation?
  • Will I allow for urgent or rush requests? If so, what will I charge?

If you don’t set boundaries, you can get yourself into some sticky situations.

I had a client who continuously pushed boundaries, leading to dozens of text messages at all times of the day and night. If I didn’t answer, the texts and emails would just keep coming. I ended up getting very stressed out. I felt like I didn’t have any control over my own schedule even though I did!

There was one particular instance where my husband and I had taken my daughter out of town on a Sunday adventure. While we were enjoying our time together, this client began repeatedly emailing and texting me. He vaguely threatened to end our work together if I didn’t resolve an emergency that he had. I had to explain that it was Sunday, I wasn’t working and I was two hours away from my computer. The whole incident ended up putting a damper on our plans because I was so worried about him firing me that I couldn’t enjoy my day. The client and I eventually parted ways and my stress levels decreased immensely.

Set firm boundaries from the beginning

As they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Once you establish what you are willing to put up with, it’s hard to backtrack. Setting firm boundaries from the beginning of your working relationship will ensure that both parties are on the same page. This also allows you to avoid the “But you answered my email at 11 pm on a Saturday last time!” comments.

You set your client’s expectations. If you set unrealistic ones, you are going to disappoint your client and drive yourself crazy.

Realize that once you break a boundary, you are inviting your client to continue breaking that boundary. Worse yet, you are telling them that your boundaries are flexible and if they push hard enough they can get you to change your stance.

Be crystal clear about your boundaries

Don’t live in the in-between. Make sure that your clients understand your boundaries. If you decide that you are not available to your clients past 5 pm, make sure you are never available to them after that time. You don’t want there to be a gray area. Gray areas cause disappointment and unmet expectations. Then you may have to deal with a client who is angry because they feel that you haven’t lived up to what you promised. Even if you never promised to be available at all times.

Stick to your boundaries

The hardest part of setting boundaries is sticking to them. Once you have clear boundaries in place, you need to make sure that you don’t waver from them…no matter what your client does. Some clients, and people in general, don’t respect boundaries. They will push beyond what you’re comfortable with, no matter what you say to them. This is where you must dig your heels in and be firm and unemotional. Don’t let someone else’s emergency or lack of planning become your problem.

No matter what you are being paid, you aren’t being paid enough to be someone’s on call assistant 24/7.

Boundaries are an important part of maintaining a small business. Without them, you lose control of your time and energy. When you start working with any new client, be sure to address their expectations and be clear with your boundaries. This will ensure you have happy clients who give positive reviews and refer you to others!

Five Cons of Working From Home

Although there are many pros to working at home, there are some parts that aren’t all sunshine and roses. Working from home may be many people’s dream, but it is definitely not for everyone.

As I approach three years of working from home, the pros still outweigh the cons. But don’t get me wrong, there are cons.

Here are some of my least favorite things about working from home.

1) Isolation

Working from home can be very isolating. Assuming you are the only person working from your home, you will be alone all day. Email will often be your only form of communication. If you live alone, you could go an entire day without saying a word out loud. Being isolated can be depressing and discouraging.

You may have coworkers, but they will also be remote and not likely to live near you. It’s harder to form friendships with people that you’ve only emailed or had phone calls with. In addition, online relationships don’t give people the same satisfaction as in-person ones. You may feel lonelier after talking with someone online than you did before.

2) Distraction

“Oh, I just remembered that I haven’t watched the latest episode of How to Get Away With Murder, let me stop working and turn that on.”

Working from home can be very distracting. All of your fun gadgets, TV shows, video games, or other forms of entertainment are at your fingertips. Even if an office job is boring, you probably don’t have the ability to watch TV from your desk without consequence.

Even if fun things don’t tempt you, you may want to do your dishes, run the vacuum, or take a nap instead of working. It can be stressful to have a messy house when it’s also your office space. You may get distracted and start doing errands during prime work time.

You have to have strong willpower to avoid becoming distracted while working from home. For some people, this isn’t possible.

3) Poor work / life balance

When your home and your office are essentially the same place, it’s easy to blur the lines between work and life. You may sneak in 20 minutes of work before making dinner and then check email in bed before going to sleep. Sometimes I find I’ve worked on and off the entire day without doing much else.

If you don’t separate your personal life from your work life, you will eventually burn out. Sometimes, the burn out is spectacular. Tim Ferriss’ assistant had a mental breakdown and abruptly quit his job due to burn out. Other people experience a low-grade resistance to doing work, become careless or sloppy, and feel a general disinterest in life.

4) Weight gain / sedentary lifestyle

You may think that when you work from home, you’ll quickly do a workout or go to the gym in the middle of the day to break up the monotony. There are people who do this regularly!

I almost never put on a workout DVD while I was home and Norah was asleep. However, in my experience (working from home while taking care of a newborn – toddler), I often did not have the energy or the time to do anything except work. I didn’t have the time to head to the gym or go for a walk most days.

I’ve since lessened my workload so that I’m able to include things I want to do in my day, but I still can’t say that involves regular exercise.

In addition, I have full access to my pantry and fridge at all times. This has led me to drinking too many cups of coffee with sugar and creamer. I eat way too much snack food while I work.

When I worked in an office, I brought my lunch and snack and when I ran out of food, I was hungry until I went home for dinner. My office had some vending machines and a cafeteria that served breakfast and lunch, but often I wouldn’t bring money with me and those expenses weren’t in my budget. My lifestyle allowed me to maintain my weight, give or take 10 pounds, for six years. After I started working from home, and had my daughter, I quickly put on 35 pounds.

Even if you don’t gain weight, you will probably have a much more sedentary lifestyle working from home than you did in an office. In my previous life, I showered, got dressed, did my hair and makeup, packed a lunch, grabbed my books, walked to my car, drove to the office, walked into the building and moved around a decent amount throughout the day. We had a morning standing meeting that was typically 20 minutes long. We had meetings in other rooms throughout the building. I went on walks with my coworker on our breaks. I filled up a water bottle 2-3 times per day from a fountain around the corner. I did a decent amount of moving even though I had an office job.

At home, I move a lot less. I get my daughterr things when she asks for them, but the kitchen is a 10 foot walk from the living room. I am usually on a kitchen chair, at the dining room table, or downstairs in my office when I work. Almost all of work is done sitting down in a chair because I am constantly typing. I try to incorporate more movement into my day, but it is difficult.

Becoming very sedentary is a definite con of working from home. Remember sitting is a deadly disease!

5) People don’t think you’re working

Working from home is taken a lot less seriously than working in an office. I’ve had to set boundaries with people and explain that just because I work from home doesn’t mean I am able to run errands throughout the day, do frequent favors for others, or have visitors drop in unannounced. Although I enjoy some of these perks, they aren’t something that I can do regularly and maintain my workload.

Doing things in the day often guarantees that I’ll be working until 11 pm. Sometimes I have to make the choice to enjoy my day knowing that my night will involve working until midnight.

Working from home takes a lot of discipline and self-motivation. It can be lonely, boring, and difficult. It does have many perks, but the disadvantages are weighty too. The internet is full of articles about how great it is to work from home and although that is mostly true, you should be aware of the negative side of working from home before making the leap.

Dealing with Early Pregnancy Symptoms While Freelancing

Freelancing while pregnant can be tricky. You may not feel your best, but you need to keep up a high standard of work. If you’re a solopreneuer then there’s no one else to take on responsibilities when you feel terrible. Your workload will rest on your tired shoulders. So, how do you get through the early days of pregnancy without destroying your business reputation?

During my first pregnancy, I worked in a traditional office. I was able to prop up my swollen feet on a stool, take breaks every few hours, and walk around when I was uncomfortable. My coworkers were mostly women and several were mothers themselves. They were supportive of whatever I needed to do to get through the workday.

This pregnancy was a different experience. I’m the sole owner/employee of a small business and I work from home. As I often say, I’m a full-time mother first and a freelancer second.

Another big difference between my first pregnancy and this one was that I already had a child to take care of. This made for some exhausting days. Lifting my 25-pound daughter on and off the toilet, getting her in and out of her car seat, and helping up and down the stairs made my pelvis ache constantly.

That said, I had a lot more freedom to take care of myself during this pregnancy.

Here are some things you can do to make freelancing during pregnancy easier:

Take breaks when necessary

Growing a human takes a lot out of you! The first trimester is especially rough because your energy is drained and you may experience morning sickness.

While freelancing, you have the ability to take breaks when necessary.

You can limit calls in the afternoon and take an hour long nap. During the first trimester, I often took naps while Norah did. As my energy increased, I was able to work per usual during her naps. Sometimes I chose to sit in the bath or read a book to take a mental break from working.

I also left my mornings open to relaxation with minimal work. Instead, I focused on getting things done around the house.

Change your routine

The freelancing routine that worked before you got pregnant may not be so great once you’re feeling sick and tired. You may want to wake up later and do more work in the evening or flip your schedule if you’re exhausted at night. You may also want to alter the times during the day that you typically do things.

During my first pregnancy, one of my biggest nausea triggers was taking a shower and drying my hair. I would get overheated while getting ready every morning.

Freelancing from home allows me to take a shower whenever I want during the day and dry my hair hours later or let it air dry. This helped me avoid overheating and helped with my morning sickness.

I also did more of my work in the evenings when I found that I had more energy and felt less ill.

Ask for help

If you have a trusted person you can delegate work to, now would be the time to do so. If you subcontract employees, you could let them know that you’ll be increasing their workloads for a few months. If you are the only person running your business, you could ask your friends or spouse for some help in other areas of your life. Don’t be too proud to reach out.

While I was able to continue completing all of my work on my own, I asked my husband to take on more household duties. I simply didn’t have the energy to keep up with my daily chores and work while in early pregnancy. My husband was a huge help and did things that are normally my responsibility, like laundry, until I felt better. Once I got into the second trimester, I was able to balance work and household duties and didn’t need as much help. However, my husband has always split the household work with me so this wasn’t a big adjustment.

Take on less work when you feel sick

Even if you’re a highly productive person, you may have trouble keeping up with a packed schedule while pregnant. You may need to stop taking on new clients or projects for a while.

In the beginning of my pregnancy, I took on less work and didn’t actively pitch to new clients. I didn’t want to start work with someone when I was feeling terrible. On top of having first-trimester sickness, I also came down with a bad case of bronchitis that lasted nearly six weeks. I was in no shape to take on extra work. Once I felt better, I ramped up my workload.

Take on more work when you feel better

Eventually, the clouds will part and the sun will shine on your pregnant belly again. You will start to feel better, usually by the second trimester. Even though you probably won’t feel 100%, you will be able to get back to business.

I increased my workload tremendously in the second trimester because I felt much better. I also had plans for my maternity leave and needed to make extra income before my due date. I was able to keep up my workload from 13 weeks on.

Freelancing while pregnant is tough especially when you are the person solely responsible for your business. Don’t be afraid to scale back, ask for help, and change your routine until you’re feeling better. Eventually, you will get back to normal. Your goal should be to make the transition as painless as possible for your clients and yourself.

Dealing with Early Pregnancy Symptoms While Freelancing

Using Wunderlist to Keep Track of Client Tasks

Staying organized is one of the most important keys to success for freelancers. You need a task management system that ensures that nothing falls between the cracks. The best system will be the one that works for you.

I’ve known people who write everything on post-it notes and others who prefer to digitally record all of their tasks.

I do a mix of both. I keep all tasks online, using the free app Wunderlist, and I also write up a to-do list on paper each morning.

Tracking tasks with Wunderlist

I use Wunderlist to keep track of all client and personal tasks.

When I receive a task in my email, I read it over and then copy/paste into Wunderlist. I save these tasks individually in the client’s list.

If a due date is provided, I add it. My standard turnaround time is 48 hours unless a different deadline was agreed upon.

I set a reminder on each task for the day before it’s due.

When the deadline approaches, Wunderlist will display a pop-up reminder and send an email about the task.

How I organize Wunderlist

To set up Wunderlist, I created two main folders – Clients and Inactive Clients.

In those folders, I create a new list for each client labeled with the client’s name.

In those lists, I add all of the daily tasks for the client.

I also keep my personal to-dos in Wunderlist under categories such as “Housework, Admin, and Things to Buy.” I also record tasks for this blog and The Sturm Agency in Wunderlist.

Other features of Wunderlist

The free version of Wunderlist has numerous other features including:

  • Subtasks, notes, files, and comments. You can add these components to each task.
  • Setting recurring tasks. I have numerous recurring tasks, usually involving invoicing or doing some specific task each week or month.
  • Starring. This allows you to prioritize or distinguish a specific task.
  • Sharing. You can share lists with another person.
  • Emailing and printing list

Paid plans include even more features like:

  • Unlimited subtasks
  • Unlimited files
  • Unlimited assigning/delegating tasks
  • More backgrounds

The pro plan makes collaborating with teammates on Wunderlist streamlined and simple.

Using a paper to-do list

I prefer to be a little old school in my daily approach. Each morning I look at Wunderlist to determine which tasks are due that day then I write up a to-do list on paper. I previously used a small notebook from Amazon ($10), but am now using Leonie Dawson’s Shining Year to-do list that came with her 2017 planners.

I write down my to-do list items in order of importance. Typically the first 1-3 tasks must be done that day while the others have some leeway.

I enjoy both crossing something off a tangible list as well as clicking on a checkbox online. My system works for me because it allows me to keep everything in place while focusing on what I need to do today.

Finding a system that works for you will ensure that you never miss a deadline again. 

**This post contains affiliate links**

 

Using Wunderlist to Keep Track of Client Tasks

How to Develop Your Personal Brand as a Freelancer

Freelancing allows you to pave your own way and make a name for yourself. But how do you stand out from the pack? One of the biggest ways to do this is by having a strong personal brand.

Creating a personal brand can be tricky. You want to stay true to yourself while remaining professional. If you wouldn’t be comfortable saying it in front of mixed company then don’t make it part of your brand.

Three ways to show your personal brand

1) Have a distinctive look to your website with matching social media platforms

One of the best ways to create is a strong personal brand is to have a cohesive look across your online footprint. This includes your website, social media platforms, headshots, signatures, etc. Having a logo and color scheme is a great first step. From there, you want to make sure that everything coordinates so when someone finds your social media profiles they immediately know it’s you.

2) Share things about yourself in your biography or About Me page

Another great way to display your personal brand is to include interesting or personal things about yourself in your biography or About Me page. Use that section as a way to tell the story of how you got to where you are. Talk about where you came from, why you decided to go on this path, and what doing this work means to you.

Many people like including a non-sequitur, like how much they love tacos, in their biography. I think this is OK, but I’d make sure it flows with the rest of your biography. A bunch of random facts about yourself can end up looking like a survey or Facebook post.

Ultimately an About Me page is a way to sell yourself to your client. You want to list your talents and experience while showing your personality, but you don’t want your personality to be the only thing that someone walks away with after reading the page.

3) Express a passion for a cause/event/charity

Your online platform may be the perfect place for you to share something you’re passionate about. Most businesses, especially large corporations, have a charitable giving element.

If there’s a cause or event that you feel strongly about, include that on your website or in your work. Perhaps you could donate a certain amount of your profits to your cause or suggest that others contribute some amount when they work with you. Being an active member in your community is also something that you may want to highlight.

Three ways that personal branding can go wrong

Personal branding will be different for everyone. However, I would not recommend these three methods as ways to stand out.

1) Excessive or unnecessary swearing

This seems to be the most popular go-to for adding edginess or “uniqueness” to a brand. Unfortunately, swearing is not uncommon and most Americans won’t bat an eye at the occasional swear word. When swear words are thrown in for flair or drama, it just looks cheap.

Swearing is a shock and awe tactic that works wonders for Tony Robbins, but doesn’t always come off as well for everyone else. I don’t think excessive swearing has a place in copywriting. If you’re leaning on it as a way to differentiate yourself, it may be time to rethink your strategy because there are literally hundreds of people and brands doing the same thing.

2) Overuse of slang and emojis

Almost everyone uses the occasional bit of slang in their branding. Some slang, like the word ‘cool’, has become so culturally ingrained that you may not even realize you’re using it. Even though I regularly hear new slang, I rarely use it in my personal brand.

One of the main deterrents from using new, popular slang is that it dates your work. If you’re using 2014’s hottest phrase throughout your copy, your page is frozen in time. Unless you’re going to update all of your “on fleeks” to the current year’s version, you’re going to look irrelevant.

Emojis are fun to use, but can be easily abused. Using emojis gives a brand a playful image and adds an element of humanity to the message. However, using too many emojis or using them too frequently can look unoriginal and juvenile. If you can’t fully express yourself without an emoji then you might want to work on tightening up your writing skills.

3) Writing in one sentence paragraphs

It has become very popular to write blogs entirely in one sentence paragraphs. A typical blog will look like this:

This product is what you need.

Everything about this product is exactly. What. You. Need.

While breaking things up into paragraphs does make your copy easier on the eyes and keeps the reader more engaged, having an entire page of 1-2 sentence paragraphs is becoming cliche. This can’t be considered anyone’s particular style because, just like random swearing, it has been adopted by too many people.

It may take time to find and develop your personal brand style. You may have a few versions of it as you go along. Don’t be afraid to take some risks and put more of yourself into your business. Everyone wants to feel that there’s a real person on the other end of a transaction. And if you don’t like your brand, you can always change it!

How to Develop Your Personal Brand as a Freelancer

Setting up Your Maternity Leave as a Freelancer

During my first pregnancy, I was a full-time employee at a large company. They offered six weeks of paid leave (at a percentage of your salary) as well as the option to apply for a 12 week Family Medical Leave Act running in conjunction with your maternity leave. This would give a maximum of 12 weeks leave, six unpaid.

The facility I worked at had a beautiful “mother’s room” with a comfortable leather chair for pumping and a fridge for storing your milk. I only had the opportunity to use it once when I brought Norah in for a visit because I did not return after my maternity leave.

When I got the great news that I was pregnant with #2, I knew this would be a different experience. I was now a part-time freelancer and full-time mother to a 2 ½ year old. I had no childcare help. I knew I needed to get organized and I had nine months to do it.

Here are my tips for setting up a maternity leave while freelancing.

Make a budget

The most important part of freelancing while pregnant is being organized! You need to have a plan for your workload and your maternity leave.

Shortly after I found out that I was having a viable pregnancy, I started making plans.

I knew that I need to make approximately $2,000 per month to keep our budget the same. I decided early on that I wanted to take a minimum of 10 weeks off with this pregnancy. I had 10 weeks off with Norah and felt that it was the right amount of time to recover, get into a new routine, and want to start working again.

Deciding on 10 weeks gave me a monetary goal I needed to shoot for. I would need to make a minimum of $5,000 to cover the 10 weeks off. I preferred to set the goal for $6,000 so I’d have some wiggle room.

I started taking on extra work where I could. I pitched for more clients, raised my rates for current clients and requested more work from the people I subcontract for.

Here’s the breakdown of how this helped:

New clients:

First off, I vowed not take on a new client for under $30 per hour. I started with a $32 per hour rate and often didn’t dip below $35. The only exception was people purchasing virtual assistant packages.

Raising rates:

For one client, I raised the rates 32% because I had not received a pay raise in the 15 months we had been working together. For the another client, it was 20%. This brought in an additional $200 per month and only added a few more hours per month to my workload.

Subcontracting work:

Subcontracting work was where I found my biggest gains. I was able to increase my hours and go from making around $100 per week with one client to an average of $400. This alone gave me an additional $1600 per month to put towards the $6,000 goal.

Do this: Figure out how much you would need to make during your time off then add 10%. You want to make sure you’re not scrambling for work while dealing with sleep deprivation and raging hormones.

Inform clients

Because of my previous miscarriage, I wasn’t comfortable telling my clients about my pregnancy until I had confirmed that everything was normal. I waited until my 20 week anatomy ultrasound on February 15 to draft the email and set up meetings with clients.

I let my clients know how much I enjoyed working with them and that I was excited to share some personal news. I told them when I was due and that I would be working as normal up until that time. I personalized the letter to each client to address the specific tasks that I did for them.

There were clients that I was able to ask if I could batch work and complete things before going on leave, therefore leaving me some incoming money. There were others that I had to tell I wouldn’t be available in any capacity for 10 weeks. It depended on the client and the workload. I told them all that I planned to continue working together when I returned around September 15.

I decided that I would set a return date based on 10 weeks from the latest I could possibly have the baby. Should I have the baby earlier, then I would have more time to spend with him.

I didn’t want to worry about informing everyone that I’d had the baby and I would be off for 10 weeks from that point. Instead I told them to expect me to become unavailable around the last week of June/first week of July and returning September 15.

Do this: Be honest and upfront with your clients when you break the news. Tell them how much you appreciate their business and hope to continue the relationship. Then let the chips fall where they may. Some people will work with you while others may end the relationship. You have no control over your client’s reactions so try not to stress about it.

Work more

I knew that in the month leading up to my delivery, I would have to work more than usual. I did this by finding time to work when I could. This included working in the morning before Norah woke up, working in the evening while my husband fixed dinner, and forgoing some of my favorite shows to work in my office at night. This isn’t something that I would do long-term, but as a means to a (very important) end, I was motivated to keep my foot on the gas pedal.

I knew that I would have 10 weeks of doing nothing but caring for my new baby and toddler at the end of this grueling time period and that was absolutely worth it to me.

Having an end goal in place kept me sane and motivated to work.

Do this: Resist the urge to take it easy throughout your pregnancy. Even though you are tired now, you will be exhausted once the baby comes. Trust this second-time mama! Get as much done as possible before baby comes. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Relax and enjoy your leave

After all the preparations have been made, the last thing I need to do is relax and enjoy my maternity leave. I worked hard to set everything up and want to be able to enjoy it without worrying about work. The first few weeks with a new baby are so special and they go by extremely quickly.

Preparing for maternity leave as soon as possible is the best option for a freelancer. You are in control of how much time you take off and your financial situation. Make a plan, work hard, and enjoy the time with your precious new life.

Special note: My husband was also instrumental in preparing for my maternity leave. Although I was confident I’d be able to make the goal myself, he worked hard during my pregnancy to get a raise at his job and take on some additional freelancing work to add to the pot.
Setting up your maternity leave as a freelancer

Freelancers & Mamas, Work When You Can

As a freelancing mama, it’s hard to find time to get everything done. During my first year freelancing, I struggled to find a balance. I was working when I should have been doing other things like cleaning, exercising, relaxing, or spending time with my family. I didn’t get to enjoy my self-made schedule.

I thought that working from home meant I needed to be working every moment that I was at home. This was exhausting because I’m home 95% of the week. I couldn’t possibly work during all of my waking hours. That wouldn’t be fair to my husband, daughter, or myself.

After a year, I got into a better routine and became more comfortable with the idea that I didn’t need to constantly work. I realized work was always going to be there. I wasn’t ever going to reach a point where I completed absolutely everything, emptied the 4-6 inboxes I manage, and wrapped up all of my personal projects and goals.

Instead of worrying about working all the time, I started working when I could.

I used these methods to find a better work/life balance.

Wake up earlier

One way to I was able to get things done without feeling the panic of needing to do other things was by waking up earlier. Sleep is very important and I make sure to get at least 7 hours per night, but I didn’t need to get 9-10 hours every day. Instead, I would wake up before my daughter and get some work done in complete silence.

I found that 1-2 hours of concentrated work, without my daughter, was often more productive than 3-4 hours of work with my daughter around.

I don’t particularly like getting up earlier, but I know that I always have the option especially when my workload is heavy.

Dedicate one evening per week to working

Thursdays are usually my working nights. I go down in my office around 7 pm and stay there until 10 or 11. I don’t do this any other day of the week (unless there’s an urgent request or emergency).

Only doing it one night per week makes it tolerable. If I did this every night, I wouldn’t have any time with my husband. I chose Thursdays because my husband and I stay up later on Fridays and spend time together. Even if I’ve had a frustrating night working, I always go to bed thinking “It’s OK, tomorrow night I’ll relax.”

I also sneak in a little more office time when my husband travels. He travels for work anywhere from 2-10 days per month. When he’s gone, I typically spend the evenings working after I put my daughter to sleep.

Do a little work on the weekends

Most weekend days, I go downstairs and shut myself in my office for two hours. I typically do this as soon as I wake up.

I do my 30 minutes of writing and then tackle client work for 90 minutes. I can get a surprising amount of stuff done in that time because I’m 100% focused on completing tasks. When I come back upstairs at 10:30 or 11 am, I don’t feel like I’ve missed any of the day and my stress levels are decreased because I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Work in spurts

It will be years before I can work for an uninterrupted eight hours again. I plan on continuing to grow my business and work for myself for the rest of my life. This means that I probably won’t be working eight hour days until my daughter goes into kindergarten in three years. At that point, I hope to have more children that would still be home. With the amount of children I’d like, I estimate 3 – 10 years from now before I would work full-time hours again.

Instead of worrying about how much I’m working, I grab 10 minutes here and there throughout the day. My daughter can entertain herself long enough for me to respond to a few emails or jot down some thoughts for a future project or blog.

My brain has learned to run on spurts. I’ve gotten so much better at getting focused immediately. In college, I would sit at my desk for hours before I began writing a paper. Now, it’s do or die. I use the 10 minutes or I waste it. And I don’t want to waste it.

Take on less

At some point, you may realize that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. As my daughter has gotten older, I had to become comfortable with taking on less. This has many perks. I’m able to take my daughter to lessons, mom’s groups, playdates or the library in the middle of the day without worrying about not being able to finish my work.

Having a decreased workload means that I only take on high paying, quality work. I’m no longer pitching for things on Upwork or accepting content mill jobs because it’s not worth my time.

It’s hard balancing a business and a family. Much like running a side hustle when you’re a full-time employee, you just have to find the time where you can.

You won’t always work a consistent schedule each week. Some weeks you’ll find more time and other weeks will be so packed with personal obligations that you may feel like you’re getting nothing done.

When you look at your accomplishments, try to take the long view. It doesn’t matter if today was unproductive if the past two weeks have been great. One of the greatest benefits of working for yourself is that you decide when you work – and you work when you can.

work-when-you-can

How Freelancing Can Help Boomerang Millennials

My generation has been called the Boomerang Generation. People from the ages of 22-33 who went to college, graduated, and moved back in with their parents indefinitely.

There are people who enjoy their families so much that they don’t want to leave. There are also cultures that expect children to live at home until they are married. Then there’s another sector of Millennials who are too intimidated, scared, unsure or apathetic to strike out in the world.

The Boomerang generation has a negative connotation of not wanting to leave home and grow up. It’s been suggested that the idea of committing to a full-time job scares this generation. This is where freelancing can help.

Freelancing gives the Boomerang generation the freedom to move around and be a bit unstable while still earning an income and supporting themselves.

If you’re a Boomerang Millennial by choice or circumstance, here’s how freelancing can help you launch from the nest.

Freelancing doesn’t have to be a 9-5 job

If you’re hesitant to commit to a traditional 9-5 job then freelancing is a great alternative. Put together a budget of how much money you need to live on. You may be able to find decent housing and pay all your bills for less than $2000 per month depending on where you live. With some effort, you could make $2000 per month freelancing without working the traditional 40+ hour workweeks.

For example, if you’re a website designer, you could make $2000 per month from 1-2 clients. As a writer, it may take several clients or jobs to make that amount. A virtual assistant could reach that goal with 2-6 virtual assistant clients.

Figure out how much you need to make by using this cost of living calculator then use this rate calculator to figure out how much you should be charging.

Freelancing keeps you location independent

If settling down in one place freaks you out then freelancing could solve that problem too. As a freelancer, you can do your work anywhere. The term digital nomad refers to freelancers/entrepreneurs that have embraced a lifestyle of traveling while working. There are many successful freelancers who are traveling all over the world while freelancing. They support their lifestyle through their work.

Freelancing can get your foot in the door

If you having a hard time finding a traditional job with benefits, freelancing could bring you closer to that goal. You can gain experience doing freelancing work that would boost your resume while you try to find a full-time job. Sometimes freelancing opportunities turn into bigger jobs. Numerous freelancers have been asked to take on full-time roles within the company they are freelancing with.

Freelancing can build your confidence

Freelancing can build your confidence. If you didn’t have much work experience prior to college than freelancing can help build your confidence. You got a degree in something. Besides the skills related to your major, you learned valuable skills like project management, organization, and self-sufficiency. You wouldn’t have graduated from college without being able to get your work done. You are already qualified to freelance in your field. Start with small projects and work your way up. Set a goal of sending out proposals and applying for 2-5 jobs per week.

Freelancing doesn’t have to be forever

Freelancing has a less “sign an agreement and sell your soul” feel than the traditional 9-5 job. Yes, you can quit a full-time job, preferably with at least two weeks notice, but the stigma is greater. Freelancing jobs end for a variety of reasons, often not related to the freelancer at all. The project can have a natural ending point, the department could cut the budget, the company could decide to hire someone full-time, or they could give the responsibilities to someone already on staff. Quitting can be your decision too. You could finish up a project and let your client know that you don’t want any future work. The beauty of freelancing is that it is inherently temporary. As a freelancer, it’s easier to change your mind and pivot course, whether that change is going to a traditional job or continuing on with another client.

Freelancing can keep your life (relatively) the same

If what’s turning you off about the working world is getting up early, wearing business casual clothing, commuting, and spending all your time in a cube farm then freelancing is a great alternative. You can keep whatever hours you want, dress however you like, and work from home or anywhere else you want. Your life could look a lot like college, if you want it to. You’ll have the same freedom as you had when you were going to classes for a portion of the day and spending the rest of the day doing what you wanted.

Freelancing could be just what Boomerang generation needs to get on their own two feet and gain the confidence to participate in the working world.

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