Tag Archives: self employed

Changing how I work

This week I put down my paid work with the Transition Network. For some years now I’ve done a monthly community newsletter for Transition Stroud, and of late I’ve also been doing the social media as well. It’s been a good project to work with and there’s a lot to like about it. The pay was steady, more than the minimum wage most of the time, and it was work I could do well. I poured a lot into it.

Like many self employed people, I work multiple small jobs. The trouble with this is the generally invisible work around working. If you just do one job, you probably won’t notice it. You need to know your people, the outfit you work for, its rules, habits, assumptions, systems and whatnot. As someone doing social media work, I also have to know the brand identity and how it’s evolving and be on top of news developments.  There’s quite a lot of mental work that all of us do around the work we officially do.

When you work multiple jobs, you still have to have a full job’s worth of that knowledge for every single job you are doing. Then you have to move between jobs, keeping track of what applies where.  It might seem like having lots of small jobs would be no harder work than doing the same number of hours on a single job, but it is, because of all that extra mental labour required.

There was a brief patch when I was up to eight jobs, and a long stretch when I was doing seven.  I’d successfully brought the number down, but even so it’s been hard. The Transition work was my one remaining outlier, the job that doesn’t overlap with any other job, which makes it the most expensive in terms of tracking all the information I need.  It’s not been easy to let go of, but if I am to avoid burnout and stay passably sane, this is the kind of change I need to make.

The other less than perfectly visible issue with having lots of freelance jobs, is that you have none of the benefits conventional employment gives. There is no paid sick leave. There is also no paid holiday leave. In the absence of paid time off, you either have to take a pay cut to get a break, or you have to work extra hard to offset your missing week. Neither of these approaches is restful.  Having done years when I didn’t manage to take a whole week off, this kind of thing is hard, and not good for mental health.

There are advantages to companies and organisations in hiring freelancers – no national insurance to pay, no pension requirements, no holiday or sick pay, short term contracts, fewer rights for the person you’ve hired, and it’s easier to have them on flexible terms. For a small outfit this can be an unavoidable necessity – Transition Stroud is a community group with a small budget and just doesn’t have enough work to turn what I was doing into a full time job.  This is also often the way of it around marketing and social media work, and quite a lot of publishing industry work. These are also reasons we really need Universal Basic Income to smooth things out for individual workers and small organisations alike.


Taking time off

Taking time off as a self employed or freelance person is challenging. First of all, no one pays you if you aren’t working so you have to be able to afford the economic hit. Secondly, the odds are there’s no one to cover you so all the key work has to be done to fit around the time off. Thirdly there’s the fear most of us seem to experience that if you don’t do all the work you can when it comes in, that work won’t come back – it will dry up or you’ll be less prepared for the next patch when you’re under-employed.

This week off has been a couple of months in the planning and setup. For some years now, I’ve managed to take the week off between Christmas and New Year. That’s easier because most people don’t work then so there’s not a build up of work queries to deal with. One week off a year, plus working some weekends and not always being able to offset at the time means living closer to the edge of viability than I think is clever. I’m also aware that creativity depends on downtime, and I need more downtime. I could also use some hours and energy to invest in my living space. I’m not going away, I’m just going to do different things for a week, and maybe nap more.

This blog will be running – I have some guest posts to share (which has been a great help) and will cobble a few together as I go (as I have with this one) because I need to get on the computer to check there are no ticking time bombs waiting in my email.

Patreon is still running this week, I set that up last week. If you want to support what I do, get more of it, and help me stay a bit more feasible, this is a good place to jump in – there are various levels, and everything helps. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB 

If you want to make a one off donation, that would also be lovely! Ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T

You can also support me by buying my books, which are available from pretty much everywhere that sells books. If you want the comics and aren’t in the UK, your best bet ishttps://bookdepository.com – stuck my name in your book site of preference to see what’s out there…


Tis the season to be cranky

I don’t enjoy midwinter festivals much. I don’t enjoy the cold, or the pressure to be jolly. Thankfully, the man who made it his personal job to patronise me about this every year has removed himself from my life, so that at least, is progress.

As a self employed person, I don’t get sick pay or paid holiday leave. Several of my jobs depend on how well I do the jobs, so time spent not working can compromise how much paying work there is available for me in the future. But even so, there’s not much work to be done between Christmas and the New Year. It’s not a good time to try and sell books.

On the plus side, I get a whole week off. This will be the first whole week off I’ve had since this time last year. I do not recommend this as a way of working, but I have yet to figure out an alternative. I thought I’d manage to take a week off in the summer, but a loss of hours from what was then my main job made that impossible.

So between here and the great shutdown, I’m doing all the work I can. Christmas brings extra costs, I can’t afford for this to be a thin month. I know a great many other people have the same problem – unpaid holidays are a nightmare. Not everyone has the scope to pick up other work to fill the gaps.

I’ve got two late night jobs coming up and three days on the local market. The market work is a gamble, but hopefully we’ll make something selling books there. I’ve written all my blog posts already, and by the middle of next week I’ll hopefully have all my other from-home work done for the festive period. It’s a bit of a strain. I will likely hit the festive period exhausted and needing that week to recover, which is not what I want from a holiday.

And on the whole I know I’m lucky, because I do have paying work and I can afford to heat my home and eat over Christmas and many people are far worse off than this. If you are marginal, midwinter festivals are a nightmare, simply. The extra stress and pressures are not welcome. If you aren’t marginal, be alert to your scope for adding to someone else’s misery. Don’t tell them off if they don’t have the energy for parties, or don’t want to come out, or aren’t getting into the festive spirit – that just piles shame and discomfort onto existing problems. If someone doesn’t seem to be having a merry Christmas, try asking what would help rather than telling them to try harder.

It’s also a good time of year to avoid piling extra work onto other people. I mention this because that’s the thing I’m most cranky about. Not extra pay, extra work. At no notice. If you are comfortable, don’t assume everyone else has the same resources of time and energy to deploy at your whim.


Working Sick

One of the good things about being self employed is that you do get some say (usually) over how and when you work. There are no paid sick days though, and while you can get insured against the impact of long term illness, a dose of the flu is something you just have to deal with. So, sleep deprived because I was ill in the night, and washed out for all the same reasons, and with something a long way short of perfect concentration, I rock up late to the computer.

It’s not too bad because my co-worker (husband) lives with me and is exposed to my germs anyway. If I had a ‘normal’ job, I might be hauling my sick, exhausted self into a car (I would not be a safe driver) and going to share my germs with my colleges, and possibly the public.

I know from friends who are employed, that many workplaces are intolerant of sick days. You are expected to go in, which of course means you get a culture of germ sharing where more people are working sick than could have happened. It invariably takes longer to recover from anything if you have to put extra stresses on your body. A day in the duvet can massively increase productivity for the rest of the week.

But no, what we have is a culture of macho toughing it out, drugging away the symptoms (let’s pause and ask why we may have the shits and wonder what the consequence is of not letting our bodies flush the bugs out…).

Pushing when sick or exhausted increases the risk of mental health issues. Depression is likely, so is panic, because when you push a body too far, that’s how it reacts. There is a rise in mental health difficulties that a Chief Medical Officer’s report of some years ago explicitly linked to work place stress. Everyone seems to have ignored this.

So, I managed the commute to the table, I won’t be doing much, I will likely spend a lot of the day curled up, recovering. I’m going to do the essential stuff, so that it doesn’t all build up and get more stressful. This is a luxury many people don’t have. It’s a funny thing, because work, workplaces, and working cultures are all human constructs, but they’re pretty inhuman in practice.


Working for free

All self employed, and creative people, alongside those who work within spirituality, come under a lot of pressure to do it for free. We hear frequently that we should do it for love, that love of craft and of labour should be reward enough. How dare we sully art/religion/music/dance/literature/teaching/etc with our petty, money grabbing?

Anyone who thinks about this for long will work out that if a thing is to be done or made, there’s a cost in terms of time, energy and often resources. Time spent doing things for love, is time you can’t spend earning the money to keep a roof over your head. We all have to eat.

All too often, someone else is making a profit. The lone creative is the last person in the chain to make anything. Booksellers all take their cut before the author sees a penny. There are plenty of people who will offer to publish you, for no payment but ‘exposure’. Well, exposure is something you can die of in other contexts. If you are making a profit, getting a financial advantage, or saving on paying someone else then it is not ok to ask for a freebie.

That said, there are contexts in which I will work for free, and these are my rules.

1) I will work for free if it really seriously hasn’t cost me anything and no one else is exploiting my work for a profit. People re-use writing from this blog for not-for profit sites and publications. That’s fine.

2) I will always consider working for free or for minimal expenses if you are a not for profit outfit (most Pagan magazines fall into this category) or a charity. You’re doing it for love, if I have time, I may be able to spare you some love, too.

3) I will work for a trade off that isn’t money based – a typical example would be doing talks or workshops in exchange for being able to attend an event and have some table space to sell books. I might cover my costs, I’ll take the gamble, especially if I like the look of your event. I do not like being asked to pay to attend an event so that I can freely provide you with entertainment. That sucks. Cake, accommodation, and other trade-offs are always worth a thought.

4) I will work for a profit share. If you can’t pay me upfront, but there’s a fighting chance this will raise money, and you want to pay later when you can, that’s negotiable. Especially if you’re doing it for love too and you getting paid also depends on it working. If I like the project, I will share in the risk. Most publishing works this way, in essence.

5) I will work for affordable donations rather than fixed charges where that seems fairer.

As a simple rule of thumb, if you are gaining from something, and most especially if you get a financial advantage, it is not ok to ask other people to facilitate that at their own expense. A fair exchange is called for. There are many shapes that can take, but the guilt trip of ‘you should be doing it for love’ is not acceptable. I’ll do it for love when I feel like it, and if don’t feel like it but you want something from me, you need to put something on the table. To offer recompense in some form, is a gesture of respect both to the person and their creativity. That recompense might be as simple as a favour owed, but where we honour that, life is a lot happier.