Survival Skills for Freelancers. A conversation with Sarah Townsend

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

There are some books that you hear about all over the place because there is so much buzz about them and Survival Skills for Freelancers by Sarah Townsend is one of them.



I'd heard people mentioning it in all the freelance groups I am a member of, and then I was sent a copy to review for Parents in Biz magazine where I review different business books each edition and finally got my chance to take a peek.


In January I ran the Self Employed Club January challenge over on Instagram. The prompt for the 16th of the month was 'what is the hardest thing about self employment?' it felt like the perfect day to arrange a conversation with Sarah, and thankfully she was free!


Watch my conversation with Sarah Townsend author of Survival Skills for Freelancers


If you would like to watch the video of our Instagram live here it is *just a little disclaimer to say that we had a bit of sound interference in places sorry about that.


Read the conversation notes instead


If you prefer to read instead here is a detailed catch up on what the hour long conversation covers.


1. Setting boundaries will help with your mental health

You don't have to be self employed or freelance at the moment to be struggling with the isolation that comes from working from home. If you are employed and a parent you will probably be juggling home schooling with trying to be a parent and balancing that with the work. It becomes important to know how to set boundaries in your day. Trying to keep balance of the things you've got control of. Making changes to your own daily routine is something that Sarah recommends.


We go self employed or freelance in the first place because we want to be our own boss. But the problem is quite often we forget that we are supposed to be in control or in charge, setting the tone and the way we work, specifying the rate, and the hours we work and so on.


Because once we get a number of clients on board we find they are the ones setting the terms. Telling us how much they want to pay and when they want us to work, whether we work evenings and weekends. Whether we take phone calls out of hours. That is quite difficult to manage unless you have the confidence and the mindset for success. Which is something that is covered in 'the book' Survival Skills For Freelancers by Sarah Townsend


Having the self belief that you are in charge and sometimes it does rely on educating our clients and telling them this is what I charge and getting crystal clear on our offering and telling them the process is this, you give me a rough idea of what you want and I'll come back to you with a cost and a proposal, if you like the price, and if you like what I'm suggesting then I'll come back to you and you can pay a 50% deposit and it will take me 2 weeks to get the work done for example.


If clients continue to check up on you then it comes down to you to manage their expectations. By doing that you take back control of the way you've designed your week and the way you want to operate. You feel better about yourself because you are more confident in the way you manage your clients. And your clients feel better because they are happy they've had their expectations managed, they know what to expect from you and when.


It also helps with you not being so distracted with emails coming in ad-hoc.


Sarah says that she won't answer the phone if she is not expecting a call.


In most cases they will leave a message. Stopping to answer a call pulls you off task and distracts you. Sarah uses clear calls to action on her website where she says ' Book a discovery call' and uses a tool called Calendly


If you steer your clients to work in a way that works for you, if you teach your clients how you want to work then you are not being pulled off task every moment by distractions.


Sarah steers her clients to book a discovery call, which helps her with the clients website if she wants to go and have a look at that. It helps her to know how long the call is going to last, calls are at a time that is convenient to her and leaves the rest of her day free to be productive.


Setting those kinds of boundaries are really important.


We then went into answering some of the questions that people had sent in for Sarah in advance which were all around the prompt of what people found the hardest about being self employed.


2. How do we switch off as Freelancers?


When you are your business and when you work in any sort of creative field, it is really easy for your self esteem to be tied up in what you do.


In moments when you feel busy and in demand your self esteem feels solid and you feel quite resilient. In times when you are quiet for work you can plummet. Sarah says she struggles with this herself. And her partner gives her the advice to focus on something else. Her brain works 100% miles an hour and she finds it hard to switch off naturally.


If you are able to work in an office and can finish and shut the door or if you are working on the kitchen table on a laptop and work time ends, make sure you close the laptop and put it in a draw or something so it is out of site. Sarah says l always say don't work on the sofa or in bed because of boundaries. It is easy for boundaries to blur when you are sitting on the sofa and getting your work done. Try to keep separate areas in your home or your work environment.


Sarah references a Jim Kwik video she watched which advises people against sitting on the sofa to work because it reduces lung capacity and creates fatigue. She then says that sitting up straight makes you feel more productive. So having a good supportive chair and being in natural light all helps with that.


Sarah also suggests that when possible you could consider a walk and talk with a client instead of a Zoom call. This works by both parties putting headphones in and going for a walk around the block. This means you make good use of your time but you get out in the fresh air and get some exercise.


Sarah does also like to use Zoom for discovery calls because she is very visual and likes to get a good feel for what the other person is trying to do with their business.


3. Goose Bump moments - When we should pay attention to our instincts


It is quite common for us to ignore red flags, those moments we might meet a new client and then think that this person is not for us. Sarah makes the comparison that if we were dating and received a message that was not right for us we wouldn't think twice about not replying but when it's business we can feel ungrateful.


Sarah says it is really vital for your own mental wellbeing to tune into what your gut is telling you and if you are getting signs that something is not right it's important to have ways to walk away but make it clear to the client that we have an alternative option for them.


What Sarah advises is if something doesn't feel right to you, even if it is something practical like their budget is not enough or they want it done too soon, and you don't want to put yourself under increased pressure, just say to them:


" This doesn't feel like the right fit for my business right now but what I can do is introduce you to a couple of colleagues who may be in a better position to help" that enables you to walk away from that situation with your head held high.


You've solved the clients problem you can help out another freelancer or self employed person with a piece of work that may be a much better fit for them.