Survival Skills for Freelancers. A conversation with Sarah Townsend

Updated: Feb 23

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.


4. Business Finance


Sarah says that in 20 years she has had some occasions where she hasn't trusted her gut which is why it was such an important chapter to include in the book Survival Skills For Freelancers by Sarah Townsend


If you start a business relationship with a new client and you go to them and you say ok my costs for this is £1,000 and they come back and they say, that's a bit expensive we've been quoted less than that. Can you do it for £750 and you say ok, then who is in charge of that relationship? Straight away they are up there and you are down here. Because they are setting the terms and that is not the idea of being self employed.


Your dream situation is to be working for people who are on a partnership level with you, so I don't like that client supplier relationship.


I try to put myself in a position where I am working in a position of respect and of trust. And then when you've got that scenario you are far more likely to be in a position where the client will respect the work that you do therefore they will pay on time.


Whereas if you start off with the ones that quibble about money (who always turn out to be the biggest pain in the bum) because it is just a universal truth, always the ones who quibble want to micromanage you or make more changes to the document than you have allowed in your terms. So you can end up feeling resentful because you realise you have not valued your own self worth and stuck to your guns. If you say this is the price of the piece of work make sure you outline a really clear indication of what the client will get for the amount. Because chances are they've come to you because they don't understand how to do it, so you need to make sure they are aware of the process you will undertake.


Look at the value in what you are offering and be really crystal clear and then you are far less likely to get cost objections when the client realises what you are doing for the budget outlined.


Sarah has a chapter in her book about knowing what to charge. That helps clients understand what they are getting and the value you are adding. She notes that when you charge the right rates for your time you gradually build up your confidence too.


5. How to manage the peaks and troughs of self employment

You get used to them but you never really get used to them. Sarah suggests having a list, a physical list of things that you want to achieve for your business.


It might be you want to give your website a facelift or train yourself up on Canva and get really good at producing graphics for your social media.


Or you might want to write a bank of blog posts so you can release one a month for the next 6 months.


Catch up on podcasts that are relevant to your industry. All the things should be exciting and interesting. Read books! Go through them, highlight them. Put the stuff you learned into practise.


As soon as you have that list it takes the fear out of the quiet times because you've got some productive and positive activities, something you want to focus on and it will take the fear out of quiet times. And in the sense of manifestation you get more of what you focus on. Focus on lack and you get more lack focus on productivity and you'll be happier and get more done.


6. Technology learning is never ending but you can manage it with some thought


The biggest social media mistake that freelancers and small business owners make is bowing down to the feeling that you have to be everywhere all of the time.


Sarah recommends picking the two social media platforms that you enjoy and where your audience are. Don't feel that pressure. Set up a profile and check back sporadically on the others. Sarah doesn't do Facebook on a personal basis to save time. She also doesn't spend time on other peoples profile either to avoid the time drain.


She recommends sticking with the two that you choose and keeping up with all of the developments there so you can do them really well. But if there is something you can't do like perhaps a new feature like Reels then ask yourself whether your business suffers from not knowing it.


Give yourself some slack you don't have to be everywhere. Focus on the things you are good at and be where your customers are and be authentic and real on your social media.


7. The importance of finding community


You can't underestimate the importance of community for freelancers.


When you work alone, now more than ever we need to find the chance for connection. Prior to lockdown Sarah would go and work at the bar in her local gym. Because it had good coffee, heating and fast Wi-Fi and lots of people around. The buzzy environment helped with productivity.


But the other reason for needing community often comes from needing to talk to others about how to do things that we currently can't. It is frustrating when you work alone and don't know how to do something the power of empathy from others can be reassuring even when they don't know the answer either.


Community can also lead to sharing work when you have a surplus.


Sarah points out the benefits of groups on Facebook, which she does have a look at when she gets a chance. Sarah personally finds Twitter chats, Facebook groups, Instagram lives, Webinars all useful for positive, learning community experiences.


Sarah would like to do more on the mentoring side of community as well. This leads on to her mentioning her upcoming appearance in the Freelance and Side Hustles section of Start Up 2021 Enterprise Nation on Saturday 23rd January at 10am which will include themes such as overcoming imposter syndrome and knowing you are not alone.


8. Has Sarah appeared in a lot of Podcasts?


Sarah has been in an amazing 30 podcast interviews recently, which you can find directly here


9. We all need praise, but it's hard to get when we work for ourselves


We all need praise, at the moment for Sarah getting book reviews is her primary focus but we had a great chat about the idea of keeping a positive feedback journal. Where we can store any lovely comments that people have sent us about our work, and look at them when times are tough. Isn't this a lovely idea?


Sarah also recommends one of her blogs on this topic


Why five-star reviews are the best FREE marketing tool you have


10. How do we cope when other people don't think we have a 'real job'


Sarah refers us to Chapter 5 of her book which is on mindset. When you treat your job properly others will too. It doesn't matter what you refer to yourself as, but when you clearly show others that you are not available for coffee at the drop of a hat, or to have your brain picked when you would usually charge for your time, others will get the message.


Where to find Sarah on social media


LinkedIn

Twitter


Facebook


Instagram


And of course do buy her book, it's a fabulous read


Thanks so much for your time Sarah, and thank you for reading


Shona


P.S If you would like to receive blogs like this straight to your inbox you can sign up here for my mailing list. I mail once per week on a Friday.


About Me

Shona Chambers Marketing is a Marketing Agency based in SE London.


Specialising in helping Small Business Owners and Freelancers with their Marketing.

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