The Balancing Act

Date: 30th November 2015

‘The Balancing Act’ was originally published on Fed by Photos as part as a guest blog series about being self employed.

It can be a tough old world living life as the self employed. Whether you’re a plumber, designer, travel writer or jet-setting wildlife photographer, the trials of earning ‘non-standard’ income while pursuing your goals are much the same.

I’ve always tried to dream BIG with anything I’ve done. It’s a good strategy, as, by the time life’s realities whittle away at your aspirations, you’re usually left with something much more mundane and somewhat more achievable.

Part of life’s dream for me is being able to do what I love (being creative), getting paid to do so AND explore different corners of the world at the same time. As with many of the self employed it’s all about the ‘work / life balance’.

I’m currently setting up shop in my third country in as many years, which has been a struggle at times, but a great learning process to boot. ‘Starting over’ several times has taught me what makes the difference between bare bones survival and being truly successful. Where I currently sit on that scale is another matter of course!

Chasing your dreams is a fine line to tread in any profession, so hopefully one or more of the points below can help you to achieve yours. These tips can be applied to new starts and long established businesses alike to freshen up your approach.

The Offering

Before picking up the phone, sending that email or running out the door to the next business meeting – pause for a moment. Put yourself in your ‘potential client’s’ shoes and take a good look at what is being offered. Rushing into things isn’t going to get you anywhere and can often have negative results, so taking the time to self analyze your business proposition can save you a lot of heartache.

Your proposition may be as simple as inviting an editor to chat through your portfolio over coffee. Sounds simple enough; but editors, as with anyone in business, are busy people with a discerning eye. Within seconds they’ll have scrutinised your branding, presentation, tone of voice and can whip up your portfolio, social media profile and business connections. Two slurps from a mug of tea later and your proposition will either be in the trash or whizzing it’s way back to you to confirm your meeting.

It may seem harsh, but the time and money you’ve put in building to this moment could all be in vain if everything isn’t tip-top, so one last look over things is well worth your while.

Opportunities are EVERYWHERE

I honestly don’t know any self employed person who works 9 till 5. Flexible hours and a four day week may be part of your new life plan, but in reality you really can’t switch off fully from your pursuits. Unless you have a defined list of clients who provide you with enough steady income to stop you worrying about the future (if that’s you then congratulations, you needn’t bother reading on!), you must remain aware to the business opportunities around you.

To give an example, a few months ago I watched a news story on CNN about a climber ascending the frozen ice of Niagara Falls for the first time in history. It made for awe inspiring watching and I couldn’t help but look him up online. Seeing an opportunity I got in touch and have since launched his new website. One more happy client.

Whichever field you are in there are chances to reach out, get in touch and interact with new clients; in newspapers, magazines, online and on the street. Training yourself to tune in and pick up on these opportunities is vital.

When Things Go Pete Tong

Recently I just couldn’t catch a break. Every lead I had went cold, current projects were in turmoil and I found myself asking what on earth I was doing with my life. Dark times indeed.

Thankfully I have a short attention span when it comes to personal angst, but things can of course go awry and being self-employed means there isn’t the same support structure to get you through the fog. Here are a few solutions that have helped me in the past.

1) Switch Off – Staring at your empty inbox, vacant word doc or out-of-focus photoshoot for hours on end isn’t going to help matters. In fact, you’re going to start feeling worse very quickly. So, switch off, get out and breathe in some fresh air – it’s good for you (depending on where you live). The chances are, with some time away, you’ll think up a great new plan to get your project / prospects / life back on target.

2) Remember why you’re doing this – It can be hard at times to remember you DO control how many hours you work or who you work for or that your neighbour can’t stand working ‘for the man’. You are in control and if it doesn’t feel like it then maybe it’s time to make some changes. I once made the decision to let a troublesome client go at the expense of good income. It was money well spent in my opinion – balance returned instantly.

3) You are not alone! Being self employed needn’t mean you go it alone. Building a trusted network of friends, colleagues and gurus that you can lean on when times are tough will prove invaluable. There are 7 billion people out there so it shouldn’t be difficult finding a few you can depend upon.

4) Think BIG – working for yourself doesn’t mean you only need to earn one person’s salary. If you think small, then the chances are you’ll stay small. Growing your support network and pursuing bigger and better clients or projects will also grow your bottom line. Instead of thinking as a ‘one man band’, portraying yourself as a ‘small business’ can take things up a notch. There’s no one stopping you taking that extra step of contracting or taking on staff, so what are you waiting for?

Working from the Sofa

So you’ve hit a home run – after polishing your presentation, securing that meeting and wooing your client into reaching for their cheque book – it’s now time to roll up your sleeves and get the job done. This is where ‘being your own boss’ can take a nasty turn for the worse, as only you can set the deadlines and ensure you deliver. Setting tight deadlines and confirming these with a client is a great way to keep things moving if you are lacking motivation.

You may dream of typing away on your laptop while sipping a cocktail on the beach or racing from one photoshoot to the next, but of course, here comes that reality check. Personally, I’ve tried working in cafe’s, public libraries, down the park and from the sofa, which can work momentarily. However, nothing beats getting down to brass tacks in your own private working environment.

For me, having just moved into a new rental apartment, all this meant was a simple office desk, lamp and chair. Having your own, personalised space means you are in control. Calm ensues, and once you’ve blocked out those pesky distractions (tv, calls, email, funny cat videos etc.) you can finally get down to business.

Routine vs Mundane

Getting into a daily / weekly routine is a great way to keep yourself motivated and on-track. Get up early, put on your best tie and do whatever else you must to get in the right frame of mind. Make sure there is something every day that you NEED to get up for as the attraction of working  ‘flexible’ hours can be a little too much at times.

Hopefully you’ll be way too busy with work to even contemplate a lay-in, but there are always those days when things just don’t click. You’ve lost your stride and can’t stop bouncing that stress ball against the wall. When your nice new office desk is starting to look plain miserable, it’s time to head out.

Mixing up your day can keep things interesting so don’t feel too guilty about taking a business lunch, afternoon stroll or doing some ‘networking’ down the local. Time out in a new environment refreshes the mind so when you’re back at your desk you’re stride will be waiting.

Sharing the Wealth

Unless you’re Bill Gates, here I’m referring to personal knowledge, time and creative inspiration. Sharing or giving away something for free can reap huge rewards. The key is to be truly genuine with what you share – people will respect you for it, and respect is about as good as it gets in this game.

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