This month it's been three years since I left my job to go freelance - a decision that took almost as long to make. It was a decision that was well worth every agonising moment.
During that time I've coached many other freelancers, and have kept refining how I work, and how I manage myself. So this blog is about how to keep yourself motivated, focussed and happy when noone else is being paid to do that.
My five top tools for the survival kit are:
1. Stick to your own definition of success
I spent a lot of time in my first few months drawing mind maps in bright colours showing how my values would manifest in my work, and writing lists with titles like '20 things I want from my business'. These included my financial targets, but also addressed how I wanted to feel when I was working, what a great week might look like in my diary, what I wanted to be doing, and who with.
Despite these colourful foundations, I still forgot what success was for me. It was only in a coaching session that I realised that I was judging my business by success standards that weren't my own. Standards that were about profit, profile and status rather than variety, connections, energy and fulfilment. I had to dig the lists and maps back out of my drawer, and remember what I really wanted. And then I realised I was getting most of them, and therefore my business was a success.
2. Check in with yourself weekly
I like listening, talking and being with people, so I missed team meetings and 121s - that chance to check in with others and discuss our shared mission. And, while I was enjoying the variety of freelancing, I sometimes found it disorientating to be doing so many different things. So, I found a beautiful notebook and devised the following exercise, which I do nearly every week, and which can be adapted to suit you. This is a check in on how I feel about my work, my purpose, my energy levels and my happiness - it also provides me with a bit of structure.
1) Mindfulness - take a few minutes out to pause, notice your breathing, and see how you are and what thoughts come up.
2) Reflection - Look over the past week (I use my diary). Write what you notice about your purpose, energy and happiness over that time. You might want to keep writing and see what else comes up.
3) Looking ahead - Look at the week ahead. Write what you notice as you think about what's coming up.
4) Set goals for the week ahead - if it feels useful.
3. Create a support network
Losing colleagues can be one of the hardest things about giving up a job, and working alone can be demotivating. It has been vital for me to find ways to work with others - whether that's through formal collaboration on projects, attending CPD events and keeping in touch with the people I meet, arranging walks/coffees/lunches with friends, volunteering so I'm part of a team with a shared mission, finding a part-time role or contract that provides me with colleagues, or joining an Action Learning set.
I've done all of these along the way. And not only have they got me out of the confines of my home office, they have extended my networks and experience, and provided other benefits I hadn't even anticipated, such as voluntary roles and connections leading to some great work opportunities.
4. Design your own appraisal/review
This is an extended check in to make sure I'm on track with the big picture, and thinking about what I want for the future. I do it at the end of each financial year, and tie it in with my accounts, but you could do it any time. If you had appraisals in your former work-life, you could keep the aspects that worked for you, and change the bits that didn't. You can also be the manager you always wanted to have and ask the questions you want to be asked! I note my main achievements, the CPD or learning I undertook, and the goals I want to set for the year ahead. It always amazes me to look back just one year and realise how much I wanted something then, that now I take for granted. It's a great reminder of progress made.
5. Get a coach
Well, yes, obviously I would say that... But even if it's just a few times each year, it's empowering and motivating to have time and space to think while supported by a good coach. Most leaders have one, and if you are leading your own business and your own life, you probably deserve at least two! It's even tax deductible as a business expense, so you can follow another golden rule of freelancing - always keep the receipt.