Finding balance between paid work and unpaid business building.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Master Galactic Shepherd (AKA anonymous). They say:

“Short version: Is it really a good idea to turn down (properly) paid work to carve out time for business building?

Long version: ‘Successful’ freelancers on interviews always say not to get too bogged down in client work and leave plenty of time for websites, blogging, networking etc. But why would you turn down (sensible) money short-term for the promise of something long-term? Is it on the basis that it’ll inevitably mean more money/ better clients/ more passive revenue? Or am I missing something in my delight at being able to pay the mortgage this month?!”

Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:00:44] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. My name’s Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:00:54] – Steve
Yes, hello. Each week we take a question, a conundrum, posed by the Doing It For The Kids community, do our best to answer it. And then, of course, we take your comments, your experience and feed those into the next episode.

Which means we go back to last week, when it was Adam asking us how to prepare his life and his business for kids. They didn’t have kids yet. Thinking about having them at some point in the future (though don’t say it too loudly in case Adam’s mum hears. She’s very excited). We filtered it as best as we could in order to keep it down to 20 minutes, but your comments were brilliant. There were some great ones.

[00:01:30] – Frankie
Mary Whitehouse says,

“I was freelancing for a couple of years before I had my first child and I remember imagining that I could work effectively while he slept in his Moses basket or — when a little older — crawled around my feet while I crafted superb copy and press releases”.

Cue laughter. There it is.

“My tip would be — plan childcare in advance. Ask around as soon as you’re pregnant for the best nurseries, childminders, nannies. And don’t try to work in the days you don’t have childcare in place. You’ll be knackered. Good luck”.

[00:01:56] – Steve
Gosh. Thank you, Mary.

Yeah, that’s true, actually, a lot of private nurseries, they all get booked up, don’t they?

Charles Commins. Hey, Charles.

Charles says,

“The one comment I have about this topic is that there is never a right time to have kids. There is also never a right time to go freelance either. Having said that, I wish I hadn’t waited all this time to go freelance and had done it before my daughter was born.

If you think it’s hard to find a work life balance without a child, just wait until the little angel is screaming at you all day, every day, for no apparent reason. My daughter turned five last week and yes, this still happens”.

[00:02:33] – Frankie
Yeah. Interesting that he says he wished he’d done it before.

[00:02:35] – Steve
But I was thinking that as well, because I went full-time freelance after we had kids.

[00:02:40] – Frankie

[00:02:40] – Steve
And I think obviously Adam already has a freelance business, you already had a freelance business. And I think the beauty in that is that you then have a lot more time and energy to build up your business. Whereas if you try and do that as you have a child and you’re-,

[00:02:56] – Frankie
It’s like everything’s changing at once! Everything is.

[00:02:58] – Steve
Yeah. And you’re tired and there’s not much time and you’re trying to build it up and a business takes a while to grow.

[00:03:04] – Frankie
Ross Wintle.

We’ve had comments from Ross in the past on previous episodes. They are long but amazing. We’re not going to read the whole thing. But the bit I wanted to pick out is this.

Ross says,

“I’ve had to learn that I’m not a superhero that has to leap in and save every situation. The baby’s crying, I’ve got to help. The baby’s awake, I’ve got to help. The baby’s hungry, I’ve got to help. Finding a balance of using my flexibility to be there and help in a crisis, versus just leaving my wife to look after the kid because she’s capable and doesn’t need me all the time has been pretty hard. It’s taken a long time to know when to stay and when to just go out to work, and I still feel guilty for doing it. The truth is, if you had an ‘ordinary’ job, you just have to leave on time and your partner would cope.

P.S. All parenting advice is bullshit. You should ignore everything I’ve written. No kid is average. No family is normal. Every person in every relationship is wonderfully unique. You should weigh up and try out all of the advice you’re given and keep the stuff that works for you and throw away the stuff that doesn’t.”

[00:04:05] – Steve
Oh, yes.

[00:04:08] – Frankie
Ross continues,

“It’s actually quite easy at the beginning when they’re newborn.”

And that’s something, relistening to that episode, I wish I’d said last week! The challenge of having a newborn the first time around is, “Oh my God, this is so intense. My life has just changed forever. I’m not sleeping, blah, blah, blah”. But actually, relatively, that period for work is quite ‘easy’. I don’t want to use the word easy… Easier? Because they eat and then they go to sleep and then they wake up.

[00:04:33] – Steve
That’s all they do.

[00:04:34] – Frankie
And you wipe their bum and then they eat and they go to sleep. It’s actually kind of 6, 9, 12, 18 months down the road when the tiredness has really caught up with you over a long period of time and people aren’t maybe as forthcoming with their offers of help as they might have been when you had a newborn. And the drudgery of everyday life is exhausting. And your kid is becoming more mobile and more demanding of you. Both of you. That’s when, yeah, it gets really hard to get stuff done. In fact, I would look at planning for the newborn stage, but also having like a ‘phase two’ where you think a bit more about what life might look like beyond that. Babies are only real babies for a few months.

[00:05:14] – Steve
And that was something that we didn’t go into as well because it’s such a big subject. There’s obviously the possibility that the mum — if she’s not freelance — is going back to a full-time job and the dad — if he’s freelance — in Adam’s case, in my case, is going to become the main carer. And so when our daughter was like ten months old, my wife went back to work and I was looking after her for another two months before she then went to nursery, and even then working four days a week, like, yeah. We didn’t discuss the idea that maybe he might be looking after the child.

[00:05:49] – Frankie
We definitely need a part two, if not a part three! We’ve chatted so long about last week’s episode.

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:07:01] – Steve
This week’s question is anonymous. Oh, hang on, that means we need an anonymous name.

[00:07:06] – Frankie
Is there an anonymous name generator on the internet?

[00:07:09] – Steve
I bet there is. Hang on. Anonymous name, pen name generator, fake name generator… Here we go.

[00:07:16] – Frankie
That’s what we want.

[00:07:18] – Steve
Right. This week’s comes from Jessica Summers.

[00:07:21] – Frankie
Oh, that’s a nice name.

[00:07:24] – Steve
She sounds plausible, doesn’t she?

[00:07:26] – Frankie
Yes, she does.

[00:07:26] – Steve
It’s not as good as when I came up with Dame Pompelmoose of Dover.

[00:07:29] – Frankie
I agree, I agree. I’ve gone to… this sounds dodgy…

[00:07:35] – Steve
Oh, hello.

[00:07:36] – Frankie
Which is like superheroes, basically. Long Catman. Deathroach. Master Galactic Shepherd?

[00:07:50] – Steve
Okay, this week’s question comes from the Master Galactic Shepherd. Here it is.

They’ve done us a favour. They’ve written a short version and a long version.

Short version: “Is it really a good idea to turn down properly paid work to carve out time for business building?”

The long version: “‘Successful’ freelancers on interviews always say not to get too bogged down in client work and leave plenty of time for websites, blogging, networking, et cetera. But, why would you turn down sensible money short-term for the promise of something long-term? Is it on the basis that it’ll inevitably mean more money / better clients / more passive revenue? Or, am I missing something in my delight at being able to pay my mortgage this month?”

So, it’s such a good question. Is it really a good idea to turn down properly paid work to carve out time for business building?

[00:08:43] – Frankie
Frankly, I think these freelancers, ‘successful’ freelancers on these interviews you’ve been listening to don’t have kids. Am I right? I’ve got barely time to do my client work, let alone all the fancy extras.

[00:09:01] – Steve
Do you know what though? It’s interesting, right, because whilst both of us can say that both of us have these stupidly big side projects, right? Which is us plowing time into something that isn’t paying us money, but we’re doing it. And we didn’t do it for this reason, but it does build our profiles, if you like. So that more people get to know who we are and in theory, if we talked about what we did, they would get to know what we do. I’m really bad at that. People have listened to Being Freelance, my other podcast for years and then go, “Oh, are you a freelancer?” Yeah, my bad.

[00:09:37] – Frankie

[00:09:38] – Steve
I never actually mention what I do!

[00:09:40] – Frankie
That’s a good point. And maybe then, the bottom line there is — you’ll make the time if you really give a shit and it’s something you’re really passionate about or that feeds you in another way other than just the potential long term gain of getting more clients or whatever. But it’s something that you really care about or makes you happy or has another level to it that will force you to make the time for it because you want to frankly.

[00:10:06] – Steve
Yeah, that’s so true. You make time for stuff that you really enjoy, or you’re good at it. You’re good at it and you enjoy it. So when I used to try to do blogging for my business, that was a real-, I don’t know, I used to agonise over it because, really, I wasn’t that great a blogger-type person. But I could make videos, I discovered, and I can do podcasts about stuff and I really enjoy that.

[00:10:32] – Frankie
I think one of the classics is public speaking. So, like, a lot of people get asked to do talks, which is great and can really raise your profile. But if that’s not something you do a lot or you actively dislike doing… I’m always going to encourage people to give it a go at least once, but if it’s going to, A) stress you out and B) take up way more time than it should because you’re freaking out about the anxiety around that; or the prep for it. Obviously the more you do, the easier that becomes. But, there has to be a line somewhere where it’s like — is this worth my time?

[00:11:06] – Steve
And actually, out of all the things I’ve done, I didn’t realise how much time speaking actually took up. Speaking, you can end up spending days or hours being distracted by writing your talk or like preparing the slides or whatever.

[00:11:20] – Frankie

[00:11:20] – Steve
And then, even though it might just be an hour or two hour event in the evening, for example, at a meetup. In reality, you end up thinking about it for most of the day, and then you have to travel to get there, and then hang around beforehand. And if you’re not being paid for that — and most of us won’t be — it actually does take up a lot of time.

[00:11:37] – Frankie
But, at the other end of the spectrum, if you really enjoyed doing that and it’s something you got a buzz off and loved meeting other people and sharing your skills or whatever, then it’s going to take you less time and you’re going to make time for it because it’s something that you want to do. I guess it’s like… Don’t feel like you need to do the things that you see other people doing if it means that you’re going to stress yourself out and lose money, and not have time for that client work, and then not pay that mortgage at the end of the month.

[00:12:03] – Steve
You see, speaking really will build your profile. I mean, most of these things will build your profile, but speaking can really build your profile — help you be positioned as an expert, and so on. So in theory, it should lead to the kind of work that you want if you’ve done it the right way and the sort of money that you might want. And actually, whilst I said you can spend hours and days preparing, if you’re smart about it you will develop maybe one talk or a few talks and then try to keep doing those.

[00:12:34] – Frankie
Yeah, yeah.

[00:12:35] – Steve
This is something I failed gloriously at.

[00:12:38] – Frankie
And also once you’ve done that stuff — you can repurpose that content. So you’ve written that talk, it’s yours. Go and put it on your blog in 20 different ways. Go and put it on your social media! Flog that stuff, that knowledge, in a different way that will benefit your profile way longer-term than just that one speaking gig. Use that time that you’ve invested for yourself and your business.

And if public speaking really stresses you out, you might want to do something like a podcast instead.

[00:13:03] – Steve
Applying to be on other people’s podcasts?

[00:13:05] – Frankie
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Which is also quite scary for different reasons, but a lot of the time it’s more of a Q and A situation, so there’s less prep involved. You don’t have travel time necessarily and if you get it right, it can have just as big an impact as a public speaking gig, particularly because that podcast stays on iTunes or whatever for as long as that series is going. People listen to podcasts way after they’ve actually gone out. And also if doing a talk on your own at an event is scary, you could maybe ask to be part of a panel instead and do more like Q&A type thing with audience people? Again, less prep.

[00:13:42] – Steve
Panels are great and also people tend to come up to you and talk to you after you’ve been on a panel. It’s an icebreaker.

[00:13:50] – Frankie
Yeah, if you find networking scary, that will definitely pay off.

[00:13:55] – Steve
So, what was their name? Intergalactic Shepherd has said — “is it really a good idea to turn down properly paid work to carve out time for business building?” And I think the thing here is that — No. No, in that you have to be aware of how much money you need to earn. And you’re not just saying… You’ve been quite specific here… You’re not just saying any work, you’re saying proper paid work. So no, I wouldn’t turn that down. However, I do also think that you still need to make time for that business building.

I had a guest on the Being Freelance podcast called Kate Toon who said that 25% of her time will be marketing herself. But she was also quite specific that that doesn’t just mean like, writing a really great blog post or creating a video or a talk or whatever. It could be going on and interacting with people’s comments on social media or…

[00:14:55] – Frankie
I was literally about to say that! Spending time in Facebook groups.

[00:14:58] – Steve
Yes, Facebook groups, LinkedIn, wherever your audience is. Just spending that little bit of time, maybe over a coffee in the morning or whatever, will help just nudge you forward ever so slightly before you then crack on with that client work.

[00:15:12] – Frankie
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of noise and pressure about being really visible, but actually there are a load of freelancers just quietly getting on with it in the background without shouting about themselves too much beyond the work that they’ve got. I know some freelancers that don’t even have a website. For example, like Ingrid, who helps me manage the community — she’s a lawyer and helps small businesses with all their legal stuff and she’s building her website now and she’s been doing it for like two years or whatever. Freelance that is. She’s doing such a good job of helping people in Facebook groups and being visible that way and just interacting with people. I think there’s something to be said for just cracking on with it without having to feel like you need to raise your profile because other people are.

[00:15:59] – Steve

[00:16:00] – Frankie
I don’t know. I don’t know what my point is.

[00:16:03] – Steve
No, I think it’s a really good point is the fact that doing great work-,

[00:16:07] – Frankie
That’s my point!

[00:16:08] – Steve
-that will lead to more work, because you’ll create a happy customer, that customer will then have a knock on effect, referring you to other people word of mouth.

[00:16:15] – Frankie
Yeah, totally. Yes, I run Doing It For The Kids now, but I’ve only done that for a couple of years. Before that, I’d say 99% of my work came in through word of mouth. And when people asked me about how do I get my business off the ground and how do I keep work coming in, my advice was always — “Do good work and be nice to people”. They will recommend you. Like, it’s not rocket science. So, by taking exactly that, by taking on that client work and doing a great job, you are building your business and you’re getting paid in the process.

[00:16:45] – Steve
Also, like the Mega Shepherd of the Galactic Universe… I forget your exact name, forgive me. We don’t know whether they are, you know… We don’t know what stage of career or parenthood they’re at. Because also there are phases, like we’ve talked about ‘seasons’ before, but there’s a phase where, frankly, you need to get the work done and you need to also live your life because it’s a very demanding life and maybe at some point there’s going to be more time as your children get older. Maybe you’ve had more sleep and you’ve just got more energy, even. There’s going to be the ability to do more of that ‘business growing’, in quotation marks, stuff, later on.

[00:17:30] – Steve
Well, there we go. Hope that helped, Stargazing Shepherd of the Milky Way, whatever you were. If you’ve got an experience, a comment, do us a favor, leave it and help that intergalactic farmer out.

What would your advice be?

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