Four freelancers reveal the people that provide them with practical professional support

Find out how virtual assistants, mentors & freelance buddies can help you thrive

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Hello freelance parents! How are you? We’re at the very beginning of a new month and the end of January feels like a real achievement. Was that a REALLY long month or was it just me? Thank you also to those readers who took the time to send me an email last week. Everyone seems to be struggling to some degree but it’s so good to hear that The Freelance Parent is providing a feeling of togetherness.

Last week’s newsletter was all about how we can get 2021 off to the best start possible, and I briefly wrote about some of the ways we, as freelancers, can find additional support - both practically and emotionally. So this week, I wanted to expand on this idea a little more by chatting to other freelancers and self-employed folk who have put this successfully into practise - from hiring virtual assistants, to buddying up with pals, and enlisting mentors to keep them on track.

I found it so interesting to hear about how these freelancers use their support networks to combat everything from imposter syndrome, to loneliness and difficult clients, and how they help to strengthen their businesses in the process.

I hope they inspire you to look into ways you can reach your goals this year - whether you want to find a better work-life balance, increase your income or grow your business.

I hope you enjoy.

Cat x

The Virtual Assistant

Lorraine McReight, freelance therapist and writer

“I’ve worked with my current assistant for just over four years. She started out working in my office with me, then began doing some work virtually and now (since Covid) she does all her work remotely”.

“My VA helps me with everything and anything! Because she has an interest in mental health issues and therapy, she enrolled on my hypnotherapy diploma course soon after starting to work with me. She’s now been qualified for a few years and her knowledge of my training courses (and hypnotherapy) and her experience as a therapist gives her invaluable insight into my work which is a bit of a gift”.

“She is pretty techie too and so deals with (or advises me on) any technical issues. She creates many of my social media posts and schedules them. She sources images and prepares newsletter mail outs to clients, students and graduates and helps with student-related admin”.

“She also makes changes to both my hypnotherapy and training school websites, and researches topics I want to know more about. She really is my right hand woman”.

“There are lots of things to think about when setting up a contract or working arrangement with a VA. From the VA’s point of view they often complain that some of their clients push boundaries or make unreasonable demands, such as wanting something done immediately, giving unreasonable timescales or expecting an immediate reply to an email. Other issues can be what is chargeable, for instance, is the ‘meter running’ throughout a conversation even if there’s been some small talk or some time spent in social chit-chat..? It can be quite uncomfortable to break it down to this degree, but if the terms aren’t agreed in advance, it can create tension later”.

“Another thing to be considered is how much autonomy do you give your VA? Do you give them a general brief and allow them to get on with something or do you want to micro-manage everything? Some freelancers want to use apps or to have regular screenshots in order to monitor what their VA is doing, but others don’t want to use their time checking on their VA’s progress. Personally, I prefer to trust my assistant after giving some clear instructions or guidance. If I was checking on her all the time I think it would jeopardise the working relationship”.

The Freelance Buddy

Katie Dancey-Downs, freelance writer

My freelance buddy (Lauren Marina) and I both went freelance around the same time. We used to work for the same company and were work wives - we were super close. Together we co-edited a magazine, travelled globally, and ran projects together. I'm a writer and she (whilst also a wonderful writer) is a designer, illustrator and photographer, so we were a kick-ass team of words and pictures”.

“We also had this amazing friendship, where we were just so supportive of each other and always there to lend a shoulder to cry on or to give a boost - we could be honest if we had imposter syndrome, we would support each other's ideas in meetings, we'd flesh out ideas together”.

“When we both left our company (she a few months ahead of me, during my maternity leave), I was so upset that I wouldn't have my ‘Work Wife’ anymore, and I wouldn't get to see her every day. I've never had a friendship like that at work before. But the fact that she'd already left made my decision to go freelance a little bit easier. When she left I took her for a celebratory lunch. When I left, she took me for a celebratory lunch”.

“And here's the thing - I didn't lose my work wife. We've stayed just as close, even if we've barely been able to see each other this last year. We bounce ideas off each other, champion each other's work both publicly and privately, vent together, celebrate together, and remind each other how great we are when we need to hear it. If I need a top notch illustrator, I know exactly where to go. My house is already like a Lauren Marina gallery. If she needs the grammar police or a journalistic nose, guess who she calls? The main thing we give each other is support, and I absolutely know we're going to work on projects together again one day”.

“We were hoping by now to do some co-working days together, either at one of our houses or a café. The pandemic might have put that idea on hold, but we'll get there. Just being in the same space and chatting through ideas will be such a boost, so I'm holding onto that dream!”

“My friendship with Lauren grew over a number of years, so don't worry if you don't find this kind of connection overnight. Perhaps there's someone you already know who's a freelancer, or there's someone in an online community that you'd like to get to know. I don't think there needs to be a particular end goal to it - if you strive for friendship and giving each other support, whatever else happens is a bonus”

The Peer

Paula Gardner, freelance psychologist and coach

“I am partnered up with a woman that I met at a networking event over ten years ago. She runs a firm of virtual assistants and is also a VA herself. We’ve both been freelancing a long time now so we know the ins and outs of getting and managing clients. We have both been through divorces, watched our children grow up and head off to uni, as well as seen out businesses evolve. What used to be quarterly lunches somewhere lovely has now become regular Zoom sessions every few weeks. We meet on Sunday mornings when everyone else is asleep to chat, not only about work, but also the mental side of lockdown. We discuss getting enough exercise, remind each other about work/life balance, and generally check in that we are doing ok”.

“We have both referred clients to each other, as well as provided a calm and objective viewpoint when things haven’t gone well. We also introduce people to each other, sharing our networks, as well as giving the other the heads up if we spot a good workshop of journey request on Twitter”. 

“For me it’s been invaluable and blends the best of friendship and peer support”.

‘When looking for peer support, choose someone who you know is going to be honest with you. Knowing that Susan will tell me the truth about some copy or new business idea, is much better than someone who is a Yes person. That’s not easy to find, and may need a bit of coaxing out at first while you both get used to the idea”.

The mentor

Nishita Dewan, Founder of CollaboratEQ

“I’ve worked independently for the last four years. It can be lonely working alone, and I soon realised I needed two types of support: a support network with other mission-driven independent consultants and secondly, an intimate format to access thinking partners who can serve as a sounding board, a brainstorm buddy, a critical trusted advisor and a peer mentor to balance the dynamic of working alone”.

“Building relationships is an intrinsic part of how I work. Along the way, clients have become collaborators, and friends. I have three pacers at the moment. I found Rosie when I was working for the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) as a client in 2019. She is also values driven and has over 15 years of experience in her field. We now set aside a slot every fortnight to share our work updates and support each other talk through any challenges which we can co-problem solve together. Rosie works in policy and education, so not the same space as me, but there are parallel learnings in our work including designing learning ecosystems, and convening multiple stakeholders to create collective action around shared goals”.

“Then I have Katherine who I hired to support me on a project for The Wellcome Trust. We worked together for seven months and I realised her expertise and way of working challenged my perspective”.

“We regroup on a monthly basis to support each other and she offers a critical and creative lens on my work whilst I offer a strategic perspective in exchange”.

“The third, is a less structured dynamic, with an artist, who brings an entirely different perspective. Nandita is a movement practitioner and guides individuals to use movement to achieve physical alignment and retain a healthy posture. She is mission-led in her work and is working to achieve physical alignment using the body and mind. She works in flow and her style is fluid and adaptive, offering me a fresh, sensory parallel to my work, and in exchange I provide strategic and commercial guidance to support her working practice”.

Further reading

Goal setting and the first step to freelance success

This piece from Underpinned is all about why goal setting is still important, even during a pandemic, and how to organise yours into short, medium and long-term time frames.

How hard should I push myself?

While going after what we want is great, it’s important that it doesn’t come at a cost. This feature by Dan Shipper looks at what the science of stress tells us about peak performance.

How to make sure the pandemic doesn't ruin your children's social skills

I think we’re all a little worried about how the pandemic is affecting the mental and emotional health of our children. Here the Telegraph’s Anna White examines how extended school closures and a third national lockdown are storing up a host of anxieties for stifled children and teenagers.

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