Productivity Tips for the Self-Employed

October 8th, 2014 § Leave a Comment

Since going self-employed back in May (which is a story in itself) I’ve slowly discovered the positives, perils and pitfalls of being a freelancer. It’s all taken quite some getting used to after working full-time for my entire adult life, and one of the biggest challenges is productivity.

Have you ever sat at work one afternoon and got absolutely nothing done? Well, if you do that too many times as a freelancer you’ll have no deliverables to show, nothing to invoice at the end of the month and most importantly, you won’t get paid.

To some extent, whatever your productivity is as an employee you’re still getting paid for your time, whether you work non-stop all day every day or you get everything done by Wednesday and spend the rest of the week on “research”. You also know that if you don’t get your work done, your boss will be breathing down your neck and that’s incentive enough for most of us to be productive at work.

Freelancing allows you to work whenever you like, from wherever you like, and although that flexibility is golden it does mean that the only person responsible for your output is you. Left to your own devices it’s easy to go out more, take long lunches, go on day trips, stay up late and generally enjoy life when you really should remember that having fun butters no parsnips and you can’t rely on a steady salary to pay the bills any more.

It's hard to be productive when this happens

It’s hard to be productive when this happens

After several months of being my own boss, here are the little things that help me stay productive each day:

1) Get up, get dressed, get to your desk

It’s so easy once you’re out of the 9-5 routine to enjoy lie-ins, enjoy dressing casually and generally waft around the house like a lady (or gent) of leisure. I’ve found that I work best when I’m up at 730, at my desk by 8 and I can get some time in before the rest of the working world has really got going. The longer I leave it in a morning the harder it is to get started, but conversely if I’ve done a good few hours work before lunch it feels great.

2) Make your workspace nice

I started off working in the spare room at home, but I’ve found that the kitchen is my most productive space. It really was as simple as moving my laptop downstairs and now I find it a lot easier to concentrate. I think the better light in here has something to do with it, and I can have the kitchen door open which is nice. I also get occasional visits from the cat (all fine until he decides he wants to sleep on my keyboard *right now*). Invest a little in setting up your workspace in a way that makes it productive for you, whether that’s having it away from all distractions, somewhere you can see outside, or with that fancy office chair you always wanted.

3) You don’t have to stick to a 9-5

I get all my difficult tasks out of the way in the morning because that’s when I work best, and I’m not generally at my desk much past 3pm although I’ll pick up emails all evening and weekend. If you work best in the evening then work in the evening. Don’t feel you have to be at your desk between the hours of 9 and 5 just because everyone else is. If your clients want to contact you between those hours you’ll have to be available, but there’s nothing wrong with actually doing your work in odd hours if that suits you better. You should still put clothes on though.

4) If you’re not working, go and do something else

This was the hardest thing for me to accept when I first started working for myself. I’d be sat at my desk during the workday, looking at Reddit or Metafilter or something, thinking that I should be working but procrastinating over it nonetheless. I felt horribly guilty that my other half was at work, sitting at his desk with no option of leaving whilst I could do whatever I wanted. I felt like I should be working 9-5 even when I really wasn’t in the mood and didn’t have enough work to sustain me all week anyway.

Giving myself permission to step away from my desk was the best thing I did for my mental health and my productivity, but it took me about 4 months to do it. Now, if I’m not actually working I leave my desk and literally go and do something else, whether that’s go out for a bit, or tidy, or whatever. This means that when I sit down at my computer I’m in work mode, and I procrastinate far less as a result.

5) Give yourself a break

Following on from this, you should definitely take advantage of not being tied to a full-time desk job, and take breaks if you’ve completed your tasks. I find rewards work pretty well, like today I’m going to open a letter from my penpal when I’ve sent a batch of copy to a client. I can’t do it until I’ve finished my work, so it’s a good incentive to get things done.

6) Get out more

The big advantage of working for yourself is the ability to actually go outside when you want to. You’re not stuck to a 30 minute lunch where it’s impossible to do anything but wolf down a sandwich. You can go and get your hair cut, go running, go out for lunch with a similarly self-employed friend, and this all helps your mental state so you’re fresh when you go back to your desk.

7) Make lists

I always was an avid list-maker, and used to go through quite a lot of office stationery with my daily and weekly to-do lists. This still helps me as a freelancer – each day I write a to-do list and try and tick off as many items as possible. It’s surprisingly satisfying to know you’ve done everything for that month, and you’ve got lots of discrete tasks to put into your reports when you’re invoicing clients.

8) Stay focused, remove distractions

This is a new one for me but I find it really helpful to my productivity. It’s so easy to get distracted when you work online, either with social media or news sites or even other clients, so I’ve started only having the windows open that I need to work on my specific task. If I’m not working on it *right now* it’s not open, and when I’m done I close the tabs. That way I don’t have any distractions, and when I’m working on something it’s easy to stay focused on that client and that task, rather than seeing someone else’s website or Webmaster Tools account and thinking about them instead.

9) Interact with people

I get to talk to clients and go to meetings, so I don’t find working from home too bad. If I didn’t see people however I’d quickly go mad and I’m guessing most of you are the same. Make an effort to interact with other people in the industry in person. This might mean going to a networking event or finding a shared office space to go to sometimes, but try not to become isolated. Again, this helps both your mental health and your productivity. If nothing else, it’s really good to have someone to bounce ideas off, whether they’re to do with client work or your own app/website/business.

10) Make invoicing your goal

When I first started freelancing I was terrified – how was I going to pay the bills? I was so used to having a salary, to being able to buy pretty much anything I wanted whenever I wanted to, that the thought of having a reduced income seemed impossible. As my work has grown I’ve become far more aware of the monthly nature of my work than I did as an employee, because now at the end of the month I’m the one that’s sending out the invoices. I have to complete enough tasks (to a high enough standard) to invoice for, and knowing that keeps me productive as the weeks go by.

Although I’ve been doing this for almost 5 months now, it still feels like really early days in my self-employed career. It’s still pretty scary, and it still has challenges but I feel lucky to be able to give it a try. I have no idea if I’ll still be working for myself in 12 or even 6 months time, but I’ve learned loads about how I work and how to make myself more productive. If nothing else that’s something I never would have learned working for someone else.

Some Thoughts on the First Harrogate Tech

June 18th, 2014 § Leave a Comment

Last night was the inaugural Harrogate Tech meetup at Major Tom’s Social in Harrogate – it went surprisingly well (or perhaps not so surprisingly!), with about 15 people turning up of the 20 or so who’d reserved tickets. I’ve never organised a meetup before so it’s been something of a learning curve, but I’ve got lots of thoughts about how to make the next one better.

The Venue

The vast majority of attendees hadn’t been to Major Tom’s before but everyone seemed to like it. It’s such a relaxed atmosphere, with plenty of seating and a huge choice of drinks. It wouldn’t work if we wanted to do some talks (too noisy, nowhere to set up electricals), but for an informal meetup I can’t really fault it.

Signage

One thing I was a bit disappointed about was the lack of signage at the venue (which I thought was going to be taken care of by them). We had some “reserved” signs on our tables but nothing to say that we were Harrogate Tech, so next time I’m definitely bringing some proper posters to stick up.

I like to think if anyone walked in a) I would have recognised them, b) they would have recognised me or c) they’d have realised our group was the meetup because we were all wearing name badges and come over to say hi. Of course, I know I shouldn’t rely on any of those things so that’s something that needs to be better next time.

The Food

No one ordered food, and actually most people seemed to be going home to eat afterwards. Several of us went for dinner at 9 which was nice as far as the social side goes, but I think the meetup would definitely benefit from some food being laid on. Note to self: look for a sponsor for food.

Attendance

I reckon about three quarters/two thirds of the people who said they were coming made it. There was a reminder email sent out a couple of days beforehand, but maybe this should have been just the day before. It doesn’t matter so much when the event isn’t ticketed but it would be nice to try and get attendance up. Maybe something like having a proper plan for food would help?

Promotion

My main promotional tool for the meetup was Twitter. I.e. me tweeting about it quite a lot. It’s probably natural then that most people who came along were people I know, or who know someone I know. I’m sure this would grow naturally as people tell their friends/colleagues about it and ask them along next time, but I might need to ask specific people to come along or share it so that we reach a wider Harrogate audience.

Frequency

Monthly or bi-monthly, realistically. I’m leaning towards bi-monthly but to be honest I’m still undecided.

If you have any suggestions for Harrogate Tech, anything you’d like to see or be incorporated into the meetup, feel free to leave a comment or email me (hello @ piggynap)!

Harrogate Tech Meetup – 17th June 2014

May 22nd, 2014 § 12 Comments

harrogate-tech-logo

Harrogate Tech is a new meetup for everyone that works in the digital industry in (or near!) Harrogate.

Agency people, freelancers and anyone with an interest in design, development or online marketing is welcome. The aim is to have a laid-back get-together for networking, catching up and blowing off some steam.

The inaugural meetup will take place on the 17th of June at Major Tom’s Social in Harrogate.

As this is the very first meetup we’d like to get an idea of numbers beforehand, so please grab a free ticket over at the Eventbrite page. You can still come without one, but if we have an idea of attendance we’ll know how much space to reserve.

Why Attend?

Harrogate has a pretty big digital community, but if we want to hang out we have to head over to Leeds or York and who wants to do that?

This is a totally informal networking opportunity, and we encourage anyone in the digital sector to come along. There are no talks, sales pitches or recruitment drives (although bring your business cards along if you like!), just a friendly environment to get to know other people in digital.

Whether you work at an agency, in-house or for yourself, everyone’s welcome. You don’t need a better excuse to go out on a school night.

About Major Tom’s Social

Major Tom’s is a new bar in the centre of Harrogate, serving excellent food, wine and beer. It’s got art, board games, excellent music and we think it’ll be a great venue for Harrogate Tech. You can see their Facebook page here.

Major Tom’s Social
The Ginnel
Harrogate
HG1 2RB

Major Tom’s is located above Space Retro Vintage shop.

If you have any questions about the meetup, leave a comment below or email me: hello @ piggynap.com

Working From Home

April 30th, 2014 § Leave a Comment

photo (9)

photo (10)

I’ve been working from home this week, which hasn’t affected the cat in the slightest. You’d think the little bugger would come and see me but no, this is as close to a “hello” as I get.

Search Marketing in 2014

January 3rd, 2014 § Leave a Comment

2013 saw a sea-change in SEO and the world of search marketing. Not only was the industry still dealing with the aftereffects of Google’s penalty suite, mopping up several year’s worth of paid links and spun content, everyone was rebranding themselves as “content marketers” to put a bit of distance between the “new, clean SEO” and whatever tactics they’d been using 12 months ago. There was an algorithm update that no-one noticed, Google pushed Enhanced Campaigns live whether you wanted them or not, removed all of our keyword data in one fell swoop, and users themselves decided browsing the web on smartphones was far preferable to using silly old desktops.

When Google released Panda in 2011 I thought it was a gamechanger, and the same went for Penguin in 2012, but 2013 has seen a raft of changes, both by Google and by users that really have changed the face of SEO forever. I don’t think it’s possible – if you run an online business – to ignore these changes and what they mean for the way we now have to work. With that in mind, here are my predictions for search marketing in 2014…

Traffic not rankings

Okay, so you can still scrape your rankings and see how much traffic those pages get; you can look at Webmaster Tools for an indication, but fundamentally it’s a lot more difficult to see your referring keywords than it ever was before. In 2014 overall traffic will be key, not headline terms. Some clients will still demand a #1 spot for “cruises” or “car insurance” or whatever, but many will want to see a sustained organic traffic growth, whether that comes from head terms or longtail.

More weight given to other channels

How many SEO’s looked at social or direct traffic a couple of years ago? The marketing mix is growing and all channels – not just organic – will grow in importance. Growth in direct traffic will be reported on, as will the impact of Social and Email campaigns. Organic traffic will become just a part of the mix, not the be-all-and-end-all.

Focus on conversion rates

With budgets stretched and link-building increasingly risky, site owners will look to their conversion rate to get the very most out of each and every visitor. Anyone selling conversion testing software will do well, as will design agencies focussed on CRO.

Basket value will also be important, as will what happens to the customer after they’ve purchased (do they come back to buy again?). Your job isn’t just getting people to a website any more, it’s making sure they become a customer.

Email marketing

The great advantage of email marketing over any other channel is that it’s relatively low-cost to do. You don’t pay for clicks, you can send it to thousands of people and if you’ve got an in-house designer you can send as many mailers as you like. Many big retailers already have brilliant email campaigns, but we’ll see a lot more smaller businesses doing it too. We’ll also see a rise in more innovative email marketing, like basket abandonment mailers and offers targeted to individual users.

Mobile optimised everything

It doesn’t need pointing out how huge mobile is now – I’ve seen sites with a 60% increase on mobile traffic over the last year and it’s a trend that’s going to continue. 2014 will see people rushing to responsify* their sites or create a mobile version, and agencies will see a big increase in the number of mobile site audits and mobile ranking checks they’re asked to produce.

Email will go mobile too, and before long sites that don’t have a mobile-optimised version will be considered *so* 2013.

More penalties

Google will continue to iterate their algorithmic penalties, and the demand for recovery won’t decrease in 2014. You can tell people not to do something but they’ll keep doing it until…well, until the sh*t hits the fan. Good news for agencies, for now – it’s a nice big project to keep you going – but as sites recover and people rethink their search marketing strategy….

Deliverables change

The deliverables on your monthly report will change. Maybe your link section has gone already, to be replaced by “mentions” and “reach”. Maybe traffic and revenue have taken the place of rankings. Whatever the details, agencies will report on a wider range of metrics encompassing several channels. They’ll add value where they can and their reports will reflect what we used to think of as “marketing”, not what we used to think of as “SEO”.

In conclusion

2014 will be an exciting year for the industry, whatever we like to call ourselves these days. If nothing else Google has forced us to adapt and, for want of a better word, modernise. We’re marketers now, or we should be, and that makes us versatile and useful outside our own little SEO bubble. We’re picking up the pieces of the last couple of years, not just painting over the cracks but starting afresh**, with a whole new mobile world to look forward to. I’m pretty excited for the coming year in search – I think we’ll see more innovation and a more interesting landscape to work in. Google Plus though? Still won’t take off.

*It’s a word
**And I don’t just mean those people who’ve had to move to a new domain