Busy Busy Bee

Busy Bees in Work and Social Life

I’ve just looked at my calendar today and realised that I don’t have a free weekend spare now until the middle of August! How can it be possible that I have something booked in every weekend for practically a quarter of the year? It feels ridiculous, but yet somehow fairly easy to achieve when you consider there’s always friends and family to see, holidays, kids’ parties and two milestone birthdays in the next few months ahead of us.

I know some people like having a busy social life, but I’m not a fan of always having something planned and my husband absolutely hates it; you begin to almost feel like you’re constrained by the diary and can’t do anything spontaneous.

Never Enough Time

Many of us are now busier than ever. Busy juggling work, children, the daily commute, school pick-ups and drop offs not to mention the inane household chores, time really does become the most precious of commodities. Yes, it’s important to stay in touch with friends and catch up with the family, but I really do believe that sometimes it’s just as important to stop, take stock and breathe. Time to just chill out, think and do whatever it is that YOU want to do.

Too many of us are concerned about trying to please other people or minimise offending others, so we rush around chaotically trying to do everything to please other people, to fit everything in and often neglect ourselves.

Work

It’s not just family and social life that this all applies too, but work too. I know people who always seem to be absolutely manic. As a freelancer, I’m fortunate enough right now to be busy but not swamped, but I know other freelancers who are fraught, trying to juggle their life around work because they don’t want to turn projects down. Like our social lives, it’s just as important to take stock and look at the situation. I wrote recently about how I’ve just gained the confidence to turn work down that I don’t think is of value either financially or in terms of the type of work I want to focus on. Whatever the nature of your work, whether it’s full time, part time or freelancing, I think it’s always really worthwhile to stop every now and then and look at what we’re doing. Are there some projects or some bits of work that can be delegated to someone else or delayed or abandoned all together? All too often we run around like headless chickens being busy that sometimes a bit of time out to re-assess can really help us get back on track and be more productive.

Be a Little Selfish

It’s important to every now and then, be a little bit selfish. Think about what you want to do. That and learn to say no to people more often. The other thing that I need to do more often is to plan free weekends into the diary. Free from making commitments, free from seeing other people and free to do what we as a family want to do. I used to work with a girl who every couple of months would plan with her husband to have a weekend spent “pulling up the drawbridge”, they wouldn’t go out and no one else would come in, and they would spend that weekend how they pleased together.

We’re all busy, but I hope this post at least makes you stop and think awhile. As John Lennon said “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

Are you a busy bee?  Do you like having lots to do and being on the go? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Family Holiday, Memory Maker

Family Holiday

This time tomorrow I will be off on a flight to Lanzarote! I can’t wait for a bit of sunshine and a break from the usual routine. This holiday is unusual because there will be 14 of us. Yes you did read that right – 14! My mum and dad are very kindly treating my 2 sisters and I plus all of our respective families to a week in the sun.

People’s reactions to the trip tend to fall into one of two categories: laughter or horror. Many can’t understand why on earth I’d travel abroad with my entire immediate family complete with 6 small children aged 5 or under. Yes, I guess there is a potential for arguments and yes, I hope we can all have a fabulous time and manage to return back to the UK still talking.

Of course with so many children mostly of toddler age, it is hardly going to be a quiet affair. There will probably be at least 1 child having a meltdown about something at any one given time.

So Why?

So why on earth are we doing this? Other than the sunshine, I truly believe this holiday will be a real memory maker for my 3 year old daughter. For one thing she’s never been on an aeroplane before. I can’t wait to see how she’s going to react to being up in the air. Secondly she absolutely adores her 4 cousins, 2 of whom are older or younger than her by just a few weeks. These 3 girls always get on well together but they’ve never been with each other for longer than a morning or afternoon. So to be spending a full week in each other’s company is going to be really exciting for them. No doubt they’ll be the odd spat, but I really believe that this holiday will cement an already beautiful friendship. At 3, I’m hoping that this holiday will be a strong memory that my eldest daughter will treasure forever.

My 21 month old daughter will probably not remember this trip, but she will undoubtedly love spending time with all of her favourite people. If the weather is kind, our water baby will also love the outdoor pool that we have at our villa.

I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with the kids but also the adults too. It will be great to catch up properly with my sisters, their husbands, my parents and my own husband too! Sometimes everyday life churns on so quickly that you don’t get the real chance to sit, take stock, relax and talk properly.

I’ll report back in a week or so and let you know all about our family holiday.

Never Knowingly Undersold

Don't undervalue yourself as a freelancer

About a week ago, I lost out on a fair sized freelancing job because I undersold myself.  I was talking to a prospective client on the phone and when the subject of my costs came up, I gave an approximate figure. There was a silence from the other end. This I’ve come to learn is the first rule of valuing yourself: Hold firm! Don’t fill the silence! But as the seconds ticked on, I felt the need to impress and show my efficiency so I uttered the fateful words “Of course, I may even be able to do the work in less time and therefore my price would be X.”

Stupidly, I’d gone lower when the client was in fact expecting a higher price! The client in this case was fortunately completely honest and told me the price he would usually look to pay. It’s perhaps no coincidence that I didn’t win that work. By undervaluing myself I probably didn’t install much confidence that I could do the job to a decent standard. Luckily for me, he has taken me on for another project.

Turning Work Down

On a similar note, I was recently offered two regular freelancing jobs. Both blog writing for two very different clients. I thought long and hard about them before turning them both down. Why? Because it would have been a fair amount of work, commitment and in one of the cases – research into a subject matter that I didn’t know about, for not very much pay. If it was a one off job, I probably would have done it, but I didn’t want to be tied into work that takes up a lot of time for when other projects hopefully start to come in.

It’s all about getting the balance right and this is yet another tricky element of the freelancing world; weighing up whether you can afford to take on the work or afford to turn it down. There’s a risk of not knowing what’s around the next corner, but I believe you’ve got to give yourself a certain value. You’ve got to place a value on yourself and your time.

A Life Lesson

Surely the principle of valuing yourself isn’t just a rule for freelancing, but life in general too? Whether you’re thinking about finding a new full-time job, or even when meeting a new friend, a new partner or buying a new house. The notion still applies even if we aren’t fully aware of it. How much do we want this? How much time and effort are we prepared to put in with it? What will you get from it in the long term? How much do you value yourself?

The Moral of The Story

There are several lessons and I’m still getting to grips with them:

  • Know your self-worth. In terms of freelancing this means having a clear understanding in your head of your rate of pay. Whether it’s an hourly, daily or project rate.
  • There is probably more to a project than meets the eye. A brief chat with a client on the phone will only convey so much. Once you get going with a task there is likely to be more work to do such as research, admin and meetings. You need to think about these extra tasks before committing yourself and a price to a client.
  •  Think about the long term and what you want. A regular freelancing gig may initially seem great, but if it’s not paying well it may later become a burden and a cross to bear.

What do you think? Freelancers do you agree with me? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

A Dedication to All Mums for Mother’s Day

Mother's Day     Being a mum is hard work. Whether you’re a brand new mum who is still finding her feet with the joys of sleep deprivation, a worn out mum who is dealing with a feisty toddler or a mum worrying about her grown up children.

Whatever the situation and however old your children are, there always seems something to worry about. Worry about whether your kids are OK and worry about whether you’re doing the right thing too. It’s exhausting!

In honour of Mother’s Day, I dedicate this post to you, lovely mums. I know so many different mums who are all facing different situations and all facing a battle of some sort. I’ve identified 6 types of mum and I know at least 2 mums from each group. Read on to see if you can recognise yourself in here, because this is especially for you:

The New Mum: Possibly a first time mum or a new mum who is also struggling to cope with entertaining an older sibling. The lack of sleep is a shock to the system as are the demands of feeding and trying to figure out general routines. Mums who have their second or subsequent new baby face a shock because they’re trying to figure out how on earth they can satisfy the demands of a screaming baby, but placate their feisty toddler too – tricky!

The Full Time Working Mum: I know several full time working mums who are all getting up at the crack of dawn to drop their kids off at nursery before doing an often long commute to get into the office. They must feel like they’ve done a day’s work before sitting at their desk. And then running for the train on the way home, praying for no delays in order to pick up their kids and start the bedtime routine. They have my greatest respect, I really don’t know how they do it.

The Incomplete Mum: These mums have lost a child too soon. They will never be the same again. Despite getting up and putting on a brave face every day, a piece of them is missing. I can’t even begin to imagine how they must feel, they are true heroes.

The Juggling Work & Juggling Kids Mum: Whether they are working part time, freelancing or working from home, these mums struggle to fit in work and kids. They’re cramming every spare child free moment with trying to sort out work. Whilst the kids are in child care they are working, when the kids are in front of the TV they are answering emails. All too often they feel like they aren’t doing anything to the best of their ability; work and parenting feels like half measures and they often wish they could do both a bit better.

The Stay at Home Mum:  Teacher, carer, entertainer, nurse; the list goes on for the role of the full time mum. Some days can be rewarding, fun and memorable. The bad days can be exhausting, mind-numbing, out of control and damn right horrible. Dealing with tantrums, sickness, general bad behaviour and not talking to another adult for 12 hours can be excruciating. I know plenty of mums who on occasion have cried, screamed and felt like walking out and never coming back.

The Empty Nest Mum: Having devoted most of their life to their children, these mums are suddenly facing having more time on their hands. Whether the kids are all now at school, university or left home, these mums may feel at a bit of a loss … or they might be dancing round the kitchen looking forward to their new-found freedom. Either way, it’s a sudden lifestyle change that can be as daunting as it might be exhilarating. After so many years, what to do next?

Whatever type of mum you are, it can be tough. Everyone’s struggling with every day issues and problems that can be very small and minor or huge and life changing.

Whatever your situation, I hope you all manage to take a bit of time to relax and enjoy Mother’s Day, because you all deserve it, you’re doing a wonderful job!  Xx

Make Time for You and Break The Routine

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Whether you’re dealing with the rat race of a commute into work or you’re stuck at home with a screaming toddler who’s having a melt-down about the wrong type of cheese in a sandwich, life can seem like a constant re-run with a dire outlook if there’s no break from the routine.

It could just be the endless winter days, but just lately I feel like I’ve been living a constant re-run of Groundhog Day. By day I’m doing my best to occupy my two toddlers and stop them from fighting over the most ridiculous things (like who should get out of the bath first), whilst trying my best to fit in work, cooking and the general mundane chores during nap time and the evenings.

The Break

Then last week there was a sudden break in the pattern. Three things broke up my drudgery!

  1. I was invited out to dinner on a Monday no less by some other mums I know. It was only a cheap and cheerful dinner, but it was good to get out of the house without kids and talk to some other adults.
  2.  My husband has recently re-joined a gym. And for a trial period, I have been granted a 3 month pass to use the facilities. I’m not really a gym person, but there is a fantastic swimming pool. So on Thursday I took myself off for an evening swim. It was virtually empty, the lighting was low and for half an hour, I completely lost myself swimming my way up and down that pool. It was heaven not only to be finally doing some form of exercise again, but to be on my own, lost in my own thoughts.
  3.  At the weekend we visited the in-laws. My sister-in-law insisted on taking me to the local pub for some pre-dinner drinks leaving the men and grandparents to deal with the troublesome bath and bedtime. It felt naughty to be sneaking out the front door at 6pm to go the pub but why not?! We had a much needed catch up which we never seem to do when running around trying to sort out the kids.

So 3 things in the space of one week broke up my pattern of drudgery. Plus, it’s the end of February and I can see a glimpse of spring on the horizon. Things are looking up.

Crush the Routine

The point is everyone needs a break from the norm of some sort. Whether it’s going for a long walk, getting your hair cut or going out for lunch, everyone needs time for themselves to re-charge and re-focus.

I can remember one of my old bosses at work telling us that it was important to break the routine in order to keep the brain ticking over. He used to take a different route into work several times a week. I can see his point. With no break from the drudgery, life can threaten to become all-consuming and you can even begin to resent it.

I don’t know if my gym pass will last longer than 3 moths, but whilst I have it, I intend to swim at least one evening a week in that lovely pool and make sure I get some more time to myself.

What about you? Do you think it’s important to make time for yourself? How do you do it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Why is “Flexible Working” Still So Inflexible?

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We live in a digital age, apparently. We have technology available at our finger-tips, supposedly. Why is it then that many businesses still can’t use this technology to allow their employees a better work / life balance?

According to a recent survey, a whopping 80% of employees say they would be happier with more flexible working options. Better work flexibility means greater happiness and more productivity for business. And yet why are we still not getting this quite right? Why is it that the majority of working people I know are still plodding through a 9 to 5 hour day for 5 days a week chained to their office desk?

My Ultimatum

Four years ago, I had a job that I loved in London. I went on maternity leave and was hoping to go back. I asked to return on a part-time basis but that wasn’t deemed possible. So then I asked if I could work from home but apparently that wouldn’t work with the systems in place. Eventually, I was told that I either had to return in a full-time capacity or not at all. And so I made the difficult decision to leave. I couldn’t face working full-time with a heavy commute, and leaving a young baby for so long.

It still makes me quite cross now. Why should this have to be the case? Why in this digital age can’t there be more working from home? Why can’t there be more flexi-time? Why can’t there be more job-sharing or part-time work?

A Question of Trust

I can only assume that it is because of a question of trust. If technology can make us all work faster, smarter and in any location, the reason most businesses don’t employ flexible working practices is because they are suspicious of what might be going on if they can’t keep a beady eye on their employees. Perhaps organisations think that if they can’t see their employees grappling with an excel spread sheet they may instead be at home with their feet up or putting the washing on dancing round the kitchen to Uptown Funk?

Their Loss?

I passionately believe that many businesses are losing out in not offering flexible working patterns. My talented sister used to work at a well-known children’s publisher, she quit her job along with 5 other senior, well-regarded women in one year because they would not allow any of them to work a 4 day week in the office and 1 day at home. This to me seems ludicrous. Surely it would be more beneficial for the organisation to try and accommodate these women than to go through the painful procedure of recruiting, training and replacing the staff who all had valuable years’ experience?

When I started writing this post I was mostly thinking about mums and how there should be more flexibility for working mothers. But really, why can’t there just be more flexibility for workers full-stop? Why can’t organisations trust their work-force to get the job done in whatever time suits them best? If employees are happy they will be more productive. Better productivity equals better profit. Output should be measured on achievements, not on how many hours are being clocked up at the office desk.

I’d love to know what you think. Are you a parent who would like the opportunity to have more flexible working hours? Would you be more productive if you could work from home more often? Or do you disagree with me entirely?!

Why Self Promotion is Critical

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I have a confession to make. I’ve been freelancing for over two years now and I’ve been lucky enough to have been very busy with a constant flow of work. But in the midst of all that hard work writing copy and marketing other businesses, I’ve managed to neglect the promotion of my own business.

It’s such a ridiculous and cardinal sin of a marketer – to disregard your own promotion. I’ve talked to many clients about the importance of having a regularly updated blog and written their blogs for them, but yet I’ve not taken the time to write my own. I suppose my only excuse is that I naively felt that I didn’t need to do it as I was so busy.

A lesson that I’ve quickly had to learn in the world of freelancing is that nothing remains constant. There are times when it can be incredibly busy and you wonder how you’re going to cope. Then it will suddenly change and you’re left scratching around for work. This is probably true of many small business owners, but one thing that I’ve learnt is that to remain competitive, you have to spend a huge percentage of your time promoting yourself.

The Art of Self Promotion

As an owner of a small business, there’s no room for shyness or being self-effacing. If you don’t promote yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. It’s essential to keep reminding others what you do and why or risk losing out to the competition. You know your business best and therefore you’re the most able person to promote yourself, but if you simply don’t have time to keep on top of it, let others help you.

Social Media

Consumers expect to be able to see you and follow you on Twitter and Facebook. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it’s also essential. Twitter is a great way to network to find new clients or prospects who might be interested in your product or services. It’s also a great way to find like-minded people to learn from. If your business is creative and lends itself to products which are more visual – make use of the other social media tools like Instagram and Pinterest.

Blogs

Blogs let others know what you’re doing. They can be more personal and let customers know more about your personality and your thoughts on a subject. They not only promote you and your business, but they act as a retention method to keep your customers coming back to find out more. They also drive traffic to your website – if somebody stumbles upon a blog post on a Google search and they like what they read they will be more likely to click through to your website and will be a step closer to making a sale or enquiry. Finally, regularly updated blogs are loved by the search engines such as Google which means your website will gradually rank higher.

PR

Nothing beats a bit of self-promotion like an article in a magazine or newspaper, an interview on radio or some favourable write up online. The key to PR is finding a hook which will interest the different media and their respective followers / readers. So perhaps you’re launching a new product that is completely different to anything else in the market. Or maybe your business is approaching a landmark anniversary. There are plenty of things that can act as a good hook, it just needs some thought and some dedication to contact the relevant media.

So what have I learnt? Never assume that work will remain constant or that business will continue to boom. You need to spend a large percentage of your time promoting yourself. In doing so you’ll be seen as a key player and remain competitive. Self-promotion takes time and dedication and sometimes it can be a chore, but in this cut-throat world of business, it’s absolutely vital.

Perhaps you’re struggling with the art of self-promotion or you don’t trust your writing skills to maintain a blog? Maybe you’re running out of things to say on social media or you’re unsure about contacting the press. Get in touch and I’ll gladly give you some pointers.