Over 4 million of us in Britain are now self-employed – more than ever before. Worklifeblog is about sharing tips and techniques to make self-employed working work better. From decision-making to resilience, time-management to forward planning, find ideas here to make your life as a freelancer a huge success on your own terms.

Finding your freelance strengths

The summer’s a great time to get perspective on life and work – that is, if your freelance schedule actually gives you any time off. I spent one summer holiday writing a book by night and playing with the children by day. I’d say it was memorable experience, except that my brain seems to have blotted it kindly from my consciousness.

Still, this summer is working out better. I have not only been away, and read a couple of actual novels, I picked up Are you fully charged? by Tom Rath. He’s better known for his title StrengthsFinder, an assessment tool designed to help you find what you’re best at, and then focus on doing that every day in your work. This idea of specialisation is very relevant to us freelancers, and I found the assessment of my strengths useful when I did it a couple of years ago.

The new book looks what the latest research says about how we can work at our best, both personally, and for the sake of the world, by being fully charged. Rath asks ‘what will you do today that makes a difference?’ – a question sharpened when we learn that the reason he asks himself this each day is because he has lived since the age of 16 in the shadow of various cancers that constantly threaten to return.

In our work as freelancers we have more latitude than most to explore our strengths, pursue new ideas and initiate new projects. It’s up to us to take responsibility for our own career – but no one can tell us what that must look like. We can define our own success, and books like these can help us find potential areas to explore.

Freelancers have an opportunity to gather and discuss this kind of thing at the next Museums Association Conference in Birmingham on 5 and 6 November 2015, when I’ll be running another Careers Cafe session. So, in terms of finding our motivations and strengths, what were the key points of last year’s survey and conference session? When I look back, several things emerge:

  • there are freelancers in all areas of museum or gallery work, offering their skills and experience
  • freelancing offers flexibility – to do a particular kind of work, keep particular hours or build a portfolio
  • word of mouth is the best source of work for most freelancers, followed by client recommendation
  • freelancers thrive on focused work, juggling projects and meeting deadlines to help their clients achieve a wide range of outcomes.


Walk this way

View on way out of Banbury

View on the way out of Banbury

If you’re a freelancer, how might you choose to spend precious time away from hard mental work at your desk? Why, you’d surely tackle a ridiculous physical challenge, wouldn’t you? Last Wednesday with my husband (also a freelancer) I attempted to walk from Banbury to Leamington, to see if it could be done in a day.

Why walk, when the journey by car takes only half an hour? The Mighty M40 runs more-or-less directly from our current house, to my childhood home in north Leamington. Well, with my parents about to move after 40 years, it was now or never – attempt the walk before the removal men came, or wonder, till it drove you mad, what would have happened if you had (I may be over-dramatising a little).

Centenary Way marker

Centenary Way marker

Route-planning and preparation rapidly took place using Googlemaps and Streetmap as well as the OS Landranger map. It appeared we could make the walk on bridleways and paths much of the way – vastly preferable to tackling narrow country roads on foot. We would leave Banbury for Hanwell and then Warmington, pick up the Centenary Way north, pass through Harbury, and then catch the Grand Union Canal path west into Leamington. The whole thing, as it always does, looked incredibly simple on the map.

Most of our other walking experience has been along the Cotswold Way, a 100-mile route between Chipping Campden and Bath. We completed it in short sections between other commitments, meaning that each time we picked the trail up again, its starting point would have inconveniently moved further away. As a result, our actual walking usually began quite late on, especially when you include the Freelancer’s Faff Factor – the reluctance to go before finishing one last email.

But this time the walk could really begin first thing, giving us a long, clear summer’s day. So at 9.30 the next morning having sorted the children out with their own activities, we set off. Here is our route, with notes so you can imagine our experiences at each stage (and if you like, re-enact them).

Starting point: Banbury railway station (NB: We don’t live at the railway station but thought this was a cunning plan for our return journey by train.) Make quick stop at Londis for drinks.

At the edge of Hanwell

At the edge of Hanwell

Station to Hanwell (4 miles) Emerge into countryside after taking ages to leave Banbury’s outskirts. Miss a turning in the footpath in Hanwell, and inadvertently enter an unmarked site that turns out to be a private garden for a castle (as the building contractor who ushers us away informs us). He is glad to be rid of us, probably before the owner fetched his or her blunderbuss and it all got a bit awkward.

Hanwell to Warmington (4 miles) Joke with some friendly workmen that we still have a long way to go, take three purposeful strides down the hill, then see open pub door and immediately duck inside. (The Plough) On exiting again, a lovely pond and village green lead us to speculate that this is where the comedy Chickens might have been filmed.

Fruit Pastilles lolly joy at Burton Dassett

Ice cream van joy at Burton Dassett

Warmington to Burton Dassett (2.5 miles) Amble through Avon Dassett and Burton Dassett, and realise I used to think this gentle rise of ground was an enormous range of hills. See ice cream man with huge joy, and buy a Fruit Pastilles lolly as he had no Soleros. Join the Centenary Way and discuss whether it commemorates the First World War, or possibly some great achievement of outdoorsiness, like the establishing of the Rambler’s Association. It transpires that the centenary in question is in fact that of the foundation of Warwickshire County Council.

Burton Dassett to Northend (1.5 miles) Are inadvertently filmed in an American lady’s project about her husband who had been an acupuncture therapist in the village. She and the cameraman are gratifyingly impressed we have come 12 miles. Cross beautiful fields of wheat, all a perfect, uniform height and ready to harvest into what I declare are called stooks, although this word is disputed. It turns out to be a real word.

Northend to Gaydon Road (1.5 miles) Cross spooky railway serving MOD Kineton, with stern notices commanding you to open and close the gates, of which there weren’t any. Stand in field for quite some time wondering where the path is, and how we can cross a thick hedgerow to rejoin the way. Obviously look very lost as a nice farmer stops what he is doing in an enormous machine to advise that we can walk through his field, jump over a gate and pick up the road to Gaydon, which happily we achieve.

Man with legs magically restored

Man with legs magically restored

Gaydon Road to Harbury (4.5 miles) Tramp for absolutely miles alongside great big fields, in which you think you’re getting somewhere and then you see the next great big field ahead. Have to have a small rest. Back of legs sunburnt, as this is the only visible patch of skin not covered with sun lotion. Drink more pop at the Old New Inn, and husband says how wonderful it is that his legs now feel completely restored, as if they had been refuelled. My legs cannot say the same.

Harbury to Fosse Way (2 miles) Realise folly of continuing north, when we could cut west earlier and get to Leamington more directly. Cross the Fosse Way, which at 6pm is solid with traffic, noisy and dangerous for walkers. Luckily there is a turning onto a footpath to Whitnash – and a petrol station selling Soleros. Woo.

Mile 22 - arrival in Leamington

Mile 22 – arrival in Leamington

Fosse Way to Whitnash (2 miles) Continue on path to Whitnash, which is easy going, but I wouldn’t want to walk it alone, squished between the railway line and a fence. We pop out the other end and soon find the sign for Leamington – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

However we want ideally to end up in Milverton, where my parents have dinner waiting. The walk begins to seem impossibly long. Lollies mixed with fizzy drinks and no real food, plus pretty high temperatures, has not been the ideal mixture. It is now 7pm.

Whitnash to Victoria Park (2 long miles) Drag feet along Queensway. Turn a corner and the GPS tells us there are only 11 minutes of the walk remaining. Get to Victoria Park and have to lie down on the grass, as if permanently. Husband rings for parental-in-law assistance (although NB he could easily have continued). We are soon gathered up by my dad into comfortable car and whizzed back to home of my youth.

So – Banbury to Leamington in a day, yes, it can be done, if you don’t mind feeling rather grim for a while afterwards. 24 miles is now our walking record and one we may not repeat soon. Until we are seized by another whim to leave our desks again, we look forward to staying safely behind them in a stationary position.