Employment status?

Employment status?

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I’m currently in the enviable or unenviable position of straddling a range the whole range of employment status. I’m employed in casual labor, working freelance, a trustee of a charity under which we’re starting a starting a (social enterprise). It’s been brilliant when I think I don’t have to sit in an an office all day but terrifying when the dreaded word tax comes up. It’s been 6 months since I graduated and 3 months since I began the mix of work, so now seems to be a good time to take a moment and reflect on them and explore what is great or isn’t so great.

What has been great for me is that I’ve realised I thrive on the mix. The past three months have been intense but it is great being able to see multiple perspectives. As I go along I’ll keep

Employee
My current employment is casual labor but during my studies I worked full time in offices during the summer and also did my year in industry. One of the perks is of course is the steady pay check. Knowing how much you will be paid and when is a blessing. Working at the theatre I have met other freelancers in creative industry’s who dip in and out or work permanently in casual jobs to supplement their income.

After office hours are also your own, which is something you start to miss when you are self employed. Additionally there is the prospect of promotion and moving up the ranks, depending on where you’re working. I found the bigger the office, the greater the chance of that, but the experience you could gain in a small office would be more hands on.

However as I discovered when I was made redundant in my year in industry, working for someone else does not equal security. Loosing that job, made me reconsider working in full time employment, especially because I found that sitting at a desk all day was not my idea of fun.

Freelance/ self employed
I never planned to go freelance. I sort of fell into it as the research internship I will soon be finishing required it, so I never really had any expectations for it. One thing everyone imagines is that freelance equals greater freedom and flexibility, I remember saying that to freelance tech guys, and laugh at the naivety. There is definitely freedom to plan your time as you want and work on different projects in different areas of interest. I really enjoy how no two days are the same and how I can work on one project for a short time and move on to the next. However have quickly realised is that all time is work time. You can easily work 365 days. The difficulty will be forcing myself to take a holiday, something that’s so simple when you’re employed.

A big part of being freelance is networking. Going out there, meeting people, finding opportunities, promoting yourself. I definitely enjoy how sociable it is meeting new people and finding out the interesting projects they are working on.

The most important thing that the last 3 months have taught me is that self employment is a big balancing act. Balancing projects, knowing when to say yes and when to say no. Balancing time off with work time, balancing your finances, balancing quiet times with busy times, balancing client relationships and priorities, balancing time between fun work, paid work and admin.

Starting a business/ entrepreneur
Since I was a teenager I dreamed of starting my own business and although I dabbled in some eBay sales in my youth, it was only in my last year my final year of uni when I attended the Clean Conscience Dirty Hands conference that I understood the type of business I wanted to set up. I ended up pairing with a friend who was also interested in the same ideas and we have since joined the non profit with the aim of setting up a social enterprise. It feels unbelievably lucky to be starting a business I’m passionate about, using design to make positive social and economic change.

Starting after university felt like an ideal time to start. I already had some experience in over 1/2 dozen offices and I felt that if I went into a traditional job and decided to branch out in a couple of years I would get too comfortable and too afraid. That’s not so say it can’t be done, I’ve read before that the average age for start up entrepreneurs is the mid 30’s.

Starting a business is really similar to being freelance in a lot of ways, you’re working all the time, dealing with clients 1:1 which brings greater feeling of responsibility. However it’s like double the pressure because you have to do things like monitor your finances and the companies finances, network and promote, but people are buying into the company’s vision, it’s product and service as well as you.

I have realised that the best way to do it is in a team. It makes a huge difference to know that you have the support of others with a shared vision. You can bounce back and forth ideas, spread the work better, and it also makes you actually go for it if you are accountable to others.

Enterprise for me is more about the end game; empowering people by improving the design of their environment. It has the perks of giving you ultimate control, which being freelance doesnt really do. The goal is to be able to get to the point where the enterprise runs smoothly and you can have people, smarter and more talented people working for you. As Seth Godin explains beautifully in this post Organising for Growth.

Third sector/ charity
This is my first foray into the third or charity sector, the social enterprise we are setting up is under the charity. It is definitely a field where the potential for feeling like you have a purpose and being fulfilled are the greatest. But as we all know there is little or no money in it. We do not take a salary for the work which is great as it means all the money raised goes to the projects and there is that increasingly important transparency. It also means that the work we do is in our free time, which can have its drawbacks, however it is fascinating how much you can give when money is taken out of the equation. As a sector the passion in the people I have met has astounded me. It is definitely highly motivating.

Charities are more tightly regulated than in businesses, where it seems like you can do it however you want as long as it’s legal. Money is of course important here, it is about asking people to donate to a cause and in order for them to do that you have to get them to not only believe in the vision and purpose, but to also the results and sometimes why it would benefit them to help. Something I have never considered before. Of course the moral concerns are high on our minds. It can sometimes feel overwhelming but knowing that you are helping someone even if it seems small is a wonderful feeling.

So what do you do?

So what do you do?

So what do you do? As many of freelancers/ self employed people in what ever capacity could tell you know this is a dreaded question. Worse than doing a job that no ones heard of and you know trying to explain will make them mentally switch off. Is probably doing multiple jobs in multiple fields and thinking where do I start or which answer do I give today. Worse still is forgetting what you previously told the person. Speaking to others working with multiple hats this a recurring theme.

Since graduating last summer,  I have ended up doing a mix of things away from the traditional post Part II architecture path. And it’s been brilliant but when some asks me what do you do? I’m stumped.  I usually have to pause and assess the context and conversation and choose the answer. I currently start with “I studied architecture but…” Then the options range from the short “I am part of humanitarian design organisation Orkidstudio,” to the mid length “we’re setting up a social enterprise and I also do freelance work”. With the long version in exceptional circumstances “I do freelance graphics with an online fashion company Unineed, research for project for a events and space management agency TAKTAL and I’m doing a course in community arts with Impact Arts, and also doing front of house work at a theatre.” As you can see that is definitely a mouthful.
So I thought I would try to come up with a simpler answer to the “what do you do” question. Asking instead what do I do and why do I do what I do? The best I’ve got so far is “I am a recent architecture graduate, working on local and global projects that use design solutions to affect positive social and economic change.” I’ll give it a try and let’s see what the feedback is. If you have any tips let me know 🙂
Take a break

Take a break

Two brilliant articles about how to use your holiday period; unicorns time for our sector to take a break from Non Profit with Balls
17 ways to make the most of the Christmas Break on Ideas Tap. 

Vu Le’s blogpost on Non profit with Balls…. Is brilliantly funny and gives great advice on why we need to take time off, if only to prevent total burnout before January is even over. And it applies to the nonprofit sector, freelancers, and self employed alike. It’s super exciting until you realise that you were hoping to catch up on work/ life stuff over the break. 

Which is where the Ideas Tap article comes in, advocating using the time as update/ catch up/ experiment/ read time. Update your cv, fix kit, do some reading and de-tech your life at least for one day. Which is incredibly hard to do as I am realising, I constantly feel like I need to be holding or looking at some type of technology. 

The best idea is probably to do a bit of both. A couple of hours to work a day and schedule the rest to do absolutely nothing (off course taking Christmas and New Years Day & eve totally off). The best of both worlds. Whatever you do enjoy your holidays! 😊

30 minute project audit

30 minute project audit

I recently completed the 30 Minute Audit on Katie’s blog Design Affects. It’s really simple to do and only takes a short time commitment 30 minutes, or 45 in my case. Just to list all the projects you are working on and your personal identity and answer for each one;

Description: Why are you doing it?

Audience: Who are you trying to reach?

Role: What part do you play?

Sponsor: Who is supporting or funding you?

Scale: What parts of the world are you trying to reach?

Frequency: How often are you working on this?

Social Media: What are the various channels where you communicate this project?

It’s a great opportunity to evaluate the projects you’re juggling and why  you’re doing them. It was great to see that I could say why I was doing the majority of my work/ projects and what the outcomes for me were. I also realized that most of them I loved doing, even the one I want to leave.

It was a bit of a kick up the butt to stop procrastinating one of my projects and so I need to get a move on! Additionally it highlighted for me the projects I want to focus on and the work I want to leave soon, as it doesn’t fit with my overall “brand” as Kate calls it. Its about finding the the balance of work that pays, and work I’m interested in pursuing in the long term. As a friend recently told me,  we need to curate the work we take on and give ourselves side projects to explore our interests as ultimately the work we do will define the work we’ll get.

If you have a spare 30 minutes today you should try it out 🙂

Balance- Too much or too little

Balance- Too much or too little

Last Wednesday we had the second session of our group project with the delightful kids from Darnley Primary. They’d all come up with their animals and we started making them using cardboard. Something that I feel I have been learning through this project has been Balance, too much or too little.

Balancing time. Last week we realised we hadn’t planned enough for the class, this week we’d planned to much and hadn’t anticipated that the kids with higher visual impairments would find it harder to make their animals. Perhaps the emphasis perhaps should have been on the idea of the animals not its physical form.

Balancing activities. The kids level of engagement has been amazing and have become the highlight of my week and what we’ve found works well is starting with a circle time where each gets to speak and moving on to the table to make things thereby breaking up the session. Its also about balancing levels of activities, physical & verbal and creative & thinking.

Balancing attention. It can be difficult to make sure everyone feels heard or gets enough support, it felt a bit rushed at points last week but I hope all the kids felt heard and valued.

Maybe the key thing I’ve learned isn’t about too much or too little is flexibility. Not being to rigid in a plan, being able to change & adapt when needed.