I've been on a bit of a journey this last year or so, figuring out how to navigate self employment. It's such a massive subject, and one that's written about so often- but there's still no perfect formula for employing yourself successfully. This blog post is not an answer to all the woes of those who are their own boss, but it is a collection of the things I have found useful or inspiring. And as always, from a Sound perspective...
12 months ago, I became self employed and set up my own studio. The process has been difficult, exhilarating, disappointing at times, but overall worth it. I still have a ton of things I want to implement within Sound Ark, but we're now well on the way to being something we can be proud of- and that, for me, is one of the biggest benefits of being my own boss. Every success and failure is my own.
The idea of going it alone is often romanticised- you get to choose your hours, work from home, there's no one above you taking a cut of your pay. But the reality is often you work ALL hours, have inconsistent pay and have to think about the tax man (a formidable character, often the reason why people don't make the jump to being self employed). But it's a fact that, like me, most people in the arts, media and design industries have no choice but to try and make it alone as the regular, payroll positions are like gold dust. All in all, like being employed, being your own boss is a mixture of highs and lows, and managing myself so that it's mainly highs, with intermittent lows, is what I've had to learn this past year.
A Real Day
When I first started to build the studio, I had a huge rush of adrenaline, I couldn't wait to get up each day, and I was still working past midnight- so great was my hunger for success. But then came the inevitable realisation that everything now rested on my own shoulders. There was no one who was going to appear after lunch and ask if I'd finished the first reel, or tell me to answer the 12 emails I had to write, or remind me there was another deadline coming up. The only thing you have to keep yourself motivated is you, and that can be tricky at first. I soon learnt that I had to build a structure to my day, and stick at it religiously. So now my day goes like this...
7am- wake up call, courtesy of a particular almost-2 year old, that like a swiss train is up at this time every day, no matter what time she went to bed the night before or if she has been awake several times teething or ill. She is nothing if not reliable. I've had to force myself into seeing this dawn chorus of "daddyyyyyyyy, wansum agua an cereals pees" as beneficial to my business, that it gets me up and going at an early hour. Because, the minute I start to think maybe half an hour's more sleep might actually help me focus better that day, and things become catastrophic. I learnt a while ago not to feel sorry for myself that other non-parents don't have to deal with this and other stuff like it. But to quote a friend, "it's very difficult to turn things into fruition with little ones around". I guess that balances out the extra motivation they give you to succeed.
So thanks Isla! for the every-day early morning wake-up! By 8.30 we're all suited and booted, she's on her way to some play date or child minder to discuss the ins and outs of Peppa Pig and Cheerios, and I'm turning on the lights of the studio.
8.30-9.00 I check emails, write myself a list for the day and drink a very essential coffee. It's always my aim that by 9am I am already in the thick of things, not just organising crap and having a stretch and a yawn. By then it's all systems go, and I delve into whichever film or library I am working on. I usually set myself small targets- for example 5 minutes of a reel by lunch, 8 minutes by dinner time.
If I'm working on a film with a tight deadline, which is almost every film, I'll give myself half hour breaks throughout the day which I fill with dipping into sounds that need editing or labelling and organising libraries. Because, maybe I have a simultaneous deadline of getting a collection of sounds ready, or because it's just a good refresher to focus on something else for a while. If I keep it Sound related, I don't feel so guilty.
I usually stretch the legs a couple of times a day, and get my eyes away from the screen, which is not difficult given my location.
I will generally break for 45 minutes for lunch, then work straight through til 6.30pm. If I have time, which quite often I don't because of a deadline, I will go into the house and help bath The Human Alarm Clock. We eat, read a story, she goes to bed and by around 8pm I'm usually back in the studio. If I'm not working on a tight deadline, my wife and I use the evenings to go through my work emails, sort accounts details, and go over general admin jobs that are creeping up.
10-10.30pm I normally stop all work related activity at this point. Any later than this I find I suffer the next day and can't get up so early. The lady and I usually crash around midnight. On Sundays, I try and stay away from the studio. I spend the mornings either out recording something local and interesting, or cycling, and the afternoons eating a roast with the family. Saturdays are always a work day for me. The only break in the set-up is if I'm working on location somewhere. Like for Fury I took 3 trips of a few days at a time, where everything else stopped and we worked on set.
Keeping Motivated: Top 5 Tips for effective self-employment
There are obvious differences between a normal working week, and a business owner's working week. I've never added up the hours I put in, I think it'd probably depress the hell out of me! In all honesty, I can only do it because I have always loved, and will always love, Sound so much. Below are some more tangible specifics for keeping yourself effective for so many long hours...
1. Set Achievable Targets (and Rewards)
I always have a list for achieving what I need to in any given day, then one for the week, as well as my overall project deadline. Plus my wife and I tend to have goals we need to reach within a given year, like savings, or a trip we want to take, that are always dependant on the success of the business and help to keep me motivated. My daily things to do are usually met with a reward, like coffee outside taking in the view.
2. Communicate Well
Taking time for skype meetings, replying to emails quickly and honestly, and keeping good rapport with clients, directors, producers is essential. It needs to be maintained no matter what deadline you have coming up, or how pushed for time you are.
3. Get Help with the Tax Man Thing
I've always been worried about being able to keep accounts in order, and the hassle of sorting this side of a business is off putting for many. But there are companies out there who will do most of your sorting for a pretty affordable fee every month. I use TaxAssist ,and was surprised that I could afford to have someone manage that for me from the word go.
4. Mind Management
This book has helped me to feel in control of what I'm trying to do. It's full of concrete steps to take when trying to achieve something, and I really recommend it.
5. Staying Organised
Whether you've just bought your first mic and work from your laptop in your bedroom, or you have a multi-million pound complex in Hollywood, your studio is your kingdom and should feel like a clean space to work in. That means both physical space and hard drive; keeping things where they should be is essential, because if you work for yourself there is no one who will come and organise it all later for you.
Though we're through our first year, and feeling more established than ever, there are still so many things we're hoping to achieve in the near future for the business. Like bringing new people on board, there's a list of library ideas as long as my arm, and mostly ensuring that what I deliver is the best quality it possibly can be is the driving force to go forward.
I'd love to hear any tips from other soundies, or non-soundies!, about how you make yourself effective. Do you do anything similar to me? Or have you found other ways of managing yourself that really work? Would be great to swap tips!
In the meantime, and on a lighter note!, here are some links to some cool stuff I've found in those precious bits of downtime...
Happy Weekend! (Next week's post on Recording Locally)