Friday, 30 May 2014

Freelancing as a return-to-work option





We've previously discussed the variety and range of possible routes you can take back to work after a career break.  In this post we're focusing on freelancing, with an introduction to what it is and how to do it.

What is freelancing?

The essence of freelancing is that you offer your skills to companies or individuals on a project-by-project basis.  As an independent contractor, rather than an employee, you can control where, when and how you work. Freelancing therefore gives you more flexibility than any part-time working request is likely to do and more freedom than owning your own business. It can be a perfect set-up for parents wanting to fit in work around school hours.

If this all sounds too good to be true, the downside is that there is much less security than in more structured employment: most freelancers have peaks and troughs in their work. You'll also need to be self-motivated and comfortable with using your sales skills, particularly when you're getting started and targeting your first clients. Once you have some client referrals and start to build a reputation you will find it much easier as word of mouth is likely to become a key source of business.

How do I get started?

Before you get started with looking for freelance work, there are some important questions to ask yourself about how and where you are going to work and what kind of work will you do.  If you don't get these clear, you might find yourself taking on work that you don't really want to do because of the content, hours or location, but you only discover this once you've started the project.  Some key questions to ask yourself are:
  • What are the specific skills I want to offer my clients? What is my niche? Think of yourself as a brand: what are my Unique Selling Points?
  • What are my non-negotiable requirements on working hours and locations? How does my ideal working week look?
The key to success as a freelancer is to understand and believe in the skills and experience that you offer and your ability to provide value to your clients.

How do I find clients?

According to Lyndsey Miles, founder of Freelance Parents, there are 7 ways of gaining clients:
  • Approach your former boss or work colleagues (a very common way for returners to dip a toe in the water)
  • Referrals from your network
  • Freelance job sites
  • Low-cost advertising
  • Offering a free trial
  • Cold calling
  • Using social media as a marketing and networking tool
You might find some of these methods easier than others and they each have their benefits and drawbacks, but they do can work, as the stories on Lyndsey's website show.

What if I don't enjoy selling?

Another option for freelancers is tying in with one or more larger organisations who take on skilled and experienced professionals for freelance projects. This may be particularly appealing if business development is not your strong suit! Look for businesses in your sector which take on 'consultants' or 'associates'. An increasing number of 'virtual' professional services businesses are resourced largely by independent freelancers, for example:
Strategy consulting: Eden McCallum 
Law: Keystone Law, Obelisk Legal Support, Lawyers on Demand
Marketing: Stop Gap
Copyrighting/graphic design: Quill 

Freelancing can either be a long-term option, a stop-gap while your children are young or a way to ease back into work. I started out in my new career as a freelancer and was able to create a working life that fitted with my family and kept me stimulated and engaged.

Posted by Katerina


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Do mothers need to Ban Selfish?


Sheryl Sandberg's Ban Bossy campaign has sent a strong message to young girls. It illustrates how powerful words can be in labelling ourselves and shaping our thoughts and feelings. Personally, I'd like to ban the overuse of a word that both holds back mothers from enjoying their work-family lives and can get in the way of a successful return to work. Mothers, let's Ban Selfish!

How often before having children did we label doing something positive just for ourselves - playing a sport, learning a language, reading a book - as 'selfish'? Never, that I can remember. In fact, we usually felt quite pleased with ourselves that we weren't just slumping in front of the TV but were staying healthy or continuing learning new skills outside of work.

But I've noticed that a strange transformation comes over many women when children arrive. Suddenly doing something for ourselves starts to make us feel bad, rather than good ... it becomes 'selfish'.

In the last few months, I've heard mothers describe all of these as 'selfish':
* Going for a run on a Saturday morning / a yoga class on a Thursday evening
* Signing up for a Monday evening cookery class
* Re-reading Jane Austen on a Sunday morning
* Going to an evening work event to make new contacts
* Catching up on reading work journals for an hour on a Saturday 

Taken further, some women describe their desire to return to paid work as 'selfish', usually if they don't financially need to work but are feeling unfulfilled at home. It can be seen as a personal failing: "Why can't I just be happy looking after my kids?" 

By using the term 'selfish', we're telling ourselves that we are lacking consideration for others and prioritising our interests above everyone else's*.  In fact the opposite is true. We see these choices as selfish because we're putting our needs at the bottom of the pile. Driven by caring for others, we can end up becoming martyrs to our family.  

It's time to remember that balancing your needs alongside the needs of your family is not selfish. It's a healthy and positive attitude that is likely to improve your family life as you will be happier and more energised. Who wants a bored, frustrated and 'selfless' mother?

Are you ready to Ban Selfish? 


Further reading
Am I being a martyr?

*Selfish definition: "Lacking consideration for other people; chiefly concerned with one's own personal profit or pleasure"


Posted by Julianne







Tuesday, 13 May 2014

LinkedIn - an essential tool for your return to work

If you're getting ready to return to work - and have been following this blog -  we hope you'll have a CV drafted, a list of contacts and an idea of organisations you'd like to target. Do you also have a LinkedIn profile or any idea of the many uses of this networking site?  LinkedIn is essential for your return to work as it is your 'public face' where people you contact in your networking and job search will gain an impression of your skills and experience. And it is increasingly used by recruiters searching for candidates.  So, you need a profile and it has to present you in a professional and credible way.

Key elements of your profile

You can spend many hours adding to and fine tuning your profile but none of this will matter much if the following elements are missing:

  • Photo - This is vital and it has to be a proper photo, not a holiday snap with your family or one taken while you are sitting in front of a computer/tablet screen with your head at an odd angle.  It doesn't have to be taken by a professional but you need to look professional in it, even if you are standing in your back garden.
  • Title - Don't make your title 'career break' or 'homemaker'. Relate it to your past experience if this is relevant to the roles you are targeting eg. financial services professional. You don't have to limit yourself to one title if you have a portfolio of interests eg. Accountant | Writing expert
  • Summary statement - This is the first thing that people will read about you and so it worth spending some time getting right.  If you have a personal profile on your CV you can use it here, just changing to the 1st person.  Keep it factual rather than using overblown adjectives. It is important to communicate your past skills and experience in this space, and possibly the type of role you are seeking. 
  • Career details - Make sure that these are consistent with your CV (years, job titles, qualifications) but don't include as much detail as on your CV. This is more of a 'shop window'.
  • Career break - Include your career break, don't try to hide it, & briefly explain the reason eg 'parenting career break' or 'career break for travel'. This is definitely preferable to having an unexplained gap which will just raise questions in the reader. Remember to include any significant voluntary, freelance or entrepreneurial roles that you've had during your break. 
While you are refining your profile, it's a good idea to change your privacy settings to private so that your contacts are not continually updated. 

How to use LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be used in so many ways for your return to work: networking, raising your profile, research and job postings are the main ones.  It is a great aid for those of us who are nervous of networking, as a way of getting an introduction, but it cannot replace getting out and meeting people face-to-face.

  • Networking - the first thing you need to do once you've created your profile is make connections. It's an easy way to get back in touch with old colleagues. Invite people you know to link in with you and always use a personalised message. There are two reasons for this: you will start to make it known to your network that you are looking for work and you will gain access to their contacts once they have accepted your link.  You will discover connections that you would never have known about otherwise and you can then ask your primary contacts for an introduction to their connections (your secondary contacts). How much simpler could it be to get an introduction! 
  • Profile raising - A good way to raise your profile on LinkedIn is by joining groups.  These can be alumni groups of your former employers or educational institutions as well as industry specific or special interest groups.  Once you are a member of groups you can initiate or contribute to discussions on topics; you will see that people ask questions, post interesting articles and start conversations.  By following groups you will find out more about the current issues facing the group and by contributing with a comment, question or article your profile will increase.
  • Research - LinkedIn is a great tool for finding people who work in a particular industry, organisation or role.  Just type your search term into the bar at the top of the page and a list will be generated of all your primary, secondary and tertiary contacts that meet the search criterion.  You might be surprised what you discover!  To make contact with secondary and tertiary contacts you will need to ask your primary contacts for an introduction.  They will find it much easier to help you when you can ask for a specific person.
  • Job postings/approaches - more and more employers are using LinkedIn as a recruitment tool (and avoid paying recruiter fees) so you might receive a direct approach about a role.  Additionally, job postings are often added to group notices and LinkedIn itself emails bulletins of vacancies that it thinks match your profile (although these can be a bit erratic).
LinkedIN itself offers free webinars to help people make the most of the site.
If you have any further questions that haven't been covered, please ask!

Posted by Katerina

We will be talking about practical steps to get back to work after a career break at Mumsnet Workfest on June 7th.  We hope to meet you there!


Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Confidence Gap - and what to do about it

A new book The Confidence Code, by two US journalists, highlights a phenomenon that many of us know from our own experience - in general, women tend to be less confident than men.  Although the book is written from the perspective of working women, it has useful insights and ideas for women returning to work after a break, when our confidence is often at a low point.

Research data

The authors have gathered together and reviewed the research into this topic. Highlights include:
  • A 2003 study by two university psychologists which showed that women consistently under-rated their performance in a variety of maths and science tests while men over-rated theirs.  In reality, the performance of both sexes was on a par
  • A 7 year experiment by a Manchester Business School professor on her students which found that men expected to earn much more than their female colleagues - and believed they deserved to earn more than the women believed
  • A Hewlett Packard study which found that women don't go for promotion unless they feel they have close to 100% of the required qualifications while men go for it with only 60% of what's required
There are many explanations for the disparity in confidence levels - the confidence 'gap'.  As you would expect, they include genetic makeup (brain differences as well as hormones), upbringing (for example, what is termed 'bossiness' in a young girl will be described as 'leadership' in a young boy) and cultural factors in societies and organisations.

So women are, once again, at fault for their lack of progress?

Commentators including Amanda Duberman at the Huffington Post have objected that the idea of the confidence gap is - once again - putting the blame on women for their apparent lack of progress in the workplace.  The objectors suggest that inequality is caused by workplace sexism, not women themselves.  This is a similar argument to that levelled at Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In project.  In my view, based squarely on my experience as a coach and former corporate professional, the reason women are held back in the workplace is a complex mixture of both workplace culture and certain female characteristics.  What The Confidence Code and Lean In offer to women is an opportunity to reflect on our own contribution, to identify where and when we are being our own worst enemy and to identify actions we can take to close the confidence gap. Returning from a break, it gives a push to apply for the job we want even if we're not 100% qualified and to negotiate for a higher salary rather than feeling grateful and accepting the first offer! 

Practical ways to build your confidence

Fortunately, discoveries in neuroscience and psychology show that it is possible to amend our thought patterns to build confidence and self-belief: with time and practice we can tune down self-critical and doubting thoughts and reinforce more supportive ones. See our previous posts on:
The common thread through all these posts is an emphasis on action.  In the book, Richard Perry, a psychology professor at Ohio State University describes confidence as 'the stuff that turns thoughts into action'. By taking action we give ourselves the opportunity to discover what we are capable of which builds our confidence and this in turn encourages further action. A virtuous circle is created and confidence accumulates as the brain replaces old thinking with new. 

Posted by Katerina

We will be talking about tackling your fears, doubts, guilt and lack of confidence at Mumsnet Workfest on June 7th.  We hope to meet you there!