Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Making the leap

In 2009, Kathryn White embarked on a journey that would take her from the “safety” of a salaried job to the rollercoaster world of freelancing. 
Kathryn describes how the power of life-coaching helped her to make the

My journey began in late summer 2009. I was enjoying my role as a medical writer with a large pharmaceutical company, where I had worked for over 8 years. I had
considered going freelance a few years ago, but the business aspect hadn’t
appealed at the time. After 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry, being my
own boss and being able to work at home became too appealing to ignore.  I relished the challenge of developing my business acumen. When I look at the path I have taken through life, it is not really surprising that writing has become my way of living because it has always played a significant role since I was a child. In recent years I have gained immense satisfaction from equestrian journalism, which I originally pursued as a hobby.

Although it felt the right thing to do, making the leap from regular salary to the “feast or famine” world of freelancing was too big a decision to make alone.  I felt I would benefit from support from someone who was neither colleague, friend nor family; someone who was independent.  I had just finished reading an inspirational
book called "The Blue Skies of Autumn", by Elizabeth Turner who was widowed following the 9/11 attacks. She had been pregnant with her first child at the time and the book described how she had raised her son and got back on her feet following the tragic loss of her husband. Her journey took her from being a corporate human resources (HR) executive to life-coach and she set up her own life-coaching consultancy. Having been widowed myself, the book and Elizabeth’s story immediately struck a chord.  If anyone knew how to help me realise my dreams, then Elizabeth would. I contacted her company and was put in touch with her associate and life-coach, Kevin Watson who now owns and directs his own life-coaching consultancy(http://myown-coach.co.uk/).

Over the subsequent coaching sessions, Kevin and I built a good rapport –despite the fact that our sessions were over the phone. It was fantastic to have someone to
whom I could pour my heart out about the past and describe my hopes and dreams
for the future. He listened – I mean, really listened - and took on board what
I had said without judgement.  At this point, I will handover to Kevin to let him tell you what his thoughts were as a coach and how he feels that coaching has helped.

As I listened to Kathryn at our first session, I began to be curious as to what was getting in the way of her achieving the life she wanted. Together we explored what her passions were, what she valued most in her life and what limitations she was placing on herself. It emerged that Kathryn was an ultimate planner and, despite everything that had happened in her life, she still felt a need to control her future. It was almost as if this strength was closing down her imagination, the ability to dream of what could be...without limits! So, recognising her love of writing, I invited her to dream of her ultimate future, the life she would love to live, and write it down anytime the urge took hold: the sights, the sounds, the feelings and even the smells.

At the heart of life-coaching is the belief that the coachee has the answer - but may just be stuck right now! So the coach helps to provide an understanding of what the answers are by asking questions – non-leading, non-judgemental open questions. By asking these, listening deeply to the response and offering insights as appropriate, a coach is able to provide different perspectives, revealing the coachee's answers to themselves.”

To say I was “bouncing off the walls” following that first session would have been an
understatement. The confidence that life-coaching gave me to move forward with my life and plans was quite incredible. I went to bed the night of the first session and couldn’t sleep. Words were tumbling from my head and I had to capture them on paper - to describe the life I wanted to lead as if I was actually there. Despite the lack of sleep, I awoke the next morning feeling more refreshed than I had felt for a long time.

Through my continuing sessions with Kevin I learned to trust my gut instinct and to “go with the flow”. I absolutely knew that starting my own business as a freelance
writer was what I wanted to do. Not only did it enable me to pursue something I
was passionate about for a living, it opened up the possibilities of me working
from home, re-locating to Norfolk to be with my partner Henry, and to realise a
long-held ambition of having my horses at home. I even had a mug printed with “What Plan?” emblazoned on the side alongside a poignant photograph of my horse.

My dream began in July 2012 when I left employment to become a freelancer. I haven’t looked back since, although it has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride.
Life-coaching continues to play an important part in my personal development.
Indeed, only a few weeks into my life as a freelancer, I suffered a really low
point - I started to doubt my ability to make it work. I rang Kevin, and as
always, the life-coaching session rejuvenated my enthusiasm, motivation and
optimism. It reminded me to listen to and trust my instinct; to realise that I
was investing rather than spending my savings to give me the life I wanted and
to recognise that the positive feedback and repeat business was confirmation
that I was good at what I did!  Since then, business has continued to grow. Not only that, but I’ve expanded my equestrian journalism to include top national, equestrian publications. My advice is not to under-estimate the power of life-coaching.  It can be a very effective tool to help you realise your potential and is something I would highly recommend as part of your continuing personal and professional development. A version of this article was published in The Write Stuff, journal of the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) in 2011 (Vol 20 (no 4)).

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Efficient Business Travel

[caption id="attachment_542" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Check the car boot for stowaways!"][/caption]

Travelling on business? Here are some top tips and guidance, based on my own experiences, to help you achieve more effective business travel.

Contact details and directions – know where you are going and have phone numbers in case you’re held up in traffic or at the airport. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security if your client arranges your travel - they may have to cancel their attendance at the meeting at the last minute!

Finances –take sufficient cash (including foreign currency if travelling abroad) to cover expenses such as taxi/airport transfers and refreshments. Even if your client has arranged cars, etc, make sure you are self-sufficient, just in case. Notify your business credit card company if you’re leaving the country so that you don’t have the embarrassment of your card being refused. Take an envelope or plastic wallet with you in which you can safely store your receipts.

Travel in comfort – when possible, travel in comfortable clothing with sensible shoes. There’s nothing worse than having to conduct a business meeting with a smile if you have blisters on your feet!

IT Support – whether you have a desktop computer or laptop in the office, consider having a laptop designated for travel only. Not only can this be a back-up to your main computer system, it means you only store the files you need for your time away. Take a USB stick containing your meeting information so you have back-up in case your laptop fails; use the same USB to download any materials you’re given during your time away. Don't forget a power cable, travel adaptor (if required) and web stick so you can keep in touch with your business and clients back home. Back-up your computer before you go away.

Recording devices - When writing meeting reports or attending conferences take photographs of presentations and posters to refer to later. A dictaphone will enable you to record meetings and ensure you don’t miss any essential detail.

Relaxation – take a book or your iPod, iPad or DVDs to play on your laptop for any freetime you may have e.g. in the evenings in a hotel. Take some comfortable clothes that you can change into to fully relax and switch off.

Networking - take a handful of business cards with you for potential networking opportunities, but do respect your client’s wishes if you’re  working on behalf of an agency for a third party client.

Note: this article has been published in Medical Writing 2013; 22(2):158

Monday, 23 July 2012

Going on holiday

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I am very fortunate to have just returned from a holiday in the sun and I survived – more importantly my business and animals survived without me! It took a lot of persuasion by my partner to leave them and the house for almost 2 weeks. However, it was a much needed break and we both feel refreshed and ready to face the rest of the year. Here are some top tips for leaving your business and clients behind this summer:

  • Give clients as much notice as possible so you can discuss with them your work schedule leading up to and after your holiday; place a note as part of your email signature detailing the dates you’re away.

  • You may wish to prepare an “out of office” notification to be sent automatically whilst you’re away. Personally, I’m in two minds about this because it notifies anyone who emails you that you’re out of the office (and home if you’re a freelancer).

  • You may want to forward your emails to your phone so you can keep in touch with your business. Again, on a personal level, I prefer to go away and forget about the business. If I’ve worked with my clients to prepare them for my absence then this really shouldn’t be an issue.

  • Back-up all your computer files and securely store your laptop and any back-up devices.

  • On your last day, clear your desk so it’s organised and tidy when you get back and write a “To Do” list for when you return so you can hit the ground running. It’s amazing what you forget when you close the office door.

  • Finally – relax and enjoy your time away. You will provide much better value to your clients if you’ve been able to switch off completely and re-charge your batteries. You never know, a great idea for your business or project may just pop into your head when you’re not consciously thinking about it.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Overcoming loneliness as a freelancer

Caught up in the excitement of setting up my own business and working from home, I didn't give much thought to the concept of loneliness. I liked my own company, so surely this wasn't going to be a problem? Loneliness is something that a lot of home-workers can feel, however comfortable they are with being alone. Freelancers can spend many hours working in isolation, so are there ways to minimise the feelings of remoteness?

  • Work from a coffee shop - this is a great way of working in company, without the distraction of having to have a conversation. Plus, someone else makes the drinks. Bonus!

  • Find a hobby - find an exercise or yoga class or other hobby where you can socialise with like-minded people during the day, or evening. Use the flexibility of being freelance to your advantage. After a morning yoga class I always feel in a much better frame of mind for working and often have my most productive days afterwards.

  • Walk the dog - seriously! This is a very sociable form of exercising and a great way to meet people in your village or community.

  • Reach out to fellow freelancers/home-workers - and arrange to meet, perhaps monthly or every fortnight, to exchange ideas and network over a coffee or lunch.

  • Work in a client's office - firstly, working as part  of a client team helps to combat any loneliness. Secondly, some clients are very happy for you to hot-desk in their offices. It's a brilliant way of building a good working relationship, and occasional face-to-face meetings can be very productive.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Five Minutes with Freelancer Helen Glenny

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Helen Glenny PhD HonFICR CSci

My background
After completing a PhD in Biochemistry (Nottingham Medical School) in 1978, I started my career in a Human Pharmacology Unit at Beecham Pharmaceuticals in an era when work was more fun and considerably less bureaucratic! Imagine no computers!

Since ‘going freelance’ in 1992, my clients have included CRO, pharma & biotech
companies, large and small. I’ve co-ordinated and monitored numerous Phase I studies and UK hospital centres participating in a wide range of therapeutic areas. I've also undertaken various medical writing and editing projects, several feasibility studies, and for one company I participated in an international survey of ongoing research in osteoporosis.

I’ve also enjoyed a long standing association with Institute of Clinical Research (ICR).

What attracted you to freelancing?
I 'went freelance' to avoid relocation after my employer's merger and to enable

me to work part-time whilst my son was young. Working on a freelance basis is certainly becoming increasingly common in clinical research and experienced freelancers are in demand! Freelancing offers more excitement, challenges, financial reward and variety of work than is usually possible with a permanent position.

What are the positives and challenges of freelancing and running your own business?
Freelancing provides a lot of freedom in terms of being able to work from home. It allows you to live where you choose and gives you the opportunity for a more healthy lifestyle. People working away from the distractions of office life are able to much more productive – this particularly applies to tasks, such as report writing, that require sustained concentration. Autonomy is great but isolation is not, so it’s important to prevent the latter by ensuring that your lifestyle provides you with sufficient social and professional interaction.

I’m currently the only clinical research member of Acumentia (www.acumentia.com).
Thanks to members of Acumentia – consultants to the food and pharma industries
and covering a huge range of specialties - I have gleaned useful information
and broadened my perspective as a consultant.

What would be your top tips to fellow freelancers or those considering a move into freelancing?

  • Seek advice from established freelancers and keep in touch with your former colleagues. Consider carefully: whether to operate as a sole trader or as a limited company? VAT registration? Professional indemnity insurance? Your daily/hourly
    rate?  What type of work you would like? Are you happy working for pharma, biotech and/or CRO? Are you going to specialise in any particular phase (I to IV), type of work (project management, monitoring, medical writing, training, auditing etc) or
    therapeutic area(s)? How far are you willing to commute/travel?

  • Personal motivation is key! Keep your skills & knowledge up-to-date and manage your own professional development. Join at least one organisation which will provide you with business, intellectual and/or social support e.g. European Medical Writers Association. Seeing the success of others’ businesses can be inspirational!

Helen is co-author of the highly successful and popular ICR Guide to Freelancing which was first written in 1998, and substantially updated with the help of Helen’s accountant - Allan Smith - in 2009. The guide can be ordered from the ICR: http://www.icr-global.org/resources/publications/