Yesterday, I announced to my friends on Facebook, that 01.02.2015 has me celebrating the entry of my 20th year of self-employment. I woke up to see my friend, Chris, had posed me a question as the above title. Hmm, good question, Chris, and one I am very happy to answer (and digress on slightly because I am proud of my 20 years personal growth). Only, forgive me if I do not waste time trying to work out precisely what percentage. I would have no use for this information at the end of the day.
So, back in 1995, I had two daughters, 7 and 5 respectfully. Up until that point, I was very much a lazy butt, I mean, *cough* full-time mother. I believed totally in being there for them, every minute and watching every single step in life they made. I involved myself actively in Toddlers (Toddlers Committee (Secretary)) Playgroup (Playgroup Committee (Secretary)) PTA (Secretary) Even at school, I voluntarily went in every single Friday morning (for the whole morning) to help a Teacher I got to know when my eldest started, by tying ties and tying shoelaces after gym, sitting with children who needed extra help during the daily dozen (maths and spelling tests). Sitting with children helping them with their reading, reading stories to the class (loved doing that – because I love children’s stories) whatever and wherever ‘teach’ felt she could use me.
In 1995, even when I started up, I continued many of these practices. We didn’t have home computers back then, we didn’t have internet. I had an electronic typewriter (daisywheels) and analogue transcription equipment. Everything was done with people coming to me having read my Yellow Pages entry in the big paper bound edition. It was great and I loved it.
In 1998, I bought my first home pc – 40Mb – yes, megabyte hard-drive. In 1999, I bought dial-up internet (expensive… slow). Towards the end of 1998/beg 99, I remember people being excited, reading over the net about time capsules etc. I decided, as a business, to put myself out there. I was still involved with my local school with all three children now there. Youngest in Nursery. I asked them how they would feel about having a book put together showcasing a piece of work from every single child who attended, including nursery? I told them, it would cost them nothing, they could sell it to fundraise, and give a percentage of the take to Rachel House and CHAS – Hospital for sick/terminally ill children – fairly local. I didn’t expect help. So, armed with my digital camera, and a permission slip from all parents that their child’s work could be included (this was near the start of data protection being tightened) I ventured into the school on an almost daily basis, scouring the corridors for beautiful displays of artwork, poetry, stories etc. Not everything could be photographed, Teachers gave me, pencil, handwritten stories and poems to be scanned. Even photographs taken on walls needed to be sized, skewed (only photographers get to hold their cameras immaculately) rotated etc. It was a mammoth task, and I only had Photodraw and Publisher (Office 97) back then, and Photoshop 5.5. I approached big companies to donate stuff. Hewlett Packard gave me the loan of a colour printer and tons and tons of toner cartridges, (they even finished off the job for me when I realised it was costing a bomb and only half way through?) There was a good chance even with me going as fast as I could, they might never get this printer back! They never charged me a penny for this. Tullis Paper donated special card to make the cover page – and HP donated even more special paper. I had a thermal binding machine and again I approached the makers to donate spines with clear perspex to complete this book. Now, I know it wasn’t like the ones you buy in the shops, but it also wasn’t a flimsy A5 stapled black and white effort. To me, it was beautiful. Sixty four pages with loads and loads of beautiful images, and yes, children’s handwriting. No way did I want to change this to typed text. There is beauty in our first attempts of forming words. I completed just in time for Christmas 2001 and stipulated that each book was to be sold at £10. Now, that sounds like a lot of money back then, and it was, but it was a lovely gift and memory for our community, and again, the money raised for charity and school funds. We raised approx. £800 for the school, no expenses and £48 to Rachel House on top – there was only 140 pupils in total in the whole school at that time. That to me, was my proudest moment.
Soo, onwards and upwards. In 2002, I moved house, and upgraded to broadband AOL that was not dial up! Corrrr. Still quite expensive to what we have now. I think I might have joined .net around that time – I honestly can’t remember. I loved that there were tech like people who loved playing with graphics (Photoshop comp.), where I learnt all my Photoshop skills! Those who talked about the ins and outs gubbings of the CPU – yes. I changed my first power supply by asking advice, taking photos of the inside casing, researching how to do it, posting on forums… using screwdrivers etc etc. Before that, I only ventured in to change a graphics card, memory and add sound cards. So, yeah, I played, but I also learned. I learned from .net magazine, how to do basic xhtml/css. The forums were invaluable, so that armed with my SAMS Teach Yourself in 24 hours… I built my first website. I got a huge amount of help from people like Dave and Sarah who gave their time helping others in display/coding etc. I played… and I learned. I now had a web presence. I spent time looking at the SEO forums and learnt a little about key words, important directories etc. I played and I learned.
At the same time I had joined Virtual Assistance forums – one on Yahoo, that gave me a vital networking place, helping me establish my skills and market them and often, if one of the more established members was overrun with a deadline and workload, they shared it, so, yes, income from networking on social media.
I joined Ecademy (now SunZu), LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, other working professional forums, you name it, I would be willing to explore it! On top of that, I’ve now joined quite a few online training courses, and am loving all the new skills I have gained from them, including now socially attending my local community centre and preparing for ECDL certification after being self-taught all these years. The internet absolutely is the key to so many avenues and opportunities.
As a self-employed person, it is purely like that, you are by yourself, almost 24/7. You work on your own on other people’s projects. There isn’t the office banter you get from group working. As I had moved and my children had grown up, I was alone. I don’t have any family – only one brother down in England. So, no support network. I turned to social media/forums to build myself company. I played, I learned, I acquired skills, I interacted, I became happy being alone.
By 2009, on a personal note, my family life was difficult and my family separated, even as early as 2001, there were difficulties I had no one to share with, and I kept everything to myself. However, I came online, and I had people I could call ‘friends’, who encouraged me, in my singing, my work, my coding, my designing, they gave me, a sense of being and a sense that I could turn to them for company, and they made me ‘laugh!’.
In 2013, I went through divorce and house-sale, and now, last year, I was back to having to set up again, advertise and market myself in a strange place. I am still isolated from physical friends, (probably my fault because I found it easier to live that way when my life was troubled, I didn’t want or have to burden anyone) but my online friends have been my inspiration.
I have always maintained, and people who know me from way back know, ‘the importance of play as an adult’. I stay with that. We absolutely do need time out to have fun.
As a self-employed person, hours are not restricted to 9-5, we can work whenever is best – for me, that’s often through the night.
My routine? I always, always time everything I do, even when task orientated (not on per hour payment – I also break down hours to minutes). If someone is paying me, they only pay for their work. At the beginning of my work, I note the time. If the phone rings, I note the time of the phone ringing. I then at the end of the call, note the time I recommence. If I go to make a cup of coffee, same again. Nobody is charged for my coffee drinking, online playing or anything like that. In an office people constantly put the kettle on and drink by their machines… all out of their employer’s pocket. They also use social media. If my phone rings, I don’t time the call or work it into my costs to clients, I don’t even charge for the time they come and visit me if they have to – I should do!
In summary, I probably spend a lot of time online using social media but none of it wasted, all of it, to my own personal wellbeing and benefit. Here’s to 20 years and 2015, my first post of the year and lots of interaction worldwide! Yes, from using social media and the internet – I work and am willing to work with you nationally and internationally as well as locally on my doorstep.