Right now I’m sitting in the coffee shop area of a small shopping mall very close to my adopted son Jerry’s school. I’ve been working on some product descriptions for a client, and in between starting a detailed article that requires references from an Australian Safety Standard, I got a text message from a friend wanting to give me the spare key to his apartment while he’s away next week.
Jerry broke out in hives this morning and was worried about going to school with big swollen welts on his face (easy target for bullying and teasing). So after the swelling went down I put him back in class and decided to work from the coffee shop close by (anti-histamine carefully packed) in case he has another outbreak before class finishes at 3.30pm.
On days like these being a freelance writer is both cool and awkward. Cool because you can pack up your freelance writing gear (Macbook Pro, headphones, and pocket WIFI device) and head out to a portable work space. Awkward because how on earth do you get anything done?
This blog post is all about the greatest freelancing dilemma — working from anywhere and still getting stuff done. Because yeah, the flexibility of being a freelancer is awesome BUT if you don’t get anything done you don’t get paid. STOP.
1. Organise your stuff
Before you leave the house check and double-check that laptop bag. Sounds really simple but man it’s annoying to get to your favourite coffee shop then find your reading glasses are missing. It’s also bloody unproductive.
Make sure all your devices are charged, the prepaid WIFI is loaded, and you’ve synced any cloud-based documents you might need to access offline. Then check again. Have you organised all the research and reading materials you need? Passwords? Double-checked you’ve got those glasses? Headphones? Playlist downloaded? How about that wallet?
2. Find the right venue
As far as possible plan your venue in advance: when you are working on client projects, this isn’t the time to be creatively spontaneous. Here are some things to consider (and please note the reason they are listed is because I’ve encountered them all at one time or another):-
WIFI: … do they have it? … it is working? … is it fast enough? … how much download do you get? … is there a time limit? … is there a minimum purchase? … Then if you are using your own WIFI … have you loaded your prepaid WIFI device? … is it fully charged? … do you have decent signal in the restaurant?
Power: … are you allowed to charge your devices? … how much does it cost? … is there a table near a powerpoint? … have you brought your power adaptor (if you’re overseas)? … will your laptop chord reach the power point?
Toilets: … are there toilets? … how far away are they? … how long will you be away from your table? … is it safe to leave your stuff, or will you have to pack everything up?
Noise: … how’s the background noise? … can you work with super loud music you hate? … do need headphones? … does the music penetrate your headphones?
Room temperature: … do they have air-con? is it set correctly? … if it’s super-cold do you have a jumper or jacket? … can you work in a stuffy, hot room?
Lighting: … is the room too bright? … are you outside and can’t see your computer screen? … is the lighting too dull? … are bright lights reflecting into your glasses?
Annoyances: … are there ants, seagulls or mosquitoes? … does the sun shine on all the tables after 3pm? … does the room fill up with noisy students at certain times who jump around, shout and play the jukebox really loud?
Service: … what are the opening and closing hours? … do you like the food? … can you get everything you need? … do you have to leave your table to order? … are the owners cool with you occupying a table for a few hours?
Miscellaneous: … will you need to phone clients or accept phone calls? … is there mobile service? … will you be disturbing other customers on your call? … are the tables big enough for your laptop, your coffee, your meal, and your research notes? … how are the prices? … is it going to cost you $50+ in food to stay there?
3. Avoid Conversation
If you’re an extrovert like I am, you’ll probably find you crave an environment filled with human energy. We freelancers do get awfully lonely at times stuck in our stay-at-home offices. BUT I’ve often blown a day’s writing after getting involved in solo coffee shop attendee conversation. Grandmothers wanting to chat grandchildren, tourists wanting accommodation advice, or me just wanting some human interaction: sure they’re nice people, but seriously if you’re on a client project you need to smile, excuse yourself, put on those headphones, and get to work.
The best way to avoid coffee shop banter is walk in determined, choose a quiet table in the corner, smile or nod (but don’t speak unless you have to), get those headphones on as fast as possible, and focus. Gazing up around the room (eye contact is deadly) can often be interpreted by someone to ask what you are working on, or advice about the menu, or an invitation to become a chat buddy.
4. Don’t move
When you have work to do, don’t keep moving from venue to venue. All those considerationsI listed in in Rule 2: Find the Right Venue help you do just that, stay put. Example: getting your work station set up, having a coffee then an hour later realising you’re hungry (or need the toilet), but the coffee shop only serves cake and doesn’t have a toilet.
I really can’t stress how important it is (so I’m repeating myself) to stay put and get working. Five hours work time will quickly disappear if you have to keep changing venues because the restaurant closes at 3pm, or the mosquitoes are driving you mad, or the seagulls keep landing on your table.
5. Be a good customer
For me, turning up at someone’s coffee shop or restaurant — ordering a $3.50 cup of coffee — then using their WIFI plus occupying a table for the next 4-5 hours is bad form. Buy something, and share your table with other solo freelancers or students.
Don’t take it as a given that coffee shop owners want customers who have their head stuck in a computer for five hours, so behave in a way that gives yourself and other freelancers a great reputation. And it’s nice to build lasting relationships with the owner and staff of the venues you frequent.
Get permission before using their power to charge your laptop, and once you’re charged let someone else use it. Be respectful of the owner’s WIFI connection and don’t use it to download the movie you’re gonna watch tonight or update all your Apps. Keep your voice down when skyping or phoning clients, and use headphones if you are reviewing or editing video and audio files.
Baristas and wait staff appreciate a tip when they’ve given you great service, and they also notice when you take the time leave your table a little bit clean. It doesn’t take much to stack your dishes or push the chair in as you leave.
6. Don’t invite your friends over
You don’t have to turn into a big meanie or anti-social Annie just because you’re now a freelance writer. BUT you do have to learn to separate work time from talk time. Don’t invite your friends to coffee shops unless you can both be trusted to shut up and work.
If you look at my little screen shot of this morning’s FB messenger conversation (it’s up the top in the opening paragraph), you’ll see I broke this biggest rule in the freelance writing rulebook. Lucky for me my friend got into the city, realised he had forgotten the spare key (see rule 1) and postponed our meetup. I’m going to be a whole lot smarter tomorrow when he texts tomorrow. I promise.
Please note: in the instance of inviting friends I am usually the one who doesn’t shutup.
7. Work hard, play hard
Working from a coffee shop, restaurant, or resort with an amazing view and fabulous food can be one of the best parts of being a freelancer. If you are productive and get your jobs done efficiently, you’ll still have plenty of time enjoy the view and the coffee.
So (repeating myself again) get your work done, bill your clients, and enjoy the delicious fruits of your labour. Everywhere.
© 2018 Melinda J. Irvine