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Thoughts from the Stage

If you’re thinking about going into, or are already in freelance work, Carl Barton has some excellent advice on how to save time, money and your sanity.

Well what an interesting 2020 it has been so far, I don’t know about you but its a mixture of fear and optimism. So same as normal!
My work is project based so I am currently in limbo with a few projects who wait for April and the financial year end to pass before committing to using the services of a freelancer again. 
I am very lucky that I have a couple of clients on contract till April who seem happy (at the moment to continue with me).  
The role of a freelancer within an educational setting is a quite strange one, having all the qualifications needed to be trusted with a class or staff is one thing to achieve but to keep a steady flow of work *and income especially as a constant throughout the year.  
(*and income, as I have typed this Fat Harv the office dog has dragged in his empty dog bowl as a part of his appraisal negotiations…., don’t feel sorry for him he is not called thin harv 🙂 )
Anyway I decided as I approach my 2nd year of this crazy ride, I promised myself I would write this guide for anyone considering freelance work within the educational sector. Some of the points I am sure are not a one size fits all but please read this in the spirit in which it is meant. 
If you are considering this nomadic life, there are a certain number of things that can make your life so much easier and cheaper to get started. 
If you have a redundancy payout or not, employ the principles of F.I.R.E (Financially Independent and Retire Early) 
Call every supplier you have a utility bill for I am serious…. 
This is the scary bit…… 
Tell them you have to leave or renegotiate your bill, RIGHT NOW. 
Let them turn the mobile off for 24 hours… I am serious. 
They are so desperate to retain you, watch the prices fall. 
My mobile phone went from £45 to £20 with even more data and amazon prime added. 
My home internet and TV from £100 to £45 with no loss of channels or level of service.
Gas and Electric £120 to £70.  As a side note having a smart meter fitted was a terrible idea. 
And so on and so on. 
Save the money and save the difference. 
Look at YouTube channels to find the latest tips and hacks. Some are US based and so don’t map 100% to the UK. But they have saved me thousands. 
Scroll to the end to see the list of my favourites. 
So why do I tell you this, it’s simple if your freelance career is new and you are sitting at your kitchen table waiting for the phone to ring. It’s nice to know that either: 

  1. Your redundancy equals almost a year of living costs. Even if the phone doesn’t ring. 
  2. You take the pressure away from having to match your former wage in the first year.

When I set up I visualised a new kit, office space, perhaps a car upgrade. 
But no, and now I am a couple of years in the truth is this; 
You soon go back to being a student again.   New rucksack- I made a mistake with a 25l you actually need a 35l trust me you will thank me 🙂 
I replaced my Mac (work computer) with the cheapest Chromebook £180 and an extra 100GB of storage from Google for 15.99 a year.  I have made all my wages for the last two years on this with NO additional software costs.  
My workshop pens for a whiteboard were a major purchase, £6:49.  
And I pushed the boat out and went full lottery winner with the £21 power bank and £30 inverter to charge the laptop from the car. 
Printed business cards, a couple of T-Shirts and Hoodies with all the logos on, £150. 
After this I did use some of the redundancy money to refresh my car, full service, decent tyres and a full valet- about £400- I see this more than my house. 
You can also not operate in this space without Enhanced DBS and Public and Indemnity insurance. always helpful to chat with but others are available. 
Then the fun started. How do I get work? 
Well GDPR killed any hope of me contacting educational establishments and saying, ‘Hello I am here if needed’. 
So networking it is then, networking at general business events is a series of people trying to sell to you. I found the best hack is to take all the cards and connect two companies that need each other but don’t currently work together (I have also made a separate side hustle out of this but I never bank on it. I try to do two of these a year. This pays after tax and NI for the car service and new tyres). 
My first break came from both of these company owners being on school boards, performing my show for free at these two schools allowed me to get testimonials, invite other educators along and to get some really great connections. Which then turned into paid work. 
Local colleges and schools then asked me to provide workshops or class cover, I had a small number of dates and then the most scary thing I had to learn. 
Not being scared of the phone not ringing or not getting the contract. 
If you are in a relationship, you can’t do this without an understanding partner. Especially if like myself you were on a good salary before. Stay focused, make your show great, rehearse.   
If you have a period of no work, clear the house it’s why Ebay was invented. 
I decided to Marie Kondo everything (apparently we need furniture so was forced to remove some listings) and used the money to….. Stop the fear…..
Full fridge and after that locked away an emergency fund of a month’s shopping in a separate account.  The thought is if I ever decide to get another “Real Job” they won’t pay me for the first month. This fund should cover that. 
Caroline says it’s the wolf at the door fund, I say I am saving for a wolf. 
Recently for my birthday, she got me this….  Wolfie the Wolf 🙂

So I don’t have to worry about the wolf fund anymore.  Funny enough the University of Wolferhampton booked me on the same day!
Keep posting any help you can, make your CV epic, consider part time contracts. Look at your LinkedIn, that’s where 90% of my work comes from. Meet up with other educators, have video calls, support them and they will always be available to chat and help you. 
Make your small home office fun, I for example have decorated my space with photos of nothing to do with work…. all play… so when I get *Rainy Tuesday! I remember that I have fun at work to pay for the fun outside of work. Come to my show to see how much! 
(*Rainy Tuesday! That Tuesday full of rain where looking for new contracts is plan A and plan B is repeatedly shutting your head in the fork drawer…and plan B looks the best option). 
There is no need to rent office space, I am typing this at a local hot desk new build waiting for a meeting. A meeting that is 3 hours away. Parking is paid for the day so use the day. 

When I need to really get stuff done I use the one place people forget. The study area pods in any local library, the one place most towns have. Free within walking distance. (Just a side note if you are planning on charging a laptop you WILL need a RCD powerbreaker, you can always ask a Librarian to hire you one most places charge £1).  
But honestly the best way is to get into a space with a A4 book and a pencil. 
You can always use Google Lens to turn it into a document later. 
There are lots of other top tips – please add yours below as with everything its a starting point not a definitive guide.
But if I have 10 things to pass on it is this. 

  1. You will rarely be in the same place twice so plan for any contingencies.
  2. Make sure you always have cards on you, always be ready to help with NO agenda.
  3. Remember that if the work goes away you can always take on some part time work, build the finance back up and go again. This sometimes takes the form of a part time contact within education- maternity cover for example. 
  4. Sit down and speak with your partner regularly, being alone for work especially after working in a team can be a very different space. Knowing someone is in your corner is worth its weight in gold. When they are out, talk to the dog. 
  5. Make sure everything is in writing, clarify and assume nothing ever. 
  6. Speaking of ever, you are only ever as good as your last show, always leave with a testimonial or better still a rebooking.
  7. Say thank you to every comment, if negative see if its a genuine opportunity to improve. Or use it as a question for your social media, could be another blog!
  8. If troll, block delete and move on. Life is too short.
  9. Be brave, take on jobs way bigger than you think you can as when you complete one you are now at that level. Stadiums still make me scared, but crack on it’s just a big classroom.
  10. Have fun, lots of fun. Play your favourite music in headphones before you play with the crowd- How can you expect people to have fun, if it looks when you start as if you are not having fun? 

If you want to find out more:
Choose FI – also a podcast 
Being Freelance – Steve Folland 
Doing it for the Kids (if you have a family)
Opt Out Life
Tim Ferris Show
Also some libraries have an app called Borrow Box, which is Audible for free with your library card. I have tested this and can report it’s an app that actually works.
Hope this helps, and good luck!  

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The author

Following a troubled time in his early teens, he almost made it to daytime Radio 1 before creating a “Plan B” business that left him with a short period of homelessness, serious emotional trauma and financial loss (almost 100k). He started a record label with a friend (and £10 from signing on) and within 4 years turned that into 4 albums, stadium shows, international radio play and used the success to pay off all his debt within 18 months to free himself in order to go to University. He later used the same skills to pay off all his student debt within 2 years of graduating. Setting up a community DJ school and taking back to the stage again to fund the next part of the journey. His business and production partner Damian passed away suddenly on tour in 2004, and Carl made the decision to hand all future royalties over to his family. And to walk away from chasing fame... Soon after he was recruited from a sales role within a major record label to become a Lecturer at Staffordshire University, teaching students how to survive on the rollercoaster of the music industry. Realising that many students were struggling with the pressures of studying, he qualified as a counsellor and joined the Universities trauma support team. 15 years later he realised he was being asked for his personal story and lessons learned, by more and more people. So he decided to leave the University and to create a set of shows to attempt to solve issues faced by young adults all over the UK. As a part of the research for the show he worked on the front line for 6 months, working for a mental health charity, gaining Safeguarding and Mental Health First Aid status along the way. He has also continued his work within the Radio industry helping create studios for another mental health charity. Alongside this he has spent the last decade as a go-to for various Motorsport teams, working with drivers to extract the best from themselves and their cars. This research was the basis of his MSc in Advanced Technology. Away from the stage, he is still obsessed with dance music and old VW’s.

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