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Places to work when you’re freelance: you have more options than you think

Choice. Responsibility. So many options you don’t know where to begin.

As a freelancer, you’re in charge of everything. All the decisions are yours to make, from picking the best bank account and insurance policy, to chasing up late payments and deciding how to market your business. It can be overwhelming.

But you get to make the good decisions too, like what hours you work and who you work with.

Today I’m focusing on another of those happy decisions you get to make:

WHERE to work.

The more obvious options, like home, coffee shops, business incubators or formal shared co-working spaces, are all popular and for good reason. But I’m not sure we should limit ourselves to the obvious, especially if we’re looking for a little creativity to our days.

Unlike many salaried jobs, when you work freelance you can work in a different place each and every hour of each and every day if you really want to.

The flexibility to choose the right place for you on any given day is a real perk of being your own boss. I happen to know that one of the people I spoke to for this post spent a morning updating their social media from a tent in the garden with the kids this summer.

Fit the space to your mood

For me, deciding where to work depends on my mood – whether I’m concentrating easily, or being utterly distractable (not a real word, I know, but an accurate description nonetheless).

*And if ‘nonetheless’ is allowed be an actual word, then ‘distractable’ can be one, too. Apologies, I digress…*

I focus best when I’m alone. Generally speaking, if there’s someone around I’ll get distracted. Worse than that, though, I’ll do my damnedest to distract every last person around me in my mission to entertain myself. I know I do it and I feel bad about it, but I’m sad to say that somehow that doesn’t stop me.

So, if I need to concentrate on what I’m doing, I’ll work from home.

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If, on the other hand, I’m catching up on admin or brainstorming ideas, somewhere livelier is in order! That’s just me, though. I know a lot of people who need the accountability of other people being hard at work around them to force them into the zone themselves.

I probably spend about 60% of my week working from home, and the rest split between meetings, coffee shops, the library (free wifi!) and, in the summer, the park.

I love working outdoors

I know it’s not for everyone, but when I can, I do, even if it’s just some thinking and planning with a notebook and paper.

Proof: me, working at the park

I’m a big believer that every business should take time out every few months to think about the direction they’re going in –  and I believe that, while examining targets, facts and figures is really important, you also need to take time to sit down with just your thoughts and a bit of paper (no spreadsheets, no stats, no reports). It’s important to listen to your gut as well as the numbers.

So don’t tell me you can’t work from the park occasionally. Everyone can.

Enough from me, though.

I asked a random(ish) sample of freelancers I know (OK not random at all) where they work and why. And this is what they told me:

The On-Site Option (Rachel Balchin, Bulldog Accounting)

My main location for working is currently at home (with a snoring bulldog next to me), but I do get a touch of cabin fever with a whole week in the house. A couple of my clients are larger businesses with premises, so I find it really helpful to go and work on their sites for a few hours on a regular basis. It’s almost like being part of the team and the change of scenery is beneficial (even if the sites are not always that glamorous!).

Esme, who puts the ‘bulldog’ in Bulldog Accounting. (Esme belongs to Rachel, the photo belongs to me)

I also make use of local coffee shops and pubs – determined by whether it’s a meeting Esme (the dog) is able to attend. But I figure my clients must be dog people or they wouldn’t pick Bulldog Accounting!

Making the Most of Business Incubators (Relton Herron, Relton Associates)

I first started using the [Wenta] business incubator in Watford a few years ago, being in the early stages of a business and having a newborn baby at home wasn’t conducive. These days I’ve moved to the Stevenage incubator which works really well for me.

I like having other people around to bounce ideas off and to make business connections with, and it’s a really supportive environment. I also have access to another couple of similar sites, which gives me options about where I meet clients, or if I need a change of scene.

Another Vote for Business Incubators! (Dave Woodcock, Delle Recruitment)

Before I started using the local incubator my business was a bit stale as working at home was too easy for distractions. It wasn’t until I started using the incubator that it started to feel just like ‘going to work’. My mentality totally changed, I felt more focused, more willing to get the job done and client and candidates to see a difference in my focus.

The Shed Man (Gareth Hancock, That. Content. Shed.)

I didn’t choose the shed life, the shed life chose me.

Actually, that’s not true. I bought a shed because it seemed like the best way to work from home without working in the house and all the distractions that come with two kids and a dog. And it’s great for that.

The great shed itself! (Photo Gareth’s own)

What’s not so great is the fact it’s too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, and the outrageous snow we had in early 2018 played havoc with the roof. Still, my whole business branding is based around me working in a shed, so I’m going to have to persevere.

Mix and Match (Pippa Akram, Social Pip)

I tend to work mainly from home, the massive downside of this is that I find myself flitting between work and domestic chores.  However, I am lucky enough to have an outdoor office to escape to and which has proved far more professional for hosting clients than my kitchen table.  The one thing that neither of these can help with as a freelancer is the ‘loneliness’ which is why monthly ‘Get Out The Box’ coworking days are held for North Herts freelancers.

Juggling Work With A Toddler (Louisa van Vessem, Workflow Virtual Assistant)

Every now and again, I love to escape and work from somewhere different. If my toddler isn’t in childcare, I work from a local Play Cafe. It’s ideal because my toddler has the freedom to run around and play and when I’m not interacting with him, I catch up on work.

where to work play cafe
Play Cafe (Photo: Louisa’s own)

If I’m toddler free, I like to work from cafes and even the train. Thankfully I always have my notebook and pen to hand.

An Outdoor Option (Rob Birnie, DBM Motion Graphics)

I recently toyed with getting an office built in the garden as I wanted to put even just a small bit of distance between home and work. Then I got some quotes and the toying stopped. I make videos and even though my phone boasts more computing welly than NASA had at its disposal when it was in the habit of plonking people on the moon, I still need my “big” computer to do the bulk of my animation work. So most of the time I’m stuck in my home office, tied to the ugly lump (it would no doubt say the same).

where to work purple bench
Rob’s amazing purple bench (Photo and dog: Rob’s own)

My non-budget-breaking compromise came in at under £40. One weekend I spotted a purple pub bench for sale at Emmaus Village, Carlton. It’s now in the garden and thanks to the glorious weather this summer, I’ve been able to sit there while doing the admin side of running a business. Last week, I very nearly enjoyed doing a VAT return.

So there you have it.

There are loads of ideas here to pick from if you’re looking for a workspace that works for you. But I’m also sure there are way weirder and more wonderful freelance workplaces out there, so if you know one, share and drop it into the comments!

I’m off to write at the park…

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