Crafting books in Guimarães

Hello better people. I know its been quiet here for a while. I’ve relocated to Portugal, to a little town called Guimarães which turns out to be a place where creativity of all kinds flourishes. (Lucky me!) So I thought I’d share some of my adventures here just to inspire you all. Look how pretty it is.

If you wander up this awesome street (Rua de Santa Maria) you will find a  tiny shop on the left called Pedra Flor. It’s a short (and ridiculously picturesque) walk from my apartment.

This creative place is housed in a long narrow space that is shared by four small businesses. It sells a curious range of products that includes owner Helder Magalhães’ own hand-made (and sometimes even hand-written) books as well as eco-friendly brand Babu. You can check it out on Facebook.

Pedra Flor is situated right at the end of the space, furthest in from the street, which was a good move as it adjoins a tiny courtyard. This was the site of my latest adventure – a bookbinding workshop.

I spent a glorious Saturday morning learning how to construct a book. It’s a bit of a different perspective, focusing on the physical object, rather than the words. (Makes a change from writing.)

We learned how to make a three-quire book from scratch – folding the paper, making holes and stitching to create the inside of the book. The spine is glued and re-enforced with twine that runs across the three quires and is secured inside the cover. Attaching the cover was a challenge as that twine has to be teased out and “shaved” to get it to lie flat under the end pages of the book. We got to decorate our books with carefully pressed plants and wild flowers.

Helder’s hallmark seems to be “care”. Both in the attention he lavished on the book binding process, but also in his lovingly presented shop. My favourite part was when we got tea with an apple and cinnamon cake, made by Helder. (I actually miss having to bake for Better events.)

It was great to learn (at least a bit about) another craft. I’m inspired, in Guimarães, by how many crafts there are to learn and how many people here still make things. There are shoe-shops with actual cobblers making shoes, clothing stores where tailors make the clothes and I live above a pottery studio.

What about you? Have you attended any interesting craft workshops lately? Are you running one? Comment below to share your experiences with the Better community.

Freelancers: 7 steps to prepare for the future

The freelance community are all too aware of how jobs come and go. After all many freelancers were once employed in full-time jobs in old media. It can be scary when what you trained for is no longer in demand and jobs that you thought secure start to disappear. But the chances are good that we will see more and more of this kind of change. As a freelancer, you need to keep your skills relevant and keep an eye on the changes that are coming in order to make sure that you continue to have something to sell that people will actually pay for.

Big companies are not immune to changes in markets. There are many examples of companies that have lost their markets and had to either close or reinvent themselves. As a result, more cautious companies put time and effort into watching out for change and working out how to respond to it. You can learn from what companies do and do the same for your freelance business.

Step 1: Face Facts

You can’t wish away change. Shedding the odd tear for days gone by over a beer on Friday is fine, but during the working week, don’t look back. It’s better to expend energy on making a plan for the future than on wishing the world were different. Support each other by redirecting the conversation to the future when fellow freelancers want to dwell in the past.

If a line of work is no longer valued by the market it is no reflection on your worth as a human being. Don’t take it personally. They rules of the game have changed, but you are smart and you can figure out how to win with the new rules. (Or you can always become an anarchist and bring down the system.)

Step 2: Set Aside Time to Future-Proof Your Business

Around 20% of your time as a freelancer should be spent on development – that includes improving your business processes, collecting information, strategizing, learning new skills, watching what your competitors are doing, experimenting, trying new things, dreaming up new potential paths. That means one day a week.

Any time spent on future-proofing your business is legitimate work time. Companies pay consultants to predict the future, employ futurists and set up whole strategic planning departments. You should do the same, on a freelance scale.

Step 3: Scan the Horizon

Your best (possibly only) protection against the future is to be well informed. For this you need to set up systems for collecting appropriate information. Don’t leave this to chance. Here are some ways that you can find information relevant to your situation.

  1. Subscribe to relevant publications, blogs and newsfeeds.
  2. Create filters to stay on top of current and relevant information.
  3. Take the time to read the information, say 2 hours every Friday. Reading is legitimate work.
  4. Use social media like LinkedIn to learn what is happening in your area of work.
  5. Join a professional organisation or network, attend their events and talk to people.
  6. Create your own support group of like-minded people in related fields and meet regularly to talk.
  7. Watch your competitors closely to see what they are offering. Be on the lookout for new products or services.
  8. Take time just to follow interesting links, search for stuff of interest, and indulge your curiosity.

Keep your own notes of trends that you want to learn more about, comments you want to follow up on, web sites that seem interesting. Use a tool like Evernote to capture your thoughts and ideas.

Step 4: Embrace Technology

Whether you like it or not, the future is technological. Identify technologies relevant for your business and embrace them. Learn to use your existing tools better; take an advanced course. Investigate tools that will make you more efficient, more competitive and learn to use them. Make use of your support group to learn new technologies together. Technology is easier if you can get excited about the possibilities.

Step 5: Understand what Change Means for your Customers

One of the best ways to stay relevant is to understand how your customer’s needs are changing and adapt your offering to meet those changing needs.

  1. Talk to your customers about change.
  2. What is confusing, frustrating or disappointing to your clients?
  3. What about the future do they fear?
  4. What is exciting for your clients? What changes are they looking forward to?
  5. What will your clients need in 5 years’ time?
  6. Discuss customer needs with your business network and support group. Test out ideas on them and explore how they are seeing customer needs changing.

Step 6: Re-engineer Your Business

When big companies see threatening change up ahead, one of the responses is to re-engineer their business to enable them to offer new or different products or services and to do that in new or different ways. The process of business re-engineering may seem too complex to apply to a freelance business, but the same principles can give interesting insights into how you can change. There are four steps to re-engineering: deconstruct, evaluate, innovate and reassemble. To explain the process, here is an example of the business of a freelance writer of magazine articles.

Step one, deconstruct, would be to break down what you do into small self-contained steps. For our writer, these might be:

  1. Identify a publication
  2. Go through past issues and your news feeds to identify a topic of interest
  3. Research the subject online
  4. Write a story
  5. Source pictures from your archive or online sources
  6. Sell the story
  7. Invoice and collect

These steps might not be linear – you might identify the publication first, but each one of them has to happen.

Now that you have your steps, you evaluate each one and ask yourself: Is this step being done well? Can it be done better? What does this step cost? Can it be done cheaper? Can it be automated or outsourced? Is this a step that you are good at? Is it something you really want to be doing?

Now take those steps that you think could be done better and investigate your options for improving them. Here is where you want to be innovative. Look for ways to do them faster or cheaper, ways to automate or outsource them. For example, you might want to use Google search terms to identify topics to write about, contract someone to do the research for you or get some software running to speed up the task of invoicing. There may be an online tool that identifies potential publications for you, like this one for academic research articles or this one that identifies what different publications pay.

The last step is to reassemble your steps in a more efficient way, more geared to what your customers want. You could, for example end up with the following improved steps:

  1. Use Google Trends to find several topics of interest
  2. Get a freelancer to research the topics and source pictures
  3. Write stories
  4. Use an online tool to identify a publications
  5. Use a virtual assistant to contact publications and sell the stories
  6. Use a virtual assistant to invoice and collect

In this new model you are now doing steps a, c and d and have outsourced the rest. In addition, you are doing steps and d more efficiently, leaving you more time to spend on other things. You may of course decide that your business should be to offer a service to writers, identifying publications for their articles, in which case the steps in your re-engineered business would look quite different.

You may want to do this with a business coach or use your support group for new perspectives during this exercise. Fresh eyes see things that are too obvious for you.

Step 7: Reengineer Yourself

People who work in fast-changing industries, like software developers, know how important it is to keep upgrading your skills. This is going to become the norm for freelancers too. Here are some things you can do to keep improving yourself.

  1. Work out what sets you apart from everyone else doing this work, and how you can capitalise on this.
  2. Re-skill relentlessly – try to learn a new skill every year.
  3. Attend seminars and workshops related to the future of your profession.
  4. Attend seminars and workshops to develop broader business skills.
  5. Use online learning resources – webinars and MOOCs.
  6. Take classes, courses and formal training if it seems relevant.
  7. Develop a list of “tacks” or changes in direction that you might be able to do in the next year or two. This way if current opportunities dry up suddenly, you have already thought about where you can go next. Revisit your list regularly.
  8. Develop an open mind – think of the one thing that you “would never do” and go and investigate that as an option for your business. You don’t have to do it, but thinking it through might expose you to new ideas and it may not be as awful as you think.

In conclusion

No job is immune, if you have a good gig for now take advantage of it, stash money for a rainy day, keep watching the horizon for signs of change, and make plans for dealing with that change. You should try and be developing two future options at any one time, but not more than that. If your income is under immediate threat you need to move more quickly, so spend a bit more time on the process.

A large part of being future-proof is just staying upbeat. Don’t fret too much. Fear shuts down the creative process and makes it harder to see new opportunities. Positive people see possibilities. The best you can do is to get excited about the future and look forward to it.

 

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Seven ways to bring more structure into your freelance life

Writing IS collaborative

Join our FirstFreelancerFriday social on the first Friday of every month

Know what you are worth

As a freelancer you need to develop a sense of what your time is worth. Knowing what an hour of your time is worth will help you to set rates for your work, to decide whether or not to take on a particular job, and to know when to walk away from work that is simply not paying enough.

Your base rate is the minimum that you need to earn in an hour in order to live at the level and pace that you want to.

It’s worth taking some time to work out your own base rate so that you have a number in your head that you can compare to when considering if a job is worth it.

Your base rate reflects the choices you make about your freelance life. These include:

  •   How many hours a day do you want to work?
  •   How mach leave time do you want each year?
  •   How much time do you need to build your business?
  •   How much do you want to or need to earn?

Part of the pleasure of freelancing is that you get to make choices about your work, like wanting more leave or a shorter working day. You may want three months off a year to climb mountains. That’s possible, but it means you will have to make enough money in the other nine months of each year to meet your expenses. As a freelancer you are not bound to an eight-hour day, but if you choose to work for four hours a day you need to charge more for each hour.

A freelance business also involves a number of tasks that are not productive and can’t be billed to a client, but which are important to get your business established and running smoothly. These include things like marketing and finding new clients, completing your tax returns and following up on outstanding invoices. You will also want to spend time improving yourself, taking a course or learning to use a new piece of software. Time spent on these tasks is time that can’t be spent working for a client and earning, but these tasks are important for the sustainability of your freelance business and can’t be ignored.

Our free spreadsheet works out how much you need to charge per hour to cover your salary, given the time you want to work, the leave you want to take and the percentage of your time that you will be able to spend on billable work. Download our free spreadsheet to calculate your freelancer base rate, based on your choices for your business.

Of course you have to be realistic. Deciding you want six months of holiday, working one hour a day and earning ten million a year will give you an hourly  rate of R90000 and its unlikely that the kind of work you do is able to command that kind of rate.

What is realistic will depend on where you are in your career. If you are starting out you will have to work more and spend more time finding clients. Once you are well established you may find you spend less time finding clients, and are able to give yourself more leave. This is why, in the downloadable spreadsheet we give three example calculations, one for someone starting out, one for someone getting established and one for someone well established. These examples will give you some idea of what your calculation should look like.

Our downloadable spreadsheet includes a space (on the 3rd tab) for you to calculate your own rate. In fact it allows you to calculate three different rates for yourself, so that you can experiment with different scenarios. You might want to work out a realistic base rate for how you currently spend your time and an aspirational rate for where you want to be in 5 or 10 years time.

How to calculate your base freelance rate

Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear how this works for you, so please keep in touch below.

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Seven steps to prepare for the future

Seven ways to bring more structure into your freelance life

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Inspiration for craft businesses

Crafts like sewing, knitting, crochet and quilting are great hobbies to turn into paying businesses. Better is a place for craftspeople to meet, share and learn from each other. If you are working on turning your craft hobby into a business, Better has a  collection of books – for inspiration and to learn from. See some of the titles below.

Become a member to enjoy the support of other crafters who are creating businesses.

Join our regular craft mornings to work with other crafters and share insights into your business journey.

Craft Mornings at Better

Creating is about joy; the satisfaction when you stand back and look at what you have made. Something exists where it did not exist before and you have made an impact (even a small one) on the world.

I’m not talking about great artists and architects. I’m talking about ordinary people who create because they don’t want to be consumers. They want to produce, to “make their own stuff”. They know that the home-baked pie with the slightly burned edge is better than store-bought perfection. These people cook and sew, knit and crochet, write and blog, draw and illustrate, code and tinker, perform and play, not professionally, but for themselves, for their families and friends and for each other.

Making with other makers multiplies the happiness. Sharing creative projects is an opportunity to forge links towards the common goal of a better world, rejecting mass-production for the individual, the hand-crafted, the expression of human ingenuity and capacity. We want to build a better, connected world.

Better is a gathering place for productive people. Come and meet your tribe here. Bring your thread and fabric, your needles and yarn, your pens and laptops, your brushes and ink or your dancing shoes. Come and share the joy with other makers.

Every Tuesday from 9am to midday is our Craft Morning at Better. Bring your latest project or just come and experiment with the tools and equipment we have on hand. Chat to others and find common ground. If you are new to crafting, you will find others who will show you the ropes. We provide basic art and craft materials, sewing machines, some tools and books for inspiration. Bring specialist materials with you or buy from our kiosk.

Tea, coffee, rusks and fruit are on the house, bring lunch along if you like and stay for the day. We have a great garden to picnic in.

Pay by EFT, cash or card at the door.

Only half a day to spend creating?

We understand that life is hectic, and that your creative dreams compete for time with responsibilities and the need to earn. So we’ve introduced a half-day rate for those of you who just have a few hours to spend pursuing your dream at Better.

Come and work for up to three hours. You get free fast (fibre) WiFi, free filter coffee, an awesome range of teas and free snacks. There is also great company and tools for creating. We have sewing machines, a light table, art materials and inspiration galore. There is safe off-street parking.

So your options for working at Better now include:

  • R100 for up to three hours (anytime between 9am and 6pm)
  • R150 for a full day at Better (we’re open 9am to 6pm)
  • R550 for any ten days in a month (start on any day of the month)
  • R1200 for every day in a month (start on any day of the month)

There are discounts if you sign up for more than a month and for SAFREA members (10%). Pay cash or card at the door or use an EFT if you prefer.

You can also access these optional services

  • Printing and scanning for R1 per page
  • Locker rental R30 per week or R10 per day (fits a laptop)
  • Administrative services R110 per task
  • IT support and advice R400 per hour
  • Rooms to hire for meetings and workshops from R150 per hour

Better is at 91 Oxford Road, Saxonwold. That’s between Killarney and Rosebank malls. The entrance is in Englewold Road. We open Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 6pm. Call us on 011 327 6098 or email create@better.joburg

 

 

Coach your clients at Better

Better is a warm and quirky creative co-working space at 91 Oxford Road in Saxonwold, Johannesburg

You want to meet your clients in a quiet, comfortable and neutral space. Coffee shops are noisy and distracting, your home is your private space and renting an office is pricey.

Better offers you a cosy, nurturing environment, safe parking and is conveniently located along Oxford Road between Rosebank and Killarney. We have a quiet, private meeting room for sessions, but also a beautiful garden and veranda space.

Normally our meeting room costs R150 per hour. We have put together these discount packages especially for coaches, to make it affordable.

  • 10 sessions for R750 (R75 per hour)
  • 20 sessions for R1200 (R60 per hour)
  • 30 sessions for R1350 (R45 per hour)

Your package gets you and your client entrance into Better and the exclusive use of our small meeting room for pre-booked one-hour sessions. (Please book 24 hours in advance so we can confirm that the room will be free.) Your package also allows you to hang out at Better between appointments and enjoy our free refreshments and WiFi.

Better is a homely, welcoming, safe space, ideal for coaching

View the space and buy a package

Contact Candy on 011 327 6098 or create@better.joburg

 

Coworking in a better space

Guest post by Marc van Sittert, Better member

With the phenomenon of coworking prompting a consistent doubling of available, geared coworking spaces across the globe each year over the last decade, there is nowadays lots of valid commentary and information around the issue. Facts and figures, however, can only do so much justice to what is always a rather loose association of users of coworking facilities. While the obvious parallel can be drawn between the rise of freelancing as a career path (freelancing grew 38% in the UK in 2016, and not due to a shrinking economy either, as over 80% of respondents had chosen to exit formal employment), coworking as a concept has far deeper roots and greater value than current freelancing trends indicate.

It was Steven R. Covey who said that the synergy of interdependence is an unknown and potentially huge benefit of right living. Taken down to the minutiae, every time you step into a coworking space, you’re faced with an unknown potential that is a wonderful, mysterious gift to the gregarious. It’s as though coworking spaces have arisen as the logical answer to humanity’s inevitable disillusionment with the rote factory production that sparked the Industrial Revolution all those years ago and changed the world as we know it. Not only do coworking spaces adopt a point of departure that both assumes and fosters professional integrity, competence, enjoyment and trust, they also enable something synergistic, something wonderful.

Interestingly, it was Covey who pointed to how the most important things seem never to get done, what he called Quadrant 2 activities. Coworking is precisely such a framework, just the space, to enable this life balance we all deserve and make us all, in his words, highly effective people. It reaches deeper than any other employment format – whether one “coworks” alongside a thousand colleagues a day or not in a formal employment setting – as it evokes the massively empowering and soul-warming human need to choose our environment, to choose our association, especially in the name of work. Far from the inevitable allegiance (read: ownership) that Company X demands of its employees as they file into that giant temple to its success every day, coworking is almost delirious in its meeting of the human need for unfettered, autonomous choice. Far from a melodramatic, pop-psychological observation, returning to the facts and figures, the last point is demonstrably true as cowork is, wonderfully, on the rise. And, since coworking spaces need to make money too, they are rising on the field where capital plays. They just play nicer! Free of the politics, status and tinselly considerations of a formal employment space, coworking portals shine bright into the cosmos.

Coworking does away with all of the negatives and enables all of the positives. When you put it that way – put it like that, look at it and realize it’s true – it can surely only be the slow, fearful wind-down of traditional models that inhibits the entire world rushing into their nearest coworking venue.

A glimpse of the ill-defined wonder and latent, huge productivity of coworking is probably best intimated by looking at two divergent outlets’ comments on the issue. Very much like religion and science are often saying the same thing and pointing to the same reality, but with different words, in these two snippets a similar theme is apparent.

In an article for Entrepreneur¹, author Ann Smarty lists six benefits to the business world of coworking spaces. On another site, the Coworking Handbook² lists 26 reasons why coworking is legitimately great, with the 27th being happiness. While one is a nod from formal employment and the other an unashamed “how-to” manual for the liberated mind, both point to the same growing, enjoyable and productive reality. Coworking is starting to be valued even by formal business, though business isn’t geared for the far looser, standalone freelancer’s space a typical coworking environment is.

It is interesting to note that the term “coworking” is credited as the invention of San Francisco resident Brad Neuberg, circa 2005, and in that city coworking spaces have proliferated ever that since. Looking for a model that encompassed both the outright freelance insistence on freedom of choice as well as the communality and equipped space of formal employment, recognizing as he did that in that marriage a sinless child would be born, Neuberg first brought the concept into sight of official recognition. If coworking was a dotcom, considering it’s explosive growth over just more than a decade, it would be a Silicon Valley blue chip by now, worth billions.

What will you find when entering a coworking space? Nothing! Everything! Who knows? And that’s the magic of it, the variable, the unknown, and the ultimate value. You may sit alone some days, pondering in the quiet of the place. You may need earmuffs on other days as it’s so busy. You may find yourself holding the floor at times, regaling dozens of strange faces. And you will very surely glean snippets from others in both suits and dungarees that could change your world forever. Simply because no one can cap the potential of the synergistic choice in you, coworking becomes another, different, amazing planet. That, is the thing. To try to overly define the magical essence inherent in sharing a diversified, voluntary workspace it is to have it elude you. To experience it, is to open yourself to the possibility of the greatest “work” of your human life.

Coworking holds a promise that’s hard to define yet, once known, mighty hard to live without.

¹ https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/287882

² https://www.coworkinghandbook.com/advantages-benefits-coworking-list/

 

 

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Hire a Better venue

Better is a warm and quirky creative co-working space along Oxford Road in Saxonwold, Johannesburg

We have three rooms for hire, as well as a large garden

The Meeting Room,
upstairs, accommodates small meetings, up to 6 people,
from R150 per hour / R1000 per day

The Writing Room,
upstairs, accommodates small workshops and meetings, up to 10 people, from R225 per hour / R1600 per day

The Studio,
downstairs, accommodates social gatherings and workshops, with space for creative activities, up to 30 people,
from R375 per hour / R2800 per day

Enjoy our large garden with sun and shade, accessed from the Studio, great for lunches, teas and evening events

Convenient, affordable, welcoming and fun

Features of the venue

  • Secure parking (off street and in street with guard)
  • On bus routes (Gautrain and Metro)
  • Kitchenette with tea, coffee and snacks near the Studio
  • Fast, fibre-based Wi-Fi
  • Projection facilities
  • Whiteboards

Value-added services

  • Various levels of catering can be arranged
  • We can take bookings and process payments for you
  • Social media advertising
  • Facilitated creative activities

View the property, get a quote and book your event

Call Candy on 011 327 6098 or mail create@better.joburg

“I recently hosted a 2 day workshop at Better with young artist/activists, developing a piece of street theatre, building props and conceptualising a campaign – Judy, Patience and Andrew were perfect hosts leaving us alone to do our thing, yet being completely available when we required assistance. A wonderful tranquil space in which to work – thank you Better!” Molly Smit

FirstFreelancerFriday – Freelancer Social

Freelancing isn’t for the clockwatcher. It isn’t for those wanting the ‘comfort’ of a job and a regular salary. It is for the brave, the very admirable bold. It is for those who know their value exists beyond being an employee. We all dream of the freedom that self-employment offers, but we also know that freedom comes at a price.

The path you’ve chosen is incredibly empowering, but it can also be profoundly lonely.

It doesn’t have to be.

Join us at #FirstFreelancerFriday, our monthly social get-together for self-employed freelancers of Joburg to meet other freelancers and hear inspiring stories, struggles and successes.

Remember the chats around the water cooler back in the office? We have wine. And snacks. Haven’t managed to escape the corporate grind yet? Come along, we’ll convince you to follow your dreams. Free for Better members / R50 non-members. Tickets here: https://www.quicket.co.za/events/35530-first-freelancer-friday-freelancer-social/