Back in the lovely café in Dublin. (Clement & Pekoe, by the way). It’s my last day in the city and I’ll be very sorry to leave… The girl opposite me right now is discussing whether she wants to settle in Dublin or Melbourne Oh Melbourne! Melbourne is a similar type of place to Manchester, insofar as it feels like you could make anything happen there. Or at least that’s how Manchester used to feel. Melbourne is clean, warm, friendly, fun… did I mention clean..? If Manchester has everything except a beach, Melbourne has the beach. It was hard to leave but great to come home in time to host our first New Year’s Eve Drunk At Vogue, which if I do say so myself, was epic fun. We have these parties down to a fine art now, they are simply nights of magic.
Suddenly it was 2014. Before Christmas I had done a ton of DJing to save for Melbourne. It’s an expensive city for sure but if you’ve spent any time in London or the Nordic countries in the last few years you won’t die of shock there. In the end I actually came back with spending money. Coupled with the fortuitously timed savings I mentioned earlier, I suddenly had enough in the bank for my best case scenario: I gave myself January off work. Utter extravagance on the back of a three week Antipodean jolly I know, but I don’t have a strong Calvinist work ethic or anything, I will never be able to combat my debt through working anyway, only through a huge and unlikely windfall, and I actually might never get the chance to do this kind of thing again, so January was the present I gave to myself after fourteen years of office work.
(Some thoughts on working in general: I don’t think work is the best way for people to exist. I’m from a working class family where for the most part work has been insecure, hard to come by, combative, stressful, obligatory. I have no love affair with it. Socialism 101 teaches you that most late-capitalist employment has to be invented and perpetuated to justify capitalism, that salaries are mathematically established to place a life you think you can have forever out of your reach. That’s if you are allowed a life at all, if your work doesn’t kill or maim you, if you are even given the chance to work in the first place. I have and haven’t worked very hard in the past, have and haven’t had job satisfaction, have and haven’t cared much about it, but I’ve always been acutely aware of the position of privilege I am in to be able to work, to have access to the opportunity, albeit one opportunity that I rinsed for over a decade.)
Here’s what I did with January instead of working: sorted out my belongings (chuck, keep, recycle, charity), organised all my photographs and music (epic tasks both), got back into training for the 10K, spent time with my family, replied to all my emails and contacted old friends, cooked loads of great food, let my beard grow, lost weight, discovered loads of new music, read books, tried yoga, learned loads about gay history, hung art on all the walls and made the place beautiful, turned our spare bedroom into a study.
My last day in a real office was December 9th. I’m three months along the road now, which doesn’t sound much, but if you’ve only ever counted time in terms of monthly paydays, it feels like a lot. So far I am making my money from DJing and club hosting, designing book covers, copyediting books, and doing academic re-writes. Those worlds are sufficiently removed from one another to complement each other nicely. Hopefully the variety of work will continue and even increase. If I could do ten different jobs at once I would, but my main aim now is to get paid for something that I write. I’ve done it before but I've forgotten how it feels.
I have taken to working from home very well. I was up working by 7am yesterday and worked twelve hours. Some days I only work four hours. There have been five days when I did NOTHING AT ALL but watch GIRLS and DJ for myself. Bliss. I might go for a run in the afternoon if it’s get bright, I might run at 8am. All I can say is, everything gets done. I am sick to death of routine and I will never ever miss it.
So, four months in and I am going to start dishing out advice for you:
Learn about being self-employed, get a UTR and start keeping records from the start. Just do it. Millions of people do it successfully every year. The HMRC website is dead easy to use. Don’t forget to look at what you can claim for against tax too, such as a portion of your heating and internet if you work from home. I am going to claim for my office chair and a pair of headphones. Seriously.
Have some emergency money. I don’t have any. Who has emergency money? But you should definitely have some.
Get support, even if it’s just moral support. Get some advice, from anywhere, find out who in your circle is self-employed or can give you accounting advice or who knows about any work going that full-timers can’t do, but you can.
If you have favours outstanding, now’s the time to call them in.
Stand your ground and prepare to be ribbed by people who still work in offices. After working hard one morning (and before I got my office chair) my back was aching so I put on comfy pants and tried a yoga routine for bad backs. My friend came by afterwards, assumed I had just got up and made the typical sarcy comments about watching Jeremy Kyle in my pyjamas. I don’t own a TV. My friend hates his job and his boss. He is forgiven. I went back to work after he left.
Be vulgar and talk about money when you need to. If you need to make some cash urgently, say that you need to be paid promptly. If you need more money when you’re doing the work, say so when asking for your fee. Be fair to yourself and your client with your fees and be really good at what you’re doing.
Be strategic about favours and what you do for free. At this point in my life if I had charged for everything that I’d ever done for free – editing, re-writing, design work, promotions, DJing, advice – I would be typing this on a yacht. If I’m DJing, don’t offer to pay me in beers. If you have money for the beer, pay me for the work I’m doing. I don’t want to write for you for free for ‘exposure’. It doesn’t work. Seven thousand people visited my blog in February. I’m exposed. I want to write something that somebody wants to pay me for because it’s good and because it’s work.
Be prepared for bad luck, and good. I’ve had some of both: I bought myself a cheap but (I thought) reliable laptop to DJ with (recorded as a business expense of course) because it was getting too damn troublesome using the same laptop for DJing in clubs and writing/editing at home, in terms of software, disk space, insurance, safety, everything. Then, while I was out DJing on Valentine’s Day, our flat was burgled. They took my work laptop (where I did all my writing) and my partner’s Mac (where I did all my design). We weren’t insured. Then the new DJing laptop turned out to be faulty. Several laptops and complicated returns and horrible computer shops and borrowed machines down the line, and I am back on my feet. Your computer is your life, look after it. My friends had a whip-round for my birthday and raised the money for a new laptop. It is fast and smart and I love it and I love them.
Cultivate amazing friends who might do something like the above for you in an emergency.
Okay back to work.