Life As a Freelance Writer and App Developer Living in London

By on October 17, 2014

Becoming self-employed was one of the best decisions and achievements of my life. It has not only allowed me to live the lifestyle that I enjoy, but it has also helped me to improve other aspects of my life as well. Staying in shape is much easier for instance, when you don’t have an hour’s commute on either end of your working day. And living in London where there’s so much to see and do with your spare time, is just the icing on the cake.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses. There are definitely times when this lifestyle has been a little difficult, stressful or impractical. So if you’re considering packing in your day job, let’s look at what it’s actually like to be self-employed.

The Good

Let’s start with the good first. And I can sum a lot of this up with something that happened the other day in Starbucks when my coffee had to be remade. The barista was highly apologetic and said ‘I know everyone is in a rush these days’, to which I was able to truthfully answer: ‘not me!’. In that moment, working for myself was entirely worth it. Sometimes I feel stressed, sure, but I’m never in a massive rush and that means I don’t get angry at commuters walking slowly in front of me. I’m just like dawdling along, grinning at everyone and probably pissing them all off… but I’d rather that than be the angry one! When I do travel in London during the commuter hours, I feel like the only happy guy in the world which is pretty cool…

Also, as I mentioned already, not having to commute is brilliant. There’s a saying that it takes one hour to get everywhere in London and that’s pretty much true. So by not commuting, I get three hours of free time during the work day (including the lunch break) to either do a bit more work (and earn more money) or play a game of Sonic the Hedgehog/read comics. This is also often when I work out and as a bonus, I also don’t have to pay for a commute.

Then there’s the nice benefit of being available when people want to do things during the day mid-week and being able to visit people at lunch. Once a week I travel into London with my fiancé Hannah and have lunch with her, occasionally I visit my sister who is a student in Wimbledon, other times I meet up with my pilot buddy who works weird hours, or I visit my cousin or other friends on their work breaks. I also get to spend the day with Hannah whenever she gets a day off. A lot of people ask if I get lonely, but meeting people you actually want to spend time with means that you don’t tend to.

The rest of the time I try to leave the house most days. Stay in the house and you’ll get cabin fever and go out of your head. This is why I’ll usually work out of a coffee shop, which just so happens to also be my happy place. In winter, I love nursing a hot coffee while hunching over a laptop and watching the rain beat down outside.

Comparing the Four Big Coffee Shop Chains for Entrepreneurs

Costa: Costa do some of the tastiest coffees but they are also one of the more expensive. They also still have one of the least reliable WiFi connections (in my experience anyway). They’re very popular, which means they’re often very busy which can be a plus or minus. Food is too pricey to really be viable on a regular basis and there’s no great selection. They tend to have some of the most comfortable chairs. The reward system is okay, but you need a card and it can seem to take a long time before you earn free coffees.

Starbucks: Starbucks have great WiFi that doesn’t even require a sign in and maybe the biggest selection of hot drinks. Their Christmas coffees are particularly excellent. Starbucks is also open very late and has lots of power points traditionally. The chairs are often a bit wooden though and it is a bit pricey. The coffees aren’t quite up there with Costa. Again food options are limited and expensive, though it’s a little better than Costa in this respect. The reward system is ridiculous because you have to use a prepaid card. Seriously?

Pret A Manager: Despite a bit of a snooty name and attitude, Pret do my favourite Americano and they’re also one of the cheapest for buying coffee. They also have great food (though poncey) and a good WiFi. They aren’t always open all that late though and being a food place first, they don’t always offer the most seating or power points. No reward system.

Nero: While I like to mix it up, Café Nero is probably my number one choice for a coffee shop. The WiFi is generally very good and while the coffee is a bit strong by default, it is good quality. Meanwhile you have a classy wooden décor, low lighting and classical music which is actually conducive for work. Often they’re a bit dark for summer working, but in the winter this is a great vibe. I also like the simplicity of their rewards system (stamps on a card).

When I’m not in a coffee shop, I will occasionally visit cool spots in London in order to work. Now being able to do this is a big bonus of my lifestyle, but I don’t do it quite as often as I would like mostly due to the fact that travelling gets expensive.

Still, there are some cool places to visit and that I recommend checking out…

Best Places to Work in London on a Laptop

The British Library: This place is absolutely awesome for working on a laptop in London. It has this awesome vibe of education and knowledge and the huge stack of books in the centre of the building is iconic and inspiring. The music is quiet, there’s free WiFi and plenty of sockets and you don’t have to buy a drink in order to stay there – so it’s completely free! (There is a coffee shop though if you want it) You’re there with other entrepreneurs, students and researchers, so you don’t feel quite so odd sitting in one place for hours. On top of all this, they also have these awesome chairs with lights, sockets and a small table built in that I call ‘pods’. They’re in big demand though, so the only way to get one is to queue outside before opening hour. Seriously.

The British Museum: The British Museum isn’t quite as comfortable for working in, but it has a large open space where anyone can sit on (stone) benches to work or research as well as a nice café. There’s no power and to my recollection, no internet, but if you fancy working somewhere else drenched in knowledge with free stuff to look around, then the British Museum is a good shout. Then there are all the others like the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum (though they’re a bit busy) and the various art galleries.

Madison: Madison isn’t conventionally an ideal place for quiet work in London seeing as it’s a busy bar with no sockets or WiFi… but it’s also a trendy space with nice sofas and an awesome view over London and St Paul’s. If you go early, you can do some quiet work here on a full charge. Later on, suits from London will start turning up and if you’re looking for a high flying vibe you might find that inspiring…

Liverpool Street: Liverpool Street is one of the big banking areas of London, so another place you can go to pretend to be important (while also feeling smug that you’re not a suit, it’s a balancing act). Here there’s a big square where they all go to have lunch which is great for working during a sunny day. There are also plenty of cafes around for colder days, or you can head to Spitalfields market to hang out with the hipsters in a trendy café where they play table tennis.

Camden Market: Another awesome market to work in in London (and a great drinking spot). Again, there are plenty of cafes and pubs around here, but if it’s sunny and you have charge you can sit on the side of the river with a mug of tea and some streetfood and watch the hustle and bustle.

Maybe that’s given you a bit of insight into what it can be like working in London on a laptop for a living. Pretty nice really! If you’re already self-employed in London, those are some hotspots to check out.

The last thing about being self-employed that I love though, is the sense of reward you can get. Being successful is much more satisfying when it’s entirely your own doing, and that’s especially so when you’re successful for something you’re proud of: like Multiscreen Multitasking. If I die never having achieved anything else, I will be happy to tell my Grandkids that for a little while, I had a successful app that I built all on my own.

Combine that with the fact that I never feel stressed to be anywhere, that I’m free to take the day off as I like, that I can go on mini working holidays, that I spend more time with my friends and that I get to play Sonic instead of commuting… and it’s all worth it. You don’t even need to be rich if you’re self-employed, because you get all the same benefits just from not having to go into work: the freedom, the relaxation and the chance to work on things you’re passionate about.

working in nero

The Downsides

Like I said though, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Sometimes, being self-employed properly sucks. Like for instance, when one of your biggest clients hits on hard times and can’t really pay you anymore. And when they don’t tell you this right away, but instead let you think everything is fine and the money is coming for months… yeah that sucks a little. Especially if this is the time when your app sales are starting to slow down too. Which by the way, hurts even more when it’s something you created and were so proud of. Ouch.

Then you find yourself paying tax for your most successful year, during a time when there’s not so much money coming in. I’m not going to lie, the last year has been tough, and as I’m paying for a wedding right now it could certainly have come at a more convenient time. Thanks, Sod of Sod’s law!

Thing is, being self-employed means you don’t have as stable income, and sometimes that can be incredibly stressful. Then sometimes you wonder if you shouldn’t just pack it all in and get a ‘real job’ (and people will suggest that you do, trust me!). London is not a cheap place to live when you’re in that boat…

Of course on the plus side, I can also never get fired. It’s very unlikely that all my clients would leave me at once and my apps would stop making any money. So unlike a regular job, I’m at zero risk of going to flat zero income… so that’s a plus. Remember: ‘real jobs’ aren’t that secure either.

But it is arguably more stressful when you’re self-employed. That because every minute of your time really counts – if you feel ill and you’re unproductive, then you won’t get paid for that day’s work. You have to be incredibly disciplined to make sure you actually go into work and work and then you have to be even more disciplined to make yourself stop working and start relaxing at the end of the day. There is no paid leave, either.

And I say that you get to spend more time with friends during working hours, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to make up that time elsewhere. People will think they can just call you out the blue for a chat, or that you can drop everything to hang out. And you can… sort of… but then you have to stay up late all night working at which point those potent nootropics look very tempting…

Then you can feel so pushed for time that you neglect doing the things you should be doing. Why deal with the broken heating when in that time you could have earned £30?? God I’m tired…

And your clients won’t always be understanding either. Most of mine are great, but you have to realize that having a client is actually very much like having a boss. You need to keep them happy, or again, you don’t get paid. And it’s so annoying when you find a new client and they want to meet you on Skype for a ‘meeting’ all so that they can order $10 worth of work off of you. They might have the luxury of wasting time pretending to be busy but as an entrepreneur, you do not!

Writing isn’t always rewarding either. I love writing and I love writing for this blog. I also love writing for some of my clients. But sometimes the writing I do will go uncredited and it will be on a topic I have no interest in. That’s just life.

As a plus side of this though, I have also learned a huge amount on a wide variety of random subjects. If you ever want to talk about car windshields, obscure diseases or pharmacokinetics… I’m your man! And then again, it’s writing those topics that allows me to live the lifestyle I like and to work on the writing I do care about – like this blog.

Even app developing has its downsides too. Like when someone writes to you and says the ‘demand a refund’ because they didn’t read the description of what your app does. Or when they rate you one star and say it’s the worst app they’ve ever used. A liiittle harsh, don’t you think? Who even are these people? Of course, you get a lot of positive feedback too, but the negative stuff can hurt.

So it’s swings and roundabouts.

All I’m saying, is that working for yourself as a writer or developer can be tough at times. You need to be happy to spend a lot of time on your own, you need to be self-motivated and you need to be thick skinned and essentially optimistic. Otherwise, it will get you down and you might find it a bit too wild of a rollercosta.

If you are of the right disposition though and you can stick at it, then the rewards are just incredible. Despite it all, I hope I never have to give in and get a ‘real job’…

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