A few weeks ago, with the end of the financial year looming, I wanted to get my finances in order ready for filing my taxes. I decided that it would also be a worthwhile exercise to do a review of how things have been going these past eight months of freelancing (it’s been eight months!).
Anyway, one thing led to another and I decided to organise an offsite for myself. When I worked for big companies offsites, or away days as they’re more commonly known in the UK, were a bit of a joke. In theory, they’re supposed to be a great way to get out of the office, brainstorm new ideas and get the team in line with the same vision. While I did find them productive, I often felt outcomes were never implemented and innovative ideas would get watered down beyond recognition.
But now I’m a business of one, running an offsite means I get to do it my way. Here’s what happened when I took an afternoon off, booked a meeting room, and held an offsite for myself.
I thought about my own experiences of going to corporate offsites and read up on what makes for a good one. I concluded I needed a clear idea of what I wanted to get out of it. In my case, it was reviewing the previous eight months, setting myself goals for the future and establishing my overall vision. That might sound like wanky corporate speak, but when you’re a freelancer, you’re also a small business owner. If you have a sense of what your purpose is, it’s so much easier to focus on the kinds of projects you truly want to be doing.
Create a structure and agenda
I split my offsite over two days. The first part was a working lunch with a brand consultant, then the next day I booked a meeting room in a co-working space for four hours. I drew up a structure of how I wanted to arrange my time on day two and the key questions I wanted to address. This is what my agenda looked like:
Finances (90 mins)
Are my financial processes working? What is my tax situation? How can I make more money? Where do I need to spend more to make more? What do I do about my non-existent pension?
Review (60 mins)
What has gone well? What has not gone well? What am I most proud of? What has been disappointing? What do I need to do my job better? What are my concerns?
Goals, vision and values (60 mins)
What don’t I like doing? What do I enjoy doing? What do I feel meh about? What’s important to me? What’s my guiding principle?
Pie-in-the-sky brainstorming time (30 mins)
What are the big things I want to achieve? What do I need to do to get there?
Actually go off site
I was very keen to actually get out of the house to do this exercise. I honestly don’t think I would've got as much out of it had I stayed at home. I went to We Heart Mondays, which is a female co-working space in Hackney Wick. You can rent out their meeting room by the hour and I really liked the vibe. It was also one of the cheaper options (£30 an hour) I came across.
While you can very much claim the cost of an offsite as a business expense, if you wanted to do this on the cheap there are free co-working spaces out there, or you could go to a cafe, library or even a friend’s house.
Call in friends and family
My brand session was with a good friend of mine, Tiffany Philippou, who advises startups on how to improve their brand strategy. She’s actually the brains behind the re-focusing of this newsletter earlier this year. I took her for lunch and she gave me some key points to think about in terms of my personal brand and the questions I need to answer in order to figure out my values.
I also called upon my mum (yup) to help me with the financial portion. Ahead of the session, she prepared an overview of my tax situation, which we went over on the day. Then we did a little analysis and forecasting and I ended up drawing some conclusions I wasn’t expecting.
In the early days of running your business, don’t be shy to call upon your existing network (and yes, that can definitely include family members) to help you out. It’s important to be respectful of people’s time, and where you can to compensate them, even if it is just a lunch at this stage.
Take action on your outcomes
In the sessions, I made all my notes on post-its and stuck them in a notebook. At the end of the afternoon, I went over what I’d done and I made a list of the actions I needed to take. And I have actually done something about them. For example, one thing that came out of my offsite was that transcribing is a big time suck. As it’s hardly a task I can just drop, I’ve found a fabulous student and budding journalist to do it for me. (And yes, I am paying her).
Do it your way
The beauty of doing an offsite for one is you do it your own way. This is how I did mine, but for anyone thinking about doing something similar the best advice I can give is to do it however you want to. And by the way, you could definitely do this even if you’re in a full-time job. Companies will make you set personal development goals in line with their own vision, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have also have your own.
Let me know if you’ve ever done anything similar or are thinking about doing your own offsite.