Are you a freelance creative? Do you dream about working for yourself but have been scared off or bored by cashflow forecasts, tax returns and P&Ls? Well, you’re not alone. Meet Tom Hodgkinson.
Tom Hodgkinson is the founder and editor of The Idler and the bestselling author of How to be Idle, How to be Free, The Idle Parent, and Brave Old World. His latest book Business for Bohemians: Live Well, Make Money is part practical business guide, part entrepreneur’s memoir, aimed at freelancers, creatives, and small business owners who aspire to have a greater degree of freedom in their working lives.
Whether you dream of launching your own startup or profiting from your creativity in your spare time, Tom provides a refreshingly candid guide that aims to equip you with comical anecdotes and tools to turn your talents into a profitable and enjoyable business. From accounting and business plans to the importance of mailing lists and laziness, Business for Bohemians is full of pragmatic advice and funny stories that can help anyone escape their 9-to-5 reality.
So this week we sat down with Tom to learn a little more about how he managed to escape his office job and make money doing what he loves.
Business for Bohemians is said to be a guide for anyone who wants more freedom to do what they love at work, can you speak a little more to what inspired you to write such a guide?
Way back in 1993 I was inspired to start a magazine called the Idler which was all about reclaiming your own time. I had the idea for the magazine while working for a newspaper giant called Mirror Group, and it was here I realised I was not cut out for corporate life. Instead I became a freelance journalist, editor and writer. Many years later my wife and started our own small bookshop and academy in London. During five tough years I learned about running a business the hard way – by making many mistakes. This book passes on the lessons learned. It is intended to help any creative person who wants to quit the day job but needs a basic toolkit and basic entrepreneurial knowledge to survive. Business is like any other skill: it needs to be studied. Too many creative people assume that if they make something good, it will sell itself. You need to learn to love the spreadsheet! And to understand marketing.
How do you ensure that you focus on what matters most every day?
It helps to have an office, somewhere different from home. It helps to keep regular hours – I do ten till six every day. And it really helps to have a brilliant assistant who can help you stay organized. Now those things may not all be possible – but can you set aside a room at home for work, and can you find a digital assistant? I do not have a smartphone and I think that helps a lot. It just gives you more thinking time. I am not on social media personally, though we do maintain a low-maintenance presence for the Idler on some platforms. I often cycle or walk to the office and take the dog with me. Plus I do not watch a lot of television. These things all create extra time.
You write quite often on the concept of idling, can you explain what you mean by idling and why it’s so important to do or be?
My first book was called How to be Idle and I think it is an important skill. There is far too much emphasis in the modern world placed on hard work and long hours. What happened to living well and just being? The Idler magazine is all about philosophy in the old sense of the world – it is about making time for reflection and for working out how to live a life that has meaning. If you get stuck in the wrong job you can get very depressed. We all need to find the right path through life and through The Idler and our various events and courses we help people to do that.
How do you differentiate between when you’re idling and when you’re wasting time – or are they one in the same?
I have nothing against sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time. Time off is not time wasted. It is important for your health. And it is when you are wasting time that you have great thoughts and insights. However, I do think that social media is a time-wasting energy sucker and best avoided – five minutes a day should suffice, or none at all.
In Business for Bohemians you talk about the power of routine – what routine do you have that helps you be productive/do more of what you love?
Generally I go to the office at around ten and leave at around six. After lunch I like to take the dog for a walk by the canal. I like to keep what are called “Oxford hours” – work in the morning, do very little after lunch, then work again from around 3.30pm. But I do not always manage this and I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes eat a sandwich at my desk – a terrible habit which is definitely against my philosophy!
Since Business for Bohemians is all about doing more of what you love, what activities, people, or things do you say ‘no’ to in order to reserve time for what you love?
I have a tendency to say “yes” to everything and then later regret it! I suppose the thing I should say “no” to more often is unpaid talks – I get a lot of those offered and they always take up far more time and energy than you anticipate.
What is one piece of advice that you would give your younger self regarding starting a business and doing what you love?
Don’t! But seriously – the one piece of advice would be to keep management accounts and find a good bookkeeper or financial manager right from the start. And spend a few hours every Friday doing payments and chasing invoices. We started doing this two years ago and it has been of inestimable value to our business.
Where are you currently based?
We are currently based in west London, not far from Portobello Road, next door to the Great Western Canal. We have a studio in a block with shared facilities – we call it the Idlehub.
To learn more about Tom, his books, or the Idler – visit Idler.co.uk