It's nearly the end of the financial year, and so I've spent the afternoon reading baffling letters from HMRC all of which contradict the previous one. Ah, the joys of being self-employed.
But it made me realise: this blog has dwelt on the emotional ups and downs of working for myself, but the financial ones? Not so much. Yet it's part of any honest reckoning.
First, looking back over my earnings since going freelance, the good news: it's more than I expected. Hurrah! Though admittedly, the bar was set on the pessimistic assumption I'd sink into a pit of unemployabliity.
But secondly, it probably could have been more. Going freelance has exposed my financial Achilles heel: like a lot of women I am rubbish at negotiating my own pay.
Some years ago, I was headhunted by a rival newspaper: I wavered, nearly took the job, and when I decided to stay my husband suggested I negotiate a payrise from my employer as a reward for loyalty.
I'm not really sure what happened inbetween me striding into the managing editor's office with a watertight case for a rise (surprise surprise, asking male colleagues on other papers it turned out I was paid less than all of them) and slinking out emptyhanded. But as my husband groaned halfway through my version of the meeting: "Just tell me you didn't volunteer for a paycut."
Let's just say the rest of my Fleet Street career was not a shining advert for industries where you mostly negotiate your own salary. And I don't think I'm alone. Too often, women don't earn what they could because unlike men they don't ask (the other reason, of course, is that when they ask they don't get: this extract from the book Women Don't Ask is worth a read).
Too often we blithely assume everyone will nobly pay us what we deserve, when actually businesses are wired not to spend money if they don't have to. Too often we're satisfied with approval from our bosses, where men demand cash (this blog from WhereTheBrightWomenAre is brilliant on why women get suckered into doing stuff at work that doesn't count).
Well, self-employment has been painful but liberating.
Now, I have to negotiate fees for every new project, and to be honest: I hate it. Because I've always had a salary rather than a per-hourly rate, I had no idea initially what to charge for my time: I was far too quick to say yes without even asking the fee, or just accept that what people offered was the going rate. At the back of my mind is always a tiny, insistent voice questioning whether I'm worth whatever I'm asking for.
Yet it's been illuminating having to calculate exactly how long it takes me to do any given piece of work, and so how much my time should be worth. It's made the money I earn seem more real: finally there's a direct link between the hours I put in and what I get back, which there wasn't on a salary.
And it has been liberating, on the few occasions I've rejected a job because the fee was too low, to discover that magically the fee then usually rises. Rather cheeringly, it turns out I am (sometimes) worth it. Wish L'Oreal would make an advert about that.