Belu

Finding work-life balance in a social enterprise (while travelling the world)

Posted by Kieran Whiteside

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Here at Team Belu, we’ve been sharing our personal #BeluWaterStories to help give a better idea of what it’s like to work for a social enterprise and how we operate day to day. You may have seen my colleague Nolan’s story back in 2018, and now it’s my turn.

My story is a little less about Belu, however, and more about how I went from working full-time in London to a self-employed, full-time world traveller.

A little background for you: I joined Belu fresh out of university and stayed with them for almost four years in various, challenging roles. In such a small team, I got to see how the whole company operated and was provided with such broad opportunities, that I believe I would never have gotten in anything other than a small, thriving social enterprise.

In 2017, I started dating my boyfriend, Franklin, who was (and still is) a freelance writer who spends his time travelling the world and following his passion of jumping off mountains with his paraglider. My eyes were opened to a completely different way of living, and looking back, I was definitely craving a shift to that ‘work to live’ lifestyle. I had also started to feel like I was struggling with the responsibility that came with my role, and despite support from Belu to help combat this, I felt it was negatively affecting my mental health. I had a decent pot of savings and so decided to take some time away from London for a year and join Franklin on his travels. When my last day came in December 2017, I parted ways with Belu on good terms with both the company and my colleagues.

Four months into my time away, Claire, Belu’s Head of Marketing, got in touch asking if I would be interested in taking on some freelance work for her. It was a during a time when her department was so busy that the thought of going through the hiring process was a massive headache. And so really, I was the perfect option. I knew the company inside out already; their tone of voice, their values and how they make decisions. I took on managing their social media and shared mailboxes — and the rest is history.

Fast-forward to now, January 2019: I am sat writing this piece on my balcony overlooking a sparkling lake in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, where I have been for the past month. I am self-employed, entirely responsible for my time, my accounting and my workload. And I love it.

In the past 13 months, I’ve been west to the States and Mexico; I’ve been east to Thailand, Bali and Nepal; and I’ve stayed closer to home with months spent in Croatia, Italy and Bosnia & Herzegovina. And even though it may not sound that exciting, the single best part of it is not worrying about money. I work, on average, two hours a day for Belu (plus a few other sporadic projects for other businesses) on anything from events management support to marketing campaigns, social media, creative design and sales. It’s enough to fund my full-time travelling — I’m even able to save a little each month.

My work-life balance is probably the best it has ever been, and I’m in no rush to change it. For me, it was the most drastic and positive life decision to become self-employed, and I cannot see myself ever giving up this flexibility, even if I decide to stop travelling. It’s also given me my motivation back. When I sit down to my laptop now, I know exactly what I need to do, and I do it well. I have none of the anxieties that came with being behind on my inbox, and I no longer feel overwhelmed on a Sunday evening at the thought of another long work week ahead. And it’s not just benefitting me: Belu gets someone who can support them on whatever, whenever. Someone who knows the business and who they can trust, without the hassles that can come with hiring for a permanent role.

Hannah with Tahina from the village of Beanamamy, rural Madagascar, during Belu's visit to the country back in 2017.

So, how do you go freelance and travel the world? There isn’t a magic formula, but if you ask me, it wouldn’t be a bad move to start by working for a business that understands that work output doesn’t have to equal time input. Generally speaking, start-ups (and social enterprises in particular) are more likely to welcome diversions from the traditional 9-to-5 model. At the time of writing, over 40% of the core Belu Team work part-time or flexible hours, and Belu fully supports the #hirememyway movement. They’re right to do so, as giving increased flexibility to employees is thought to improve motivation, time management and ultimately productivity. Not to mention that flexible working has an overwhelmingly positive effect on recruitment and retention, according to employers surveyed by IRS.

Bringing this story to a close, I realise that it sits nicely with Belu’s belief that ‘there’s a better way to do business’. This philosophy doesn’t just extend to how they interact with our suppliers and customers, but to their employees too. Not only has our arrangement worked out brilliantly for Belu, but it’s been better for my mental health and happiness, and has made me remember why I love working in the social enterprise sector.

By Hannah Plackett-Smith

Are you a social enterprise that offers flexible working or is interested in bringing flexible working into your business? We’d love to hear your experiences, and you can get in touch to understand more about ours. If you would like to contact Hannah about anything in this piece, you can do so here.