Freelancing … the rules of engagement

The world of the self-employed professional! Gosh! Yes it sounds so glamorous, even sexy (well maybe not quite) but there’s one big problem, when entering this arena (the metaphor is deliberate!); there’s no ground rules: join a large company and I’m sure you can find your way around the politics relatively quickly. But for the freelancer it’s a jungle out there. So for those of you about embark on a career of self reliance, native cunning and guile, here’s a few guidelines gleaned from about 30 years of doing it!

1    Clients
Clients,  as we know, are always a nuisance. They are never there when you need them, i.e. when you want an invoice cleared. Conversely, they are always there when you don’t need them: phoning as you are leaving for a romantic weekend with your partner. Interestingly enough these are probably the only two sets of circumstances when Clients’ opinions (of suppliers) and suppliers opinions (of Clients) are identical.

2    Employees
Employees are wonderful; and as such you should treat them with the utmost respect. However RJ’s Law of Inverse Behaviour states that the better you treat them, the worse will be the debacle when your relationship with them, finally reaches that critical point: e.g. your trusted sidekick and confidante, will suddenly take six weeks off work due to a rather nasty cold, just as you are about to go bankrupt, your partner has left you and your dog has been killed in a bizarre skiing accident, which coincidentally also wiped out most of your friend and relatives.

3    Cars
Never buy a fancy car: much though you may find it hard to believe there is basic concept that says that Clients deserve something and you don’t! (See also 4 -Holidays) Therefore if a Client buys the latest car which does everything except shiatsu massage, it is because they deserve it as a reward for all the hard work they have done. However if a freelance person buys a new car, it was obviously because they had been ripping off the client, charging exorbitant prices, etc etc. Of course, any reference to this will always be said with a smile, but it will start to pale after the 10th or 12th hearing (…………in any particular week)

4    Holidays
Never take an exotic holiday: (see above as for Cars)  Client’s holidays are a well deserved time for recuperation, recharging the batteries etc. etc. Yours however are obviously the result of ill-gotten gains. In fact, as you appear to have done nothing all year: in fact, why do you need a holiday anyway?

5    Humour I
No humour can be at the expense of the Client: i.e do not ever take the chance of making any even mildly humorous remark which involves the Client’s clothes, car, sexual proclivities, or inability to consume alcohol without removing a large percentage of their clothes and whistling selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein. RJ’s Law of Inverse Behaviour also operates here, in that if the remark is not very funny you might get away with it but a good one liner will almost certainly signal your last visit to that location This is, of course, is guaranteed if a junior member of staff overhears. Of course, if they laugh too loudly they may be available to set up a new partnership a very short period of time later!

6    Humour II
Humour deserves a double take (always) but in this instance it is particularly important to make reference to the endemic or recurring ‘joke’. I use the word advisedly since a joke is normally shared by teller and audience: the Client joke being one of a different  group which it shares with jokes told by teachers, in-laws and drunks on trains! My particular favourite is when the Client phones you at 11.00 am on a normal working day and says: “have I got you out of bed?” It’s a killer isn’t it?

7    Time
A little known fact is that Client’s exist in a number of parallel universes: hence the ability to have multiple suppliers, who must all devote 100 per cent of their time to the one Client. It must surely be only through this ability to travel through these different dimensions that Clients can behave in this way. (alternative explanations would be welcome….though probably not from Clients) In short, Clients can have many suppliers, and can (and will) often tell you the fee they are paying them whilst at the same time taking a sharp intake of breath when you quote a price one fifth of the figure just referred to which would appear the size of the GNP of a lesser African state. You, on the other hand, are rarely allowed to talk about other projects: be particularly wary of feigned interest in other projects, since just as you are being lulled into a false sense of security you will hear the phrase; “ you must be making a fortune“  slide neatly between your ribs. The corollary of this is, of course, is that you must be available for work at all times, and whereas when you try and fulfil this by not attending your own funeral, the Client is quite likely to be out at a long lunch with another supplier.

So there’s a few words of experience from someone who’s worked freelance for some years. Of course, all MY Clients had a good sense of humour, that’s why I’m sure that if any of them read this they would see the funny side. . . .  I now live in a village in rural Italy, obviously bought with my ill-gotten gains…………………………

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4 Replies to “Freelancing … the rules of engagement”

  1. Great advice about the cars and vacation. I always try to go in the middle of the road – moderately prosperous, so you don’t give the impression you’re so incompetent you can’t get any clients, but not too prosperous so they don’t think you’re ripping them off. It’s a balancing act, no?

    1. Did you get a decent golden handshake ? . . . or just a casual wave goodbye ?

      The last company I worked for before heading off into unknown territory bought me a leaving gift– just what every man wants a jewellery box – – wasn’t sure what the message was . . .
      My leaving speech was in short . . . . short ‘Thank you for this . . . . . . I don’t really know what to say . . except that I have worked in several companies . . . . and this has certainly been one of them.’

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