Archive for August, 2012
Some of the assumptions have been just stupid. Some have been mean, but most are just plain wrong.
It doesn’t matter if you are a permie who is thinking about becoming a freelancer, or an existing freelancer – get these assumptions wrong, and you will soon be in financial trouble.
- You are your own boss- The number one assumption is of course you are your own boss. But EVERYBODY answers to somebody (even presidents and prime ministers of countries have a boss – the public that vote them in, and CEOs answer to the share holders). As a freelancer, your boss is your customer. At the end of the day, its they who dictate what you do and whether you get paid. However, admittedly you get to pick the roles you take, and therefore which boss you work for.
- You get to work in your pyjamas and watch TV all day - Now I admit that there are the odd occasions when I have worked in pyjamas – but they are far and few between. Most of the time, I am working on a customer site (so wearing suite and tie), or I am working in my home office so still dress for doing work. I find if you dress the part, you work the part. As for the TV watching, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.
- You earn so much money compared to permanent staff – How many thousands of times do I hear this. Yes, if you look at my day rate, I get paid more than permanent staff. BUT, hang on – out of that money I have to pay personal tax, VAT, insurance, corporate tax, and a whole lot more. Plus, if I am ill, or on holiday, or it’s a public holiday I don’t get paid – a permie does. Factor that in, and the salaries won’t be too different.
- You can take holidays whenever you like – As can permanent staff – we both have to ask our current boss (customer) to check with their plans. And remember, permies get paid whilst they sit in the sun – I don’t.
- You get paid to do little to no work – I wish this was true. In fact, it’s the reverse. As customers are being charged £x a day for my services, you can be sure that they want a full detailed breakdown of what they are paying for, what I am working on, and what value they are getting. Plus, whilst earning money freelancing or contracting, I am also busy advertising, running my company, doing accounts etc.
- You can write everything off as a tax dodge - sure we can. I can order a nice plasma TV and mark it as a corporate expense. Or how about that new camera or even a holiday. It’s all good – right up to the moment when I have to justify it to the tax man. Contractors who write too much off will be looking at repaying it all the money PLUS some serious fines. One of the biggest mistakes I see other freelancers make is to spend all they earn – forgetting that out of that $100 earned, a large chunk will eventually have to be paid as one or more tax bills.
- It doesn’t matter if you make work mistakes – I actually heard this one just last week. As a freelancer – you are only as good as your last contract or assignment. Make mistakes, and it will hurt your reputation and will make landing more work difficult. At the end of the day, we all want to do a good job (and avoid being shouted at).
- You never worry about being made redundant – Now I admit I don’t worry about being made redundant (there are always other contracts and freelance gigs out there). However, you are always worried that the work will dry up, or that the contract will be cancelled with no notice (as a freelancer you get no real notice period).
- You are there just to make permanent people look foolish – I have heard this being said to other freelancers (and contractors) by permanent people who resent freelancers coming in to help on projects. Yes, there are freelancers who don’t take into account others feelings, but this would happen even if they were joining a company as a regular employee. Being a freelancer just makes it more likely this will be thrown in a freelancer’s direction by employees with an axe to grind. I generally overcome this by working with the permanent staff, and sharing knowledge with them.
- You get paid SOOOO MUCH MONEY – Finally, we come to the assumption that freelancers (or contractors) are rich beyond compare. We all drive flash cars, live in mansions, sleep on beds of cash and want for nothing. Well, whilst a skilled and clever freelancer can make a decent living, I can assure you that my bed is sprung loaded rather than cash-stuffed, and I can’t yet afford a new set of solid gold cutlery for each and every meal.
This may all seem very negative towards being a freelancer. It’s not meant to be. It’s just that even now, I know people who are considering freelancing as a new career and have a rose-tinted view of what it is like to work for yourself (see assumption #1).
Can it make you rich? Well, if you are skilled in what you do and are lucky in the work that you secure – it can be fruitful. Is it hard work? Yes, very hard – especially in the beginning.
Is it worth it? Oh yes – but it takes time for it to become so.
If you have never used Google Alerts, it allows you to define a Google search term, and whenever new web pages or sites are created which match your search criteria, Google sends you an email with a summary and link of the new web pages that Google has just added.
If you have never used Google Alerts before, they are well worth playing around with. You just register as a Google user, set up an alert, and say how often new results should be sent to you (most of my alerts are set to be daily). But even if you are a long term user of the service, here are:
10 Google Alerts a Freelancer, Contractor or Small Business should be setting up now:
- Your company name – Get notifications when ever anybody mentions, references or talks about your company.
- Your own name – For the same reason as your company name, but know when they are talking about you personally
- Your land and mobile numbers – Useful to know if your numbers are listed in any directory based service
- Your email address – Not only will you know if you are personally referenced, but also know if your email address is made available on a spam list (which are sometimes published on the web)
- Your post/zip code – To find out what’s going on in your neighborhood
- Your industry (i.e, Freelancing) followed by ” major news”, “import news” and “major changes for ” – Keep up to date with the industry news
- “New mentoring group” for . . . – refine for your geographic location to find mentoring groups when they are set up or hold events (if you need a business mentor)
- Your competitors company name – If you know of multiple companies that do the same thing, keep an eye on what they are doing in terms of marketing, sales, news, products etc – useful for new ideas.
- Your co-working freelancers company names – the same as above
- Your dream and hobby subjects – Be if for travel, photography, fashion or food, there is life outside of work. Keep up to date on new sites and news.
Over the past few months I have experienced many examples of people running scared (or being too busy).
I received an invoice for services (which I considered were delivered very badly), which I rejected (with an explanation letter), and never heard another thing again. I have been sent various quotations for various bits of work – and not one of the companies or individuals has followed up the quotation with a phone call or email. A company I was working with made a small mistake, and actually sent me an email saying they assumed (with no communication from me) that I would no longer want to work with them and that they would not be invoicing me for the work done thus far.
I am seeing the same similar situations with some of the companies I am working for. I was asked to consult about recruiting and interviewing technical staff for a company. A lot of interviews were arranged, but so few people actually bothered to turn up for the interviews. No phone calls, no explanations, and no reasons – they just didn’t bother to turn up.
And the same is true for demos from companies bidding for a rather large Business Intelligence software sale to one of my customers – four companies booked for demonstrations; two didn’t bother to turn up.
The point of this is – for whatever reason, it should be getting easier out there to find customers, win business and make money.
After all, all you need to turn is turn up, make contact, and follow up.
No body else seems to be bothering to do this.
This scene appears in a wide range of movies (pick from Brazil, the Fifth Element, Hudsucker Proxy, Secret of My Success or a dozen more).
The scene it shows is of alpha-boss type character walking down a (normally grey and dim) corridor. Running behind them, trying to keep up are 3 to 12 YES MEN – all waving pieces of paper. Whatever the boss wants, whatever the question, whatever the need – the answer is YES. (The photo shown as an illustration is Rudy Rhods ‘yes men’ waiting for Korban Dallas to give an answer from the movie, the Fifth Element).
So what’s the point of this movie scene, and how does it relate to freelancing?
Permies are Afraid to Give Bad News
When you are a permanent employee, the perception is that the boss is asking for confirmation. They are asking for you to confirm their decision, agree with their strategies, underline their thinking. In a nutshell, they are asking you to say Yes. After all, the boss is the person who can grant you pay rises or can turn your working day into a living hell.
But as a Freelancer or Contractor, we are brought in to give expert advice. Sometimes, this means saying No. Sometimes it means giving bad news.
The Art of Giving Bad News
But, there is an art to giving bad news. Even when somebody is paying you to review a system or help make an executive decision, bad news and No is not an answer that they will want to hear. At least, not only bad news.
I have years of experience of delivering bad news to customers and senior managers. For whatever reason, the last 2 or 3 months for me has seen a major increase of review projects, where the news was not going to make the manager a happy person.
So I present my suggested steps for delivering bad news to anyone who is paying you to deliver good news:
- Nobody likes surprises. Before delivering the No or bad news, hint in a side chat that the news may not be so good (but you need some more time to review). Allow them some time to adjust to the idea.
- Be specific on your reasons. Don’t just deliver the bad news – say why you have come to your decision – but don’t go overboard either. One or two strong reasons will be sufficient
- Don’t deliver a problem – nobody likes the bearer of bad news. Give the bad news, but follow up immediately with suggestions to change the situation (“I have reviewed your processes and they don’t work. BUT, we can turn this around by…..”)
- When you make suggestions – give 2 or 3 options, and make a recommendation on which you would select. Don’t go overboard on the number of suggestions, this will just add confusion.
- If possible, deliver the bad news in person, but have a supporting document with the recommendations to leave behind for them to think about.
- Don’t be afraid to charge to make the suggested improvements. If you were being paid for a review, it’s just the review and suggestions you are being paid to deliver. Give them ways out with a price tag.
- Don’t go overboard on the selling of the turn-around options – otherwise it could appear as you are delivering bad news just to up-sell. Sometimes, it is prudent to deliver possible solutions on the basis that “Anybody could make these improvements – but if you would like, I would be happy to quote for them, or you could make the changes yourself”
- If it’s down to an individual in the company, don’t name names or point fingers (unless explicitly asked to do so). Normally, just highlighting the problem allows managers to see the department or person responsible.
- Keep to the facts, and don’t turn into a doom sayer. Using big disaster type words (catastrophe, calamity, cataclysm, disaster, worthless, etc) will just make people throw up defences.
- If it’s your fault (something you have done in the past), admit it. Don’t try to hide the fact or blame others. Offer to make the suggested corrections or improvements at your own cost.