A month of coffees

(Or, How chatting to people made it easier to set up a company)

I’m going freelance. Writing and strategy development. From the end of March I’ll be helping people work out what they want to do next and how they’re going to tell people about it.

I’ve spent a bit of time over the last month talking to people about how that works (the generalities of being a freelancer, how accounting processes work, how to talk about myself… the works). Putting in the work now so I’m better prepared when I bill my first client.

I’m gonna scribble some of the most important bits here, partly so I remember them and partly so I can come back to this later…

Be clear about what I do

In the past I’ve defaulted to saying ‘Eh, I do a bunch of things’. That’s not going to help new people hire me. Interestingly, Richard Pope went through a similar thing on Twitter last night.

The advice I had from people got me this: a lack of specificity might help when you know people or you’re already part of an organisation, but it doesn’t help a new client justify hiring you. Giving them specific lines to share with someone in, say, accounts means the go can be given that little bit quicker.

Crucially, this doesn’t mean that description can’t change over time (more below).

Be a company

Andrew and Emily in particular were unequivocal about this: having a limited company will make it easier for some organisations to hire you, especially in the public sector.

Right now, I don’t think it’ll be anything other than a vehicle to invoice through. But Rachel suggested some interesting questions to ask myself over the next few months. That’s got me thinking about what kind of scale I might like to work at, if I’ll need a parter down the line, what other kinds of work will be valuable to do. Again, not to address now… but something to tick away as I start to find my footing. I’d like to try to do this for a few years, so it’s worth thinking about a bit.

Do different things

I’m not going freelance to do the same things I’ve been doing at GDS. In my first month I have teaching lined up in Oslo, which is a ways away from writing speeches for an event like Sprint 16. That’s a good thing.

Rachel talked a bit about steering between levels of comfort. Using different gigs to test my competencies, rather than being defined by roles. A hard line to walk, but one worth playing with.

Understand my rates

Two pieces of great advice.

One; have a sliding scale. Three tiers, probably, with an understanding of what the compromises of those tiers mean (trading financial reward for flexibility, etc).

Two; plan for 100 days of work a year. It’s a good way of benchmarking where I’m at each month and what needs to come in, as well as building in flexibility in case there are dry patches (for instance, the consistent anecdote about how quiet August and January are).

Juggling those with what I need to bring through and what I hope to bring through has given me a good start on a rate card. Again, that’s going to evolve a lot as I find my footing.

Talk to more people

Obviously I’ve been talking to potential clients too – the next few months is going to be super-interesting. As well as doing more of that I’d like to keep chatting to people who have done/are doing this sort of thing. The last time I was “freelance” I had few clients outside of GDS, so there’s a new bunch of habits I need to train myself into. For the next little bit, a broad range of advice can only be a good thing.

Huge thanks to Nat, Beeker, Jonty, Rachel, Andrew, Emily and Deb for talking to me. Hearts and emoji to all of you.