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.


Shortly after I resigned from Last.fm, Russell asked if I wanted to help out at GDS for a few weeks. 198 weeks later, it’s time to move on.

Next month I’ll be leaving GDS to do freelance writing and strategy development. Exciting!

Since 2012 I’ve been part of a team that set new cultural habits and behaviours across government and around the world. I helped define how GDS talked about work and strategy. And it’s been great, I love that work. But to get better at it I need exposure to more cultures, more ways of working, more projects, more people… more of everything. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m not too fussed about whether it’s for big companies, new companies, public sector or private sector… just interesting projects for interesting clients. I have a few clients lined up over the next couple of months, but if you’re interested in working with me (or just having a coffee) drop me a line: matthew.sheret@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, colleagues, thank you. It has been a proper privilege to work with good people doing good things. I’ll miss you. Best of luck!

matt at GDS



For the last four years GDS has put on Sprint, a gathering of digital transformation folk from across government. Sprint 16 was yesterday.

The first one, in 2013, was a semi-improvised scramble to make the best of a snowy QE2 centre; excellent fun and really exhausting.

This year was slicker and more professional than pretty much any conference I’ve ever been to. We gave the demos and show and tells space to breathe, and helped people who know how to transform government share what they’ve learned.

Sprint demands the best of everyone in the creative team. For me, that means helping people tell stories. Helping write and delete and rehearse and improve talks every day for the last couple of weeks. Helping people decide what they want to say – occasionally deciding for them – and making it all as clear as possible. I really like that work. I’m very good at it.


Here’s a thing though…

When I see someone give a talk I’ve helped write, I get the same flood of adrenaline and performance anxiety that I get when I give talks myself. The difference is I don’t get the resolution that comes from actually performing the thing.

Yesterday I felt like my guts were in knots for about five hours, and I didn’t really sleep after. It’s exhausting. Also, worth it; when you help someone find their voice and watch them carry the note it’s an incredible feeling.


Mostly though I’m typing this so that, in public, I can say ‘Thanks GDS Creative – you’re the best team I’ve ever worked with’.

First image nicked from Giles. Second one nicked from Daz.

2015: Birdwatching, Walking, Love, Home

As with last year, a hard one to write about. I don’t think Ann or I expected our relationship to be such a central part of the year, but it was, for reasons both deeply sad and completely fabulous. The result is we’ve travelled loads, started projects, been to a thousand weddings and made a home together. On balance, for me, it’s been amazing.

The year included A barrow by a beaconStudy Group, Hipsterhammer, The Bureau of Small Observation, and a plenty of work at GDS. It’s been busy, but I’d like to have done at least one meatier thing. I start 2016 knowing I need to pull focus onto my work a bit more… I’m good with that.

I sort of came into myself over the last twelve months, and I’m more comfortable in my own skin. As a result the photos that best sum 2015 up are ones other people took of me… but that’s not what this post is for.

(Previously: 2014, 2013)

01 Richmond02 Bewl03 Winchester04 Whitstable05 Malmo06 Copenhagen07 Brixton08 Amsterdam09 South Downs10 Hyde Park11 Hyde Park12 Eastleigh13 Mersea Island14 Mersea Island15 Golden Lane16 GDS17 Rome18 Stockwell19 Tokyo20 Naoshima21 Naoshima22 Kyoto23 Kyoto24 Kew

Deleting things

Just read Warren’s musing on deleting tweets (and noticed, on clicking for that link, that we use the same WordPress theme). I did that. Got my 16000+ tweet archive, hooked up tweetdelete, got on with life.

I spent far longer than I thought I’d have to removing tweets from my timeline. I did about a third of them manually, which was a thing. Eventually I found a script (and the confidence to implement it) and got through them without affecting my follower list.

It feels fine.

Japan is awesome (and so can you)

I’m just home from a two week holiday in Japan and it was *amazing*. Everything I imagined and more. I’m sure the bulk of the amazing things will appear on Flickr over the coming weeks in some form or another.

I’m going to jot down some things in case the like of Greg or Davids or Becky ask for Japan tips, while this is all fresh in my mind. Also, so I stand a good chance of remembering them myself.

Ann and I were hugely indebted to past travellers like Chris, Yumiko, Chrissy and David for tips and guidance. I couldn’t match them for knowledge, but these are things what might be worth keeping in mind…

Don’t go too many different places – we visited Tokyo, Naoshima, Kyoto, and Oshino, all different and all brilliant. But we could have done with maybe a day longer in the cities, minimum, if only to feel more grounded (changing hotel in Tokyo didn’t help).

Stay put for the first few days – so, everyone I know deals with jetlag differently. For us it came on hard the first few days, but having the relative luxury of the Hyatt Regency to retreat to was a smart move. Shinjuku’s a super place to explore any time of day, so being around there was good too. If we’d jumped on a train across the country a few days in (our original plan) it’d have wrung us out.

Do all the touristy things – because OMG it’s wonderful. Seriously. It also meant we could have extremely different experiences in Kyoto and Tokyo without taxing our Japanese phrasebook. Generally this is something I want to get better at in other countries anyway (prompted in large part by a wonderful experience at the Space Needle), but the rewards paid off hugely throughout this holiday and we did nothing I wouldn’t recommend.

Get internet – a last-minute tip from Chris and immeasurably smart. We used the eConnect 3g package and the whole thing worked without any effort on our part.

Tokyo does an awful lot of hard work for you – very easy on tourists, that city.

Try cycling around Kyoto – we didn’t, but it likely would have been a wonderful way of exploring the town. Lots of people cycle there. Related: cyclists in Kyoto give no fucks.

Bean paste is a nasty trick played on naive visitors – it’s just the worst.

Go deeper at the big temples – two of the most magical moments of the trip came from pushing a little beyond the surface. We went in to the formal garden at Meigi Jingu where we saw a man feeding birds by the ponds. He gave Ann a few seeds and soon after a couple of birds had flown to her hand to eat from it. In Nanzenji we mooched up to a quiet temple before exploring a path behind it that led into the mountains, where we found a little waterfall behind a shrine that visitors can shower in. We did so as the sun set, in total seclusion. It was freezing and incredible.

There is so much of everything – seriously, there’s so much to explore. You’ll never see everything you want to see, and you have to be okay with that.


BONUS Foursquare links:
Ann’s lists for Tokyo and around Mount Fuji. My lists for Naoshima and Kyoto.

Class dismissed


This last year I’ve been making a podcast. It’s been a lot of fun. A pretty tight high-concept (lovey people review every episode of Community‘s second season) that basically acted as a McGuffin for a bunch of fabulous people to spend some time together.

The last episode just came out (scheduled posting willing) and I thought I’d type a bunch of things I’ve learned in case I do it again…

  1. Batches are good – we’d never, ever have managed to do this if we were trying to do an episode a week
  2. Talking is hard – recording in batches generally meant that we had lurches for the first episode where people got up to speed thinking aloud… It was a little weird… I don’t know how Ann gets past that doing One Life Left every week
  3. Publishing these things is harder than it should be – despite the maturity of the medium, it involves bumping up against a lot of unloved technologies
  4. Fewer voices in less time is better – too big a table and we all get lost (although the last two episodes are ace)
  5. It’s worth regimenting some of it – the more I listen actual, proper podcasts the more I hear the way they guide you through it (we had to record a special episode 0 because the cold start of episode 1 was AWFUL)
  6. It’s actually really easy to get a chunk of the way towards looking professional – I think we got about 75% of the way there… I imagine that last 25% is very, very hard to do
  7. I need to learn more about recording if I do this again – actually, I need to make that bit someone else’s problem

Anyway, I had a blast. I think Chrissy, Kieron, Ann and Tom did too. If you’ve got time in your life for more than ten hours of chat, check it out.