Freelance Public Servant Diary #3

Davecamp, online accounting, the client/consultant relationship

Work wise

So, that’s my last two scrutiny meetings supported. Thoughts turning now to induction for new councillors and also that annual report for scrutiny that needs writing.

As an aside, funny how you feel calmer, more ‘objective’ and more able to listen when you know you are leaving your organisation. Maybe we should all be a continuous state of leaving?

Eleven weeks to go by the way.

Stuff I’m Doing

Had a great catch up with Dave Floyd last week. Dave was a public sector employee with DVLA until about a year ago when he decided to start a small company with a few friends called Perago-Wales. Not quite freelance but not far off. Anyhow, loads of useful advice for me — thanks Dave!

Self Employment

Some really useful suggestions from Dave for me to think about:

  • Free Agent may be a better online accounting solution for freelancers than Xero — particularly if you know very little about accounting and want a nice user interface (that’s me). Accountants, on the other hand, may prefer you to use Xero...
  • I really have to know what IR35 is and how it might affect me. Something to do with whether or not PAYE is involved when you get paid, or something…
  • Insurance will be required! Critical Illness Insurance is worth considering as is Work Insurance (i.e. if you’re not getting any). Really important for clients that you have Public Liability Insurance and Professional Indemnity Insurance. We talked about Hiscox* (*other insurance companies are available).
  • Probably best to keep your public sector pension. Take out a private pension as a company pension if you can.
  • Include expenses in your day rate if they are not offered by the client — if they are offered check what the rates are and plan accordingly.

Method of Working

Another useful conversation I had with Dave was about how we might engage with clients and why they might be talking to consultants in the first place.

We talked about a number of aspects of the client / consultant relationship — I will need to get my head round all this:

Contract length: While a more traditional approach suggests looking for long contracts, it’s more in keeping with a design approach to offer short contracts with the promise of more if it’s working — an experimental approach I guess, start small, test and iterate! Funnily enough Neil Tamplin makes exactly the same point here.

Why clients hire: Seems that clients hire consultants for a variety of reasons including to provide credibility for a course of action that has already been decided on (clearly this works best when you buy in one of the big, established firms although you do have to pay for that privilege). I had some similar points from Ed Hammond and whatsthepont on twitter. I’m not sure if this is something that needs to be explored at the start of each contract or if it’s best to simply take the client on face value.

Expertise: One of my working assumptions is that the client is the expert in their world. The consultants job, therefore, is to help the client to do what the client wants to do without trying to impose whatever they might think is the ‘right way of doing things’ — in other words, to be an expert in not being an expert, which, given the “expert” culture we have around local government, is going to be a good challenge for someone like me…

Research Work

I’m working my way through Governance Theory and Practice by Chhotray and Stoker. As it’s a cross disciplinary survey of the literature written with the practitioner in mind it seems like a really good starting point for me.

As I mentioned last week, I’m thinking about how to organise the literature in a way that is useable for practitioners.

Stuff I’m Reading

I liked Ben Proctor’s post on Data Maturity (and yes, this does need a better name):

Nice piece about how elected representatives can work with their angry constituents: (shared by @rachaelloftus)

This from Hannah Horton is a case study in looking at how the public interacts with a Citizens Advice webpage: — Imagine doing the same for a committee meeting? Or an election?

‘Everyone is a designer’ — yes they are, even if they don’t realise yet: