My first year of freelancing

Solution Focussed Yearnotes s1. e1.

Exactly 12 months ago I stepped into the world of self employment after more than 20 years working for a local council. I had time to prepare and lots of great advice so I was optimistic that things would be OK but, well, you never can tell, can you?

Anyhow, here I my reflections on my first year. I’ve interviewed myself with some solution focused questions to give it some structure.

So Dave, what five things have you been most pleased or proud about in your first year of freelancing?

Well, overall I think things have gone well. Specifically:

  1. I have earned enough. Work has turned up in time and, although I’ve not exactly been turning things away, I’ve not been stressed about paying the bills either. Which is good.
  2. I have worked with people that I like and admire. I’ve been lucky to have projects with a range of clients — some people I knew already and some who I’ve met for the first time. Everyone single one has been a pleasure to work with.
  3. I have done work that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve had the chance to do training, research and improvement work and to be involved with projects that I care about — scrutiny, policy development, public governance, public participation and the relationship between practice and academia.
  4. I have had a variety of work. From one off training courses to projects that have lasted over several months. I have also worked in a range of settings including councils, universities and in national government.
  5. I have enjoyed a good life/work balance. Working at home and having flexibility has meant that I can take ‘leave’ when I need to as well as when I want to (I pretty much always sign my annual leave requests).

So, imagine a scale between zero and ten where zero is the world’s worst freelancer and ten is the greatest ever. What score would you give yourself for this year?

Mmmm. I’m feeling pretty good about things. I think I would give myself a five.

Tell me 10 things things that helped to make you a five?

Some things I brought with me from my previous role. Many were the result of the good advice I had. Specifically I would say:

  • I kept actively in touch with my networks, via social media such as twitter, Linkedin and Slack and through ‘catch ups’ in person (often involving cake). Most of my work has come through the cool people I already knew (thanks guys ☺️) but I’ve met some cool new folk as well. People have been so generous with advice — everything from business insurance to business cards. And these conversations have also stimulated new ideas and perspectives.
  • I kept on top of my finances 💵 — what made things easy was using FreeAgent for the day to day records and invoicing, and hiring an accountant for my tax return (thanks Dave Floyd for the tips).
  • I had professional training. Solution focussed training with BRIEF, to be precise. This has given me a firm foundation for my practice as well as the confidence to employ some new techniques. The training days with BRIEF also helped to recharge my professional batteries.
  • I’ve developed a distinctive approach. This approach is largely solution focussed and provides a structure for my training, research and improvement work. Having a distinctive approach is helpful — both in terms of the confidence to deliver things but also because it’s a structure that I can continuously adapt.
  • I created a workspace that I love. I invested some of my redundancy money in an iMac and a new desk and chair. It’s been quite liberating being able to have exactly what I want and how I want it. Yes, Moleskine notebooks and Muji pens but whaddya gonna do? (cc. Joe Mitchell)
  • I lit a thousand fires 🔥 (well, maybe not quite that many). This reflects perhaps my favourite advice I had (Thanks Elke). The idea is to maintain a diverse list of contacts and to stay visible to as many possible clients as possible. I’ve done my best to do this, online and off.
  • I took out a business membership with a well known hotel chain. OK, maybe not a massive thing, but I think it has paid for itself. (Thanks Alan).
  • I’ve blogged fairly regularly. I know my audience is pretty niche, and I can’t claim to have 100s of hits, but I think it has helped to demonstrate my areas of expertise, and maybe this has reassured potential clients.
  • I’ve learned how to listen to clients better. As Ben Proctor says, good consultants always start with giving people what they want, even if it seems to you that’s not what they need. I’ve found solution focussed techniques useful at the start of projects to help clients clarify what they want.
  • I’ve been using a process consultant’s model. I didn’t know this term until Jonathan Flowers introduced it to me. I think it’s similar to a solution focussed approach, which holds that the client is always the expert in their own world and it’s for them to determine what works. Anyhow, where I can, I’ve been working on the basis that it’s not for me to find solutions for clients but to help them to find their own. Another way to describe this apporach is decentred.

So, what do you think you might notice if you started moving towards being a six out of ten? Give me 10 things.

Yes, still plenty of room for improvement. Here are some things I might notice if I starting going higher than a five:

  • I’d be discussing projects with some of those organisations that I really admire but haven’t worked with yet.
  • I’d be getting more enquiries via my website.
  • I’d be getting more Linkedin requests and twitter follows from scrutiny practitioners and other folks working with boards and committees.
  • I’d be spending more time working on my favourite voluntary project: Notwestminster.
  • I’d be spending more time writing bids for contracts.
  • I’d be turning down work offers because I have better alternatives.
  • I’d be doing more exercise when travelling such as swimming and gyming.
  • I’d be submitting papers to academic journals.
  • I’d be having more catch ups — online and off.
  • Last, and certainly not least, I’d have more time to do things at home and with the family.

OK, thanks Dave. Best wishes for the year ahead. 💪

Thanks Dave. That was really helpful and has set me up nicely for the next 12 months. Great questions by the way.

Thanks. You’re very welcome 👍🙂