Working wild – four lessons for a happy freelance career

Posted on: July 1st, 2013

Welcome to guest writer, Faye Sharpe.

Working Wild is working without the confines, limits and inhibitions enjoyed by our domesticated cousins. It is stepping out from the protective custody of the corporate zoo to work with wider horizons.

There’s a smack of unpredictability, danger even, in the term ‘freelance’, just as there is in the term ‘loose cannon’. You get the feeling something might go off at any time, anywhere.

That’s the thrill freelancers seek, the freedom to flush out and take advantage of opportunities, to fling their lances, to take risks, even the risk that they might miss; to dream, prepare, learn and practice their skills in order not to.

Successful freelancers, however, bring confidence, comfort and relief to their clients. They bring release from the pressures and problems caused, for example, by company bottlenecks. Freelancers can cut through, ‘lance’ if you will, red tape.

From where does that confidence come? Not from being a loose cannon!

Ironically, it comes from practising constraint, discipline, resourcefulness and being a great boss.

Constraint

Anyone who lives by his or her wits will tell you that constraint is the greatest aid to creativity. A paradox you might think. Surely people who enjoy working wild would hate to be constrained?

Anything is possible. The question is: What are you going to make probable?

There is a world of difference between potential, the infinity of blue-sky thinking or the limitlessness of blue ocean ideas and opportunities, and creativity, the practical and pragmatic turning of ideas into food on the table.

When working wild, creative constraint focuses potential and facilitates creativity by providing a net, a context, some terms of reference within which ideas can be caught, contained, sorted, modified and finally transformed into buyable work.

For example, the metre and form of a piece of writing, the number of words, even syllables as in a haiku, are creative constraints for writers. The size of a packet is a creative constraint for advertising copywriters. The needs of your customers in your chosen market are constraints, focusing and restricting your attention and creative effort. The purpose, objectives and scope of a project are constraints to coordinate collaborative activity.

When working wild, creative constraints are a freelancer’s best friends. The ‘brief’ is all. The choice of what to do often starts with choosing what not to do.

And don’t wait for your client to give you a ‘good’ brief. Don’t complain when a project goes wrong because you didn’t get clear terms of reference. Do it yourself. Learn to set and, of course, agree the constraints upfront and confident creativity will flow, yours and your clients’.

Lesson 1: Learn that constraint is the greatest aid to creativity and working wild. Learn how to set and agree creative constraints.

Discipline

Ah! The freedom to get up with the sun instead of the alarm clock, of commuting from bedroom to ‘office bedroom’, of being able to sit at your own desk, to stop for a cup of coffee when you want, to sit in your comfy chair gazing out of the window undisturbed by petty interruptions, thinking purple thoughts!

The liberty to set your own agenda and timetable, to turn up to work ready to work, to be prepared (including dressed) for the Skype call at 4am, to produce to a deadline not necessarily in your own time zone.

The autonomy to struggle with the lonely responsibility of delivering the goods by yourself, to pay the bills on time when your invoices haven’t been paid on time, to manage, that is to plan, monitor and control, your Self.

That’s the sovereignty freelancers thrive on, the free will of independence, the self-discipline of professionalism.

If you like the hubbub of an open plan office, then go to a coffee shop with your laptop to work. Just don’t kid yourself that you’re working when you are experimenting with a café latte. You can even work in the zoo, which is your client’s office. But remember that at the end of the assignment you’ll be set loose, set free, let go. You can’t afford to get too comfortable. This is not your business. Your business is out in the wild.

Find the best way for you to turn up to work and then work! If your laptop and phone are switched on, your office is open and you are at work.

Lesson 2: Learn that self-discipline is your core skill. Learn how to turn up for work when temptations not to are all around you.

Resourcefulness

You’re a freelancer. That doesn’t mean you’re alone. You don’t have to know how or do everything yourself. Get a team of professionals around you. Many of them are freelancers too.

Get an accountant to register your company and set up your accounts and tax routines. You’d be wise do your own bookkeeping to keep your finger on the pulse and to keep costs down, but are you really a tax expert? And you want to pay tax – that means you’re earning income!

Get someone to be your tech support, your helpdesk, your IT advisor and consultant. You can manage and write your own blogs and website content (why wouldn’t you?) but are you really interested in domain hosts, coding plug-ins and widgets?

Find others who like to work wild, people you like and build a good business rapport with them. Other freelancers usually recommend them. By the way don’t forget to give them a good brief. Constraints work on their creativity for your benefit too. Make sure they know what they are taking care of and what you are taking care of. Make sure nothing slips between the cracks. Good fences build good neighbourhoods.

Surrounding yourself with professionals provides support but it also extends your reach. Often a project is part of a bigger programme of work. By collaborating with other freelancers who have skills complementary to yours, you add depth and breadth to your offering.

By introducing colleagues you become more ‘resourceful’ to your client, which in turn builds more confidence. By surrounding yourself with professional people you are establishing your professionalism, dismissing any notion that freelancers are fly-by-night free lances or loose cannons.

Lesson 3: Learn that you are not alone. Learn how to build a professional team around you for support and to extend your reach.

A great boss

What kind of boss would you make? It’s a bit like asking what kind of parent would you be? You won’t know until you are one. But as a freelancer you are not bossing others around, you are bossing yourself. That’s different.

Will you be kind, considerate, clear, tolerant, supportive, encouraging, cheerful, fair and consistent? Will you bully, harass, frighten, intimidate, drive, criticise cruelly? Are you someone you want to work with?

Working wild means there’s no escape from who you are. But there’s also no escape from who you want to become. That’s the point of working wild, the freedom (and the constraints) to be what you can be. Yes, you will discover the mean, nasty side of yourself. There are days when you’ll say, ‘Even I don’t want to work with me!’ But there will also be days when you think, ‘Hey that work I just produced is not half bad. In fact, it’s very good.’

You’ve gone freelance to discover new ways of working, of earning a living, of living a life. There will be tough times when you’ll need to be your best friend, companion and colleague. There will be wonderful times when you will need to be your best friend, companion and colleague.

You will need to learn how to lead, follow and get out of the way of your success. And don’t forget the company sports day, the company picnic or the company trip to the theatre. Go by yourself or take your clients, colleagues and support team with you.

Lesson 4: Learn to be a great boss. Learn to lead, follow and get out of the way of your success!

There are an endless number of things to learn and enjoy when you are working wild, for example how to be consistently curious, perhaps a topic to save for another blog post. But for now, these are four lessons freelancers learn and re-learn when they aim to find the joys of working wild.

Faye Sharpe has been ‘working wild’ all her life, even during an eight-year spell with a small consulting firm. That was very much a collegiate experience, hardly a ‘proper job’. Connect with her at http://maraposa.co.uk or http://thesecretarchaeologist.co.uk/blog

 

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