One small step for mankind, one big leap for Hat

Posted on 11/01/09 | in work

Today is an important occasion for me: it’s 10 years since I went self-employed. I’m dead chuffed that somehow I’ve blundered through all these years, slightly anxious about the year ahead (two clients falling off, one affecting some readers of this as they’ll know, the other alas my most lucrative in terms of pay-per-work; though in happier news at least two new clients secured and a possible Big New Project which would make everything much securer), and determined to carry on for as long as I possibly can, ie until I die. I’ve seen numerous people come and go in the self-employed arena, and very few seem to have the luck/disposition to stay a long-term course. I hope I do, but obviously we’ll see.
I think the two things that have made all this work for me are:
1. Diversifying. My disposition is to be an incurable generalist, and I’ve gradually persuaded people to let me do a variety of different stuff – I started as a writer, became an editor, then a designer, and now even occasionally a coder, and bluff my way through all four, thanks to some lucky opportunities, reliable contacts and I suppose some sort of facility for picking things up.
2. Loyalty. Although inevitably clients come and go, there are three or four people/organisations I’ve worked with from only about six months after I went freelance, and these people have been good to me – and hopefully I’ve been good to them too, sometimes putting business their way too, and trying to be dependable. This pays the bills, and allows time for doing other stuff as it comes up, and all the other daft stuff I get up to. I’m hugely grateful to these people, and the occasional boredom is a very fair price for years of work. Boredom, I think, is a factor in any job, and finding the right kind of tolerable boredom (at least if you have an attention span as piscine as mine) is a crucial strategy.

This year, as I say, I’m slightly anxious, but recently I’ve started looking around for extra work in a way I’ve not really done since I started – so it’s an exciting time for reboot, and a challenge to work out how to find new work (I have one particular new angle to help with that – more another time maybe). Luckily it’s driven by foresight rather than sheer necessity – so far.

Sometimes I think being a specialist is better than a generalist. So many people (writers, I’m mainly thinking of) identify an area of interest and nurture an expertise for which people then come knocking. Somehow that just isn’t me, so I’ll have to keep up this fly-by-night approach somehow instead. Wish me luck!

9 Comments on “One small step for mankind, one big leap for Hat”

  1. drcosmos Says:

    I think the only true path for the likes of you and me is the dilettante one: we’re not really generalists or specialists but rather there are obscure specialised areas where we are expert and based on this, we can blag the rest.

  2. lisekit Says:

    I’m currently feeling gently terrified. When I decided to go freelance six months ago, I think it was definitely the right choice for me – it allowed me to develop a better relationship with my three main schools (both students and staff – my old post could get a bit lonely when I only saw people once a week and most staff wondered who the strange person in the corner of the staffroom was!)

    It also allowed me to take on a variety of exciting projects, like the Ballet Boyz project I’m working on at the moment, and finally it does allow me to get paid something approaching market rate instead of peanuts.

    With all these advantages, however, comes a certain lack of stability, and I’m feeling a bit nervous about the short-term future now. On the one hand, it’s quite a useful time to be working in the public sector, as large amounts of money have already been committed to promoting a variety of physical activities “in the run-up to 2012” (and although I would generally protest that my discipline is an art, I will happily call it a sport if somebody pays me to do so). On the other hand, I can see the funding situation getting bleaker and bleaker in the next few years. It’s already started, and the current crisis isn’t going to make that any better.

    So let’s just say I’m keeping one eye on the permanent jobs market right now.

  3. hatmandu Says:

    Sorry, should have added my good lucks to you too, of course! Yes, tricky times… I always keep at least the corner of an eye on jobs, and there’s one of my regulars I’d turn to first if I needed one, but as I say, hopefully it won’t come to that. I really hope it works out for you too!

  4. lisekit Says:

    Thanks for good wishes! I do think I’m more naturally inclined to work this way, but it does leave one bouncing around from project to project – fine when times are flush and you can pick and choose, but worrying when times are less so.

    I think in the next couple of years I might anyway want to move into something more like education management (or even consultancy – in the sense of one you consult rather than one who does nothing all day!) rather than chalkface deliivery. I’m getting a bit old and stiff for all this endless jumping around….

  5. skorpionuk Says:

    Oh, thank you very much! It’s nice to have kind words on what is essentially a solitary path 🙂

    Best of luck with your next ten year too. I hope you find a good balance and exciting new things.

  6. undyingking Says:

    Congratulations on the ten years! The first ten years are the worst, so they say. Then the second ten years, they’re the worst too. The third ten years you don’t enjoy at all. After that it goes into a bit of a decline.

  7. monkeyhands Says:

    I’d like to add to your list of factors-that-make-freelancing-work:

    3. A plausible manner (combined with a talent for sounding like you know more than you really do, you’re more experienced than you really are and you’ve done more preparation than you really have).

    4. The ability to stop at “good” or even “OK” and not keep working towards “perfect”

    5. Putting yourself out there – on the web and in real life

    6. Luck

    I’m still working on it, but your ten-year landmark is something to aspire to.

  8. hatmandu Says:

    Yes, yes, definitely agree with all these! Oh, and good luck with the NUJ thing (sorry, too lazy/busy to post in the right place…)

  9. monkeyhands Says:

    Thank you!