Sagas of a Freelancer – Contracts Matter!

freelance picThe last time I had a full-time job was at the beginning of 2005. Going out on my own was an exciting, yet scary time for me, what I would imagine it to be for a baby bird leaving its mother’s nest. When calling or emailing on behalf of the Gordon Institute of Business Science, it would seem that doors would magically open up for me. However, having a different encounter with the same individuals and making that same request from your own brand would not garner the same response. I now understand that startups need to develop credibility through excellence and longevity.

I have since moved abroad, done freelance work in over two dozen countries, represented two international brands and developed credibility within the various hats I’ve worn. Having said all this, one would think that I am immune to ineffective contracting.

I am very appreciative of Symphonia’s invitation to their Flawless Consulting workshop a few years ago. The workshop focused on Peter Block’s work around effective contracting and how to enter these contractual relationships as equals for the ultimate pursuit of the project goal. I remember doing very tough role-plays for different contracting scenarios and while I have not implemented the lessons step by step over the years, it was a definite guide as I entered client relationships over the years. What I took for granted however was the increasing brand strength of Impact Hub Johannesburg when I entered negotiations. In hindsight, I could have followed clearer process with freelancers that I sub-contracted, but the outcome was always based on relationship, a spirit of collaboration and with a win-win outcome.

On 30th June this year we temporarily closed Impact Hub Johannesburg to upgrade the space and services with a re-launch set for 2016. After several years of focusing on building the institutional brand, I am once again operating from my own name. I write this blog post because of two unsatisfactory new client relationships I’ve since entered into which led to me recalling decade old lessons that I’ve compromised on but re-instituting and hoping that it will encourage other freelancers on their journey.

My freelance principles:

  1. You are a brand; do not shy away from it: the quality of your work gives testament to what you have achieved so own it!
  2. Do not negotiate from a point of desperation: we tend to do this when broke, but feel compromised and yucky afterwards – ever hear that freelancers say they feel exploited? This practice breeds that feeling
  3. Only you can give yourself a promotion: unlike employment, you determine your pay grade, the kind of work you’ll do and the clients you associate with. Excellence, credibility and reputation supports this journey
  4. Share knowledge and experience: while many new freelancers tend to hold their cards close to their heart around pay rates, structure and process, I choose to enter into peer-mentoring relationships where we collaboratively influence the field. Nobody else has my unique set of skills and experience anyway so there can be no threat. Abundant thinking expands the pie and I want to play that game
  5. My work is relational: if I cannot see myself entering into a long-term relationship with the institution I am working with or influencing their journey then the work will not be meaningful for me as it’s void of a greater purpose
  6. Sign a contract before commencing work: this protects both you and the client, as expectations are clear. A deeper courting period often helps this phase, but the paperwork seals the deal of the relationship regardless of how trustworthy they seem. Many sleepless nights could have been avoided if I was a purist about this as I could hold them accountable to payment rates, terms and process when it shifted. Even a simple one-pager would suffice
  7. Educate but be prepared to walk away: do not assume that clients are experienced or even professional at contracting. If the contracting phase is painful then the execution phase will feel like extracting teeth. Even if you have a shared vision, trust your instincts and walk away if you do not feel honoured in the deal.

One thought on “Sagas of a Freelancer – Contracts Matter!

  1. Wow this article is really insightful, It came at the right time in my life where I’m working hard trying to build a solid paperwork structure for my company before I publicly launch it, and I was a bit demotivated because it isn’t easy working on contracts, bylaws and policies, especially when you are not a lawyer. Thanks a lot for this piece of writing.

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