The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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“Jon Backmere, I found your web site Chris and I like what I see” announced a purposeful voice down the telephone.

“Thanks!” I replied, beaming and astonished. “How did you hear about me?”

“I googled writers of copy content for my new venture. I’ve got a portfolio of clients and I could use a man like you.”

“I saw those photos you took of the helicopters – they’re bob-on, and I thought ‘this is exactly the kind of top-quality media my clients need – real high-class.”

More flattery skated over a dull industrial hum. In the background a beeping vehicle reversed into the call, followed by a cannon loud thud and outraged yells of colourful language.

My ego felt obliged to source this praise. “So, what is it that you do?”

“We offer a premium service, a ‘creative agency exceptionnel’” he paused “… when I get this big contract, after that it’s plain sailing all the way.”

“What about you though – what’s your background?” I asked, trying to picture the man behind the abrupt and serious Yorkshire accent.

“Thirty years in print media; advertising hoardings, posters and the like. But the future’s online… all that web and social media and content copy that you do, it’s fantastic stuff – right where I want to be.”

Jonny Bob-on didn’t exist. Or rather he did, but shouldn’t. He was a manifestation of someone I wanted to believe existed: a client ready to do business entirely online with fortuitously discovered strangers. But in the real-world, where relationships rule, he was the exception.

“Now tell me Chris – what’s your rate?” asked Jonny.

I didn’t know exactly. I had a rough idea but a general lack of confidence in my own abilities meant I played down what a more experienced freelancer might ask for.

“Well it depends I suppose… on the size of the job and where it is. I tend to charge somewhere around twenty pounds an hour but we should meet to talk about …”

Jonny cut my rambling short, plucking what he needed from my unfinished reply.

“Listen, I have no problem ringing you up one day to say ‘Chris, I’ve got this little job I need doing, here’s fifteen pound an hour’ and you come back to me with top-quality content copy and photographs.’”

Our discourse, its objective fulfilled, ended and Jonny’s apparition disappeared back into the silent unknown from where he’d materialised. I peered through the void of puzzled affirmation and curiosity. Then it clicked – I’d just been had. Jonny was probably casing out the competition and I’d unwittingly been mugged for information.

I licked my wounds and resolved to put this rape down to experience. I wouldn’t sleepwalk with my flies undone like that again in a hurry.

Many weeks later an email arrived from ‘Quo Vadis Media’. It was Jonny. Perhaps I hadn’t been raped after all.

“Gents, here’s a design of my new agency website for your perusal. All comments most welcome.”

Inside the message was a photograph – a rich orange sunset drenching snow sugared mountain tops and tumbling soft clouds. A tall and stocky balding man dressed in hiking clothes surveyed the scene, his face away from camera. This must be Jonny. Beneath the majestic scene was a strapline that read:

“Ideas are my dream – my team is what makes them a reality – Jon Backmere.”

In smaller text below he added:

“Imagine a team of professionals at the top of their game… now ask yourself, would you like them behind your project?”

At some point in the previous two months I’d qualified for membership in Jonny’s elite team of professionals on a special mission to fulfill his dreams. I felt mysteriously honoured, and glad that he was out there on my behalf telling people I was at the top of my game despite having only entered it less than twelve months before.

Jonny had clearly been busy. In the email’s recipients, a diverse list of names and specialties assembled, each representing a yellow brick under Jonny’s feet on the road to his lucrative Oz. I was one finger in a clumsy fistful of other privileged professionals who presumably met the same criterion of naivety and low prices.

I replied with polite pleasure that things were “progressing” and inquired about the possibility of a meeting before developments leapt forward again with the same bewildering magnitude. There was no response from my enigmatic new employer

A first assignment arrived without warning several months later.

“Chris, Jon from Quo Vadis Media. I’ve got a greenhouse in Doncaster that needs photographing. What time do you get there?”

It was outrageously short notice but work was slow. I pushed for more information about the job.

“Some lads have a website and their aspect resolutions are wrong.”

There was no more talk of lucrative clients, only desperate urgency. I pressed for a brief or at the very least a chat with someone who could explain what the hell Jonny wanted.

“Right, of course yes, leave it with me. I’ll get you a brief – not a problem. Leave it with me.”

The call ended and he faded back into elusive obscurity leaving only silence and questions in his wake.

That same year, Jonny sprang from the ether with disturbing developments:

“Chris, Jon from Quo Vadis Media at the hospital. Apologies for the silence – my daughter died.”

I stumbled between awkward condolences. “That’s terrible news. Sorry. Are you OK?”

My error was challenging a Yorkshireman on the subject of feelings, although there was no reticence on Jonny’s part in divulging the grim results of a post-mortem:

“She’s had cerebral palsy for years Chris. Terrible pain Chris, terrible. Doctors didn’t know why but she’d been getting worse. When they opened her up today she was riddled with cancer, her insides were fucked.”

The busy world of Quo Vadis Media stops for no one, not even the dead.

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