The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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Somewhere in the run up to today Sam [from Everyday People] used the phrase ‘belief and persistence is the key’. When I saw that I thought two things – first, ‘crikey that’s come from someone who’s been around the self-employment block once or twice’. Someone who knows what an unrivalled joy, and massive pain in the arse it can be.

But what an enormous, nebulous subject it is! I mean, where do you start? These two things underpin just about everything we do, don’t they? From starting-up, finding work, right through to trying to get clients to pay up four months after your invoice is overdue.

Luckily though I wrote a book all about this sort of thing called the ‘Human Freelancer’. Which qualifies me to be billed as Chris Kenworthy “the author” tonight as if I’m a respected authority, rather than just some opinionated weirdo who self-published his offensive rants about freelancing.

It’s true though, I wrote a book about freelancing, because it’s been my life for the last 7 years. I’m a freelance copywriter and photographer in Leeds. Most of my friends still don’t really understand what I do, they just seem to think I lie around every day scratching my balls which is at least partly true.

This is the book. Now don’t worry I’m not going to do ‘a reading’ of my own work. I am a bit of a show-off but I’m not that much of a pretentious tosser. It’s here to remind me of this theme I want to explore – belief and persistence.

The guy who illustrated the book asked me how things were going with it recently. I have to be honest, like most things you just sort of plod along don’t you? It’s all very well talking about belief and persistence and positive mental attitude, but everyday life grinds you down. You just get on with it. Know what I mean?

So I told him ‘oh you know, well it’s out there, taking care of itself – I do the odd talk here and there to groups of confused strangers. But mainly, I’m busy with other things etc etc.’ I played it down, you know.

Now, as anyone who’s ever created a piece of art will know (and by art that can be anything but that’s a whole different subject), once you’ve made something and pushed it out there, it’s a bit like getting your boobs out on page 3. You did it at the time because you were young, you needed the money or had to get it out your system, but you’ve since grown older and your priorities have changed. Whereas your art, the book in this case, represents how you felt at some point in the past.

Are you following me? Good because that’ll help you when you’re driving home in a weeks’ time and realise ‘oh now I get what that weird lanky guy was on about last week.’

So my friend wanted to know how the book was doing. Now I thought I’d sold about 5 copies, mainly to my wife, but I logged into Lulu and found out it’s about 100 copies. Now that isn’t a lot in capitalist terms, specifically it’s about 12p after Amazon have siphoned their cut off to the Cayman islands, but in self-publishing terms it’s ‘respectable’. Those sales were mainly to strangers who needed the kick up the arse my book hopefully gave them.

And here’s me distancing myself from the book because my enthusiasm was waning. Then I thought about those 100 people and it really rekindled my passion: which never really goes away. It just loses momentum. And it’s exactly the same with running a business, isn’t it? You get complacent, get a bit jaded but these little things happen, because of your own efforts – situations you create under your own steam, they chivvy you along. You just don’t get that when you’re chained to someone else’s desk watching the clock and wondering when your next poo will turn up.

And this is a process we all go through, again and again. You get into something with loads of passion, then you lose steam. But the defining characteristic between success and failure is sticking at it. Belief and persistence. Either through sheer stubbornness or supreme confidence. OK, both are just different forms of self-delusion, though I tend to prefer the latter these days because it’s more fun telling yourself you’re brilliant all the time.

I’d like to bring this back to actual freelancing or running your business now because that’s why we’re here. Because there’s something awesome you can do to strengthen your belief, boost your confidence and get more of what you want in your life. I’m beginning to sound like one of those motivational speakers aren’t I? And I’m really not like that. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll say I’m just a bit of a funny miserable sod, but I enjoy getting on my high-horse when it comes to freelancing.

Anyway, this thing you can do to ‘maximise your business potential’ is in this TED Talk by Simon Sinek. It’s this idea that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. You should watch it. Like all the best lessons in life it’s really obvious but no one does it properly. He essentially says: “The goal is to find people who believe what you believe. If you talk about what you believe, you’ll attract people who believe what you believe.”

Makes sense right? Then tell me why, especially as a freelance copywriter, is it that all I ever hear from companies is the same old crap about ‘being unique’ or ‘focused on the needs of our customers’ or some other tiresome corporate bullshit.

So this has been a bit of a turning point for me. I’m starting to trade more on why I do what I do, and threading that into how I sell myself. You should do the same. Inject the ‘what you stand for’ into how you market yourself. For me that’s my endless curiosity, fixated by truth, clarity from complexity and obfuscation. That really rattles my gate. And it’s OK if you get wound up about it because that’s what people connect with.

And it really works too. There’s a tiny little section on my website about how I once sat in a meeting at a nasty desk job listening to people talk absolute bollocks about ‘synergising thought-ownership’ or something. I was furious and knew I had to go out into the world and stop this. And this new client rang me up quoting it. They knew I was the right guy because I believed what they believe, and needed my help making things better.

But it can work the other way too. A few weeks ago I was sat in the office and I’d reached that late-morning slump: when you’re on top of your to-do list, sort of barely running on the fumes of breakfast. Let’s just say I was preoccupied with visions of lunch and more than a little off-guard.

That’s when my phone rang. It was this really charming guy from a big law firm in Leeds. He’d read all my super-persuasive salesy professional stuff on my website and liked what he heard.

Now, like I say, it was a funny time of day and he caught me off-guard, but he wanted to know what I was all about. His exact words were something like ‘tell me where you’re coming from.’ And for some reason my professional veneer evaporated.

So I started telling him about how I’d rather be vegetable gardening and doing two days a week instead of three. And how I was basically anti-corporate and a massive leftie hippy who picks and chooses his clients.

Unsurprisingly, that got a mixed reception. Mainly one of him laughing down the phone at me. Which can be taken one of two ways. Again, his exact words were something along the lines of it was probably the best job of selling myself I could have done – if the object was to give a unique and honest impression.

So by nailing your colours to the flag, it can put people off. Like that client who I’ve still not heard back from. But it can also filter out the wrong ones, so you only get the people you want to work with. Who wants to work for money grabbing solicitors anyway?

Time to round up. What I’m trying to say with all this is that we’ve got to stick at it, and learn as we go along. That means periodically taking a good, hard look at yourself and where you’re going with your business. Are you getting what you want out of this? What is it you even want? You’ve got to recapture that passion behind why you first got into this because it’s really easy to get a bit jaded and complacent.

Seven years ago, if you told me I’d be turning work down and being arrogant to clients on the phone I’d have scoffed, but now look at me. What a turnip! But do you see where I’m coming from? Circumstances change, new challenges come along and all the way you’re evolving. Hopefully into a better person with a clearer idea of who you are and how you want to change the world.

I’ve become a motivational speaker again haven’t I? Maybe this is all total kak and I’m in the wrong business altogether.

Thank you for listening anyway.

The Human Freelancer book

LOOK! There's a book full of this shit and more!

Self-help business books perpetuate the myth that success is relentless growth and more of everything means progress. They preach about bookkeeping and market research: things you might need to do of course. But let’s face it they’re fucking boring.

The Human Freelancer book is your antidote: stuffed full of emotional support and insightful advice for vulnerable newbies to self-employment like you.

Buy it now