The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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There are some things I’ll brazenly have a go at without any help, like writing a flippant book about freelancing. But when your skills aren’t as complete as you’d like in some nuanced discipline like proctology, it’s time to bring in the experts.

Everything’s in order bum-wise of course, and I’ve got a much more sanitary example of when roles recently reversed and freelancer turned client. Here I gained first-hand experience of what it’s like to commission a freelancer to do what I can’t.

I’m glad I swallowed my pride and asked Gav, a freelance designer, to lay out The Human Freelancer book. Instead of my original sticky pages held together with twigs and spit idea, he’s done a wonderful job of presenting my content and nestling Gary Clap‘s provocative illustrations inside a neat little edition that begs to be picked up and read.

Yet blowing smoke up the arses of my collaborators isn’t what this post is about.

This is really about what it feels like to ride on the other side of the freelance see-saw. And true to the Human Freelancer’s mission, here’s a facetious account of what I experienced assembling the book with another freelancer’s help.

We’re not exactly sure what we want

Disappointingly, I’m no different when it comes to being a client. Although I tried hard to describe my hopes, dug out inspiration and defined parameters, my brief was wanting. That’s partly because I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to design but mainly because I’m mindful of dictating the solution; something no freelancer wants.

Defining how something should be when it doesn’t yet exist is a tricky conundrum I’ve already explored. Try explaining all that to an apprehensive client who just wants value for money and the best job possible.

Vulnerable empowerment

Describing a problem then giving someone free-rein to get on with solving it actually feels really nice. If I had any ambition to be a salary-enslaved manager, I imagine this is what makes their jobs bearable, between microwaving their heads in the staff kitchenette.

Putting your trust in a freelancer is a brave step for anyone, especially when you consider how many arseholes there are out there (if you like arseholes there are two chapters about them in the book). And that deserves appreciation because us decent clients are effectively surrendering control to a freelancer. It’s also why some vulnerable clients feel compelled to micro-manage or stipulate everything to an infinitesimal degree if they’ve been burnt in the past.

Money is inescapable

Until humans sensibly trade skills for grub and do away with toxic personal wealth, cost will continue to be measured in hard cash.

When you commission work in the creative sector, you ostensibly believe you’re a patron of art. But then again you’re paying someone to do a job out of your own back pocket when it’s impossible to know how long or how much it’s going to cost up front.

So regrettably, things do boil down to cash as a discernible boundary for the scope of work between client and freelancer. It’s like a tiny capitalist woodpecker jabbing avariciously at your resolve, and no matter how many appendages you ram in its beak it persists squawking: “that’s brilliant – but how much will it cost?”

Excitement manifests as impatience

In our rush to get our hands on the finished product, us clients occasionally wish things would happen sooner. It’s thrilling to wonder how someone will interpret your vague specifications and that can occasionally get the better of you.

Because I’m excellent though, and I appreciate that freelancers have other projects and priorities this wasn’t ever an issue.

Decisive indecision

It’s awful when you hit a sticking point. But it’s even harder when you’re the client because you make the final decisions. And that brings an imposing sense of permanence – as if your choice might compromise the quality of a product you want to be flawless.

On a couple of occasions I found myself delaying while I mulled over the options for the book’s appearance. And to a freelancer that might manifest itself as frustrating silence and an interruption to progress. It wasn’t, but the experience reminds me that open dialogue, even when there isn’t much to discuss, is always a good idea.

Which reminds me. We hit nothing short of a wall covered with shitty nails when it came to agreeing a front cover. Yet by giving it time, soliciting everyone’s opinion and paying extra special attention to people’s artistic sensitivities you get by. I realise not all clients are like this so have a squint at the ‘How to handle criticism with self-esteem intact‘ chapter of the book.

So when (not if) a project goes lumpy in future, and you find yourself on the sharp end of some challenging client behaviour, consider what’s at stake for them. Try not to jump to conclusions about why they’re shitting in your eye sockets; perhaps they’re under pressure, excited or just don’t know the right way to articulate themselves.

Now it’s your job to help them.

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