The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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Have you ever tried dating? I graced a clutch of vaguely romantic interludes in my mid-twenties, most of which concluded with an exasperated “Are you taking the piss? I can’t work out when you’re being serious or not!” for some reason I’ll never understand.

Yet the contemporary metropolitan date offers us a convenient analogy for how you should communicate with client. Fuck knows why. I was just ambushed by the idea when I was planning a new section for my ongoing talks to students at Leeds Universities about how to be a happy, honest freelancer. Specifically, Leeds Beckett University have asked me to suggest tips on how best to communicate with clients.

Anyway, bear with me on this one. Let’s see where this analogy takes us.

Will this person skin me?

The first date is all about proving you’re not a psychopath who’ll make a kite out of your date’s skin, or otherwise ruin their life. By ‘first date’ I mean a preliminary meeting with a client, often just a simple telephone enquiry or a chat over a coffee.

The secret to a good date is to ask questions, learn about one another and be courteous. This not only helps you discover whether you’re compatible, it comes in useful later when you get down to business, because you know one another’s likes and dislikes.

Sometimes just turning up and acting normal is enough to win you a revisit. I’m not suggesting some people are ‘easy’, it’s just that there are a lot of charlatans out there lowering the standards. If you’re affable and trusting then that counts for a lot – people can pick up on that and it really endears you to them and puts their mind at rest.

The best kind of first date though is fun, filled with friendly exchanges between like-minded folk. Some say it’s like you already know the other person, because you realise you have lots in common, complimentary characteristics and similar expectations about what you want out of life (because there is no distinction between life and work, remember?).

And this does happen with clients some time – that little voice tells you they’re the one, so listen to it. It’s the same little voice that tells you this person is going to stretch you like a Victorian pocket.


Humour is humanity’s bomb squad, defusing tension and making people feel safe. And deploying them in the context of your first ‘date’ with a client is certainly appropriate. If you have an intelligent sense of humour, then use it. Because humour breaks down barriers between strangers, quickly.

Genuine, universal humour has good timing though, so a word of warning: if you’re the type of person who enjoys winding people up ‘for a laugh’ or relishes practical jokes at the expense of others – don’t even try.

That isn’t a sense of humour. Sadly, you’re just a bit of a wanker.

OK, I like this person; I want them inside me

Date two, three or four, if you play your cards right (and aren’t too much of a slag), is when you get down to business. It might be your first time at a client’s site or when you first put your heads together to begin work.

There’s an icing of trust but the essential question now irking your client is “OK, I like this person but are they going to let me down?” and likewise, you’re worried about getting used.

Everyone dials the charm up to 11 on a first date – that’s how you woo your counterpart. But now’s the time to be truer to yourself, because pretending or over-promising just stores up trouble for later on when the façade inevitably crumbles. So I’d suggest a sort of cautious honesty at this stage with your client, because you’re (both) still on probation. It’s fine to express your opinions and reservations about the project, but steer clear of taboos like badmouthing other clients, bragging or your collection of fizzy STIs.

At this point, you’re now setting the tone of this new relationship by letting your actions speak for themselves. Most communication is non-verbal, remember, so keep your promises, be a good listener, demonstrate empathy and confidently express what you need to – these things all help forge a stronger bond that’ll pay dividends in the future.

Are you a loveless cunt?

Have you noticed how some serial-daters never seem to attract the right kind of person? Yet they complain that all men/women are the same: liars, cheats, possessive or only ever after one thing.

Well, how you attract clients is a similar, self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you have a healthy (rather than poisonous) opinion of who your ideal type of client is, then you’re more likely to attract or be attracted to them, the circles in which they mingle and communicate in ways that appeal to them. It’s a sort of subconscious precedent which influences your decisions like how you market yourself, the places you hang-out and the conversations you end up having. It also fuels the passion and conviction behind your efforts, and they’re what influence other people’s decisions to collaborate with you.

I love you

So you’ve proved you’re a noble human on your formative dates. You’re evidently a reliable, conscientious operator willing to do all the things every long-term partner should: be there for the day-to-day challenges, makes compromises, as well as enjoy yourself when there’s occasion to.

Sounds like it’s time to hop into bed and and make some babies. Either that or experiment and see what happens.

What now?

Every relationship has its honeymoon period, when everything’s rosy and you’re both really into each other. That is until reality intervenes and sucks the passion dry from your teats.

Yet ongoing challenges needn’t mean an implosion of debt, arguments and recrimination. There are helpful, honest ways to avoid client conflict and no be an arsehole.

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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.

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