Freelancing is like a club that everyone secretly wants to join, but few ever do and only a tiny percentage succeeds. If I had a dime for everyone who asks what I do and then looks at me like I'm either nuts or their new personal hero, I'd be sipping copious amounts of Bunnahabhain, neat, in Scotland.
When you spend 100% of your time getting business and 100% of your time trying to get paid, character building and negotiation skills are pretty much a given. Freelancers have to become superb judges of character very quickly, or they go under.
This rant occurred to me last week when I had lunch with a recruiting company -- my initiative, not solicited -- as I considered getting a 'real' job. I go through this periodically and either I will ultimately find the perfect position to dazzle some lucky company, or it will solidify my desire to remain independent.
The enigma for me, as I listened to my learned hosts and munched my designer sandwich, they posited as to how a freelancer would fare re-entering an office environment. The fear was that somehow freelancers are pretty much incapable of adapting to the corporate culture.
Freelancing has its benefits, which far outweighs the downside. Pros: Watch your kids grow up, be your own boss, don't have to suffer fools gladly, etc. Cons: Get rich? Ha. Retirement plan? It is to laugh. The reality is likely to die at your desk hopefully with no receivables, because that would suck out loud.
And you get to meet some amazing people. That's likely the best part. I have been doing this for more than 15 years and the people I meet, both clients and affiliates who are both wicked smart as well as extremely generous with their experience and knowledge, absolutely stuns me. Sex and age mean nothing. I have met both wunderkid CEO's and women in their 60′s who would be a credit to any business.
My sense of the current office environment, besides the politics and, oh yes, the politics, is that a great deal of time is wasted on meetings, team and consensus building as well as dealing with clients they would really rather not.
Apparently there are in excess of 11 million freelancers in the US. The current economic/unemployment landscape has likely ensured that this is a huge growth area. In my opinion, unless you have survived -- read make a living of sorts -- for at least three to five years as a freelancer, you are merely dabbling, have a trust fund, or both.
The mistake most freelancers make is to conclude they have mad skills, can find multiple, moneyed clients and are self motivated enough to succeed. Very early, I realized that while I had some decent skills, I had to quickly adopt the corporate mantra;
'Sure, I can do that, what is it?' And then do it.
My premise is simply that successful freelancers would make excellent additions to an office environment. The question is not whether we can adapt to their culture, but can the target company adapt to ours? After all, the hallmark of the freelancer is to eschew endless meetings, reports, statistics and politics and just win the business and get paid. By our very nature we have a couple of the most desired corporate needs -- among many -- that should make us an extremely sought after group; we are constantly prospecting and above all, we are closers.
And our lives are built around working weekends, nights and holidays.
I think part of the problem is that most HR/recruitment folk see freelancers as bizarre, pj wearing, undisciplined folk who don't fit a mold. They're partially right; by design we don't fit a mold nor do we want to. Does that mean we can't make a meaningful contribution to some company who needs our particular skills? Of course not. Successful freelancers are, or should be, the epitome of flexibility and efficiency -- except when we decide to take the morning off -- and are well versed in biz dev, accounting, sales, marketing and most critically, never leave an empty coffee pot.
I mentioned before that the corporate culture should adjust to the skills of the freelancer. Not so much for our inherent skill set, but for our work ethic and most importantly -- and read this twice -- our unwavering ability to never give up, even when faced with a potentially door-closing slide in business.
Case in point: My business' watershed date will always be 9/12/01. Yes, the day after the horrific attack. All my clients were American or firms that dealt with Americans and without exception as a result of understandable fear of the unknown, all my contracts were cancelled; without malice, but never to return.
I remember not being angry, given what had happened, but having to shift my focus almost instantly as my revenue vapoured. And while it took a year and a half to rebuild with a different business slant, I never doubted it would work out.
So if and when the rapture comes, find a freelancer. They will undoubtedly know how to cope. Because business, as life, goes on, no matter what.
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