Part of Strat-Talking.com’s raison d’être is to hold freelancer focus sessions with different types of freelancers to build a rich hub of business tips and insight from which we can all learn and grow.
Simple one to start; what’s your name and what do you do?
Did you get into this by design or did a series of circumstances lead you to what you do?
My background has been working in a succession of software companies and financial institutions as a permanent employee, apart from a single 2 year stint as a contractor in the past.
After I was made redundant from a software company in 2008, due to a shift in their business priorities, I re-considered my career goals and life strategy. I belatedly realised I had accumulated a set of skills, knowledge and experience over 15 + years that was in shortage in the financial IT Industry.
I then set up a limited company, a website, got some business cards and embarked on a successful series of contracts via agencies and through direct recommendation.
How would you describe the life of a freelancer?
I would sum it up in one word: control.
With the confidence of knowing that you have rare, valuable skills and experience that your customers need, and that you can effectively market those skills and experience to them, you can have a much greater control over which projects you work on than a typical permanent employee.
The flip side, of course, is enhanced risk.
The risk of longer gaps between contracts, the risk of an unsuccessful contract affecting your future ability to get future contracts for the same customer or others.
You have more say over your day to day working conditions, holiday and rate negotiations for new contracts or renewals can be much more honest than the purgatory of annual “appraisals”. If you are fortunate to have the right contract with the right customer who has hired your services for the right reasons, you should be given more scope to decide how to carry out your work than an employee would; after all, you are the expert.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a freelancer?
As a freelancer, unless you have additional IP that you can sell, your only asset is yourself: your particularly mix of knowledge, skills and experience. So, the biggest challenge for a long and successful freelancing career is keeping your skills fresh and relevant to your marketplace; the desire to learn is one of the most important strategy tools you can possess.
If you pick the the right contracts, you may gain new skills during a customer project. However, I have always tried to keep up to date in my own field using various resources on the Internet, and attending specialist seminars at places like the Skills Exchance in London.
Why do you think it’s important for freelancers to use blogs like Strat-Talking?
I have learnt most about how to be an independent freelancer by working alongside other consultants at different customers. Resources like Strat-Talking and the Professional Contractors Group, PCG, in the UK, are equally valuable to get access to specialist advice and support from others in a similar situation to yourself.
If you were to give one piece of advice to the next generation of freelancers what would it be?
Be confident that you have rare skills and experience that are of real value to your customers.
Richard Smith is an independent business analyst consultant with over 20 years of experience working in software development in the defence and investment banking industries. He thrives on understanding and navigating complex multi-level business domain and technology problems that typically exist in mission-critical e-commerce trading applications. His specialism is bridging the communication gap between business stakeholders and technical development and support teams. Richard has contributed code to open source projects (www.zeromq.org), and has written a Specification Cookbook at http://rsbatechnology.co.uk/cookbook:main. In his spare time he has continuously failed to learn how play a piano for over five years now. He can be reached at rsmith (at) rsbatechnology (dot) co (dot) uk.