March was a great month. Here are my reflections on a fun, busy and adventure-filled few weeks since my last post.
1. Lots of new opportunities
It’s been a month of finishing some projects off, continuing with others; but most excitingly of all, speaking to old colleagues and new about some brilliant new work opportunities.
I’ve said to anyone that ever asks that life as a freelancer is a real rollercoaster. The only thing is that it’s not quite the rollercoaster that you think it’s going to be. I assumed it’d be peaks and troughs: lots of work, and then not much work, and dealing with the mental stress of it all.
But it’s not quite been like that. I’ve been, well not lucky exactly (see later in this post), but happy with the level of work I’ve had since I started last July. There’s been a pretty steady flow of new opportunities since then. But, it’s true, that sometimes it goes a bit quiet. At this point I start to worry.
But then, out of the blue, things start happening. A LinkedIn DM, a random phone call when you’re on the train about to go under a tunnel, a “So and So has suggested I contact you….” email. And at this point I start to worry again.
And this is the true rollercoaster of freelancing. It’s not: busy, then quiet, then busy again. It’s more the constant mental somersaulting between “Gulp: I’m never going to work again!” and “Gulp: how will I ever do all this work?”
The reality is more mundane. Many things come to fruition; some don’t, and generally speaking you’re left with probably about the right amount of work after all’s said and done.
But however I’ve got here, I’ve ended up with some brilliant new clients that I’ll be very proud to call partners. And even for the opportunities that didn’t turn into anything concrete, they’ve provided great learning experiences.
2. Tervetuloa Helsinkiin
On a personal note, I enjoyed another wonderful Nordic (though not “Scandinavian” - important distinction) adventure in March.
It was my wife’s birthday, and given our passion for all things Nordic, we headed off to Helsinki in Finland for a long, cold, snowy weekend. And as ever, with that part of the world, it didn’t disappoint.
Lovely, friendly, helpful people who variate between their local tongue and native English with apparent ease; (useful given the famously incomprehensible Finnish language). It was lovely and clean; had beautiful design and architecture; and public services that just work brilliantly.
And as I always do in these situations, whilst having a mind-bendingly strong coffee as is traditional in Finland, I pondered why everything seems to just work so well.
Two examples: public transport and a library.
We got around the city on their extensive tram system, using a phone app, that worked on all transportation types, took payment from my Apple Pay in seconds, and even had a feature that meant that if your phone ran out of battery, you could recite your mobile number to a ticket collector (which we never actually saw) as proof that you had a valid ticket.
We also spent a bit of time in the absolutely stunning Helsinki Central Library (or “Oodi” as it’s known locally), which was famously co-designed with the local Helsinki community. They had an amazing toddlers’ play area (a pretty much essential component of any family holiday destination these days), and millions of books in about a million different languages. One thing you saw a lot in here, and other places we went, were really polite customer notices asking visitors to put toys or furniture back where they found them when they arrived. And of course, everyone did. Aside from the stunning architecture, this small thing is what really made the space work so well.
Here, in two different publicly available (and publicly funded) arenas was two very small things that have made life in Finland the happiest country on earth, and made Finnish design the envy of the world:
Human centred design, and a focus on community and responsibility for each other.
Sometimes, your phone runs out of battery. What do you do if your travel ticket is on it?
Sometimes you want to go somewhere with the kids that doesn’t cost the earth to get in. How do we make it so that it isn’t a mess, and important things are missing when you get there?
You firstly consider those basic user experiences, and you look at applying a technological or structural fix; or tap into people’s sense of community and responsibility to help.
In a lot of recent work I’ve been doing around comms strategy, I ask clients to consider both structure (i.e. tangible stuff like tech, policy, funding etc) and culture (how people relate to each other, and how people feel) as enablers and barriers to success.
So when utilising their enviable public services, it’s no wonder I felt right at home with the Fins.
In short. Go to Finland. It’s great.
3. IPSE Blog
I was really pleased to be featured in the IPSE blog this month.
IPSE are a fantastic organisation, dedicated to supporting and representing freelancers and independent practitioners; so it was a really proud moment to be on their website.
My post is titled “Why there’s no such thing as luck in freelancing” and is all about how success in this crazy game is all about hard work, playing the long game, and generally being great at what you do. As I said above, it’s nothing to do with luck.
Thanks a lot for IPSE for hosting me, and for the kind donation to my favourite charity Refugee Action instead of paying me a fee.
4. Engaging Youth Report
If you’ve ever listened to my podcast “How to go freelance: a guide for the terrified”, you’ll recognise Rebecca as one of the people who gave me really invaluable advice when I started.
The report is an absolute gold mine of useful research and insight into what drives young people’s decisions, and the factors that influence how they perceive the wider world.
From health and family, to tech and career prospects, it’s an absorbing, accessible and honest appraisal of where young people are “at” in these contradictory, confusing, and worrisome times.
What I particularly love about the report is that whilst there’s a really useful “content” section which talks about what comms channels young people are using; this isn’t its main focus. It’s more about the factors, again both cultural and structural, that impact choices.
It is long awaited, conclusive proof that there’s so much more to “engaging young people” than “let’s do an app”, or “let’s do a Snapchat” or “let’s make it jazzy”.
Young people are people too. The next time a middle aged service manager asks you to make their idea “appeal to the youth”, I strongly recommend plonking the PDF* of this report in their inbox, before asking them to book another meeting once they’ve read it all.
*don’t print it out. The world is already on fire.
5. New podcast episode
It took a little while (5 months to be precise), but I’m really pleased to have released a new episode of How to go freelance: A guide for the terrified this week.
In this episode, I speak in depth to freelance Data and Research Specialist Adam Pearson of Pearson Insight about his experiences of becoming a freelancer - pretty much at the same time I did.
In it, Adam talks candidly about what he did (and didn’t do) to prepare, and how the freelance community is such a fantastic source of practical and emotional support.
Or play it below:
6. What I’ve been listening to
I spent the last few weeks really enjoying a couple of Audiobooks.
One of which was Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman.
He’s very much the viral political star of the moment, and I was fascinated to learn more about his ideas around Universal Basic Income and the 15 hour working week.
It is a really useful listen (or “read” if you have time for that kind of thing). I think we can all agree, that, well, things need to change in our economy, society and politics. These factors all impact on the choices we make as individuals, contributing to our sense of community and individual wellbeing.
Bregman suggests that by thinking differently, and crucially, using evidence that there are solutions out there to help us live more affordably, and more happily.
He suggests that it’s a critical lack of imagination that is holding us back as a society. And as much as I have a degree of scepticism of some of his arguments; this is one that I subscribe to 100%.
7. My long-form detailed opinion about Brexit.
Not going very well is it?