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Archive for April, 2007

Freelancing 101: Sign contracts!

Monday, April 30th, 2007

I haven’t done anything terribly interesting business-wise in the past two weeks but I have been thinking about an incredibly boring and incredibly important freelancing issue: paperwork/contracts.

Two interesting things happened to me in the past week.

For the first, I turned up to a new client with my signed contract in hand and apologised for not faxing it over earlier (I live out of town and getting a witness for my signature can be tricky). The client commented that most people turn up and say that the paperwork is on the way. I was horrified – who would start doing paid work without a contract.

Another client asked me today to sign an ‘extension’ contract, which wouldn’t include an important variation that had not yet been approved (yes, a rate increase). I was horrified – who would work without having a signed agreement about rate.

Contracts are important and should be considered important by both parties. Legally they represent the agreement between the two of you. Professionally, they represent that you know what you are doing and that you think enough of your skills to ask for what you need.

If you are a freelancer or contractor, you should never start work without a contract. Sometimes it may mean you go without a few days work, but it is more important to respect your skills than risk giving away free work or looking like you don’t know business.

If you are a freelancer, it is worth getting a short services contract drawn up by your lawyer (you do have one?). Mine cost only a small amount, and it is great to set the ground by saying ‘I have a services contract. Here it is. Shall we use this?’. It gets you started quickly and shows you know what you are doing (it should be a fair contract – this isn’t about screwing your clients).

So guess what I’m doing this week? Catching up on my backlog while waiting for paperwork!

I am way too noisy

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

I just discovered I am the number 2 google entry for Donna. I even beat The Donnas.

That just makes me think I’m being way too noisy… But it’s still funny.

P.S. I wasn’t even ego-surfing. I was playing around on web forms seeing how people set up default buttons ;)

Training & world views

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I was reading Seth Godin’s ‘All Marketers are Liars‘ this morning and something I read connected with part of my training dilemma I wrote about last week (where I commented how hard it is to teach people to think when they want answers).

The first chapter of his book is about people’s ‘worldview’ – the frames, expectations and biases that we all have. The chapter explains how these things relate to marketing and how marketers must work with how their customers think rather than against them. He points out that most people don’t want to change their worldview – that we actively look for things that support our worldview. He also reminds us that there are many, many worldviews, something that most UCD people recognise (some of us turn these into personas), but marketers sometimes don’t (and use demographics).

How does this relate to teaching? Everyone walks into class with a worldview. Some walk in ready to have a relaxing day away from the desk; some to expand their knowledge; some to take away some answers without thinking.

I have to remember:

  1. A class is varied and contains these worldviews plus some variants
  2. I’ll have a better overall outcome by targeting some worldviews over others.

I am a good enough teacher to meet the first two worldviews – I am experienced enough to make a day fun, and can open eyes and expand knowledge. I can’t meet the third without betraying my principles – I can only do what I’m comfortable with but no more. And I needn’t feel like I have to. As Andrew pointed out in comments, I just need to remember to manage expectations where possible.

So I feel better. Seth Godin on marketing reminded me of something quite unrelated (and provided a good read on the way to work).

My workshop dilemma

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

I have been teaching for many years (like 22) and teach often (4 workshops in the last 4 weeks). And in all that time, I have never resolved one particular problem. One that I have found harder as I move into harder work.

People come to my workshops wanting answers. They would really like to turn up, spend a day playing and go away with answers. Really, most don’t want to go away with increased skills, heightened awareness or a reading list; they want answers. Not only that, and they don’t know it, but they want those answers deeply embedded in their brains so they don’t have to think too hard when the next problem arises.

And I understand this. My user-centred, empathetic brain cares deeply about the expectations of workhop participants. I pay attention to what they think, expect and want. I know that I would like to approach some fields and get the ‘main ideas’ from the field – things I can understand and use straight away.

But my ‘experience-in-the-field’ brain causes conflict. That part of my brain says that I’ve spent a long time learning, thinking and doing this stuff; and that I can’t distil it into a set of rules. It makes me think ‘Duh. If this were so easy I could tell you in a couple of hours, don’t you think someone would have by now’.

This is the spot where some gurus have made their names – in context-free rules and answers. In providing the simplistic answers that some people want.

This is my teaching challenge. Providing the answers I’m confident about, letting people know I can’t provide an answer on the spot and raising awareness that much work needs thought. It is an incredibly hard balance, lifting people from ‘give me answers’ to ‘help me think’ in a short time.

I sort of think I’m making it. I’d guess 10-20% of people who attend my workshops start thinking (depends on the situtation – IA Summit the % is very high, in-house workshop is low). All my mentoring clients do. But I still feel bad for not meeting the needs of the rest.

On professional seriousness – post 1

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Two weeks ago I promised I would post regularly about progress on my new plan to take myself seriously and work on my freelance business.

Like all things that sounded like a great goal but hasn’t quite worked out as I thought it would.

It truly is funny how things work out. In those two weeks I was asked for proposals for four pieces of work (not bad given I have been out of the market for a while) and to get involved in two exciting, secret-for-now projects. I think the latter has a connection to my decision, but the former is a co-incidence.

I did a lot of boring admin. My tax is up to date, my books are good and my bills are paid. I even sent chasers on overdue invoices. That’s a good thing. As boring as it is, I do have to keep on top of paperwork (yes, I think it is time to hire someone to do it).

I’m feeling more organised. I have been using my filofax, my new little whiteboard for day-to-day goals and my big whiteboard for projects and big goals (categorised and all) (thanks to my hubby for mounting this).

my wall mounted whiteboard, showing lots of projects in various colour-coded categories

So I think I have made some progress. Not huge, but decent foundation. You can’t see it on the photo because I blurred it, but there are some good plans in my ‘business dev’ square.

Being professional: appearing organised

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

I took a tiny step today towards being a more professional freelancer. This may seem trivial, but helped me with the commitment.

I’m fairly organised, and can keep track of most of my appointments in my head. I don’t usually use a diary or ever appear to write things down. And I don’t forget (well, except a few little things for the IA Summit, but you don’t know how many little details I did manage to remember).

But if you didn’t know that, you wouldn’t just trust that I’d remember if I didn’t write things down. So today I decided to take a step in at least looking organised, and bought a diary. While I like gadgets, I decided that needed too much research, and bought the old-fashioned leather and paper kind.

I spent ages in the office supply store. I wanted something small and light, but big enough to be useful. I wanted it to look professional (but not too granny), and definitely didn’t want someone’s brand screaming at me every time I got it out.

So I bought this lovely filofax. Look ma, no branding. Just good, solid leather & elegance. I feel like a grown up.

my new filofax. brown leather cover, elastic strap

Taking myself seriously

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

When I posted my IA Summit wrap up a couple of days ago, I mentioned I had made a decision this year (in my IA Summit decision tradition).

This year’s decision was not as profound as previous, but still important to me and my year and I want to tell you about it. But it needs a little back story.

You may know I quit my consulting job 2 years ago, in order to work for myself. I chose to freelance – to work for clients or other companies. I think freelancing is different to consulting in that it allows more hands-on, deeper work, which is why I chose this approach. It had been working well – I did a few pieces of work for small web design firms and a few for government clients. I continued to speak at conferences and teach occasional workshops.

Late last year I took on a contract I was initially uncertain about (so took 6 months rather than a year like everyone else did). I was unsure about it as I worried about getting buried in an organisation & losing my ability to take on a variety of work with a variety of clients. The potential benefit was that the work could be interesting and the team could be good.

Well, predictably, I became more buried than I realised. I cut my hours back this year, but was definitely getting embedded in this organisation.

And then came Summit…

Somehow I ended up having a long conversation with Jared Spool and Dan Willis about my work situation & later revisited the discussion with Lou & Ant. I justified my approach and stood my ground. But a few days later, things started ticking over in my brain and I realised I had allowed myself to drift into a (dis)comfort zone.

So, to cut a long story short, I made a IA Summit resolution. This year it is to take myself more seriously. I need to acknowledge my skills, value them and sell them. I need to stop drifting. I need to manage my business better and more professionally.

To that end, I may try an experiment. I think I’ll do a fortnight-by-fortnight (week-by-week is too fast) look at my freelance business. I’ll discuss how I’m managing my business, how I’m promoting it, how I’m working with clients. I think I can do this discretely and in a way that will help other freelancers. It can’t hurt to try…

PS. Thanks Jared, Dan, Lou & Ant guys for giving me a kick in the pants!

IA Summit wrap-up

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Yes, it has been almost a week since the IA Summit finished and I am only now posting my wrap up (the long back-story combines a long flight, my birthday, a server rebuild, an office reorganisation and waitressing – you don’t want to know).

I attend a lot of conferences and the IA Summit is by far my favourite. It has to be – I wouldn’t offer to be program chair for something I didn’t care deeply about.

My IA Summit experiences fall into three categories (yes, I am an IA): content, personal and life/business:

My favourite content experiences were:


  • Hanging out with Lynn, Mags, Eric, Chris, Matthew & Dan (I have this niggling bad feeling about mentioning just a few people out of everyone I like, but I have hung out with these guys for 3-4 conferences and they are fab!)
  • Standing on the edge of the grand canyon
  • Being introduced to Escargot & Thai tea (in separate meals!)
  • Talking about name dropping with name-dropees
  • Looking around at lunch on the first day and seeing 500 people in animated discussion
  • Being amazed at how many people went out of their way to stop and say thanks for the work I did
  • Talking to my family every day for as long as we liked (and knowing it wasn’t costing much)
  • Doing the ‘Star Trek Experience’ with skeptical, grown-up Trekkies (and squealing & jumping out of my seat)
  • Meeting Andrew Hinton face-to-face (we had previously met only in Second Life)
  • Having a couple of people ask about my Fair Trade T-shirt

For the life/business category, the IA Summit always feels like the start to my work year. It is a chance to stop barelling along, think about what I do, what I like and what it means. I have made the most significant career decisions at this conference – in 2004 I realised how connected I was to this community; in 2005 I realised I wasn’t doing what I wanted and quit my consulting job; in 2006 I realised that university study wasn’t giving me what I needed and quit in order to study what I wanted. This year’s decision was not so profound, but solid (I’ll elaborate further tomorrow but would like to say thanks to Jared, Dan, Lou, & Ant for kicking me in the pants).

See you next year!

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