E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

Freelancing

The Downsides of Freelance Work

Gran Canaria - Playa del Inglés Beach

 

Last week, if you would remember, I wrote a blog entry on the topic of ’The Perks of Freelance Work’ to describe some of the things I have enjoyed the most, so far, from being a freelancer over the course of last three years. While that post did not include an exhaustive list of perks, it gave me a pretty good opportunity to reflect upon what I have learned over the course of time, now that I’m getting pretty close as well to my 20th year anniversary in the IT industry. In it I also mentioned how I’d be writing another article where I would share across a number of other different advantages that didn’t make it into the first entry of this series, but I also wrote about creating a couple of different blog entries where I would be musing about the downside(s) of freelance work. Yes, that’s right, the ones no-one talks to you about, nor cares to admit they are going through themselves, mostly because of the lovely, rosy words we seem to impregnate freelancing with as the next big-thing (Remember the gig economy?), when, in reality, it might be everything but… 

The overall purpose of these blog posts talking about the perks and the downsides of freelance work is for me to try to share across a somewhat balanced view around my overall experience in an effort to, perhaps, help you folks understand whether freelancing might be something of interest for you, or not, who knows. At the same time, it’s also a unique opportunity to confirm for myself whether I am alone experiencing and going through some of these ups and downs of freelancing or whether it’s just me. There is that possibility as well. That’s why, with regards to the downsides of freelance work, I am putting together this first blog entry where I would like to explore ten of them and then over the course of time I will be picking each and everyone of them and describe in length how I get to overcome them eventually.

Thus, without much further ado, here are some of the downsides of freelance work, in no particular order, I’d want to share across for now and let’s see how much other folks can relate to each of these, if at all:    

 

  • Uncertainty: If there is anything I have learned over the course of the last three years, as a freelancer, is money doesn’t like uncertainty. It runs away from it like the plague. So when we are going through this exhilarating, nerve-wrecking roller-coaster of tumultuous times, provoked by either global or political turmoils, you know you are bound to learn, and pretty quick, how to live with the uncertainty of not knowing what tomorrow is going to bring forward.

    Making plans ahead of time is not only a waste of time, effort and energy, but also a rather distracting activity, because, in most cases, you just don’t know what’s going to happen next week, month, or year! So, very early in the game, you realise that uncertainty helps you, through the hard way, to pretty much live in the moment, focusing on the tasks and work at hand without having much of an opportunity to focus on anything else, because, you know, it’s just not certain. The ever so much more complex times we live in will bring forward such uncertainty that will pretty much scare your customers away, specially, those with the budget to kick off your projects. But here is the thing about uncertainty that I like the most: it forces you to keep moving, constantly, without excuses, nor regrets, into striking the next lovely project work you will be doing with a potential client at some point in time. Now, I will be talking a whole lot more about it, but here is a tip of advice I learned about coping with the uncertainty: the moment you stop thinking about the what next that’s the moment when uncertainty wins. Don’t let it win. Keep moving! 

    [Like I have mentioned above already, I will be putting together a number of different blog posts in the near future where I will explain with much more detail how I get to tackle each and everyone of these downsides of freelancing, so you folks may learn some more about how I try to cope with them and how sometimes I succeed and how, in others, I don’t. But one step at a time …]

  • Insecurity: With this one I’d want to encourage you all to think of it more as in job security than anything else. And here is a short story on what I mean with that. Three years ago, when I had already decided I was quitting my job at my former employer to start my own advisory firm around Social Business and Digital Transformation, I remember having a conversation with one of my managers where he was asking me what I was thinking about doing next as a freelancer. Back then, and without much thinking, I ventured to state I suspected plenty of the work I would be doing would be rather similar to the work I was doing for him, that is, advising and helping businesses make the most out of their Enterprise Social Networking platforms while embarking on their own Social Business and Digital Transformation journey, but do that work on my own. Going solo. 

    His response, after a long silence, was something along the lines of ‘Hang on, but where is the challenge in that? I mean, you would be doing pretty much what you have been doing for the last 14 years, so there wouldn’t be anything new for you to learn and enjoy in your new job and therefore you would still be stuck within your own comfort zone’. I remember how my initial response was fulminant and somewhat categorical. Alas, it had to come out. I remember I mentioned how, while I was working for him, I would be working really hard to my abilities (or not so hard sometimes) and still have the certainty at the end of the month there would be a paycheck. There always would be a paycheck.

    However, I told him, when I start my freelance work I will be working just as hard, if not harder, day in day out, week in week out, and, unfortunately, I would not have any certainty I would be getting paid for that work. How is that for a challenge to shake your own comfort zone of having received monthly paychecks for the last 17 years without not knowing whether there will be a cheque anymore at the end of the next month? That is the kind of insecurity freelancers are constantly being exposed to. It’s not an easy downside to deal with I can tell you, as most other people would confirm as well, but, unfortunately, it’s going to be there from the very first day you decide to go independent and become a freelancer.

    How can you overcome it? Well, I will be talking about it in more detail at a later time on what I do myself to tame it, but my first piece of advice I have always shared with folks has been to have a substantial financial cushion that would allow you to live comfortably those months where either things are slow, or just not happening at all. And keep moving. The important thing though is not to live for too long under the assumption things will be all right as you deplete that cushion month after month hoping it will all turn around eventually. Well, it might not. At one point, you will need to decide what you may need to do to stop the bleeding, before it’s just too late and you end up in a whole lot of unwanted and perhaps unnecessary trouble. 

  • Client Prospects: I know this may sound a bit weird, I mean, the fact I’m adding searching for client prospects as a downside of freelance work. Well, it is and those who may tell you otherwise may not be telling you about the untold costs of client prospecting. Because it does pay a toll, a huge one, actually. While you are doing client work (either with one client or multiple of them at the same time), your mind will always be worrying and preoccupying itself about the next client. Where are they? How can I find them? How can I reach out to them without sounding too aggressive, too desperate, too cheesy? How can I influence them to start working with me when there are millions of other freelancers out there? Will they be interested in the value add I can provide? What do I have to offer to that client that may be unique and no other people may be providing? How am I going to end up finding new clients when I’m terribly bad at marketing or selling my product? Where do I start? Jeez, why is it all so difficult? 

    I’m pretty sure plenty of the questions, concerns and uncertainties I have just shared in the above paragraph have gone through the minds of any freelancer over the course of time. Why is it a drawback? Well, because of focus. It’s a distraction. It’s a massive distraction from the work you are currently doing for your client(s). And here is the frustrating tidbit, that while you know you will want to work really hard for your clients and deliver 100% of your value add, that distraction, that lack of focus on finding the next client is going to neglect you giving that 100%. Ouch! It will hurt. You know you can deliver effortlessly, but the distraction is a killer.

    And while you may be wondering how to get around it, I can share with you all that the way I have done it is by creating in-between blank spaces where I’m not working with a particular client and, instead, do the prospecting. In short, that means I focus 100% on the client work I’m doing in the moment, delivering with the highest quality I can provide, and once the work is done, I will be spending some time (it usually depends, but it ranges from a couple of weeks to a full month) doing that client prospecting, knowing that there will be no income coming through, but it will help me focus on a single task at a time: serving my client(s) first, looking for new ones afterwards. 

  • Trust: This is perhaps one of the downsides of freelance work that has hurt me the most over the last couple of years. And I don’t think it would apply only to people doing freelancing per se, but everyone, in general, whether you may well be in a salaried job or as an independent. Trust seems to be running very low all over the place at the moment, whether we like to admit it or not. And that lack of trust is causing infinite more trouble than one could have ever imagined. The thing is that if you are going solo trust is an even more critical component towards your own success working with clients achieving your various different goals, because, you know, you are on your own. There is no-one else out there supporting you, at least, initially. That’s what most clients would think about you and the work you do. 

    But there is also another component of trust at play, as a freelancer, which is when you connect and build personal business relationships with your ‘peers’, those people who, over time, eventually, become an integral part of your social networks, till you realise that what you thought of, and advocated for all along, as coopetition (i.e. collaborate openly to compete in a healthy manner) is just plain good old vicious competition. By the time you find out, the damage is already done. The horse has already left the building, indeed, at lightning speed.

    I never thought I would be talking about this, but, like I have blogged a couple of months back, trusting people in this social age is a tough job, specially, when there is a lack of coherence between what people talk, preach and advocate for AND what people really do, letting hypocrisy, therefore, run the show while abusing your own good will. What did I do about this one? That’s a great question! I decided to move on with my work life, understanding I may need to work ever harder from there onwards towards building better, more effective, relevant tight social networks where the primary goal may well not be being poached around left and right. See why it hurt back in the day? Onwards and upwards! 

  • Remoteness: This is one of those drawbacks you may not be able to see coming up front early in the game, till it’s, perhaps, too late and you may have experienced it firsthand already. What I mean with remoteness is, essentially, working remotely while freelancing and how, depending on the industry and the kind of work you do, it will become an issue that’s rather tough to overcome on its own. In this day and age of hyper-connectivity, of remote enabled collaboration, of networks and online communities as the new operating model, of digital technologies allowing you to transform work from a physical space (i.e. the office) into a mental state, it’s hard to believe that remote working in social business is pretty much dead, unless, of course, you would want to re-locate or work on-site 24x7x365. Then again everything you may have endorsed throughout your entire working life is bound to collapse on its own, because, you know, your words and your actions will no longer match. Two completely different worlds colliding with one another and you sitting right in the middle about to experience the clash. 

    That lack of coherence will eventually be your dead end, because how can you dare promote a different kind of working together? How can you state you are designing the ultimate new way of working while promoting an emerging set of digital technologies when you end up working in exactly the very same way you have done it in the last 15 to 20 years, if not longer? Why bother? Seriously. Why bother at all? It’s like as if you were heavily promoting the extensive use of all of these digital technologies at work to help improve the way you connect, learn, share and collaborate with others and yet your number #1 tool you still heavily use on a daily basis is *cough* email *cough*.

    I tell you, if someone would have told me, ahead of the time, what a huge challenge would be working remotely in the realm of Social Business and Digital Transformation I think I would have probably switched off a long long time ago and moved on to better things. That lack of coherence and dishonesty to our core beliefs are just killing us, social business evangelists, big time and, somehow, we just don’t seem to want to wake up and do something about it. Don’t worry, in an upcoming blog post I will let you all folks know what I am doing at the moment to overcome this particular drawback. Can you already hint what it is? 

  • Lack of Discipline: Ok, let’s now move into the more down to earth, mundane downsides of doing freelance work and see what’s out there. Remember when I mentioned free time in a previous article around the perks of freelance work? Well, lack of discipline is one of its worst enemies altogether, more than anything else, because, unless you do something about it, it will manage to destroy your focus and dedication to your client work with a multitude of distractions that will be hard to beat till you realise it’s just too late. 

    That’s one of the reasons why I think plenty of freelancers are so keen on coworking spaces in the first place, because somehow there is a specific discipline in the air to get work done together but still separate, if you know what I mean, and therefore eliminate the urge for any kind of distraction or goofing off. The fact that others are working around you in the same space makes you give in to that thought of not wanting to slack off nor lazy around, to just go for coffee breaks whenever everyone else is having one (GREAT opportunity to converse and connect, by the way!) and to put similar amounts of work like everyone else is doing and eventually conform to an office-like environment where you know lack of discipline is no longer welcomed, nor encouraged.

    You may be wondering by now whether that’s how I have overcome that lack of discipline while freelancing, right? No, I don’t use any coworking space at the moment, even though there are a couple of them right where I live. What I have done instead is build a number of different routines I have developed over the years to help me focus on what I am working on at the moment. That’s why I depend so much on the Pomodoro Technique. That’s why I also rely quite heavily on the effective power of music, for instance, to help me eliminate distractions and really focus on what I need to do in the moment. And the list of routines goes on and on and on. I think I could probably write an entire blog post just on this subject, so I’m going to park it over here for now and come back to it with a follow-up entry at a later time. 

  • Procrastination: Oh my, talking about writing an entire blog post on a specific subject! How about on procrastination itself? Yeah, I know, I bet plenty of you folks out there could write another article about it and how you try to beat it successfully. And yet, it just doesn’t happen. I think it would be silly at this point in time not to realise and acknowledge we all are professional procrastinators. The thing is that while you can certainly bump into dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of articles, blog posts and whatever other publications about how you can stop procrastinating and keep working further along, over time I have learned about something else that works for me way way better: embrace it! Yes, that’s right! If we are all chronic procrastinators having mastered its art over time, why not try to make the most out of it?

    This may sound a bit too weird, but mastering the art of procrastination has helped me, over time, become much more effective and creative altogether. If anything, it’s helped me understand how there is good and bad procrastination and how, over time, I have become a huge fan of learning ‘how to procrastinate well’. Have you tried it out yourself? Believe me, it just works! 

  • Self-pity: You know those times when things are running far too slow in terms of clients asking for your help, support and guidance or when freelance work just doesn’t come up often enough and you start wondering about whether you really have it or not? You know those times when you are on the brink of giving up on freelancing because you keep thinking you are not good enough for it, or you don’t have the right skills, expertise, mindset, networks (to help out and assist where appropriate), etc. etc. Or perhaps you even thought you made the wrong decision about going freelance in the first place and you should be doing something else elsewhere? Well, folks, that’s when you’d know you are entering the world of self-pity. Welcome to the club!

    I tell you, I don’t know a single freelancer out there (me included as well for sure!) who may not have gone through that phase of self-pity, specially, when there is no paid work coming along for an extended period of time. It usually comes in the most unsuspicious ways: thinking too hard too often. Thinking about your current situation; about why you are not getting enough client work any longer; about why hardly anyone comes to you anymore and asks you to speak at an upcoming conference event or to write an article for an online publication, for example; about why no-one asks you to help them, where you can, with their own projects collaborating together; finally, about why, all of a sudden, it feels as if you have disappeared entirely from the scene as if you never existed. My goodness, self-pity can have such a destructive flair to it, can’t it? Well, it doesn’t end up there. 

    Then there is the doubt. That same doubt about whether you may have made the right decision in the first place when you decided to go freelance, as I have already mentioned above. Or when you start questioning your own skills, experience and expertise thinking that perhaps you may not have it after all and that it may well be a good time to move on to other things whatever those may well be. Or when you think you are living in a bubble that has got its days numbered and it’s about to burst, if not already! Or even when you think that some of your most innovative, refreshing, new, profound radical thinking just ends up in the same gutter as everything else. Or, even worse, when you start questioning whether loneliness is harming you more than whatever you may have  thought of in the past. Loneliness as in ‘Who is going to hire this person who goes solo?’ Why is he / she not working with an agency? We only do work with consulting agencies anyway, right? So why bother? 

    Gosh, I know what you are thinking, self-pity can have such a destructive power of the self that it’s just mind-blowing. And while I surely agree with that sentiment, doing some self-pity every now and then shouldn’t necessarily be something negative. On the contrary. It helps you to constantly question AND challenge what you do, to confirm whether we feel we are on the right track, whether we have made the right decisions, or whether we need to perform a number of different changes before we move on. The issue with self-pity though is when you dive into it for far too long that you give up on either moving on or making some changes. Well, whenever that’s happening, the best thing one can do to revert course, move on and get back in business is to eventually rely on your own social networks, more than anything else because they know you better than anyone else and at the same time there isn’t anything more satisfying than relying on their power to get you out of such black hole as self-pity. So handle it with care and whenever you feel you are just going down on a spiral of negativity, reach out to your trusted networks, because, if anything, they are the ones who care the most about you. One conversation at a time. 
     

  • Payment Methods: This particular drawback of doing freelance work may not necessarily apply to vast majority of freelancers out there, at least, as far as I can see, since most of them have got a very clear payment method based on either an hourly rate or a daily one. If you work under either model I don’t think payment methods would be an issue other than, you know, getting paid on time, which certainly can be one of the most poignant disadvantages of freelancing by itself as well, as I keep reading different reports on taking between 60 to 90 days to get paid. Ouch! 

    However, that’s not the main downside I’d want to highlight in terms of payment methods. To me, it’s slightly different. You see? I don’t usually work with either the hourly or daily rates. I much prefer to set my fees based on the overall outcomes of the project or its different deliverables, but also within a timeline manner. The drawback is that most firms are not very much used to that kind of payment method resulting in a good number of unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork that sometimes can delay a project for a certain amount of time. And while I usually explain straight up front why I don’t work with hourly or daily rates (mostly due to time constraints, which I will develop further in an upcoming blog entry to explain more in detail how I work through payments), it’s still a bit time consuming helping folks understand new ways of doing work and getting paid accordingly. 

    How do I break free through this downside? Usually, through one or two additional conversations with the client explaining the advantages of the pricing I enjoy using the most, which is the one that allows me to focus on the work to be done for the client without not necessarily worrying too much about the time constraint, but, instead, focus on the quality of the overall outcome(s). If there is anything I have learned over the course of time in the area of Social Business and Digital Transformation is that you just can’t hurry things too much, because, after all, we are running a marathon here, not just sprints, and some times you need to allow enough time to take place before you can show and demonstrate the real impact of the work you are doing. A single week, month, quarter won’t cut it, I am afraid. So why the time pressure of working through the ruthless law of either hourly or daily rates when we could instead focus on change programs where the quality of the deliverables becomes much more important than the time spent executing on them? I wish I were more effective in being able to communicate why I prefer this payment method over others … Still tons of room for improvement on this one, I can tell you. 

  • Free work: And, finally, the last, but not least important, of the downsides of freelance work for this time around. One that I am pretty sure would come up on the Top 3 pet peeves for most freelancers out there. One that annoys plenty of people to no end, if anything, because of the lack of respect for one’s rights to get a decent payment for the work one gets to deliver on. Of course, I’m talking about the constant requests to work for free for other people. Yes, I know, 2016 and it still is a thing. 

    Somehow there seems to be that expectation that whether your are in pursuit of cheap, or whether you are just getting started with your freelance career, or whether you would want to ask for a few minutes of someone’s time or pick someone’s brain, you name it, you will always get asked about working for free for people, even if you know things just don’t work that way anymore.

    The exposure economy can only take you up to so far, I am afraid, before you realise you can no longer pay the monthly bills. At that point, and thanks to those many many requests still coming through to work for free, you know you are in (big) trouble, because people would still expect you to work for them for free, as it will be good exposure for you, while the unpaid bills tend to accumulate. And before you know it, you are doomed. Freelance work should not be like that. We should pretty much respect and treasure people’s time, hard work, effort, energy and, overall, their own lifetime work experience and get paid accordingly. It’s the least we could all do to recognise and appreciate both people and the good work they do. Anything else is an open call for even bigger trouble.

    Of course, I, too, have been asked to work for free as a freelancer in numerous occasions, although things have slowed down a fair bit at the moment with perhaps two or three requests per week. Mind you, I fully realise it’s very difficult to break the chain of working for free. And don’t take me wrong, it doesn’t necessarily imply I won’t be doing any kind of free work, on the contrary, I’m rather keen on doing it as long as there is a single premise in place that would give me the heads up: that is, I know you really really well and I truly love what you are doing. Anything else would need to be discussed and settled down for payment. No exceptions, I am afraid. Just like everyone else, there are plenty of bills to pay month in month out and that’s something that we all ought to respect and acknowledge for everyone, even freelancers. 

    There is a blog draft I’m putting together to talk at length about this particular downside on its own, more than anything else because it’s an important topic we only keep hearing about from one side of the story without getting the other and I feel, as I am getting closer to my 4th year of freelancing, it needs to get the word out and have a conversation about it, as opposed to just take things for granted. We shouldn’t. We should just take a moment to understand the context and the circumstances as to why people do the work they do and eventually appreciate and recognise it accordingly. It’s not that difficult, nor challenging, right? 

 

And that’s it! Those are some of the downsides I can think of at the moment about doing freelance work. And while I fully realise this blog post may be coming across as somewhat negative, it’s not meant to be. By far. It’s more about exposing some of the issues, the drawbacks, the disadvantages, the challenges, but also the opportunities about freelancing we all have in order to start the conversations on how we can all improve the state of the present of work today to then perhaps still have a future tomorrow, specially, if we all keep claiming the so-called future of work is the gig economy. Is it? If so, we still have got plenty of good work to get done! So let’s get down to it, please!

Here is a final, open reflection for you folks out there who may have been reading this article thus far: What’s the main downside of doing freelance work you may have experienced yourself in the last few months? Or to put it in other words, if you could address a single disadvantage of freelancing, which one would you choose right now and why?

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The Perks of Freelance Work

Gran Canaria - Cruz Grande in the winter

 

As I am getting closer to my third year anniversary as a freelancer, and since I also mentioned how every now and then I may write a blog entry here and there to share some additional insights on what it is like the life of an independent adviser (around Social Business and Digital Transformation, in this case, for yours truly), I thought I would go ahead and share across this article today where I would like to reflect on some of the perks I have enjoyed myself the most about being a freelancer in the so-called gig economy. Don’t worry, I know what you are thinking as well, that’s why I am also planning on reflecting on some of its various disadvantages no-one seems to be telling you about just as you keep wondering whether it’s a good time, or not, to start your own freelancing career and leave behind your job as a salaried employee. All in all, and through this blogging exercise, I am hoping to provide a somewhat balanced overview on what it is like being an independent and, essentially, share a few of the things I have learned along over the course of these last three years. Time more than enough, I would think, to confirm whether freelancing really is the future of work or just another buzzword, overhyped to no end, as we try to figure out what’s the Future of Work going to look like, potentially, instead of, perhaps, doing something a bit more meaningful and purposeful as we help redefine the Present of Work itself. What do you think? Hype or sharp reality then? 

Before you answer those questions, though, allow me to expand further along on those perks I have enjoyed the most from being a freelancer myself over the course of the last three years, and then see how many of them you would be able to extrapolate yourself as well to your own working life as a full time worker, so that we can decide whether being an independent is much different, or not, than being a salaried employee. Something tells me both worlds are not that far off from one another, but let’s have a look into some of them and see how many would apply to you folks out there working in a full time job. Mind you, this is not, by all means, an exhaustive listing of all the perks I can think of. There are plenty more, I am certain, but since I have to get started somewhere I will venture with the first ten I can think of from the top of my head and I will add a short paragraph describing each of them as an opportunity to unpack plenty of these thoughts in upcoming follow-up blog posts as part of the series. Then, at a later time, I may put together another article where I can include whatever other perks I can think of I may have left behind…

Thus without much further ado, here are some of my favourite perks of being a freelancer with a short explanation detailing why, because, you know, it all starts by asking ‘why?’. So here are my ‘why?’s
 

  • Freedom: This is, perhaps, my all time favourite perk from being a freelancer and by far! Freedom. And it’s not necessarily about doing whatever you want, but more along the lines of deciding what you love doing, as in what you enjoy the most in investing your time, effort and energy and then do it! Yes, I fully realise that plenty of people would advise you that things don’t work out that way in most cases, but then again you can prove them wrong. It’s that kind of freedom where you embark on doing what you love. Period. No exceptions. 
  • Flexibility: My second favourite perk of being a freelancer and it looks like I’m not the only one who enjoys it. The best thing about flexibility is that it allows you to learn, through firsthand experience, how you really work, and perhaps much more importantly, it helps you also understand your own productivity and creativity peaks. It helps you comprehend, and fully embrace, how you may have slow days where hardly anything happens and you are lucky if you clock a couple of hours of good work, and then you have got days when you clock in 12, 14 or 16 hours of really good work as if the day just went by in a flash and you are as fresh as when the day got started! If only we were more open and keen on learning about how our very own circadian rhythms work. Something tells me we would all be much better off altogether. 

  • Purpose: It all starts with purpose. With having a purpose, more specifically, whether you are freelancing or working as a full time employee in a firm. And while it’s really tough to go through that phase of self-discovery of your own ‘why?’, it’s one of those exercises you can’t skip just like that. The nice perk of finding your own purpose as a freelancer is that it’s you the one who decides what your own purpose should be all about while trying the match the needs and wants of your clients. There is an inefable symbiosis between both of them that hardly anyone can fight, so the sooner we get to embrace how our collective purpose is to serve others into achieving a specific goal, whatever that may well be, the better. That’s what I like the most from the whole exercise: co-create your own purpose with your clients. Help them help you find your ‘why?
  • Meaning: I bet, at one point in time, we all have asked ourselves how we may find real meaning at work and how some of us may have made it through, or not. What I like about this particular perk, as a freelancer, is that I have a chance to define for myself what meaningful work would be all about. At least, for me, along the lines of ‘Why do I still get up in the morning?’ or ‘What can kind of impact, or legacy, do I want to leave behind for others to benefit from when I am long gone? It’s a tough call, I tell you, but questioning it every single day is totally worth it on its own, even though you may not have an answer for it just yet while you keep trying; just the fact you are questioning it for yourself is a small victory already on its own, because vast majority of people have already long time ago forgotten about what it is like having meaningful work and seeing the huge % of disengaged employees it’s no wonder we still don’t spend more time trying to figure it out. That’s why I’m grateful I had the chance to challenge myself to find my own meaning. Have I been successful? Well, maybe. I will leave it down to you all to answer that one for me… 
  • Networking: This week is Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) and this year’s focus is all about working through some different routines to help you become more effective at what you do already by exposing and narrating your own work, by becoming more open, public and transparent about what you do and eventually entice you into making more connections by helping you build, nurture and cultivate different personal business relationships that, over the course of time, would potentially become your own social networks. You already know the gimmick, ‘I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.

    Well, the world of freelancing is no different, perhaps even more prominent, because, you know, you are just yourself out there in a brave new world of trying to make ends meet month in month out and, as such, networking for us all freelancers is no longer a nice-thing-to-have, but an essential, critical skill to master in this day and age as my good friend Harold Jarche demonstrates repeatedly with #PKMastery. So if there is anything in this regard I appreciate quite a bit is the opportunity to be constantly networking with people, as I have written rather extensively in this blog for a good while already, and let it down to both curiosity and serendipity to do the magic

  • Focus: It wasn’t easy at the very beginning, and probably rightly so! Doing freelance work in the age of far too many distractions floating all over the place requires plenty of discipline, hard work and dedication. That’s why focus was perhaps one of the most unexpected perks I acquired, as freelance work kicked in, right from the start. Learning how to work alone can prove to be rather helpful as well. Fully embracing deep work will be another blessing to add into the mix, mostly, because it will help you fight one of the biggest myths of today’s workplace: our ability to multitask.

    Yes, it’s a myth. Get used to it. A myth that’s bad for our brain and, overall, for our very own health. That’s one of the reasons why, back in the day, I switched into single-tasking, through the well known Pomodoro Technique, to, eventually, get work done, task by task, much more effectively altogether. So when doing client work it’s amazing what being focused on the task at hand can do to your overall effectiveness, productivity and morale. The fact you can produce and create a whole lot more in less time, finally, allows me to embrace, fully, the good old mantra I have written about over here a few times already: ‘work smarter, not necessarily harder’. 

  • Free Time: One of the immediate outcomes, and wonderful consequences, of becoming more focused on the tasks at hand, when working with clients, is that, all of a sudden, you realise you are starting to free up plenty more time that you can then dedicate it to other activities whether work related, or not. That’s why I’m spending a whole lot more time outdoors (as you can see from my Instagram and Flickr accounts), exercising (running, too!) early in the morning while keeping up with some other healthy habits, which I can confirm have got plenty of additional great benefits to help me learn more or be even more productive, such as sleep, idle time, walking the dog, blogging, etc. etc.   
  • Learning: Now, you would remember how, not long ago, I wrote a blog entry over here about ‘Learning is the work’ to describe plenty of the work related activities I have embarked on since I went independent that have transformed themselves as well into learning opportunities. Well, that’s another perk of being a freelancer, that constant, lifelong learning experience where curiosity about everything that’s around you and your business (after 17 years of being a salaried employee) entices you to want to learn more.

    It’s an everlasting activity that’s nicely complemented with the free time I mentioned above, because, all of a sudden, you realise things slow down a fair bit to help you see them with a different perspective, reflect and learn accordingly whatever may be happening around you and your work. And there is a bit of everything in there: good practices, worst practices (Yeah, I know, I just made up that word, but you will find out pretty soon why!), lessons learned, opportunities, challenges, personal development, you name it. They say the moment you stop learning at work, that’s the moment you start dying a little bit inside. I can tell you though there is never a dull moment when doing freelance work, which I guess it’s good news! 

  • Reading: If I were to name another unexpected perk of becoming a freelancer that I have enjoyed tremendously over the course of the last three years that would be the one about reading. Again, thanks to having the opportunity of freeing up more time, as I have mentioned above, it’s given me the enormous pleasure of rekindling my love for reading (whether business related or not!) and not just books, but also articles, white papers, reports, studies, research, publications and whatever else.

    One immediate benefit of such an increase of my own reading activities is that I have noticed how much richer my blog posts have become with plenty of links shared across about items I find interesting and relevant, which is brilliant because it helps me add further nuances on already existing conversations hoping to add my two cents worth of additional commentary. The same would go for curating hyperlinks to helpful reading materials I may want to come back to over time, like I have mentioned in previous blog posts with Slack becoming my personal knowledge hub as an example.

    But who knew that reading would be one of our secret weapons? That writing about what we read is a very powerful learning activity? That reading a book can be a healthy activity in the long run? That it will trigger your brain activity with a boost? That you would become more empathic altogether? Or happier? Whoahhh! See what reading can do to you?

    [PS: If you are wondering why I haven’t shared any recent review of the books I have read in the last couple of years, just to get a taste of what I’ve been interested in so far, don’t worry, that’s coming up soon! I’m just trying to figure out the best way of recommending those books I find interesting and relevant without having to maintain, yet again, another online presence]

  • Work – Life Integration: And, finally, one of my favourite topics of conversation from over the course of years, the well known dilemma of work – life balance, whether it really exists or whether it’s another myth we have bought into. As a starting point, I should add I don’t believe in work – life balance itself, more than anything else because there isn’t such balance, work always wins, even for freelancers. It’s all about integration though. It’s about understanding how flexibility kicks in to help you define when to work, when not to work, and integrate them accordingly and make the most out of it. Let me share an example with you on what I mean…

    Back when I was a salaried employee, I was working remotely already from Gran Canaria, Spain, and, as you can imagine I thought, at the time, I had a pretty good balance between both work and life. Yeah, I can see plenty of you thought the same thing. However, little did I know that when I, finally, went independent I would truly understand the whole notion behind work – life integration and it has all got to do with breaking up with the Cult of Busyness. Because, with it, we have got to add into the mix feeling overworked, stressed out, unhappy, miserable, dangerously unwell, addicted, etc. etc.

    It’s all about Quality of Life. And I do realise it’s all easier said than done, but being a freelancer over the course of last three years has helped me, at long last, fully understand as well, some times through trial error, silly thoughts, utopian ideas and other crazy thoughts, how, perhaps, working hard has never been the answer; how we should treasure more the one finite resource we have got allocated upon us (i.e. time) versus other material goods, including money; how we need to stop telling people how busy we all are we just can’t get work done altogether, and how we may have other choices.

    Interesting and rather thought provoking choices like learning how to break our addiction to work, how a potential solution to vast majority of our business problems today may well be to work less, or even mastering the art of doing less, who knows. Or perhaps we should start questioning harder why is it we keep treasuring that Cult of Business as if there is not tomorrow, when it’s been demonstrated, time and time again, how the world’s most productive countries also have the shortest workdays, never mind the happiness factor.

    Yes, I know, you can now see for yourselves, firsthand, what my mind keeps buzzing around while in between client projects. You know, that’s what freelancers (and salaried employees, too, I am certain!) do on a rather frequent basis, when the right conditions AND context are provided: think about the what next?

 

Being a freelancer has got lots of perks, with an increase on Quality of Life perhaps being my all time favourite one so far, as you can hint from the above long list, which will keep growing, the list, that is, as I have come up with a few more already that I will be putting together in an upcoming blog post to keep describing what it is like being part of the so-called gig economy. But, at the same time, there are also some disadvantages. Plenty of them, actually. Of course, it is not a rosy world where everything works just right, so I will also be putting together another article where I will list and detail some of those cons. As you can see, it’s all about striking that balance and ponder whether it’s worth the effort becoming a freelancer to enjoy the various different advantages while putting up with the burden of some of those challenges themselves I will be talking about shortly. It’s a thin line, I can tell you that, but, at the same time, these past three years have been one of the most rewarding periods of time from my 20 years work experience in the IT industry to the point where it may well have been the best decision I have ever made. And by far. Going freelance.

Now, here’s a final reflection, as an open question, I’d want to leave you all with: what’s your favourite perk of being a freelancer or a salaried employee?

Will both of them ever blend together to become one?

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Loyalty in Social Networks

Gran Canaria - Meloneras Beach

One of the best decisions I ever made upon becoming a freelancer, nearly three years ago, was to consciously spend plenty more time doing tons of additional reading (Whereas in the past I just couldn’t, for whatever the reason), whether it was books, white papers, reports, studies, research, articles, long-form blog posts, etc. etc. more than anything else to help me switch away from that constant flair of snacking around content on media tools and, instead, slow down a fair bit enjoying the many healthy benefits of reading (who knew?!?) or, perhaps, help augment my overall human experience, which is not such a bad thing, I suppose, if you look into it closely, don’t you think?

It’s also one other reason as to why I’m not online, on those media tools, as often I used to, but little did I know, back then, one of the additional perks of reading more was also being capable of instigating and actively participating in plenty more conversations, whether offline or online, specially, thanks to updating and revamping my own blogroll, which, in a way, is what triggered everything else. I suspect that, somehow, the Social Web slows down a fair bit when blogging kicks in and that may well be the reason why I am having plenty more conversations over here in this blog, since I resumed my blogging mojo just recently, than in the last few months on media tools. My goodness! Did we manage to kill already the conversation in the so-called traditional social media tools landscape? Please tell me that’s not the case, for our own sanity.

Ok, ok, I know, here I am, once again, excoriating the very same social tools that once gave me birth and that, 16 years later, have made me what I am today. Goodness! What’s wrong with me?!?! Yikes! Maybe. But then again, in my defence, I am only now just realising that was the main reason why I quit Facebook over 5 years ago, why I deleted my LinkedIn account over two years ago and why I started this experiment in Twitter that I blogged about over here under the thought provoking title ‘Is Twitter Where Conversations Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment’. I was just simply missing the great conversations we once used to have all over the place, while everyone else was just (and still is!) busying themselves broadcasting out loud their own (somewhat expected) marketing messages and whatever their services.

Don’t take me wrong. I know that’s very much needed, specially, if you would want to change the game of how we have managed to build, nurture and cultivate personal business relationships online over the course of time, but I think we are just falling too short in terms of conversing with one another about the topics we are truly passionate about. And that’s a pity, because that still is *the* huge potential all of these (social) media tools have permeating all around through them.

Here is an example of what I mean, and let’s see how much it relates to your own user experience. Take one of the major media tools out there, I will go ahead and pick up Twitter, since that’s the one I still use the heaviest, and now, very carefully, ask yourself when was it the last time you had a conversation, longer than 5 posts / comments / tweets, etc. (that’s important!) that was not triggered by you but by someone else in your social networks. When was the last time that happened? I don’t know about you, but unless I am the one triggering the conversations, because I have the intent to provoke some additional dialogue or interaction around a particular topic that I know is of mutual interest for both of us, it just won’t happen anymore, at all. Is it just me? Am I the only weird, freakish, strange knowledge (Web) worker out there going through that experience at the moment? Please tell me if I am, because, if I am, I may well be doing something wrong and I would love you all to tell me what it is in the comments below, so I can fix it.

Somehow I suspect I may not be the only one out there currently going through this, am I? You tell me, please.

Ok, back to the topic of reading and getting inspired by the reads in the long form that I mentioned in the original paragraph shared above. Here’s an example of what I mean, so you can see it why I heart it quite a bit at the moment. Take a look into the recent blog article put together by my good friend, and KM mentor, Dave Snowden under the suggestive heading ‘back to the salt mines’ where he shares one of my favourite descriptions of what blogging is all about and that I can totally relate to. To quote him:

As is often the case with a blog post, the subject and picture come before content; one of the reasons I like the medium so much. Starting with a title, finding a picture and then starting writing without a clear goal I find curiously liberating. I suppose it harks back to the impromptu speaking and debating tradition which was so much a part of my education up to leaving university.

Oh, boy, if that paragraph, on its own, doesn’t instigate you to blog, I suppose nothing will, I tell you! It’s wonderfully weird as well that Dave pretty much described my blogging process without a single flaw, that is, pick up a recent photograph from my archives, upload it into my Flickr account I still use quite actively, and then start writing about a particular topic and see where it would take me, regardless of its length, with the title being the last thing I will write down about it. But Dave’s article gets much better, as you read along, because he gets to reflect on loving what you do, and being passionate about the stuff you love, is all about. Here’s one of my favourite quotes, which happens to be a rather lovely piece of advice that may well confirm why I’m not so keen on using some media tools anymore. To quote him (again):

Enjoyment is about anticipation and expectation and if those are two high at the start you are on a downwards slope thereafter.

Ouch! No further comment needed, I guess, right?

Well, there is more in that golden post Dave put together that really resonated with my own user experience, even more so nowadays as a freelancer. This particular quote pretty much hits the nail on the head, as far as I am concerned, and requires also very little commentary, if at all:

Seize the day: as opportunities present themselves experiment

Oh, gosh, but there is one more! Perhaps the one single sentence that pretty much describes the raison d’être as to why I got involved with Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Learning, Online Communities and Social Networking for Business over 16 years ago in the first place as an opportunity to learn and grow as a knowledge (Web) worker:

Survival (and with that enjoyment) is finding work arounds and for that you have to ….
cultivate and build informal trusted networks.
” [Emphasis mine]

Indeed, I couldn’t have said it better myself and I can certainly relate to it big time, but, at the same time, earlier on in that article he wrote the following, rather thought provoking sentence that is currently haunting my mind (in the right way!) and for which I haven’t got a proper answer just yet: ’I also realised early on that loyalty within a network is key to survival, something I still hold as a principle.

Have I lost, along the way, my own loyalty to the social networking tools that once gave me birth?

And that, my dear friends, is the main reason why I am currently having a blast diving into #longform reading. It makes you think really hard and seek out the uncomfortable answers…

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2016 – The Year I Went Mobile Only with My iPad Pro

iPad Pro - My new main computing device 😎 #mobilefirst

In a recent blog entry I referenced an article Euan Semple published a few days back under the heading ‘Being at work’, which I can strongly recommend re-reading through it, if you haven’t just yet. There were a number of different themes that caught my attention back then and I thought that, perhaps, for today’s article, I’d focus on one of them I didn’t mention the last time around. This one, to quote: ‘Ten years later, having experienced over that time the joy and increased effectiveness of being a freelancer in charge of my own productivity, […]’, although I would have added as well the following tidbit: ‘and computing environment’. Because that’s what freelancers do, right? Always looking for that final productivity hack within their own computing environment that may well take one’s own effectiveness into the next level. Well, I think I may have found my own: The iPad Pro.

According to coconutBattery, my MacBook Air is 1733 days old, even thought it’s still in perfect working order, except for a couple of keyboard keys I can no longer read, as they are too worn out, and a battery half way through its capacity. It still works. Perfectly. It’s been my old time favourite computing device to get work done, even when I was a salaried employee at IBM. What I love the most about this machine is the fact that despite all of the heavy computing and business traveling I have done with it over the years, it still works flawlessly. And I hope it continues to be like that for many moons to come (knocking on wood, as I write these few words down…). 

However, a few months back I came to terms with the fact I might need to update my own computing environment for when the MacBook Air is no longer there. And, at the time, I had to question whether I was ready to go mobile only or still rely on a laptop. I was really keen on confirming whether 2016 was the year of mobile or whether it was just another frustrating experience like the one I blogged about nearly 5 years ago. Mind you, for the kind of work I do, you can imagine I don’t require a very powerful machine. So perhaps I was ready to make the jump into #mobilefirst.

Indeed, I was and still am! Back in February this year I decided to jump the shark and purchased an iPad Pro, the 12.9-inch one, with the whole intention of making it my main computing environment for my daily work and take it for a spin to see how things would work out eventually. I could always back out of it and carry on with my MacBook Air till it would break apart and get another laptop, but so far, I can tell you all I am loving it! Next to my iPhone 6S Plus, it’s perhaps the best purchase I have ever done. 

I just didn’t buy the iPad Pro alone, by the way. From my user experience with other iPad models in the recent past, I knew I’d need to buy the Smart Keyboard, so I did purchase one. And I also quite fancied getting my hands on the Apple Pencil to see how much creative I could get writing again on a screen. So I got one, too! And, eventually, my new computing environment, that you can see on the above snap shot, was born.

Back in 2011 I put together a blog post under the title ‘My Top 10 Reasons Why I Bought an iPad 2’ and, while re-reading through it, I found it rather amazing to see how little my own needs and wants for a computing device have changed over the course of the years. Yes, iPads have gotten incredibly better in terms of specs and what not, but, if you look into those reasons I shared back then, they were down more to my own behaviours, habits and work practices than anything else. And in 5 years, very few different things have changed, apparently, even though I have moved from being a salaried employee at a large IT corporation like IBM to becoming my own CIO looking after my own productivity and computing environments. 

Now, I am not going to go through all of the various different reasons again explaining how the iPad Pro fairs in comparison with the iPad 2, more than anything else, because, like I said, those very same reasons would still stand, and very accurately, for the iPad Pro itself as well. Instead, I will just list them all over here and go ahead and add another 5 more reasons as to why I truly heart such brilliant mobile computing device. So, the initial round of reasons were as follows: Speed, Quality, Design, Cameras, Games, Friends, Price, Early Adopter, The Apps, Mobility. Go ahead and read through the blog post itself from back then for a short explanation for each reason, if you’d want to read some more about them. For now, let’s go and dive into the 5 new reasons…

  • The Speakers: The audio on the iPad Pro is just simply stunning! I spend a good chunk of the day watching or listening to rich media, whether it’s podcasts, vodcasts, presentations, speeches, talks, interviews, news items, TV & films, etc. etc. you name it, and the quality of the sound coming out from my iPad Pro is like no other! Even my good old MacBook Air can’t even come close to such level of quality when I am doing, for instance, video / audio conferencing with tools like Skype. And if you are into listening to music, while you work, because, you know, amongst several other things, it helps you concentrate better and work more effectively, using Spotify on the iPad Pro is just a treat to the ears! 
  • The Screen: I never thought I would be saying, or writing, this, but size does matter and in a computing device, no matter what they tell you, the bigger, the better. I realised about that when I went from the iPhone 5S into the iPhone 6S Plus and have never walked back ever since. The rest are just toys! That’s why I went for the iPad Pro 12.9-inch versus the 9.7-inch. It just makes you feel like you are working with a laptop (if you have a keyboard with it, of course), which means it’s a whole lot easier adjusting your own computing habits to the iPad even when you know it’s not a laptop anymore. It would not be the first time, nor the second, or even the third time that when I am, occasionally, still using the MacBook Air, without realising, at a certain given point in time, I start touching the screen and go silly when I realised it doesn’t do anything. Of course, it doesn’t, it’s a laptop! Grrr See? That’s how bad the iPad Pro has already shifted my own habits using computers. Still, having such a large screen makes me feel I’m cheating a little bit thinking I’m not using a tablet, but my own laptop, after all heh
  • The Apps: Oh, yes, it’s always been about the Apps. And now that I have got a bigger screen, the apps are all that matters. With the recently introduced multitasking capabilities, ‘Split View’ is a must-have. It makes all the difference in terms of how you interact and get the most out of your iPad Pro. It’s by far, one of my all time favourite capabilities from iOS. And if you have used it yourself, you will know, exactly, what I mean. Either way, it’s all about the Apps. It’s the main reason why I keep using iOS over the last few years and why I haven’t moved elsewhere. Remember when I used to write ‘Top 5 iPad Apps of the Week – Week #N’? Well, I am hoping to bring that back, sharing with everyone what are some of my preferred and favourite iOS Apps I use on a regular basis on my iPad, specially, nowadays with the emphasis of being a freelancer and having defined already, pretty much, my own computing environment with them all in a single page or two. So, stay tuned for more blog posts to come along where I’ll write down short reviews of those Apps and why I use them on both my iPad Pro and my iPhone. 
  • The Smart Keyboard: Yes, it’s a keyboard. Actually, to be more accurate, it’s a keyboard for the iPad Pro, but, boy, do I enjoy writing along with that keyboard?!?! I love the touch and feel, I love the speed my fingers pick up as I type along coming pretty close to what I can do on my MacBook Air. I love how I can dispose of the keyboard as I may see fit and get another one. That’s just portability taken to the extreme and I quite like it! It’s as flexible as it can get! Oh, and it’s seamless. Hit a keystroke and off you go! Ideal for when you are on the road, traveling, and need to jot down something quick while your phone just run out of battery. But, again, what I enjoy the most about it is the touch and feel of the keys making it sound much more natural, less mechanical, or metallic, than the typical laptop keyboard. It’s as if you are typing on the skin! Unreal!
  • The Apple Pencil: Finally, there is the Apple Pencil. Now, I was very skeptical about this gadget initially, because I wasn’t totally convinced it was something I’d make extensive use of. After all, I’m not a designer, I can’t draw, nor paint, properly, and all along I much prefer to do my note taking through Apps rather than writing. It’s how they stuck in my memory. But, at one point, I thought, why not? Buy it and take it for a spin and see how it would work, if at all. Well, so far, I’m enjoying it! Perhaps not for the main use cases most people are thinking about (drawing, sketching, designing, etc.), but so far it’s become an extended part of my hand, just like a regular pencil, or pen, for when I am browsing Web sites, checking different media tools (for text, photos, audio, video, etc), typing along, etc. etc. It just feels almost natural. One of my favourite use cases for it at the moment, for instance, is for mindmapping. And another one for sketching, doodling and learning how to draw, specially, after watching this stunning video clip on the topic (It claims everyone, yes, everyone, including you!, can draw no matter what). The end result is that I never thought I’d be making use of the Apple Pencil and now I just can’t go anywhere without it and my iPad Pro. 

Now, I realise this may well be a too simplistic blog post on its own to confirm whether you may be enticed to purchase an iPad Pro yourself, or not, but I am seeing this article as an opportunity to put together a series of entries around how I make the most out of my own computing environment, as a freelancer and digital nomad, to perhaps suggest and share further along with you all how it works for me and to demonstrate whether going mobile only with both my iPad Pro and iPhone does eventually make me more effective in the work I do than when I was using a computer / a laptop. So if you’d have any burning questions out there that you would want me to answer sooner rather than later, or share my feedback on, drop me a comment below and I’ll respond as soon as I possibly can, while I get to work on the different blog posts from this series as time goes by.

Finally, one question to open up the floor, if you wouldn’t have to do tons of heavy computing tasks for your day to day job, that would require you to use a powerful desktop or laptop, would you move into mobile only and rely on an iPad Pro? If so, if you have already done it, what’s been your user experience so far? Is 2016, at long last, the year of mobile computing

Something, 12.9-inch large, tells me it may well be … What do you think?

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Work Stream #4 – Speaking at Client Events

Gran Canaria - Sunset Cafe at Meloneras Beach

A couple of years back I wrote about ’The Magic of That First Client Engagement’ as perhaps being one of the most self-energising thrills any freelancer can experience as we begin our own journeys of being independent and become part of the so-called Gig Economy knowing that, if anything, we might have just made the right decision, after all. We are back in business! I guess there is another kind of unexpected thrill around freelancing that I didn’t think would be possible before, and yet it’s been one of the most rewarding I can relate to from my nearly three years long journey as an independent adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation: speaking at clients’ events.

After having written about what are some of my current work streams as a freelancer in the realm of Social Business and Digital Transformation (i.e. Client Work, Face to Face Workshops and Public Speaking), I just couldn’t finish that series of blog entries, at least, for now, without referencing what has been one of the most rewarding work related activities I have embarked on and that I totally didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off. Not necessarily because of not being capable of doing that kind of work, frankly, but mostly, because I didn’t know it even existed in the first place! You know, when people keep talking about doing public speaking at conference events, I guess they always keep missing out from the equation the opportunity to do public speaking, but at clients’ events. Yes, I know it may no longer qualify as public, really, but still it’s speaking nonetheless in front of a small, medium or large audience about a particular topic that both you AND the client are truly passionate and motivated about. And I love it!

In terms of (public) speaking at clients’ events, it’s my favourite kind of work related activity, and for multiple reasons altogether: first, the opportunity to have a more targeted audience to engage AND learn with about a particular subject matter; secondly, the huge bonus of having a more intimate setting where you can truly dig in deeper on that particular theme both parties are really interested in learning more about (you and the client); and thirdly, the wonderfully inspiring set of conversations you get to spark and learn from with your audience because there is an innate trust element, along with a certain level of openness, that has already taken place for you to be there, in the first place, which is very very different than traditional public speaking; in most cases, the latter feels as if you are delivering a massively inspiring talk on a topic that perhaps some people might not be interested in, at all, and, of course, with no time for an opportunity for questions or interactions with the audience, because, before everyone realises, you are already off to the airport, to the next potential gig, to catch your flight that you are rather late for already, while you send out a tweet thanking everyone for being there. It’s a pity, really, that, when talking about public speaking, we seem to have lost that touch with the audience, learn along the way with those who have perhaps very much anticipated your presence on stage, and eventually leave everyone (including yourself!) with that afterthought confirming whether it was truly worth it being there that day in the first place… 

Anyway, back on topic, please. That’s exactly how I feel about speaking at client events and why I treasure them to bits. Back in the day, a really good friend of mine, once told me that we are, typically, touched by the clients we work with. They help shape us to become what we are, just like we help shape them to become what they might want to become. It’s a massive learning opportunity, not only because of the unique chance of engaging with an audience on a particular theme you’d both want to talk about more in depth, but also because it gives you, as a freelancer, the unprecedented chance of constantly challenging what you know and would want to share across, so, as a result of such discussions and interactions you become better at what you do, client after client.

David Weinberger wrote up in the Cluetrain Manifesto the following quote: ’Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation – literally. And ‘knowledge workers’ are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations’ and along with Biz Stone’s wonderful write-up about how ‘the future operating system for humanity is conversation’ I don’t think it can get any better than that. In fact, if there would be a need to justify the business case of social networking tools behind the firewall (Yes, in 2016 we still seem to have to do plenty of that!), that would be it: nurturing and cultivating the art of hosting some really good conversations

And that’s exactly what client events are all about, specially, if you are freelancing, and why they’d be totally worth it investing your time and energy in them, in case you might be wondering; it’s about having the wonderfully inspiring and exhilarating opportunity to converse WITH your clients, AND learn along with them in a unique setting, unfiltered, trustworthy, rather open and collaborative, where you prepare yourself to roll up your sleeves and start doing the client work you agreed upon through the co-creation process I mentioned and blogged about extensively on another article. That good!

Ok, ok, I can see now how you may be wondering what kinds of themes have I been working on within those client events, right? They usually last for about 60 to 90 minutes, or from half a day to a full day or two full days (at least, so far) and they, typically, range a fair bit in terms of topics, although, all along the same subject areas I talked about more extensively over here:

  • Social Business and Digital Transformation: ‘Where do we begin and discover what may lay ahead us, as we embarked on that journey of becoming a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise?’ 

  • Connected Leadership ‘What are the new traits, capabilities and qualities of leadership in this Social Era of social networks and social networking tools? How management transforms itself into leadership through social software enablement. How do we facilitate the successful transition from hierarchies into wirearchies as a new organising principle?’
  • Social Learning:How can we utilise our existing Enterprise Social Networking platform(s) to enhance and augment the way knowledge workers learn and get work done more effectively while on the job?’ 
  • Knowledge Management strategies: ‘How Enterprise Social Networking platforms can help us retain some of that critical knowledge we exchange on a daily basis with our peers, customers and business partners through social software and knowledge networks?’ 
     
  • Social Collaboration: Cooperation vs. Collaboration, how can we differentiate between one and the other when we have got (virtual) teams, networks and communities making smarter use of social tools and still make sense out of it all?
     
  • Online Community Building: Why should we invest in designing, creating, cultivating and nurturing an online community building programme to help accelerate the adaptation rates around our Enterprise Social Networking platform? Can’t online communities manage themselves as is? Haven’t they done that for years already? Why Now?
  • Enterprise Social Networking Adoption & Adaption plans: ‘Once we purchase our very first Enterprise Social Networking platform, how do we get started to sustain our adaptation efforts, change plans and activities beyond the One Year Club milestone? How do we manage to make social networking become our new, enhanced, operating model?’ (A good number of times around IBM Connections, to name one of the most popular ones I’ve been able to host so far).
     
  • Working Smarter with Less eMail (#NoeMail): How can we work smarter, not necessarily harder, by eliminating vast majority of the email clutter we currently get exposed to on a daily basis? How can we tame the email beast and free ourselves from its yoke and into social networking tools? Is there a way to have a successful working life without email?’ (The answer, of course, is yes!).

Phew! Yes, I know, I know, that’s quite a few topics to cover! My goodness! Indeed, but remember that this is just a handful of the ones I can remember having done successfully in the last 3 years, or so, as there have been plenty more! I just wish I would have had the opportunity as well to blog about them in the moment, including the sharing across of the different presentation materials I may have used over time, but, alas, that didn’t happen. But that’s about to change, since this is, partially, also the reason why I wanted to resume my blogging mojo and stick around with it from here onwards, because in the last few months I haven’t been able to do a good job in working out loud myself, even though I’m such a huge fan of it, and I definitely want to change that. Why? Well, because a few years back I realised the moment I stop sharing what I know and what I learn along the way that’s the moment I start dying out a bit more inside.

Over the course of last few months I had enough with that long, slow, and somewhat painful process of seeing my knowledge stagnate by not sharing it across over here in my blog, where it could get constantly both challenges and improved, even if by my own writing of my own thoughts, ideas and experiences, so it’s a good time to stop with all of that nonsense about protecting and hoarding one’s knowledge and blog again at the home I never left. If anything, for my own sanity.

Knowledge was meant to be free, accessible and available to everyone, because the moment it isn’t, that’s the moment we are in trouble, as human beings. And now that we have got social software tools to help out freeing up our knowledge for everyone else to be part of that co-creation process, we no longer have got an excuse, don’t you think?


PS. Psst, you may have noticed how throughout the article I haven’t mentioned anything about the fees I usually work with for speaking at clients’ events, so if you’re wondering about what those would be like, well, it depends… on what you would need and what I could offer based on those time frames of 60 to 90 minutes, half a day, full day or two full days, amongst others, of course. 😀👍🏻

[Contact me via Twitter DM at @elsua – got open DMs-, should you have any further questions or queries you would want to discuss in private, or, alternatively, leave a comment below (with your preferred contact method, if you wish) and I’ll reach out to you as soon as I possibly can. Thanks!]

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Work Stream #3 – Public Speaking and the Exposure Economy

Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the winterNow that work streams #1 and #2 are out there, available to everyone interested who may be reading this blog, it’s a good time to talk about what has been, perhaps, one of the most profound transformations I have gone through myself when transitioning from big corporate world (while I was a salaried employee at IBM for 17 years) into the so-called gig economy of freelancing as an independent adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation. Of all of the different work streams I have been involved with, and working on in the last three years, it’s perhaps the only one that, so far, has provided the most surprising of unexpected results I could never possibly anticipate, specially, since it’s turned out to be completely different than what I initially expected and you will see why shortly. Of course, I’m talking about public speaking, and inherently, about the exposure economy.

While I was at IBM, and over the course of the years, I was given the unique and rather exciting opportunity to speak at several hundreds of events, either as keynotes, breakout sessions, webinars, workshops, masterclasses, remote presentations, and what not, reaching to the point in 2008 where I got to travel 33 weeks out of the 52 to speak at a certain event whatever it was. I knew, back then, that was just too much, I just couldn’t scale as a human being and still have a life, so I decided to start cutting down, gradually, on my public speaking engagements in order to try to cope with it all in an easier, but equally effective manner. Nonetheless, the public speaking continued at a comfortable pace of between 40 to 50 different speaking engagements per year and I surely enjoyed that, because it gave me a huge opportunity to be able to carry out my daily job as a Social Business Lead Enabler from a completely different and unexpected perspective: the outside world. 

Little did I know though that was all going to come to a standstill, shortly afterwards, as I was making my way into becoming an independent freelancer, beginning of 2014, more than anything else, because, all of a sudden, I was subject to be confronted with an ugly truth that seems to haunt down freelancers all over the place nowadays and that is, if anything, as ugly as it can get: the exposure economy.

That’s where the real personal transformation journey began for me, because, out of the blue, pun intended, you realise, back then, you were just a tag, in my case, the IBM tag, which was always really nice to have around at any kind of Social Business or Digital Transformation event or gathering, because, you know, IBM was there as well, never mind who may have been speaking on her behalf or what ideas, insights and experiences would be coming across. That might not be important, the tag is, though. 

Once you realise you have, inadvertently, shaken off your shoulders such tag(s), that’s where the fun begins, because right then you will be part of that so-called exposure economy where, if you get the potential invite to speak at whatever the event, the first phrase that will penetrate your brain like a painful needle is this one: ‘Will you be able to speak for free? You know, it’ll be good for your exposure (as a starting freelancer)’ [never mind your 20+ years of extended work in the IT industry. Those never existed in the first place, apparently]. Or this other one: ‘We currently don’t have any budget left to pay the speakers, so we were wondering whether you could speak for free’. Does it sound familiar? I bet it does, sadly. 

Public speaking is broken. Very broken. The moment you are inviting a potential speaker to present at your event and kindly ask them whether they can speak for free, therefore making them become part of that exposure economy, that’s the moment where you know conference events are totally screwed up. Abusing the trust, the good will, the time, the effort and energy of those potential speakers you kindly invite to be present at your event is the very last thing you’d want to do to your business as an events organiser. It’s aiming for the cheap, so you can profit while they won’t! And we all know that cheap comes at a huge price, i.e. your own reputation as a business, more than anything else, because you are sending out a very loud and clear message you are enslaving those who you would want to wow and inspire your audience with their own ideas and in-depth knowledge and experiences in a particular subject matter. What kind of business message does it send out there about you? Not a really good one, I am afraid, on all grounds, specially, in this Social Age. 

All along, for the last 20 years in total, I have always been very grateful to the company (IBM) that gave me the unique and unprecedented opportunity to cultivate, nurture and develop my own expertise around the subject matters I truly love and that I am very passionate about. It’s a luxury that’s helped build who I am today, but I knew that, one day, once I’d need to shake off that brand tag, upon moving on to other adventures, things would be completely different, because it would be only me, my ideas and work experiences, that people might, remotely, be interested in learning more about, or not, should I get invited to speak at a conference event. 

And, initially, on my first year as a freelancer, those kind invites to speak at conferences kept coming through like crazy! I could hardly keep up with them to the point where, more often than not, I ended up with multiple conflicts and had to suggest people from my closest networks to fill in for me, something that, over time, has become one of my favourite work related activities in this networked, hyperconnected world. However, towards the end of the year I realised about how each and everyone of those invites was coming up with its own price tag: me / us speaking for free, you know, just to get exposure as we begin our journey as freelancer(s). 

It’s tiring. It’s very tiring and rather exhausting, indeed, to see how broken conference events are nowadays trying to enslave some public speakers, just because they think they would get away with it, aiming for the cheap, abusing people’s good will and good intentions, just so that they could profit themselves, at one’s expense, not matter what, thinking that it’s our own problem then to find some other kinds of revenue, in the mean time, that would allow us to keep on paying for our bills, while they have got you as one of their top-notch speakers for such an exclusive event, or so we are told.

I know that this blog post may well sound a bit too harsh and somewhat negative, and perhaps I’m burying myself with it being banned from all conference events that may be hosted out there from now onwards, as organisers get to read through it, but it’s far from my intention to sound negative about conferences, in general. On the contrary, it’s my outlier and rebellious nature, once again, coming out wanting to protest about something we all know is totally broken, even conference organisers themselves acknowledge how broken they are, yet very little gets done about address AND fixing the core issues, mostly around trust. It’s never been a two-way engagement where everyone benefits, yet, like I said, we just don’t seem to want to do much about it and fight. Well, I am! I need to. I have to. For my own sanity. Even if it means I’d have to sacrifice myself in the process by no longer being able to participate from one of my favourite work related activities by far: learning from different audiences about what gets you excited day in day out and become a better person as a result of it.

Late last year, I took one of my most difficult decisions ever in my 20 years of working experience in the IT industry that, at some point in time, I may regret for good, but either way, here it goes: late last year, indeed, I decided, I would no longer speak for free at any given conference event. I’ll not enslave myself to the cheap, to the free, in return of exposure, just because it’s good for my reputation. No, thanks! I want a fairer deal. I want a system that’s totally broken to heal itself with, or without, our collective help, because every time we, freelancers, agree to speak for free at events, we are perpetuating our very own slavery to the zero-sum game where we are always on the losing end. Always. No exceptions.

Oh, and that perception that we might be just too expensive for a particular conference event, as speakers, is totally false, let me all tell you, very far from reality, I can guarantee you that, based on my first hand experiences when I get asked what my fees are for public speaking and people respond back very much surprised ‘Really?’ Yes, really. That’s why we need to very much fix such a broken system of perceptions, perspectives, needs and wants, and, essentially, trustworthy good will. But we need to start somewhere. And, for me, this would be it: stop sustaining a sickening system that only benefits a few. And you are not one of them… That simple. 


 

Phew! With all of that said, and now that’s, finally, out of my chest, while our collective struggle to fix a broken system continues…, I guess those of you who may still be reading further along this blog post, might be interested in finding out, perhaps, what may well be some of the different topics and themes I do enjoy talking about at conference events. Well, just in case your curiosity kicks in, there are quite a few and all of them have got a lot to do with what I have been doing myself for nearly two decades and counting around Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Learning, Change Management, Online Communities (And Community Building) and Social Business (And Digital Transformation), without, forgetting, of course, A Life Without eMail, which has become one of my favourite topics over the last 8 years and still going strong … 

If you are still reading thus far and would want to know about some of the different conference events I have spoken at and what topics did I cover, here’s a selection of some of my favourite presentations and video recordings, so you can have a glimpse of what you might expect should you decide to reach out and inquire further whether we could work together for your conference event in equal, fair terms for both parties. I can guarantee you it will be worth it, if not judge for yourselves: 

 


PS. Psst, you may have noticed how throughout the article I haven’t mentioned anything about the fees I usually work with for public speaking at conference events, and if you’re wondering about what those would be like, well, it depends… on what you would need and what I could offer, but believe me you may be surprised to find out what it’d entail altogether, so get in touch! 😀👍🏻

[Contact me via Twitter DM at @elsua – got open DMs-, should you have any further questions or queries you would want to discuss in private, or, alternatively, leave a comment below (with your preferred contact method, if you wish) and I’ll reach out to you as soon as I possibly can. Thanks!]

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