Going Solo

Being a freelance consultant isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s not necessarily the consulting itself that’s difficult, it’s all the stuff that goes along with it – finding leads, closing deals, deciding prices, dealing with recalcitrant clients.

I’ve been a freelance of one stripe or another for ten years now. I started off as a freelance music journalist writing for the Melody Maker, a career move that lasted not even two years. I was rubbish at getting work, had no real confidence in my own abilities, and was intimidated by many of the editors and PR types I had to butter up to get a commission. (Oddly, I was rarely, if ever, intimidated by the bands I worked with. They were mostly lovely.)

Equally, I struggled awfully as a web designer, lucking out with a good contract just nine months before the dot.com crash, and then spending the next nine months searching for a new contract, along with every other out-of-work web person around at the time.

It’s only since I moved into blog consulting – a scary four years ago – that I really found my peer group and learnt how to do all those things that need to be done to make any consultancy a success. And it’s been my peers that have helped keep me sane, provided me with a way to sanity check my ideas, and give me really vital feedback on whether or not I was barking up the wrong tree.

There are books out there to help with this sort of thing, but most of them are rubbish, and those that aren’t can only ever give you a fraction of what you need, because most of what you need is moral support from another human being who’s going through or been through the same thing that you are. But if you’re working for yourself, you tend to focus all your energies on your massive to do list, you stop going out because you’re both busy and broke, and you end up isolated and maybe just a little bit mad.

Luckily, there’s help. My friend and colleague Stephanie Booth is organising a conference for freelances called Going Solo. I’m both helping advise and speaking at the event, and I would highly recommend that anyone interested in being a freelance attend, along with anyone who actually is now their own boss, no matter how well established you are.

Going Solo is going to be held in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, on 16th May 2008, The early bird tickets are available until the end of March at 400 CHF (Swiss Francs, which is about £196 at today’s exchange rates), going up to 600 CHF (~£294) in April.

So far, speakers include:

And topics include:

  • skills a freelancer needs (doing the work, marketing and networking, contracts and cash flow)
  • fixing prices, closing deals, negotiating contracts (the hardcore businessy stuff)
  • what kind of work freelancers in the 2.0 world do (some jobs are more suitable for soloists than others)
  • marketing and taking care of one’s social capital (blogging… and being a good online citizen)
  • tools of the trade (what software/tools/methods can assist you as a freelancer?)
  • co-working and staying in touch with “colleagues” (compensating for “working alone” – we remain social animals)
  • challenges in making a passion into a job, dealing with the blurring of the life/work distinction
  • international clients, travel, different laws and tax rules, accounting
  • soloist or small business?
  • adapting to different kinds of clients (in particular, how do you deal with big corporations that you approach or who have approached you)
  • is there a market for what I’m doing?

I wish that there had been something like this around ten years ago. I really could have done with not just the information, but also just the knowledge that I wasn’t the only one grappling with this stuff. I still have things to learn – a good consultant never stops learning – and I know I’m going to get a huge amount out of going.

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