I’ve had a few conversations recently about the nature of my work, and it made me realise that I have taken for granted what it is that I actually do, and have forgotten about the misconceptions people have about the business of freelance and consultant work.
Way back in my beginnings, we were still at the stage where, upon learning someone is a freelancer, one would hear the joke “Oh, so you’re unemployed then”. If you happened to identify yourself as a consultant, there would be negatively connotated suggestions that you charge exorbitant amounts of money for doing very little work.
I have also come across situations where, as an independent contractor, you are considered a mercenary. The client will dump money on you (a wee exaggeration), and you will do the requested work, no questions asked. In a less impressive-sounding interpretation, you are a code-monkey.
For early-career devs, this is more often than not the case. It is at its essence a gig economy and you will do the work that’s required of you and move on. No commitment, no personal investment. Just in, and out.
But as you become more established in this space, and gain more experience, you may find you are quite a bit more than that, and you will come to realise that you wear a number of different hats. Here are a few of mine.
I am a business owner
First and foremost, this is what I am. I run a business and my business is providing professional services that revolve around technology.
As a business owner, I am also my own resource, personal assistant, project manager, team leader, head of people, marketing department, and office manager. Amongst other things. I do most of my own accounts and book-keeping, but I have recently delegated some of the tax stuff out to a real accountant. Still a lot of admin though.
I am an accounts manager
I manage a portfolio of clients. Some are one and done, some I’ve had an ongoing or intermittent business relationship with for more than ten years. Some concurrent, some not. Small business, corporate as part of a larger team, startups, all sorts.
I am a business analyst
For some of my client work, it does come down to being a gun for hire. They need something straightforward implemented and I do it. There isn’t much to the request.
However, for the bulk of my work, it’s more complicated than that. For example, a client may ask for a web application that does A Thing. But I need to understand what their objectives are, who their customers are supposed to be, what business goals they have, how they plan to monetise, what sort of time frame and budget is available, and how they want to handle lead generation or conversion. It can involve full systems analysis and requirements gathering as well as addressing the kinds of things you’d need to cover in a business plan.
Depending on the size of the client, it may also involve talking to their marketing department to determine what business needs they have, their accounts department for reporting or regulatory needs, their internal users to find out what their current and desired workflows are.
Sometimes it’s also preventing them from doing something that may be legally problematic or opening themselves to liability and asking them to verify what their legal obligations are.
If this sounds like the kinds of things you do in a corporate environment, you’re right. It’s just on a smaller scale.
This is the part that seems to surprise people the most.
As a professional, irrespective of the context of where this happens, whether it’s in a corporate environment, or as an independent professional in my own home, why wouldn’t I ask questions, point out potential problems, or offer avenues to explore for business growth? Even if it’s literally not my business, doing due diligence is par for the course. Having a work ethic is not unique to corporates. But I digress.
In some cases, this analysis may also result in my declining work or referring them to someone else. It does me no favours to agree to work if I don’t think I will produce a result that is to my personal expectations or service client requirements. So I’ll offer my recommendations, and sometimes suggest options they may want to enquire about with the next person that may be worth investigating or implementing.
I’ve been asked why I offer this free advice. Well, it doesn’t hurt me if something I suggest creates even a small improvement in their business. It also builds trust, demonstrates my expertise, and has on more than one occasion resulted in return work, or sending a friend over whose requirements are a better fit. I wouldn’t recommend handing over a full business plan for free, but a couple of options or even just food for thought can be valuable.
I am a technical specialist
There is a significant overlap between this hat and the business analyst one. The answer to whether a technical request is possible is usually ‘yes’. Whether it’s viable, well, that’s what those aforementioned questions will help tease out.
As a technical specialist, my job is to solve a problem, so I’ll offer solutions. Based on some of the analyses, there may be more than one solution, there may be compromises or trade-offs. I may push back on a requirement that is infeasible or that conflicts with another. I’ll offer options for implementation and infrastructure to suit budgetary, time, or other constraints.
It’s a consultative process that lays the groundwork for a statement of work that demonstrates my understanding of the client’s needs and how I intend to meet them.
Technical program management, product management, and project management? You bet.
I am a technical liaison
My clients vary in technical literacy. Some engage me to update their WordPress site because they can’t be bothered with managing their own content, some need me to build a frontend that they’ll happily host and manage on AWS themselves. I’ve even run WordPress training sessions.
Irrespective of what their technical background is, I need to tailor my communication of what I’m doing for them to accommodate what they want or need to know. What a founder will need to know will be different to what a marketing specialist or a small-business owner will need to know. All that needs to be taken into account.
I am a dev
Last, but not least, I am a dev. I create things with code and turn all those requirements and desires and goals above into something that can help to achieve those objectives.
I am a freelancer
How can I help?
Yes, sure, I’ve been watching a bit of New Amsterdam, but seriously, I am here to help and that’s how I do it.
In an unintentionally mentoring and leadership themed last couple of months, these are the fascinating conversations I’ve had with some brilliant women in STEAM.
I spoke with Gabriella Martini, mechanical engineer, project manager and fixer about her engineering journey, her passion for mentoring, and mental health.
Everyone’s talking about mental health these days, and really, we shouldn’t stop. More now than ever we need to be able to prioritise that aspect of who we are, and as Gabriella mentions in our conversation, for her, there isn’t work/life balance per se. In a time when we’re inclined to ‘live to work’ and not ‘work to live’, we have to adjust the way we handle the overlap.
In my conversation with Dr Naomi Boxall, epidemiologist and evidence strategy lead, we manage to speak about non-pandemic things and talk about Naomi’s journey to pharmacoepidemiology, the art in scientific enquiry, and cultivating women at the leadership levels of STEMM fields.
Most recently, I spoke with Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen, founder and CEO of Tech Girls Movement Foundation, about the Foundation, cultivating an interest in STEMM, and teaching young girls life skills through entrepreneurship.
Tech Girls Movement Foundation runs a competition every year where girls 7-17 can participate in a mentored program that teaches problem-solving, business, and entrepreneurial skills. Some of them even get to pitch in Silicon Valley. Registration for participants opened on International Women’s Day.
A friend of mine, Michael James Heron, was a guest on an episode of the Reflecting Values podcast about Gaming as Culture speaking about accessibility in games. He and Pauline Belford (STEAM Powered guest #6), run the website Meeple Like Us, where they investigate the intersection of games and accessibility within a board-gaming context.
Why the European Siren is Scientifically Proven to be Better (YouTube) is a video about the benefits of the siren we most commonly associate with Europe. Some of the comments also mention how the two-tone siren makes hearing the Doppler shift more noticeable for discerning direction.
Smithsonian to Exhibit 120 3D-printed Statues of Women in Sciences titled #IfThenSheCan - The Exhibit as part of the Women's Futures Month event. Not much more to say about this, it’s fantastic and I wish I had the opportunity to see it.
Thanks for reading, and see you next time!