“Don’t work with wankers” has been my mantra since first becoming a freelancer back in the mid-nineties (when I ran a Theatre prop making business called “Bodgit & Scarper”). It sounds flippant, but I mean it entirely seriously.
It’s really hard to say no to work when you’re a freelancer; you just never know when the next contract might come your way. It’s one of the reasons many people are too nervous to even take that first freelance step. All freelancing works on a similar model; you work with one client, and invariably (if you’re any good) they’ll recommend you to their networks. But there are a LOT of sharks out there – people who don’t care about you or your values but just want to strip whatever they deem useful from you and toss you aside when they’re done. Wankers. So if you work with, or for, one of them and then they refer you to their networks, the chances are you’ll end up working with wanker networks all the time, simply because you’re too scared to risk turning any of them down.
Seriously, save yourself the grief: trust your instincts: say no to the first one, cut it off at the chase. That way your time and energy will be free to make contact with those who are NOT wankers!
how do you determine who is or isn’t a wanker?
It can be hard to trust your instincts, especially when first starting out. I’ve always had a great wanker-radar (I can spot them at a thousand paces, which makes it far easier to just not engage with them in the first place). But not everyone has this confidence – especially women, who are more accustomed to pleasing others than themselves and often see the best in everyone, even when they are not, um, the best people. Not everyone is a wanker, most people are genuinely wonderful. So here are a few tips to help you sift the wheat from the chaff.
- Think long and hard about who you are, what you believe in, who you want to become, who you’d most like to work with, and what you would like to get out of it (you’re not their servant, after all). Then use that as a template when you meet potential clients (be that at a networking event or more formal meetings). Envisage the world you want to exist in, and you’re far more likely to then help create it, and to spot the like-minds you really do need to be working with.
- Having done that, when you meet these potential clients, however you found each other, ask them about who they are and what their values are. Ask them who they work with, and why. Ask them what benefits they feel they are bringing to society in the work that they do. Never forget that at those kinds of meetings – as with all interviews for any regular employment – you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Ignore what monetary promises they make (wankers are, unsurprisingly, rubbish at paying you on time or the sum they agreed). And ignore the little voice of fear that tells you you’ll never meet any good people, or that good people can’t afford you. We all have ways of making good things happen, and the more you do them the stronger they become. Trust yourself.
- If you’re only ever at networking events where you meet people who set off your wanker radar (even if only a little bit): stop going to those events. If you seem to only ever be introduced to potential clients/partners/funders/investors who only want to take from you and not give back in any meaningful way: end your relationships with them. Find other networks – there are plenty out there, I promise you.
This whole process is about owning your own beliefs and taking the time to find your own tribes. It feels like a risk but trust me, it works. You’ll free up valuable time, you’ll clear the path for better partnerships, and you will also find that you earn more consistent money and are happier in your work.
As always, feel free to tell me how this works out for you and share your own #bestpractice tips with me, either in the comments or any other form of contact.