Your competitors are idiots

Look at your competitors and pity them ((pity the Gelth)). Old, creaky, out of touch.

Their websites are out of date and confusing.

Their marketing tactics are crass and old fashioned.

Their product range is limited and out of date. They do not understand the market like you do.

What you bring to the market is something new.

You understand SEO.

You have new and shiny products ((which people NEED)).

You know everybody who matters on Twitter.

You have 75 Klout thingies ((and you are influential about bananas))

Your potential customers are desperate for a change.

The moment they see you you will ditch their old contracts and hitch their wagons to your shining star.

The fifteen year relationship they have with your competitor will count for nothing.

The fact that your competitor understands their business inside out will be of no consequence.

They will forget that time when your competitor didn’t sleep for a week to sort out that HR disaster that she had warned them would be a problem and never said I told you so.

The moment they see your website with that YouTube embed of you talking at that conference they will be putty in your hands.

There is absolutely no chance that your competitors are not idiots.

That they have reputations so strong in the sector that they don’t need websites to sell themselves.

That their lack of facility with social media tools is no barrier to building and maintaining relationships in the market ((weirdly a lack of facility with social media tools doesn’t particularly seem to be a barrier to being a specialist in social media)).

That they have spend a lot of time listening to customers, understanding what they want and designing services and products as a result.

No chance whatsoever.

Which is, of course a relief.

How to lose races in a sailing dinghy

In my youth I became an expert in losing sailing races.

I consulted a book. Weirdly it was a book explaining how to win races.

Consider the question of tacking

it said

There is a right way and a wrong way to tack across any course. If everyone else has taken a particular tack there is probably a good reason for it.

Despite these wise words whenever I set off to race I would find that the most obvious course lay in a different direction to the fleet.

And as I sat becalmed watching the fleet power along the other side of the lake I would reflect that there probably was a good reason for this.

I never learned to follow the fleet though. And in the end I gave up racing. ((this is by way of being an allegory, or possibly metaphor, whatever we may revisit the themes revealed herein))

Competition, the stuff of failure

Now I’m not a very competitive person.

I blame my parents.

We didn’t really “do” football. My father rebelled against his parents by rejecting their religion of cricket. We did race sailing boats but my father never really set out to win and my mother got migraines from the sparkles on the water.

A confluence of middle-class guilt and socialism led to success being associated with deep guilt. Winning was evidence of the fundamental inequity in the capitalist regime. Of course I won. I had the benefits of engaged, articulate parents, a stimulating environment packed with the resources that only hard work and professional success can buy.

In fact my parents brought me up to understand that success should be redistributed. Taking their weird confused world view to a logical conclusion the winner of the FA cup should be relegated as a punishment and have its first team redistributed to a random selection of non league clubs ((unless it was Newcaste United)) ((actually that sounds pretty ace to me… see what I’m up against)).

So I struggle with the whole concept of competition in principle.

This is a disadvantage in freelancing which is a competitive environment.

You are probably pretty relaxed about this.

You probably weren’t brought up by yoghurt weavers.

You probably support a football team, can understand the offside rule and wept just a little bit at Euro 96 ((or celebrated depending on nationality)).

Even so you are going to struggle having competitors.

Because, despite what you may believe, say and have read, following professional sport is merely recreation. It is not war by other means. It is not a crucial aspect of your existence.

It does not, when all is said and done, matter that much.

Where as in business it does matter. The difference is you see that in business your competitors can make you starve, throw your family into penury and hurl you into the deep pit of bankruptcy.

Which genuinely does matter.

Some people find this stimulating. The real and imminent prospect of their dog starving, of their children going without shoes, their mortgage being foreclosed gets them out of bed in the morning. It provides a measure for them to measure themselves by. Their identity becomes intertwined with keeping their family from penury.

They follow the teachings of Lao Tzu, studying and understand their competitors as though they were an enemy army. They plan their strategy and tactics to leave no room for error, to crush their opponents, to grind them into the dust, to destroy them utterly and wipe them from the face of the earth.

Those people will not fail at freelancing.

But you probably wouldn’t want to spend any time in their company.

Planning is boring (and for wimps)

Every business manual that you come across, every small business advisor you meet and any experienced and successful business person you see sweating inside their suit will emphasise the importance of planning.

But I ignored them.

Because planning is for other people.

It is vital for people trying to build larger businesses. It is crucial for those who aren’t as clear about their skills as I was. It’s important for people moving into a new field.

But, for me Tommy, planning was a waste of time ((And the war was over)).

Who cares about cashflow forecasts when you won’t need to buy anything and you won’t need to employ anyone.

That’s what’s brilliant about freelancing you see. It’s so easy. You already have the tools, most of them anyway, and you don’t need to spend any money on marketing because everyone knows you.

One call to the HMRC and you are self-employed, freelance, a small business person.

People banging on about business plans are always also going on about doing market research.

“Phone potential clients up”

they say

“and ask them what sort of freelancers they hire. Ask them how often they hire freelancers. Ask them what they pay”.

Which is likely to be a pretty tedious and, lets face it, probably unpleasant way to spend a few hours.

What I always say to people is this

“It doesn’t matter how big the market is because there’s only one of me. And I don’t need much work to keep busy”

Which is very much how I became an expert in how to fail at freelancing.

There are people who spend a few days thinking about what skills they have, what people want to buy and what is the best way to market themselves.

But then there are people who go through their bank statements line by line each month.

There are even people who complete their tax returns on time.

People like that, people bound by the petty restrictions of convention, people who have probably never done a spontaneous thing in their lives. People like that are not the same as you and me.

OK, they’ll be able to feed the cat and pay the mortgage.

But will they truly be free?

I was warned. My employer hired a couple of clever people to work with the managers in the organisation to make sure they had the right skills to support their teams through the merger. One of these gurus spent a bit of time with me.

I explained that I was leaving to go and work for myself. He asked a question that I was ill equipped to answer

“What are you going to do?”

I looked at him I like he was a bit of an idiot.

“Consultancy”

I said.

He looked at me like I was a bit of an idiot.

“Have you drawn up a business plan?”

He asked

I had not.

A look of pity crossed his face. He asked me another question which, I can now see, I should have reflected on in a little more detail.

“Are you independently wealthy?”