Sagas of a Freelancer – Contracts Matter!

freelance picThe last time I had a full-time job was at the beginning of 2005. Going out on my own was an exciting, yet scary time for me, what I would imagine it to be for a baby bird leaving its mother’s nest. When calling or emailing on behalf of the Gordon Institute of Business Science, it would seem that doors would magically open up for me. However, having a different encounter with the same individuals and making that same request from your own brand would not garner the same response. I now understand that startups need to develop credibility through excellence and longevity.

I have since moved abroad, done freelance work in over two dozen countries, represented two international brands and developed credibility within the various hats I’ve worn. Having said all this, one would think that I am immune to ineffective contracting.

I am very appreciative of Symphonia’s invitation to their Flawless Consulting workshop a few years ago. The workshop focused on Peter Block’s work around effective contracting and how to enter these contractual relationships as equals for the ultimate pursuit of the project goal. I remember doing very tough role-plays for different contracting scenarios and while I have not implemented the lessons step by step over the years, it was a definite guide as I entered client relationships over the years. What I took for granted however was the increasing brand strength of Impact Hub Johannesburg when I entered negotiations. In hindsight, I could have followed clearer process with freelancers that I sub-contracted, but the outcome was always based on relationship, a spirit of collaboration and with a win-win outcome.

On 30th June this year we temporarily closed Impact Hub Johannesburg to upgrade the space and services with a re-launch set for 2016. After several years of focusing on building the institutional brand, I am once again operating from my own name. I write this blog post because of two unsatisfactory new client relationships I’ve since entered into which led to me recalling decade old lessons that I’ve compromised on but re-instituting and hoping that it will encourage other freelancers on their journey.

My freelance principles:

  1. You are a brand; do not shy away from it: the quality of your work gives testament to what you have achieved so own it!
  2. Do not negotiate from a point of desperation: we tend to do this when broke, but feel compromised and yucky afterwards – ever hear that freelancers say they feel exploited? This practice breeds that feeling
  3. Only you can give yourself a promotion: unlike employment, you determine your pay grade, the kind of work you’ll do and the clients you associate with. Excellence, credibility and reputation supports this journey
  4. Share knowledge and experience: while many new freelancers tend to hold their cards close to their heart around pay rates, structure and process, I choose to enter into peer-mentoring relationships where we collaboratively influence the field. Nobody else has my unique set of skills and experience anyway so there can be no threat. Abundant thinking expands the pie and I want to play that game
  5. My work is relational: if I cannot see myself entering into a long-term relationship with the institution I am working with or influencing their journey then the work will not be meaningful for me as it’s void of a greater purpose
  6. Sign a contract before commencing work: this protects both you and the client, as expectations are clear. A deeper courting period often helps this phase, but the paperwork seals the deal of the relationship regardless of how trustworthy they seem. Many sleepless nights could have been avoided if I was a purist about this as I could hold them accountable to payment rates, terms and process when it shifted. Even a simple one-pager would suffice
  7. Educate but be prepared to walk away: do not assume that clients are experienced or even professional at contracting. If the contracting phase is painful then the execution phase will feel like extracting teeth. Even if you have a shared vision, trust your instincts and walk away if you do not feel honoured in the deal.

The Colour of Money

Every so often I need to check myself to see if I’m not defaulting into a stereotypical race lens when not treated fairly or respectfully – because that’s what we do in South Africa, see things through a racial lens. In these attempts to self-correct my thinking and shake off the feeling sticking to me like a bad odour, I can’t help but think that it’s not just me. That was indeed a racial jab.

I hate pulling the race card, would love injustices of the past to remain in the past and typically “get on with it” living my life and career as if there were no racial or cultural bias. Now you may say that I’m being naïve but this attitude has gotten me to rise above seeming limitations, opening doors on an international scale. When I experience discrimination I become super focused on achieving my goals. Unfortunately, until the playing field is equal for cultures all around the world to access opportunities regardless of where we come from, it’s up to my generation to be more mindful and work extra hard, strive for excellence and receive from merit. Creating a new kind of legacy will leave a more just inheritance for future generations.

Unfortunately my glorious vision and daily reality are still far removed. I also believe in keeping people accountable for how they treat me, so that they can reflect and hopefully it will result in behavioural change on an individual and institutional level. This is the reason for my post.

Two Saturday nights in a row I partied at Churchills, a bar lounge at Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. Given the location and positioning of the place, I was more attentive of my attire and prepared to spend more than usual on the night out. Last week was my cousin’s birthday celebration and about twenty family members came out for the night. We had a good time despite receiving a nonnegotiable no from the manager when my cousin asked a few times if we could move to the lounge area because we were too many for the booth. She acknowledged that we should have made a booking for a larger number, but still, there was an entire lounge area empty that we could see from where we were sitting. When we asked the waitress about it, she had more fear for the manager than achieving customer satisfaction. Now, my uncles love a good whiskey so were spending on the good stuff, surely this would have covered additional cleaning costs as a result of moving us?

I returned to Churchills last night with two highly accomplished black female entrepreneurs. With it being a celebratory girl’s night out, I was in great spirits and dressed to kill in my little black dress. At the door, I asked the doorman what the minimum amount of people is required to reserve a table. He said typically six but they could come down to four people if I was here to spend. It left a bitter taste in my mouth when he added “we like coloured money”. Now you see, up until that moment, I was a Woman Of The World who had gone out on the town with my girls, later to be joined by my New Yorker friend who had just brought an international artist to the country. There was a major disconnect between my perceived self-worth and what the doorman reduced me to. While Churchills has diverse clientele, the attitude and reception of my first encounter represents their institutional view.

One of my friends who was the first to arrive last night asked a waiter if we could sit in the lounge and not table and was met with that nonnegotiable no. We carried on with dinner, drinks and dancing but then realized that all the people going into the lounge were white. We were well into our third bottle of expensive champagne so knew that we were spending quite a bit and surely qualify for VIP treatment. After taking it up with management and insisting that we be moved, we finally got to the holy grail of the place – their VIP lounge. As we ordered two more bottles of champagne, we noticed that the other two groups were not spending on anything special or ordering much for that matter. I am now stumped, because I don’t know what qualifies you for the lounge area of Churchills. When one of my friends called the manager/owner over once again to ask why we could not get in earlier his response was that he did not want riffraff sitting in the lounge. She then asked him what he sees when he looks at us beyond the color of our skin (we were dressed up after all and were having good clean fun) he got very uncomfortable and just said “I don’t want to go there”.

Discrimination is a disease and we need a strong vaccination to kill it on a societal level. Most people do it unconsciously, but it aggregates to institutional racism when not addressed. I have had two bad experiences at Churchills now, but like the place enough to return. My point is not to shutdown or boycott places – this is but one where I happened to have had a bad experience 100% of my visits. My intention is to raise consciousness of discrimination, transform society and promote business practice where all clients can experience great service in an equal society… also, I just want to be a girl out on the town having fun without this crap hanging over me!

Brave Soul On Display

Yesterday I went to a Writer’s workshop at Rosebank Union Church. The guest speaker was Lucy Gannon, renowned British playwright, television writer and producer. She shared with us her writing journey, challenges and even the design of her lifestyle that supports her work. It hit a nerve when she said, “As a scriptwriter you’re out there dodging bullets everyday.” You spend your days in meetings, doing re-writes, and need to put up with constant criticism.

Now I’m no scriptwriter and consider myself an amateur writer at best but do identify with the risk of sharing your life’s work. As entrepreneurs we pour months and most often years into our offering to the world. This is our form of art that obsesses our thoughts of every waking hour. In our vulnerability we need to display confidence. This is what the world expects from us, even though a product is never truly finished or perfect. We know our flaws; there are more naysayers than cheerleaders that surround us. Yet, we are taking the risk to try something new. If it works, the world will be a better place for it and we have the responsibility of using our God-given talent to make it happen.

I have a number of friends who are filmmakers and watch as the excitement of their creation hitting the big screen turns into anxiety of what the critics and audience may say. I appreciated Lucy Gannon reminding us to be gentle to our fellow human being who mulled over exact words for months over fifteen or more drafts pouring their hearts out. I see entrepreneurs going through the same turmoil when doing an investor pitch. I’ve been there, will be there again and many times find myself as the judge on panels giving feedback. On reflection, I may have been a cocky bastard at times relentless in my feedback. This does not support anyone; we need brave souls stepping up to innovate. They need encouragement.

In response to my question about when to publish in a world of regurgitated thoughts on non-fiction topics, Lucy encouraged me to write whatever is burning in my heart. I need to step up to have my voice be heard, sharing my perspective while reaching new audiences. With that, I shall continue to display my soul (with often reluctant) bravery and WRITE ON!

Inspire. Engage. Educate. Connect.

Lesley Donna Williams:

Really nice blog written about Impact Hub Johannesburg. I look forward to her write ups promoting the social entrepreneurial sector.

Originally posted on SocEntSAblog:


That’s the inviting slogan of Impact Hub – want to know more? Well we have a hub right here in South Africa, and it’s worth a look if you like the sound of these calls to action.

I checked it out today: the first Impact Hub in Africa, located in trendy Braamfontein, Joburg.

Impact Hub Joburg combines a relaxed and friendly vibe with the stimulating dynamic atmosphere of an innovation lab. Set above the bustle on the corner of De Beer and Smit it offers an appealing package of office conveniences combined with on-tap networking opportunities.


This exciting initiative started in London in 2005 and has since grown to a global reach of 63 hubs across 5 continents to-date. Impact Hub describes itself as:

“a social enterprise community centre… offering a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration, and collaboration opportunities to grow the positive impact of your work.”

More than 10,000 members have joined the movement and…

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The Experimental Journey

Throughout my adult life I have been part of many intentional networks that have shaped not only my career, but my worldview and circle of friends. I find that it is often easier to state your values with conviction when the risks are low and you have been relatively unexposed to various scenarios that life may throw your way.

With each passing year, we tend to navigate through increasing complexity. We may be swayed by a stage of life, be it the liability of student loans, sick parents, an increase in material desires or childbirth. Some may call this maturing, some an evolution in priorities. Whatever it is, there is an underlying component of what identity means to you at any given time. When in the Pioneers of Change network, we hosted a monthly meeting called The Hypocrites Club. This was a form of confessional if you like, where we shared stories on how we sold out on our beliefs…. just today a  former fellow vegetarian was surprised to hear that I ate meat for lunch.

I do get sad when I meet up with what was once a fiery doer-activist, only to see glassy jaded eyes look back at me with feedback that they’d given up. I also get frustrated by mentors who respond to a request for advice with. “I don’t know, but you seem to be on the right path.”

The truth is that none of us really know. Sometimes it takes sitting on the balcony with a cuppa tea and journaling without judging yourself. Take a deep breath and risk your next uncertain step. As author Meg Wheatley, during a workshop once invited “Live life as an experiment, make it up as you go along.”

The Crippled Visionary

I stumble forward. My pains, my hopes, my dreams, my big hairy audacious goal, my legendary pioneering vision, my disappointments, my failures, conversations with my idealistic sixteen year old self.
I am the master of my destiny operating within God’s domain. Yet so much uncertainty, so much self-doubt, so much public portrayal of prosperity, so much self-hypnotic pep talks, so much top-layer shine covering a hillside of debt. So much self-imposed expectations.
And yet I rise. Operating within grace. For I know that the other lies ahead. Fueled by illogical hope that governs my every step. The unseen is carrying me, the unimaginable within grasp. Clumsily midwifing the birth of a new season. My small quivering frame, a cog in the new world of possibility. For dreams and faith give me wings, carrying me beyond my undeserved reality, for my contribution is greater than I. Thank you dear Father.
*** An ode to the collective story of so many of us chartering the road less travelled***

Our Collective Values Will Determine The Future Of The World

I am often astounded at how we as the human race have assumed trust of each other. We trust that the driver at the next intersection won’t run through a red traffic light to end our day, we trust that the bank will hold our pennies in a safe place, we trust that the ingredients in our soft drink will be safe and unaltered from the last 500 times of consuming it.

Are we merely naïve or have we been designed to trust?

I have a passion for designing structures of belonging; be it through one-on-one dialogue, the design of social space or how we convene as groups – I am therefore overjoyed at Peter Block’s book Community: The Structure of Belonging that speaks to all of this. I am relieved that social entrepreneurs are sensitive to how we relate as people to each other and to the planet (although I hope that in the near future we can drop the word “social” with moving to a mainstream approach to doing business). I do however skip a few heartbeats when we forget how we treat each other in our everyday that detracts from our grand intentions of creating this alternate world we want to live in.

As a wannabe social architect, I conform to the belief that every conversation we have, every action and inaction either contributes or detracts from the greater good of humanity. We cannot outsource our personal behavior to the organisations we work in, or hide behind those brands. Our values are integral to our personal development, our ability to relate to others, our roles in organization and society. It determines if and how we do our part of an agreement, be it a written or social agreement. It determines whether we become armchair critics or roll up our sleeves in shaping society or merely the block where we live.

Through my work and circle of friends, I see many people battling with relationships. The choice between retribution and forgiveness is not an obvious option to select when an injustice has occurred. Applying integrity at work with quality delivery does not come easily when uninspired. Many of us begin our journey in life with hand-me-down values based on the religious principles we were born into. Through the knocks and bumps we receive in life, we may let go of a few and adopt a few new ones. I love the saying that a diamond is simply coal that handles pressure well. It’s through adversity that our true values, and thereby character shows up. This is when our ore (also core) is sharpened in the flames of life and our convictions are refined.

Who are we when nobody is watching? Are we bringing our gifts into the world without thought of punishment or reward? Are we showing up as our authentic selves regardless of the consequence? Perhaps we should not wait for the conditions of operation to be ideal. We face a gap in society where we as citizens need to be the leader examples that we need in order to overcome the state of corruption and selfishness that we find ourselves immersed in. We need to create this alternative future by both stepping forward, but also merely practicing our values.

I don’t think this is an overwhelming ambition for any of us; it starts by merely giving thought to how we show up. Are we contributing or detracting in any given situation? Take a moment to pause and breathe before acting and speaking. What good would that piece of gossip bring? Seeing that you tarnish your own character by tarnishing another’s.

While this is a constant practice in my life, I have been met by a few surprises. As an entrepreneur, I speak with the passion of intention of what my work will offer the world. While I truly believe it, the future is uncertain so any promise that I make will be done on a shaky foundation of uncertainty. I have however on more than one occasion received investment and an invitation to paid work because of the belief that I would practice integrity and perseverance in delivery. While reward is not the aim, the circle of life gifts it to us :)