Today is National Freelancers Day here in the UK, and so a good day I think to reflect on my own first year and a bit as a freelancer. I did think that twice before, but on my anniversary on October 1st I was too busy with client work, and during International Facilitation Week (October 21-27) I was too busy with International Facilitation Week. At 7am this morning I was working with Orla Cronin to facilitate an online workshop for worldwide contributors to a collaborative writing process taking place in South Africa this week, ‘Exploring the Real Work of Social Change‘, but apart from that I am happy to be having a relatively quiet week. So here goes. I have even updated my profile photo to mark the occasion – a new look for a new year.
London Mayor Boris Johnson is quoted as saying in support for National Freelancers Day that “taking the plunge as a freelancer is an immense decision that in many ways can appear daunting but it’s also a choice that’s brave, ambitious, fulfilling and rewarding“. My own decision initially was to work freelance to earn an income and keep my options open for a while, while deciding what to do next after stepping down as Chief Executive of ICA:UK after 16 years. I thought of it more as a sabbatical at first than as a new career, and after delivering facilitation, training and consulting services to ICA:UK clients all those years it did not seem particularly brave or ambitious. The immense part had been deciding to step down from my previous role. It was indeed rewarding and fulfilling, however, and soon enough I had decided that this was how I wanted to continue to work.
In that sense the process has been a little like the way my career as a whole began and then continued. I took a ‘year out’ after my undergraduate degree to volunteer with ICA in India in 1986, and 27 years later I am still with ICA and serving as volunteer President of ICA International. Working freelance is enabling me to do that now, and whatever other paid or unpaid work I want to take on, with maximum flexibility and minimum administration and overheads. What’s not to like?
In my first year as a freelancer I have had the opportunity to deliver facilitation and facilitation training contracts in Dublin, Geneva, Moscow, Ramallah, Zurich and online, as well as around the UK and even within walking distance from my home base in London. The groups I have worked with have ranged from local community-based organisations to UN-mandated international agencies, and from global corporations to small consultancies and social enterprise start-ups (see also who I work with and how I work). This diversity is a major attraction for me – always stimulating, mostly challenging and never dull.
Having worked for years as well with public sector clients in the UK, these have been notable for me by their absence this past year. Notwithstanding David Cameron’s enthusiasm for freelancers (and entrepreneurs) ‘as the engine of our economy and economic revival’, it has certainly been a good year not to be reliant on UK clients, and especially not on UK public sector clients. Many years of international involvement and Board service with my professional association the International Association of Facilitators has been very helpful there, as well as long-standing relationships with ICA colleagues worldwide. I have Brussels, Geneva and New York to look forward to in December & January, and a number of mostly European prospects in the pipeline for after that, so I am happy to say an over-reliance on UK work does not seem to be a problem as yet. I would welcome more gigs that I can walk to as well though!
On deciding to establish myself in business as a freelancer I also joined PCG: the Freelancers Association (the people behind National Freelancers Day), and have found this invaluable. I have experience of non-profit management and governance, including registering and preparing SORP-compliant accounts for a UK charitable company, but it has been a relief to be able to learn quickly and easily the particularities of company and tax law etc. as they apply to me now as a freelancer – and to discover just how less onerous it is to establish and run a private company with one shareholder, one Director and one employee. For someone whose stock in trade is participatory decision making, it’s nothing short of revolutionary for me that I get to decide everything by myself, without consultation, and within much lesser constraints than I am used to. I am proud to say that Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd is now well and truly in business, and even has its new cloud-based Crunch accounting system up to date (quote ‘mg15641m’ if you join too, and we both get free vouchers).
Throughout this past year I have particularly enjoyed and appreciated the extra time I have been able to find for professional development, reflection, reading and writing. I am pleased to have accumulated over 40 posts and 6,000 site views on this blog, and to have read many books (and many more than each of the previous years) and attended numerous events with IAF, at the RSA and elsewhere. I still aspire to make more connection between the professional development, reflection and reading and the writing, but happy for that to be a goal.
In the meantime, I enjoyed so much the opportunity to use my Arabic again on my recent trips to Palestine that I have joined an Arabic conversation meet-up group in London. That experience has also got me wondering more about the reality and prospects for participation and facilitative leadership in the Arab world generally, almost 20 years on from my own six years with ICA Egypt and my masters research on civil society and democtratisation, and with the revolutions of the so called ‘Arab Spring’ continuing to unfold.
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