I think the LinkedIn euphemism for it is a "portfolio career," but really what that means is I have a bunch of stuff on the go simultaneously.
So for the past three months I've been working with Google, directing a small team on an invention project. I have my vending machine bookshop; I advise a couple of hardware startups; I've been doing a bit of teaching, etc, etc. I am trying to avoid building another agency.
Working for myself: I love the independence.
Working for myself: Holy shit I hate thinking about cashflow. It destroys any kind of creativity I have, and stops me being casual.
There's a time for hustling, and there's a time for being casual. I find the most interesting opportunities emerge from coffees and talking widely. And interesting opportunities breed interesting opportunities -- as Jack says, you get what you do. So, doubly important to hold off accepting anything until the great stuff appears.
And if I haven't got much money in the bank? That's when I make bad decisions. I mean, this is a question of BATNA: If my
Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement is that I can't pay my mortgage, then I have to take whatever gig is going, at whatever terms.
I follow two rules to keep myself sane as an independent. This goes for freelancers, contractors, sole traders, and whatever other forms of "self-employed" there are out there.
It occurred to me that other people might be interested, so I thought I'd share them here.
Business money is not my money. To smooth out peaks and troughs, all gigs pay into a separate account and I pay myself monthly.
My salary is the same amount every month, and paid on the same day of every month.
(Business) taxes also come out of this float.
Once I take into account business expenses and my salary, I can calculate how many months I can survive without work. That's my runway.
If my runway is six months, I can sleep at night. If it's six months minus one day, that's a psychic shitstorm right there.
The reason being that it typically takes me three months to go from asking around to starting a gig (longer for the most unusual ones). Then let's say I get to invoice after a month's work, then it takes a month to get paid, then add a month as a buffer... that's six months right there.
When I started as an independent again, I kept my salary super low until I built up my six months runway.
There's a flip side: If the runway is too long, I stop being hungry. Being hungry is good.
Two tips. Not rocket science. I imagine most people have something similar. For me, this is what gives me room to be exploratory, and how I sleep easier at night.
Hey, shall we do a July hardware-ish coffee morning? And, just for kicks, shall we try a different location?
Thursday 21 July, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at Machines Rooms, 45 Vyner St.
There's equipment there, and coffee, and events. So next week is going to be a busy one of us doing stuff together! On Tuesday night, I'm taking part in an event about hardware startups and business models. Sign up here. On Wednesday, my bookshop vending machine Machine Supply will be moving there for its latest residency. And on Thursday morning, this hardware-ish coffee morning!
Usual drill... there's no standing up and doing intros, or anything super formal. The coffee morning is simply a friendly space to hang out, chat, get caffeinated, and compare notes on everything hardware related, whether that's making stuff as a hobby, figuring out how to do manufacturing, swapping interesting new Kickstarters, or just spending time with like-minded people.
Hope to see you at Machines Room next Thursday!