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How do you make the Invisible Man visible?

How do you make the Invisible Man visible?

Now here’s an interesting question: if you wanted to hold up an example of a successful freelance, who would you pick? That might seem an odd sort of thing to do, but as part of the lead up to National Freelancers Day on November 23rd, the idea was floated that maybe an example of some top quality freelancers would be a good way to highlight what we are to the man in the street.

And that’s where it went a bit wrong.

Firstly, there is the general perception of what a freelance really is. We think of ourselves as independent workers who hire out our skills to the highest bidder: or at least, in these straitened times, a bidder that wants work doing for a half-decent rate. But the snag is, to our clients we are simply a slightly better class of temporary worker. And to the aforementioned man in the street, even those who work with us, we are something just a little bit odd. Neither group really understands the term “Freelancer”.

Of course, they know what one is. They have several high profile examples to work from. There’s Tony Blair, freelance envoy. Peter Mandelson, freelance business consultant with no business to speak of but able to buy £8m houses. Geoff Boycott, freelance broadcaster, suing for the half share in a 2 million pound house that he didn’t get back for free.

Hang on a minute. That’s not what we’re trying to say.

OK, so Plan B. Let’s use some examples of where freelancers have delivered serious pieces of work. Except that doesn’t really work either. I’ve worked on several major (and, let it be said, highly successful) programmes over the years, and in most cases the real delivery has been achieved by the hired help. Except that it’s not their names on the press release, that honour goes to the prime contractor, such as IBM or PwC.

The problem is that we don’t actually have a high enough profile that we can make the case that we routinely fulfill such a valuable role. And that’s how it should be; we are, after all, people who provide our skills for as long as they’re needed, then duck out and get on with the next job.

It’s a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it. We want the world to know just how good we are, except that in the areas where we can make enough of an impact to shout about it, we are actually invisible.

But in a world where we are constantly fighting to be recognized as pursuing a genuine career path that doesn’t involve working for some nameless corporate, where we can be refused work because a credit check turns up some trivial default payment from ten years ago, where we have a constant argument about which bits of employment law and related protections should apply to us (hint: none of them), being recognized for what we are is something of a necessity.

So all suggestions on how to make the Invisible Man visible will be gratefully received.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: the invisible man? where? by badjonni

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