Wednesday, November 17, 2021

the great resignation, being pushed, and becoming superheroes

There seems to a growing awareness of a movement that's come to be known as "the great resignation" - Covid and the pandemic have forced people to re-examine of what they were doing almost automatically in their lives, and many are finding that they're unhappy with what's become their lot, and are spurring themselves to change that. Mainly by quitting the jobs that currently leave them unfulfilled to pursue hopes and dreams that will better feed their souls.

And it got me thinking about our origin stories as freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Usually, when people share them, they seem to echo the current 'great resignation' - people "felt the fear, but did it anyway" and heroically quit their jobs to pursue their dream. (and research studies like this one from theRSA re-enforce this)

But, as usual, my origin story isn't in keeping with this typical narrative. (TL:DR = relocated my family to the other end of the country in a pre iphone age to find said job didn't exist, and the first work I could find to allow my family to remain housed and fed meant I was forced to go freelance).

And it's made me wonder about if we should all try and be a little more honest about where we've come from (especially if it's not from what seems to be the usual position of having savings, a partner still salaried, and clients already confirmed, before jumping off an otherwise dependable monthly payroll). The point of which would be to better challenge stereotypes and misconception, and encourage others who might otherwise think that they haven't 'got what it takes', and subsequently live a live of regret and missed opportunity for themselves and those around them.

And the actual research out there also seems to encourage this: theRSA's "salvation in a startup" found that there's actually a far wider range of motivations in play for those of  us who find ourselves self-employed than might be otherwise first imagined:

Might it also also make us more like the superheroes we always wanted to be when we were kids (although some might say that if you're part of the Freelance Heroes community, you're half-way there already!) - because we remember and know who the likes of Spiderman and Batman are in large part because we know what their origin stories are...?

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

sharing squeaky bum moments, swearing, and bread - my contributions to European Freelancers Week 2021

Each year, there are initiatives and campaigns to help highlight the contribution that freelancers (like me) make to our economy and society, and also the realities and challenges we face in being overlooked in government business policy (including being taxed at higher rates than other types of employees).

One such initiative is European Freelancers Week, which each year stages a week (and 2 weekends) of events, gatherings, and conversations across Europe.

This year, part of its programme was an on-line conversation hosted by Freelance Heroes, and I found that my calendar wasn't demanding that I be delivering a workshop or meeting with a client at the time, so took the opportunity to 'click in'.

Now, my intention of doing this was to listen in to others' experiences, insights, and ideas, as part of the wider CPD framework I've designed for myself over the last 16 years - helping me better reflect on my own thoughts and practices.

But as the conversation progressed, one of the key participants had to offer apologies and leave early, and the host of the call spotted I was watching along and press-ganged me into joining the panel - with no intention to have been an active part of any of the EFweek2021 events this year, I hadn't given any thought to what I might contribute or argue...

(I start to appear at around the 34:30 mark - 

Watching the call back, I realise that my unscripted and spontaneous offerings (which saw me talking about squeaky bum moments, swearing live, and the importance of bread), may not have been what people might have expected to be hearing about - but in the spirit of EFweek2021 being about allowing us to all share our voices with each other in mutual encouragement and support, it's hopefully added something to the mix that enriched the overall experience?

Monday, October 11, 2021

the dilemma of reverting to my pre-pandemic business model of digital by default

In 2018 I made a deliberate choice to try and move to a 'digital by default' model for how I delivered all my work - which meant that when the lockdowns that defined 2020 came, I had something of a head start (which may be why so many bodies sought my support in helping them move all their delivery models to a similar on-line format).

And there were several reasons for this choice I made several years ago:

  1. it helped my desire to try to better manage / reduce my environmental impact, by reducing the amount of travel I needed to do (and although I've always prioritised public transport where possible for business travel, even trains and buses create pollution of sorts).
  2. it meant I could increase my productivity by not having to factor in travel time to/from clients (and not needing to find ways to cover that time - after all, I'm not salaried), meaning that I'd be able to offer better 'value for money' to clients.
  3. reducing the need for travel means I can be at home more, which means I can do more to support my family around their circumstances and needs.

All of which seemed eminently sensible when I committed to trying to work this way, but then the pandemic was upon us, and things have shifted, which now leaves me in a dilemma.

As part of their recovering their lives (and sanity) from the disruption and upheaval that Covid has wrought, most people seem to be desperate to meet in person again (almost to the point of fetishing the need to meet and undertake activities IRL).

But my business model that developed to deliver virtually seems to be working very well in a digital format:

  • most people have found that they prefer to engage with learning and workshops I deliver on line, to the point that they don't want to go back to an in person physical classroom model when given the option;
  • every Board and senior management team I've supported with facilitated planning of various types over 2020 and early 2021 are now committed to using an on-line format in the future, having experienced how well it can work for them with me;
  • and in the year before the lockdowns, 3/4 of all my client activity was delivered virtually (a figure that was up over 20% on the previous year). 

But the lockdowns have also exposed that more people than we might have hoped are still struggling with on-line access through no fault of their own... (see here)

Some my dilemma - do I remain true to my values and the commitments I made in my business model 3 years ago and continue avoiding doing things IRL wherever I can, or do throw my lot in with others and be part of helping them recover what they feel they've lost by agreeing to start to spend more time away from home and family, and need to increase my charges to cover travel costs and time?

Answers on a postcard / or over a pint in the pub (but only if we've going to be near one together at the same time).

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

days like today

 Days like today come round every so often, when the planets align in an unusual way:

- calls we've booked are suddenly postponed or cancelled at the last minute;

- the weather seems unexpectedly nice;

- there's plenty of coffee in the pot;

- there's a stack of actions and follow-ups to do for client projects, reading to catch-up now, and our own business development which no longer need to be being deferred or delayed;

- and yet...

Some days we just don't feel it - it's hard to get motivated despite all the signs apparently looking good for us to be making headway and getting ahead for once.

Last week, I would have almost paid good money for a day like today - a clear block of several hours with no interruptions (other than resisting the temptation to play Lego Tower on my phone), in the desperation to be able to be able to get on with some of the aforementioned tasks.

But it's just not happening, and its nearly lunchtime already.

So this is a time to try and practice some self-care: to remind myself that it's ok to not be able to be working at the usual high-level pace that I seem to on a 'normal' day. That I am, after all, only human and am allowed to have 'off days'.

Tomorrow will be different I'm sure, but for now, maybe I'll go and gaze at the sunflowers in the garden...

Friday, September 3, 2021

Is the growth in CICs actually damaging the wider social enterprise movement?

Some people may be aware that I've always questioned and challenged the Community Interest Company (CIC) legal form (see previous blog posts here) - largely because I've found that most social enterprises who've incorporated with this form have subsequently learnt that it wasn't actually the 'best fit' for them and their business model, and because what they're usually presented/'sold' as it being, doesn't actually stand up to scrutiny when looked at by evidence and research...

However, there are several social enterprises out there that I've supported to gain this status - I've always seen my role as an adviser to help people make better informed choices, not to tell they what decisions they should be making.

And it's in that vein, that I come to be typing this latest blog - prompted in part by a recent article by Pioneers Post on the 'explosion' of CICs during the pandemic: and CIC regulator wind up extent and causes

My concern about this sudden 'blossoming' of CICs is that rather than being a good thing in showing the growth of social enterprise in general, it may actually be more damaging to the sector in the long run...

Let me walk through through my thinking here, so as to try and help clarify and explain this rather bold assertion - and as always in my blog posts, you can leave comments to refute or challenge any of these:

1) Social Enterprises should be trading businesses, but most CICs aren't

In the absence of an overarching legal definition of what absolutely defines a social enterprise, the sector bodies have reached a consensus on what their defining characteristics should be (interestingly, none of which specify particular legal forms). Front and centre in these is that a social enterprise should be (or be clearly moving towards) generating most of its income from trading activities - but there is no requirement for CICs to need to trade, in order to generate their income or achieve their social mission! 

  • when you apply to be a CIC, the application asks "if" you make a profit, not "when" - so the CIC Regulators' assumption is that most CICs' default business model will be that they expect to them lose money each year and/or will be reliant on grant funding to achieve their social purpose (you can't make a profit/surplus from grants);
  • according to the CIC Regulator in their own published annual reports, most of the CICs they register will be wound up within 18 months - usually because they were unable to access the grant funding that they thought this legal form would enable then to be awarded.

2) Why are social entrepreneurs being encouraged to set up social enterprises in ways that mean they don't need to trade? 

As this legal form seems to be oft promoted to start-up social enterprises and social entrepreneurs as being the 'best form' for them, but it doesn't actually require them to act in ways that facilitate them to better meet the qualifying criteria of being what they say they want to be - how do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?

3) Are the public now seeing CICs as another form of charity, creating confusion about what social enterprise really 'is'?

If the most feted legal form for social enterprises to adopt therefore doesn't encourage the 'social enterprises' using it to act as social enterprises (with some evidences finding that CICs are actually more reliant on grants than charities are!) - it's going to cause confusion amongst others (who are already confused about what social enterprise is from the lack of a legal definition). If CICs are seen as not trading to achieve their social purpose - how will this not confuse people as to the need for social enterprises to trade: are social enterprises therefore just another type of charity, rather than a revolutionary/innovative/transformative way of doing business?. And this confusion will surely mean its harder to create more consistent messages about what social enterprise is and can do, in order for the sector to realise its full transformative potential.

However, as will all things, there are exceptions to the above - there are social enterprises out there who've never taken a penny in grant funding; who have found clever ways to harness what many feel to be 'too risky' elements of the CIC form with regards to the powers of the CIC Regulator over them; and who are trailblazing for the wider sector as a result.

My interest here isn't to decry this specific legal form wholesale, but rather to try and contribute to a wider ongoing discussion that means as a sector we can be more coherent, and ultimately make it easier to achieve the things we aspire to.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

What every business and charity can learn from my pelvis

As background and context: several years ago, after a surprise ride in an ambulance following my falling over and finding I couldn't stand back up, I was diagnosed with a 'wonky pelvis' - usually, not a problem, but every once in a while, it doesn't 'sit' in my overall skeleton as it should. In turn, that causes everything else to be pulled out of alignment too, which causes issues for the muscles in my back and legs, and in turn also sees my sciatic nerve 'gripe'.

A few weeks ago, I woke up to find that in my sleep I'd managed to rotate my pelvis. Which in turn, meant that my spine had decided to twist itself into more of a snake shape rather than the traditional straight line owing to a kink in it, and my whole upper torso was then twisted as if I'd become a zombie that had fallen down several flights of stairs, but was still compelled to try and chase people in pursuit of their brains...

But despite this being absolutely painful and involving regular trips to the medicine box several times a day, it didn't actually stop me being able to any of the things I'd normally do - it just meant that I had to approach them in (literally) different ways, and that they took longer than usual.

I also know that it's not a forever thing when it happens - thanks to a combination of what appears to be me wresting with myself as I enact physio-prescribed stretches and Pilates/yoga style moves, everything is usually back where it's supposed to be within a few days. But while I'm doing these, I'm also regularly checking to see if I'm able to put my socks on while standing up - my usual dressing routine, which, when my pelvis is 'out', means I have to revert to sitting on the edge of the bed to do.

The reason why I try and put my socks on whilst standing up during times like these isn't because I'm a masochist. It's because I'm trying to figure out which of my usual ways of living and being I might be able to re-adopt (as they were how my body was originally intended to work), and which of my 'work around' practices I should maintain for the foreseeable future (because circumstances have interrupted my usual way of life).

Given how we're all now exiting the pandemic, this 'pelvic episode' of mine seems quite timely: at the start of last year, without apparent warning, we were thrown into turmoil because we suddenly couldn't work or deliver our services and activities in the way that our organisations had always been designed to be.

We found ourselves having to figure out work-arounds and new ways of doing things - all the while whilst also living with pain and discomfort.

But we largely managed this - we kept things mostly going and found ways to live and cope with the upset.

Now: my idea about why my pelvis is so important for businesses, charities, and everyone else right now - just as I found new ways of getting on with a skeleton that was out of kilter, I knew that not all of those new ways of doing things I'd adopted would be good for me in the long run. I needed to regularly check if the things I could before, I was able to do again - because that's how my body was intended to work. 

Since the start of this year, I've found myself supporting lots of charities, social enterprises, businesses, and others reflect on how they've been impacted not by the pandemic but how they've been affected by the new working practices they've introduced to be able to continue through it. While many seem to be intending to retain these new practices, I can't help but wonder if it would be useful to occasionally trial some of our pre-pandemic workplace routines and systems - just to check if now is the time that they might be able to be re-introduced, or its still appropriate to continue working in the ways we've come to.

For some, the new practices they've adopted will be vital to their being able to continue, because the pandemic has seen them fundamentally redesign how their organisations work - but for those who were trying to keep going 'on the fly', it may be helpful to take inspiration from my pelvis and see if you're able to get back to 'business as was usual' now, or if you may still need to use the new practices you've figured all to mean things can keep going for a little while longer?

You won't know until you try - and although we've all tired of having been trying different things over the last couple of years, if we don't keep trying new/old things, we'll never know what we might have found or we could yet become/or regained...  

(for the sake of decency, and to protect people's eyes, I decided not to include any images of my pelvis, spine, or torso in this blog post)

Thursday, August 12, 2021

aping Spock - why you see me go 'Star Trek' when I leave zoom calls

It struck me recently that I've developed an unusual habit on zoom calls (you may have noticed it if you've shared a screen of postage-stamp sized faces with me) - which involves me usually 'doing a Spock' from Star Trek when we say goodbye.

But before I explain what it's all about (other than a love of Trek), it may be useful to rewind a little bit to before the start of the zoom calls - all the way back to the end of 2019, when few of us had used zoom for meetings at all, before they became our new norm.

When this great transition began, I wondered about how such a dramatic shift in how we (professionally) interact with each other, and the loss of usual physical cues and customs we practice together, might impact on our shared working relationships - so as far as possible, I've tried to introduce models and habits when I'm on zoom that mimic the prompts and sensations people may have otherwise experienced, had we all be sitting in the same room together.

Now all those practices will probably form the basis for other blog posts in the future (assuming people might be interested to learn a bit more about them) - but for now I wanted to focus on Spock.

Most people who know Star Trek will know about the character of Spock - and how his species are famous for not only revering logic above all else, but also trying to avoid having direct physical contact with others unless absolutely necessary (which offers them a clear advantage in pandemics!).

When distancing began in the spring of 2020, there were lots of ideas floating around as to how we might introduce a new custom to replace the handshakes we now could now no longer engage in with other people we met with. Ultimately, the 'elbow bump' became the norm, but many made concerted efforts for it to have been the Vulcan hand gesture.

Traditionally, when we end spending time with each other, we enact some ritual to mark the closure of the conversation or activity - with friends and family, that's been a hug; and with professional colleagues it's a handshake (but these can sometimes be reversed!),

Zoom robs us of the ability to maintain many of these physical practices we used to rely on to signify to each other than we'd satisfactorily concluded our conversations (a handshake), so I wanted to try and introduce something other than a cursory "see you, then!" before hitting the big red button to end the call.

And that's where Spock comes in.

At the end of each encounter or episode, when Spock was leaving a meeting or parting company with someone, he usually raised his hand and intoned "live long and prosper": a wish for the future of the person or people he'd gotten to know a little better as a mark of respect.

And that's the wish that most people know - but given our precarious economies and changing shifts in employment, it might seem almost insensitive to wish that someone would prosper in the apparent face of diminishing opportunities, and the ongoing shrinking of the welfare state to offer us security.

So instead, I prefer to use the response to "live long and prosper" - "peace, and long life": in this chaotic and turbulent world, being able to find peace is perhaps the most desired state for most of us; and the fear of pandemic and shortening of our lives because of it (which has already started to happen with average life expectancies now going backwards), is an equally potent hope that we might have as much time as possible to keep finding ways to achieve and enjoy that peace in our lives and with each other. 

So until next time, keep on Trekking, and...