I met a freelancer once, many years ago, who used to leave his house at 8:30 in the morning, dressed for work, walk around the block via a coffee shop, and then enter his house again about 15mins later. Now he was at work and is only allowed to carry out work related tasks. At the end of each day, he did the reverse journey. At the time I thought this was remarkable, yet when I became a freelancer and opened a coworking space, I got it. The importance of managing your own mind set when work and home is in the same building can never be underestimated.
Why do I bring this up? Because the importance of a “commute” as a freelancer based from home is just one of the lessons learnt by this week’s Featured Freelancer. What follows is the rest of his story following 5 years of being a freelancer. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is David Dean and I am a psychologist based in Impington, Cambridge. My role is support private clients and organisations with career, professional and personal development coaching and business learning. Coupled with this, I work with a number of UK university business schools coaching and mentoring MBA and MSc Business students. Whilst also lecturing & teaching on many career & business/organisational psychology related topics.
Lastly, I help people and organisations who want to start to work from/in or at home. It’s always been a fascinating area of psychology, into how people negotiate the transition to working in a place that is clearly not a workplace in a traditional sense. So I help plan the process of change so they are fully prepared for any pitfalls, health and safety aspects (workstation etc.) and how to maintain their mental and physical health.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I have been self-employed for over five years after finishing a contract as a provider of the Department of Work and Pensions Welfare to Work initiatives. My role as the Work Psychologist was to design and deliver Pathways to Work Condition Management, Coaching & Employability Learning Programs. Alongside the Work Programme Health & Wellbeing service in the Midlands and East of England. Very privileged to also work closely with the community mental health teams, NHS, DWP & employers to support job seekers, people with disabilities and those with long term health challenges. The goal is to support people to lead independent and fulfilling lives in a job they will sustain them and aid their recovery.
So the decision to become self-employed was quite straight forward. The decision gave me an opportunity to create a career path with more meaning in work and business psychology. Supporting people who want to either re-engage with the workplace after a break or perhaps helping them to refocus upon careers and work priorities. Moreover I get the chance to research different aspects of the workplace and workplace culture, whilst utilising all the skills and contacts from 30 years in business and industry.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
Fortunately, I had worked alongside many freelancers/self-employed folk and consultants in the past, so avoiding many of the obvious pitfalls. My wife Alison has always been very supportive and is now a self-employed public art consultant herself these days. This following a successful career in housing development. Hopefully she has learnt about all of the prat falls I made when I started out. Besides she is much better at running her business than I am, so its probably more the other way round in terms of who teaches who.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
Not really. I attended a few “start your own business” courses that were fun and put me in touch with a lot of helpful people. If nothing else it either confirmed what I felt I already knew or completely rewrote what I was not doing well. Especially with social media and web design etc.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
Difficult question. I guess my clients range from professionals looking to take the next step up in their career and professional development. They may be looking for a promotion or support to manage a new promotion. People leaving a highly technical role to become a manager/leader, for example, can find the transition tricky. Especially having to manage people and leaving behind what they may have spent a lifetime doing. The goal then is to work in a collaborative way (and perhaps stakeholders) to set an achievable but stretching plan to help them move closer to where they want to be.
Furthermore I work with career changers – people that have got to an impasse in the work they do and perhaps want to do something more meaningful. Or perhaps more suited to their current beliefs and values. Also mature career changers who want to leverage their skills & experiences so they are in more control of their working week. Whilst enjoying working later on in their lives without worrying unduly about retirement.
Another area of work is supporting people looking for a competitive edge with their job applications and negotiating interviews better. Within this group are MBA’s and all types’ job seekers perhaps looking to develop their career brand. Their brand are the elements of their career where they add value to the business; plus their beliefs, values, motivators, drivers, goals and objectives etc. that define their career & work choices.
There are clients who are experiencing personal issues that need to discuss their problems in a non-therapeutic environment. I trained as a counsellor many years ago and have found from my Welfare to Work experiences that it still something I enjoy. So helping clients manage stress, anxiety and mild depression, (usually work based) is where I can assist most.
At the other end of the spectrum of clients I work with, are people who are on the autistic spectrum, long-term unemployed and disabled folk. These clients have every right to have the opportunity to find work that will help them to become independent and a confident member of their community.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
In most cases and, from the feedback I receive my clients, they are looking for a psychologist who understands how business, professional development and careers work. They want the security of working with someone with a track record in evidenced based coaching and psychology. I am lucky that most of my clients arrive through personal recommendation and through the networks from the universities I work with.
My methods are chiefly pragmatic and far from being academic. I am responsible to clients paying for a service that helps them reach their goals that have been agreed. Therefore the service proposition is to ensure clients are motivated, engaged and can see the way ahead. Ensuring the client is in complete control of the process and never hurried or rushed to make decisions about their future. The key is to give the client the psychological tools necessary to drive the process forward, to come to their own conclusions, for them to set the pace and direction to go. All that aside, I guess the phrase levelled at my work and style is “unstuffy expertise” and that kind of sums up how I work.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
Not sure really as I didn’t set out with any expectations, apart from doing a job I really enjoyed and earning a living doing it.
Like most people who are self-employed or freelancers work ebbs and flows. The times between clients or contracts, I tend to catch up with reading and CPD. There are always new studies or research that can be caught up on. Therefore self-employment allows the opportunity to take time out to commit to my CPD.
Volunteering is an important part of what I do and have more time to commit than before. Helping younger people with their career choices and supporting their decisions is important. Schools and colleges can put undue pressure on younger folk to make commitments on their immediate career, apprenticeship or university choices. So mentoring younger people is a valuable use of my spare time.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
I don’t rely on any one app, though I try to make a noise on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google + and Twitter) every now and then. Just to make sure people know I am still alive and kicking. The website does its job (as far as I can see) and is a showcase of what I do and have to offer.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Probably one thing……….plan, plan and then plan some more. Make sure that you know why you are becoming a freelance psychologist. Know your niche and who your services are being aimed at. As when I started I liked to get my sticky fingers into too many different pies. So marketing was impossible. Help your clients/customers know what you are good at and how you will help them salve their anxieties or problems. We buy goods and services to solve a problem and or help us be less anxious about ourselves or life. So in my case, if people feel their career is going nowhere they I can assist them with the expertise necessary to get them closer to their goals etc.
Ensure you have saved up enough resources to get you through any lean times and know what your survival budget is. Get as much help and advice as you need to make informed choices about your future.
If anyone plans to work from home, then the plan, plan and plan again applies here too. Consider where in the house you will be working, will it work with the rest of the family? Will you be disturbed if the kids or partner come home? Will you look after your health and wellbeing i.e. do a work station safety audit, plan regular breaks etc. Are there cables etc laying around ready to be tripped over? Ensure your work space is for work, so remove any cues or clues that indicate you are in your home if at all possible..
Try to build in regular meetings with friends or fellow freelancers. Social isolation is never good as a long term strategy. Think about a commute. Leave the house before you start work and “commute” to work, even it is just round the block or taking the dog for a walk. It helps to shift your mind from one place to another.
Apart from that what could possibly go wrong by becoming freelancer!
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
How hard it can be to keep spinning so many plates all at once. When I am busy, I forget (by accident or design) to build a pipeline of clients. So seem to be forever running just to keep up. It’s easy to become distracted and boy can I become distracted. Any opportunity to pop off and do something else I will. I am not a great example of the proactive freelancer. I guess in principle I will gravitate towards things I enjoy doing and that is usually having fun, talking to people and learning about how applying psychology will help people lead more fulfilling lives.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
Time and flexibility. It’s great to disappear for a month or so during the summer or any time during the school breaks. Working for yourself helps you set the priorities at your life stage and was the main driver for my decision to become a self-employed gun for hire.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Not having a proper job in a traditional sense. I loved being employed and going somewhere to work. I had the opportunity to travel around the world in previous jobs so miss that. I work best in a team so a virtual team is never going to do it. Though I am of course being disingenuous and slightly hypocritical for all the reasons I enjoy being self-employed as mentioned before. Not perfect by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. In principle though its great being in control of what I do and when and best of all the brilliant people I meet and work with.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
Another good question. I guess its all about earning an independent living by doing a job that I enjoy. A job that I can do happily as time passes and I don’t feel I need to retire. All that said, as with most careers they morph into other things so may well be branching out into doing more local training for aspects of wellbeing and workplace psychology. You know managing stress, anxiety etc. I am also interested in developing other areas of consumer psychology to find out more about why we buy the things that we do. Consumer psychology is another area of work that seems to need more and more attention, so may well dabble in that sooner or later.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
I guess knowing the difference between being busy and being productive. Amen to that.
To get in touch with David, visit:
and, of course, the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group