Secret Coffee

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2015 it’s the importance of networking. The very mention of this word used to make me shudder. It seemed alien to me – something aggressive, maybe imported from the US along with ‘reaching out’. I saw networking as a situation that forced you into small talk with people you didn’t want to get to know but felt you had to (I still think it is to some extent). No, that isn’t for me, I thought. I’d rather just make friends with people I like and stick with them.

Until I realised that your entire career can be affected by the doing of it or the not doing of it. How people who have reached the peak of their careers are pretty much all skilled networkers who have made it their business to get to know everyone and the information that they can provide. And I’d been oblivious to it until earlier this year. In case you’re like me, and totally unaware of this underbelly of activity in publishing, or indeed in any industry, then this is my gift to you. The gift of knowing about Secret Coffee.

Here’s the thing. I thought I *was* networking when I turned up to industry events like publishing conferences or debate evenings. I’d meet up with colleagues, ex-colleagues and the faces behind the Twitter accounts I’d befriended and socialise with them, maybe adding one or two faces to the group each time I attended one.

There would always be one or two people who would suggest meeting up for a coffee after the conference, and I’d always think, “Why? When we’re standing right here talking now?” It’s because I didn’t know that the thing to do was Secret Coffee. I thought that just by standing there talking to someone in public, that my networking job was done. It wasn’t.

When I was freelancing over the summer I discovered the world of Secret Coffee and how people at all ranks in the publishing industry are more than happy to do it. I had Secret Coffees almost every day, in fact, and listened to people tell me all about the people they’d had Secret Coffee with over the years.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it – it’d been going on all around me for years. Nobody talks about it so I’m just putting it out there in case there are other people like me who would benefit from it. I’m naturally an open, shary person who doesn’t enjoy secret behaviour but if I’d known about it years ago, perhaps I’d’ve made myself do it more. It does seem to have fuelled a number of high-rise careers all around me, when I thought that just being good at your job, friendly, sociable and professionally visible would be enough. It’s not. Quite.

I have baulked when a friend has told me that they’re only friendly with a person because of how useful they can be to them, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop baulking at that, but it does seem that successful people don’t have an issue with it – perhaps because they believe their coffee pals feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been really grateful to my Secret Coffee drinkers over the past months, as they’ve been incredibly generous with their time and contacts lists. But I’m passing on that generosity by telling you now – if you want to get on in your careers, then start by doing Secret Coffee. It may be the best move you ever make in your career.

You’re welcome.



The World is Going Freelance

I’ve really noticed a mass exodus in the last couple of years from the publishing workplace – the sheer number of people setting themselves up as freelancers. It’s happening in editorial, in PR, digital, design – pretty much every aspect of the industry – as companies reduce their overheads and seek to outsource as much as possible on a project-by-project basis. In this way, they can bring in expertise as they require it, and not have to pay for it on a salary level, getting the benefit of experience and a fresh-viewpoint injection into their businesses.

If you’re thinking about making the leap, you probably feel like I did six months ago – so tethered to a monthly salary that you can’t see any other way of being. Actually handling your own business finances and structuring your own time may feel too scary to contemplate, but I am going to tell you what I’ve learnt so far.

Decide what you’re best at 

There’s probably one core skill that you’ve got that sets you apart from the rest in your bit of the industry. You might think you know what it is but it’s worth asking people what *they* think it is. You might not be fully aware of your biggest strength but the person next to you might. You may also be labouring under an illusion as to what constitutes freelance work and be surprised to find what you can offer to a company. Speak to other experienced freelancers about their experiences.

Rate yourself

Don’t under-sell yourself. Consult with other freelancers about the sort of daily rate you can expect for the work you’re offering, and get some financial advice from someone outside the business. Don’t simply take your last salary and aim for that – if you want to come in at the same rate, you need to factor in the cost of running your own business, the fact that you may only be working for up to nine months in a given year, you won’t be receiving any company benefits, such as a pension or healthcare, and if you have your own limited company, you’ll be paying corporation tax. You will need to decide early on if you want to be a limited company or a sole trader. If you’re only going to be freelancing on a short-term basis then setting up a limited company maybe not be worth it, but there are financial benefits to doing so.

Get an accountant and get them to explain the finances clearly

This is the barrier to going freelance for many people – having to manage their own finances. It really isn’t as scary as you think – just keep all of your receipts and invoices. Your accountant can advise which receipts can be set against your tax payments and how to handle your invoicing. If you’ve set up as a limited company you’ll need to set up a business bank account as the accountant will be using your statements at the tax year end.

Organise a workspace for yourself

A clear, uncluttered space will make your head feel uncluttered when it comes to your work. If you can find a space at home to do this, then great, but you may need to find a friendly neighbourhood cafe to hang out in, purely for the buzz of people around you. Even better, get a desk in a local studio with other freelancers. One great bit of advice given to me was to get out and speak to someone every day. Especially during the first few months.

Get out and about

Think about your company name, if you have one, and the brand look. It’s going to be your hallmark for months or years to come so it makes sense to get it right from the off. Get some business cards printed up as soon as possible and get out there, revisiting old contacts and making new ones. You’ll be surprised at how generous people are with their time and contacts – they often know what it’s like to be out there so are only too willing to help. Ideally, you should line up a project to start you off as a freelancer, potentially from your current employer.

Get used to non-standard working hours

Get used to them, and enjoy them. If you’re a morning person you can be up and at ’em at 5.30am well before offices open, or if, like me, you’re better in the afternoon and evening, you can do other things in the morning before you begin work in earnest. Fit in exercise around the work whenever it benefits you – no more having to go to the gym at 6am if you don’t want to.

Don’t panic

In the first few months you might wake up hyperventilating, having nightmares about having enough work and money to keep you going, or that you’ve taken on too much. No one’s going to say it’s easy, but my advice is get up, go somewhere, do something. Volunteer for a cause you love and/or write a blog. Go out and network. Just keep getting out there.

 There is something intoxicating about being your own boss and even if you only do it for a few months, you may well find yourself becoming an advocate for the freelance lifestyle and deciding not to go back. Whatever happens, it’s your decision. There’s a lot to like.