“Hello?” It was more of a groan than a greeting, grumping its way out in my early morning voice. Who could possibly need to ring so early, waking me up? Early? It was 11.30! And on the line was my best client. I sat up and tried to sound professional (though the rustling of the duvet surely gave me away).
What constitutes a best client? Quantity of work is one measurement but this client gives me very little – the annual report (it comes round every year so it’s regular work – and the deadline is December which helps with increasingly expensive Christmases) and, perhaps, a leaflet or two in between. It’s a charity so it gets me at my (very reduced) charity fee. But it pays up with no quibbles – within a fortnight of invoicing.
In my books (where each month there seems to be less and less to double-enter) paying on time is what clients should do; paying early makes me feel they value my work (this is, of course, self-delusion; their accounts department plugs me into their computer without a thought).
If you rely on clients paying on time, you will be forever disappointed. Advised early on by a fellow freelancer, I ask for payment within 14 days. Charities excepted, this is seldom respected but it means I can put the pressure on sooner. When invoices are few and far between, it can make the difference between crashing through the overdraft limit then having to find a more sympathetic bank (impossible) or being able to buy supper (and I don’t mean out; I mean me, a plate and the television). The big guys – household names – have no sense of what it is like to be dependent on a few hundred pounds. If you thought accountants were dull, going freelance will teach you how creative they can be when dreaming up excuses for not paying up.
Back to waking up, which I just have. Freelancing means you can work, wake (and go to the gym) when it suits you but, if your office is in your bedroom, you will be caught out. My solution? A loft extension – with builders arriving at 8am six days a week for 25 weeks. So much for early morning freelance freedom.
A good catch (Smoked mackerel with beetroot and horseradish salad)
Smoked mackerel from a fishmonger
1 cooked beetroot
2 to 3 tsps grated horseradish root
2 tbsps half fat crème fraiche
Half a lime, squeezed
Watercress or a mixture of various leaves
- Make the beetroot salad. Gently stir the grated beetroot into the crème fraiche. Add one or two tsps of lime juice – enough to loosen the mixture and give it a bit of tang. Cut the beetroot into chunks and lightly stir them into the crème fraiche mixture, turning it over once or twice – it’s prettiest if you can see some bright white crème fraiche amidst the pink.
- Cut chunks of smoked mackerel or serve it in fillets if you prefer (I like the glistening amber of the skin so tend to chunk it).
- Serve it with a few leaves and a small piece of lime to squeeze over, if you like your fish with lemon or lime (I don’t).
The first time I had beetroot in a sauce of some kind was when I was involved in pressure group politics and my then boss, Iain Picton, invited his committee to a strategy discussion over lunch. He’d made a white sauce for the beetroot. It was, of course, immediately a pink sauce. And so is mine today. Two stirs fewer and it would have retained more of its whiteness which would have been prettier.
And here I am eating smoked mackerel again. It is, as you’d expect, from my local fishmonger (Covent Garden Fishmongers) and deliciously moist and soft – nothing like the hard, dry, vacuum-packed, uniformly-dull stuff. Seek the real thing out if you can. It’s such an easy way to eat your two to three portions of oily fish a week – and can be turned into something delicious without any effort.
This blog first appeared as an article in PR Business in which I had my own column for six heady weeks.