Archive for September, 2010


One of the few things freelancers miss after leaving the treadmill is a steady flow of perks. Whatever they were for you, the chances are they won’t exist or, even if they do, you won’t be able to claim them on expenses and, even if you can, it’s you who has to earn enough to pay yourself back. Some perk.

Instead, simple aspects of freelance life become the treats: being free to meet a friend for coffee (but you can’t charge the coffee) or skipping round an exhibition during the day then catching up on work at night (but you can’t charge overtime) or taking advantage of sunshine midweek and working at weekends (which no one understands). It all adds up to freedom – the biggest perk of all – but, as freedom soon becomes a way of life, it rarely counts as a perk.

So, when an invitation arrived inviting me to an exclusive East Meets West lunch with cookery writer and television chef Anjum Anand, with the expectation that I will try to gain a commission for an article about it, singing for my, er, lunch is a very definite perk. Love her television programmes. Keep meaning to buy one of her books. And now this: Anjum showing us quick and easy ways to use paneer (Clawson paneer, to be precise) with us eating the results. I was happy to set the alarm and go commuting to the Good Housekeeping Institute’s demonstration kitchen.

What a stage set. Round tables beautifully laid … brilliant turquoise table cloths sprinkled with dark red chillies; sparkling glasses (filled with fizz as we arrived); a deep purple orchid on every place setting; stunning table arrangements of the same orchids in vases full of red chillies; a beautifully designed menu, instantly evoking the atmosphere of India; plus knowledgeable and friendly hosts, from Clawson, on each table to fill gaps in our knowledge about paneer. I have no idea how often other food writers go to this sort of do but it was far from typical for me.

And, being me, I gorged on every dish – all six of them – while trying to fathom the unfathomable reason why paneer had never made it into my shopping basket when I regularly order mutter paneer or sag paneer when out for a curry.

And then there was the goody bag – an unexpected (at least by me) extra perk. A packet of paneer; a balti dish; Anjam’s recipes for the day; a box of ginger tea; and a copy of Anjam’s New Indian, the book that accompanied Anjum’s BBC television series, signed by her at the end of the lunch. I went home with a light skip in my step despite being weighed down by my heavy stomach (due entirely to self-inflicted excess).

Whatever type of freelance you are, perks will be few and far between so grab them when you can. But if you treat them as freebies, you’ll find the invitations stop coming. The very least you can do is give them an honourable mention in your blog.  Watch out for the recipes; they are perfect freelance lunches …

Excessive greed left me far from perky

  1. A couple of spoonfuls of paneer tikka masala
  2. Half a wrap of paneer fajitas
  3. A ladleful of Thai noodle paneer and vegetable curry
  4. A skewer of grilled paneer, peppers and onion
  5. Two large dollops of paneer and spinach curry
  6. Every last scraping of a glassful of layered berry and paneer cheesecake

No, not a typical freelance lunch and, yes, moments later ... every last bit, gone.

Here’s a visual taster in the video taken on the day (if you blink, you’ll miss the back of my head):


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I should have seen it coming. After all, it’s not as if I’m new to freelancing. Finding the balance between chasing work (when desperate for it) and doing some (if you have any) is like spotting the fine line between the darkness and the dawn.

I’d met the potential client, I’ll call him Anand, at a networking do. He’d recently set up a business and felt his website wasn’t working. I looked at it later, saw it was pretty dreadful, and contacted him suggesting a meeting.

Our India links boded well and Anand seemed receptive to ideas. I let my initial hour run on, as is often how it goes when there’s hope of clinching a deal, and three hours later I left having given him quite a lot of free advice. Yes, yes. Naive, I know. But I reasoned it was unlikely that he’d be able to put it into practice – and that it was worth it to win his confidence.

I gave him an idea of how long it would take and my usual spiel about fixed project fees being better value for money. He said he’d probably be Indian about it and barter. Wry smile to self (as in pride comes before a fall sort of wry). I sent him a detailed estimate for bringing his website up to snuff, writing standard emails and letters for prospects and a leaflet. I was on course, I thought, for a decent bit of work.

When he asked to meet again to take things forward, I warned him  that the clock would start ticking as he’d already had three hours of my time. Another handshake, another coffee. Three hours later (yes, a pattern was emerging) I left, having reiterated all the points I’d made at our first meeting plus gone through some very basics together. Very, very basic. He didn’t know who his competitors were – or how to find out. I introduced him to the delights of Google – first searching for his business (totally hidden) then his competitors (scores of them popped up). He was grateful; said he’d been a bit naive (no scope for another wry smile from me on that one) and started bartering. After giving him six hours of strategic advice, I was tough. He pushed; I stayed firm. He was slithery – and I became ruthless. I wasn’t in the market for working with someone who couldn’t give a straight answer to a straight question. If he agreed a decent fee I’d do the work – emphasising the need to be open and honest with his clients.

And then he called me to a third meeting – to meet the person with whom he was going into partnership. What! Six hours and no mention of a partner – despite me asking how he was going to run his business as it was clear to me it would soon be too much for him on his own.

From the first second of the seventh hour I knew this was not going to work. Mr Partner wore a self-satisfied sneer and greeted me with smarm that hid no charm. Anand asked me precisely what I would recommend for his website. I explained I was not available to write it on the spot, for free. He said I couldn’t expect him to take me on without knowing what my work was like. I reminded him I’d sent him links to websites I’d written as evidence. He asked me, in an even more roundabout way, to shave my fee. I said, again, that he’d had nearly seven hours – almost a day – of strategic advice and I couldn’t afford any more concessions. He said, I said … It was like an uncivilised game of ping pong. I put down my bat and left.

The dilemma between wanting to have pride in work well done, and maintaining pride by not chasing work for work’s sake, is one that emerges very early on. If you find yourself spending more than a couple of hours speculating, the chances are it’s not only the client who is wasting your time.

When there’s no time to waste (Imam and giant baked beans with houmous)

One tin Palirria Imam (aubergine in oil)

One tin Palirria Baked Giant Beans

Home made houmous

Cayenne pepper

Rocket (as the photo shows, I finished yesterday’s watercress but rocket would have been better)

  1. Open the tins (how time-saving is that?). I usually use about a third of each unless I’ve had a tiny supper the night before. Whatever’s left does me for supper a couple of days later.
  2. Splodge on the plate with the houmous and the rocket. Sprinkle cayenne on the houmous.

Cheating to catch up on lost time. With only myself to blame.

It’s one big sticky lunch – apart from the crunchy leaves – with the chilli in the houmous adding pep and cutting through the extravagance of oil.

No, I never buy houmous – now I’ve cracked the recipe. Roast the garlic. Use far more tahini than anyone recommends. Add red chilli. Whizz. And, yes, of course you need to add lemon, water to create the consistency you like, and salt to counteract the blandness of the chick peas and the richness of the olive oil (with which I tend to be rather reckless). To serve with carrot sticks and other dippers, sprinkle with cayenne and drizzle with more olive oil. Calories, anyone?

As for ordinary Heinz baked beans, I’ve always loved them. Straight from a tin with a spoon. Tinned curried baked beans, too. As for having them on toast which turns to sludge … never. But for this, you need these unctuously smooth and tomatoey giant baked beans.

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