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
Rocket (as the photo shows, I finished yesterday’s watercress but rocket would have been better)
- 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.
- Splodge on the plate with the houmous and the rocket. Sprinkle cayenne on the houmous.
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.