Breaking the rules as a freelancer

By September 22, 2010Articles, Blog, Freelancing

This, my Freelancentral column, started with a swinging stable door and you, the horse, escaping into your freelance life. It’s covered different types of clients, the fine line of the call of duty, freelance admin – and a few things in between. But this… This is a story with a moral. Call it an idiom; a Tiffany’s Fable. Whatever. But you’ve gotta get through the story to get the good stuff. So sit back. Relax. And read on.

Tiffany, the bossyboots

I can be a bit of a brass. I’ve been freelancing a long time (well, for a full-time freelancer). I have my rules. I love my processes. And I’m known to be pretty inflexible about changing them, amending them or putting them to one side.

There are procedures to follow. Briefs to be given. Quotes to be approved. Deposits to be paid. And then, only then, there is good, solid work to be done.

And when I’m doing the work, I’m doing it in my lovely peaceful office, with my heater on, peppermint tea at the ready. In my comfort zone. No coffee shops. No outdoors. No hot-desking. No working – gasp! – in a client’s office. No scenery.

That’s the way I’ve always done it, and that’s the way I like it. My way.

Then, something happened

But, after six years in the industry, 180-odd clients and a lot of rules, I recently did something that shocked even me. So out of character was it that it more or less rocked my world. And it gave me pause to think about what good can come from abandoning your strictures occasionally and producing amazing stuff.

You see, I’d been on holiday. A working holiday, yes, but still: a beachside vacation.  It had come to an end and my husband and I were driving back to Johannesburg from the Garden Route. It’s a 12-hour drive. Which is long. But we had about 20 hours of Harry Potter to listen to, so all was well in our world.

Except that a client of mine, for whom I had created some ad copy, had been absolutely unable to review it until that very morning, and needed to get it to the publishers the following day. He wanted a few extra headline options, a couple of lines re-phrased, a few things tweaked. Nothing major if I’d been at home. Nothing major if we’d still been on solid ground, back at the beach. But I was in the car, sharing 12 hours of driving, and I was busily mastering cruise control.

I abandoned my rules

Under normal circumstances I’d apologise profusely, explain that the day was an out-of-office for me and leave the tweaks up to the client, in his own wisdom.

But not this time. This time I figured, Bugger it. Let’s help the guy. He’s nice. I did a good job on the copy and I’d hate it to get messed up now, at the last minute.

I put the client on speaker-phone and over 20 or 30 kilometres and several short phone conversations, we got the job done. No pens, no paper. No comfort zone. And a completely weird copywriting experience for rules-crazed little me. I may even, should the situation and potential outcome dictate, consider doing it again.

Moral: Most of the time, rules are great. They keep things neat and tidy, garner you client respect (albeit occasionally grudging) and ensure that your back (and the bit just below it) is mostly covered. But sometimes, when the situation warrants it, you can do great work in an off-the-wall way, space, place or vehicle.

This piece originally appeared on the Freelancentral website as ‘Part 4 – The Stable Door: Why breaking the rules sometimes works’. For the full text of that contribution, click here.