Freelancers’ gremlins, you are terminated!

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Are you considering a role change to bid freelancing? If so, is it an easy decision or are you fighting gremlins saying how scary the new world will be?

Before I started bid freelancing seven years ago, I asked three questions (see graphic) that helped define the business choice best suited to my experience and interests.

That approach convinced me that bidding was a profession in which I could hit the sweet spot. However, my inner gremlins conspired to put me off running a business. I needed to know what mattered most for success in a new venture. Who better to help terminate my gremlins than The Terminator himself! I’ve found Arnold Schwarzenegger’s six rules for success to be a good blueprint for a fruitful freelancing experience:

  1. Trust yourself. In coaching we say, “Notice what you notice.” Take a moment to think about your own coping strategies, particularly what makes you happy. Trust your instincts about your skills, from which you gain a sense of achievement and with which you can add value to bids. Listen to colleagues in the bid community and map their insights onto what matters to you. We’re very lucky to be part of such a fantastic community of talented people happy to help others.
  2. Be flexible enough to break the rules, but never the law. In the context of bids, I believe ‘the law’ means your values and ethics. You can’t do a good job if you stray from those. What about breaking the rules? Chances are you’ll be called into bids at various lifecycle stages, so remain flexible in how you apply best practice. For example, you might need to fast-track response development if you’re appointed late in the bid. I’ve had to jump into firefighting action several times very late in bid periods to develop responses without any meaningful storyboarding or win themes – instead teasing them out from bid stakeholder interviews as I went along, rather than having a plan agreed from the start. You’ll need to remain flexible enough to adapt to the circumstances at the time.
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail. Listen to prospective clients and take feedback seriously. I’m reminded of a proposal I submitted to help a business development team write an application for new product funding. The team went ahead without external support, but it transpired they used many of my action plan ideas. I could have viewed that experience as a wild goose chase but saw it instead as a reason to explore developing a better relationship. Following further discussion, we identified ways to make the proposals process more efficient and effective for better working without the cost of external support. I was asked to review subsequent proposals, and other prospects made contact following referral. My point? Every contact provides an opportunity to learn about an organisation and find new ways to bring benefits.
  4. Don’t listen to naysayers. I thought I’d overcome my initial lack of confidence to run a business by seeking advice from the regional start-up consultant in the Government’s New Enterprise scheme. To my horror, he told me that companies know their subjects and don’t need external support for proposals. He said that bid consultancy is a super-niche discipline with no real market. After momentary panic, my reaction was to spend even more time thinking about how I’d add value to prospects’ bids.
  5. Work your butt off. Treating a client’s bid as my own enables me to dig deeper; I want my clients to do well since we’re in the same team. In the excellent book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson states, “Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.” While bids shouldn’t be a struggle, they do require commitment. Be the person prepared to do whatever it takes to create really strong submissions. Don’t forget, though, that hard work still has to be smart. There’s no shortcut for preparation and resource planning to pave the way for efficient work.
  6. Give back. You can give back to the profession in many ways, e.g. writing for Bidding Quarterly, sharing experiences (e.g. via forums, including APMP conferences and events), and coaching and mentoring others. Supporting others’ development is hugely rewarding.

How do these points make sense in the context of your experience? If you’d gone off the idea of freelancing, perhaps these thoughts have encouraged you to think, “I’ll be back!”

This article was written by Holger Garden.

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