Talking about our kind of work

The work I do has many facets, and it’s complex, and it’s basically impossible for me to communicate. But that doesn’t mean it’s not concrete and thought out — just that a lot of it makes 100% sense to me, given my background, in ways that do not translate 100% to others. And it doesn’t have to, as long as the right people understand the value of what I do.

Now. I said talking about “our kind of work”, and we is a tricky word at best. I’m referring to the kind of varies work that the independents I like to think of as my professional peer group do. And I hasten to add, I’m a huge fan of some of those folks! Some of them offer similar stuff as I do, others offer other services but operate in similar ways or contexts.

I’m thinking of brilliant friend-colleague-peer-experts like Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Chris Adams, Patrick Tanguay, Matt Webb.

And Matt Webb, especially, has an incredibly eloquent way to talk about the meta level of what’s going on. His skill to draw back the curtain and explain in a no-nonsense, personal style why he does things the way he does is amazing. The clear perspective he articulates. And since it’s so close in many ways to the way I think about my work, I’d like to quote just two examples.

1) Why separate between company and person?

Here’s Matt’s way of describing why even (maybe especially!) in a one-person company it’s worth not conflating both entities too much:

“it’s worth saying why I separate myself from my consultancy, Mwie Ltd, even though the two are often the same.

– It’s practical and means I can work with bigger clients. Incorporating means I can safely subcontract (which I’ve done frequently for clients) and relate to companies on the basis of product supplied rather than hours done.

– I can invest in assets. Through Mwie Ltd I have run a bookshop in a vending machine, and I’m building Job Garden. Both cost money. But because they stick to the consultancy, even if they don’t wash their face by their own account, they can be worth it for the marketing, creds, or capabilities benefits.

– Separating the company bank account from my own provides a psychic buffer. For years I’ve paid myself a regular monthly salary. Company revenue goes up and down. Clients sometimes pay late. Sometimes there’s a good month and the company looks flush. But so long as there’s a six month runway in the bank, none of that affects my sleep.”

This is it! I do the exact same thing, for the same reasons:

  • Maintain the company as a separate entity allows me to interface more easily with larger organizations like clients, but also with funders and grants. The way I think about it is a separate administrational backend and interface.
  • As someone who usually has a few side projects going on, it’s tremendously helpful to be able to fund and invest in them, to give them an organizational leg up. My company allowed me to explore the Zephyr Berlin project where we manufactured a few hundred pants in a way that’s easy and avoids any legal or tax problems, and to invest in a magazine I co-founded a few years ago, Dear Souvenir. (The website is currently being relaunched so I won’t link to it until after the relaunch.)
  • And the separation of bank accounts including drawing a fixed salary has done wonders for my mental peace.

2) The lockdown breaks the flow

The second example articulates spot-on how the lockdown breaks the flow that brings new business:

“When the invisible context changes, the business machine may no longer be effective (…) So I hit a particular problem at the beginning of lockdown: I usually stay top of mind by having coffee with people, and I develop projects over a series of informal meetings.
But what happens when suddenly all conversations are happening over Zoom? And what happens when half my week is given to childcare (as emotionally delighted I am about that). I have fewer conversations. ALSO: my friends have fewer conversations. The serendipity part of the machine no longer functions. (…) and now the machine is broken.”

This, to me, was a bit of a wake-up call. Because I’d noticed something was off for my business flows, too, but hadn’t quite been able to step back and see the bigger picture. So I’ll re-jig my habits now to work for this new context.

I’m settling in for a fall and winter spent in the home office rather than in a shared space somewhere, and it’s a very different experience for me. I hadn’t done that in years — just like having separate bank accounts for my company and me I also enjoy maintaining a separate work space. But right now, shared spaces are a lot less attractive (thanks, aerosols!) but the need for exchange is still there of course.

Also, sincerely, thanks to Matt, for sharing these things openly.

So, I’m revamping my habits to work from home again for a longer stretch, and I’ll keep maintaining a separation between company and person on the administrational level for all the reasons above.

However, at the same time, I’m just doing a major rewrite of all descriptions on the company website to be a lot more personal: I do want folks to know they’ll be working with me primarily if they work with The Waving Cat GmbH, and what values I bring into any and all projects. Because more than ever, I think having strong foundational values is key in the areas I, and my company, work in.

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