The trials of being a ‘one-man-band’

Lots of things have come together in the last month or so to make me think a lot about my life as a ‘one-man-band’ in the worlds of editorial and corporate photography. The trigger for writing this blog was a survey being conducted by the company that supplies my accounting software. Like most surveys it didn’t ask the questions that I wanted to answer. The attraction of a free-prize-draw for those who took part made me complete it anyway. However, it did make me think about how (very) small businesses and the self-employed are treated by those with whom we do business.

The corporate side of my work is definitely better paid than the editorial but it comes with lots more preparation, admin and general hassle.

One relatively recently acquired client (a manufacturing and services business) asked the following;

“In order to be added to our supplier database please supply copies of your company’s policies on privacy, diversity and environmental responsibility”

My initial reaction was “are they having a laugh? I’m a one-man-band so how can I have policies on anything”. As the day went by I realised that it might actually be useful to have these kinds of things written down because if one potentially lucrative client wants them then the chances are that others will too. With that in mind I dutifully compiled them. Whilst writing my diversity policy it became clear that it wasn’t only about how I treated my own (non-existent) staff but how I would interact with the client’s employees and any third parties that I might deal with whilst providing my services. I realised that it was actually a really useful exercise to confirm in my own mind what I just assumed that I knew and felt. Happily, there were no surprises and when I wrote down that I stood firmly against all forms of discrimination I knew that I wasn’t merely ticking a box. I have also realised that having a published privacy policy is a really good thing as it answers potential clients questions before they even ask them and it is an opportunity to let them know that data protection and GDPR are two things that matter to me and my business.

Another client asked for my COVID-19 safety policy and so I wrote that down too. In fact I found the whole thing so interesting (probably not the correct word but it was the best I could come up with) that I decided to publish some of the policies on my website alongside my terms and conditions for anyone thinking of working with me to see.

An added bonus is that in amongst all of the new policies my terms and conditions and copyright notices don’t look so lonely on my main website.

My ‘glass-half-full’ reaction to having to draft and supply my business policies is in direct contrast to my attitude towards some of the hoops that you now have to jump through in order to get paid by some bigger businesses. Here are a few examples:

  • One company who sent their terms and conditions for new suppliers almost two weeks after I had completed the work with a well-hidden clause authorising them to give themselves an 8% discount on all invoices.
  • Businesses who require you to fill in a form on their web portal instead of you simply sending an invoice.
  • Corporates who require a pro-forma invoice in order to generate a purchase order that you then have to include in an actual invoice thereby delaying the issuing of said invoice by a matter of weeks.
  • Terms and conditions designed for large businesses and limited companies with accounts departments being foisted onto small un-incorporated businesses with, frankly, better things to do with their time.

I could go on. I can count on the fingers of one hand the corporate clients whose accounts departments realise that there is a massive difference between people like me and people like them. The survey that I mentioned back in the beginning of this post asked questions about how government could help small businesses and the self-employed to function better in the post-brexit and during COVID-19 environments and it was in direct response to that I started to write this piece.

With corporate work forming a bigger chunk of my income now than it has ever done I find it sad to report so few good experiences. In the spirit of fairness I would mention the CEO of a large publicly traded company who recognises that the decks are stacked against the self-employed and who gets his personal assistant to pay me with their corporate credit card and who encouraged me to add a couple of percent to my prices to make up for the commission that the banks will take in order of me to be paid that way.

Not all editorial clients are perfect. Far from it. Several haven’t raised the rates that they pay in years and most have idiosyncratic payment systems. From time-to-time a new arrival in their accounts teams will try to adopt some of the tactics of other corporates to slow things down. Whether I am mentally treating editorial clients with a greater amount of leniency is a question that I am now asking myself. Maybe I need a policy that explains that not all clients are equal and that my diversity policy doesn’t cover accounting practices.

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