Starting as a freelancer, a practical guide

I’ve been a freelancer for 5 years now. In these years a lot of (new) colleagues asked me how to get started. I always thought it wasn’t that special, but I guess going freelance is still “a thing”.

Here is a practical guide to get started. There is some Dutch specific stuff in here, but most is not country specific and common sense. 

🎓 Official part

Go to https://www.kvk.nl/mijnondernemingen/ and follow the steps.

Save the bills as expenses 🙂

Now you’re set! Go! Be a freelancer! Don’t make it harder than it is 🙂

All the other stuff is optional, not officially needed, but I think super helpful, so read on if you want!

🚨 Mandatory from my perspective

Get insured (you need to get help for this from an intermediate, https://www.havegoed.com/ helped my out)

  1. Legal Counsel (rechtsbijstand ZZP)
  2. Professional Liability (Beroeps- & Bedrijfsaansprakelijkheid)
  3. Disability insurance
  4. Optional but highly recommended: insurance for your stuff
  5. Pension (or “old age money”). I’ve got my freelance tax friendly account at https://new.brandnewday.nl/

Do this also!

  1. Officially it’s not mandatory, at least not in the Netherlands, but it is still very helpful: business bankaccount. I’ve got mine through https://www.knab.nl/ as it has some integrations my usual bank ASN does not have yet. Especially the integration with my “account” (see point 3).
  2. Website & email, but make it simple. Get your domain, easy template and go! (see for instance jaaptrouw.nl). Costs per year: ~1-2 hours work. Usually this includes emails as well, I’ve integrated with Google Workspace for and additional 6 euro’s per month, so my mail is with google although I use my own extension. You can always make it more elaborate along the way
  3. Outsource your finances, but send your invoices yourself. I’m with https://www.bunnig.nl/ , someone local is probably best. They do all my VAT-taxes (BTW), my business year-report and my income taxes (and of my wife’s) every year. Costs per month: 1/2-1 hours of work with my hourly rate. They also make sure I get all my “starting up” tax discounts.
  4. Simple (Google) sheets with your daily hours (payed and not payed) including your travels and distance. With some pivots you get a lot of overview and insights.
    • Data for your invoices
    • Overview of distances travelled (taxes
    • Year over year data on your performance
    • How much you do for clients 
    • Etc. and so on…
  5. Doc for your invoices (for me also through Google), I just copy paste the last one, chance the numbers, download as pdf and send
  6. Buy almost everything you need as a business expense, your “accountant” can help (see point 3). This means laptop, phone, internet bill, paper, pens etc. If you already have them, get them on your expenses anyway as starting expenses, your accountant knows how.

💸 Backup

And last but not least, start saving money! Make sure you have at least 4-6 months of living costs saved up over time as a backup for the times you are out of an assignment or something else happens. Do this before you invest in other stuff!

❓I’m probably forgetting some things I now find natural, so if you have any questions or things you miss, just ask!

My week of running ( Nov 28 – Dec 4)

My week of running is still not running.

I have a whiplash in my calf and it’s still sore. The first was a couple of weeks ago. I thought I recovered. I did a test run (30 min of 5 min run, 1 min walk) and that was fine. Checked with the Physical Therapist (PT) and everything was good, so I could start running again. Building in 3 weeks towards 1,5 hour run.

Waited to days and did a 35 min (5 min run, 1 min walk) sessions and on the third 5 min, “Tjak”, whiplash was back.

That has been 1,5 weeks ago and it’s still just a bit sore.

Did some biking, but it’s too cold now. Did the mandatory 30 min walking every day. Today it was 50 min but after 40 min felt the calf again.

🤬

Tomorrow session with the PT to see what I need to do.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”

I heard this saying (a Chinese proverb) a couple of times in the last days. Today again in Buitenhof, a tv talkshow. And I think I read it in “Steal like an artist” from Austin Kleon (highly recommended by the way). As it is December and almost everybody is thinking about new years resolutions, the saying resonates.

🤮 One part of me mentally throws up a bit every time somebody talks about new years resolutions. The reason is that you can start with something new every day. Every day can be a new beginning, a new year, so start now.

⏰ On the other hand, it helps to have some kind of marking moment to try to get the right start. It helps to give a basis, a “special” moment in time to give the starting moment a bit more emphasis. And it helps if others do the same, so you can keep each other accountable.

🎬 The proverb also helps to realise, that yes, a needed change could and maybe should have been done earlier (days, months or even years), but there’s no changing the past.

What you can do is to start NOW.

My one goal, feel free

That is to feel a certain freedom again I’ve lost in the last 2 years.

I need to feel free and I don’t feel it right now. I don’t feel free today because:

  1. I’m out of an assignment right now
  2. I don’t have that capital right now to go without an assignment for a couple of months

Dude, but you are a freelancer, so you should have a backup, right?

I did, but it’s gone. Not because I did something stupid, but because we had to do a couple of things.

  1. Last year my son was sick for a long time, bad case of Mono’s (Pfeiffer) so fortunately as I had backup, I could take care of him and stay home with him
  2. We had some things to do in our house
  3. We really wanted to go on an extended vacation with a mobile home to Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

We all did the above and we are very happy with it, don’t get me wrong.

So, even when I’m writing this I feel like I’m whining, so rationally I know there’s nothing to complain about, we’re healthy, we have and had a lot of fun and we did and still do a lot if things others can’t.

But my Feeling Brain (thanks Mark Manson) still feels trapped. That means 2 things.

  1. I want to be more stoic (thanks Ryan Reynolds) about what’s going on
  2. I’m going to be more intentional and make sure I get that backup again.

That means landing a new assignment of course.

Antifragile instead of Agile

I think Antifragile is a better term than Agile.

Agile for me is a term related to flexible, able to go with the flow, and “bend” to change and able to move quickly. But do you really want to bend to change? Do you really want to move quickly all the time?

Antifragile is a term introduced to me by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book with the same name: Antifragile, things that gain from disorder.

The definition is: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”

For me antifragile includes agile, but you need more than just agile. The idea is that you get better with every change or set back you have, you come out stronger. That’s what you want as a company.

Stop hiring Agile Coaches

You don’t need them on a permanent basis.

First, I’m all for the values and principles in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. And I believe these same values and most of the principles apply beyond the realm of software development.

Second, I’m all for collaboration within and between teams. If the Scrum Framework is a set of instrumental rules that helps use them. As a means, not as an end in itself though.

Third, I’m all for outside help with these values/principles and collaboration rules if needed. 

But

If a team/department or even an entire organisation needs permanent help with this, there’s something wrong within your team/department/organisation that has nothing to do with Agile/Scrum. There might be something wrong with any or all of these things (and the list is not exhaustive):

  • Leadership, especially with leading by example
  • Basic work ethics, such as showing up for meetings on time
  • Meaningful work as a team (ticking of to do’s, instead of solving problems)
  • The right person for the right job at the right time
  • Team dynamics on a more personal level

In any of the above things, leadership needs to step in!

Of course Agile coaches can help to teach and coach on the Agile values and principles and with the chose Agile collaboration framework of choice (except SAFe or LeSS, they are just evil). But it is a temporary thing, not a permanent thing. Here are some examples and a timeframe.

New Team > 3 months max

If you have a bright new team, with people that have never worked together an Agile Coach can help to set up the right rhythm of feedback loops and meetings, helping to crate a safe working environment and the “rituals” the team needs. So no by the book Scrum implementation please. If in 3 months the team hasn’t found their rhythm, something else is wrong. By the way, this is not full time work for 1 Agile Coach, so if you don’t have an Agile Coach that coaches several teams (5-10) hire a freelancer.

Existing team with “challenges” > 1-2 months max

If an existing team faces challenges, an outside coach can help to sort things out. Emphasis on outside coach, a person not in the team and preferably not in the organisation that reflects with the team on what’s going on and helps them out. When deeper shit surfaces and/or the problem cannot be solved in 1-2 months, there something else going on an normal management needs to step in.

Large organisation with 10 teams or more

Preferably, have a network of a couple of freelance Agile coaches that can help out. If that’s not possible, hire 1 or 2 Agile Coaches on a permanent basis to help out teams when they need them. These Agile coaches need to be fully independent and self-starters, their only job is to help solve a problem and then leave the team again. Or if new teams are formed, get them started and then leave.

Leadership that isn’t Agile > 3 months max

Now you definitely need an outsider. Never, ever use an inside Agile Coach to teach you the simple values and principles. Leadership needs to live it, action it and not just know it. If you as leadership cannot do that, look in the mirror! And for a max of 3 months you need that mirror to come from outside your organisation.

By the way: Same applies for Scrum Masters…

When frameworks and manifestos start dying

Manifestos and frameworks (Agile, Scrum, PrinceII, ITIL, <insert example here>) start dying the moment they become “ends”, goals in themselves.

Usually they start as a means to an end, or a set of values and principles. Of course, it could be that people don’t immediately understand them and some learning and coaching is needed. That’s a means to spread the idea/framework/manifesto.

All still fine.

But then some people think they are better in it than others and start selling trainings and certifications. At that moment the framework changes from a “means to and end” to “the end”.

At this point we could still resuscitate the framework.

That moment passes the moment frameworks of frameworks emerge, for example scaling frameworks such as SAFe, ITIL4 , LESS etc.

You know something is really dead when the manifesto or framework becomes religious. That happens when the first person declares him/herself as …-ist, for example “Agilist”.

Could be a nice article, the 3 stages of a dying framework…

Hurry when you have time, so you have time when you need to hurry

🪖 The first time I heard this was during my 2-weeks basic training in the National Reserves. And it hit home. Not because it is super profound or anything, just because of the simplicity of it and its practical use in every aspect of your life.

🫡 During basic training we usually got orders like:

“You have to clean your gun, have lunch, chance clothes, clean your desk and everything is done in 50 minutes time. A good soldier can do this in 40 min, so you have 10 minutes to relax.”

That usually meant this as a reaction, “I’m a good soldier! I can relax now for 10 minutes and be finished on time”

🚨 WRONG (most of the times). Something always happens!

  • Your gun is dirtier than expected
  • Lunch comes 10 minutes late
  • You cannot find the second clean sock
  • There’s a stain that just won’t go away

🧘 The ones that started working on their chores immediately, usually got 5 min to relax after everything was done. Because they had time when they needed to hurry

😰 The ones that started relaxing, usually were late, had more stress at the end, making mistakes, or didn’t finish a chore, meaning more work! And more work in the Army isn’t always fun…

The Ethics of Post Payment

There’s a different between “Can we offer post payment?” from a feasibility/value standpoint and “Should we offer post payment?” from an ethical standpoint. This blog scratches the surface on both.

💸 Profit
Post Payment, including buying with a credit card, is profitable for businesses. And it is profitable for businesses that offer post payment as a service to other businesses (Klarna, Riverty etc.). It is profitable because of:
– Higher conversion rates (people buy more often)
– Bigger basket sizes (people buy more per time)
– Reminder fees
– Interest rates
And probably some other things as well

🚨Risk
The risk appetite deals with the question: “ Can we offer post payment?”. It’s all about the risk appetite. Usually, not every customer is offered post payment. The business does one or several risk assessments. Most common are the credit risk (do we think the person has the money, but also is the person already in debt collection) and fraud risk (what’s the chance and impact for this order or customer of deliberately not paying or worse). Combining the risk assessments with a risk appetite gives you a means to determine how much post payment is offered to who.

👍👎 Ethics
The ethical part deals with the question: “Should we offer post payment?” Here are some ethical considerations:
– 🗓️ Post payment separates the date/time of buying from the date/time of paying. And by doing this, customers have and feel freedom. It can be considered as their fundamental right to choose when they order and when they pay. 
– 👮‍♀️ Post Payment is legal. It is up to the market on how this exactly works, how post payment is offered to whom and how much it costs. More and more countries have legislation and rules for post payment and the processes behind it (e.g. only give 1 reminder fee for all outstanding orders instead of a reminder fee per order), limiting what’s legal or not.
– 🐛 Post payment opens up a whole can of worms concerning fraud, the simplest one is just deliberately ordering something and not paying. Therefore there is more fraud in the world with post payment than without.
– 🌍 Post payment enables us to consume more than we need. This has great impact on the environment and how we treat our planetary resources
– 🎄 Post Payment offers a way for poor people to buy something for their kids for Christmas or Sinterklaas. But they also know they cannot afford it, deliberately putting them in debt (even further).
– 💉 Shopping can be an addiction and post payment offers a more easy way to not feel the “pain” immediately 
– ❓ What other ethical considerations do you see?

🤔 My opinion
I’m concerned that organisations know these ethical considerations, but that with every chance or adjustment in the system, technology or just the risk appetite, they aren’t actively answering the question if they should. The ethical discussion should always be part of any change or experiment with post payment and the organisation should make a conscious decision not just on the business case but also on what other impact it might have on their customers.

The simple truth about scaling fraud management

Fraud detection doesn’t scale, fraud prevention does. It’s not complex, so let’s make it simple.

Risk

Risk in general and fraud risk as well, consists of 2 parts and is usually represented with a simple formula:

Risk = Chance x Impact

Fraud detection is all about reducing the impact of fraud. That means fraud already happened. You detect fraud, preferably as early as possible, so the financial 💸 and/or reputational damage is minimised.

Fraud prevention is all about reducing the chance of fraud. Fraud didn’t actually happen yet, but you are doing everything you can to prevent fraud. You want to know who or what you are dealing with before a final transaction happens (#kyc etc.)

Scaling Fraud management

Let’s say you want to grow as a business (that’s a choice by the way) and let’s say you want to double your revenue by doubling the amount or orders. If you keep your fraud management at the same level (both prevention and detection) the amount of fraud will also double. That means your fraud operations (detection) needs to double as well, including customer support, dealing with the police 👮‍♀️ etc, and so on. Furthermore, if you make your detection even better by innovating, you will probably find even more fraud. That means, at least temporarily, the damages grow 📈 even more percentage wise. So, although you can do fraud detection smarter, scaling is hard.

Fraud prevention does scale. When you put more innovation effort on how to prevent fraud from happening, you make sure the chance of fraud is lower. And as a consequence, the need for fraud detection lowers as well in the long run. The more you prevent, the less you need to detect. 

⚖️ We all know this is a 🐈 and 🐁 game, so you cannot only do one thing. Both prevention and detection need to be on par, especially because detection can give learnings for your prevention efforts. But, if you want to scale fraud management, double down on prevention.

#innovation #management #fraud #fraudprevention #frauddetection #kyc