Featured Freelancer: Adrian Ashton, Social Enterprise Consultant

Nestled in between Blackburn and Bradford is the picturesque market town of Todmorden, home to our latest Featured Freelancer, Adrian Ashton. Since I met Adrian, initially on twitter, I’ve known him to be a man full of surprises, with an engaging and supportive style about him. When you read his answers you’ll see why. This is Adrian’s story…

What is your name and what do you do?

Adrian Ashton – I (try to) help people explore their ideas for starting a new enterprise; and help ‘fix’ issues in existing businesses (through consultancy, training, mentoring, research, and such like); which mean that people can (hopefully) enjoy and do more what they want to and what makes them happy…

I also try and work through funded support programmes where I can as I have an idea that this helps make me more accountable, and also means that clients can make their available cash go further (which, to date, no-one has disagreed with!)

(I also do #beermentoring and #cakementoring)

How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?

12 years – I relocated my family from Cambridge ‘up north’ to take up a job offer that offered employment security for me as I’d just become a father, only to have the company back out after we’d moved… I therefore took to ‘knocking on doors’ to find work as a matter of urgency to be able to support my family, and been hustling ever since…

What support did you have from family and friends?

With hindsight, very little – my parents offered moral encouragement, but were still at the other end of the country; I didn’t really know anyone in the area so had little recourse to mutual encouragement, and most friends I was able to kept in contact with after moving had no experience of freelancing at the time

Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?

Nope – just my grit (and charm). My membership of professional bodies came in later years (and I’m sorry to say that as an ‘established’ freelancer, I’ve rarely found their support to be that useful or relevant to my needs, but through them I’ve been able to offer encouragement to peers)

How would you describe your clients or customers?

They’re all smashing, lovely, shiny, fluffy people ?

But ultimately there’s a broad mix of universities, government bodies, funded support programmes, charities, private businesses, and sector bodies

Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?

Every few years I put this question to my clients as part of the CPD framework I’ve created for myself – what seems to come back is a consensus around being a ‘go to’ guy for whatever needs an answer or sorting when people don’t know where else to go (a sort of 1-man A-team), and being able to help people get to grips with what at first appears to be incomprehensible technical concepts or legal/accountants-speak.

(Personally, I always thought it was something to do with my dancing on tables and throwing sweets at people when delivering training courses or giving key note addresses at conferences…)

Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?

When I first set out, I had a romantic notion of working a 4-day week. That become more like a 60 hour week, but being freelance meant I could structure it to spend most days having breakfast and/or tea with my kids (until I moved out after separating from my wife, that is)

What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?

LinkedIn – it was always a drag having to track people down to update their contact details in my business card folder… but I’ve also found it a really powerful way to do targeted business development via the ‘get introduced to this person by your contact…’ button

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?

Be patient and keep working hard. It takes a time to build your reputation and profile – I only starting winning national and international awards after 9 years. Also, think about how you’ll keep yourself ‘sharp’ – as a freelancer no-one’s looking out for your CPD but you, so think about how you’ll keep developing your skills and expertise.

What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?

That I’m more resilient and resourceful that I ever thought I could be. And that just about everyone else shares the doubts and fears you do, (although they’ll probably not be as keen to admit that – even to themselves)

What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?

There’s a couple of things that specifically stand out:

  • The variety – being able to walk alongside so many different clients means that I amass a lot of stories which other clients in turn find great support and encouragement in;
  • The political freedom – in not being someone else’s employee I have the freedom to publicly challenge (and successfully change!) national government policy and legislation that affects the enterprises and groups I support where I feel it’s “got it wrong”;

What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?

Not having a ‘safety net’ of colleagues in IT, HR, and such like for when things go ‘bump’ – as a freelancer you’re entirely responsible for all parts of your business and employment (including fixing things when they get ‘icky’ with clients).

Also, the unfair tax position: as freelancers we proportionately pay more tax than our employed counterparts, but enjoy far fewer benefits than them with regards to sick pay, holiday pay, pension contributions, and such like…

What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?

My mission statement has always been “to not get caught…”

What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?

That however bad you think the situation is (clients making complaints against you and getting their MPs involved, HMRC investigating you for suspected tax fraud, internet going down when you’re up against the clock, floods forcing you to become an enforced ‘digital nomad’), that clients and others are far more supportive and encouraging than you imagine they could be if you only ask nicely and explain you’re doing best despite what might appear to be desperate odds.

For the background to some of the stories alluded to, see Adrian’s blog: http://thirdsectorexpert.blogspot.co.uk/

For examples of clients and projects he’s delivered, and the various awards Adrian’s been feted with, see my website: http://www.adrianashton.co.uk/

For everything else, just look him up on your preferred social media channel: http://www.adrianashton.co.uk/contact/

Visit our other Featured Freelancers here and, if you’re a UK freelancer, join us in our Facebook group.