From Paris With Love
Sabrina Jackson-Mann is an e-business strategist based in Paris. In a previous life, she explained the chaos that is emerging markets economics to investment banking clients. Her key ambitions are to build her freelance business into a pan-European strategy consultancy, write a murder mystery that Sara Paretsky really likes and make it to the gym at least once this week.
She talks to smarterwork about freelancing, European .dot coms and cafť-au-lait...
Name: Sabrina Jackson-Mann
Based in: Paris, France
Freelance since: September 1999
smarterwork: What kind of freelancing do you do?
Sabrina Jackson-Mann: I work with start-ups and established bricks-and-mortar businesses to develop effective e-business strategies and maximise their on-line presence. Day-to-day, that provides a lot of variety Ė from writing business plans and conducting market research to negotiating contracts and advising on website content.
SW: You are based in Paris. What's it like to work there?
SB: Paris is fantastic Ė staying here is one of the reasons I went freelance! My home office has a balcony over the Seine; the perfect cafť-au-lait is a two-minute walk from my front door; and thanks to the growth in the European dot.com market, there are a lot of companies here which need my skills.
SW: What pushed you to go out on your own? How did the transition work?
SB: When my daughter was five months old, I got a call from a former colleague who was setting up an advertising dot.com. He needed help with the business strategy and concept development, and asked if Iíd consider a sixth-month freelance contract. I loved it and havenít looked back!
SW: Do you prefer working at home or in the office? What appeals to you about working at home?
SB: Being my own boss and being able to see my daughter during the day are the two key advantages of working from home, and I love being able to take the laptop to the park on sunny days instead of being shackled to my desk. On the downside, I miss the brainstorming and collegiate feel of working as part of a team.
SW: How does the smarterwork experience rate against other ways you normally use to find clients?
SB: I normally find clients through word of mouth, contacting them directly on the phone or by e-mail. Jobs via smarterwork tend to be quite varied, and thereís an advantage in dealing with clients who are already converts to working on-line! The jobs tend to be fairly small, although that seems to be changing as smarterwork builds up a reputation in the marketplace. The payment system is what makes it work for me Ė because I donít have to worry about invoicing and chasing bills for each client, it makes it worthwhile to take on smaller jobs.
SW: Could you tell us a few words about some of the projects you worked on at smarterwork?
SB: Iíve done a mix of net research and writing projects. Iíve had a run on community page articles recently, which are a lot of fun to write! The lighter tone of articles designed to inform and amuse is a good contrast to the technical writing that makes up the bulk of my workload.
SW: What differentiates you from other people doing similar work?
SB: I tend to be approached by clients who want to expand their businesses into Europe, but who arenít comfortable operating in different cultural and business environments. There just arenít too many people who can explain French business practices to American CEOs and make local language presentations (I speak English, French and Danish, and can get by in Russian and Italian). Being an economist as well as an MBA gives my clients a lot of comfort - they know Iím on top of the analytical side of their businesses. And because Iím experienced in working with creatives and techs as well as with the money men, I can help keep the corporate culture clashes as well as the national ones to a minimum!
SW: How do you think the Internet is affecting peopleís working habits?
SB: The access to information and the ability to telecommute from anywhere in the world is having the most impact on the way people work. The office job isnít likely to vanish any time soon, though, as a lot of people arenít productive or happy working on their own. Or maybe they just get lonely! But for a significant number of people, freelancing and working with informal teams is already part of their lifestyle.
SW: Do you have any advice for people thinking about going out on his or her own?
SB: Have your favourite clients signed up and a few monthís salary in the bank before you take the plunge Ė youíll save yourself a lot of sleepless nights.
When the Internet is your first or only point of contact with your clients, itís even more important that your presentation is up to scratch. Your CV and on-line profile and your Web site (if you have one) are your marketing tools. If theyíre poorly presented, youíll lose out on jobs to less-qualified but better-marketed competitors.
Write a business plan Ė including the dreaded cash-flow analysis. The benefit is in the process, not the result. Youíll have a far better understanding of what youíre getting into, and of surviving the obstacles that get thrown your way, by working out the details before you bet your mortgage payments on your new business.
SW: What are your plans for the future?
SB: Iím in the process of setting up a network of freelancers to bid collectively on major projects. Finding the right people is the hardest part, but once weíve got a strong team, weíll have the core of a new digital consulting agency.
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