‘Freelancing is like parenting: it takes a while to get the hang of it’

It’s school sports day season, and that reminds Gary Paterson why he went freelance


“Everyone’s happy.” For Gary Paterson that sums up his decision to go freelance. Contentment for him, his partner and his family is key.

In 2017 he branched out on his own, setting up his own learning and development firm offering training to firms across the country.

That means he could be leading a course in Aberdeen at the start of the week and working in London by Wednesday. But being freelance means he can make sure he’s home for school sports day.

“Every week is different, that variety really suits me,” he says. “But it also allows me to control what I want to do. If it’s sports day or parents night I can be there.

“My kids are 10 and seven, still an age when they need taking to school, they still need a parent to entertain them. You only get one chance at parenthood so I want to be around.”


Gary spent 2014 on secondment in the Netherlands, that was when he realised things had to change and he wanted to make sure he could be at home in Edinburgh for his kids when they needed him.

After setting up a talent and development stream within an HR consultancy business in 2014 he went freelance three years later – setting up as Gary Paterson Learning and Development – to give himself more flexibility.

And that has been a journey of self-discovery that’s taught him vital lessons about how to make working for yourself work.

“The first six months of being freelance it was hard to break the 9-5 habit,” he admits. But that’s changed.

“You’ve got to learn how to work,” he explains. “I’m a massive procrastinator, instead of putting a proposal together in two hours I would spin it out over seven hours. So I’ve had to learn about myself – how I work and when I work.

“I’m a people person, if I cycle to the local cafe to work I’ll sit and chat to people and get nothing done! Instead I’ll work on my own and then make time to meet a friend for lunch,

“I know I work at my best first thing. So I get up at six in the morning, put the kettle on and it’s just me and the laptop. I can have a first draft of a proposal done by 7.30, then I can do breakfast and take the kids to school, come back, read the proposal over again and send it at 9am.

“Flexible working for me is focussed working.”

Strengths and weaknesses

Gary’s clear that learning about yourself and your own strengths, weaknesses and work patterns is useful for employees with flexible working arrangements too.

Being self-employed has its drawbacks though. For a start there’s the constant worry about where the money is going to come from.

“You’ve got to put work into business development,” adds Gary. “You’ve got to know how to find that work.” And he is. To the extent that he’s paying out for other services to help grow his business. “Self-employment doesn’t have to mean doing everything yourself. I get work through knowing people but if I’m flat out with clients I can’t do that business development work. So I pay a sort of virtual assistant to send out hundreds of emails to make contacts and find the work.”

He’s become a sort of one-man brand getting noticed for the smartly produced videos he posts on LinkedIn as well as sharing insights and articles. Giving potential clients a little taster of what they’ll get if they hire him to work on their leadership or corporate culture.

And of course as any working dad knows there is inevitable crossover between the two worlds of home and work.

“There’s a massive crossover,” smiles Gary. “One thing I’ve learned is that when you first tell friends and family you’re having a baby people say they’ll take the kids any time to look after but you might have to wait for an offer, you’ve got to take them up on that – if you don’t ask you don’t get!

“And freelancing is like parenthood in that you can’t expect to know what you’re doing straight away. But you’ll learn about yourself and you’ll get the hang of it and when you do it’s really enjoyable!”

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