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Sharing experiences at the Cohub Braintrust


Over the past 12-weeks, eight members of Cohub came together in weekly gatherings to discuss the challenges they were facing in their professional lives.

The sessions had a simple format. One Braintrustee took the hot seat, sharing background information about the support they needed to unravel a current challenge.

As a group, we then spent a few minutes asking clarifying questions before moving on to sharing similar or related personal experiences we felt were relevant.

We adopted a few guidelines for our one hour sessions that helped ensure a consistently valuable experience for each hot seat sitter.

We avoided phrases like “you should” or “if I were you”, focusing instead on sharing our own related experiences and what we had done to move forward.

This approach served two purposes.

Firstly, the ideas shared were genuine experiences with evidence of application rather than ideas that existed in theory alone.

Secondly, we gained a deep understanding of each others’ backgrounds and behaviour as well as our approach to troubleshooting – particularly useful for participants less familiar with each other.

For me the approach was incredibly reflective, enabling me to appreciate the value in past experiences.

We also set guidelines around the style of questions we used when clarifying challenges.

Open questions encouraged the person in the hot-seat to share more detail about their challenge than yes/no answers would have allowed.

The Braintrust was an experiment in a more structured approached to collaboration and experience sharing between Cohub members.

It quickly became apparent that a lot of common challenges exist, to varying degrees, among Cohub members, despite the diverse set of industries represented.

Growing beyond freelancing

In our first session, we explored how a freelance database developer might expand their business, enabling them to undertake more exciting projects.

Braintrust members recognised that many freelancers’ earnings are limited to the multiple of hours they are willing to work and the hourly rate they can command.

We explored scaling from this by adding more staff, building repeatable deliverables, or a combination of the two.

Legacy client profitability

Our next session explored increasing the profitability of long-standing clients.

We looked at the awkward conversation small business owners face when visiting the profitability of early clients who often benefit from the legacy of lower and less sustainable early-stage pricing.

Work/life balance

The next topic that came up struck a chord with most of the group – balancing work and life, especially when undertaking a challenging contract.

While most regular employees in the UK benefit from a legal right to request flexible working, that same request can often by more tricky for a contractor.

We explored how the participant’s client could be encouraged to focus on the deliverables they were getting rather than the hours or method used to produce them.

Employment versus startup

For one of our hot-seats, we heard from a member recently retired from an executive role she’d held for many years.

While the luxury of time to relax was proving enjoyable, she had a project she’d been considering for years that could benefit many people.

She’d also been tempted to apply for a recently advertised role at an organisation she respected.

We helped explore how decision making can be challenging when presented with many different and equally attractive options.

Winning large clients

For many freelancers or small business owners, winning a large or well-known client can act as a lighthouse leading to recognition in their industry and follow-on work.

We explored this with aspiration with one member and in doing so, helped unravel the challenges faced in attracting and retaining a large brand.

Isolation among remote workers

In another session overcoming the isolation felt by many independent and remote workers was the subject of our discussion.

This session proved very specific to fitting into our town of Eastbourne.

We explored how those of us who’ve lived here for some time found friendship and belonging in various groups and activities.

Managing over-delivery and client expectations

With the majority of participants working in the services industry, we all related to our penultimate challenge.

We explored how well-intentioned team members are often tempted to go above and beyond what a contract requires.

While this is an excellent experience for the customer, it can potentially be at the expense of profitability.

Realigning team behaviour and resetting customer expectations after many years of over-delivery is rarely easy.

Marketing for independents

Finally, we explored how independent workers can cost-effectively market themselves to their target audience.

We shared practical steps, such as content marketing, networking, and polishing our LinkedIn profiles.

We also explored how independents can differentiate on their ability to build more direct personal relationships with prospects and clients.

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