The Way We Work

You might be surprised at the freelance career wisdom we found in the Academy Award-winning movie The King’s Speech — especially considering the plot revolves around a British royal of a bygone era — but it’s definitely worth considering even in modern times.

After taking home several Oscars on Sunday night, including Best Picture, we thought the film deserved another look — through the eyes of a freelancer. After all, one of its main characters, based on real-life speech therapist Lionel Logue, has a storyline rich with all the pain and glory familiar to those immersed in the world of freelance work.

In the film, Logue — played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush — is a failed stage actor turned elocution consultant who is hired to cure King George VI’s embarrassing speech impediment, just a short time before he takes the throne. What ensues is the compelling (and basically true) story of how Logue impacts England’s history, and here’s what every independent contractor can learn from him:

BOUNDARIES: Have them, but don’t make walls out of them. In the film, when George’s wife Elizabeth — Great Britain’s late “Queen Mum” — goes to meet and hire Logue, she is taken aback to find he has no receptionist to greet her. This is a plus and a minus for our independent elocution consultant Logue. You see, as he explains later, he has no receptionist because he likes to “keep it simple.” He knows that his success boils down to what happens between him and the person who hires him, so there’s no need to let fluff and formality build a wall between them.

This makes a lot of sense, and you and I would do well to not let things like voicemail and email auto-responders (which often fill the role of receptionists in our lives) get between us and our clients, building virtual walls around us that are easy to set up but are hard to tear down. Giving your employers/clients as much direct access to you as you can may be the best career move you ever make.

On the other hand, Logue’s business model — having no buffer between him and his clients– leads on this particular occasion to England’s future queen accidentally overhearing him use the bathroom. It was what we might call TMI (Too Much Information) for poor Elizabeth. So we’ll have to dock Logue a few points for disregarding his client’s need for some professional space from his private matters. Maybe Lionel shouldn’t have let a client overhear him use the lavatory, and maybe you and I shouldn’t let our clients/employers hear us going on and on about our love lives or personal habits. Have some boundaries, friends. (And, if you’re using the bathroom, let the call go to voicemail.)

CREDENTIALS: If you’ve got ’em, flaunt ’em. If you don’t, be clear about whatever it is you do have. It’s hardly a spoiler to tell you that the royals hire Logue under the misapprehension that he is a doctor of speech therapy, holding a proper education and license to work in his field. The reality is that he stumbled into speech therapy because his elocution gifts and natural insights allowed him to help shell-shocked World War I veterans overcome stammering and other speech impediments. He built a reputation so solid with this work that the president of England’s Speech Therapists Society recommended him to royalty.

Logue gets major points for building a life-altering career from his failed acting dream. We should all be so fortunate to discover the fine line between what we think we want and the reality our gifts can afford us. However, by allowing Elizabeth to continue in her assumption that he was an actual doctor, Logue jeopardized his entire career. The truth has a way of coming out.

Be clear with your clients and employers. Don’t allow false assumptions to be made about your degree, your license, or your credentials. On the other hand, flaunt whatever it is you have, whether natural ability, experience, or simple passion. Land the job with the truth about who you are and what you can do, so there are no minefields of lost trust to navigate down the road.

And there you have it. Valuable contract career advice from the year’s Best Picture. (And, by the way, if you want to see how Logue’s game with the truth played out, you’ll just have to see the movie.)

The story of Lionel Logue and the ultimate client (a king!) is inspiring on a lot of levels. If you found other nuggets of truth valuable for independent contractors after seeing the movie — whether from Logue or one of the other historical characters — share them in the comments below.

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.