Discovering Jean-Michel Jarre

I was introduced to Jean-Michel Jarre at one of the first Laser Tag arenas in New Zealand, possibly the world.

It was called “Futron” and was in a large warehouse next to a popular theme park in West Auckland.

It was multi-level, filled with fog machines and lasers and Star Trek style doors that opened when you shot them, and Jean-Michel Jarre played as a constant soundtrack.

I remember there were TV screens giving instructions to each team, and we have to successfully tag four pyramid “flags” throughout the playing area.

It was truely magical for a space-and-sci-fi obsessed preteen.

My friends and I only went a couple of times before it turned into paintball, which wasn’t as much fun for 11yr olds!

As a direct results of Futon, Jarre’s Rendez-vous was one of the first vinyls I ever bought and I remember playing it over and over again on weekend mornings when my parents were still in bed, happily drumming along on the sofa.

Fourth Rendez-Vous was my favourite, but by coincidence, Jarre also featured on New Zealand TV with Equinoxe, Pt. 4 used as at the theme for a popular wildlife show, Our World.

Hearing it now still gives me late 80’s family TV night flashbacks.

If you unscrew your belly button, your bottom will fall off; and other things my Dad taught me.

My Dad died a year ago today, 5 December.

My earliest memory is sitting on his shoulders watching a Guy Fawkes bonfire on one of several visits to the UK as a child.

An electrical engineer by trade, he worked on some of the early mainframes before moving to New Zealand to marry my mum. He loved teaching my brother, cousins, grandchildren and I about anything scientific, the ancient Lancastrian martial art of Ecky Thump and stories of building a canon and blowing a hole in the neighbours garage – but refusing to let my brother and I make anything similar!

I hope he has found my mum, who he missed dearly, and the rest of his welcoming party, at the great ISO9000 audit conference in the sky.

Below are some important life lessons he taught me over the years:

If you unscrew your belly button, your bottom will fall off.

This, along with the “lying still game” and many other “games” ensured hours of peace and quiet for adults trying to talk after dinner or at any family occasion.

Don’t play “knuckles” with my Dad. You have been warned.

Your friends and acquaintances follow you everywhere you go

It didn’t matter where we were – traveling around the country, at a hospital appointment with Mum, or a hotel in Hong Kong, Dad would suddenly strike up a conversation with a seemingly random person and it would turn out they knew each other in some obscure way.

Even the Chaplin who blessed Dad’s body at the hospital after he passed knew him from his time on the local school Board of Trustees – even in death, still finding people he knows.

Your neighbours will indulge the craziest of schemes

We were gifted a very old and very heavy piano. To get it inside required moving it from a neighbouring house to our house, and going up a considerable flight of stairs.

Rather than spend money on professional piano movers, somehow Dad convinced every abled-bodied person in our street to pitch in and help carry the piano up the stairs, which they did willingly.

At some point my friends and I collected aluminium cans to raise funds to build a clubhouse.

We didn’t collect enough to buy plywood for the walls, so we came up with the plan to cover the neighbour’s old hen-house with black polythene.

I don’t know what Mr McGregor thought when Dad turned up one afternoon with a large sheet of polythene and a staple gun but he let him cover the old hen-house with it without question.

Black polythene isn’t a great material for building clubhouses, by the way.


Dad and I went for one practice driving lesson.

Rumour is that I rolled into the car in front of us at an intersection.

From that point on, Mum was in charge of driving lessons.

How to troll your cousin

People often talk about carrying secrets to the grave. I am about to reveal one of Dad’s recent secrets.

One of the side effects of being an engineer is the irresistible urge to take things apart.

Mum like collecting cheap outdoor solar lights that often broke (or got crushed by cars). Dad salvaged a particular light with a green LED, took it apart, and hung the still-working electrics in the dining room window.

Every night at dusk the little green light would come on.

Our cousin Maureen has been visiting for many years now, and would stay with my parents over Christmas. This particular year, she noticed the little green light hanging in the window.

“What’s that light?” she asked.

Quick as a flash, Dad explained that it was a new Auckland Council initiative to remind elderly people to close their curtains when it got dark. They had people driving round to check and if they saw the light, you got a fine.

Maureen must have been skeptical, but Mum immediately backed up Dad’s story.

For the three years that followed, Maureen would jump up as soon as the light came on to close the curtains, determined to avoid a fine.

Sadly the little LED light stopped working and was thrown away.

Maureen queried where it was the following year, and Dad explained the scheme had ended after complaints and the elderly were left to control their own curtain closing once more.

In Summary

  • Figure out a way to make children keep quiet and call it a game
  • Make enough friends so they’ll always be someone around who you know, and they’ll help with your crazy projects
  • You can convince anyone to believe a good story
  • Delegate the really dangerous jobs to your wife.

The most important thing interviewers are looking for in job interviews.

They just want you to be real.

Sometimes you get candidates who you can tell just live and breathe the world you work in. They have an opinion on tabs vs spaces, they know about the latest news in the industry, and you can just sort of tell that this is something they care about.

Then, you have those who have the prepared answers, the ones who say things like “I’m passionate about creating synergistic solutions to strategic business asset evaluations” or some other corporate speak – they’ve read the company values and are parroting them it back to you. You can spent a whole hour with them and still feel like you don’t know the real person.

In short, they aren’t being genuine, they are saying what they think you want to hear.

I can already hear the people itching to comment along the lines of “but no one cares that much about a retail job, they just need the money”.

The thing is, the best candidates – the ones employers really want to hire – they do care – they have an opinion about restocking shelves, stock rotation, the best way to setup endcaps etc. Thats what makes them good candidates.

The truth is, an interviewer is trying to figure out three things:

  • Are you a nice person who I’d like to work with each day
  • Can you do the things you say you can do on your resume
  • And can you do it with some enthusiasm.

Thats it really.

Also, be nice to the receptionist.

In almost every interview situation I’ll ask the receptionist who they liked best, and its always the same candidate we chose. Almost makes you wonder if interviews are worth the bother!

How to figure out what jobs you (might) like to do

There isn’t really an easy answer to this other than “try jobs and see if you like them”.

Thats not super practical, so the gold standard is going to see a professional career counsellor.

This is usually a qualified psychologist who has experience applying various diagnostic tools like the MBTI or perhaps StrengthsFinder or DiSC.

They’ll use that information, along with a conversation with you, to make some recommendations on the sort of career you might like.

This can be expensive and doesn’t always get great results.

My low budget alternative is as follows:

1. Find all the jobs you like the sound of

Load up your favourite job search website, and open up every single vacancy you like the sound of.

Don’t worry about experience or qualifications or anything like that, just load up everything that you like the sound of.

2. Save and/or print your vacancies

This works best if you can print things out, but otherwise save a copy of each job advert.

3. Highlight the things that you like

Go through each of the vacancies you’ve printed and highlight the things you liked the sound of.

Maybe its something you are an expert in, something you’d love to learn, or something that interests you. Just go crazy with the highlighter

(Again, don’t censor here – if you like the sound of it, highlight)

4. Make a list

Go through your printed vacancies and write down all the things you’ve highlighted, one thing on each line.

5. Divide your list in three

From your big lists of things you like, assign each item to one of three lists – “Things I can do now” and “Things I’d love to do” or “Things I’d love to do that I can do now”.

6. Find jobs that match

Now you’ve got a summary of the things you like to do and your existing skills, you can start exploring jobs that match.

There isn’t a big secret here, its just good old fashioned research. Do some googling, follow your nose and find new ideas and start writing down job titles.

You’ll find that as you start researching new ideas will pop up and lead you in new directions.

Overall, the goal is to turn interests and skills into job ideas – this will help to focus down your job search to new areas of interest.

How to actually negotiate your freelance rate

I’ve seen a lot of freelancers working for pretty bad rates lately, so I thought I’d offer some suggestions on negotiating your rate.

This all assumes you have discussed the project and you have the time, capability and willingness to do the work.

Rule 1 – You are the expert.

You don’t take your car to the garage for repairs and then tell the mechanic how much you’ll pay. They figure out what needs doing and quote you a price. They are the expert and you trust their judgement.

It should be the same with your writing. You are the expert at providing writing services. You offer your skills at a rate, and the customer can choose if they employ you or not.

Very often your customer will have no idea on the “going rate” and part of being a professional is guiding them to the right figure.

The magic question

“What is your budget for this?”.

Almost always their budget is more than I was planning to charge, so I say “Yeah, we can work with that” and they are happy!

Or its less, and I can say “Well full price would be $XX, but if we dropped a couple of options we could work with your budget”

Or, “I’m sorry, we can’t really work with that budget – try XX down the road who are a little more budget friendly”

What if they avoid the question?

More experienced clients might be wise to the budget question (although it helps everyone if they are just honest), and will say “well what are your rates?”

Try something like “For a project like this, I’d normally charge a flat fee of $X, is that something we could work with?”, where X is twice what your got paid the last time for a similar piece of work.

If they say yes well done – a 100% profit.

More likely they’ll offer a lower rate, or at least give you some idea of what they want to pay and now we have a budget to negotiate against.

(You should be charging by project not hourly or per word as as rule, but whatever works for you)

I can’t just keep doubling my rate though

Actually you can. Because you’ll start to graduate to a better quality client as your move from one price bracket to the next.

If you are missing out on work due to price (which if you negotiating you shouldn’t be) you’ll figure out what the sweet spot is.

Or, just give them a rate

If it really comes down to it, have a rate ready. A 1000 word article at 1c per word earn you $10. If it takes you two hours to complete you are working for $5/hour.

That’s bad for everyone. For you, because its a terrible hourly rate, and for the industry, because it drives down the value of the work writers do.

So, figure out how much you’d like to earn per hour and work out how much you need to charge per word and now we have a rate to work from.

Be your own boss

Many questions I’ve seen make is seem like the poster is working for a boss. As a freelancer you are literally your own boss. Use your knowledge and expertise to lead your clients towards great quality work for a fair price and if you don’t like what they are offering – turn them down.

Along these lines – set the payment terms that you work on. “I work on a 50% deposit and 50% on completion basis”.

This is a great tool for leveraging a rate too. e.g “For projects under $50 I need payment up front before I start work”

Discounts, testimonials and loss-leaders

In general I think its a bad idea to do discounts, or free work, or cheap work in the hopes of getting more/higher paid work later. If you do a good job, a positive review shouldn’t be a problem, and I’ve found that once you have a discount in place is very difficult to go back to full price with that client again.

In Summary

  • Know what you are worth, and therefore willing to work for
  • Have a rate in mind
  • Ask for a budget
  • Lead your clients, don’t let them become your boss