Meet Bertrand Rothen, a freelance product lead, consultant and certified Scrum product owner. He is half German and half South-African and a drummer in his free time. He recently joined us from Turkey for an amazing Ask Me Anything session to share his freelancing experience with us. Bertrand told us what he likes about freelancing, how he approaches networking and social media, and what is great and challenging about being a digital nomad.
✨ Hello Bertrand, we normally start with asking people about the freelancing experience, but can you first tell us something about your drummer experience?
That’s a fun one! I was playing piano as a kid, but it was too dull for me as a teenager. I wanted to play something cool. My mom didn’t want me to play the guitar, but anything else was okay for her. So I decided on drums, which is probably not what she had in mind. I started playing at the age of 14, and until I was around 20 I had the ambition to become a professional musician. I’m not good enough for that, and I started to study audio engineering when I got out of school. But the industry is tough, so I signed up for some business administration classes, and I found them more interesting than I expected.
At the moment, I play drums for metal bands, which is loud and fast and a counterpoint to other things that I do. But it also helps me with perspectives. I wrote a blog post about how playing as a drummer in rock or metal bands helps you put things in product management into perspective.
I’ve done some gigs with various bands over the years, and now I’ve joined a band again. We do our own producing and marketing, and we get support for some aspects. This is something that you can apply to companies too. You can do a lot yourself, but for some things it’s better to contract external experts and get an outside opinion, a new pair of eyes.
✨ That’s exactly what you do as a freelancer for the companies you work for, right? How do you choose who to hire when you are the client, and how does that compare and contrast to how you choose the clients you work for when you’re the contractor?
That’s a great question! I know the client perspective quite well because I’ve also helped clients with sourcing people, for example as permanent replacements for myself, or other people in the team I was working with. And then of course there’s the other perspective that I have when I want to find good clients to work with.
First of all, as the client you look out for quality. Is the person great at what they are doing, have they been recommended by someone you respect? But you also have to factor in the scarcity of your resources, financial or in terms of time or options. People should try to find the balance between working with the best person and hiring someone who is available or within budget. For finding talent, I recommend getting three profiles. That will give you guidance on the options that you have, and you can rank them in terms of their fit for the task. You get a benchmark, and ideally the right candidate is already among these three.
When it comes to me accepting clients, that’s much less structured, to be honest. It’s a mix of what I’m offered and what I’m interested in, what would benefit me most to work on. But I can’t always handpick my dream clients. I also have to see who approaches me and needs my support.
✨ We saw that you recently changed your profile picture on LinkedIn, and you wrote something about how everyone changes and your profile should reflect that. Can you tell us more about that?
I try to get a new headshot every two years, so it reflects what I actually look like. For me, it’s strange if people don’t update their pictures for 15 years, and then you meet them, and they look completely different. Many people use old pictures, maybe even ones that were taken at a company they don’t work for anymore. They feel like the picture is the best they have. But it’s about confidence in your professional life to have a picture that’s new and that you like. It creates a different aura around yourself.
✨ When we talk about marketing and representing ourselves, through social media and in person, what approaches do you use? Are you a social media person? Do you thrive at in-person meet-ups? What’s the relationship between your online persona and your in-person persona?
I feel I usually thrive in direct interactions. Mostly in-person things, but a video call is fine too. Social media is like a billboard, you’re just broadcasting your opinion, your views. People will just get a bit of what you’re doing. You don’t build meaningful interactions. I guess it’s about qualification. You draw attention, and then you figure out if there’s someone who responds to you more strongly than others.
When I’m networking, I don’t have a business and acquisition hat on all the time. I try to just talk to people and learn who they are, if they are doing anything that is of interest to me. If I realize they could use my help, I will drop a hint that I can support them. These interactions are usually very positive, and I get a great return.
On social media, you just try to add to the noise with something that is not superficial, but helpful to people. But you won’t get hired because of a clever LinkedIn post.
✨ What’s your approach at in-person events? Do you have a plan for talking to people?
I don’t usually have a plan, except when there’s someone I’ve been wanting to meet for a while present at the event. Then I’ll try to talk to them. Otherwise, I’m often standing in the corner, observing, reading the room and keeping to myself. If there’s no one I’m interested in talking to, I will just leave.
Often I talk to people who look a little different, who have crazy hair or piercings. I’ve made great connections through that. It’s more valuable to have a great conversation with one person who will remember you and stay in touch with you than to talk to ten people you’ll never connect with again.
✨ You’re location-independent. What are the upsides and downsides of being a digital nomad?
When I tell people that I work remotely, they often say, “That sounds like so much fun”. Of course it is, but it comes with different burdens too. The traveling is a lot of work, it requires a lot of scheduling and booking things. You have to make plans and stay flexible at the same time. That’s the unglamourous side of it. It’s something you don’t have to worry about if you have an apartment and live there all the time. You have to be very flexible and be able to adapt to different situations.
The upside is that you see all these different places. You get the experience of living in a place for a week, a month, three months. It really broadens your perspective, and it gives you self-fulfillment to be able to make decisions on your own.
If anyone wants to get into that, I recommend trying it out for a while. Just go somewhere you would like to be for two weeks or a month, and work from there. If it’s not for you, that’s totally fine. The world wouldn’t work if everyone was a digital nomad.
✨ You’ve spent five years getting a Master’s degree while working full time and having a life. Why did you do that?
I did my Master’s location-independently too. It was an online course and I had to go to the university twice a year for exams. Looking back, I think it would have been better to take two years off and focus on the studies, it would have been less stressful than combining it with work. On the other hand, I had an income while studying, which was great.
My challenge now is how to use it in my daily work. My thesis focused on blockchain security, and my work has been in product management, most recently in e-commerce. My CV is not that straightforward, it’s a bit all over the place. That’s the nature of who I am, that’s why I like freelancing. I’m able to go into more chaotic set-ups and organize that chaos instead of just staying on one track that I execute on.
✨ Thank you, Bertrand!
Check out the video here to get more insights from Bertrand in the full conversation:
Feel free to connect with Bertrand on LinkedIn.