Freelance, why and how


Interview of Heather Huhtanen

«I love my work. I love thinking about it, I love writing about it and I love doing it!». It’s not every day that you hear this kind of statement. But that’s exactly what Heather Huhtanen told me when I had a coffee with her to talk about her experience as a freelance consultant.

Heather’s passion, her professional raison d’être, is to advance the cause of gender equality and the principles of democracy, particularly in developing countries. This leads Heather to work directly with justice and police departments and institutions, as well as providing technical assistance to international organisations and donor countries. Heather originally moved to Geneva, Switzerland, to work for a foundation whose mission is to promote democratic governance of the security and justice sectors.

What prompted the decision to become a freelancer?

“When an organisation considers that you do your job well, it often means taking on managerial responsibilities, with all the constraints that come with it. I quickly realised that this meant less time was spent on design, and less on the practical implementation of the work itself, in favour of meetings, planning, reporting, fundraising and managing staff. For some people, this represents the optimum career progression, but for me it wasn’t the case. I felt more and more uncomfortable, as if I’d missed my destiny. I finally decided to resign.

In concrete terms, how did you make the transition to become your own CEO?

I finally decided that the best way for me to regain control of my career path and focus on my passion was to go freelance. So I applied for a consultancy assignment with a major international foundation based in Geneva and immediately found myself faced with a major problem: they asked me for proof of my self-employed status, or details of my company’s existence. It was an insurmountable psychological obstacle for me. Aside from the cumbersome procedure to get registered, I would have needed time and expertise to master the significant mass of administration, taxes, social deductions etc. in order to be perfectly in order, or the financial resources to pay for the services that allowed me to outsource these tasks. So, even before I started, I had doubts about the relevance of my choice. That’s when I was introduced to The Business Harbour, a company known for its salary hosting and payrolling services.

How did you get in touch with The Business Harbour?

My first client actually wanted to hire me, whereas I wanted to work as a consultant. It was this client who recommended that I get in touch with The Business Harbour. At first, I didn’t really know or understand how the system worked, but it soon became clear that it could ‘take the administrative and legal thorn out of my side’. As well as taking care of my payroll, all social security charges and pension funds, The Business Harbour provides me with invaluable help in reviewing and setting up my contracts, which are complex with foreign companies and NGOs. The way The Business Harbour works has proved to be a win-win solution for me and my customers. I’m now happy to be able to navigate my way through a wide range of short- and long-term assignments without any worries. In short, by using the services of a freelance administration company, I can focus my attention on what’s essential, on the substance of my work. Three years later, I’m still working for my first client, who introduced me to The Business Harbour.

The services of a freelance administration company are not free of charge

As I didn’t initially have many clients and my income was irregular, I was obviously worried about the impact of the fees I was going to have to pay to The Business Harbour on my financial stability. But it was my only viable option, at least for the immediate future. But since then I’ve come to realise the true value of their services. The reality is that today I could apply for self-employed status or set up my own company. – But I chose to stay with The Business Harbour for the peace of mind that working with their team gives me. Their support is worth far more than their fees.

Do you have any advice or lessons for people who want to become freelancers?

Certainly – It’s been a difficult but very fruitful apprenticeship for me. Here are my five main considerations:

  • Know your strengths and limitations – Don’t commit to a mandate for which you have doubts about your ability, either in terms of deadlines or the content of the deliverables.
  • Make sure you deliver quality work, and on time – working as a freelancer means you don’t have the same flexibility as in a corporate environment, and expectations are often higher.
  • You need to be comfortable working in isolation. – Even if you’re going to be working with your clients’ teams, or in the field, the very essence of being a consultant means that you’re going to have to do the work yourself.
  • You need a high level of tolerance for uncertainty and risk – you may not know when a new mandate is coming your way and this needs to be factored into your income expectations. You’ll need to be flexible in this respect, at least in the first 3-5 years, which also means that holidays can be a little harder to plan.
  • Don’t hesitate to use the services of a freelance administration company!

As well as being able to focus on the substance of your work, are there any other advantages that you didn't realise when you started out as a freelancer?

Absolutely! I have more time to devote to the things I love. In fact, I’ve read more books in the last four years than I did in the ten years before that when I was an employee. I’ve also been able to get back into a hobby I never had time for before: horse-riding.

Interview by Antonina Marenco

Contacter le port d’affaires phone+41 22 908 02 45


Antonina Marenco

Social & Communication Manager. Highly experienced multilingual Marketing professional with extensive experience in corporate and content strategies and writing



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