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The Contractor's Code: Part II (Internal Ethics)

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

Everyone lives by a moral code, a set of personal standards, ethics, moral guidance, spiritual guidance, whatever guides their everyday decisions and life course. It guides how we treat people. It gets tested when a situation arises that tempts you to do something outside of your own moral code.

Every contractor (and freelancer) has a personal code by which to run their business. Because it’s personal, it can vary widely. I call this the internal side of ethics.

But since there’s no guidebook anywhere and people's personal codes vary widely, it’s often like the Code of the Wild West. And since there’s a sense of power that naturally comes with being a “boss,” the young contractor often expects a love-it-or-leave-it attitude towards those they hire. (Personally, I don’t feel this way, but we’ve all seen it.) This can shut off valuable feedback from veteran freelancers.

If you are a young contractor, you need to know that it will be tempting to get (or go after) a gig no matter what. You might be looking for an “in” to a particular situation, even if there’s an established contractor at the venue. But you need to realize that the music community is very small, and reputations matter. We have reputations with clients and with the community of freelancers. You might have a wonderful reputation with clients and horrible with freelancers and vice versa. People have their perceptions, whether fair or not. There’s not much one can do about this. Virtually all of us are misunderstood by others who don’t know us well or if they are only looking at others through their own "lens."

I decided long ago how to handle potential gigs. A musician might come to me and say, “You should go after that . . . “ What I often tell myself is: 1) that’s not my style; 2) that’s not my market; 3) that’s not how I do business, or 4) there’s already a contractor there. If a client approaches me, I make sure about the situation first, which sometimes involves calling the current contractor if I know about them. It’s almost like a mantra at this point. I’ve already decided what kind of business that I want to run. Decisions become easier then.

The point that I want to make is that these are internal decisions made in advance to keep your business smooth. Does this mean that sometimes I sit at home? . . .yes. But I can sleep at night, because I haven’t broken my own internal sense of ethics.

TIP: If you decide in advance what lines you won’t cross, it’s easier to follow your internal ethics when the situation presents itself than wonder what it is you’re supposed to do.

EXAMPLE: For the freelancer, keeping your original commitment is a decision that is easy to make in advance so that you aren’t tempted when you get that 2nd call. When followed, it’ll never let you down.

ANOTHER TIP: If you need work on your personal life, get to it. See a counselor. Find out why you have a compulsion to do the things that can hurt your business long-term.

YET ANOTHER TIP: Don’t listen to what others say about other people. They may have their own agenda. They may not know the whole story. Stick to what you believe and what you do well. Then you will succeed.

There is no good way to “hothouse” a business, really in any field. Organic growth is the best. This is because you grow personally along with the business.

Happy Gigging!


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