Understanding your client’s business better – and getting back to what “freelance” originally meant…
One of the attractions of becoming a freelance was the potential for varied assignments and the ability to say “yes” to new challenges and experiences.
Just such an opportunity occurred recently when I was discussing market entry options in the Middle East region with Dutchman Hans de Roos. Hans and his wife Daida, purchased an 11th Century farmhouse in Catalonia in the late 70’s, spending years lovingly restoring it, before planting 1278 Arbequina olive trees in his “back garden” in 1996. These trees each now provide around 20kg of olives per year which are used to produce olive oil and soap products under the Can Solivera brand. Find out more about the Can Solivera at www.solivera.com
Hans is passionate about the olive oil industry, and after a short time in his company, you will be amazed there was so much to know about this simple fruit; how many varieties, the geography and history, and the range of production methods.
As a keen cook, I naturally jumped at the chance to do a tasting of the four different olive oils that Can Solivera produce, and having sampled the outputs of the business it would have been easy to say that I understood what it was all about.
However, when Hans suggested that I might like to help out with the upcoming harvest I readily agreed, not only to understand more about the processes involved but to also appreciate this important rural tradition. The harvesting is still largely manual, with a little modern assistance. Mats are laid out on the ground between the rows of trees and the team use large handheld plastic forks to rake the olives from the lower branches. Additionally, a smaller team use lances powered by compressed air, to rake the higher branches. Once the trees have been emptied of their fruit, the mats are rolled up and the olives poured into boxes for collection.
Working from 9 am to 5 pm, with only a coffee & breakfast stop and a break for lunch, fifteen people cleared a couple of small rows of trees and collected 1.8 tonnes of olives, which in turn produced 234 litres of high-quality olive oil.
It was a long day of hard physical work, but on reflection, very personally rewarding for a number of insights.
I really did understand the business I was offering advice to. The product isn’t just a substance that just tastes great, but also something that has a unique history, and a quality maintained by the care and attention it receives.
Those of us who come from a technical background tend to think we need a detailed manual and a training program before trying something new – I was strangely apprehensive when handed the lance and told to get to work. We need to remember that there are circumstances when trial & error and learning through experience are valid methods.
I was reminded of how well the subconscious continues to work whenever you’re engaged in physical activity, and that this can be a very creative time when we’re addressing challenges and problem-solving. We all need to ensure we build sufficient space into our busy routines to stimulate this quality thinking time.
And finally, as I was using the lance to battle with the olive trees at Can Solivera, I reflected that I was indeed a “Free Lance” as described by Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe way back in 1819, referring to a medieval mercenary offering their skills and weapons to the highest bidder. Thankfully it’s now simply knowledge and experience that’s on offer, and if we’re honest, sharing the learning from mistakes we’ve made over the years; but it’s worth remembering that the concept has been around for a very long time.