How to work with Londoners: a guide for foreigners.
So we’re a year away from Brexit and although I fear many will leave, many others (read: Americans) will come here in search of a friendlier healthcare system and English-speaking opportunities. Here is a guide to how to work with Londoners to prepare you before you show up here with an empty dance card.
NB: This is based on 11 years of independent consultancy work and running a design studio so primarily applies to the technology and creative sectors (I’d like to think there are parallels with other sectors too).
- It takes 6 months to start working with someone you don’t know.
Londoners and the English in general work in nepotistic ways. Ideally they work with someone they’ve already worked with. If that person is busy they will ask their best friends or peers in the industry for a recommendation. You’re neither of these people so you’ll start by having a coffee with someone. They’ll say ‘oh that’s interesting’ a lot (start following VeryBritishProblems now) and forget about you the second the meeting is over. But then, in 5 months, when their friends aren’t available, and their friends friends aren’t available, they’ll call you. Look at it as sowing seeds. Seeds that will mostly die on the ground, but when you do work with them, and you do a good job, you’ve climbed up one level and become ‘someone they’ve already worked with’ which means that they start to recommend you to their friends when their friends are in need. So have coffee with people ALL THE TIME in the beginning and in your planning and scouting trips before you move.
2. Always plan events or meetings 1 month in advance, and hope they don’t cancel.
Londoners are extremely fickle. If it rains too much they’ll cancel. If they’re ‘under the weather’, they’ll cancel. If they have kids, they’ll cancel. In fact it’s a miracle work happens at all sometimes. I’ve been running the London Internet of Things meetup almost 8 years now and our drop-off rate is 60%. This is normal for London. It also applies to meetings. There is a 40–60% a meeting may be canceled/moved or canceled and never rescheduled, lost into oblivion. It doesn’t hurt me at all now, and the best thing to do is to reply ‘no worries!’ and attempt a reschedule (which will never be the same week).
3. Know when your industry’s peak work is.
Generally speaking no work of real importance is done in January (post/xmas lull mixed in with rich people skiing) February (half term) June, July, August (summer holidays for the kids), September (post/holiday lull and conference season) and December (xmas parties). Which means you have March, April, May, October (bar half term) and November to earn all the money for the year. So you’ll have endless coffees with people to make sure those months are *packed* with work.
4. Nobody works on Fridays.
Never ship on a Friday is an expression often applied to the software world. I can tell you, I have never received a reply to an email on a Friday. Everyone is hungover on Fridays because they all went to the pub with work colleagues the night before. Do all your admin that day, nobody needs you to be ‘on’. They’re all just trying to get to the weekend.
5. You’re always going to meet in Soho.
It’s in the middle, its easy. It’s easier for your clients coming in from a train station like Waterloo (rich people who live in Windsor), Paddington (people who live in Oxford) or King’s Cross and Euston (people living ‘up north’). So don’t bother investing in a super beautiful co-working space in deepest darkest East London, you’re going to be in Soho having coffees all the time.
Don’t hold it against them, it’s hard living in London.
Having said all this, it’s ok. You get used to it, and it gives you plenty of time to relax. This isn’t America, nor is it Italy. The food is completely international, the culture varied, the people adorably anxious. It’s a great place to live even if it’s expensive. So it’s all worth it. And now you know how to pace yourself.
Good luck! See you in a month.