So said Patrick McGoohan’s character Number Six in late 1960s TV series, The Prisoner.

It’s a phrase that’s been going round in my head a lot recently. I’ve been thinking deeply about the relationship between companies and the freelancers they contract, and asking myself, “do companies make their decisions based on the skills or the person first? What difference, if any, does this make?”

Clearly, there are no hard and fast rules on this, but I have observed some patterns emerging depending on the type of freelance activity needed by a potential client.

I am not a number; I am a free manThose looking to add capacity in their business by bringing in freelancers in general tend to be people-led. And it makes sense. They know exactly what skills are needed, they have them in-house so when they need freelancers it’s much more about the company culture and whether the freelancer joining them shares their values.

In contrast, those who are looking to bring in specialist skills, to enhance and develop their business are less confident in this person-first approach. They don’t have the skills in-house to do the work, and thus have far less idea of what good looks like for this type of work. Therefore, they default to a skills-led approach to ensure they bring on the freelancer best skilled to deliver for them.

When I worked in TV production this was very much the way things worked – your credits were your currency and showcased your level of skill and experience for a role.I am not a number; I am a free man

This begs the question of whether this skills-led approach is an issue that a freelancer wants or needs to consider. And what, if any, impact is there on you once you’re on board delivering the work? Should you look to adjust this perspective? The skills-led work is often great work and it pays the bills.

But, I’m afraid I’m a bit more demanding these days and I tire of these clients rather quickly. When I’m merely a number serving a function, I don’t have the opportunity to fully engage and bring the full breadth of my specialist skills to help my client grow and develop their business, often beyond what they can conceive. I’m the one with specialist skills in this area after all, that’s why they brought me in because they want this knowledge.

If every time I make a suggestion or a recommendation I get knocked down, then there are only so many times I will get up again, before it’s going to make me feel unfulfilled and undervalued. It’s not the flavour of company culture that makes me thrive. I’m going to vote with my feet.

After all, I am not a number; I am a freelancer!