Bill Law

Bill realised that he’d been living a freelance life even while he was working – people didn’t call the Polytechnic, they called him at home. He wasn’t trying to set up a business, but the transition from employment to self-employment was practically seamless.

"I left school at 16 and went into the insurance business. I was a religious convert at the time and – on completing national service – went to theological college. However, by the time I’d completed the course I’d realised that theology had turned me into an agnostic, and so I went into teaching for 12 years. During this time I got a reputation as a visiting lecturer, and I was freelancing quite a bit before I left secondary school teaching. So I was already in some sense partially self-employed.

"While I was working as a teacher, a researcher came into my school and asked me such naïve questions that I was left wondering how she could ever expect to get her MPhil – and so I thought, if she is doing it, why don’t I? So I then I self-funded myself to do an MPhil – which eventually turned into a PhD, which I completed in 1976. During that time I left the school where I was working and became a lecturer at the University of Reading.

"Once I was working at the University of Reading I could work on my research while I was teaching. I had access to statistics and a computer (all punched in on tape). I also needed a lot of help with methodology. One of the other lecturers gave me a lot of help on issues like sampling, hypothesis building and the principles of research methodology, and this support equipped me to do original research.

"Before I finished my research I was asked to apply for a job as a senior lecturer at the National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling (NICEC) which was based at Hatfield Polytechnic. I managed to get my PhD at the end of my first year at NICEC, and this enabled me to get promoted to Principal Lecturer.

"I’ve never seen myself primarily as a researcher. I spent more time on development than I did on research. Obviously research is important, but it is there to provide a framework within which we can say ‘this is what needs to be done’. Research is so you know what to do, but development is doing something. I used my research and analysis mainly to write training materials. Research was a means to that end.

"I was at Hatfield Polytechnic for 18 years going all over the country. I was paying my way in the polytechnic by running courses, developing networks, setting up frameworks, producing materials, getting sub-contracts, and so on. I wasn’t keeping the fees at this point as I was an employee. This was before the Internet, but I built a network of centres that would deliver NICEC material in training courses using the freelancers that I found for them.

"Retrospectively, I realise that what I was doing was not unlike running a business. However at the time I resisted the idea that we should expand this activity, which I suppose wasn’t very business-like. I’ve been like this with my own business, I’ve never advertised, I’ve never even bought complementary pens. I just wait for the phone to ring, and it does.

"By the time we got into the early 1990s, the polytechnic felt that it wasn’t making enough money out of us. So I took early retirement and set up my own business. I realised that I’d been living a freelance life as, even while I was working, people didn’t call the polytechnic – they called me at home. The momentum was pretty much uninterrupted. I wasn’t trying to set up a business, but the transition from employment to self-employment was practically seamless. I haven’t found the administrative side of running a business at all problematic. I like working out how things work, I keep on fidgeting at things until they work, and I’ve approached running a business like that.

"I see myself as somebody who does things in a very distinctive way. One of the reasons that I’m still working is that I’m sure I’m not getting in anyone’s way. If I wasn’t doing this I don’t know who else would be doing it.

"I don’t think I’m a person who has massive visions about where I should be. I’ve sought influence and I want to make a difference, but I’m a ‘what’s next?’ kind of bloke. I want my life to have some meaning and to make a dent. This requires some sense of direction, to think that it is more likely to be ‘over here’ than ‘over there’, but I’ve never been able to give an answer to the question ’what do you want to be doing in ten years time’."