Freelancing and Some Thoughts

I came across a Wall Street Journal article this morning on solo consultants.

The key points:

  • Think long term
    Many start it out as short term temporary fill-in-the-gap measure. To be successful you need to think about it as permanent.
  • Join a network
    Survival means marketing and one of the best and most natural is networking. Be connected
  • Have your own space
    Babies crying, dogs barking, etc. These are unprofessional not to mention the need to manage interuptions.
  • Think like an entrepreneur
    Business plan, goals, mission statement. Be innovative and track/manage what you do.

So this is a good list. How am I doing as a Freelancer?

Thinking long term

This was never short term for me. Admittedly I have those spurts where I spray out resumes looking for a nice 9 to 5. So I have made the investment in work tools - regularly. Education is key. Many of my clients look askance when I tell them I spend at least a day a week on learning. As a participant in one of my presentations said "The drop is always moving." Learning is the only way to keep climbing. Some days I look up into the branches of the tree of knowledge and am overwhelmed.

From a self marketing perspective the line "freelancers who are most successful offer a technical skill or expertise that is too expensive or infrequently used for companies to keep in-house." To that I would add "or a job so nasty that no one wants to do it." Red Adair and others come to mind. The challenge is part of what gets me up and going in the morning. The hard part is to remember that people expect to pay dearly.

Join a network

I have eschewed the meat market small business gatherings. I have joined several networks of my peers however and that has worked to some extent. I do need to find some new networks - places where there are no web designers - where I can successfully cross market my services. I always think of the Yukon hotel that came to the Cordilleran Roundup because that is where their clients, mining companies and prospectors, were.

Have your own space

The spaces that I was used to working in were cubicle farms, small offices. Working at home was a huge challenge. There were always dogs to be walked, dishes to do, things to fix, household chores. It took awhile to find spaces that did. I do most of my work on a laptop so sitting somewhere comfortable was important. I have a wooden oak secretaries chair in one space. An old green fabric deck chair in another. I have actually found music to be an important part of my work environment. Eclectic jazz, world music, and easy listening are best. Pandora when I can get it. Online radio jazz stations when I can't.

Think like an entrepreneur

When I started out I had a business plan. I have drifted away from that. One of my clients has a large goal each month. On the top of his white board is his financial target. A good reminder and one that I need to incorporate into my thinking. Get back to weekly invoicing. And be brave enough to analyze why I am not reaching goals.

Some additional thoughts

Freedom was part of the seduction for me. I have that. But make no mistake this is not freedom from 50 or 60 hours a week. This is freedom to put in three 15 hour days and then go sailing. This is freedom to say to a client "This isn't working. Can we try something else?" Freedom to explore areas of work that interest me (though I do need to examine value or at least keep it in mind.)

Clients are key to being successful. Figure out what makes a great client and go find them. Several days ago I watched a great 30 minute video on clients. Thought provoking. And a personal testimony. The day after I watched it - it turned around a client relationship that was going south at lightspeed. One that had provided interesting work, several referrals and was just a pleasure. Look for great clients in the places where they are.

Systems. I  didn't think about having systems as I started out. In my business as in any, systems are the key to keeping the business going. They are also the mark of the professional. Whether it is versioning software, invoicing or site setup profiles I have developed a number of systems. The trick is to be conscious of them. They may develop in the wild. Recognize them. Document them. And don't be afraid to refine and improve them.

What about you? Are there things that you have learned lend themselves to being a successful freelancer?

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