What I Wish I’d Known About Freelancing

How to become a freelancer

I attended WordCamp over the weekend (for the 95% of the world who doesn’t know what this is, WordCamp is a series of talks and workshops focused on WordPress and general advice on freelancing and business).

The first talk I attended is What I Wish I’d Known About Freelancing, by Nathan Ingram.

Nathan has been a freelance business owner since 1995, and he knows his shit. Here are his top tips from his experience out in the wild:

You Don’t Have to Know Everything

The basic idea here is not to try to do everything by yourself. You may be awesome at everything, but if you take that route, you’re almost certain to get burned out at some point. Focus on what you do best and find others who can compliment your skills.

I’ve also learned this lesson the hard way. It’s not easy to find people who can fulfill your vision, but you simply must find the right people and put your trust in them.

Become a Person it’s Good to Know

This goes hand-in-hand with the first point. As you need other people to help you on your journey, they need you to help them. Even if you have no marketable skills of your own, if you can point people in the right direction, you’re going to be in high demand.

Be the person who knows people that can solve problems. And be the person who someone else can call on for your expertise and knowledge.

Nathan has found that nearly all of his business now comes from referrals.

Debt is a Ball and Chain

Debt will obviously hold your business back. The less obvious cost of debt is stress. You can’t relax and make smart financial decisions when your finances are a mess. You are now prone to take on lower paying projects and undesirable clients just to get by.

The key to getting out of debt is to increase recurring revenue and decrease recurring expenses. As Nathan put it more bluntly: “Debt will kill you.”

Focus on Process, Not Heroics

“Consistency and checklists make you better.” Don’t try to reinvent the wheel every time you do something. Establish a process and make it easy for yourself. Once you establish a consistent process and repeat that process, it will become easier and faster to accomplish the vital tasks you must do to move your business forward.

The other massive benefit to having a process is that you’re not the sole reason your business is profitable. Your system is profitable. Now you’re free to hire an employee and give them a very clear model of what they need to do. Once you have this model in place, your business holds value to anyone. If you want to sell your biz someday, you have a turnkey system in place.

I remember watching Shark Tank one day and the budding entrepreneur had an awesome crafting idea. She was turned down because it was obvious that she was the only one who could produce the crafts. Her business was not scalable, and therefore no-one was interested in investing. Make your business scalable if you want to go big time!

Nathan highly recommends a book called The Checklist Manifesto. Do yourself a favor and check it out (pun intended).

There are Seasons in Freelance Work

That doesn’t mean you should binge on Netflix or work on your tan 24/7 when times are slow (within reason…of course you have to enjoy your downtime). It means that you have time to focus on the things you never had time for when you were in busy season.

A helpful hint is to keep a “someday list” with all of the tasks you’d like to do that don’t immediately contribute to your bottom line. Enjoy the slow periods and use them to build a solid foundation and prepare yourself for the next rush.

Being Busy is not a Badge of Honor

Never forget what really matters. There’s much more to life than building an empire and making bank (unless you’re a lifelong gangster, in which case you’re probably not reading this post). A quote I love: “The real purpose of productivity is to build margin in your life for the things that really matter.”

People are more important than projects. You probably won’t be remembered for that really cool app you created – you’ll be remembered for the difference you made in the lives of your loved ones.

One tip to help achieve this work/life balance when you have no set schedule is to divide your day in to three parts: morning, afternoon and evening. Devote one of these time periods to what matters most every day. There will be times your business demands you to work all three parts. When this happens, make it up to your people and scale back the work another day.

Conclusion

I left this talk feeling inspired and I hope it has inspired you as well. Check out Nathan’s website if you’d like to know more about him. And in the words of the immortal freelancer, Ice Cube: check yourself before you wreck yourself (had to get one more checklist pun in for good measure).

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