When I first started out doing design work, there was little I knew how to do. I had the raw tools at my disposal, however: intuition, my eyes, and a knack for learning quick under pressure. My sense for design carried me through many of those first projects, and most of them involved forcing myself to learn to do the things my mind envisioned.
Later, I began to take on projects without knowing how I would accomplish them. Everything I know about InDesign was learned with that kind of pressure hanging over me. Learn it, or fail to satisfy the client. Now, I could have played it safe and only agreed to work on the projects that I felt comfortable with, but that is like working on a lease.
I prefer to go places. Taking on new types of work, tackling new challenges and teaching old dogs new tricks are all things that take courage. Courage to say yes to the scary things. Courage to trust your ability to learn something new under pressure. Courage to take on risk in pursuit of a big reward.
The only thing that separates the person you are from the person you could become is courage.
Do you know what you have to offer? I mean really, really know it? Do you know your value and services and purpose so well that you could tell someone in just 30 seconds?
It used to be called the “elevator speech”, and was conceived to equip business owners and salespeople for that moment when they are in an elevator with a potential client for a mere half-minute. They are a captive audience, but only for a short time, so the idea was to have a pure, concise script memorized and ready at a moment’s notice.
You may not ride an elevator, but you still have need of this if you are a freelancer today. You’ll constantly meet people and have to explain what you do. They might not even be potential clients – perhaps they are simply friends of the family or strangers in a café – but the more clearly you leave them with an impression of what you have to offer, the more likely they are to remember you and how you could help solve a problem for them, even if it’s a few days, weeks or even months down the road.
Spend some time this week and write your elevator speech. Trim it to take up less than a minute, and memorize that nugget for the future. The first time you use it, you’ll be glad you cared enough to write it.
I am a firm believer that first impressions matter. I try to look nice for in-person client meetings. I speak professionally and with humble authority (as best as I can). And I make sure I’m clear about my value to a client’s business.
Bad first impressions frighten clients away. Good first impressions instill trust.
Maybe you don’t leave your office. Maybe your profession doesn’t require you to be in-person at events or meetings. But you send emails and take phone calls. You have marketing material of some kind. You have contracts and forms and the work itself. Those things speak about you to the other person. You may not intend it, but they do.
Curate your presentation and craft your image. Do so with care, and your business will respond.
I can juggle three objects at once. Tennis balls, wooden blocks, even apples. And if I’m juggling apples, I can take a bite out of one while maintaining the other two. The kids love it. And I think a lot of people wish they could juggle because it’s so cool to watch.
But juggling should never come into the office with you. Don’t try to manage email, a web design layout and listening to a podcast all at the same time. Your brain can’t handle all of that and still keep the quality level high. It’s a myth that successful people multitask all day. They don’t; successful people focus on each task sequentially, pour everything they have into the job, and then move on to the next item.
Juggle for your kids, sure. But when it comes to your client’s work, don’t juggle anything. Grab one item, focus, and do your best with it. That’s how you succeed.
The best place to be is right in the center of the spectrum. Not a neat-freak and not a slob. Not a thinker and not a feeler. Not apathetic and not obsessive. Not a pessimist and not an optimist.
The middle is flexible. The middle has longevity. The middle connects more things together. The middle refines our extremes.
Aim for the middle.
I have two very simple rules when it comes to managing my business finances. These rules keep my disappointment and mistakes to a minimum.
First, always err on the conservative side when forecasting income. In other words, be pessimistic about how much money you hope to make.
Second, always err on the liberal side when forecasting expenses. In other words, expect things to cost more than usual.
These rules help me reduce expenses and live within my means. A business that bleeds is a business that dies.
There are two types of followers: active and passive. They are both followers, but for very different reasons. And understanding their differences can help you avoid disappointment and failure.
Active followers do things in response to your requests. They buy your product, read your posts and enter into dialog with you.
Passive followers, in contrast, do very little. They don’t buy, or read, or comment. They are on your side in one sense, but you can’t count on them to pull your project or business forward.
(Obviously, because you are reading this post, you are an active follower. And I thank you for that.)
My best guess is that roughly 5% of your total followers are actually active. I know from experience and confirmation from friends that this is about right. It seems pessimistic, but it’s the truth.
What does it mean for you? Well, if you have 3,000 followers and hope to launch an ebook for sale, don’t expect 3,000 copies to sell. Or even 1,500. No, you can expect maybe 150 buyers. Go into it expecting every follower to buy and you’ll only experience disappointment. Expect 5%, and you open up the possibility that you might be pleasantly surprised.
I’ve been thinking lately about what it is that pulls an audience together. Some people can talk and talk, yet no one listens. Others, though, draw huge crowds. Why are some more successful than others?
One reason I have settled on is the idea of authority. Most people have finely-tuned crap-detectors. They can spot inexperienced fakes a mile away. It’s when a true expert appears that crowds gather and wait for new truth to be preached.
The lesson here for freelancers is that we can attract more clients – clients who have a higher level of trust in our ability to solve they’re problems – when we present ourselves as an authority in our field.
You can’t fake it, but it certainly makes a noble goal to pursue truthfully. Become an expert in your field, and then speak from that place of power.
This may go without saying, but the more timely you are as a freelancer, the more success you will have. Remember that your goal is to delight your clients and solve their problems. The less they have to wait, the better.
If you can’t be on-time to a meeting, whether in person or online, you aren’t being timely.
If you can’t respond to a request from a potential client within 24 hours, you aren’t being timely.
If you can’t send the client an estimate within 24 hours, you aren’t being timely.
If you fail to meet the client’s deadline, you aren’t being timely.
Get the point? Being timely isn’t optional as a freelancer. Timeliness is essential to success. Get your act together, set up whatever systems you need to guarantee it, and commit to it.
The only way you can guarantee that you’ll still be running your freelance business in a year or two is by making yourself as valuable as possible to your clients. But what makes you valuable?
You aren’t valuable because of your experience. You aren’t valuable because of your competitive rate of pay. You aren’t valuable because of your connections.
No, freelancers become valuable to their clients by doing one simple thing: solving their problems.
Learn to offer the right solutions to your clients when they call for help. That’s how you become indispensable. That’s how you build a career that lasts.