Life after the leap. 14 lessons from 14 years freelance.
“All I have is my bare hands, a bunch of contacts and some ideas. And with that I’ve got to make some money. It’s that simple…but it’s also that scary”.
I wrote these words in 2000 having just quit my job to go independent. When I took the leap, it felt very much into unchartered territory. I had no plan. I didn’t have a mentor and I didn’t have a guidebook (so I wrote my own, “Leap! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business & Set Yourself Free”).
But still, I leapt. Because I knew I needed an exit. Not only had I hit a ceiling professionally, I was unhappy and getting unwell. Something had to give.
Back then I was naive enough to think that an independent work life may prove to be easier than working in an organisation. How wrong I was. I’ve learnt a lot since I went independent (I don’t really like the term ‘freelance’), so here are my 14 lessons from 14 years working for myself:
- Adjust your mindset: success isn’t about how good you are at doing your tax return or how adept you are at creating PowerPoint slides, it’s about your attitude and having an enterprising mindset to turn your talent, contacts and ideas into a business.
- Stay flexible: have some goals, but be flexible as to how you’ll reach them. It’s more important to be agile and able to react rapidly to opportunities than to have a one or three year plan.
- Do it your way: inject your own style and personality into the way you do business. Doing it your own way not only makes you more authentic, it will also make you stand out in the crowd.
- Focus on one thing first: inevitably your independent work life will be multi-dimensional and you’ll have more than one product, talent or service to sell. But get a reputation for being good at one thing first.
- Don’t work solely from home: work from where makes you most productive and from where you get creative energy. If that’s your spare room or home office, then lucky you — but it’s more likely that the coffee shop, the co-working space or the library will fire you up. Get outside.
- Get over the stigma of self-promotion: you need to sell your talents by telling people what you’ve done and what you’re working on. This is no place for the self-effacing.
- Collaborate: you won’t do ‘it’ solo, your best work will come from collaborating with others.
- Get comfortable with uncertainty: there’ll be good months and there’ll be not so good months, good clients and bad clients. So you’ll have to roll with the punches and keep faith in yourself.
- Don’t think like IBM: time-sheets, contracts and non-disclosure agreements? Fine if you’re a 40 person company or a 40,000 people corporation. But for a one-person business? I’ve never enter into contracts with clients, I just build business on trust.
- Meet one new person every week: meeting new people is not only critical to securing word-of-mouth referrals, it will also provide you with a network of collaborators and supporters. So make sure you expand your network. I aim to meet one new person every week (it’s not as hard as it sounds). Go to meet-up groups and hang out with like minded people.
- Trade on being a ‘safe pair of hands’: OK, being a safe pair of hands might not win you an innovation award, but getting a reputation for being reliable and good at delivering is what will get you repeat business.
- Gut is your best decision making tool: go with your instinct.
- Add new strings to your bow: you may be an awesome web developer and just stick to that all your working life, but one benefit of being independent is that you can change tack, add new strings to your bow and reinvent yourself. Stay open-minded about how your role and talents will evolve and grow.
- Enjoy the ride: it’s never easy, so please — enjoy the ride. Go and have that Friday lunch with a mate, swim at lunchtime, walk the kids to school, make the most of enjoying your flexibility.
“Leap! Ditch Your Job, Start your Own Business & Set Yourself Free” is available on paperback and Kindle.