Farewell to freelancing: Final lessons learned
~ 14 February 2007 ~
For those who missed the original announcement, I’ve concluded a successful 18-month run at freelancing by taking a position with the LDS Church as Principal Interaction Designer.
With both remorse and relief, and I bid farewell to life as a freelancer. It was a blast while it lasted, and who knows if it’ll be the last time I ever freelance. For archival purposes, noted here are a few final lessons learned over the course of 540 days of self-employment. (See also “10 things in 180 days” and “10 more things in 360 days”.)
You’re a business. Act like one. If you’re not prepared to establish, grow, and manage a business from day one, you shouldn’t go into business for yourself. It’s as simple as that. We creatives tend to leave the entrepreneurship part out of running a freelancing biz. Long and the short of it is, you’ll inevitably hit a point where you can’t do it all. You’ll need help. You’ll need to remove yourself, a lot or a little, from pixels, print, and code. You’ll have to relinquish some control or you’ll never grow beyond a one-man shop. When you arrive at this point, pick up a copy of The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. Or better yet, ping Greg Storey and have him enlighten you with his small biz success stories.
Don’t wait for great ideas to auto-execute. The web economy moves so incredibly fast today. Great ideas won’t turn into profitable action by themselves. If you think you’ve stumbled on that killer idea — one that nobody else is doing, one that others are doing poorly, one that sounds ridiculously simple but deceptively compelling, etc. — the time to act on it was yesterday.
Issa Breibish, Veer’s resident Usability Design & Research expert, once shared the following with me by email:
The idea for the original Flont engine came up over sushi and fish teriyaki and within two weeks we had a working prototype.
That’s swift action.
Secure office space within 6-12 months. One of the most challenging aspects of freelancing is you can’t turn off work. It’s always there; omnipresent in the forefront of your mind, any hour of the day, just about anywhere you are. You need to separate work and play, business and pleasure. Regrettably I never did. I worked entirely at home, and I now look back and wish I would have provided a physical and mental partition between work and family simply by finding office space outside of the home.
You’re not a bank. Remind clients of that. Consider UX Mag’s “Pay Fast. Get Paid Faster” required reading. An excerpt:
I once had lunch with a gentlemen who, at the time, was the CEO of one of the largest freight companies in the world. […] Here is how he told me he set the foundation for his amazing growth. He took a look at his list of money he was waiting to receive from his clients and how long it was taking to get paid. He set out, himself, to visit each and every customer and tell them “We are not a bank. If you want to continue to be our customer then you need to stop treating us like one. You certainly do not want to start paying us like one.” And he was willing to lose a client if they didn’t value the relationship enough to pay promptly.
Smooth out revenue flow with residual income. As a freelancer, I launched Authentic Jobs to assist companies and applicants with targeted job seeking, with the added benefit of creating a more consistent income for myself. Hourly and lump sum billing, as many of you know, isn’t always consistent month to month. Supplementing that income with recurring revenue — hosting, product sales, advertising, a web app, etc. — isn’t only wise but often essential, too.
There’s more to life than business. Howard Cosell, one of the most recognized American sports journalists of our time who covered Monday Night Football, the World Series, the Olympics and other prominent events, was once asked this question: “How would you like to be remembered?” Think he mentioned anything about sports broadcasting, a memorable game, or other seemingly trivial events? Nope. Without missing a beat, he offered the following reply: “Oh, that’s an easy one. A good husband, a good father, a good grandfather. That’s all that matters.”
All of you have the potential to do enact equally important, if not much greater, work outside the walls of work than you’ll ever do within them. Don’t forget that.
And so I bid adieu to freelancing. Best wishes to those of you still fighting the good fight.
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