Reporting in: Self-employment, day four

~ 07 October 2009 ~

So, it’s been four days since rejoining the ranks of the self-employed. The transition from full-time employment to self-employment has been nearly seamless. This is probably because I’ve been through this all before, but also because the timing was right. I was ready to leap and therefore hit the ground running.

I have no shortage of work right now. In fact, I’ve probably not been this busy for quite some time. And it feels fantastic. I’ve long believed that people are happiest when their productivity is high, and repeatedly that belief is affirmed.

With four children and a stay-at-home wife/supermom to support, paying the bills is of primary concern. But before making the leap and amidst the chaos of a very busy schedule, I’ve tried giving adequate attention to documenting what I hope to accomplish over the long-haul. To that end, I’ve spent some time establishing a few objectives for myself and my business. I have a pretty good idea of where I want to be a year or two from now, and I hope these objectives will help me get there.

Here are some of my objectives.

1. Reduce multi-tasking and distractions, increase focus. Motivation to get things done is of no concern for me — I have no shortage of things I’d like to do nor passion to make them happen. But staying focused is of great concern.

I’ve said repeatedly in private that I firmly believe the biggest challenge facing my sons’ generation will be to remain focused in an ever-increasing world of constant, endless distraction. The ubiquity of mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter, media, and websites and mediums we’ve yet to invent will seduce those easily swayed by the virtual and material noise that surrounds them, redirecting attention to frivolous activities that should be given to work, study, and family. I struggle with staying focused now as a grown adult. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like for them 10 or 20 years from now.

I’m also growing convinced through personal experience and from the increased press I’ve read on the topic that multi-tasking is of little use for increasing one’s productivity, or job satisfaction for that matter. I intend to do less throughout the day, and by doing less, maintain a healthier work ethic.

2. Increase residual income. After leaving self-employment three years ago, I promised myself I’d never return to freelancing without having residual income in place to supplement or even supplant client work. It’s virtually impossible to time client compensation in such a way that it evens out the ebb and flow of revenue. Further, you’re constantly on the clock for someone else if your income is solely dependent on client work, leaving little time — certainly not a full year off — for you to explore your own projects and expand your knowledge. Residual income can smooth your revenue stream and provide flexibility in your schedule.

I’ve got a good jump on this, with residual income coming in from Authentic Jobs, my letterpress posters, and book royalties (speaking of which, you knew you could pre-order CSS Mastery Second Edition, right?). I plan to continue these efforts in earnest.

3. Maintain physical contact. One of the things I really enjoyed about working on a team of 40 designers — and that I’ll miss now being a one-man shop — is rubbing shoulders with other people, learning from their knowledge, processes, and successes and mistakes. Not just inside the walls of work, but at lunches and after hours, too.

There’s undeniable merit to be found in human-to-human contact, and too often we technologists underestimate this fact. Email, Twitter, even video-conferencing can go only so far. Physical contact is not only healthy for personal reasons, it’s good for business, too. Check out this observation from Shimon Rura:

In an office you get feedback constantly. At the coffee pot in the morning, eye contact shows interest in your latest tasks, or nods express sympathy about difficult colleagues and bosses. When you have a question about something, your coworker’s eyes and facial expressions will tell you, consciously or subconsciously, if you’re sounding smart or stupid. Chances are, you depend on this feedback more than you realize. You need it both for work-specific communication, which is easy to see, and for maintaining your self-image, esteem, and motivation–which is harder to see because the mechanisms are subconscious.

Aside from attending and speaking at conferences, I’ve not yet figured out how I’ll tackle this objective. But I’ve got a few ideas I’m planning to try (and share, if they work) in the next few months.

4. Reduce expenditures. I reviewed numbers from the last time I was self-employed, and it became apparent that business expenditures nearly drove me into the ground financially. Prior to this review I wasn’t aware just how much I was spending on stuff I thought I needed to run my business, and just how little profit I was making because of that. I’m committed to spending less this time around, and in just four days I’ve already confronted this by foregoing a Herman Miller Aeron, which I was strongly considering, settling instead on a decent knock-off at one-third the price for a much needed chair upgrade.

All things considered, I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I’m off to what appears to be a good start.



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1   taylor ~ 07 October 2009

Three years ago already? Moses!
I for one am selfishly glad you are back in the ranks of the self-employed. I’m betting I’ll see more dynamic ideas posted from you as you blast through more road blocks than you normally would have inside corporate America.

Here’s to you Cameron.

2   Andrew ~ 07 October 2009

That bit about multi-tasking hits home. That’s my life: several projects at any given moment.

It makes it difficult to finish what’s been started.

3   Scott Orchard ~ 07 October 2009

Welcome back to the freelance community. I know I need to increase my residual income, but haven’t figured out the best way quite yet.

I was recently in need of a new chair as well, but didn’t want to pay full price for an Aeron myself. After a little research online, I was able to find used one’s on Craigslist for between $300 and $400. I happily retired an eight year old chair I had from my previous design agency.

4   Ed Tankersley ~ 07 October 2009

Hard to believe it’s been three years for you. When I saw you speak at Web Directions North, you were just into the full-time gig, and it seems as though that was only a short time ago.

I went solo, self-employed, at the beginning of this year after more than a decade in the full-time ranks. You’ve nailed many of the critical issues — multitasking is a myth, be ruthless about not spending money, find other people to hang out with to keep you sane.

I would add: Use your newly reclaimed flexibility to get involved in your community — school, church, non-profits, coaching rec sports. For me, this has been one of the most rewarding benefits of self-employment. It can mean some earlier mornings or later evenings to get all the work done, but it’s great to spend an hour at my boys’ schools, or a couple hours sharing nature with inner city kids, while everybody else is at work.

Best of luck, Cameron, and I hope to see you at another conference soon.

5   Joel ~ 07 October 2009

Don’t take this the wrong way—but, you’ve been on my mind a lot recently. You’ve inspired me to take some steps and do some things I should have done a while ago.
Thanks, and good luck to you.

6   Matt Esau ~ 07 October 2009

It’s funny no matter how many times someone says to remove distractions and not multi-task during the day as a freelancer…I still do it. Beans on that! Tomorrow begins my quest towards uni-tasking.

I also look forward to maybe seeing a little bit more of your wisdom flying around the web now that you’re a freelancer again. I’m especially interested to hear about your strategies for residual income. Seems like the stock photo/vector/template/etc market is over-crowded. There’s got to be a better way!

7   JoshuaNTaylor ~ 07 October 2009

So happy you linked to that Sagmeister video. The sabbatical is a new goal of mine. A phenomenal talk. Maybe 4 more years.

8   Sean Foushee ~ 07 October 2009

You’ll love that chair! I bought one from Office Depot over a year ago when my last one fell apart (oddly enough I too was looking at getting an Aeron at the time).

Good luck on continuing with the transition, and that bit on distractions is the single most worrisome issue facing anyone working from home. I’ve gotten to the point of answering emails in the morning and then turning off Mail until right after lunch. That way my morning is free for work. Same thing goes for Twitter, iChat and even the phone (voicemail is a beautiful thing).

9   Tim ~ 07 October 2009


What do you do for health insurance?

I’ve always wondered how freelancers provide health insurance for their family.

10   marc ~ 07 October 2009

Oh snap! I agree with you whole heartedly on not over spending (with your own business and being able to write everything off it’s easy to fall into buying things you do not need), BUT I disagree on the not buying the Aeron. I worked for a studio a while back and the Aeron Chair was the only reason I stayed for as long as I did. I’ve yet to find a chair that’s as nice or as comfortable as the Aeron (maybe the embody but I’ve yet to plop my butt in one).

11   Mike Botsko ~ 07 October 2009

Welcome back to our side! I’m eager to read any more tips or lessons you care to share.

We’ve spoken before about working together, so if you ever need assistance I’m still eager to collaborate.

12   Leroy Lyne ~ 08 October 2009

Good Luck Cameron. I wish you all the best this time around.

Like you, I want the income. (not residual) to free up my time so that I can concentrate on what I love doing most. Hopefully in a year or so I can concentrate on Web development and designs, with Expression Engine 2.0 looming life should be wonderful.

I will be keeping track of what you are doing, please share some of your work with us. I’m definitely going to get the second edition of CSS mastery. I wonder what’s new in it?

13   Philip ~ 08 October 2009

Best of luck Cameron! I recently went the other direction, having a freelance client ask me on fulltime. Different feel for sure.

But like Taylor (#1), I’m also selfishly glad you’re back! Looking forward to your further explorations.

14   Christopher Meeks ~ 08 October 2009

I completely agree about the idea that all people are happier when they have a full plate of work and are highly productive.

If the only design tasks I had to accomplish were large scale design concepts that took up days at a time, I would be in heaven.

Too often I’m twiddling my thumbs or changing the word “if” to “when” on some page no one will ever see!

15   Ben Dunlap ~ 08 October 2009

@Tim, Don’t know what Cameron is doing, but I’ve been purchasing my own health insurance for myself & family since 2005. I was self-employed then and will be again soon, and I never ended up taking the insurance my current employer offers. I’m glad of that now because I won’t even have to think about medical when I go off payroll again.

I’ve had good results with a high-deductible HSA-compatible plan for myself & the kids, and a traditional low-deductible PPO plan w/maternity for my wife. Send me a tweet if you’d like to discuss more.

16   Cameron Moll ~ 08 October 2009

Thanks for chiming in, Ben. We’ve got a few options we’re currently reviewing (still have previous employer insurance for a little while), and your info is helpful.

17   simon ~ 09 October 2009

In these credit crunching times its easy to just keep your head down and get on with it, so making the jump, well that requires balls, so good luck to you.

18   jkiel ~ 09 October 2009

Hi! First, congrats on shedding the white shirt and tie!
Secondly, I can’t agree more with your ideas in #1 about the upcoming generation’s lack of focus. Having taught university students (and thanks again for coming and speaking!), I sometimes despair at their lack of focus and minimal attention span. I suppose it will work itself out, but some days, I certainly wonder…

19   Geof Harries ~ 09 October 2009

On point #4, that’s honestly been a problem for me. When the business has done well for a few months, you start to feel like you “deserve” something nice. Maybe a new $900 chair or a $800 desk. Perhaps a new $3000 laptop.

All truth is in the cash account, as I’ve learned. It’s still hard to resist those purchases - and you do need to make them at certain points of the business’ life - but keeping a tight grip on your wallet does wonders for your sanity and anxiety, month in, month out.

20   Jason Liske ~ 10 October 2009

Totally agreed on all fronts - we must share the same time space continuum. Expanding on the less multi-tasking / more focus issue - the larger scope and more personal the work we are able to take on will greatly enhance our chance of success here, and there is a bit less of feeling on the clock for someone else.

21   Tony Antunovich ~ 13 October 2009

Welcome back to the self-employed ranks, Cameron. I’ve been self-employed pretty much from day one ten years ago and I love it. However, I do agree that if you do not take properly-timed breaks (which includes interacting with humans instead of machines) - lunch and maybe two or three 15 minute ones to just do something else to refresh your mind - then loneliness will kick in and have a negative effect on your work flow. Focusing is something I have really tried to master over the years, and it still challenges me sometimes, with all the various distractions.

And Amen - multi-tasking be gone. Focusing is the only way things get done. Another thing that works is scheduling your week and following it to the T (as much as you can anyway). * Of course, I simply open up iCal and set it up nicely.

I wish you luck in your return to freelancing. I personally would not have it any other way.

22   Jeff Jimerson ~ 15 October 2009

Cameron, best of luck. I jumped ship from a full time salaried gig about 2 years ago. My solution to your problem #3 was to start a shared workspace with other creative types. Not “coworking” per say, but more of a club. (We have members, not daily/weekly space renters.) So far so good… just celebrated our 1st anniversary.


Jeff in Corvallis, OR (father of 3, also with a supermom wife at home)

23   Cristian ~ 20 October 2009

Very true, Cameron. I’m in the same boat in all these areas, and I sometimes feel a bit isolated, as you so clearly pointed out in your paragraph about physical contact. I already thought of two options to increase this type of exposure: 1) Teach at some institute where I can rub elbows with people who share my expertise while shaping and guiding others; 2) Create some sort of design club or organization to review, critique, and talk about design in general, which can meet periodically.

24   Nerdy Joseph ~ 21 October 2009

Congratulations on getting back to freelancing. What a great achievement to be able to work for yourself!

25   Jim Jeffers ~ 22 October 2009

Hey Cameron,

You should look into co-working to help out with objective 3. I went back to freelance a year ago and found co-working to be a good outlet for maintaining that camaraderie. There are organized co-working such as ‘Jelly’ but while I was in Phoenix it tended to happen on the fly informally over twitter. Freelancers would tweet about which coffee shop they were working out of and folks would just show up to work together using the coffee shop as an office. It’s not always the most productive but it works.

Now I’m living in Australia and there is no free wi-fi so I’m finding the best solution is to stay active in local community meetups for design and development.

Let me know how you tackle it. I found freelancing my first time around to be a bit boring when I wasn’t involved with my local tech community.

26   Sebastian Guerrini ~ 23 October 2009

I always thought the Irish calligrapher Denis Brown was one of the best out there:


27   Dave Rau ~ 29 October 2009

I find myself agreeing with all points Cameron. Increasing focus is something I’m really struggling with, but it’s all practice.

I’m very interested to see your ideas on increased interaction; I’m feeling the isolation myself these days. And the cat doesn’t help at all!


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