Six Lessons Learned From Six Years As A Freelance Business
Six years ago I left my job at a software company and decided to launch my own business full-time. It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions, lessons learned and lessons re-learned. As a freelancer, solopreneur, lifestyle business owner, or whatever you want to label yourself, sustaining your business along with practicing your chosen passion, is not easy, but extremely doable. I hope the following lessons can help others along the same path.
Lesson 1: Never Stop Learning Your Craft
Most of us are running our own business because whatever service or product we are offering, is also our passion. We love what we do, and we never stop thinking about what we do. It is a lifestyle, but it is also your business. You need to continually fine-tune your craft by reading, doing, and experiencing.
Never stop reading. Reading stimulates your brain, helps you retain memory, increases your knowledge and may even prevent Alzheimer's and Dementia. It also reduces stress, improves focus, and expands your vocabulary. Reading books, magazines, newspapers and online articles is essential to running your own business and expanding the knowledge of your craft.
Never stop doing. Practice makes perfect. I'd argue the perfect part, but the more you practice your craft, the better you are going to get at it. The more mistakes you make at your craft, the more you know how to fix those mistakes. As a filmmaker, I constantly learn new ways to capture and tell the stories I tell. As a web developer, I constantly learned new ways to code the many coding languages out there. You'll never know everything about your craft, and that's alright, just keep trying to get to that next level.
Never stop experiencing. Attend conferences, workshops and group meetings related to your craft to hear and learn from others. If you cant attend some of the conferences or workshops, watch them online. Humans naturally respond to visual stimuli, it makes sense to learn from other people either directly or from moving images and sound.
Lesson 2: Stop Learning Your Craft
What? Yes, I did just discuss how you should never stop learning your craft, but hear me out. There are little rabbit holes you can find yourself falling into that will mostly not be beneficial to your craft and your business and you need to watch out for them.
As a filmmaker, there is a term coined by Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion called, "The Woeful Gear Bias". Patrick says, "It’s our tendency to look outwards for the solution to our filmmaking woes. We look to gear to solve our storytelling problems." He goes on to explain that as filmmakers, we need to understand story, which is the whole reason we make films. Falling into the trap of too much process or having to get the next greatest piece of gear, is a rabbit hole you don't want to fall into.
As a web developer, one can find themselves falling into the rabbit hole of way too much process and tools upon tools to fix that tool, to fix that problem, and so on and so on. I guess this could be called the woeful tool bias, to take a page from Patrick's article.
Stick to the essentials, the core of your craft, and know it well. Most of your clients or customers do not care about how you solved their problems, as long as it is a viable and quality solution that will help them achieve the goal(s) you set out to achieve.
Lesson 3: Say No
Don't be afraid to say no to potential work or to business decisions that your gut isn't really feeling (more on that later). I know this is not easy to do, but I think it is essential to any business. It took me awhile to learn this one.
If a potential client approaches you with a project that your gut just isn't having a good reaction to, don't be afraid to say no and pass on the project. If a project comes along and you are already very busy, say no to the work and pass it on to someone else you may know in your network you trust can help that person/business. You don't need to take every potential project that comes your way, take what you can handle and what you want to work on.
Always second guess large business decisions, especially if a big expense is involved. Do you really need that fancy new camera when the one you have right now will do just fine? Say no. Trust me, It took me awhile to do this and it will help your business in the long run.
Lesson 4: Listen, Everybody Has A Story To Tell
I'll admit that this is one I have had to learn as life goes on. I have a bad habit of trying to talk along with someone as they are telling me something. I also seem to have to say something before that person finishes what they have to say. This is a horrible habit, which I am finally learning to let go. Learning to listen to the person you are having a conversation with, be it a client, your peers, your significant other... is one of the most important processes you can do when someone is telling you their story.
According to Ralph G. Nichols, "The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them." I agree with Ralph and will add that this skill is essential not only in your business, but in life itself. Forbes has a great article on how to listen effectively.
Lesson 5: Build A Support Group
Nothing beats sitting down with another individual or a group of like minded people to discuss business, your craft and life itself. You get the opportunity to bounce ideas around, talk about your next project, upcoming projects and more. It is truly amazing how human interaction can change your mind, send you off on a new direction or simply inspire you. If you are your own business, and you typically work alone, you need a handful of people to be your support group.
Lesson 6: Trust Your Gut
This is hard to describe, but apparently there is a scientific reason you should trust your gut. Whenever and wherever a decision needs to be made, our gut seems to be there. You all know what it is, that feeling, wherever it comes from, that seems to persuade you to go one way or another. That feeling is good or bad, but seems to sway us to choose. Trust it, it could be telling you something important based on your life experiences.
So there you have it. Six lessons learned from six years of running a freelance business. These lessons are in no way the most important to learn while running a business, but they are, in my opinion, important. Running your own freelance business is hard, and you will never know everything, but stay open minded, listen, and always be learning.