Freelancing: three values that change everything

January 18, 2024 in Consulting

People have been talking a lot about pursuing a freelance career. After all, it’s a new year and people are pretty open to change this time of a year. Maybe it’s due to the trend of tech company layoffs happening right now - increasingly, and unfortunately, common. As for someone who’s been freelancing for the past 15 years (anniversary this May!) I have a couple of thoughts on what it takes to be successful as a freelancer.

Side note: There’s a separate discussion about what the right terminology is; freelancing, consulting, or even “running a one-man studio”. For consistency, I’ll be using freelancing throughout this post even though it’s not a term I’m fully comfortable with.

Professionals who have been at agencies for a while - ten years seems to be the tipping point - often share how they are well-equipped to transition to freelancing. While I can understand that thought process as they are certainly comfortable with their craft (design, development, strategy, etc) and have experienced a wide range of clients and projects, they may be missing some crucial things they need to make it as a freelancer. I really get it! I worked for agencies for ten years too before venturing out on my own. I was pretty sure I knew what was necessary to slide right into freelancing. Spoiler: I didn’t, but I learned. Here are the three things I found to be truly important through my journey to success as a freelancer.

1. No drama

You have to keep your ears and eyes open when determining if a project is right for you. This not only goes for you determining if your skills fit the bill, but also if the client is a good fit for their OWN project. Does their project seem to be rushed? Does the client seem to have their goals aligned for the project across their entire team? Do you sense internal drama? I’m actively assessing if the project is going to be a smooth experience for both me and the client. Often it’s things outside of the actual project that can derail it.

Throughout my career of working with other freelancers I tend to keep my distance from those who are always surrounded by drama. A guy I worked with always seemed to have a personal reason as to why his work wasn’t being finished on time - his dog was sick, the heating had stopped working, his wife was ill. Another freelancer raised his rates every three months and threatened he would leave the project immediately if we didn’t agree. Now I get it, things happen and I’m the first one to agree that we need to prioritize our private lives and health. However, if there’s always something interfering with the work, then I won’t be able to work with you as I can’t trust you’ll actually deliver the work. I think this goes without saying, but whenever life does interfere, it’s just so much better to be proactive and transparent!

2. Batteries included

Originally coined by my friend Kevin Twohy (but it’s so good I’ll steal it), no batteries is perhaps the one thing that will make you stand out from other freelancers. Batteries included is a person that doesn’t need someone to tell them what to do or hold their hand through the process. I like to think of batteries included as the exact opposite of assembling furniture from IKEA, complicated and impossible to achieve without cursing. Clients are hiring you to solve a problem so they shouldn’t have to guide you through solving it.

In essence, having 'batteries included' is akin to being a walking toolkit that’s always ready and equipped. It's about your ability to anticipate the needs of a project and step in with solutions even before the client realizes the need. This mindset transforms the way work is approached. It's not just about completing a task, but about enriching the process and ensuring a positive outcome with proactive insights and actions. It's the difference between merely following a recipe and being a chef who knows how to tweak the ingredients and cooking process for a superior dish. This approach adds immense value, making you not just a freelancer, but a trusted advisor and strategist.

This proactive approach also fosters a deep sense of personal ownership and responsibility. When you adopt the 'batteries included' mindset, you're not just a participant in a project, you're a stakeholder in its success. You start to view challenges through the lens of opportunity, constantly seeking ways to add value and improve. This attitude is contagious often inspiring teams to elevate their standards and work ethic through adoption of what you are demonstrating. It creates - or shifts to - a culture of excellence where quality and innovation are not just goals, but the norm.

This 'batteries included' mindset is crucial in today's fast-paced, ever-evolving work environment. In a world where change is the only constant, being a self-starter who can navigate through ambiguity is invaluable. It's about being agile, learning continuously, and adapting swiftly.

3. Consider your worth

While I think it’s smart for freelancers, especially ones that’s just getting started, to consider every expense, it’s vital for freelancers - business-owners! - to be able to calculate what their own time is worth. A friend of mine spends weeks every year collecting receipts and tax documents as they’re unsure about everything they need for the tax filing process. This absolutely takes 100x longer than hiring someone who’s done it throughout their career. I’ll happily pay my accountant to do my taxes as it frees me to spend my time and energy on other priorities (not to mention less headaches and a happier IRS!). I work with an editor to edit my blog posts to make sure I am communicating clearly, my tone is consistent, and my message is aligned with my thinking. I use developers to help my build my website. These are just some of the things where other people are better and faster at doing the work than what I ever will be, freeing up hours that I can spend on client projects instead.

To sum up, the journey of a freelancer is as challenging as it is rewarding. The three key principles we've discussed – maintaining a drama-free professional relationship, embodying the 'batteries included' mindset, and understanding your worth – are vital for anyone looking to thrive in the freelance world. These concepts aren't just strategies, they're reflections of a mindset that values professionalism, proactivity, and personal growth.

As we navigate the often turbulent waters of freelancing, these principles serve as guiding stars, helping us to not only deliver exceptional work but also to build lasting, meaningful relationships with our clients. Whether you're just starting out or are a seasoned freelancer, adopting these ideas can lead to a more fulfilling and successful career.

Remember, freelancing is more than just a job. It's a journey of continuous learning and adaptation. Each project is an opportunity to hone your skills. Each challenge a chance to demonstrate your resilience. Staying true to these principles and embracing the unique adventures that freelancing offers, you'll achieve professional success as well as personal satisfaction. Here's to your journey as a freelancer! May it be as enriching as it is successful!

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