One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can take business lessons from just about any aspect of your life. Whatever you do, wherever you are, just look around you and there are bound to be tips to be picked up, often from the strangest places.
Hell, a lot of freelancers (myself included) are so terrible at the ‘business’ bit of running a business that they could probably learn a lesson of two from a lamppost. This week my wife has decided to abandon me for warmer climes (who can blame her, really?), so my dog Spud has been the focus of my attention. He’s a curious fellow; a total idiot to casual observers, but in reality a shrewd creature who knows what he wants, and how to get it.
So what lessons can we learn from this cantankerous canine?
Look after what’s yours
Online – where I do the vast majority of my work – content is currency (unless you’re dealing with, you know, actual currency), and you can’t afford to be ripped off. Thankfully Google has squashed most sites that scrape and reproduce articles, however there are still some nefarious ‘aggregators’ out there with designs on your content. Services like Copyscape can help protect your loving-crafted output, to make sure nobody’s making money from your hard work.
Here is Spud demonstrating the vigour with which you should defend your content – notice the bared teeth.
The hard jobs are the most rewarding
You may have noticed Spud is a small fellow in stature. Don’t let those tiny legs fool you though – he’s got grit and determination by the bucketload. Where lesser dogs (or cats, for that matter) would give up, Spud knuckles down and powers through. Case in point: on a recent walk over Devil’s Dyke, he climbed up and down hills for almost 6 miles while other dogs, children and fellow ramblers fell by the wayside.
When we got back to the pub Spud sat with a look of triumph on his face, revelling in a job well done. You should take a similar approach to your freelancing. Don’t be put off by seemingly insurmountable jobs – delivering them on time is a feeling like no other.
Some things are worth getting excited about
It’s a fact of freelancing life that some work is just more exciting than other work. I used to think I had to keep my ‘serious businessman’ face on at all times, but I realised a few years ago it’s absolutely fine to get excited about cool work, and to let your clients know that you’re excited to be working for them. Spud’s favourite client, as you may expect, is the postman. Here he is excitedly waiting to ‘issue his invoice‘…
Rest is just as important as hard work
There’s nothing Spud likes more than kicking back on his doggie bed and watching horses on TV in the evening (he has this weird thing about horses – maybe he thinks they’re his people?) – and I think all freelancers could learn a thing or two from that. Letting your work and personal lives intermingle is never a good idea.
Find a solution that works for you and stick to it. This could be having a cut-off point in the evening when all work stops, or making sure you have a “proper” weekend. Whatever it is, make sure you get enough doggie-bed-and-horses time (as I’m calling it from now on). The time you spend working will be that much more productive for it.
Sometimes you have to ask
Often it’s all too easy to coast along with a couple of cushy clients, hoping some more work will fall into your lap. This “hands off” approach to business development can sometimes work, but you will see far greater (and more lucrative) rewards if you go out searching for that killer contract, instead of waiting for it to come to you.
The best way to do this, in my experience, is just to ask around. Put a notice on LinkedIn that you’re on the hunt, or shoot a few of your contacts an email asking if they’re in the market for some of your services.
Case in point: most evenings I’d never think to give Spud any of my dinner, but when you look down to be met by this, well, it’s hard to say no.
Business lessons from the cats on my street
by Josh Danton-Boyd
At the risk of starting an intra-office war between cat and dog lovers at Crunch HQ I think we all, deep-down, know that cats rule and dogs drool. For this reason I have decided to write this response to Jon’s ludicrous piece above about the freelancing tips he’s gleaned from his dog.
Frankly, such bias towards dogs should not be allowed to continue. So, for the sake of balance, here is what I’ve learnt about freelancing from the clowder of cats who live on my street.
The importance of being seen
There are at least four cats living on, or very close to, my street. There is a rarely a time I don’t spot one of them mewing at me from a tree or staring gloomily from under a car. One of them, at least, is always wanting their head scratched by cooing passers-by.
This can be on my walk home from work in the evening, or at 4am on a Sunday when one of the poor, unwilling creatures becomes my personal psychiatrist as I garble and burble the evening’s problems at them.
The point is, they’re nearly always out there and, by doing that, they’re getting plenty of attention. If you’re a freelancer who’s only looking for jobs at certain times, you can end up missing out on work. There’s plenty of times where I’ve not searched for work one evening, preferring to watch 8 episodes of Seinfeld instead, only to discover in the morning I missed out on some work that would have been perfect.
By not being on the lookout, even for a brief period of time, I missed out.
Getting on with your rivals
I’ve never seen any of these cats fight one another. There’s always a mild air of distrust about them, but they seem to tolerate each other and they’re rarely separated by any considerable distance.
More cats, more cat coverage, more cat scratches. If a local happens to be attracted by one of them, suddenly they’re surrounded by four furballs all vying for attention. Everyone’s a winner (bar allergy sufferers caught in the crossfire).
Chances are, unless your freelance work is incredibly niche, you’re going to have competitors going after the same work as you. This could lead to friction and arguments, but that would be useless. You get nothing out of that. You should make an effort (as a lot of people do) to get to know the people who share your field.
Local networks can be an immense wealth of knowledge and contacts. It’s a matter of helping each other out when you can. It’s always good to have someone with whom to complain about clients and blow off some steam, as well.
Knowing when to be cautious
Occasionally these cats, that I daresay are close and dear friends of mine, treat me as though I’m going to bash them to death with my boots and turn them into a coat.
They’ll give me this weird look as I walk towards them, and then suddenly bolt up a tree or disappear entirely. On these occasions they act like I’m the most terrifying thing they’ve ever come across. Then, next time I see them, they’re all purrs.
This fickleness often makes me question why I don’t hate these cats with my very being, but it also teaches us about freelancing.
Not every job is worth taking. Some may even seem like they’re perfect for you, but be careful not to just jump in without giving it some proper thought. Be sure to get all the information you need to ensure you can do the best job you can.
Double and triple check there isn’t some personal event in your calendar that’ll cause you to miss a deadline. If something seems a bit off about a client, see if you can find someone who has worked for them before to double check they’re not going to stiff you when the work is done. Be careful, and live to freelance another day!