Top Ten Lessons After 4 Years Of Freelancing

September 1, 2017 marked the 4th anniversary of my freelance business. What started at the end of 2010 as a side hustle had grown to the point where I quit my day job and was able to make a full-time living. Sounds like a dream, eh? To be honest, it's been an exceptional ride {mostly in pj's or without pants} and I've enjoyed every minute of it. I am grateful every single day for the opportunities I've had and I can't image ever working for someone else again {I'm a pretty dope boss to myself, just sayin'.}


Has it always been easy? No. Have there been challenges? You bet! That's life! Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow, and I've put together the top ten lessons I've learned along the way. I hope you find them helpful!


lesson 1 - have integrity and be kind

I'm so happy Erika Madden from started the #workwithclass movement and designed this shirt you see in the pic below.

Mine came in the mail right on time for my 4-year-bizversary! I could not agree more with Erika, and this truly is how I can sum up my business success in the last 4 years: have integrity and be kind, that's what matters first and foremost.

Staying true to your values and being kind is something you can always do. You can do it when you're having a good day or a bad day, when you're having a profitable month or when you're losing money, when you are feeling creative or when you're struggling with writer's block. If you choose values and kindness as the underlying foundation for your business, you will never struggle with a decision, because the choice is clear. As I go into year 5 of being my own boss full-time, I can honestly say that making my values and kindness the mantra for my business has been the #1 reason for success.


lesson 2 - invest time or money {or both}

Put together a business plan, get clear on financing and income projections, have a plan to transition from side hustle to full time, know which taxes you have to pay and what applies when you sell online and internationally, know how local bylaws can affect your online business, have a crystal clear understanding of your target market,... The list goes on.

All the resources you need to find out everything you ever wanted to know {plus everything you didn't even know you need to know} are readily available. As my 65-year-old firearms instructor {who does not use "the internet"} said: google it. It's all there, and all free. Yes, it's time-consuming. Very time-consuming. Don't have the time? Then I hope you have money, because it's gotta be one or the other. It's like that for many things in business. Either you invest a bunch of your time, or a bunch of money.

The quality of the result you get is not necessarily better if you invest money rather than time. Both investments will only pay off if you put as much quality in, as you want to get out. Being {well} prepared can be a make-or-break factor for your business! "That's a neat idea, I would buy this!" is not a sound business plan. "Something will turn up!" might work for Charlie Harper, but don't count on it for your cash flow. "But I did not know that" is not an acceptable excuse when the CRA knocks on your door and asks for the $$ you owe them for selling your digital products in other provinces.


lesson 3 - sleep on it

I used to think that making tough decisions quickly is a trait of a seasoned entrepreneur. I don't think so anymore. Whether a proposal feels a bit off or super duper great - it's always better to sleep on it. No important {mayor} decision is so urgent that it can't wait until the next day. If you get an offer where you have to invest $$ and need to decide RIGHT AWAY? Say no. Call bullsh*t on that ridiculous pressure tactic. Give yourself the time to look at every opportunity from different angles, and with fresh eyes {and a fresh brain} the next morning. You will be surprised how something can turn from "I will lose my business if I don't buy this" into "this might not be the best option for my business" overnight.


lesson 4 - other people spend amazingly little time thinking about you

"Other people spend amazingly little time thinking about you" is a quote from the book The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. And it's amazingly true. While your client/prospect/thing you screwed up is top of your mind and you can't understand why they're not getting back to you 2 hours after you sent a stellar email to them - let me tell you: they are probably out golfing/having coffee/binge-watching Netflix, not wasting a single thought on you.

That doesn't mean you're not important, it just means that your concerns and desires are not a factor in their lives. Think about it this way: do you always return every call/email right away? Let's say you want a new roof for your house and you get three different quotes. Do you respond to every quote right away and comment on what they sent you? I didn't think so.

The lesson here is two-fold: for one, don't take it personally if not everything you do gets you some form of validation in return. Owning a business is not like kindergarten where everyone gets a medal for participating. The other lesson? Figure out which people you want to think about you, and build a {non-pushy, genuine} strategy around that. 


lesson 5 - collaboration over competition

Every business owner has their own style of doing business. Even if they're using the same business tools as other entrepreneurs do. There is something unique about every single business out there, and that means each business will appeal to a different set of customers.

Whether it's local or online, there is always room for collaboration. Collaboration is not a disadvantage for business owners, it's an advantage. It's an opportunity for everyone to contribute what they're REALLY GOOD at, rather than just mediocre. It's also a win-win for customers because they are getting the best of many worlds. Everything has already been done, you're just putting your own spin on it. Even if you tell someone about a great idea, they will interpret it differently. When you collaborate, you don't only give, you also receive - knowledge, experience, connection.


lesson 6 - teach everything you know

Do you think it's better to keep all your knowledge to yourself? Are you afraid that if you share your ideas and thoughts with others, they will take those ideas and run? Be generous with your knowledge. Teach what you know and learn what you can. Nobody will interpret the information you give them the same way, and you will put your own unique spin on everything you learn. 

Yes, everyone can google everything. That's not what this is about. It's about trust and opinion. Your clients and fellow entrepreneurs who want to hear from you and talk to you value your opinion and they trust you. That's what makes your style of teaching unique.

I'm often surprised during conversations with clients and other entrepreneurs about the information they find valuable. Most of the time it's something that's a no-brainer and top of mind for me, but not something they deal with on a daily basis.

Do you ever think: "Doesn't everyone know that???" - and the answer is: no, they don't. And it's up to you to teach them.


lesson 7 - it's a lot harder to keep going than to start

You've heard this before: "Starting is the hardest part, it gets easier from there." I disagree. Taking the first step is easy. To keep going? That's hard. Think about it this way: it's easy to take the first step of a marathon, it's a lot harder to actually finish it. 

That's why 97% of people {totally a real statistic I once read} don't follow through on something they started. Whole industries are built on this! The fear of missing out will make you sign up for something and spend your money, and nobody cares if you actually finish or not.

I've been thinking about opening a start-up venue/business incubator in the town I live {Merritt, BC}. The first step? Was to put up a post on my Facebook page, asking the small business community in Merritt to provide feedback on their biggest struggles, so I would see if there is any interest at all, and also have a better idea which business model would work best. That was easy. I wrote the post and promoted it with a FB ad to the local audience. Done. 

To keep going with this? Will be the hard part. Because I need to figure out the legal aspects, get funding, find a venue, have an application process... 

The lesson here? Don't only think about the first step you have to take, make sure you are willing to keep going once you start.


lesson 8 - value your time

When starting a business, most entrepreneurs have more time than money. Investing time is a great way to grow a business because it won't cost you anything, right? Wrong. Every minute you spend doing something means that you can't do something else. {<-- not a very elegant sentence, but you get the point}

That's why, even when it's "just your time", you have to decide whether it's a good investment or not. It doesn't matter whether it's actually billable hours - you have to make sure that you get the best possible return on your investment, whether it's knowledge, exposure, or connections.


lesson 9 - love what you do and how you do it

Many moons ago, when I still lived in Germany, I used to run a plumbing company. One of the plumbers was fantastic at his job and I offered him a position in the office. He accepted and was then responsible for several work groups. He would prepare the materials they needed for a job and make sure it was executed properly. 

After 6 months in the office, he came to me and handed me his resignation. I was shocked and asked him why he wanted to quit. He said he hated working in the office because he was not able to create. At the end of the workday, he could not see the results of what he'd done like he would when he still worked in the field, like installing a new bathtub or whatever. Rather than accepting his resignation, I asked him if wanted to go back to plumbing, and he did.

Creating happens in different ways. I'm sure the German plumber could have found ways to create in his office job as well, but that's not what he wanted. And that's important! There's always more than one way to do something, but in the end, it has to be a way that fits you and your business. It has to be something you love doing if you want it to be sustainable in the long run.


lesson 10 - it goes on. {and is not nearly as important as you think}

Have you ever felt like you've hit a dead end? And there's no other way? 

Sometimes situations become so complicated, that our entrepreneurial brains just shut down. Losing a client, the economy takes a nose dive, a competitor shines with stellar ideas you've been too afraid to implement... And you feel like it's all over {or at the very least, it will be soon}. 

Guess what? It's not over. It never is {unless you die, then it's over for you to some degree}. If one way does not work out, there is another one. If you're not the best fit for one client anymore, you will be for another one. If time has run out for a certain product, there will be another one.

The world keeps spinning, life goes on, business goes on. In some form or another. And a single decision does not nearly have the impact you might think it has. Stay true to your values and be kind. That's the bottom line for life and for business. It goes on.