Five business tips for freelancers

elephant-freelanceYou've likely heard the story of the four blind men that touched an elephant and guessed wrong about its identity, right?

One thought it was a wall. One thought it was a tree. Another thought it was a rope while the last thought it was a snake.

Well, that story isn't just a fun story to tell, it's also the imagery for today's five business tips for freelancers.

1. The Tree

Freelancing has its highs and its lows, as you already know. What separates those who've done it for years from those who quit after a set of months is the anchors they put in place to ground them.

When you're making tons of money, you're likely to spend like it will come in forever – but it won't. When you're hurting for money, you're likely to take just about anything that comes in – even if you shouldn't.

What you need, in those moments, is the voice of reason. You need perspective. And not just anyone's perspective – but stable and anchored perspective. Which is why I think of older trees with their roots. They represent the wise counsel of people who will tell you to save money, be choosy with clients, and more.

Sometimes it's a mentor. Other times it's a spouse. But you need them in your life if you're going to make it as a freelancer.

2. The Wall

Most people would think that the imagery of a wall lines up with what I was just talking about (the hard times, i.e. hitting a wall). But it's not the role of the wall.

No, the wall is important for you because you need to develop barriers to entry in your world. Whatever you do, you can't be just like everyone else. You need a way to distinguish yourself from everyone else.

How do you create that barrier or wall? First, figure out your target audience and the pain you're helping them solve. And then dig deep to really learn about the nuances of how they're unhappy today. From there, figure out what you can do to separate yourself from everyone else by getting closer to them and their pain.

I wrote about strategy yesterday, it highlights some of what I'm talking about.

3. The Rope

Trust me when I tell you that you will end up taking on a project that's too hard. When you figure it out, you'll be hating yourself for taking it on. Unless, that is, you have prepared for it by having a lifeline – your rope.

No matter what kind of project you take on, if it's not something you've done 20 times before, make sure you find people who can help you when you get stuck. Reaching out to them before you start is always preferable than calling them at the last moment when you're really struggling.

After all, a lack of planning on your part doesn't constitute an emergency on theirs.

4. The Snake

We've all been there, right? The partnership sounded so good up front. Almost like we couldn't afford to pass it up. These days that's almost all I do – pass them up. But in the early days, I was so excited by the prospects that some partnership would offer that I would sign up.

I kept hearing, “if we step into this together, there's no end to the money we'll make” but what I should have been hearing was, “I'm the big idea guy, you're going to do all the work so I can take half of the money.”

This past December my wife got to witness one of these casual conversations as someone suggested they had a big idea that would net us millions. He had the idea and he thought I could help him pull it off. My immediate response, which shocked my wife, went something like, “If this is one of those ideas where I have to do all the technical work so you can put both our names on it, I'm not interested.”

Yes, sometimes, when dealing with snakes, you have to be direct. When I pushed further to get details, his response was “just forget it,” which was akin to saying, “dang it, you caught me.”

Move on people. Nothing to see there.

5. Blindness

The last tip for freelancers comes from the notion that these are blind men that approach the elephant. My take, whether you agree or not, is that like cars, we all have blind spots. Each and every one of us.

For that reason, I surround myself with trusted advisors that can help me see what I can't see myself, on my own.

One rendition of the story of the blind men has six of them walking thru a zoo. Only the sixth is the one who takes enough time to wait – without suggesting what the elephant is – for the zookeeper to come by. Only then does he ask what they're dealing with, sharing the insights from the first men. The zookeeper explains it's an elephant.

But it wasn't something they could come up with on their own. They needed outside input from those with better visibility.

Don't get caught missing the things in your blind spots. Build up your network to help you.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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