Editor’s note: This is a guest post from digital marketing consultant Col Skinner, who works via his brand: ‘Profoundry‘ with a range of people, helping them create digital campaigns to boost their businesses.
Between 2009 and 2014 I worked full time roles at three agencies and one large fashion retailer. During this time I found myself very miserable, working for someone else.
I would sit at my desk as account managers dropped more and more unsuitable clients on my desk.
On 2nd of January 2014 I handed in my notice at a high paying management job in a digital marketing agency.
I had bought into the virtues of self employment and was going to try my hardest to forge a flexible business as a freelance Digital Marketing Consultant.
Before I had even begun, I was really interested in the concept of “lifestyle business”. This is a term I picked up from talking with freelancers during my full time career.
There are many different definitions for a “lifestyle business”. Some are associated with startups. Others are about gaining a certain level of profit or income. And some are about a business that is built around lifestyle like tennis coaching or tour guiding.
I define a lifestyle business as:
“Creating a business that fulfils my ambitions, drives or values, while being able to do the things in my life that are worth doing.”
I don’t think a lifestyle business is something someone does out of necessity. It is a deliberate choice.
It is something I planned from the start.
I want to share some of the rules I set myself that drive the majority of my decisions as a freelancer in achieving a lifestyle business:
1. Define What Success Looks Like
There is no shame in an easy life. Many people think that you have to work long hours stressing and straining to be the archetypal successful freelancer.
In a lifestyle business, your definition of success or achievement is completely different and your motivations go beyond a strict definition of return on investment.
I wanted to create a business that funds my life with as little stress and actual work as possible.
I am not ashamed to say that I work approximately 4/5 hour days and get fidgety when I’m still at the office as 4pm rolls around. Some may call that lazy. But I call it happiness. Remember, you can’t invoice happiness however many invoices get sent and paid.
2. Choose Your Clients Really Carefully
This may sound like common sense, but have you ever truly thought about the level of control you have over who you actually work with? You are the decision maker in your own business and your decisions dictate who you end up working for.
Is it money? Is it project scope? Is it client personality?
Think about the kind of client you want to work with (not for) and what makes up the ‘avoidable client’.
Here are some traits that have helped me review a prospective client before I decide to work with them:
- Communication – is it infrequent, convoluted, patronising or withheld?
- Knowledge – do they posses an understanding of your specialism or require heavy education / convincing?
- Point of Contact – are they proactive and receptive to your perspective, insight or opinion?
- History – have they been burnt in the past or dealt with a suspiciously high amount of freelancers/agencies?
- Resources – do they have plenty of business insight, product information, content, and industry contacts?
- Budget – are they unclear about their spending or hesitant to talk about money?
- Expectations – are they unrealistic about results, timescales or resource?
You can’t and shouldn’t work with everyone who comes along. Be selective, as you have a limited amount of time to sell and selling it to the right business will make your life better.
Working with the right client can lead to much more than money.
3. Set Minimum Work Limits
Whether you are a workaholic doing 80-hour weeks or a “live to work” consultant like me doing 25 hour weeks, you have a limited number of hours for work.
For example, I currently set a minimum 10 days per month in which I actively work with clients. This figure is based on covering my monthly business costs, personal costs and minimum salary. Having this figure in mind motivates me to achieve it whilst setting a realistic goal without any unnecessary pressure.
Set realistic limits for how many of those hours you want to work.
This should then filter down and dictate everything from the projects you choose to the rates you charge.
If you know you want to work 10 days per month then you need to make sure your rates for those 10 days cover all your costs and salary.
If you don’t work on day rates then the same can apply to setting a goal turnover for the month.
You left (or never began) a 9-5 existence to start something new, different or your own. So why fall into a corporate role when you can control your work schedule?
4. Find Your Productive Peaks
The majority of freelancers are in a privileged position where we can work at times of the day or days of the week that match our peak productivity levels.
Find out when your personal productivity levels peak and trough.
Every week make a note of when you felt at your best or ‘in the zone’. Then build your working week around those times. But keep some flexibility that lets you change and adapt these timings as you change.
Life throws curve balls at us that we need to work around. Marriage, pets, house buying, babies, relocating, ageing and health scares, to name but a few.
5. Create and Build Your Additional Income Streams
Additional income streams, especially passive income, is your ticket to work less and earn more.
Yes, it’s not applicable to all freelancers and no, it’s not easy to forge or come by. Here are several examples that may apply to your skills or specialism:
- Build a tool to sell, like an app
- Speak at events or teach workshops
- Review websites or portfolios
- Start an event or meetup
- Sell your wares or designs
- Become a contributor or editor
- Sell training courses *looks at Alex*
- Put affiliate ads on your blog/website
- Create a referral relationship with suppliers
I’m probably going to get some dirty (virtual) looks for admitting this, but my passive income comes from Fiverr.com.
I sell checklists, site audit spreadsheets and video audits of websites on there. To date I have made over $500 for very little graft. This kind of setup makes the end of the month bean-counting a lot less stressful.
6. Make More Human Contact
Reid Hoffman, Co Founder of LinkedIn once said: “the fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already who we want to be”.
Whether you agree with him or not, it’s fair to say that people are important to a business, whether it’s one employee or one thousand. I have found that getting out there and meeting anyone and everyone will benefit you in some way.
Don’t assume that just because there’s no direct relation between someone’s role and your business, that there’s no benefit in making contact.
You may have a meeting and find you help them and they don’t initially help you. But the ‘what goes around, comes around’ saying is often very accurate.
Grab a coffee with anyone who is kind enough to give you their time.
It gets you out of the office. It gets you to new venues or parts of town. It increases your contact database. You will come away from that meeting knowing someone new and you will learn something new.
7. Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone More Often
We all have personal reasons for being in, or moving to, freelancing. But do you honestly make the most of this flexible freelance lifestyle?
When I left the world of full-time work I persuaded myself to embrace as many opportunities as possible.
These are things that would never be possible if I was still in full time work. Things that may push me out of the norm or add a sprinkling of discomfort.
Amongst other things, doing what was uncomfortable has got me:
- On the Live Team at Web Summit 2014
- Reviewing the MADE Festival in Sheffield and getting to the VIP section
- Speaking at an Elance Q&A panel
- Over to Dubai for 15 days work
- Organising a freelance meetup event
I really recommend you opt in or search out anything that pushes you out of the day to day comfort zone (not literally anything but you know what I mean).
Your life will be much more interesting and you will experience far more than simply working better hours or being at a different desk than you did before freelancing.
I will leave you with this food for thought. Nobody should feel ashamed for constructing their life to make themselves happy. If a lifestyle business will do it for you, then go for it!
Col Skinner can also be found on Twitter.