We'll work from anywhere, but we won't work for anything. We have to have our standards, right?
As we prepare to hit the road for most of the rest of the year, we're gearing up to be be working in all kinds of unusual places. It seems that whenever we pack our bags, we're profoundly reminded of how fortunate we are to live this life – to be able to make money from anywhere doing work we love and are proud of.
We're getting good at it and – after a few years of practice – have even developed a sort of flow. A lot of people get in touch to talk about how we got started and how we make it work. We've been reluctant to dole out advice, as we were figuring things out ourselves and didn't want to misguide anyone with sloppy information. In the last couple of years, though, we've found our mojo and are happy to share our path.
The one thing we can say with 100% certainty is that it gets easier and easier to do what we do. I can remember when that fact became overwhelmingly clear – the day we were first able to say "no" to a project. On that day, we were first able to exercise the luxury of choice.
This week, thanks to a client interaction, we've been talking about the importance of setting limits as you build a reputation and earn the ability to decline work. We want to share our experience grappling with (um, stumbling through?) setting limits in the hope that it will help you more effectively carve out your own path from the get go.
To make a long story short, we just had a potential client offer us much less than the amount we proposed to complete a large project. We negotiated back-and-forth a bit, but the client held firm on the significantly lower price. We declined the project. Here's the deal... It wasn't a bad project, and I'm sure that – as the client threatened – they will find someone to do it for their proposed price.
Now, don't get me wrong,we've always had limits (remember, a guy has to have standards), so we've never accepted ridiculous offers to do a lot of work for almost no money. You might be surprised by what people will ask you to do for $20, $50, $100. Now, in addition to declining those inane projects, we can take a pass on projects that aren't all that bad but just not a good fit.
It's important to say that it took a lot of work to get to this point. When we started out – and were focused on building a client base and a reputation – we had to do some pretty extreme things to meet clients expectations. One time, we did so much work for $1000, that I'm too ashamed to examine what the per hour rate was. Burned most prominently into my brain, though, is the time we had to basically decamp at the Grand Canyon in order to meet a deadline. What a nightmare, but it was part of doing what we needed to do on the zig-zagging path to making the "working virtually" part of our equation a success.
That situation in the Grand Canyon was all about being reliable. Keeping your word is critical, especially when you work independently. That's not the only foundational item you should pay attention to so that you can work independently and, eventually, be selective. Here are three other biggies:
- Play to your natural strengths and talents. Real success – fulfilling success – is fueled by knowing yourself. If you're not playing to your strengths, you'll know it because you'll feel out of sync.
- Passion is important because it energizes you. When you have a true passion for your work – or anything – you can't get enough of it. Unfortunately, many people have a passion for their work but remain unfulfilled because it doesn't also play to their strengths. Wondering why your venture (that you're so passionate about) isn't thriving? Examine whether or not it also plays to your strengths.
- Know what differentiates you. What sets you apart from others with the same strengths and passion? Why you?
No matter what, it's also important to follow your own path. Too many people see a successful model and think they can simply duplicate it. Don't follow someone else's dream and don't muck up your reputation by engaging in things that don't align with the intention behind your work. It makes you look desperate (which, even if you are, is a card you never want to show).
Even though – while building your money-making venture – you'll likely need to cast the net a bit wider, remember, you are building your brand. Try to employ big picture thinking that shows you are smart enough to do what you need to do to make money in the moment and wise enough to know that you are defining yourself with every action.
Doing a lot of heavy lifting to get "in the pocket" is what has enabled us to now say "no" to projects that don't fit, "no" to crazy clients and "no" to budgets and/or timeframes that devalue our work. We found that if you set yourself up for success by paying attention to the above points, you earn the luxury of choice.
In the world of freelancing/consulting, there will always be someone who will do anything for any amount of money. If you are trying to find your way as you start your own business, embark on a new venture, whatever… don't be that person.
- Set some broad but strict standards, even early on. What guidelines/limits best represent your brand?
- Do the work necessary (see above) to find the right thing to do and the right way to do it. What are you meant to be doing?
- Employ a big picture mindset. What kind of reputation are you building for the long haul?
At all costs, when someone says "Will you (insert asinine workload) for $20?" say "hell no!"