Business Survival Guide: 8 Practices of a Long Term Freelancer

Editor’s note: Thanks to Shane for this fantastic post. I have to say that this is one of my favourite articles in the history of FSw, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did :)

According to the Webster Dictionary, a practice is:

  • to follow or observe habitually or customarily
  • to exercise or pursue as a profession, art, or occupation
  • to perform or do repeatedly in order to acquire skill or proficiency

Five years ago, John Maxwell, the author of every leadership book conceivable, told a group of us at a conference: “I can predict the long term outcome of your success if you show me your daily habits.” I have often heard that most business is 90% science (or how to) and 10% art (which is about you). None of the practices below are technical / how to’s for one simple reason – you should already be good at what you do. After all, you are selling your services as an expert, and if you truly suck at your specialty, then god help you and those who hire you. It’s those vital practices that you may NOT be good at that creep up behind you and then take you out.

1. Practice Selling Yourself and Your Business

Suggested Book: How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger

As an independent contractor, you are constantly putting yourself out of work. That’s why learning sales is absolutely essential if you plan to make it over the long haul. I’m not talking smarmy sales techniques. I mean how to ask the right questions, how to build relationships, when to listen and when to talk. When do you push hard and when do you compromise. How to build long term clients that last.

Tips: Get out of the office and meet one new person every single day. Have a great business card. Practice making warm sales calls. Ask lost of questions. Keep a calendar. Always follow up. Request referrals from existing customers.

For more on sales: making successful sales calls

2. Practice Smart Money Management

Suggested Book: The Four Laws of Debt Free Prosperity by Blaine Harris and Charles Coonradt

Most of our clients pay anywhere between Net-30 days to Net-90 days or more. That means I can work like a dog and never see a cent for 3-4 months at times. In order to be able to handle the peeks and valleys of the freelance lifestyle, my wife and I had to learn some financial skills. Nothing crazy, just spend less than you make. Sometimes though, that’s easier said than done. This book has a series of simple strategies and suggestions for lifestyle management and debt reduction which are taught within a fun and gripping story (no boring finance books for me).

Tips: Get Quicken or Money and track every penny for 3 months – now that we can download credit card and bank statements this takes almost no effort. Use that to create a budget that can actually succeed. Set financial check points and goals. Don’t let your situation discourage you – it may seem bad but this information will give you the tools you need to improve it slowly. Allow space for fun and rewards. Learn to handle (and perhaps enjoy) delayed gratification. Attach larger purchases (like surfboards) to business goals – motivation is good. Well earned rewards are sweet.

For more on money: get paid on time: what goes in a proper invoice

3. Practice Picking and Managing the Right People

Suggested Book: First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

We seem to manage people constantly. We manage our clients, ourselves, our team, our kids and even our spouses. Unfortunately you actually have to like the people you’re dealing with or no management techniques will ever work. People are just too smart. Yes we can tell.

If you’re lucky enough to actually like everyone you need to manage, then its time to refine your skills. I love books based upon some good homework, so with 80,000 interviews, break all the rules is a great resource to discover what a good manager does and does not do. How they pick their teams. How they deal with motivation, with placement, with bureaucracy and more. The chapter on “knowledge, skill and talent” is at the core of the team building strategy we are currently putting into place.

Tips: Listen, listen, listen. Ask questions. Listen again. Don’t be afraid of confrontation. Pick people and clients carefully. Pair people to balance strength and weaknesses. Your goal as a manager is to set them up to win.

For more on managing: building loyalty through success: talent vs skill

4. Practice Your Communication

Suggested book: Positive Personality Profiles: Discover Personality Insights to Understand Yourself and Others by Robert A Rohm Ph.D

In the end, all we do is work with people. Yup, we build stuff, but that is only to solve people problems. The better we understand what drives people and how they communicate, the better our business runs (and the better parent, spouse, mentor, team mate we are). Rohm’s system is by far the most clear and accessible personality system I have worked with. Its simple enough that I can carry it in my head and because of that I actually apply it constantly.

Tips: Know thy self. You will make mistakes, learn from them, then let them go. Practice responding rather than reacting.

For more on communication: the model of human behavior – understanding personality

5. Practice Being a Good Partner

Suggested Books: The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman

His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley Jr.

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships by John Gray

As Donald Trump said recently (and he would know): there is no better way to choke a business than a flailing marriage. Early in our second company, my business mentor spent a lot of time with my wife Julie and I just listening. He would give the same answers over and over. To me – “Happy Wife, Happy Life”. To Julie – “Do you Want to be Right or do you Want to be Happy”. After all, when you fight in the morning, what are you thinking about all day? Your customer’s needs or the fight? Your partner can be your greatest asset or your greatest liability. Invest time and love in them, just as you invest in your business.

Tips: Schedule time for those who matter. You control your calendar, not your business (though it rarely feels that way). Apologize often. Never ever fight dirty – attack the issue all you like – never attack the person. Never say the word “breakup” or “divorce”. Count your blessings every single morning. Learn to speak the right love language and study personalities – that changes absolutely everything.

6. Practice Your Dream

Suggested Book: The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson

No one ever said life, or business, would be easy. Its not supposed to be easy, but it is worth it. Sometimes we need to be able to focus on the victory, especially when it seems so far away, so you can make it through the struggles. Learn how to build your dream. If you love cars go to the Porsche dealership and test drive one (if you show up in a nice suit with the right posture and know how to talk cars, they will let you). If family is your motivation, have pictures of them everywhere, schedule “dream days” in which you spend time with them doing those things that excite you. Keep your reason why present and alive, touch it, see it, smell it, hear it, taste it, dream it … then live it.

Tips: Plaster your fridge with pictures. Keep a diary. Make a list of the top 100 things you want to have, do or become with your life. Have a big vision while giving yourself small concrete achievable steps – winning and losing both become habits. Dream big – life’s brighter that way. Spend time with people who believe in your dream and avoid those who are not supportive.

More on Dreams and Goals: figuring out the why

7. Practice Studentship, Servantship and Mentorship

Suggested book: Self-Made in America: Plain Talk for Plain People About the Meaning of Success by John McCormack

As John explains, no one is self made. We succeed through the grace and support of many people: mentors, partners, spouses, children and our teams. You have three roles you will always be playing as you succeed. As a student you will need to continue learning and growing to improve your ability to run your business, both technically and in all the practices mentioned. You are either growing or decaying, nothing stands still. The world never stops changing and you either keep up with it or become a victim of change. Surround yourself with people who have some measure of success and learn from them. Be a servant to your customers and your team. After all, your income is in direct proportion to the problems that you solve. When you cater to their needs, you move your own cause forward. Share the knowledge and information you have with people so that they may be more successful chasing their dreams. A rising tide raises all ships.

Tips: Find a mentor who has significant success in your industry and a vested interest in the growth of your business. Don’t be afraid to share your network (Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends) it always pays off. Only take advice from people who have already arrived at where you want to be. Get to know your customer. Practice humility. Make the client’s owner/project manager a hero, there is no greater win. Learn about the passions and aspiration of your team. Help them get there.

More on self-development: humility in business

8. Practice Joy, Laughter and Smile

Suggested books: There’s Treasure Everywhere–A Calvin and Hobbes Collection

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Julie’s mom told me a few weeks ago:
“I had a list of all the things I truly wanted to accomplish with my life. When looking it over a few days ago, I realized I had accomplished all of them. I have had a truly fantastic life. I am really happy.”

Building a business is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. But it is not the entire formula. In our charter Peter and I listed our priorities: Family, Finance, Faith, Friends and Fitness. Success in life means success in all of these. Make sure you are balanced over time (temporary imbalance is normal) and remember to laugh and appreciate today while you struggle through this journey called life.

Tips: Surf every day (or do something you love). Find something that makes you laugh. Get exercise – what’s the point of all that money if you keel over with a heart attack in 3 years. Get a pet (dog’s love you no matter how bad the day went). Maids are cheaper than fights – find simple solutions and act on them. Prayer is good for the heart. Healthy food can taste good. Tell people you love them often.

For more on silliness and life: Sitting in the hot seat

In conclusion, your daily habits will dictate your success in business. Become good with people and finances will make all the difference in the world. Like Chinese Herbal Pill of Business – these practices will make you harder and stronger for longer, guaranteed o ‘yo money back.

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