[This episode is sponsored by Hired.com. Hired.com is offering a new freelancing and contracting offering. They have multiple companies that will provide you with contract opportunities. They cover all the tracking, reporting and billing for you, they handle all the collections and prefund your paycheck, they offer legal and accounting and tax support, and they’ll give you a $2,000 when you’ve been on a contract for 90 days. But with this link, they’ll double it to $4,000 instead. Go sign up at Hired.com/freelancersshow]
CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 165 of The Freelancers’ Show. This week on our panel we have Eric Davis.
CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. Just a quick shout out; I finished launching RailsClips, so if you want to go get videos on Ruby on Rails, as we’re recording this, there are 5 episodes up; there will be 7 when this comes out. So go check it out.
We also have a special guest this week, and that is Marie – and I forgot to ask how to say your last name – is it Poulin?
MARIE: Poulin or Poulin – either or.
CHUCK: Depending on how French you feel.
MARIE: Exactly [chuckles].
CHUCK: Do you want to introduce yourself?
MARIE: Hi. I’m a digital strategist, designer, developer, mentor, coach; a bit of a generalist, but these days, I basically help designers transition into more strategic business owners, so that’s what I do over at digitalstrategyschool.com.
CHUCK: I was going to say your job description sounds like ‘I do everything’.
MARIE: Yeah. I’m definitely a generalist, for sure, which is definitely scoffed upon in the industry, you could say, but it’s also been my greatest asset too.
CHUCK: Yeah. So once upon a time before you were helping freelancers be strategic business owners, what were you doing?
MARIE: I was mostly doing large-scale – actually it’s not large-scale – for small businesses, but website design projects – WordPress design development, branding projects, print collateral – the sort of typical freelance projects. But I noticed that I was starting to give more strategic advice based on the kind of people I was working with and observing people go through launching products and programs, so I’m starting to see a lot behind the scenes. So inevitably, I was bringing what I was learning from those projects into my web design projects, and I didn’t actually realize that what I was doing was digital strategy, so it built up over the years and that started to become my focus.
CHUCK: And then you decided one day ‘I need to make a course on this’.
MARIE: I definitely didn’t go like that. I had no idea that something I would be teaching, but I never struggled to get really good budgets on web design projects and I noticed a lot of designers that were way better than me were struggling freelancing, and I thought, ‘ok, well, it’s not because of my skill set. I know I’m not a better designer than them. What am I doing differently?’ and I just started to ask a lot of questions, I started just befriending other designers and looking behind the scenes and trying to figure out what other people were doing, what they were doing differently, and trying to isolate what it was that was allowing me to get these bigger budgets, and I think –.
So something I’m sure you guys are familiar with is don’t get personal in your business. Your business is your business. My partner says this, too. He said, ‘this is business, not feels’. But I can’t help but get really emotionally invested in my projects and I just really care for the people that I’m working with. So I actually feel like my compassion and empathy for the client ended up being something that I was able to leverage even in my proposals because I can get inside their head and understand what do they really want. They’re not really just paying me for a website design at the end of the day, so what do they really, really want? So I feel like that ended up being a key differentiator was that ‘hey, I actually – I really do care’. So it was kind of an organic process the way I stumbled into that. It was not something I was expected to teach a course on, but Digital Strategy School is taken on a bit of a – it’s not just about digital strategy; it’s about the right mindset and behaving like a strategist, as well.
Initially, when I started putting the course together, I was focusing on the strategy side of things, but I realized that people didn’t actually even have some of the basics in place. So the positioning, the way they were communicating with clients, even their money hang-ups – all of that stuff wasn’t in place, so I was like, ‘oh, I think I might actually going to have to make a bit of a freelance fundamental’ is kind of came out of it, and so now the course actually has two tracks. It’s ‘prepare your business, get in your head in the game’, and then the second part is actually practicing digital strategy. So yeah, that was a strange unexpected evolution, but my experience with hiring coaches and working one-on-one with clients is really informed the way I’m teaching this course.
CHUCK: So, first of all, I just wanted to point out we had Breanne Dyck on the show last week, and I know that you work with her. Do you want to just give us a quick feel for how it was to work with her that people are looking at her as a coach for a course like this?
MARIE: Yeah, definitely. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to build a course, but it is pretty overwhelming. I wanted to do it properly. I didn’t want to just create a little ebook or e-course. I knew this was going to be something bigger and I didn’t know where to start. It’s not the same as writing a ton of blog posts and putting them together and helping people engage with the content.
So I was a little overwhelmed, and I wasn’t sure where to start, and I think somebody had said, ‘have you ever heard of Breanne?’; checked out her site, and I saw – I think it was called transform your course at the time, and it was geared up people that either had a course already and wanted to level it up, or people that were just starting their first course. It was exactly what I wanted. I think I purchased within 10 seconds of landing on her sales page, so good job, Breanne.
And it was awesome. She helped me realize that my audience actually wasn’t who I thought it was, and that was actually really powerful process that I think totally shaped the way what would DSS became. Initially, I was actually thinking I was going to teach a course for everyday business owners on how to be more strategic with their websites, and really, I had access to designers – tons of other designers, but I was actually really afraid to sell to my peers. But the evidence was overwhelming that these are the people I have access to, these are the people that actually want what I have to offer, so yeah, I was resisting that for a while, and the work with Breanne actually helped me see that I was resisting access to the audience I already had. So that was a major, major – just DSS wouldn’t be what it is, for sure, if I hadn’t gone through Breanne’s program. I’m eternally grateful, Breanne. Thank you. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Awesome. If you want more about some of the things that Marie’s talking about here, go check out the episode.
I really want to dig in to this going from being a fly by the seat of your pants freelancer into a strategic business owner.
MARIE: Yeah. I’d say the first couple years of my business probably like a lot of freelancers; it feels like everything is on fire, and you’re just like ‘what emergency do I deal with first? Which fire needs to be put out first?’ and I remember hearing a quote by Danielle LaPorte that hit home for me and it was ‘everything that’s on your plate is there because you said yes to it’. And it was this moment of ‘oh man, I’ve created this for myself. I’m the one that’s saying yes to all these projects, and I’m the one that’s undercharging, so I’ve got some control over this, what do I need to do?’
So it took me probably a year – a year and a half – to let clients go, to say no to every project that came through the door, and just start slowly making more space for everything – for fixing your own internal business processes, for those side projects that we all put on the back burner, and I decided it was time to make space for that stuff. So it took about a year to really get my schedule down from overwhelmed panic mode too many clients to ‘ok, now there’s some breathing room; now there’s some space’.
And that’s where, finally, I had some space to think about Digital Strategy School, and that probably – the process from idea to actually doing it was 6 months to a year. I thought at the time ‘oh, maybe it’ll be an e-book for freelancers’ or that sort of thing. I didn’t really know what it was going to be at the time, so it wasn’t really until having the space, working with Breanne, seeing what a lot of people were doing with these online courses that I thought there’s an opportunity here. And once I started working with Breanne, I realized it was getting bigger than I even thought it was going to be. I didn’t know this was going to be a 6-month mentorship program. I think Breanne probably thought it was crazy. She’s like ‘start small. Don’t just launch something huge out of the gate’, but I think, for me, the reason I didn’t do an e-book or a small 8-week course is the one-on-one is still really important to me and it’s how I can see how the work is landing with people, so to a hybrid community mentorship Mastermind thing, I was able to see and get results from people right away and actually see what people were struggling with, and then I could actually go back into the content and make the content better.
So it wasn’t a hundred percent finished when I launched. I saw it as an iteration, an experiment, a work in progress. I think a lot of people think you need to have it fully flushed out and solidified, but this way, I was able to make the contents so much better because I knew exactly where people were struggling.
CHUCK: That’s really cool. I want to dig into this getting serious about your business, and Eric has told me this a couple of times, and I have to say that I have this problem where I got into this stuff because I liked it, and so my hobby is kind of my job now, and the thing is that it’s easy then for me to forget that I still need to focus on some of the business things, and so I do get into trouble periodically where it’s ‘oh, I didn’t do enough things that make money last month’, and so now I have to scramble to come up with things that make money this month. So how do you get that mindset where you’re looking at your business as a business instead of as a ‘gee, I really like being a designer’ or ‘I really like being a developer’?
MARIE: Yeah. I definitely spent a couple of years – you’re doing favor projects or you’re doing stuff for fun and you’re doing – I was giving a lot of information away for free to people because I really wanted to help. And so, at some point, I had to – same as you, just ‘ok, this is great’, you’re helping lots of people, but you need to pay your own bill. So I was tired of struggling. If I take a week off work, I have no revenue coming in. That’s a frustrating place to be, so you always feel this obligation to work. I’m sure you feel this too that at the end of the day; at 5 PM, my brain doesn’t just shut off at 5 PM and I’ve stopped thinking about everything that’s happening during the day. I don’t know if that’s a self-employment freelance thing. It’s hard to turn your brain off.
So I knew that if I wanted to succeed and I wanted to feel less overwhelmed, I was going to have to get a little more creative. Digital Strategy School is not an inexpensive program for sure, so what I’m doing is I’m building the ability to be generous into my business. So I’m charging a premium price for a premium product, and it allows me the freedom of flexibility to do the fun stuff and to put more effort into projects where maybe the budget’s not huge, but I actually really love what the client stands for.
So it’s about finding the balance and diversifying your income streams, and that’s what DSS has been for me, as well as shifting away from dollars per hours or just doing client work to having this additional revenue stream because there is a do-it-yourself version of DSS and so that’s just – people can buy that anytime. So it’s like PayPal notification; PayPal notification, and that’s addictive. It’s like ‘great, ok I’m just trying to see that there’s a lot of potential here and this is just one product, so what’s possible, where could it go, what it could become, and what else is next’. Once you see a bit of traction, I think, was what you create. It’s sort of like ‘ok, what else is possible?’ I don’t know if that really answers your question, but [chuckles].
CHUCK: It kind of does. You’re looking at what you need and where you need to go and what you need to be involved in, and there’s a lot to unpack there with diversifying your income and getting away from dollars for hour or dollars for a time period, but I also know that a lot of people are making it that way and they enjoy it. So is there something that those folks can also do to be that serious business owner?
ERIC: With products [inaudible], you also get freedom. The easiest one is financial like if you have products that cover 80% of what you need to live, you can be very, very picky with what clients you pick up for that extra 20%. There’s also the time and location freedom, which a lot of freelancers say they get into it for that, but I know a lot of people that they still work 9-5 at home. So they have their freedom, but they don’t take advantage of it. And I think products are other revenue streams that give you a little bit of that or a little bit of a cushion in case you need a fall back on something.
MARIE: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s – I want to be treated as a professional. I want to commend professional rates. I don’t want to struggle. And so for me, I just started doing research like ‘what’s it going to take? What do I need to do to elevate my own position in the industry? What do I need to learn?’ whether it’s perfectionism, just wanting to be better at what I do, wanting to be better at my craft, wanting to make more impact in my work. So for me, I didn’t –.
Working one-on-one with people, there’s limitations to your impact. I can improve this one person’s business through our work together, but it doesn’t really feel like I’m making a ton of impact on the world. And if that’s something that I want to do, then I need to scale what I’m up to and scale how many people I’m reaching, and I feel like online courses are really great way to do that.
ERIC: I don’t know – I can attribute who said it or talked about it, but there’s a concept of some people are more predisposed to doing one deep impact with one person or a group of people like a company. They want to go and run a company, make it extremely powerful and good, whereas other people, their impact on the world, they want to be broad. They want to affect 10,000 people, but in a very small way. And so I think some of that could be that could be down to how you are, your personality, whatever, and it might be useful to try something to see ‘hey, do you like the focus laser approach, or do you like the broad approach?’
MARIE: I love it. Yeah, I love that you brought that up. One of the first modules in Digital Strategy School is sort of a business audit, and it makes people look at ‘why are you doing what you’re doing? What do you want to get out of your business? What’s most important to you? How do you want to spend your days, weeks, years?’ Because if you don’t really know what you’re working towards – and again, everyone’s goals is going to be different; some people are ‘I want to make the most money possible’; other people are ‘if I could just put food on the table and have time to spend with my kids, I’m really happy’.
So I think it’s really, really important to get back to what do you want your business to be about for you; what could it look like, and then you could start modeling your business around supporting those goals.
CHUCK: That’s really interesting. And I think a lot of us don’t really think about that. This is something that I’ve come to over the last few months is that I need to sit down and I need to figure out where I want to wind up. And if I’m thinking about it, maybe I keep hearing 5-year plans, and my ideal was always, ‘well, I’ll know where I want to be in 5 years when I get there’.
But having that idea and realizing that you can change it and then work backward, and say ‘ok, well, if these are my goals, if this is the impact I want to make in the industry or in my life or in my family’s life or in’ – whatever areas you choose, and you realize that you can move that target if it’s not where you want to go anymore. But then you work backward and make sure that you’re making wise decisions so that you know what you have to accomplish within the next 2 or 3 months to get there; that makes a whole lot more difference because then you’re actually going where you want to go, and I think that’s one thing that makes the freelancer that’s just kind of ‘well, as long as I can eat’, it leads them to a different place and it gives their business something to shoot for. And even if it’s just making more money, at least you have that aim, and then you can figure it out.
MARIE: Yeah. Knowing exactly what you’re working towards. Like you’re not just reacting to everything that’s coming on your plate, right? You’re not like ‘yeah sure, I’ll take that client. Sure I’ll take’ – well, is that client – I think Tara Gentile puts that as your chief initiative: what’s your one focus for the year? And every decision that you make, and everything that happens in your business should be supporting that one chief initiative. So you’re not just taking in any single thing that comes along your path.
So if you haven’t really figured out what that chief initiative is, you’re just going to be in reaction mode.
ERIC: Yeah. That’s what I’ve been doing this year. I didn’t do it for an annual, I just – annual, for me, I find is too far out looking, so I actually do it quarterly. So every quarter, I’ll do like ‘ok, what are the one to three things I really want to focus on’. They might trickle up into like ‘I have this one goal, but that’s actually for my career’, or ‘this is for my health’, or whatever. And I found out that’s really good because it gives me – it’s a short time span, but it’s long enough to actually have an impact and I could start stacking stuff up. So in a year, I’ll do 4 sets of these, and it actually – it gets me, at the end of the year, a lot farther along than I was at the beginning. And it’s like enough focus so I can do it.
MARIE: And I think what’s really great about doing that, too, is that I think we do forget to look at how far we’ve come. We forget to celebrate and look at what we’ve accomplished in a year, and we’re always setting that next target and moving on; ‘what’s the next thing, what’s the next thing’ and we forget to look back and see ‘wow, hey, I actually accomplished all those things this year? That’s pretty amazing’. I think we don’t really give ourselves enough credit too for how much work we put in.
ERIC: Exactly. Yeah. And actually, one thing I’ve started doing is every week, when I do a weekly review, I write down ‘here’s what I accomplished this week’ – small stuff. It’s like ‘ok, it didn’t feel like this week was that productive, but I did get these things done’. But then, at the end of the month, I take all those weeks and sum them up. And now, I’m looking at a month, and I’m like ‘wow, I actually got a lot done. This client had this thing that launched. I did this kind of marketing thing or whatever’, and my goals by the end of the year actually sum up those months, and it’s like ‘here’s what I did this year’ and I’m hoping that’s going to motivate me a lot better next year.
MARIE: That’s pretty great. I do something kind of similar with my yearly wrap-up blog post, and I’ll do it for health category, career, money, friendships, and that sort of thing, and I just look at ‘what did I accomplish over the year’. And so i think doing those either monthly or quarterly check-ins helps you remember at the end of the year what you’ve accomplished.
CHUCK: Well, and I know that in a lot of businesses, they have different structures for this. So they have key performance matrix and different things like that, and a lot of these companies do that where it’s ‘for our company’s vision, person A needs to accomplish X within the next 2-3 months’, which is kind of the time horizon that Eric’s working with.
I had lunch yesterday with a local guy that runs his own marketing company, and he said that they actually cut the quarter in half, so they do it every 6 weeks, more or less. ‘And so this is what we’re going to accomplish in this 6 weeks. This is what everybody has to do. We’re going to pull together as a team because we want this outcome within the next 6 weeks’. And the outcome isn’t always like ‘we’re going to double our business’; the outcome in a lot of cases is ‘we’re going to put these systems in place’, or ‘we’re going to get this different campaigns done’, or ‘we’re going to get these other things to the place where we want them so that we can accomplish our larger goals’. And I really like that level of things.
And then, I actually sit down at the beginning of the week and I look at my week and it’s like ‘ok, how do I get to that 2-3 month place out’, and I have to say, this is something that takes practice for me. I don’t always set good goals for my 2-3 months, but even being more deliberate about it has really taken my level up a notch even though I don’t always pick the right things.
MARIE: Yeah. And this is another reason why my program is 6 months and not a 2-week or 3-week program is changing your business takes time. So it’s about small wins every week. You’re not going to suddenly fix all of your broken systems even in a week or a month. So it’s about chipping away each, and every 2 weeks is a new theme, it’s a new part of your business to fix, and I just think people feel a lot of pressure at ‘oh my gosh, my business is in – everything’s on fire. How do I fix it?’ and there’s a lot of panic that happens.
And so I think part of what I want to do in the program is give people permission to appreciate it as a process and it’s going to be something that you’re working on probably forever as long as you’re in business. Your business is never finished; you’re always going to be picking, trying out new tools, seeing what works, adjusting your schedule because ‘hey, this one productivity management thing doesn’t work’. We’re always going to be testing and trying out new things, and so I think it’s really important to just find what works for each of us, but give ourselves permission to give ourselves the time and the space to work on our business slowly over time.
CHUCK: So besides setting goals and knowing what direction you want to go in, once you make a plan, are there things that people need to do in order to execute? I love the analogy of the startup owner that ‘I’ve got a million dollar idea’ and I go and I tell everybody they’ve got a million dollar idea for a whole year. And there’s nothing there because they never actually execute. And then they’re angry another year down the line because somebody else comes up with the same thing.
MARIE: Or because someone executes on the idea [crosstalk].
CHUCK: So how do we get to execute? How do we get from ‘ok, this is what needs to happen this week or this month or this quarter’ to actual success; actual follow through.
MARIE: I think for me, a lot of it comes simply down to scheduling it in. So if you make it intention – ‘oh, I’m going to fix my contracts’, that’s a thing that I need to do, setting that time aside. And I think, at least every week, people should be working on their own business and whether it’s – I think it should be at least a couple hours a week; if it’s a full day or half a day, that’d be amazing. Schedule it in; schedule the time in because – I used to think that just working with clients was working on my business. I didn’t realize that ‘[inaudible] working with clients. If I were working on my business, that would be working to get clients, and I already have clients, so I’m good, right?’
But there’s so much to do within our own businesses that I think a lot of people forget how the administrative stuff can pile up and proposals and contracts and – those are things that we’re always tweaking with every new client and every new project, so I think being willing to schedule the time and commit to it, like actually setting really, really specific goals is really important. So even within each of the topics within the [inaudible], ‘ok now this week, we’re working on positioning. What do we need to do to actually get you to a point where you feel really great about your positioning? Great, here’s an exercise to go through this week’, and being really specific about the timelines for those things. If you don’t put it in your schedule, it doesn’t exist and you’re not going to do it. That’s how I feel about it.
ERIC: Yeah. What works good for me for a while was taking, I think it was about half an hour, so a 25 minute pomodoro actually, but taking that every Friday and using that on what I call like a workshop. I would find the problem where something I was struggling with my business, take 25 minutes of focus like ‘here’s I’m going to improve it’ or come up with ideas to improve it and have that as a weekly thing. It’s not a lot of time. Most people chunk that out and it had significant improvements. I use that for some products I launched. I used it to redo my sales process. I’ve done it for my positioning. Sometimes, it’s like when you do it, it’s like ‘oh, this is amazing’, and you’re now taking 2-3 hours just because it’s fun once you get into it.
MARIE: Mm-hm. Yeah. When you see progress, right? It’s sort of addictive, you’re like ‘ok great. I should do this every week. Oh, maybe I’ll do this tomorrow, as well’. You get excited by the momentum.
CHUCK: So one thing that – I love the idea, by the way, Eric, of setting aside some time and just saying ‘I’m just going to work on a problem’ and you can pick the problem or not depending on how you work, but one thing that I ran into, and I’ve talked to several freelancers about different things, and one thing is that they have a real problem because the person holding them accountable is them, right? And so, it’s ‘well, if I don’t do this, then what am I going to – go to your room right now, young man!’ It’s just – you can totally ignore yourself’.
MARIE: Yeah. It takes a lot of discipline.
CHUCK: So are there things you can do to have the discipline to follow through on that? Putting it on the schedule and telling my wife ‘you know what, this is my time and I have an appointment and it’s important’, that’s enough to keep the kids out of my hair, and then I can sit down and do it. But there are some days I just do not have the energy or will to really do anything hard. How do you handle that? How do you handle it when you do have the will, but you don’t have the self-discipline to sit down and just get it done?
MARIE: I may have a slightly different approach to this. I think it’s BJ Fogg that talks about a bit about this – The Power of Habit, as well; getting motivation levels. I don’t do the work if I know that my head is not in the game. If my motivation is low, I know it’s not going to get done. It’s not going to get done properly. So when I’m feeling inspired, when I’m feeling full of energy, that’s when I’m going to get that stuff done. If it’s a chore, you’re going to procrastinate. You’re going to avoid it. It’s just not going to happen. So I’ll even step away from the computer if I have to when I know that motivation’s really low.
But I think you got a right out what’s urgent and important. What are the most important things that you need to get done now and what are those small wins, and what are some of the long term wins. So I think even just having 2 lists of ‘what’s happening now, what’s happening later; what things do I need to do now from a marketing perspective that maybe aren’t bringing in money, but I know that 3 months from now, they’re going to make a big difference’, separate them out into 2 lists: the short term and the long term. And each week, I’ll try and knock off at least a few of the short term ones, and at least one of the long term ones whether that’s the Friday morning sort of thing. I find that works really well. And if I’m not feeling it, it’s like ‘nope, it’s not going to happen today. Ok, great, I need to schedule that in Monday instead’. And work with your energy. You’ve got to work with what’s your actual motivation levels.
ERIC: One thing I didn’t do except not even [inaudible] in my list is a thousand – what – a thousand items long, but one recommendation I had was on your To Do list, if you fall like getting things done and whatever you might track, ‘here’s a context of where I’m at, what I’m doing’, but track how much energy a task takes; not the time, but the energy. So if you have high energy, you can pick up ‘ok, here’s a high energy. I’m going to build my social media strategy’.
But then it might be a low energy stuff where if you want to make progress but just don’t have the willpower, you’re basically tapped out cognitively, what are some low-hanging fruit you can do; the more mechanical administrative stuff. And having that pre-allocated out before you get to that state can make it really easy just to knock things off.
MARIE: Yeah, I love that. There’s a really great Skillshare class on that by this guy, Tiago, that was getting things done, but the digital edition which I thought was actually really, really helpful. And it showed you how to coordinate your email inbox with Evernote and all this stuff to get you out of your inbox and stop using your inbox as a To Do list, and that’s been super helpful because he does – he talks about tagging certain items based on your energy as well, so it’s – I love it you brought that up.
CHUCK: So I’m wondering what other things do people fail to do in taking their business seriously.
MARIE: I think a lot of people know what they need to do, but they don’t do it. And that – to me, it’s super interesting when people are like ‘I know, I know. I know I’m undercharging. I know this. I know that’. So it’s really tough because in Digital Strategy School, I’m mentoring some of the students and not others, right? So some people I don’t necessarily know what struggles are happening in the background, but with some of the students that I’m mentoring, I can see first hand, some of the things that they’re dealing with, and I have to reach them where they need to be reached, which is a whole other challenge. It’s like almost like a coaching challenge. Does this person need more confidence? Do they need more inspiration? Do they need more motivation? Where can I meet them to propel them into action?
And a lot of it comes down to outlining what is that stake by you not making this change? The pain has to be painful enough that they’re willing to ‘ok, I’ve had enough of this. Something needs to change’. So I think people need to have their ‘F this moment’ and actually be willing to start making some changes. I don’t know if that answers your question, but it’s –.
CHUCK: It does, but it raises a few others. Some of this is – yeah, it’s like ok, really think about pros and cons list or what it will have to gain, what do I have to lose, but then there are folks that are – they don’t see that pain; or for example, it’s really hard to let go of that client because I like these people even though they’re making my life miserable’. That doesn’t make sense, but people don’t make sense sometimes. Or ‘I have an employee that I don’t need’, or ‘I have an employee that, for whatever reason, could make more money or have better margins or something if I let them go’, or ‘I need to hire somebody which is the other end of things, but I don’t want to spend the money’. So how do you hit around these decisions that are full of emotion and a little bit scary?
MARIE: I definitely operate from a gut-based ‘does this project feel right? Do I really like this client? Is it paying me well? Is it challenging me?’ So when I was going through that year of just getting rid of all the overwhelm and getting rid of the clients that just weren’t suiting me, I had a lot of really, really tough decisions and I came up with some criteria for what makes a really awesome project and what kind of projects do I want to be a part of, and it comes back to that ‘what kind of impact do I want to make? What do I want to stand for? Ok, great’. So I know that I want projects that I can stand behind with the client is selling, that I really like the relationship that I have with the client, I feel good working on it, it pays me fairly, maybe it challenges me personally or professionally, great; those are the criteria. Anyone that doesn’t meet all 5 of those criteria, I don’t take them on. If I find that a current client is also not meeting that criteria, I let them go.
And that took a really long time to be able to have a confidence to do that, but I realized I’m almost doing them a disservice to keep them on. If I’m not fully invested, I’m not fully into it, they’re not going to get the best of me. So great, let me pass them off to a designer that I know is going to do an excellent job and I get to keep moving forward with people that I’m totally in alignment with.
So it does mean making some really tough decisions and just bringing it back to what matters most to you. I don’t want to work with clients that email me on a Sunday for rush emergency work that doesn’t even pay me very well and I just end up feeling resentful. So I don’t work with anyone at all where I’m going to feel resentful whatsoever, and as soon as I start to feel like I might be resenting a client because maybe they’re not paying me enough or everything’s last minute, I just say ‘I think I’m not – maybe we’re not the best fit, or I’m moving in a different direction and I’m happy to recommend you to some people who can help you with that’. So honestly, for me, it all comes down to how I want to feel at the end of the day.
ERIC: One nice thing about that is I’ve actually coached a lot of people on this – at the stage you’re at, you can do that. You can have your 5 items and you could easily decline work and it doesn’t affect you. I hear a lot of new freelancers that are like ‘yeah, but I need work. I need to put food on the table’ like we’re talking about earlier. What I tell them is ‘make the same list. Make the 5 things. But for now, because you need money, you’re just getting started or whatever the reasons, go for 2 out of 5’. If they have 2 out of the 5 good things, you’ll work with them. And then, as you get more experience, as you get busier, stuff starts happening, maybe bump that up the requirements like they need 3 out 5, 4 out of 5. And so, slowly, you start inching your way up to a better client as you define better.
MARIE: Yeah. I don’t know who said this, but we’re defined by our No’s. Who you say no to says so much about you as a person, as a business owner, and it leaves you the space to say yes to other amazing projects. So I think if being a business owner means making really tough decisions, it doesn’t mean I’m not empathetic, it just means I care enough that I want people to have the best experience and even if that means that’s not with me; happy to send them off to work with someone else.
So I think a lot of new freelancers when they’re in that ‘oh, I just – I got to take on anything that comes by because it’s money’, it’s a tricky spot because yes, it’s money, but it’s also time that you’re not able to spend maybe either working on your portfolio, building up other potentially better clients, so it’s a tricky spot to be in, but it’s – [crosstalk]. Yeah. And it involves a lot of risk-taking, I think. And maybe that’s been part of my success is I’m like ‘well, I got nothing to lose. We’ll give it a shot’. I’m just willing to take some of those risks because I know that the rewards are greater when you’re willing to take bigger risks.
ERIC: Yeah. I’ve seen that myself. I’ve had a client who was so-so, they were ok. I was working with them and then, literally, my ideal client approached me out of the blue wanting to work with me, but I was so booked with the other one. I had the decline it. And I referred it to someone else and they had a really great project; got great referrals, great contexts from it, but I’m like that was like the nail in the coffin of I need to just take work if that’s a good fit for me and not work on subpart clients.
MARIE: Yeah. I had a similar experience with one of the DSS students that – she said she wanted to take on bigger projects, bigger budget projects, and I said, ‘I actually have one that I would love to refer to you. If I pass it off to you, would you even have time to do it?’ and it was this light bulb moment where she realized there was no space in her schedule for those projects. The space just wasn’t even there. So even if it came along, she wouldn’t even be able to say yes, and so she realized like ‘oh, crap. I do need to leave way more space in my schedule for this kind of opportunities’.
I think people book up to 100 and 120% capacity most of the time when really, we should be weren’t probably booking up 60-70 because we still end up being working at a hundred percent or more. So I think we need to take on less projects and make sure that you’re actually earning what you need to earn to survive at 60-70% capacity and then leave that space for projects going over, something interesting coming in the door, a side project, working on your business; it’s so important to leave space for that stuff.
CHUCK: Well, anything else we should get into before we get to picks?
MARIE: I would love to talk to you guys a bit about Masterminds. Do you guys participate in any Masterminds?
ERIC: A few, depending on how you define the term.
MARIE: Yeah, yeah. I’ve definitely been in a few, and I think that’s also been a pretty huge – in terms of keeping motivation or accountability. I don’t know [inaudible], I think having people that are holding you accountable to making those changes in your business, I’m sure you guys have helped that as well, but I think that’s something every freelancer can benefit from is even if it’s a group of like-minded friends, I think it’s really important. You learn so much from talking to other people about the way they run their business. So I think having different types of Masterminds in your sphere really really important.
CHUCK: Yeah. I definitely agree. I’ve been a part of several. I’m currently a member of two, and they’re awesome. You can listen to one of them on entreprogrammers.com. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. And then the other one is kind of a private group. It’s actually a men’s group. Don’t hate us for that [laughter]. And I didn’t organize it, but it’s really been good for me just the people that the person who has put it together has attracted to that group. And he prefers to work with men, and that’s fine, but we talk about and go into the things that I care about. And so it makes a difference there, which is why I signed up.
But yeah, it makes a huge difference and the focus is a little bit different between each one, and that’s also very nice because then we can – in the one group, we dig a lot more into business and lifestyle, and in the other one, we dig a lot more into personal, spiritual, and family, and stuff like that. And so they’re both very helpful in different ways.
MARIE: That’s great. How many people are in your Masterminds?
CHUCK: Entreprogrammers, there are four of us.
MARIE: Yeah. I think 4 or 5 is a pretty good amount of people.
CHUCK: Yeah. The other group, I think there are 6 or 7 of us. And I will admit that I enjoy the calls more that usually have 4 or 5 people.
ERIC: One thing that I find that’s really good – it actually works better, I think, in larger groups where it’s not a classical Mastermind, but if you have people that have similar problems which you ran into, like sometimes they post a question like ‘hey, I’m trying to do this. I’m having problems’, and it’s not like they need to [inaudible] and go help, but just more of the emotional struggle. And 9 times out of 10, I can tell them ‘hey, you do this exact thing. here’s your first step, second step, third step’, I help them through it, it’s like an easy thing for me to solve, and then by the time we’re done, I’m looking at myself like ‘dang’, and I get stuck by that, and then you really realize everyone pretty much knows what to do to solve their problem, it’s just when it’s your problem, it’s so harder and you get freaked out, and so having someone who’s – even if just one person just similar to you enough that you can have them tell you what to do, it makes it feel so much better.
MARIE: That’s why coaching is so powerful. Just someone that sees your blind spots and calls you on your bs, it’s really, really powerful.
CHUCK: Yeah, but there’s also the thing, and this is the other thing Eric was saying was I’ve had the experience where basically, I wind up giving somebody advice on something, and then at the end, I’m like ‘I’m glad we’re recording this because I need to hear what I just said’.
MARIE: Yeah. I think we often know the answers, but when it’s in your own business, you’re – you can’t see the force through the trees. So it’s always, I think, important to get other – whether it’s business friends or these Masterminds, just get other perspectives. And get out of your freelance bubble when you’re working at home.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, let’s go ahead and do some picks. Eric, do you have picks for us?
ERIC: Yeah. So I have a pick and it’s a meta pick. So it’s – picking-wise [chuckles], it’s July right now and Oregon’s having what Oregon would call a heat wave. And so I ended up having to give my fan that I ran in my office to my daughter, and so I had to get a new one. So I was looking around, and I found this one that’s called a Vornado 53 or 530; it’s like a little small fan, but it’s not actually a fan, it’s an air circulator. And so this is the meta pick. Even if you don’t need a fan and don’t even want it, look this up, look this company up, they have 2 or 3 short YouTube videos explaining why it’s not a fan – it’s an air circulator, but it’s amazing because the way they positioned it is like I was looking at $20 fans and were regretting the price. I don’t know if I want to spend 20 bucks for a fan, but then I dumped $45 on this air circulator [laughter].
But if you need a fan, this one’s great. I’m running it into my office; it’s so quiet because it’s a lot more powerful than the one I had, but if you want to see positioning and how to make a commodity product but stand out and be 2X, 3X a price of your competitors, they did a pretty good job on this. I think their website’s old and dated, but the actual – the videos and their content, their copies are really good at it.
ERIC: Yeah, I think it’s a vortex tornado is what they’re trying [inaudible]
MARIE: That’s awesome.
CHUCK: Like a shark-nado. Alright, I’ve got a pick here real quick. I really like the discussion on Mastermind, so I’m just going to throw that out even though it has nothing to do with my pick. But as many of you may or may not know, I’m very involved in Boy Scouts, particularly Cub Scouts, which are the younger boys ages 8-10. I do training at what we call Round Table which is the leader training every month, and leaders are – it’s basically a required training, though many leaders view it as optional.
Anyway, one of the guys there that does the training is really into Paracord. I don’t know if you all know what Paracord is, but it’s woven together and it’s got the strands in the middle. It’s pretty strong stuff, and he ties these amazing things with it. And at the last Round Table, we did a round robin training, so of course, I couldn’t go to his training, but afterward while we were planning out the next month’s worth of activities which is our yearly planning and then next month’s meeting, he showed us how to tie these fobs for your keychain, and that was a lot of fun. And then he showed us how to tie turk’s head knots, which works really nicely for things like decoration on a walking stick or neckerchief slide if you’re into scouting. So anyway, that’s a long way of saying that I’m picking Paracord. It’s really cool. You can buy Paracord pretty cheap on Amazon, and there are all kinds of YouTube videos and websites for it. And so yeah, I’m going to pick Paracord.
I also want to point out – I need to figure out where you got it from and I’ll put a link to this in the show notes, as well, but he basically had this little thing that you slide like a Zippo lighter into, like the regular cigarette lighters that you buy at the gas station, the little plastic ones, and you drop that in there and then you just push a button on it and it shoots flame like a blow torch. It’s a really cool, but not a Zippo. Anyway, so yeah, and you just drop it in there and it – I’m sure it burns through the butane in it really fast, but it was really cool for melting the ends of your Paracord, and it was, I’m sure, also a great way of leaving your mark on things if you [inaudible] yourself. But I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well just because I thought it was cool.
Marie, do you have some picks for us?
MARIE: Oh man, my picks are going to be so boring compared to flame throwers and Vornados, but I was going to say the strategic designer book by David Holston is pretty awesome for any freelance designers that are trying to understand maybe how to bring more value into what they’re doing and see what’s happening in the design industry. So that definitely opened up my eyes in a big way.
Creative confidence – I don’t know if you guys have heard of that book, but the guys at IDEO, those guys are so awesome. And just like looking at research and experimentation in your business and ways to think about creativity and get your brain thinking in new ways, so that one has been a huge, huge influence over the last year. Creative Confidence – I highly recommend that book. Even programmers, designers, anyone in the creative space, I think, would benefit from that book, for sure.
And another one too – this might be kind of off – not really off-track; I still think it’s relevant, but Brene Brown – I don’t know if you guys know of her work, but she’s got an excellent Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability, which is, I think, amazing just for any human to actually watch that talk. It’s really powerful stuff. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with her stuff, but –.
CHUCK: I think I heard an interview with her when I was listening to – she used to be speaking of faith, and now it’s on being. It’s a podcast about spirituality and just being people.
MARIE: Yeah. She’s a researcher and she studies human connection, and she talks about how there’s power in vulnerability, and I’ve definitely experienced that in being willing to show people behind the scenes into my own business, so it’s – I’ve had people say ‘wow, I can’t believe how open you’re being, how vulnerable you’re being with your students’, but it’s only led to good things. I think there is definitely power in vulnerability, so I highly recommend checking out her interview.
CHUCK: Very cool. If people want to know more about Digital Strategy School or anything else you’re working on, where do they go?
MARIE: They can go to digitalstrategyschool.com or mariepoulin.com, and I recently partnered up with Ben at weareokidoki.com and we’re working on a doki.io, so you can check out any of those. And we are pretty active on Twitter, too, so you can find me at Twitter @mariepoulin. I own all the Marie Poulin – Skype, Twitter, you name it: Marie Poulin.
CHUCK: You are the Marie Poulin.
MARIE: I’m the Marie Poulin.
CHUCK: Very cool. What is doki.io?
MARIE: It’s an online teaching platform. So a lot of the work I’ve been doing is within online courses like helping other people build their online courses, and working with WordPress sites and WishList plugin and stuff; it’s ok, but it’s limiting, and lots of features that I wish existed, so Ben said, ‘why don’t we build what we wish existed in the market?’ so what’s what we’re doing. It’s a pretty ambitious project. We’ve been working on it for about a year. It’s going to launch in alpha this fall and beta in January.
CHUCK: Nice. And we’ll have to forgive the fact that using Amber.
MARIE: Yes, please do – [crosstalk] [chuckles].
CHUCK: He’s probably using [inaudible] too. Not that would just – anyway. Alright, well –.
ERIC: I don’t care as long as it ships.
CHUCK: [Laughter] I know.
MARIE: Give him have a hard time on Twitter [chuckles].
CHUCK: I think it’s obligatory at this point, but yeah. If it works, right? Alright, well, let’s go ahead and wrap up the show. Thanks again for coming Marie.
MARIE: Thanks for having me.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, quickly announced before we totally wrap up, I’m going to be in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, basically, this coming weekend as this releases, so you will be getting this episode the morning that I board a plane and fly to Dallas. So if you’re interested, watch me on Twitter because I am going to be doing a meet-up event on Thursday night. And this releases Thursday morning. Anyway, we’ll wrap up the show. We’ll catch everyone next week.
[This episode is sponsored by MadGlory. You’ve been building software for a long time and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. Work piles up, hiring sucks and it’s hard to get projects out the door. Check out MadGlory. They’re a small shop with experience shipping big products. They’re smart, dedicated, will augment your team and work as hard as you do. Find them online at MadGlory.com or on Twitter @MadGlory.]
[Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net]
[Bandwidth for this segment is provided by CacheFly, the world’s fastest CDN. Deliver your content fast with CacheFly. Visit cachefly.com to learn more]
[Would you like to join a conversation with the Freelancers’ Show panelists and their guests? Wanna support the show? We have a forum that allows you to join the conversation and support the show at the same time. Sign up at freelancersshow.com/forum]