Freelancers’ Show

The Freelancers' Show discusses the challenges that freelancers face. The panel includes technology freelancers and entrepreneurs with many years of experience.

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The Freelancers’ Show: LIVE Q&A #2 – November 25, 2014


The Freelancer's release their second live Q&A session which was recorded on November 25th, 2014.

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CHUCK: Hey everybody! Welcome to the Freelancers Show Q&A. This week, we have on our panel Curtis McHale.

CURTIS: Hello!

CHUCK: We also have Eric Davis.

ERIC: Hi.

CHUCK: We have Reuven Lerner.

REUVEN: Hi everyone!

CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. If you want to start putting questions in the chat, that would be awesome so we can see what things we can answer for you to see what we can do.

While we’re waiting for questions to come in, do you guys want to just talk about briefly where you’re at with your businesses? Maybe some of the things you’re working on?

CURTIS: Yeah. My biggest thing I’m working on right now is my goals for 2015. I’ve come around to an overall concept of a 10X business. I did just over a hundred grand last year and I’d like to 10X that and start thinking of my business as a 10X – that’s a million dollars – and looking at my clients as a 10X reach. So I just worked on one for Greater Impact and there’s a women’s ministry in it. It coaches you though marriage and being a mom and stuff like that. And that reaches not just the women, but all the people in their family and their friends and everything so I’ve been thinking I’m going to focus down more on those types of sites where there’s10X.

I’m also going to work with a company called Happy Joe that teaches veterans how to do business, how to do freelance and how to be a web business. That’s another 10X reach. Giving a veteran those tools increases their family and gets out to everything else. That’s what I’m working on and thinking about and I’ve been mostly off the last week and this week.

CHUCK: Very nice. How about you Eric?

ERIC: I’ve been doing a lot of rebranding. A lot of trying to figure out. I was doing the Redmine stuff for a while but I got rid of that. Now I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. Just doing basic general Ruby on Rails consulting and I’m trying to focus down and figure out not just niche but specialty and all that stuff.

These past three weeks, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. It’s probably going to take a bit longer before it’s finalized and actually know what I’m doing. I’m going back and forth between three different ideas right now. It’s fun. It just that a lot of that hard thinking you have to do and know what you’re doing.

CHUCK: Makes sense.

CURTIS:  That’s a process too, right, Eric? I’ve niched down to membership in ecommerce sites and then I’m going to be pushing further into 10X businesses and more membership then at that point.

ERIC: Yeah, I think that’s part of it. I’ve been trying a couple things and didn’t work the way I thought and so I have to iterate and kind of figure out, “Based on the feedback, how do I want to change it?” Some of it’s just from talking in front of people and getting a bit farther outside my main circle of contacts.

CHUCK: We do have a question but, Reuven, what are you up to these days?

REUVEN: What am I up to? So I got a few things going on. First of all, I’m still dipping my toes into the water of having some passive income and I’m learning how that works. I’ve got my Drill Chinese site, which I’ve gotten some feedback on and I’m trying to improve. I’m trying something also totally different. It’s called Daily Tech Videos. The idea is it’s a daily tech video, surprisingly enough. And we’ll see if I can find things that are interesting. Truth be told, at the very least, it’s a good way for me to organize the videos that are in my computer and get them off and also hopefully share ones that are interesting. So I’m trying that.

And I’m also trying more active income through products where I’m now serving the second stage of my eBook where I’m starting to put together videos and then I can package it up and sell it as a real product and not just a pre-sale thing. And I’m also, and hopefully the wrong people are not listening to this podcast, but I’m also starting to break away from the training company that I’ve been working with for a few years and started to just work on my own. I think I’ve maxed out the relationship there, certainly the income levels and I’m starting to put feelers in all those directions. Hopefully, a year from now I’ll be basically just training on my own and have some product income as well. And then, also a mix of clients that keep coming in which is nice but I’ll be in a better position to say no when I’m less sure that’s a good match for me and my skills.

CURTIS: What about you, Chuck?

CHUCK: I’ve got a couple of things going. The first one is JS Remote Conference or JSConf. It’s an online conference for JavaScript developers. I’ve had several people in Western Europe and they, time zone-wise, tell me it’s a terrible time for them cause it’s in the middle of the night. So I’ll probably do something different next time and I feel bad about that this time but there’s not really a whole lot I can do at this point.

CURTIS: Yeah, but you’re always going to upset someone with time. It’s either, someone in Australia, Eastern Europe, and the US. I mean you’re never going to get that right.

CHUCK: Yeah, if I do that in the morning US time, then everybody in the South Pacific’s out of luck.

Anyway, so I’ve got that going on and then I’ve been working on DevChat.tv and getting a lot of the marketing stuff together there which is probably going to be my focus over the next week or two. Then I’m picking up some client work because I’ve got some money in the bank and I ran it out. But finding new clients hasn’t been too much of a challenge at this point so it’s nice when you have a lot of relationships with people and you just ask them for that. So those are the big deals there. I don’t know what else to say, so yeah just working on that stuff.

CURTIS: We have our first question and two now, right? What do you guys use for your contracts? He has a client and needs a contract for it. I posted mine in the chat. It was a variation of the Contract Killer which I think Stuff and Nonsense originally did that and I forgot the dude’s name originally but [crosstalk 06:30]

REUVEN: Why would it be called the contract killer? Is it because it’s a really good contract or –?

CURTIS: It is the only contract you are going to read and you will laugh at. So mine has references to robots, maple syrup and carrier pigeons and hallmark.

REUVEN: Aha! And the idea’s what? I guess I’ll bring this up and I’ll be able to see it, but the idea is what? This shows you all the ridiculous things – oh, the popular open source contract. Okay.

CURTIS: It’s just a contract. I’ve had my lawyer look at it in Canada and friends who have looked at it in the US and had it looked at and the lawyer says, “This is the weirdest contract I have ever read but I don’t see anything of fault outside that it’s weird to read”. Clients get them and say, “I have never read a contract that was that easy to understand and I have never laughed at a contract before and that is awesome.”

REUVEN: I’ve got a simple contract that I use with people – perhaps too simple. I guess I can search for it and post it. I’ve had a few lawyers take a look at it and they were like, “Oh yeah, this is fine.” And my real pride there is that it is really, really ridiculously simple. It basically says, “I do the work; you pay me; you own what I did unless it’s open source, in which case it’s everyone’s.”

And now the thing is, I don’t know if you guys have had this experience, I would say about half of my clients are totally okay signing my contract and half my clients are big companies where they say “Oh no no no no! We have our standard contract and you must be joking if you think that were going to sign your little – ‘who are you anyway?’ contract.” Basically, I try to use it when I can, but I know that the bigger the company, the less likely it is they’ll agree to it.

CHUCK: Yeah. I’ve been using a variation of the New Leaders contract. They open sourced their contract a few years ago. And it has a lot of language in there that you can tell the clients that read it and the clients that don’t because the clients that don’t just sign it. When they read it, they’re like well there’s this in here that I don’t like and so you know I usually wind up compromising on some of it. And there are things in there that I’m definitely willing to negotiate on.  I’ll see if I can find a link to that and put it up in the chat room.

CURTIS: The biggest thing I added to the Contract Killer besides some Canadian references, I just switched out some of their funny ones, was the GPL which is the WordPress software license which basically says we can do whatever we want with it. And it says I could – that’s what the license says – it would be dumb to reveal your business processes and that is absolutely protected and it will be dumb to not talk to you about giving out the stuff I did first is the very short version of it.

CHUCK: Yeah, it makes sense.

REUVEN: You guys have like a Master Service Agreement and then contract for individual work or do you just have a contract? I mean I just have a contract I use with people. I’ve never had anything, the whole MSA business.

CURTIS: I just have a contract that says at the top what the value is and deliverables.

REUVEN: Yeah, that makes sense.

CHUCK: For me, it depends on the contract. If it’s a contract that is hourly, then a lot of times, I’ll just go with the contract because it covers for hourly. I’ll put that in the Statement of Work and then it’s “This is the Statement of Work and this is what applies and this is what doesn’t and you know you kinda get an idea from there as to what’s going on”. So anyway, they have to sign the Statement of Work so it’s as binding as the contract.

CURTIS: What do you do Eric?

ERIC: A couple of years ago, I had an attorney set up an MSA, SOW – master services agreement and Statement of Work. They used their template and then I had them customize it because I needed the sections for if the code was GPL and based on ownership and a bunch of different things.

It’s not if, but it’s like little if blocks “if the client wants this, take this section out”. But the reason I like the MSA is because that’s like all the legal jargon. It also includes an NDA so I can really early on hit the client with “Oh, you don’t want to talk me because you want an NDA? Here, sign this large contract now that has a good NDA in it and what we can do is we can build on that.”

If I can get a client to commit to signing that right away, my Statement of Work is like two pages long it’s like easier to convince them like “You already signed this big one; the little one’s not much more.” I did the MSA and then SOW is for power to break up their project. It could be a trial project. It could be a month at a time; it could be 12 months at a time, whatever.

There were a couple clients where we had an MSA and then we did like four or five SOWs over the course of like four or five years. It’s flexible enough in that regards; you don’t have to do a lot of renegotiations of everything.

REUVEN: What’s the advantage of having the MSA and the individual SOWs as opposed to just having a contract and then just renew the contract for additional work.

ERIC: Not much. I mean, legally, the SOWs become part of the Master Service Agreement they did include it in so having them split up isn’t a big thing. If you have a lot, like my MSAs are really long, so I think it might be intimidating to have them resign 15 pages every year for that instead of having two pages signed.

Some of my clients – I know one in particular – we have a lot of one-off projects over and over. So having just a short “Hey this is what we’re going to do, this is the cost” – that was a benefit for them as they can move faster. They don’t have to send it to their attorney to go through it each time. My MSA is very legal-looking. My Statement of Work is very normal talk; it’s very plain. There’s of couple things of how it gets associated into the MSA, but the SOWs – I type most it out myself. It looks a lot like a proposal.

CHUCK: I’m kind of in the same with having it separate. The other thing that is nice is if the scope of work is important like on the one-off projects, then having that specified as part of the contract as the Statement of Work really pays off and keeps things simple.

In that case, I don’t have them renew; we just finish when the work is done on the Statement of Work. But the other thing is that in a lot of cases, I’ve actually used it in basically saying, “These are the services I’m willing to render to you and anything that’s not on there is not covered by the contract.”

If they tell me to do anything outside of that, I either tell them “no” or negotiate a different price for that. So for example, if they’re wanting me to do things that are kind of a hassle that are not in the Statement of Work I can say, “Look, that’s not really in my core competency or that’s not what I want to do and I can tell them no” or which I can do anyway I guess with the contract but if they insist, then I can give them an outrageous price and they can’t insist that the hourly rate in the Master Services Agreement applies to those things.

ERIC: I’ve actually done a different thing a lot of times. The Statement of Work – that’s like the project itself. I’ll define the scope and deliverables to be very open and be like –. We might have talked about it the first few calls of like, “Okay, here’s the project; here’s what we’re going to work on.” Then I say the actual deliverables will be determined based on agreement of the client and developer using whatever communication of their project management system or whatever.

I like those because that means I don’t have to spend a lot of time upfront getting the exact scope nailed down of what they want but I can like “Okay, we agree on the rate; we agree on the timeline; let’s keep the features set kind of vague and that way we can actually change it.” I used to be really hard-nosed with every feature you needed and then if halfway in the project we found out that we actually didn’t need the feature and we wanted to bring in some other stuff, we have to go back into contract negotiation.

And so I’ve gone the other way. Make it vague but make it clear that both I have to agree with it and they have to agree with it. And that’s both scoping and estimates, costs, everything – and that’s seems to work pretty good. It kind of pushes all of that into just standard project, management project, communication instead of being contract negotiation, which is when people have their defenses up.

CHUCK: Alright. Should we do the next question?

REUVEN: Yeah.

CHUCK: It’s,0 what is the mixture of products to services and what are your end goals for that split? Why don’t we have Eric start us off with this one.

ERIC: All of my products are eBooks for training so they’re one-off. It ranges as far as revenue-wise, I think it’s 10% is probably the average. Sometimes, like launches, it spikes 20%-30% but then some periods, it’s just down to zero because I’m not promoting it. But I think 10% has been pretty consistent over the years; time-wise, it’s all over the map. If I’m making a new product and I’m spending a lot of time to build it, I’m launching something or if I’m actively marketing it to bring it back up, there’s obviously more time going in there.

And then on the other hand, sometimes I’m 100% on client work. Two years ago, I was doing full-time, full weeks for a client, and so product stuff just fell by the wayside. Ideally, I would rather have it flipped. I’d rather have I’d say at least 80% maybe 90% stuff on products or even if its live services where I’m actually doing the work, it’s not passive, and then have some really good high value consulting clients on the side. A couple/quarter is my goal and that’s actually what I wrote down when I started the business seven years ago so that’s still my focus, that’s still where I’m heading towards. It just takes a while to get there.

CHUCK: Mm-hm. Curtis.

CURTIS: Last year I was at about 10-15%. This year I’m down to 2-5% maybe because launches didn’t go as well as I’d hoped they would and the other products are a little older so they’re just not selling like they would. And I would like to be in a same position as Eric although I’d class it as 100%. I would like to see all of the income I’d like to have – pays all my bills, stays between 90-100 grand a year coming from products, then take one client a quarter. One client a quarter where I could really dig in, and because everything else is taken cared of, I don’t need to worry about bills day to day.

I could really dig in and even do a client that couldn’t afford my rates that I charge right now because it has to pay the bills. So say some kind of ministry or even like the pound or something, they need some work done and I can really help them find a lot of value.

I charge them an appropriate amount for them, which may be lower than I actually charge now. It’ll let me dig in and just not worry about the money on it. I was listening to Art of Value and they were talking about “Pay what you want” pricing and that was interesting in that regard. Going forward, once I had enough other income coming all the time and just say, “Hey, this is the service we did. Here’s an invoice. Put what you need on the bottom of it that you think is the value is worth to your organization.”

CHUCK: Yup. Reuven?

REUVEN: First of all, I would like my split to be a little more even. Yes, I’m looking to do more products especially books and packages or package up my training stuff. I really like interactions with people whether it’s development or training. So I’m probably aiming for somewhere around a 50:50 split. That said, when we had Kurt Elster on and I’ve heard him and interacted with him in other places, when he would talk about having these small sites that could derive passive income, basically would do what Curtis was just mentioning.

You’ve got your income more or less set, you’re going to cover all your basic expenses and then everything else is just gravy and you have the freedom to then really decide what you really work on. “Oh, I think this month I’ll work on product; I think next month I’ll take on some clients”. And then you can be really, really be choosy about what you work on. And if you choose to reduce your rates or just do some volunteer work or whatever, yeah you feel free to do that. You don’t feel like, “Uh-oh. I can’t pay the mortgage”.

Part of the reason why I’m experimenting with a few directions at once with a product and with some of these passive income sites is just sort of learn how they work and see what kind of balance I can get. But I would not be surprised if, say – I should put it in a different way – I would love it if a year from now I would say half time, let’s say two weeks out of the month, doing actual training, interacting and working on-site with clients, and the other two weeks just tweaking products, writing, recording videos and so forth.

CURTIS: Yeah and I would say even Greater Impact that I just worked with, I was quite expensive for them. There was so much more so much more we could do there to really impact and get more people through there. Even through their conversion funnel, it sounds very business-y but they’re on tiers and it really impact people’s lives and can help them have a better marriage – better life all over. And so getting more people to come through that, they’re only charging $30 or $50 I think if you do the book and a course with them. So it’s very inexpensive, but they can really impact. I wish I had more time to dig in deeper because there’s so much more I can dig in with them and do, but I can’t. I have to pay bills.

ERIC: Yeah, and I think trying to have a hard ratio of 80:20 or 90:10 is hard because as your point, your total income starts going up. Maybe your product income goes up and you can’t keep that balance and so you’re playing with it. I actually do this and however way I think about it is the same as what I’ve also said where you’re on a certain level of maintaining your standard of living and then above that is everything else. That’s where I’d like to be with product stuff but as far as effort-wise I’d like to do a little bit of consulting still because, especially for the kind of products I do, if I’m not doing it, I feel like I’m getting out of the loop – I’m kind of getting rusty. If I’m training people and stuff, I need to feel like I’m still doing the stuff that I’m training and I think that’s important to keep in mind too.

If you do your product where maybe it’s a SaaS or something, you don’t have to have that active learning side of it. It might not be a big deal but if you’re doing training or teaching people something that you’re not doing anymore, you need to keep that in mind.

CHUCK: Yeah for me currently I guess if you count podcast sponsorships and stuff like that then I would say that 20% of my income is from services from the podcast sponsorships and things like that. But the rest of it, I would definitely like to increase that. I don’t know if its podcast sponsorships or other things, I mean trying to put on events. We talked about that a little bit earlier with JS Remote Conf.

I go back and forth on wanting to do consulting or contracting on top of the products because obviously, I would like to have products – have recurring income every month so I don’t have to worry about paying the bills, but I want to stay current. What I’ve been doing is I’ve been working on some video series, and the other thing is I want to build some SaaS products which is Software as a Service if you’re not familiar with the slang.

Things like Gmail is an example of a SaaS product. Basically, any service out there that is provided by software online. I’d like to build a few of those and kind of break into one of the other niches that I’m interested in and provide products for that group and I think that would keep me up to date to some degree and then also doing training videos would also provide me opportunities to stay up to date simply because I’d be talking to my audience and find out what they’re interested in. And between that and the podcast, I tend to stay current with what’s going on in the community even if I’m not out there changing clients every few months.

ERIC: Yeah, I mean you have to do something. You either need to be in the trenches working for clients, which can also cause you to regress if the clients are so focused on one thing and they don’t move with the new trends. But you need to do it. You need to have an active effort. You need to be reading or doing coaching with people – you have to think about it.

I know a couple people in the past that had training businesses and they got out of the loop. And I was like, “Something bad is going to happen to their business once they didn’t go full time on something” and just like I predicted it happened to at least three or four of them that I can think of and that’s just something to watch for especially if you’re doing training or education stuff.

CURTIS: I know the authors at Lynda because one of them, the head WordPress guy for Lynda is in Vancouver. They’re supposed to be doing some other client work. They’re supposed to be building demo sites; they really are highly encouraged and part of their job to continue to dig in and not just be “trainers.”

REUVEN: Right. I do a lot of training, but if I didn’t do development for clients or myself or even just sort of experimenting with things and talking to people all the time about these technologies, I can easily imagine that I would get out of shape. I mean, I’m constantly updating my classes, constantly updating my slides, constantly incorporating new stuff that I learned.

It’s not just new stuff that I learned from conferences and blogs and so forth. It’s, “Wow! This really hurt when I did it this way; I’m going to teach my people not to do that.” And I’ve been told that’s like the big value in the courses that I teach. You can go and read the manual and go learn the syntax yourself, but what you really want to know is “don’t do X it’ll really hurt.” And that’s just going to come from experience.

CHUCK: Should we go on to the next question or do you guys have more on that?

CURTIS: No, I’d just echo what they said. Like as I teach you about businesses, I’ll write about it if I’m not dealing with lots of clients. If it’s dealing with clients regularly then it’s a great way to talk about something and get paid for telling how to do something that I don’t do. It’s not what I want, right?

CHUCK: Right. Alright, so the next one is, what is a good way to build your skills to go out into freelance from your current job? What would be good exercises to increase WordPress, Ruby or Ruby on Rails skills?

I want to tackle this but I think the second question is a little bit misleading because it’s not just being good at whatever it is you’re going to go out and contract for. I mean there are a lot of things that you have to get good at in order to have a successful business, so you probably need to want to build an audience of some kind: blogging, YouTube, podcasting – whatever it is, so that you’re reaching the people that you can help, so that you have that marketing, and you’re going to need to build marketing skills.

You can backfill some of that by hiring people. But when you’re first getting started and you’re strapped for money, you’re going to have to do it yourself and you’re going to have to build those skills. If you’re competent at WordPress or Ruby or whatever, then you can find the contracts, but the trick is finding the contracts.

CURTIS: When I talked to freelancers that are struggling the biggest thing I’d find is not that they’re incompetent developers or designers; it’s that they’re incompetent business owners. They don’t run a business, they’re not geared into the marketing. They haven’t really read on that. So they get busy and they stop marketing and then six months later, they have no clients because they got busy and they didn’t market and the marketing you’re doing today is the clients say six months or a year from now.

So even more than your technical skills, you need to focus on your business skills – pricing, marketing, client acquisition, client vetting, doing your after-action reviews on projects and you can do a lot of that on the side. That’s the stuff that is most likely to trip you up for sure.

REUVEN: I would argue in addition to that it’s obviously important to see your business as a business but you also have to recognize that your clients care way less about the technology than they do about their interactions with you as a person.

I think we’ve said many times on this podcast that it’s better to be a so-so developer and an amazing communicator and decent person, than be a fantastic developer and just a jerk to work with because your clients will leave you. If you’re a jerk and listening to this, then take that to heart. [Crosstalk 24:24] And you know who you are folks.

But really, the clients are not, generally speaking, looking for technical wizardry so much as to some degree someone to their problems and help them walk through them. I mean, the number of times that I’ve gone to clients’ offices where they could have just read the documentation in the sales but they want to talk it out and have a sounding board and make sure they’re not totally crazy if you’re going a certain direction. And to them, it was totally worth it because they need to do that.

ERC: Well they want reassurance, like you’re basically an insurance policy. If they do something wrong, you’re there to help them or you’re there to hold their hand through it. It’s an emotional buy versus a knowledge buy.

CURTIS: And they care about outcomes too. Like you said, I was just listening to Brennan Dunn on my way, just driving to the office this morning and he was talking about selling test driven development. You’d sell them how awesome test-driven development is? No! You sell them on the long-term cost of ownership, the value of that and that’s why we do it. If you’re talking about deep in the weeds technical stuff about why test-driven development is awesome then you’re having the wrong conversation because you should be having a value conversation.

REUVEN: Let’s get back to the question that was posed, which is a good way to build your skills from your current job. So first of all, the classic answer to this is find an open source project and work on it, which I have not done but I think can be very valuable if you’re really not sure where to go or what direction to go in.

If you can start with relatively low rates and use these initial clients as a ramp to get up and increase your skills and increase your savvy as a freelancer, I think that can work totally fine. I just spoke to someone today who said “Wow! I would really love to work with you but your rates are way too high; I’m really looking for someone who’s less experienced and cheaper.” I was like, “Okay, fine.” This might be you [inaudible 26:09].

CHUCK: Yeah with my first client, I did exactly that. I undercut everybody by like half. I had plenty of programming experience but I didn’t have enough freelancing experience, but that got me that first contract. Then I had a little bit more room to go out and find another one because it wasn’t a full time contract, and that worked out. I think Reuven’s advice is spot on.

One other point that I want to make and it’s another thing that Reuven said; I just like to give a case in point. I’m talking to somebody right now who’s a friend of mine who is trying to get a business off the ground. He has a physical product that he sells. He has some ecommerce software that he wants to use because the major vendor of the particular product that he sells – I’m not giving details.

Anyway, they use the Ruby on Rails system and they integrate nicely with Spree, which is the ecommerce solution for Ruby on Rails. They told him, “If you use Spree, then you can just do the integration pretty seamlessly,” which, he can reach many, many more people by selling through this particular vendor. He’s a local guy here in Utah, and he went to a company here in Utah and talked to them and they said, “Yeah, we can totally customize Spree for you, we can make it to everything you want it to and get it to behave in ways that you want it to”. He also mentioned that he had a show that he wanted to present at this last weekend and so he went out and actually talked to them, and every time he would reach out to them they weren’t communicating well.

I’m going to probably wind up picking up the contract here within the next week or so and getting him to that place before the next show. But the thing that’s really sad about it is that he spent $7,000 and he’s got a bad taste in his mouth and I know that this company picks up a lot of jobs here in Utah and this particular person gets involved in the programming communities and stuff. If word gets around, they’re going to have problems.

What it really boiled down to was that they didn’t communicate well. They’re capable, but they didn’t talk to him about what they needed from him, they didn’t talk about what was going on with them and they didn’t communicate to him that they were going to miss the deadline for this major show until a week before and then it was too late. The communication is really key and that’s definitely a skill you need to pick up.

CURTIS: Something to remember in that story is that we probably all have projects like that. I would admit that I have one. It was making the rounds and all the people that are finding out about what I did not finish well on are my friends. “Hey Curtis, what about this project you were talking about?” and I get to revisit it at this point every week, which is awesome.

CHUCK: Oh yeah fun [chuckles].

CURTIS: Not at all. And honestly, great client – I just finished poorly. I completed it poorly. We all are going to have stuff like that. It’s good that my friends know it because they know that I’m not a moron all the time. It’s bad because I get to hear about it every week because another friend starts talking about the project “Did you do this?”

CHUCK: But I think it’s important too that you’re owning up to it. “Yeah, I screwed up.” I have one or two that people don’t really know about I guess, but it’s the same thing if I got asked about it I’d be like, “Yeah, this is where I screwed up.” And incidentally, on most of those, it was a communication issue. In fact, on the one that I’m thinking of in particular, it was a communication problem.

REUVEN: Absolutely, yeah [crosstalk 29:16].

CURTIS: I owned up to mine too. That’s what I’ve said, there’s an awesome client; I think you’re going to have $30,000-$50,000 worth of work next year. If I have nothing, I would love to win them back. But at this point if I’d talk to them, they’d just be more angry, which is not useful to anyone. So I’m here to assist you with whatever you need on that project to complete it.

CHUCK: Yup. So what about the technical skills? Reuven says work on open source.

CURTIS: Follow a programmer you really look up to. That is better than you ahead of your game.

ERIC: I actually stalk them.

REUVEN: Eric’s address is –.

ERIC: I have a few former students that I taught and they have continued to follow me and showed me what they’re doing, and because they’re students we have some relationship, I have looked at it quickly. And I’ve been [inaudible 29:58] should do a project for me coming up – actually they’re doing it right now. I’ll check with him again on Thursday. That gives him code review, and as he starts to work himself out, that’s a good way to do it.

That’s a lot of what I did. I dove into an open source project that someone I knew that was really good, and then got my code blasted and kept going back.

CHUCK: The next question is related to that. Do you have a certain project you use to learn or refine something new you were trying to pick up?

ERIC: Oh, yeah.

REUVEN: You mean like a standard sort of – people always love to do to-do lists, so I think the question is like, “Do you have your favorite implementation of to-do lists that you try to do in different technologies?” I think that’s what the question is. I’m not sure

[Crosstalk 30:35]

CURTIS: Yeah, when I’m taking out a new membership platform, I’ll build a to-do list or a journal, which ultimately technically is very similar. You have private things that are only or some other people in the membership can’t see it on the site, and you get to keep access to these tasks or entries if you continue to pay. So that’s a good [inaudible 30:50] to evaluate new platforms. There’s a lot of similar technical aspects to most of what the rest of the things I do anyways.

CHUCK: Yeah, for me it really depends, and a lot of times I’ll just rebuild their demo app or something like that, because then I have something to work off of. I have examples and I can just kind of go from there.

CURTIS: A GitHub repository, when you realize you did it wrong, you can just clone it over top of yours and say, “Hey, look! It works now!” [Laughter]

REUVEN: I think I’ve always just had stuff I want to do, and so if I’m trying to check an option, I’m like “Oh, maybe I’ll try it in this.” Even if it’s a throwaway thing, that I’ve always been curious about X, I’m curious about Y, so I try different things. Often I think because I do a lot of training, because I end up training people in the technologies that I use; I think I also try to think about what would be a good way for other people to enter this technology, and then I try to sort of implement something along those lines.

CHUCK: Yup.

ERIC: I do a to-do list also. It’s funny; every programmer does it. I did a thing called a weekly tech learning for a while where I was picking a technology that’s pretty far outside of Ruby on Rails. The thing with to-do lists is almost every programmer knows the scope, knows how it works, and so you remove a lot of the “I don’t understand the business logic behind it” and so it’s very much just a [inaudible 32:02] implementation.

What’s nice is I’ve done it in two or three different JavaScript frameworks, and so now I can actually compare how each of them functions for this type of app and I can actually make a good decision and can tell a client, “Okay, for your app, we’re going to pick this one because of this reason.”

It’s worked good; I’ve done it for clients, programming servers. I’ve done a to-do list app in Redis just using the API. So you can go pretty far with that. You’ve got to kind of figure out what your main skill is, and if you can, especially if you’re going to write about it, try to pick something that your clients are going to enjoy or something that they might get some value out of, because you can get some additional benefit of you’re learning it but you’re also showing your clients that you know what you’re doing and you can double up on your time there, which is kind of nice.

CHUCK: Alright, the next question. How do you find a group to join – a Mastermind Group? I can talk about that a little bit; I’ve been a member of several. I have to back up a little bit and say that there are Mastermind groups that are good, and Mastermind groups that are not good. The Mastermind groups that I get the most out of are the ones that provide both good feedback and pretty much immediate feedback as much as possible, and provide some level of accountability.

The first Mastermind group I was in, there were a bunch of guys out here in Utah that we all decided we were going to get together and talk about our ventures. Well, it turned into us getting together and having lunch together and just shooting the bull. If somebody didn’t deliver, then boohoo, waa-waa, nobody said anything. It was just like, “Oh that sucks” and we would move on.

Eventually we disbanded because nobody was getting anything out of it except for the opportunity to go get lunch every few weeks. So I joined another one, it was the Podcast Mastermind. It was put on by Cliff Ravenscraft. There were things that I liked about it and things that I didn’t like about it, and so that’s one way you can find an established group that puts on the Masterminds and then join one, and then see if it fits you, if it works for you.

Anyway, so I joined that one and everybody was kind of at a different place. Some people’s feedback was awesome and some people’s feedback was less awesome. I felt like I had friends there and I really felt like I connected so I didn’t feel so alone; it was kind of a social thing as well, but it really just didn’t give me that full level of accountability and feedback that I wanted. I mean, there was a marketing guy in there that gave me a lot of great advice and other folks had good ideas, but it just wasn’t quite what I needed.

And then I started one, and then I joined another since that one closed down, and the first one, we do pretty well. We get together, we talk about stuff. If one person talks about their business and we give them advice, and that works out really nicely.

The other one is the Entreprogrammers Podcast, and it’s actually our Mastermind Group call. There are some things that we don’t necessarily share on the show, but for the most part, we talk about almost everything, unless it’s going to cause us issues to disclose particular information. That one’s great because we do have that feedback, we talk about the issues. I get a ton of great advice; I get encouraged to follow up on it. We have an email list that we’re all on, so those guys encourage me after the show and during the week and if I have questions I can throw stuff out there.

That’s really what pays off for me, is I found people that were kind of at the same place that I was and that would just encourage me to get stuff done. They would give me good advice, and I felt like I could give them good advice too on the things that I know more about.

I know it’s along answer, but the trick is really just finding those people. I don’t know, it takes a long time to really find your group that will really fit you, but you can always start one and then invite people in that you think would be a good fit as well. I don’t know, that seems like that’s kind of a deal though – just meet more people and then either invite them to be part of the Mastermind Group or find a Mastermind Group that you think looks like what you want.

CURTIS: Yeah, and I kept looking for one and not finding it until someone said, “Why don’t you just start one?” and I started one immediately. Why don’t you start one? Okay. Let’s start talking to people about it.

I’ve been running one for – it’s coming up on its second Christmas at least, so like a year and a half? We’ve had two people drop out and we brought two new people in. I usually let someone drop out, leave it a month or two to let the group stabilize again and bring someone new in. We’re five people.

I really like it; I know they say they get a lot of value out of it. The biggest thing that I find sometimes as the organizer is that I don’t get asked some of the harder questions that I am posing to people. Maybe that’s just my feeling, maybe I answered them. I know I actually answer more of my own hard questions to the group than I would have asked maybe on my own if I didn’t have someone else who is going to ask me next, “Well why did you do that, Curtis?” And so I just tell them right upfront why I did something.

But it’s been really good. I know two other people doubled their income much on advice that we [inaudible 36:42] business and just run a business, not a hobby, that mostly pay the bills.

REUVEN: I was actually very skeptical of Masterminds. I mean, I’ve heard about them for a long time from various people and I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then I joined Brennan Dunn’s Freelancers Guild, and one of the first things he did was sort of divide people into Masterminds and my impression is that my group is one of the only ones – if not the only on – that actually survived. We’ve been going for a little more than a year now and it’s I think five of us – they’re in Europe and I’m in Israel, and every Friday morning we meet for about an hour or so. I have to say it’s one of the high points of my week.

First of all, there’s definitely the social aspect. We know each other; we know each other’s businesses, we know each other’s, to some degree, personal lives and we’re really all there to help each other and encourage each other. Each of us, we do a [inaudible 37:25] rounds, so everyone gets ten minutes or so to say, “I’m up to this and I’m doing that,” and everyone gives feedback and suggestions.

I’ve definitely gotten a lot of suggestions, very practical ones and encouragement to go on a certain way with my business, and I feel like these are people I can talk to. These are people who – they’re where I am, they know what I’m up to and they want me to succeed, and they, in some ways, have been through it before as well.

We tried for a while to do this sort of hot seat approach where each week, someone – the main guest of honor, as it were – and then took about half to two-thirds of the time, and we talk about how to improve their business specifically.

That actually worked well; the only problem was we had to be sure that that person would show up on a particular week in terms of scheduling. And all of us with families, we have other stuff going on, and so we don’t always manage to show up on such a schedule. But I wouldn’t be surprised if moving back to that would be even more effective for our business improvement.

CURTIS: Yeah, and we do a roundtable most of the time. We also have a Slack chat that we’re in all week, so unless someone comes up with a real specific business need that we need to focus on them first, we do that. We also actually go through a book typically as well.

Usually we’re just reading a book a quarter, but now we’re doing Michael Port with Book Yourself Solid. Every other week, we’re coming and talking about the chapter and at the end of that hour – we usually do an hour and a half – but at the end of the first hour, “Is there anything real pressing that someone needs to talk specifically about their business? Are you having a client issue? Are you having something else?” And then we’ll focus in on that, then everyone else just updates the report and we use that WordPress site with a theme called P2 which is all kind of frontend and you can just enter things and it emails off to everyone so they can all see it.

I record them all as well, so I upload them. That means that anyone, even our newest member, can go back and see all of them from the beginning pretty much, because I haven’t deleted any yet.

CHUCK: Yup. I know that Dan Miller put out some kind of resource about putting together a Mastermind Group and we had [inaudible 39:11].

CURTIS: It’s a Udemy course.

CHUCK: Oh, is it a Udemy course?

CURTIS: Yup, I’ve done it. It was really good; I did it Christmas last year. That was really good.

CHUCK: That’s why I can’t find it.

CURTIS: [Crosstalk 39:18] running it for six months and it was good. There was a lot of little tips that I picked up in there even in the vetting process. The initial five people, there is at least one in our initial five people that probably wants you to talk more about freelancing without doing a lot of action to actually get there. A great guy – nothing wrong with the guy; nothing wrong with him at all, but just not the right person for that if they want it to that they need to talk to someone else. Because every week it was like “Have you done these three things last week?” “No,” and there’s a reason for it.

I’ve been more careful – I let the group decide whether [inaudible 39:49] to one or two people; there’s a whole bunch of vetting upfront that I do before we even let someone into that. Here are two people to choose from for the next spot in our group.

CHUCK: Very nice. Alright, next question. What is a good resource to find projects on to be a subcontractor on? Get to know people – I don’t know.

REUVEN: Yeah. I’m just going to say personal connections. I mean, it’s rare for me to go to someone who has an agency or whatever and say, “Hey, do you have extra work for me?” Although perhaps that’ll be a smart thing to do, but it’s not uncommon for me to just sort of talk to people, whether it’s a conference or online or email or whatever. Sometimes if they have extra work or if they need help, they’ll call me. “Hey, I just don’t have the capacity now. Can you help me out?” The more people you know, the better it is in general.

CHUCK: I hired subcontractors out of the Rails class that I taught and I’ve hired subcontractors because I met them online, and that’s usually how it works out for me, so it’s usually one or the other.

CURTIS: Yeah, same with Chuck. The subcontractors I’ve hired are from my class that I taught. I just get a cold email saying, “Hey, I’m looking for subcontract work.” If there’s no relationship, I don’t even respond to them.

They start you off with – someone emailed me yesterday, I actually, saying he listened to the show we had we Donald a few weeks ago. He said, “Hey this is really good. I love this part, I love this part, I love this part. Is there a little bit of advice –?” and there’s at least a relationship there, so I am more likely to even respond to those. I don’t get hundreds of emails a day, but I get enough a day where I have to choose what I will spend my time on because it’s not going to be even all day.

CHUCK: Yeah, I mean, I know that you can go to Users Groups; I know that there are online Users Groups for certain communities. What it really comes down to is your ability to meet people who need that work, and so if you can find your way into freelancing communities in general, find somebody who’s kind of on that edge where they’re starting to pick up more work and they don’t have enough hours to get the work done or things like that, then you can contact them and find that.

But yeah, it really comes down to getting to know people.

CURTIS: Even going back to open source contribution and getting to know people, I know my friend Pippin, whom we had on Episode 70 or something, all the people that he’s hired to be his employees at Easy Digital Downloads had been people who were already in support for him helping people, or helping people that were already contributing to the code. Then he said, “This is really good. Let’s try a contract or two,” and then he’s actually brought them in. “Do you want to come on as a full-time employee?” and it’s all people that have worked with that. He’s tried a job ad or other ways and has never had success.

CHUCK: Yup. The other thing is a personal recommendation also goes a long way. You may have a person who would be hiring you but you may meet somebody they know and impress them enough to give you that kind of a recommendation.

CURTIS: Yup. If Pippin said, “Hey, this person’s really good, Curtis. You’d be great to work with them,” I would say, “Okay.” I don’t know them yet so I don’t know their communication style, but that puts them light years ahead of a random email.

REUVEN: Yeah, I mean just today, I got an email from a good, long-term friend of mine, a friend and colleague. We worked together in a bunch of projects, and he said, “Hey, I just want to let you know I met with some new guy and he’s looking for someone to do development, and I mentioned you.” I spoke to that guy an hour or two later, and maybe after a five-minute conversation he said, “Well I’m not really looking for someone – I’m looking for someone for a friend of mine.” So it was like down the chain. But because it came from a good friend of mine who gave me a strong recommendation, basically by the time that this guy called, the client called me about five minutes later and I have a meeting with them and it looks like it’s going to be a medium to large-sized project. The power of personal contacts and recommendations cannot be understated.

CURTIS: Yeah, and I haven’t met – I have never met you guys personally either, right? Like face-to-face. And even Pippin, I’ve only met him once; we had worked together and sent referrals back and forth lots of times before I had ever even talked to him on Skype, and before I met him this summer. Actually, I think almost everyone at the conference I was at this summer, we were at a beach house for a week, there was only four people out of 30 that I had met face-to-face before and everyone else was just [inaudible 43:41] friends and the people I chat on Twitter or in chat rooms and we know each other well enough. But yeah, it doesn’t have to be face-to-face contact, but that certainly does take it up a level.

CHUCK: Yeah. The next question kind of ties into this because it’s, do any of you act as mentors and how do you approach somebody to ask to be a mentor.

That is the same thing – you have to get to know them. It’s really hard to walk up to somebody you don’t know and ask them to help you increase your skill in whatever it is that you’re trying to learn. You have to have that relationship somehow in order to make that work.

We can talk about whether or not we actually do mentorships in a minute, but I think it’s the same question as far as finding people to mentor you or finding work as a subcontractor.

REUVEN: I actually love mentoring. I love working with you. One of my favorite things to do is not – yes, I really enjoy doing training, but I even more enjoy going to companies and sort of going around. Yes, I have a PhD now and everything, but I’m called sort of a doctor where I sit next to a person and I go, “Tell me where your code hurts.” And so we sit for about half an hour, an hour, we pair on it and it we talk about it, and it’s just do much fun for me because I’m working on an actual project; I’m working with someone; I’m helping them to improve their skills. It’s a challenge for me because it means, “Okay, how fast can you see this code, understand it and help to improve and give insights that are actually worthwhile?” When I’ve been able to do that, I enjoy it, and I wish actually that more people would just come up to me and say, “Hey, would you mind doing this with me?”

Yes, if you think that someone could really help you out, ask them. Just totally ask them. Worst case, they’ll say no, but probably they’ll at least be flattered and they might even be able to work something out with you.

CHUCK: Yeah. The other thing I want to point out is that mentorships – I really enjoy mentoring people. I like pairing with people, pair programming, things like that and just spending the time to help people get ahead. The issue that I have is that a lot of times I don’t have a lot of time, and so they want mentorship, but I just can’t figure out where to fit them in.

It’s easier to do that if there’s something that I’m getting in return because if you free up some of my time, then I can give it to you. And so if you are willing to contribute to documentation or write code or do design or backfill some other need that I have that I would have to do on my own, then it’s worth it to me to take that time and invest in you as well.

It’s not this “You give me something, I’ll give you something” because a lot of times I am willing to just sit down and talk to people for a while, but if I’m really strapped for time, that’s a great way to go. I know that a lot of other folks are that way too, so you start contributing to their open source project, or you start contributing to their business in one way or another. You do some work on one of their projects that they’re billing on and help them make up some revenue so that they can take the time to work with you. Or you can just pay somebody to do that, and I do paid coaching as well. If you make it worth it to them, then it’s a lot easier to get a mentor to take the time to sit down with you.

CURTIS: I’m not even sure that worth it is the right word; it’s the relationship, right?

CHUCK: Yeah.

CURTIS: People who comment on my blog email me about my blog regularly and they say, “Hey Curtis –” and sometimes there’s spelling mistakes, “Can I talk to you next week about something?” Even if I have a lot of full time, I am much more likely to try and extract that time. If I can find – yes, I’ve got 20 minutes at this point to talk to you about whatever. I keep one call slot open for freelancers to just call me, no charge. It’s half an hour or whatever, and then I do paid coaching and mentoring.

I actually mentor one person or coach them weekly all the time. I’d like to keep those three – three things. I have one free Mastermind Group; I run one free full-time coaching weekly, and then one free thirty-minute slot per week or for someone to just call about whatever in your business, whether it’s marketing, or even if it’s technical calls from people who want to talk that way. Everything else I really need to keep paid, again, unless there’s that relationship. A friend in Vancouver calls me about some pricing stuff over sushi a couple of weeks ago and I pick up the phone and we talked and that’s fine.

CHUCK: Yeah, they make it easier for you to care. Alright, do we have any other questions, questions that we can answer for the panel?

REUVEN: Curtis, when is that free timeslot?

CURTIS: You can email me – Curtis@curtismchale.ca – then I’ll send you back a link, a Calendly link, which makes it book properly. It’s only one, it’s on Thursdays at 9 or 10 AM Pacific. Once one of them gets booked, they’re all gone. So I only do one – one half hour per week. If a client takes one of them, then that slot is gone, because theoretically a client could take two of them. Because I do need to prioritize paying my bills, although usually there is one slot open all the time, and you can email me at my site, at curtismchale.ca.

CHUCK: You’re going to get a lot of email, dude.

CURTIS: Oh and by the way, I’m actually heading out to run a mountain after this. I have gear piled up where you can’t see it. It’s in the back corner and I shoved it forward out of the camera view. I’ll be out there tomorrow all afternoon as well. And Friday all day. I’ll get back to it next week, maybe, and I know next week’s already booked, actually.

REUVEN: Well, we’ll just talk to you while you’re running.

CURTIS: I got cell reception at the top of the mountain there, actually. There’s a clear line to the cell tower way below you. There are two mountains I can get cell reception on, in case I get a text message [inaudible 48:39].

ERIC: You have to bring a cantina – what is it? Like a Pringles can you make into a directional antenna.

REUVEN: I’m sure that’s a major priority for Curtis when he does his 22 million mile run.

CHUCK: Alright, well let’s go ahead and just wrap it up. Thank you all for coming. If you have any other questions, feel free to shoot one of us an email and let us know and we’ll answer it next month. We’re still figuring out the scheduling on that, so keep your eyes peeled, and we’ll actually give you a little more notice than we did this week and that’s my fault and I’m sorry about that.

We’ll give you a little more notice and that way you can get your questions in before we get started.

REUVEN: Excellent.

CHUCK: Alright, bye!

REUVEN: Bye everyone!

ERIC: Take care.

CURTIS: Out.

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