As a freelance marketer for almost 20 years – many aspects remain constant – but 2017 wasn’t that year. Shifts happened in the way I do business – some of them painful and others enlightening. Maybe it was changing priorities, collective consulting experience, the political climate, or all three – but it happened and I’m grateful for it going into 2018.
#1 Don’t Hide Behind Your Brand
With Trump in office, many big brands decided took a stand – even us little “guys” (and women) got in on the action. Whether it was his immigration policy or slashing national monuments, I was inspired to express opinions on Twitter interspersed with my normal dose of industry content. I questioned: Should I be tweeting negative things about the administration? Should I open a pseudonym account? After all, personal branding 101 would advise that you put your “best self” forward, not necessarily your “true self.” But in these dangerous times, it was more important for me to be human than to worry if potential clients would be turned off by my views.
#2 Good Riddance to Client Drama
This year, after a short stint, I walked away from one of my all-star worst clients at a well-known Silicon Valley company. It wasn’t easy. Yes, I was very unhappy there, but in the past, I would have gone through rigorous mental gymnastics to make a difficult situation work. But this past year I decided life is too short to spend time with difficult people. Of course, I’ve had occasional lively discussions with clients over the years, but when a person is downright unpleasant on a regular basis, it time to move on – no amount of money is worth it. Severing ties is a hard pill to swallow financially and emotionally, but it’s also liberating knowing there are always new clients I haven’t met yet.
#3 Don’t Get Distracted by Shiny Objects
AI. Chatbots. Self-driving cars. Bitcoin. Fintech. Sound familiar? Of course, these are important and trendy tech topics that dominate the daily headlines. Last year, I spent too much time reading sexy articles that have little to do with my work. While interesting for conversations and increasing my general knowledge, I now focus more effort on content that benefits my clients and business. That time investment has much higher ROI than learning about the latest fashion-forward wearable.
#4 Take More Work Chances
Speaking of shiny objects, in the past I would have said “no” to contracts out of my wheelhouse. This year, began saying “yes” and in the process, also became more open to change. Learning about new industries like cannabis testing, management consulting, and solar energy got my brain neurons firing overtime and fueled new work interests and ideas. I now have new expertise and fresh confidence that I can take with me when another client comes along in one of these fields, or for something completely new.
#5 There is No “Free” in Freelancing
Let me explain. This past year, I interviewed for a communications gig at an older, well-known tech company looking to reinvent itself. As I moved through the interview process, I was told no candidate had yet met their criteria as the “purple unicorn,” (that should have been my sign that something was amiss). Soon thereafter, the potential client wanted me to write an article on their product as another step to get the contract. I declined and ended the opportunity. Why? I had delivered a range of writing samples to demonstrate my credibility as a freelancer. At this point in my career, the work should speak for itself. If it doesn’t, I’m not a good fit for the role. This is not meant in a “cocky’ way, it’s that I have the confidence in my skills, and so should my clients.
#6 Give Yourself a Work Check-Up
Freelancers rarely (to never) have the luxury to sit down and develop a business plan or ask hard the questions like: What could I be doing better to service my clients? Am I networking enough? Is my online content full of digital cobwebs? We often to get so focused on clients, we neglect our own business needs. Working on improvements requires extraordinary self-discipline, especially when you’re busy, but it’s also a necessity. For 2018, I’ve identified several business areas to tackle and incremental action plans to get there. Baby steps are better than no steps.
#7 Say Yes to Vacations or Staycations
It’s widely known that freelancers often plan their time around clients and don’t proactively plan vacations. When we do have time off, it’s typically a slow work cycle (in which case we’re not working so shun spending money). Instead, I took advantage of unplanned time off a few months ago with a last-minute vacation to South America (thank you 85K travel miles). It’s easier said than done when you have bills to pay, but breaks help recharge your creativity and readiness to conquer the business world.
Whether it’s a mid-life crisis, personal growth goals, or other transformations, listen to the voice and follow your gut. Though sometimes difficult, embrace these shifts and you’ll be a better and happier consultant (and person) because of it. After all, the only thing that is constant is change.