Review: Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

I recently finished reading Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer by Liam Veitch. The author is a web developer who grew his ‘doing okay’ freelance business into a million-dollar operation. In the book, Veitch begins with a story of his freelance failure which turns in to a silver-lining corporate job where he learns how to actually run a business. Learning the skill of running a business is a crucial step that most freelancers miss. Many freelancers are doing nothing more than engaging in a hobby that almost pays the bills.

Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer is a quick read that will help you stop running a ‘hobby’ and step in to the world of running a business. The business world is where you need to be if you want to enjoy a life that’s more than just scraping by.

Get Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer on Amazon.

The core of the book is centered around 5 phases of running and growing your business.

1. Get evolution ready

An evolution-ready business owner has foundations for success, she understands what her vision is, she has mapped out a strategy to get there, and she understands that “getting better” never stops. – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

The core of Phase One is addressing your mindset and building a strategy to move your business forward. It starts by realizing you run a business and starting to act like it by setting goals and creating a plan to achieve those goals.

If you’re not ready for evolution then you’re not ready for the rest of the cycle.

2. Repel bad apples, attract dream clients

I have an inconvenient truth to put to you. If you have lower-paying, frustrating, impatient, throw-them-out-the-window type clients, it’s your fault. – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

I love how Section Two of the book begins — with a challenge for the reader/freelancer to start taking responsibility. All of the freelancers I talk to who are struggling have things ‘happen to them’ and seem to feel helpless when it comes to controlling their circumstances. If you’re one of those, remember — you said yes to that bad client.

In the second phase of building a business, Veitch describes how to position your business for your ideal client. That comes down to you doing intentional marketing for your ideal clients, once you’ve identified them, and saying no to the ones that don’t meet the criteria you’ve defined.

3. Multiply exposure, build your platform

I know the feeling of hopelessly refreshing the screen of a virtually blank Google Analytics profile, only to see the blue-line chart keep looking more like low-lying hills than an epic mountain range. – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

How many of you blog…weekly? Yup almost no one.

If you blog, are you actually writing content that answers the questions your clients ask? I’m even at fault on this second one. Sure I write lots for my peers here, but I’ve slacked a bunch on writing for my clients on my agency site  which is something I’m changing in 2015.

Veitch writes that Phase Three is all about generating content that your clients want to read. If you do that you’re going to be in the top 1% of businesses that actually practice what they preach, adopting the same habits for success that they recommend to their clients.

4. Level out the income roller-coaster, build predictability

Some weeks are great, but in others you feel the pinch. The difficulty is that you want the good weeks to be more frequent, but instead it’s more bad weeks than good. This up-and-down uncertainty is usually the reason freelancers give for throwing in the towel – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

I’ve been there and many of you are there.

Phase Four is all about building some more predictability into your income streams. Maybe you offer backup and recovery services for $100/month. If you sign on 10 clients for that service, you’re $1000/month closer to your income goal for the month.

Maybe it’s clients on a retainer for conversion work (A/B testing on their site), or maybe it’s something totally different like some other product (Hrm like I sell here?).

Start thinking creatively about recurring services you offer and sell some of your by-products. More clients on recurring plans means more predictability in your model.

5. Loosen the reins, work less, earn more

Freelancers wear lots of hats. We occupy every role in our businesses. It’s exhausting. We’re responsible for sales, marketing, customer service, production, accounts and everything in between. – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

Phase Five is all about building a team to do some of the work. I’ve got a great assistant that sets up my emails for the email list after I give her content. She also enters all my receipts and sends out many of my invoices.

I’ve automated my appointment scheduling with Calendly and send those receipts above from Evernote to Redbooth via Zapier.

This phase is all about where to do that in your business. It talks a bit about outsourcing but can’t be as complete as a book like  The Virtual Assistant Solution though you do get a great starting point in a few pages of content.

Wrapping the book up

Veitch wraps up the book by addressing 10 mistakes he believes he made in his first run at freelancing. Simply avoiding these will help you run a better business.

Two of the failures I see all the time in other freelancers are:

1. Magic Bullet

This is where you sign up for 9 courses and 12 email lists, then you experiment with bits and pieces of advice from all these different sources, looking for that one solution that will finally help you turn the corner in your business.

There is no magic bullet. Instead of constantly searching for one, pick one well-known program or strategy and stick to it for a year or two. Stick to your specialty and keep telling people about it.

Then you’re going to win.

2. Ambiguous Goals

Sure you want to make ‘more’ next year, but how much is more? Technically if you make $20k this year and $21k next year you made ‘more’ but is that really the goal you had? Did you invest the time and thought to come up with a real number for how much more you wanted to make?

I’ve learned that many freelancers avoid setting concrete goals because if they miss them, they feel like they failed.

Stop coddling yourself, set a goal and make a plan to hit that goal.

Recommendation?

Yup I recommend this book for freelancers of all levels and types. Even if you think of yourself as a business owner and not just a freelancer you’re still going to pick up a few tips which will help you run your business better. The aggregate of all those tips you pick up is how your business becomes extra awesome.

Get Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer on Amazon.

photo credit: lego27bricks cc

Reviewing See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar

One of the ‘old’ recommendations for personal/business improvement books is See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar. Originally published in 1975 after being rejected by at least 30 publishers, See You at the Top was the most successful book by Pelican Publishers up to that point[1].

Listen to a current business/motivational podcast for more than a few episodes and you’re going to hear the podcast host refer to the impact that Zig’s work had on their success.

Today we’re going to take a look at my thoughts on See You at the Top.

The stated purpose of the book is:

…this book is for those who have been missing much of the good life.

So See You at the Top was written to help you get the good life.

Zig’s 6 steps

The book is founded on the metaphor that success is a stairway, and the elevator is out. To be successful and ‘reach the top’ you need to climb each stair in order. There are no shortcuts.

According to Zig the 6 steps are:

  1. Self-Image
  2. Your relationship with others
  3. Goals
  4. Attitude
  5. Work
  6. Desire

Once the metaphor is established Zig walks the reader through each of the step and what it’s going to take to get up the step.

He spends considerably more time on steps 1 – 3 (like 70% of the book) than he does on the final 2 steps. I guess that makes some sort of sense in that if you have a good positive self image and good relationships with others and have taken the time to set out goals and cultivate a winning attitude, hard work and desire to keep going are likely to follow.

Lets get a brief summary of the 6 steps outlined in See You at the Top.

1. Self-Image

Zig contends that lots of people have a bad self image because society in general feeds ‘garbage’ in. He cites stuff like the popular music at the time (later in the book his citations reach so far as to put the blame for Charles Manson on the Beatles music).

Zig provides us with 16 steps to a positive self-image which cover stuff like ‘positive self talk’ to reading about the success of others and associating with other successful people.

I’ve read and heard all of these suggestions before, but it’s always great to hear them again in a new voice. One extra one may stick.

2. Your relationship with others

The second step in the stairway to the top/success is your relationships with others.

One of my favourite parts here is that Zig takes the time to talk about how a healthy marriage is a key to success. No you don’t have to get married, but if you’re in one already get down and invest. The biggest helper in my business is my wife, who cheers me on and is a sounding board for my ideas as well as a killer business woman in her own rights.

Now some of the relationship views are a bit old fashioned. According to Zig my wife should stop 20 minutes before I come home and shower then put on her makeup and pretty dress and be ready and waiting to rush in to my arms when I get home from work.

Oh and don’t forget that dinner should be ready to be on the table as soon as I walk in the door. He doesn’t mention kids, but I’d guess that my wife should have them lined up and waiting to greet me in similar fashion.

Yes both halves of a relationship should put in work to make sure that they look nice for the other half. Really you both need to work hard on your marriage to make sure it’s healthy.

Way to many people get married then just stop ‘courting’ each other as kids come along. Maybe even before kids come along.

If you want a healthy marriage you need to put in the work. A not healthy marriage will affect your overall motivation and that’s going to affect your business and your success.

3. Goals

The third step on the stairway to the ‘top’ is your goals. Zig lays out how important it is to actually point yourself in the proper direction so that you don’t just end up ‘somewhere’.

…can you imagine Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, explaining how he was able to accomplish that feat? Suppose he had explained that he was just out walking around one day when he happened to find himself at the top of the tallest mountain in the world? – See You at the Top

He doesn’t just tell us that we should write them down, he also gives us some great principles for goal reaching. Inserted through his principles are a bunch of personal stories (again sometimes dated examples) and lightly cited research to help drive his points home.

Principles of Goal Reaching

  1. Keep records of where you are
  2. Commit to paper the goals you want to achieve on a yearly, monthly, daily basis
  3. Be specific with your goals
  4. Set a big, hard but reachable goal to create excitement and a challenge
  5. Make the goal long range (1 year) to help the daily frustrations blend in
  6. List obstacles between you and the goal
  7. Break the goal down in to daily increments
  8. Mentally prepare to discipline yourself to take the steps needed to get the goal
  9. Be convinced you can reach the goal
  10. Visualize yourself as reaching the goal before you start it

4. Attitude

Attitude and Self-Image from the first step at first glance seem pretty much the same thing, but they’re not.

Self-Image is focused on your own view of yourself.

Attitude is focused on how you approach the rest of the world.

Are you generally a positive person or negative person?

Are set backs temporary or is ‘the man always getting you down’?

See You at the Top gives you a number of ways to approach life/work that will help you have a positive attitude towards things that happen in your life.

When I think of your attitude I think of this long time Chuck Swindoll quote:

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. – Chuck Swindoll

So change how you react to life and you’re going to find that so many of the problems you have are entirely your own fault.

5. Work

Here’s where the chapters start getting short.

Referencing work Ziglar can be summarized by telling you that there is no free lunch so stop expecting success to just fall in to your lap.

Ziglar gets in to good communist handout tirade and even talks about welfare. Overlooking that tirade, it’s a good point.

Way to many freelancers talk about how they have a hard time finding clients then when you ask what are the step they take to find clients it amounts to sitting and waiting for clients to find them.

If you want to succeed get out there and generate some motion in your business. It’s highly unlikely that enough work will just walk in your door and for ever story you hear about work just ‘happening’ to someone you’ve got the other 99.9% of people who had a business fail or barely scrape by and they had to close it.

6. Desire

The final section on desire is the shortest (removing the whole chapter about communism) and focuses on walking us through how desire, really wanting something so bad and doing anything for it can trump natural talent.

If you just have talent, it’s way to easy to sit back on that talent and not really work hard for things. Maybe you have the natural genetics for running and you’re fast in grade school and high school but you don’t really train because you can beat everyone.

Then you step up to national level and college competitions and find out that there are lots of people faster than you.

They may not have the favourable genetics you do, but they get up at 5am daily and do the training needed to be fast.

That getting up at 5am daily to train is what makes them fast. That desire to excel.

Here is where many freelancer’s fail. They want to talk about working for themselves but they don’t want to do the hard work to actually become a solid business owner. They may even be one of the best designers/programmers out there but they don’t continually practice their craft and they get surpassed by that person that just has a burning passion and spends as much time as possible learning more.

Instead of reading about running a good business or taking seminars about it, you just dream of running a good business. You don’t put the work in.

Just because you have desire doesn’t mean that you’re going to hit it big, but being their day after day and continually learning/improving certainly greatly increases your chances.

Other Thoughts

It was interesting to read this book after having finished To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. They both talk about science, but where Pink actually cites the sources and walks you through the studies Ziglar just glosses over them with the final point which is supposed to drive his objective home.

Being a Psychology grad I certainly prefer to see proper citations and deeper talk about the studies than a 2 sentence summary to prove a point.

Ziglar also proves his points with statements like “I’m entirely convinced…” or “It has been my observation that….”. That’s called Confirmation Bias[2] and makes your points much weaker than looking at some real science that backs up your opinion.

I found To Sell is Human a much stronger read, and it actually provides the studies to show you that positive self talk is not as effective as asking yourself questions like:

Will I make this sale? What are their objections going to be?

Asking yourself the questions forces you to go through the reasons that you may not make the sale and thus deal with the objections. Then you’re more prepared and are more likely to make the sale and be more confident that you will make the sale.

Recommendation?

If you’re totally against reading about someone talking about their Christianity as a motivator for success, then you should probably skip this book. Zig talks about his faith more than a few times.

If you can’t get past the dated references and tirades about capitalism vs communist system don’t read this book.

Putting aside the dated references and tirades[3] then there is lots of great advice to be had from See You at the Top.


  1. Zig Ziglar. (2014, January 9). Retrieved September 1, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zig_Ziglar  Confirmation Bias is the tendency to interpret given information in a way that reinforces your current beliefs.  There are times you’re going to need to skip a few pages in a row near the end to put those things aside.  photo credit: cimddwc cc

Reviewing Rework

Last March,  I read another book from Basecamp (formerly 37Signals) called Remote. Well, more accurately, I started it and about 20 pages in I was bored of pithy statements about the state of remote work.

So what about Rework, which I had read when it came out and remembered it to be a similar format. Have I simply outgrown books written in this fashion and am I looking for more substance and action plans?

Was Remote just a bad book or did I miss how bad Rework was?

Enter Rework

Rework has lots of chapters though few of them are more than a page and I don’t think that any were more than 2 pages.

The chapters are separated into 11 chunks, focusing on certain aspects of running a business. Out of those 11 chunks, 2 stuck out as my favourites. They really made me think about how I’m doing business.

Progress

This section centers around the things you really need to do to make progress on projects, like Embrace Constraints or the thought that long projects zap morale.

Bigger budgets and more people won’t get your product/site done. What’s going to get it done is building only what you really need (identified not by what you could do or what you want to do, but what you have to do) and making decisions instead of deferring them.

My experience holds up to both of those things. The more decisions we leave till later, the more likely we are to never finish the project. Tossing in all the really cool stuff in a project is a sure fire way to just let the launch date creep.

Productivity

Meetings aren’t that productive. By the time you got 10 people in a room for an hour, it was a $1000 (at least) hour. Was that really the best way to spend $1000?

How about interruptions, we know they’re productivity killers, right? We know that you need to say no lots to get things done.

You can launch your product when it’s good enough. Sure maybe the search doesn’t have autocomplete yet, but really, is it worth it? Are you going to sink a bunch of productive time in to a feature that simply has an internal ‘wow’ factor? Is that really what you should be doing with your time?

When you read this chunk you’re going to nod your head a lot and agree with what they are telling you about being productive. Make sure you stop and take real stock of yourself though.

Are you just nodding your head then continuing to be unproductive, or are you checking yourself and revamping the things you’ve let slide?

Recommend??

So really what it comes down to is, do I recommend this book? Yup.

It’s not going to give you a killer strategy to build your business, but it is going to align your thinking with what really matters.

Staying aligned is a continual process for a business owner. Put Rework on your list to come back to every couple years to help you align. It’s only a week long read anyway.

Rework is good, Remote was just a bad book.

Reviewing The Virtual Assistant Solution by Michael Hyatt

Last week I sat down and read The Virtual Assistant Solution by Micheal Hyatt. The goal of the book is to help show you the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant and equip you for success with that assistant.

This quick read accomplishes both of those tasks well.

Let’s take a look at some of the content I’ve gleaned.

Why would you need a VA

Why on earth do you need a VA anyway? One thing I always seem to not have time for is entering my receipts in to my tax spreadsheet. It’s boring and I can always find something ‘better’ to do.

This is something that needs to get done that I just don’t need to do.

Another item that is very important than seems to get away from me on Friday’s (which are very full) is invoicing. I should be invoicing for the upcoming week early on Friday (probably actually Thursday) so I can be paid before the upcoming week. Way to often I end up invoicing late Friday and not getting paid till Monday (sometimes Tuesday) though.

That’s another thing I can get a VA to do for me on Thursday.

Hiring a VA means that you can continue to move your business forward without having to do each little portion of the work. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you’re the best person to do something.

Here are a few of the statements Micheal walks you through in the first chapter of the book to get you to evaluate your need for a VA.

  1. You’re overwhelmed by your workload
  2. You need help digging out of an adminitsrative pile
  3. You want to be more productive and less stressed
  4. You’re not focusing on what only you can do
  5. You need help but can’t afford someone full-time
  6. You can’t afford the hassle of recruiting, hiring and training
  7. You need more margin in your life

I know that many of those statements are true for freelancers. You typically went in to business for yourself (and are succeeding) because you’re driven.

That drive can easily lead to working long hours and trying to cover every base in your business.

There is a word of caution (from me not the book), it’s easy for math to trick you. Even if you can get someone to do work at 1/4 of what you charge for the same amount of time, that doesn’t mean you’re actually going to use the gained time productivly.

Getting yourself ready

The end of the book contains a few awesome pages to help you identify the tasks you could send to a VA.

  1. Write down everything you do daily, weekly, monthly and put some time estimates on each item
  2. Put those tasks on the delegation matrix (also provided in the book)
  3. Isolate the items and work to only keep Q1 items
  4. Be really honest about Q2 items it’s easy for them to ‘become’ Q1 items in disguise
  5. Rank remaining tasks by importance

Q1 items should be down to things that only you can do in your business. For me that’s mainly the actual programming tasks I perform.

Everything else could be handed off to a VA allowing me more time to program.

So the question is do I recommend the book? Yes I do.

Even if you’re not planning on hiring a VA today or this month but you’re curious read through the book and evaluate your need for a VA.

If you decide that a VA is something you can use make sure you budget for it and that you actually have productive profitable things to do while the VA is working for you.

Reviewing: The Price is Right

Just a few weeks ago Chris Lema released a book all about pricing called The Price is Right.

If you want a one sentence summary:

It’s a one day read with the knowledge that will help you change your business life long.

Want a second sentence?

I’d still feel I got value of the book at $79.99.

Pricing is hard

Pricing is hard I know it. I’ve been at this freelancing thing for years and I sometimes still have no freaking idea what I’m doing with my service pricing.

Yup that feels a bit scary.

While the book focuses more towards the product pricing models that are out there (one time vs subscription pricing…) there is a bunch of great advice for anyone looking to get a better handle on pricing.

Here are some key takeaways for me.

Anchor with stories

How much value does your product really bring. I said I’d have paid $79.99 for Chris’s book but how could I possibly justify that?

Better knowledge of pricing and being strategic will allow me to make hundreds more as I release products and get intentional about pricing segmentation.

So at $79.99 I can see easily that the book will help me make $1000’s extra.

Would you pay $100 to get $1000?

Segmentation

There is no one price that everyone will pay since everyone uses products differently.

Take Gravity Forms for example they have 3 pricing tiers.

  1. $39 for personal use
  2. $99 for business use
  3. $199 for developer use

Personal use lets you use it once on a site.

Business use gives you 3 sites.

Developer is unlimited.

Most of my clients purchase the personal license and are 100% well served by it since they only have one site.

A particularly ambitious client of mine with a few blogs has the business license.

I use Gravity Forms all the time and have the developer license. It saves me $199 worth of time a year just in not having to wrangle the keys to GF from my clients.

Want to learn more about segmentation Read The Price is Right.

Freemium doesn’t work for membership

Chris tells us a story about a business that went from $0 as an ‘intro’ price to $1. They saw a 30% drop in users.

That was 30% of people that valued the content so little that $1 was not worth it. Why on earth would you waste your support time and server bandwidth on people that have no intention of ever giving you any money?

That may sound a bit harsh. Heck I’m giving this away for free and I give away lots of free content. About 1% of you actually give me any money for the products I release.

So do I want to kick the other 99% off? Nope.

I’m just going to tailor my content and effort what that 1% wants and forget the rest of you. That 1% is the most engaged anyway and as I gain more readership 1% of 100,000 becomes 1000 people.

1000 people buying something from me in the future at my average price of $40 equals $40k. 1% is nothing to scoff at and it’s where I’m going to put my investment.

The 1% (okay maybe 10%) of your best clients is where you should put your biggest investment in with as well.

So that’s some key takeaways (and really some free content out of the book sorry Chris, sort of).

I encourage you to go get it and really dig in. It was absolutely worth the price.

photo credit: nan palmero via photopin cc