The past few days of blogging each day seems to have left a positive impact on my daily life already. Jotting everything down such as business ideas, opinions and observations, but most importantly the things that make me happy. It was last night that I showed my girlfriend the speech from Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005 where he explained how he asks himself every morning if he loved what he was doing that day, and if one too many days the answer wasn’t yes, he knew he needed to change something.
Now I wouldn’t say I listen to ‘preaching’ from supposed industry leaders too often, and if I have, I’m skeptical of their beliefs, their attitude towards a particular problem, or when they introduce a new way of thinking. Much of this comes from the way I was brought up, where the saying “hope for the best, but expect the worst” comes to mind.
Steve Jobs is, without question, one of the greatest minds of our time. He has made a compelling impact on many lives across the world, and I would insist that you read up on him, or at the very least quickly watch a few videos on YouTube if you want to be inspired.
This brings me onto my first point, and that is clients. In the freelancing world, keeping your clients happy is all you work for - meeting deadlines on time or occasionally completing the project early for extra brownie points, maintaining good communication, showing them an interest in the project your working on and sometimes giving your opinion on how you could improve the project. These things would come naturally to the experienced freelancer, but when your are working with a difficult client, it is often very difficult to maintain the level of service you expect yourself, and others expect of you, to offer.
My opinion on this is you should give your time to the clients you love to work for, and avoid putting difficult clients in front of your good ones. Michael Bierut, a world-class designer from Pentagram, made a speech entirely on the subject of clients back in January 2010. If you do a great job for a bad client who has put enormous pressure on you over the past couple of months, meeting tight deadlines, constantly revising your mock-ups, and not paying their invoices for months on end, the chances are he or she will have friends and colleagues which form similar characteristics, word of mouth will spread, and before you know it, your working with another bad client.
On the flip side, you could have one great client, and I mean a truly great client. You will know them when you find them - every time you get an e-mail from them you get excited, relaxed, and generally happy, you may even have a phone call with them where you an lay back into your chair and feel very at ease with conversing over their plans for an upcoming project. Those sorts of clients are a freelancer’s dream, and they make your life substantially happier. You will even work harder and go that extra mile just to make sure that the service you offer them is done to perfection in every sense of the word, and you won’t feel that the time and effort you have given that client has been tiresome. If this is the case, surely you must think to yourself “why can’t it always be this good?”.
All I can say is that you have to be confident enough to say no when a project doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t be taken advantage of; your professional skills are worth a lot more than you think, and remember to preference your time for good clients rather than bad ones.
Another thing that I have learned over the years is to focus your business on one particular skill, for example I have done plenty of jobs from complete backend development to print work, but I have always seen my web design and user interface design skills as my “bread-and-butter” of my buiness, the cash cow, the one that keeps the a good momentum of cash flow.
This doesn’t mean to say you can’t learn new things, even if they have no relevance to your current working skill set. For example I regularly read Hacker News which is packed full of programming-related articles, even though I spend most of my time in Photoshop.
I often read up on conflicting opinions on whether it is better to be a specialist or a jack-of-all-trades. My opinion is that it depends on you as an individual, but it is easier to market yourself as one skill, and this also works best if your main marketing technique is through word-of-mouth because you will be known as the “guy who can do X”. Find out what you love doing most because like minded individuals, which includes clients, will admire your work and hire you. From then on, sky is the limit, and the more you can offer your existing clients, the more valuable you will be.