The Lab Report: My Monthly Freelance Biz Breakdown – Oct 2014
Each month I write a detailed Lab Report about my freelance business, Never North Labs, and the journey I’m going on to CRUSH IT! I go over my processes, challenges, lessons learned, and other important happenings each month.
I believe it’s my responsibility to be completely transparent and upfront with you by providing a glimpse into how my business is performing. I do this because I believe in transparency and authenticity online. You should know who I am and what I’m doing in my own business (the good, the bad, and the ugly).
I’m just an ordinary person, like you, with my own baggage and life problems to deal with. Finding freedom in freelancing is not an overnight thing that happens with some magic technique. In fact, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to pull it off. If you don’t take action though, you’ll never see results. My hope is that by taking you along for the ride you can not only see what is possible, but that we all struggle in our own ways.
While this post is all about the Never North Empire, we are a community that supports and encourages each other. Post your own progress in the comments section each month so we can take our businesses to the next-level together.
So let’s get this party started!
Everything is a mess. I’ve known this for a long time and tried to work through each problem, but it blew up in my face I don’t know how many times. To go from freelancer or solopreneur to agency is a big step and while everything worked for me personally it didn’t work as a team. I had to redo nearly every aspect of my business in addition to the change in relationships… it was something I thought wouldn’t take very long, but in fact… it takes a lot of work and effort.
My business had cracks, but adding more people made those cracks turn into gigantic cesspools of disaster. Since I started this freelancer to consultant to sort-of agency journey:
- I’ve hired the wrong people and stayed with them even after I knew they weren’t right. Do I enjoy torturing myself because all this did was waste energy in the wrong direction and provided mediocre results.
- I’ve been a terrible manager and I really suck at project management. My people don’t have a clue when things are really due and I was constantly like, “oh yeah… I needed this yesterday.” The exact client I love to hate and I’m doing it to my own people. Thankfully, I’m much much better now, but it’s still a work-in-progress. I want my team to have a balanced life and that starts with me.
- I had to learn how to provide feedback without breaking people’s souls. I have a natural eye to see everything that is wrong or doesn’t feel right… but if you don’t say that in the right way people can leave feeling really dejected even if it wasn’t your intention.
- I had to learn to manage money better. I believe that I can create money so I buy anything that I need despite what my bank account says. But now… I’m not just feeding myself. I’m feeding 4 other people who depend on me each month. I have to keep the promises I made and ensure everything is set up so I can’t screw it up. The process has been torturous to say the least. Banging my head against the wall might have been more fun.
What I’m trying to say is… this journey is not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. Most people couldn’t be bothered, but not us at Never North. We’re different. We face the hard truths and do the work because we know if we trust the process and follow our hearts the payoff will be well worth it.
I write these monthly Lab Reports because I want you to see how my business transforms despite my struggles and what I’m able to create.
Since starting this journey I now have:
- A team of 4 incredible people whom I have an amazing synergy with. Every single one of them is truly a diamond in the rough and we work together towards a common goal. They are able to take my vision and create something 100x better than I could do by myself and it allows me to focus on the things I do best. I’m a happier creative these days, I can demand higher rates, and my clients couldn’t be happier with their results because of this team. I couldn’t do it without them.
- I landed a mid 5-figure contract for a website because I shifted my focus from designer to consultant. Before that my largest project billed at around $8-$10k.
- A client list that only consists of dream projects and I’m completely booked and secured for the foreseeable future. While my finances run on faith, I’m no longer in feast or famine mode. I know there’s food on the table and I can have all of my needs met.
- I can communicate in a way that inspires and motivates my team and when I don’t they tell me to shove it with love. I finally am surrounded by people I can be authentic and honest with without drama.
- Better balance. I don’t have to feel guilty anymore when I leave my computer. I can enjoy my time off.
Just a few months ago, I couldn’t even say these things. They were just a dream of something I wanted to have. My bank account was in the negative and I had no jobs lined up because I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Now, I’m well on my way to building my dream business, but there is still a long ways to go. This month’s lab report is going to go over my biggest challenges so far.
Giving up Control
Since I’ve moved from designer to creative direction and consultant I’ve had a difficult time giving up control. I used to be in charge of all design tasks and now I’ve trusted someone else with them. I no longer work alone and I can’t get everything just the way I want it anymore. I have to trust the people I’ve hired and listen to their ideas and reasoning. It’s about choosing the best direction for the client even if that means throwing out my own ideas. If they say an idea I have they tried and it looks like crap, I have to trust their judgement. They are the ones working on the files, not me.
Other times I don’t agree with the direction they’ve taken or the choices they’ve made, but if they feel very strongly about it I have to suck it up and let them have it. I have to choose my battles carefully. I want my team to feel ownership over the project too which means adding their own flair and style to it. By empowering and creatively respecting them I get better results, even if it drives my OCD a little wild sometimes.
There are a lot of things to do when you move from freelancer to agency. I need a sidekick to help keep me on track because as a creative I am not naturally organized. There are way more moving parts and if you don’t have a correct system set-up to handle it… well good luck with that. My project management ‘system’ has taken me waaaaaaay longer than I care to admit to create.
Being Authentic with clients and reworking relationships
As I’ve made these changes to my business my relationships with my clients have changed. I can either silently suffer and deal with it or I can make proactive changes to rectify the situation. These conversations are not easy and sometimes it ends up with dropping a client or bringing up things that make us both really uncomfortable.
For example, with Mr. Dream Client the project started as a website review then I was hired to execute the changes with him on a monthly retainer. From those changes sparked a new idea and a new site so the project continued to grow in size. Massively. My initial offer included Skype consultations, but he told me that he would refuse to buy if he had to do Skype. He’s introverted. Introverts detest talking on the phone usually. I get it. I have a love/hate relationship with the phone too.
It was fine in the beginning, but as things got more complicated, doing the work over text got increasingly difficult and time consuming. I would have to write long blocks of text to communicate thoughts and explanations. Not only that, it made me feel like I was working on this massive project by myself and I really wanted more of a collaboration.
Winging it works until it doesn’t anymore. This was my dream project where I am given the resources I need to execute in alignment with my personal and professional values, but it kept changing. It’s exciting, but I was lacking the direction I needed at this level of the game and it took over my calendar with its growing size and stunted me.
He was asking for things that I felt were out of order. They were out of order because we were thinking of things as they came up and rushing to get things out. Priorities were getting confusing and I didn’t know what I should work on. I was feeling the pressure to perform like the client was standing over my shoulder watching… waiting.
I had to slam on the breaks because no. Slow and steady wins the race!
So I wrote Mr. Dream Client and told him what was up, the solution, and what I would need from him.
- A specific day/time of the week that we work at the same time on the project. This enables us to have quick communication and answers as we are working.
- Skype Calls. Like, actual discussions and stuff to cut down on the amount of typing that has to happen.
- A list of deliverables, deadlines, and priorities so that we can have a start and end date for each different part of the project. Retainer no longer means winging it.
I sent the email and held my breath hoping the world wasn’t going to implode… and prayed he was not going to tell me to ‘eff off’ or something. I mean you can be confident and all, but that little voice inside just won’t shut up sometimes… talking about how everything is going to fall apart and how dumb you are for thinking this was an acceptable thing to write! Don’t listen to that little asshole. Do it anyways.
The next day I had my outline from Mr. Dreamy (while on vacation!) and a very long authentic conversation working these things out so we can move forward. We haven’t Skyped yet because of our travel schedules and timezones, but it will happen very soon. #winwin
I no longer felt overwhelmed after that. I really love working with clients that seriously care about what I need in order to do my best work. We work out a solution together to make sure everyone is happy. I prefer my clients to be more partners in crime than someone I just make a transaction with. I want to be part of something. It’s up to me to create this type of environment and it’s really uncomfortable to be saying these things.
But that’s what we gotta do.
Visa Run Vacation!
I’m on a multiple entry tourist visa in Thailand. I have to leave the country every 3 months and this is a great excuse to have an adventure elsewhere. My birthday is in October, Paolo’s is in November (as well as our anniversary) so we’re using this visa run to combine all 3 and do something super epic.
On November 26th we will be going to Indonesia for 12 days (a new country for me!!!). I’m pretty sure I’m going to leave the laptop behind, but I haven’t fully committed to that yet.
We’ve all been working super hard here for a long time and a recharge is really needed. I feel that I’ve been stuck creatively and especially with my writing and truly stepping away from the computer for a while will breathe life back into me.
Finding My Space
One thing that I didn’t realize about travel and creativity is how important my office space is to me and my productivity. When I am stuck in a room without light and a tiny window, it feels depressing. I can’t get work done. The desk or chair often annoy me and I have to change locations often.
In our condo in Thailand I found the perfect office space on the third floor. One entire wall is a window and lets in a lot of light with some nice greenery outside. It’s not perfect, but it’s a major improvement. Since working here my productivity (according to RescueTime) went from 50-60% on average to 75-85%. That’s pretty huge.
Floating Lantern Festival
Chiang Mai, Thailand has a festival of lights called Yi Peng to show respect to Buddha. Thousands of sky lanterns are released into the night sky. It is believed that launching one of these sky lanterns into the night can send a person’s bad luck and misfortune away. Many people say a short prayer before launching the lantern or write something meaningful on it before launching.
This is one of the reasons I travel. I get to participate in all kinds of different festivals, adventures, ceremonies, food, and cultures around the world and it’s incredibly inspiring for me and my work. The Yi Peng festival is amazingly beautiful as you watch thousands of sky lanterns float away into the night sky.
This is the best part about being an entrepreneur and finding my freedom. Moments like this.
Plans & Pivots
The Starter Kit
I’m working to productize a web design package for entrepreneurs to get them started on their journey or redesign their site. It’s part template, part customization and comes with a side of consulting. It’s a huge time suck to create the first version, but the pay off will be worth it as the time saved in the long run will be enormous. I’ve enrolled our first two beta customers and am creating the program materials as I go along with them and adjusting where necessary.
I’m very very excited about this development and where it’s going to lead.
Never North & Beyond
When I first launched Never North I had no time to execute anything. I had disaster after disaster that sucked me dry of time, energy, health, and finances.
I didn’t want ‘Never North’ to continue being a ‘someday’ project and these were pretty legitimate excuses to postpone it some more. I couldn’t put it off any longer though, even if I was in the middle of a series of major disasters. So, I made Never North happen as best as I could and worked like slave to make this happen.
Now that I’m starting to get my balance back and can think through things more clearly I realize that I cut some corners. It’s likely why I’m having trouble getting content out when I have so much to say. There is no foundation built to say it on. I never finished the foundation.
It’s time to finish what I started and get some clarity and direction around here. On our visa run vacation, I plan to spend some serious time thinking these things over and reflecting on what Never North is and will be.
Last month my next steps were:
- Develop brand positioning and strategy for Never North Labs and it’s new service offerings. – INITIAL WORK & BRAINSTORMING DONE. Recruited first 2 beta customers to develop my ‘Starter Kit’ program with.
- Create a detailed case study for yTravel Blog. – DONE. Check it out here.
- Rev up the engine at Never North (start posting more frequently! Goal: 1x/week) – WORK-IN-PROGRESS. In October I managed 2 posts. In November I’d like to hit 2 again and continue to build up from there.
For November my next steps are:
- Create a daily writing habit of 500 words per day.
- Prioritize writing for the Never North email list.
- Begin the Never North Labs, ‘Starter Kit’ and move my first two beta customers through the offer and evaluate what happens.
- Work on creating a better foundation and direction for Never North.
It’s your turn!
What is a mistake you made with a client or in your business and how did you fix it?
Until next time kids. Toodles.