Masters of Scale, the podcast run by Reid Hoffman of Greylock Ventures and founder of several companies including LinkedIn, is one of my favorites podcasts to listen to as I walk my dog. On a recent show, he focused on the “10 Commandments of Start-up Success.” Not all of them apply to independents growing their businesses in the gig economy, but some do. So I thought I would share them with a special spin for the freelance world.
- Get used to “no”
No entrepreneur has outstanding success with their first idea. Trial and error is involved. Kathryn Minshew, the Founder and CEO of The Muse, and was rejected 138 times when she looked for investor partners. Similarly, independent workers will be turned down often as well. Anyone who has spent time in sales knows the drill; you need to make a lot of calls to get the business.
That said, innovations in the talent marketplace are starting to change that, with 77% of freelancers saying that technology has made finding engagements easier. Professional contacts and friends and family remain the largest source of gigs by far, but online marketplaces are beginning to get some traction.
- Raise more money than you need
Although this commandment needs to be scaled down a bit (pardon the pun), it is still true for freelancers. You need to budget more money than you may think you need. When you start up your business, you will estimate your expenses and expected revenues to see if it makes sense. Some people may overlook certain expenses associated with digital branding, for example. If you are building a website and blogging regularly, those web hosting fees, development expense and SEO optimization costs add up. Also, developing good content is time consuming, so the time you spent doing that is time not spent on client work or sales. That has an opportunity cost. If you are using survey tools or infographic platforms for which you pay a monthly fee, be sure to capture that too. Similarly, attending conferences to meet and greet potential clients has a price tag as well. Be sure to factor all of those expenses in to your budgeting process. As the saying goes, it takes money to make money, You just need to be sure you fully understand how much it will take for you.
- Decisions matter
Many entrepreneurs are perfectionists. They want to do the best work possible and well they should. Sometimes though, you need to stop planning and just go for it. You need to decide you are ready. Erik Schmidt, CEO of Google, talked about how fighter pilots are trained to make important critical decisions quickly. In the military and in many companies they refer to it as the OODA Loop, with OODA standing for observe, orient, decide and act. Using this principle, Google bought You Tube in nine days. If they can do that, you can make important decisons for your business quickly and effectively too. So when a large issue comes your way, operate your own OODA loop and make the call.
One thing freelancers don’t consider at times is that you are as defined by the choices you don’t make as the ones you do. As I mentioned in my first book, A New Brand of Expertise, my son went to elementary school with Robin Williams’ son. (RIP, Robin…) At a dinner one evening in 1996, his then wife, Marsha, was discussing the choices Robin made about certain movie roles. She was sorry he had done Father’s Day with Billy Crystal because it wasn’t a great movie; Robin just wanted to do it with Billy. She worried that it would define him as a comedic actor and constrain his choices. The next year he went on to get an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, so he wasn’t so constrained. Nonetheless, it is still a good message. As a consultant you are creating a body of work, just like an actor, so try to create a body of work that is coherent, creative and impressive.
As such, you need to decide whether a gig that may come to you is really the right gig. Some may view potential work as a proverbial “bird in the hand”, but the truth of the matter is if it is not right for you – either it doesn’t fit your skill set or it isn’t something you want to do – it may be better to decide to turn it down. In the world of independent talent, you are only as good as your last gig, so better to ensure that every gig will be a good one for you.
Hopefully these thoughts will help you scale your business. Look for more tips at my blog.
Marion McGovern is the author of Thriving in the Gig Economy and a proud member of the freelance economy.