The greatest myth of striking out on your own as a freelancer or independent creator is that you’ll automatically escape the monotony of the 9-5 cubicle dweller. We think the relentless sense of pending doom and total lack of meaning in Dilbert, or The Office, or some satire of corporate business culture, won’t apply to us the moment we book our first client or post our first video on YouTube.
The truth is more nuanced then that. I’ve had fun, rewarding, meaningful moments working for the man. And I’ve had days of boredom, frustration, and discouragement working as a free agent.
However, the benefits of self-employment can’t be denied, and that is you have the ability to choose your own work. When you’re stuck in a job you hate, your only recourse might be to quit—easier said than done! But when you’re independent, if you feel stuck in a contract you hate or are flailing in the type of content you’re creating, you can mix it up at any time. Find another client. Try launching a new creative project. Take your business in a new direction and pivot, as they say in the Valley…(Silicon, that is).
My career as a freelance web designer and developer has gone through many such ebbs and flows over the years. There have been days when I’m ready to throw in the towel—more than I care to count. But I’ve grown to be extremely thankful for the freedom to control the destiny of my working life and the meaning and fulfillment I find in my career. When I help awesome clients accomplish great things for their organizations, it gives me a sense of purpose. I’m doing work that matters. We might not be saving the Arctic or curing cancer together, but we’re contributing to society in positive ways.
To me, that’s what success looks like.
What does success look like for you?
Well, it’s 2018 folks. Another full revolution around that giant nuclear fireball in the sky. Which means…a full refresh of the Pygmy Nuthatch website!
This brand new planning tool that my wife Rosemary and I developed will help you achieve fabulous success in 2018. It’s simple (only one page!) but very effective. The best part is, I’m providing it to you at no cost! Check out the link above to get started. I think you’ll love it.
However you plan out your new year (and you should), I hope it brings you happiness, prosperity, and a deeper sense of connection to the people close to you.
As I dive deeper into formulating marketing plans and writing sales copy for upcoming Pygmy Nuthatch projects, I’m becoming more keenly aware of the fact that there’s a LOT of spammy sales lingo out there. Even people I generally respect in the world of business and creativity fall into this trap sometimes.
For example, I won’t name names but I just deleted an email out of my inbox that started with this:
Something must have went wrong… Because we still need you to confirm your address for your FREE 6-part video <Insert Product Name Here>.
No sir, nothing went wrong. You don’t need me to confirm anything. I never requested this from you in the first place. I don’t care if your 6-part video is free. I’m just not interested in your product. Sorry!
Now I get why people send stuff out like this. I get why people put up landing pages with this kind of spammy sales lingo. They work! So do popup email subscription forms that websites thrust in your face and make you click X to close. Over and over again studies show that email signup popups convert very well.
But the question is, at what cost? Sure you might convert 2%, 5%, even 10% of your audience. But what if you’re also turning off 5% or 10% of your audience? What if you’re pissing off some of the very same people you’re trying to attract? What if your disrespect for your audience’s intelligence and your disregard for good user experience is actually working against you?
I know that I could start employing tactics on this blog right now that would bring me more email subscribers. I know I could start using my mailing list in certain ways to convert leads into customers and make real money. But I’m just not willing to go there.
I’m not comfortable with compromising my values to make a quick buck. It’s just not worth it. There are other ways to make an honest living. I would rather grow my audience and subscriber base organically and honorably. I would rather be known as the guy who is respectful of his audiences’ time and attention and who prizes good user experience over annoying sales techniques. And if that hurts me in the pocketbook in the meantime, so be it.
What are you doing in the pursuit of success as an independent creator? I’m not here to judge. But I encourage you to think through the decisions you make for your marketing strategies and how the ramifications of your ideas will affect real people.
You have to be a little bit crazy to pursue your calling, because at times it will seem to everyone around you like you’re chasing after something that’s just not possible. And if you’re not careful, you’ll start telling yourself that too. Oh that idea is too outlandish! Too ambitious! Too controversial! Too unrealistic!
But here’s the thing: if that’s how you feel, then you’re probably doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
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I feel like I’ve spent my whole life trying to find a “theory of everything” to tie all the things I most love to do together into one pursuit. Like somehow, if I get the mixture just right, I can blog and write music and create software and record podcasts and comment on the latest Apple news and produce videos and open an art gallery…all at the same time for the same audience.
I’ve finally come to realize that this is likely never going to come to pass. And that’s fine. With the wisdom that comes from experience, you begin to realize that seasons in life come and go. Sometimes you feel an urge to focus on one particular skillset, one particular customer base, one particular industry. You turn your attention onto that for a time, and then the season changes and something else comes along to light a fire in your belly.
My advice? Don’t fight it. Roll with it. Not everyone will like everything you do. Some projects you undertake will resonate with a lot of people, others perhaps not. What’s most important is that you don’t engage in self-censorship. Don’t sideline important aspects of your creative soul just because you’re afraid of how others might take it.
After George W. Bush concluded his presidency, he moved back to Texas and took up painting. Probably not the first thing anyone would have guessed he’d do next after leaving the White House, and there were plenty of people ready to scoff at the idea of President Bush at an easel with a brush in hand. But that’s exactly what he did, and it’s now a common acknowledgement—even among many of his political critics—that he’s actually a pretty good artist.
I suspect you won’t be stepping down as President to reach for the blue ochre any time soon, but it’s very probable your career as an independent creator will morph and evolve over time. Don’t do what I’ve done and agonize over every little shift in focus and interest. Embrace your insatiable curiosity! Every true artistic breakthrough is born out of discontent with the status quo…even if that status quo is your own.