I’ve been running WaltersWorks in various forms since 2012, but I’ve only been full-time for the last 100 days.
What have I learned in that time?
A bunch, that’s what. I’ll try to break it down in this blog post.
When you’re working a 9-5 job and your business is just a side hustle, you’ve got plenty on your plate to keep you busy. But when you step out on your own…
…it’s often a waiting game.
I’m a pretty level-headed guy, but when your income is project-based and you’re waiting for feedback, approval, payment, etc. I do find myself starting to panic when things are moving slowly.
It’s the nature of the game, though. Several of my projects have pushed well past six months because I’m never going to tell my clients to hurry up. Even when I need that money to come in.
I never let projects fall off track, though. Even if it’s just a reminder email, a quick phone call, or a text to say “hi”, I make sure to give my clients subtle prods. And they seem to appreciate it!
Doug. Your constant reminders keep me on track.
That’s what I’m here for.
I started out just designing web sites. But over time, I’ve generalized my services – a lot. Once I went full-time I found myself doing work that I never thought I would do. I was transcribing audio files, taking photographs and shooting video, narrating videos, managing social media accounts…even basic computer troubleshooting. I wasn’t going to turn down any work that landed in front of me.
Generalizing like that has helped me to extend my network. I’ve connected with individuals and business owners who have passed along my name to their friends and professional contacts. Doing good work – any kind of work – will get you further ahead than simply waiting for the kind of work you’d rather be doing to show up.
…but know when to specialize.
A month or two ago, I sat down with a mentor from SCORE. One of the things he told me that really stuck with me was not to diversify too much. And he’s right – eventually, every generalist has to specialize. All of the odd jobs I was doing came with a wide variety of hourly rates. I was making anywhere from $5 to $60 an hour depending on the source of the work. I reached a point where I had to cut something out…so I ditched the low-paying transcription work in favor of more specialized web projects.
I still think it was valuable for me to take a wide range of gigs at the onset. Bills to pay, you know? But you have to be ready to transition as opportunities to specialize become available. At some point, you’re going to have to say no to the gigs that aren’t getting you ahead.
Maximization vs. optimization
This idea came to me courtesy of Seth Godin’s blog.
Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I’ll just replace the part…
That’s not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.
Reflecting on my various careers, it’s true that we often find ourselves pressured – internally and externally – to maximize. Put the pedal to the metal and churn out as much work as you can, work those nights, work those weekends, churn, churn, churn!
What I found is that burnout is real, and when you reach a point where you can optimize, do it.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Are you an early riser or a night owl? Figure it out, and then set up your schedule so that you’re working at the optimum time for you, not based on somebody else’s schedule. Find balance. Make time for you – time to prepare, time to relax, and time to reflect. They say when it comes to finances, you should always pay yourself first. The wise man budgets his time in the same way.
You never know when the industry you work in will be disrupted. Working in a tech field, I’m sure that the work I do will be automated more and more to the point where web design is literally as easy as making toast. Younger generations are going to enter the working world and they won’t need me to publish across their social channels. Taking photos and videos won’t require a trained eye (heck – they already don’t).
During these first 100 days, I’ve made it a priority to keep learning. I’ve also made a point to keep teaching. Nothing ignites my passion more than learning something new and then sharing it with others. Who knows what the next 5, 10, or 50 years will look like – but as long as I have an open mind and my eyes fixed on the road ahead rather than the road behind, I’ll be okay.