Declare Independence


When we think of fresh starts, we typically think of January 1st. Each year, millions of people make resolutions for the coming year, promising to lose weight, stop smoking, or dump that lazy boyfriend. Gym memberships go up, dating sites have record months, people actually start to see results—for a while, at least.

By the middle of the year, most of those promises are forgotten, though. Habits are hard to give up, and minds change very slowly. But I would like to propose a second chance date for everyone who failed to make a change: July 4.

The Fourth of July has great potential to help us change. At its core, it’s a holiday that celebrates freedom, change, and breaking out to go it alone. In some ways, it’s the perfect holiday for freelancers. We’re naturally independent, we love the freedom that comes from working for ourselves, and we are small, lithe businesses that can make changes instantly.

So, use your time off today to commit to greater independence in some area of your life—personally or professionally.Maybe it’s iIndependence from laziness. Perhaps you need to declare independence from your full-time employer. You might need to declare independence from debt, or from mediocrity, or from fear.

Whatever it might be, you (and only you) control your destiny. Stop living in captivity and put a plan in place today to find new freedom. Write down your goals, break them into manageable, reachable steps, and then start your journey.

There’s no time like today to move toward independence.

Free Toy Inside

I have a feeling most of you remember that excited feeling you experienced as a child when you found the free toy buried in your breakfast cereal. It was always at the bottom, wrapped in plastic, and covered in the dusty remnants of crushed Fruity Sugar Pows or something. It was the perfect reward for digging your way down, too: "Now that you're hopped-up on sugar, here's a toy to go crazy with!"

"Free Toy Inside" became a cultural concept that no one could argue with. Buy the thing you were already looking for, and get this unexpected item as a bonus. How could a kid lose, right? Even today, as an adult quickly approaching forty, I love the notion of a hidden bonus or free extra. I have a feeling you still do too.

To that end, I have a "Free Toy Inside" offer for you. If you buy (or have bought) one of my Frictionless Field Guides, I want to give you a free 30-minute one-on-one consultation with me. No catch, no gimmick. Just you and I, chatting about your questions and trying to find answers.

If you've ever finished reading a book and wished you could call up the author and ask them your questions, this might be the deal you're looking for. Buy one of my Field Guides for freelancers, write down your questions, and then spend 30-minutes on Skype with me to get some answers.

Just use the contact form on my About page to send me your order number. I'll get in touch and we can set up a time to talk. It's that simple.

The Guide to Getting Paid is Here

The single most frustrating part of being a freelancer is getting paid. Something that seems so simple—trading our services for clients' money—is often filled with enormous amounts of stress.

I know far too many freelancers who are still waiting for paychecks from an invoice they sent two months ago. Others are afraid to talk about money, or unsure how much they should charge. Many freelancers are confused by the black art of contracts, invoicing, and payment systems.

No more.

The Freelancer's Guide to Getting Paid will help you take your business to the next level. My average payment arrives in Net2 (yes, just two days!), my clients think that my invoicing and payment system is the easiest one they've ever used, and I rarely have trouble getting paid. And now I want to show you how to do it, too.

Pick up your copy of The Freelancer's Guide to Getting Paid today, and get started transforming how your clients pay you.

A Mistake

I made a mistake this week.

I did something I probably shouldn’t have done. I took eight years of freelancing lessons—lessons that have helped me make more money, grow my business, and live the freelancer dream—and sold them in topical slices for just $5.

Eight years of hard-earned lessons. Eight years of worry and stress. Eight years of falling on my face, figuring out why, and then building systems to prevent it from happening again. I took all of that, wrote it up and packaged it for purchase, and then completely and totally underpriced it.

So, I’m raising the prices. As of today, across all platforms, each Frictionless Field Guide is now $10.

The way I see it is that these Field Guides are an investment that a freelancer can make to add value and longevity to their business. They will help you get more done, delight more clients, and, in the end, earn more money. It’s hard to make those claims without sounding arrogant, I realize this, but I mean them all. If you do what I tell you in these books, you’ll earn more cash.

"But Aaron,” you might say, "that’s a lot of money for less than 100 pages!” No, it’s a steal considering all the experience and knowledge inside the pages of each Field Guide. If you want free, go learn it yourself. If you want value, pay for it.

Clients don’t hire you to buy your time; they hire you for your solutions and experience. I teach that in The Freelancer’s Guide to Getting Paid. So why would I price this out based on page-count? No, these Guides will teach you get more solid productive time out of your day, how to price yourself better, and how to only take the best projects that come your way. Those are clear paths that only lead to earning more.

Freelancers are business owners that run small, one-person companies. These Guides are a tax write-off and an investment for anyone serious about their business. Freelancers will happily buy a new app, or upgrade to a new version of Quickbooks or whatever. They rarely bat an eye at replacing their computer every few years because, hey, their business runs on it. These Field Guides are just a different kind of investment.

Learn to do things better so you can do them faster. Learn to communicate more clearly so that you don't have to do it so often. Learn how to pick the right clients, so that you don't waste time on the wrong ones.

All of that will help you delight more clients, which leads to you earning more income each month. In that light, $10 for an easy-to-read topical guide (and one that you can digest and apply in a week) is a incredible deal. 

Something New Has Arrived

A New Focus

Frictionless was born over two years ago as an outlet for my freelancer-focused productivity writing. In that time, the brand has expended to include a number of paper tools and a well-received book for helping freelancers refine and improve their business. There was a weekly newsletter for a while, and dozens of blog posts.

Over those two years, though, I lost my way. I knew I wanted to help people get more done, and I knew I loved writing about freelancing, but I never managed to put the pieces together. That lack of focus led to a loss of motivation, and then most of the pieces fell to the floor.  Other than the paper tools, which have turned out to be insanely popular (and not just with freelancers), everything else has suffered from that lack of focus.

No more. Frictionless needs focus and purpose, and that's what I've spent the last few months working toward. No longer a generalist site, GetFrictionless.com is becoming a resource for freelancers. Nothing more, nothing less. Non-freelancers might find it enlightening and useful, but I'm laser-focused on one particular audience now.

With this renewed sense of purpose comes a fresh coat of paint and a retooling of the products I offer. While the Frictionless Tools will remain the same (until I expand the lineup, that is), the writing needed to be re-worked. Freelancers don't have time to digest huge amounts of information. We like to take things in chunks. And the more relevant those chunks are, the better.

That means that Frictionless Freelancing is going away, but something new (and better) is taking its place. And I think you'll like what I've created.

 

The Frictionless Field Guides

Replacing Frictionless Freelancing is a brand new series of topical guides for freelancers. The Frictionless Field Guides 

Learn more about them here.

 

Frictionless Tools

I would be remise if I failed to mention the Frictionless Tools. They sell like hotcakes and fit perfectly into any freelancer's daily routine. They have a new home here as well, and you can buy Tools and Field Guides with one single purchase without leaving this site.

That's pretty frictionless, if you don't mind me saying.

Introducing the Frictionless Field Guides

Frictionless Freelancing was a very popular book. I've written three novels, but the sales for this simple business book dwarfed all of my novel sales combined. So it makes sense that I discontinue the book and replace it with something new and untested (I say that with a healthy measure of sarcasm).

The content from Frictionless Freelancing naturally provides a solid foundation for a topical series. It was a great book, and it would be silly to throw it out the window entirely. Instead, I've gone over every word and found better ways to communicate essential ideas, as well as taking the time to introduce entirely new sections that take readers deeper.

Which leads to today's announcement. Frictionless Freelancing is going away, and in its place is something even better: The Frictionless Field Guides. This is a series of topical freelancer guides that go deep and teach foundational principles that every freelancer should know. Think of each book in the new series as a small portion of Frictionless Freelancing on steroids (without the anger issues and hair loss, thankfully). 

The Field Guides are written specifically for busy freelancers. When you're juggling tons of client work, it's hard to find the time to read through large business books. I know this from experience. Instead, most freelancers want to get quick guidance on a topic of their choice. Give me the details fast, break it down into small chunks, and let me move at my own pace without feeling guilty. That's the idea behind the Frictionless Field Guides.

Each Field Guide is around 10,000 words long (about 60 print pages). They're written in a clear, conversational style that challenges old habits while offering better, more frictionless solutions. If you can find ten minutes before bed, you can read a chapter and learn something powerful that will help you transform your freelance business.

Though there are only two volumes currently complete, the series will grow quickly. My goal is to wrap up a new book each month, but it may be faster. And the third guide, The Freelancer's Guide to Getting Paid, is just days away.

They'll all be available for download right from this site as a "bundle" containing the PDF, ePub and Mobi files (the Kindle proprietary format), but you'll also soon be able to find them on the Kindle store and iBookstore if that fits your reading habits better.

So go check them out, read the free first chapter of each, and spread the word. There's a new resource aiming to empower freelancers everywhere, and the Frictionless Field Guides are just getting started!

Referrals From Unlikely Places

I learned something this week that has humbled me a bit, and I want to share it with you. If you run a business that benefits from client referrals, this one is right up your alley.

Without going into specifics, I recently had a client experience that left me wanting to fire the client once the work was done. Each project was a chore, and they effected my ability to best take care of other clients. I felt that I would be doing everyone a favor by simply asking this client to find another designer to work with.

This isn’t a bad thing, mind you. Sometimes we need to fire clients. Though, the better technique is to learn ahead of time what your ideal client is, and then only take on clients that fit that list of qualities. But, sometimes the need to pay the mortgage outweighs your ideals, so you end up with clients who challenge your skills on many levels. Sometimes, those clients need to politely be let go.

Politeness and professionalism is at the core of all of this. Whether the client meets your qualifications for the perfect client, or you regret agreeing to work with them, each client deserves to be treated professionally. You can decide to no longer work with them on future gigs after the current project ends, but even then you need to communicate that decision in a polite and respectful manner.

Why? Because even though they might be pushing your buttons and challenging your patience, those clients might still love your work. They might, in fact, be raving fans. And raving fans tell other people about you. Give them a bad experience, and they’ll share it with others. But provide professional services consistently, and they just might convince others to hire you as well.

Sure, that new referral might be another one-time gig. But what happened to me is that the new referral was the type of client who goes out and finds other clients for me as part of their job. Rather than having one project for us, these kind of clients could potentially bring in dozens of projects, if not more.

Freelancers can become flustered and have their patience challenged. We’re not perfect, and we can’t expect ideal clients all the time, but how we handle those situations can effect the future of our business. Rudely fire a problem client and you will feel the effects of a vocal, upset business owner. Treat them professionally and you just might empower them to help you out down the road.

Just Stop Playing

When we think of “playing” during work, most of us might think of games. Maybe you have a thing for World of Warcraft and you let your game time bleed into your work time. That’s the obvious thing we think of when I mention “playing”.

But most of us play in other ways that interfere with our work time and focus. Some people spend way too much time exploring todo list apps, trying to find the perfect one (hint: there isn’t one, so stop looking). Others can’t seem to stop making spreadsheets that analyze the health of their business. People can “play” with things that they feel are justified as essential parts of their job.

They aren’t essential, though. We just like to think they are. Finding the perfect productivity system isn’t essential. Really, it’s not. Do you know what is? Capturing every important task and note that comes your way, keeping them organized in a master list, and then working off of that list using common sense and your priorities as a guide. Everything else is fluff. Everything else is “playing”.

Stop playing. Stop fussing over the tools and just do the work.

Look, If I billed you for every hour you spend futzing around with a productivity app or a new notebook—meaning I literally forced you to pay me an hourly rate for that time—I am fairly confident that you would stop doing it. But here’s the deal: it already costs you money, you just don’t see the deductions from your bank account in the same way.

When we waste time on our tools, that’s time we could have used to do billable client work. Work that you can invoice. Work that contributes to your paycheck and your bottom line. Work less, earn less. Work more, earn more. It’s simple math. When you are exporting all of your tasks from your todo app and importing them into this week’s hot new thing, you are wasting time that could be spent elsewhere.

Do you want a raise in your freelancer salary? Do you want to accomplish more meaningful work? Do you want to get better at what you do? Stop playing with your tools and start working. It’s that simple.

Thoughts on My Social Hiatus

In my own imagination, my absence from social media has been as pronounced as Kiera Knightly’s lower jaw, but in reality I think I’ve barely been missed. No worries, though. I’ve done this before and know what to expect, though it’s been years since my last hiatus. Still, I’m human to dream of being missed, right? Part of the reason for stepping back this time is that I’m just so busy. Not with busy-work, mind you, but a dramatic expansion of my workload. I have a lot more on my plate these days, and while I like it, it meant taking an inventory of where all of my time is going. It’s like being in an airplane that’s losing altitude. First you toss the empty seats, and then the cargo, and finally the essential supplies. You might even kick the annoying people out, too, but that’s the stuff that only happens in the movies, thankfully.

My evaluation revealed to me just how much of my time was being spent in places like Twitter and App.Net. I couldn’t believe how much of my time I was spending on something as mind-numbing as “checking my stream”. I wrote ‘spending’ but I think what I really meant was ‘wasting’. You can only read so many tweets/posts about RSS services and apps before your eyes bleed and you start to want to become a beet farmer. In the Ukraine.

It’s not always the topics, but the vapid, anger-filled apocalyptic nature of each of them. Everything is the end of the world. Everything is super-bad, or super-good. Everything is the best thing since sliced PSD’s, and everything else is the Devil’s sperm, ready to impregnate our minds and turn us into the worst consumers imaginable if we ever touch the stuff.

Do we really need to panic about how we’re ever going to manage to gather and read all those articles on why Apple is beleaguered or the latest blurry photo of an unknown internal component for the next iPhone? Is iOS 7 (not a public release, but a beta version, mind you) really worth hundreds of designers lining up on either side of the issue like some sort of Dadaist West Side Story, ready to flick open their styli and stab someone? Honestly, it’s not important.

You know what is important? Feeding my kids. Money doesn’t grow on trees, unless those trees are Work Your Ass Off trees and you’re patient enough to give them time to grow and produce fruit. I have to work hard each day to earn my keep in this world, and I’m doing it for a few other human beings I really care for as well. I get an average of seven hours each day at my desk. Less than five minutes is equal to about 1% of my available work time. A half-hour is a massive 7% of my daily income.

So the choice I’ve faced each day is to either spend all of my time doing the work I need to do, or spend most of it doing that stuff, and the rest on things that have no lasting importance whatsoever. This isn’t about being a snob and downplaying the stuff that other people might deem important; this is about perspective, about what will matter in five years or even ten. To me, at least, this is about growing up and being a man.

But listen, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for discussion and community and social interaction. That’s what has made this hiatus so difficult. I miss the people. I miss the conversations. Not all of them or even most of them, but some of them, at least. But I’m not interested in talking and writing about something as asinine as Google Glass and how it’s going to revolutionize the way the top 1% of the wealthiest nation in the world is going to conduct their entitled, abnormally unique lives.

When are we going to talk about something truly important? How many hundreds of hours have been spent just this week criticizing the decisions of companies that, frankly, never asked us and couldn’t possibly care one iota?

The conversation — the Greater Conversation, mind you — needs to elevate. It needs to push us to greater places, inspire us, challenge us to be better and do better and think better. But right now, the Conversation is laying on the bottom shelf in an abandoned 7-Eleven in rural North Dakota, covered in filth and going nowhere.

We have moments, sure, but it’s inconsistent at best. One moment we are waxing philosophical about something deep and full of meaning, and the next we are shoveling yet one more load of fuel into the gaping furnace that is the ego of some sensitive, coddled internet celebrity.

Let’s talk about the things that last. Let’s talk about making lives better around us. Let’s talk about making choices that aren’t about blessing ourselves, but rather about helping others. Let’s talk about the things that would still matter to our great-grandparents, and the things that people will still be talking about when we have grandchildren of our own.

Those conversations are more rare and happen at a much slower pace, though. They don’t eat up our time like fighting over UI changes does. And that will free up time for us to spend on doing our real work and taking care of our families.

I’m sure I offended you, and I sincerely apologize for that. It’s not my goal to belittle anyone reading this, and I fully acknowledge that what is important to one person might not necessarily be important to another. Much of this rant is subjective and open to debate (ironic, I know).

Just understand that you have two choices after reading this: get angry and defensive, or look for the good pieces and find a way to help out in your own small bubble. I’m not 100% right about all of this, so arguing with me about being wrong is pointless. I just want people to be a lot less dismissive than they tend to be. We all owe each other that much, don’t we?

Am I crabby and idealistic? You bet (get off my lawn, while you’re at it). But dammit, we can do better than this, can’t we? Prove it.

The Ultimate Freelancer

On Ecuador's Mt. Chimborazo, there is only one ice miner left. We works alone. He works hard. He works because it's what he was born to do. Watch Baltazar Ushca's story. As a freelancer, I appreciated the honesty and brutality of his life. It's as pure as the ice he carries, and as rich as the history he inherited.

What's Your Purpose?

The next most important thing to having a goal is to have a purpose. Why do you do the things you do? What drives you to make the choices you make? How are you wired? What is the reason for all of the motion and action you do each day? Are you merely flailing your limbs and running in place, or is there a purpose for every movement? The best way to discover the answer is to look backward. What lessons can you pull from your experiences? What were the elements of your job that brought you the most joy and fulfillment? In what settings did you come alive? What type of project makes you smile every time a client brings one to you?

Image two photographers in a room together. One bills himself as a "portrait photographer", and the other speaks about herself as "a photographer who is committed to capturing the beauty and awe of everyday life". What's more appealing to you?

Your purpose is the story, written by your past, that informs your journey into the future.

Know yourself. Know your motivations and reactions and resonations. Be self-aware and driven to tapping their information to hack your future.

The Wanderer

A traveler without a destination is a wanderer. Wanderers waste effort and time and resources in their quest to go…somewhere. They are the most inefficient travelers in existence. No one decides to be a wanderer, though. It happens when they lose their destination. They have no plan, no goal, no reason. Wanderers don't wander because they are lost; people wander because they've lost their focus.

As a freelancer, you are a traveler. You will go places, do things and accomplish an enormous list of tasks over the course of your career. But if you aren't careful, you might become the worst of travelers. Without a goal, every day becomes the same. Punch in, punch out. Do the job and go home. Rinse and repeat. It's a life without a destination.

Don't wander. Set long-term goals, and then a ton of sub-goals to get you there. Then use each day as a vehicle to move you forward toward a specific place, idea, achievement or state. Holding that target in your mind is what keeps you from wandering around for weeks or months.

Don't be a wanderer.

Dear Freelancer

Dear Freelancer,

You get up each day and hit the grind without a boss to guide you. You set goals, chase them down like cat chasing a squirrel, and never let up until you reach them. You know yourself well enough to commit to responsibilities that depend on your very best efforts, day after day.

You bet your livelihood, and sometimes that of your family, on your ability to get things done. You talk to strangers, believe that people you've never met will send you real money, and abuse substances (namely sugar and caffeine). These are things we teach our kids to never do, but you've somehow turned them into an art that generates results.

You do a dozen things you hate – like bookkeeping and networking events – just so you can do that one thing you love. You look toward the future more than anyone I know. You only let the past serve as a reminder of past success, not a source of fear and doubt. You have courage and faith.

You've chosen a career that is absent of any false sense of security. You go without sleep and food to please your clients. You believe so much that hoodies are here to stay that you've bought a dozen. You have a light footprint and incredible flexibility, and this makes you so much more attractive to your clients than the Big Boys.

Don't give up. Sure, there are always going to be bad days. But those are mere islands in a Sea of Awesome that laps against your bare feet. Wiggle your toes and enjoy it.

You're appreciated.

Courage

When I first started out doing design work, there was little I knew how to do. I had the raw tools at my disposal, however: intuition, my eyes, and a knack for learning quick under pressure. My sense for design carried me through many of those first projects, and most of them involved forcing myself to learn to do the things my mind envisioned. Later, I began to take on projects without knowing how I would accomplish them. Everything I know about InDesign was learned with that kind of pressure hanging over me. Learn it, or fail to satisfy the client. Now, I could have played it safe and only agreed to work on the projects that I felt comfortable with, but that is like working on a lease.

I prefer to go places. Taking on new types of work, tackling new challenges and teaching old dogs new tricks are all things that take courage. Courage to say yes to the scary things. Courage to trust your ability to learn something new under pressure. Courage to take on risk in pursuit of a big reward.

The only thing that separates the person you are from the person you could become is courage.

30 Seconds

Do you know what you have to offer? I mean really, really know it? Do you know your value and services and purpose so well that you could tell someone in just 30 seconds? It used to be called the "elevator speech", and was conceived to equip business owners and salespeople for that moment when they are in an elevator with a potential client for a mere half-minute. They are a captive audience, but only for a short time, so the idea was to have a pure, concise script memorized and ready at a moment's notice.

You may not ride an elevator, but you still have need of this if you are a freelancer today. You'll constantly meet people and have to explain what you do. They might not even be potential clients – perhaps they are simply friends of the family or strangers in a café – but the more clearly you leave them with an impression of what you have to offer, the more likely they are to remember you and how you could help solve a problem for them, even if it's a few days, weeks or even months down the road.

Spend some time this week and write your elevator speech. Trim it to take up less than a minute, and memorize that nugget for the future. The first time you use it, you'll be glad you cared enough to write it.

First Impressions

I am a firm believer that first impressions matter. I try to look nice for in-person client meetings. I speak professionally and with humble authority (as best as I can). And I make sure I'm clear about my value to a client's business. Bad first impressions frighten clients away. Good first impressions instill trust.

Maybe you don't leave your office. Maybe your profession doesn't require you to be in-person at events or meetings. But you send emails and take phone calls. You have marketing material of some kind. You have contracts and forms and the work itself. Those things speak about you to the other person. You may not intend it, but they do.

Curate your presentation and craft your image. Do so with care, and your business will respond.

Juggling

I can juggle three objects at once. Tennis balls, wooden blocks, even apples. And if I'm juggling apples, I can take a bite out of one while maintaining the other two. The kids love it. And I think a lot of people wish they could juggle because it's so cool to watch. But juggling should never come into the office with you. Don't try to manage email, a web design layout and listening to a podcast all at the same time. Your brain can't handle all of that and still keep the quality level high. It's a myth that successful people multitask all day. They don't; successful people focus on each task sequentially, pour everything they have into the job, and then move on to the next item.

Juggle for your kids, sure. But when it comes to your client's work, don't juggle anything. Grab one item, focus, and do your best with it. That's how you succeed.

The Middle

The best place to be is right in the center of the spectrum. Not a neat-freak and not a slob. Not a thinker and not a feeler. Not apathetic and not obsessive. Not a pessimist and not an optimist.

The middle is flexible. The middle has longevity. The middle connects more things together. The middle refines our extremes.

Aim for the middle.

Hack Your Disappointment

I have two very simple rules when it comes to managing my business finances. These rules keep my disappointment and mistakes to a minimum.

First, always err on the conservative side when forecasting income. In other words, be pessimistic about how much money you hope to make.

Second, always err on the liberal side when forecasting expenses. In other words, expect things to cost more than usual.

These rules help me reduce expenses and live within my means. A business that bleeds is a business that dies.

Passive and Active Followers

There are two types of followers: active and passive. They are both followers, but for very different reasons. And understanding their differences can help you avoid disappointment and failure.

Active followers do things in response to your requests. They buy your product, read your posts and enter into dialog with you.

Passive followers, in contrast, do very little. They don't buy, or read, or comment. They are on your side in one sense, but you can't count on them to pull your project or business forward.

(Obviously, because you are reading this post, you are an active follower. And I thank you for that.)

My best guess is that roughly 5% of your total followers are actually active. I know from experience and confirmation from friends that this is about right. It seems pessimistic, but it's the truth.

What does it mean for you? Well, if you have 3,000 followers and hope to launch an ebook for sale, don't expect 3,000 copies to sell. Or even 1,500. No, you can expect maybe 150 buyers. Go into it expecting every follower to buy and you'll only experience disappointment. Expect 5%, and you open up the possibility that you might be pleasantly surprised.