“If you dig deep and keep peeling the onion, artists and freelance writers are the leaders in society; the people who start to get new ideas out.” – Allan Savory, ecologist, and originator of “Holistic Management”
Here’s a name you might not have heard of – Chase Jarvis.
Quite catchy, in itself, one you may well remember if you had heard it, but, I’ll be honest, I only got the merest flicker along one of the synapses in my brain when I read an article about him. And, as I was looking for an interesting gambit to open this article, his story really caught my wandering eye. Here’s why.
Chase had planned (and you can bet his parents were heavily involved in this decision-making process) to attend medical school once his college days were over. A few days before the young man’s graduation, something happened and changed his life completely. Sadly for Chase, his dear grandfather died.
His grandfather had been a professional photographer, and he left Chase one of his fancier cameras, thinking the young man could make good use of it. So, after his graduation, Chase set off, with his girlfriend, to see the sights of Europe – camera in tow, of course. He fell deeply in love, in more ways than one.
His girlfriend became his wife, but that’s not really important. Of greater importance (to us, anyway) is that they moved out to Steamboat Springs in picturesque Colorado, and Chase began photographing in earnest, as a freelancer, with professional snowboarders and skiers his subjects. He licensed his first shots for $500, and was soon able to start his own business – Chase Jarvis Photography.
It got better. A lot better. He’s now a world-renowned photographer, and his client list includes Apple, Nike, and Red Bull, to name but three. Furthermore, he is now the CEO of Creative Live, a multi-million dollar online educational business that he had helped to start. When he found the time. Chase Jarvis is an example of the ultimate freelancer, someone who found out early they were extremely talented at something they loved, and just went with it.
Me? My name’s Andy, and, back in 2009, I was working a corporate job as a marketing manager for a high-end real estate law firm in Newport Beach, California, good money, but all I had was the vaguest notion there was something more out there than what I was living – something that would fulfill me professionally, give me more autonomy, and pay for some of the good things in life. I suppose I just wanted to be the one steering my boat, as it were, and not have someone else at the wheel. So I quit.
How to Quit Your Day Job and Do What You Love
Without a plan, I created an office space at home and got to it as best I could. This is the story of how I went from basically “winging it” every single day to now having a global client list myself (I’ve got some big names in there too, but I’m big on client confidentiality), my own successful digital marketing agency, and, even though I don’t actually physically own a boat of my own, you can bet I’m steering this one. Here are the vitally important lessons I learned…
No Plan = No Money
I had a goal, and that was to create and develop excellent client websites. One minor problem – that word “client.” I didn’t have any. I needed a plan – a business plan, a strategy, a lean plan, a pitch, call it what you will. I very quickly found out that all the impetus, enthusiasm, and drive in the world doesn’t count for much when you don’t have a plan of action. No plan really does equal no money.
Marketing had been my profession before, so it was to marketing I turned. I created a marketing plan, one that marketed me. In retrospect (that might be a phrase you hear repeatedly in this article), I should have created this before jacking in the corporate position. However, as Edgar Watson Howe, the esteemed U.S. novelist, once wrote, “Youth is about the only thing worth having, and that is about the only thing youth has.”
The singular, most important element of my plan was to network. ‘Til I couldn’t network no more. I attended trade shows, professional meetups, networking events in my field – I made contacts, and ensured I made an impression. Through this strategy, I began to gain clients, worked my proverbial globes off, and started to get referrals. There is nothing better than word-of-mouth marketing, trust me.
I now have a constantly updated 5-year combined personal and business plan that lists my life goals and objectives, how I will achieve each of them, where I want my life to be and my business to be, and their necessary or desired deadlines. I call it “The Blueprint.” Yes, this particular youth has learned a thing or two now.
Keep Marketing Yourself & What You Can Offer
Marketing is a little like riding a motorbike, really, really fast. If you jam on the brakes, you end up flying over the handlebars and providing onlookers with a spectacular crash-and-burn scenario. The best strategy? Keep marketing. Now that I had gained a level of momentum myself, it was time to quit the time-consuming, gas-guzzling, pay the entrance fee, and buy-your-own-lunch trade shows, and let Google and Bing do the legwork.
Through research, I identified what appeared to be the three best websites for freelancers:
I worked religiously on my pitch, built a valuable and expert profile that let potential clients know everything they needed to know, provided a portfolio, and pitched like a New York Yankee – fast, hard, and true.
Starting out with website development, it soon became apparent to me that if I really wanted to succeed, I still needed to up my game. In reality, there were a lot of other freelancers offering the same service, and I needed my creativity to come further to the fore.
Make Your Skills Super Valuable
Even though I spent seemingly every spare moment improving my web development skills and expertise with online courses, I knew I had to re-think my strategy. And that’s where Chase Jarvis’s path and mine finally crossed – figuratively-speaking, of course. He used his real, self-discovered talent, and I chose to do the same. My creative talent wasn’t in images, though – it was in words.
Writing was a skill that came naturally to me. Now, I had to find a way to harness my ability in the freelance world. As a natural progression to the field of website development, I began taking a course in blogging, content creation, and, importantly, Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It gave me a real string to my bow, and something exceptionally useful for my existing and new clients – content creation for SEO purposes.
Equally important for me was to progress on a personal level too. I was getting busy, and, even then, I envisaged becoming an employer myself, both of freelancers and regular staff. So, I somehow squeezed in the time for self-improvement courses, which were a real mixed bag, to say the least. I only kept the parts I liked.
The Importance of Being Scheduled…
And then came the clients. And then more clients. I was working hard, working well, achieving results, and, importantly, ensuring my clients were 100% satisfied with the service I was providing.
The importance of introducing a robust scheduling system, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, to be precise, became paramount. And it beats those endless post-it notes any day.
Look After Number One
Gone are the days of working from home. My freelance business continued to blossom, and, as it did so, I had to hire my own freelancers to assist in the projects I undertook. Eventually, there was nothing for it but to hire good, regular employees, start paying taxes as a registered company, start to rent some great office space for us all to work in.
In reality, nothing that’s simple, growing pains still exist, but I’m now the proud owner of a fully-fledged digital marketing company and that all-important global client list. Yes, all the hard work that stemmed from my youthful decision to swap my corporate career for life as a freelancer has paid off.
If there’s one last piece of advice I can impart, it would be this. Look after yourself. It can be very easy to become so engrossed in your freelance work, and building client lists and portfolios, that you forget about yourself, and your health. Whether it’s remembering to eat a well-balanced meal, or staying active, you have to make the effort to take care of your overall health, as well as business. Believe me, the fitter you are (and I’m as fit as the proverbial British butcher’s dog), the more you are able to put in the sustained effort that life as a freelancer demands.
What freelance experiences have you enjoyed (or not enjoyed…)? What advice would you offer to someone in the corporate world looking to make the break? Let us know with a comment below. And, remember, you don’t really know you can do it until… yes, you’ve guessed it – you get out and do it.
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