One Simple Habit That Will Transform Your Freelancing Business

Austin L. Church
July 5, 2016
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After DYFConf Europe, I asked my new friend Barry a question: “If you had to pick only a single action or task, what would you pick?"Barry responded that his single action would be to reduce his hours with a “dead-end” client and repurpose that time to “increase the momentum of [his] business.” After conferences, Barry usually funnels his enthusiasm into client work, but this time around, he doesn’t want to blow up Slack.

“Never mistake motion for action.” – Ernest Hemingway

You might choose a different word than "momentum," but I'm going to assume that you want to proactively build a more profitable and satisfying freelancing business. According to this Contently survey of 643 freelancers from 2015, only 5.1% made $100,000 or more per year. I'm going to assume that you want to be in the Top 5%.

What Separates the 5% From Everyone Else?

When I ponder why I have consistently made six figures as a one-man show, a simple habit comes to mind:I work on my business, exclusively, one day each week.To many of you, that snippet of advice seems obvious. I might as well be telling you to put on pants before you leave the house. In fact, every one of my self-employed and freelancer friends who has passed the 100K mark uses some variation of this. For example, Jon at FortySeven Media wrote about their company day, “FortySeven Media Mondays." We all probably stole it from Seth Godin, The E-Myth, or Yoda.Sometimes, the best ideas are the most obvious ones. The most simple habits are the sustainable ones. On Tuesday through Friday, I do client work and stuff to pay my bills. But jobs aren't assets. And assets don’t create themselves. So on Mondays, I invest my time in creating assets that will pay me in the future.Mondays I reserve for Future Money.[caption id="attachment_1498" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]

simple habit

Photo Credit: Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash[/caption]Here are some things I do on Future Money Mondays:

  • Finish editing and publishing my weekly blog post
  • Promote the blog post in various places online
  • Send out the Coffee with Austin newsletter (if I haven’t already)
  • No client meetings or phone calls on the schedule
  • Educating myself with a podcast episode or chapter from a book
  • Journaling about the current state of my business
  • Going for a walk to clear my head and let my subconscious mind do its work making connections
  • Capturing priorities for the rest of the week
  • Organizing my workflow and assigning specific tasks to specific days, Tuesday through Friday, in Trello
  • Catching up on small important, non-urgent tasks. Examples include updating my own web content, scheduling social updates with Buffer, and monitoring cashflow projections in Pulse.
  • Sending out prospecting emails
  • Following up with past clients over email

Repairing the Old Ship While Building a New One

In the realm of software development, you’ll run across the concept of “technical debt,” which is the software product’s motley assortment of bugs and flaws, as well as the risk they pose to the product and company.Every piece of software is a big ship comprised of technologies, programming languages, frameworks, libraries, APIs, and servers. Over time, the ship develops leaks. Programming languages come into and go out of vogue. Someone discontinues support of a PHP framework. Apple deprecates certain functions in iOS.The captain of the ship must weigh the benefit of fixing leaks and making incremental performance improvements against the cost of replacing the ship altogether. Meanwhile, the sailor-developers must work the bilge pumps and bail water out of the ship. Dozens of factors like these three affect seaworthiness:

  • Building new ships from scratch is expensive.
  • Most ships can sail even after taking on some water.
  • Under adverse conditions, insignificant leaks can have a compound effect and sink a ship.

The key to managing technical debt effectively is to balance the need for regular, relatively inexpensive updates and maintenance with the reality that all software is always, already going obsolete. Software developers are trying to sail a ship, repair a ship, and build a brand new ship all at the same time.

Managing Business Development Debt Effectively

Managing business development debt is similar. You probably don’t have the luxury of going offline for months and re-engineering your businesses from scratch.So you set aside one day a week instead to fix problems and make incremental progress on the important but non-urgent projects:

  • You create an info product, piece by piece.
  • You update your portfolio regularly.
  • You practice great follow-up techniques with past clients.
  • You work on your craft: writing, design, photography, development, video.
  • You mull over what’s working and identify ways to maximize that.
  • You monitor cashflow projections with Pulse.

Even with an entire day set aside, you won’t get to everything. You won’t fix every leak. You won’t pay down all of your biz dev debt. But the ship won’t sink, and over time, insignificant actions build into momentum.Momentum happens with thousands of mundane steps, not dozens of leaps. You may need a sustainable simple habit, not more time. Commit to Future Money for six weeks:

  1. Block out Future Money in your calendar. Mondays work best because you’ll come in fresh from the weekend.
  2. Treat Future Money as sacrosanct, inviolable, non-negotiable.
  3. Find a quiet place away from your home or office.
  4. Turn off your phone.
  5. Journal about the state of your business.
  6. Make a list of priorities and problems.
  7. Fix small problems with your business.
  8. Create, piece by piece, something valuable that you can sell.

Believe me, Future Money can transform your freelancing business. Improve upon the idea, and let me know what happens.And there you have it!If you found value in this blog post, please sign up for my weekly newsletter. I’ll send helpful freelancing tips your way.