When I started “freelancing,” I had a lot of expectations as to what my life would be like setting my own schedule, picking my own projects, etc. My life would be ultra-flexible and I would be spending my time doing something I loved, coding. I wouldn’t have anyone to answer to but myself, and that would be the ideal work environment.
It turned out that while there are many benefits to freelancing, for me, the flexibility and lack of direct accountability were not so high on the list.
Working from home, I could pace for hours before starting a project. Most of my days and nights consisted of over-planning, procrastinating, and then a 10-12 hour block of anxious, frenzied coding, and I was exhausted. My work life had lost its boundaries.
I would pick up projects that required me to work on-site from time to time. While working in an office, there was an expectation that I would spend my paid hours coding, so I would dive right in. I would take things in smaller chunks. The solutions to small problems would seem to roll right out of my fingers. I wasted far less time by writing, adjusting, redirecting, tightening, than I would trying to pull everything together in my head and then drop it into code as one solid system. So that seemed to be a solution. Stop over-planning and getting excited, and just sit down and code.
A little social pressure helped reduce my coding anxiety, helped me be more efficient, and helped me to do something that I really loved to do, write nice code. Coworking, working in a social setting, provided just enough social pressure. So my expectations of coworking were simple: Social pressure would keep me efficient.
While coworking has done wonders to keep me efficient and reduce my coding anxiety, I’m starting to realize that “social pressure” is really one of the very smallest benefits of working in a more “social” environment. I’m starting to realize that my work exists within an ecosystem of other projects, built by other people like me, and networking is an essential part of the freelancer’s life.
It’s becoming increasingly important as more people are becoming freelancers.
The best projects I’ve worked on, I’ve found word of mouth. I’m getting more interested in sharing my ideas, in blogging, in building my projects open-source and contributing to other open-source projects. I’m starting to think of my work as less of a “job” and more as a part of an ecosystem that will sustain me as I contribute to it.
I’m also starting to realize that “making money”, while it’s a necessary and much appreciated part of “what I do”, it’s no longer the end goal. It’s just one of the outcomes of how I spend my time. Taking a step back, I could say that capitalism is a useful tool for getting parts of the economy and people in general moving and productive, but it’s not always the best tool. If you look at the thriving open source community, some of it is funded and paid, a lot of it is built and shared without the money changing hands directly.
Maybe these ideas will spread to other areas of the economy.
Maybe they have in ways I don’t know about. This web of inter-connectedness can support our endeavors to ends that used to require rigid hierarchical managed workplaces. If we can get rid of some of this bulky scaffolding and work together more organically, that would be great.
**Matt was the very first founding member of Cohere. He has since married, had two kids and is currently working remotely while traveling the United States with them in an Airstream.
Last week, we talked about reasons to emancipate yourself from toxic clients: y’know, the clients you dread working for/calling/meeting with but think you have to tolerate because of the money.
We discovered staying with these crappy clients just for the money defeats the purpose of working for yourself (i.e. control) and often drags your business away from its true brand and goals.
1. The “I’ll pay when it’s convenient for me” client: Net 14 means nothing to this client. They wait until all their bills are paid to see if they have extra for your invoice. Or worse yet, they pay only after they’ve been paid by their clients, and who knows whether they’re crappy or not?! Unacceptable.
Pull a Donald by: Send this client a notice that you’re turning their unpaid invoices over to collections. That should send a pretty strong message. If they still don’t pay, actually send their unpaid invoices over to collections. Most importantly, refuse to take on more projects until you’re caught up. Either set up a strict payment schedule in the future or inform this client that you’re unavailable for more.
2. The “You’re a freelancer so you have to take my shit” client: This client wants you to offer all the bells and whistles of a large firm but still wants to pay you peanuts. This client enjoys your ability to come in under-budget and before deadline, but thinks that it gives license to nickle and dime you on rate, and expect things to be completed over night (you don’t need to sleep, do you?!) Worse yet, this client rarely has their shit together, meaning your schedule is thrown off and other projects suffer because of it.
How to pull a Donald: Let this client see what it’s like to return to the impersonal world of larger companies. Inform them (politely) that you think their needs would be better served by another company. You might even suggest one. You can also let them know that you’re taking your company in another direction, and not renewing any contracts at this time. The key here is to be clear without jeopardizing that unpaid invoice.
3. The “I know better than you” client: This client understands how to do your job because last weekend, his cousin showed him the basics of the computer program you use. Of course, he doesn’t realize that he needs your expert skills to use this tool to do the things he really wants to do. He’ll tell you exactly what to do and how to do it, turning you into a production house instead of letting you do what you do best.
How to pull a Donald: First of all, do your best to remove any references to your name or company on work you’ve done for this client. Why? Because he’ll probably try to tinker around on his own and completely mess up your work in the process. Then, stop the project, get caught up on invoices and give him whatever you’ve done so far. He’ll probably hand it off to his cousin to see if he can finish it.
4. The “keep this on the down-low” client: Reputation is everything when you’re a freelancer. Bending your integrity, even on something small, even for just one client, makes you feel icky and lowers the bar for the next guy. Avoid this slippery slope altogether.
How to pull a Donald: To reason with this client, you can explain why you prefer to do things the way you do. If she simply doesn’t understand or refuses to accept your methods, it’s time to cut ties. Explain the problems that her requests create for you and let her down easy. If you haven’t already, provide your alternative ideas for how to complete the job in a more ethical manner. Then, the ball’s in her court and either way, you win.
5. The “I know this isn’t your passion, but can’t you do it anyway?” client: People enter the uncertain life of a business owner for one simple reason: they love doing something and they want to do it 24 hours a day. There are very few things a person can be this passionate about. Money is nice, but accepting the wrong client means that you’ll be tied to a project that you probably hate. And with that kind of imprisonment, you might as well be back at the office.
How to pull a Donald: Use the age-old “it’s not you, it’s me.” Inform them that your core competencies just don’t jive with their strategic vision. Don’t feel pressured if this client starts to whine about all the other projects he had lined up for you. If you can, refer him to a colleague or competitor that you know can deliver what he wants. A referral is key, because you don’t want him to be unsatisfied and claim that you can’t do your job. You could do it, you just don’t want to :)
We’ve all had those clients. The ones that act like you couldn’t possibly have a life outside your work. They change their minds mid-project, send you three emails a day asking when things will be done, hint that your prices are too high, and then act like your work’s not good enough.
For one reason or another, they are the clients you dread working for/calling/meeting with but think you have to tolerate because of the money.
News Flash: You’re the boss! It’s time to find your balls and practice your best Donald impression, and here are 5 reasons why:
1.They always pay you late. If you don’t pay the electric company, your lights get turned off. At the grocery store, they don’t let you work out a payment plan: if you can’t pay you don’t get the freaking groceries! You too, are growing a business. What makes people think they can take your hard work and then make excuses about why they can’t pay the number agreed upon in the contract? It’s bullshit and you shouldn’t stand for it. You’ve gotta eat and pay the bills this month, not next year.
2. They insult you. Making snide comments about your work or level of professionalism indicate a client is really dying to be fired. Maybe they think that because you’re a freelancer, you’re entitled to less respect. Or because they know they’re a big account for you, you’ll take their shit just to keep the money. Prove them wrong. Clients like this make you hate your work, and take time away from the other clients that you enjoy.
3. They question your expertise. There’s a reason why you can support yourself as an independent professional: you’re awesome at what you do. No one decides to leave their traditional job and tackle the uncharted landscape of the freelance world if they have no idea what they’re doing. In most cases, independents fail to be challenged by the comfortable hierarchy of the corporate world, and strike out on their own because they’re tired of restraining their creativity. If your client thinks they know how to design a website better than you, let them try it. Alone.
4. They ask you to do something unethical or illegal. Ok, they probably won’t ask you to cook the books or hack into a competitors website (but it’s happened before). It’s usually something a little more subtle, like copying text from another website, or scraping a competitors directory and claiming it as their own. Maybe they’re just pushing you to make a product that you don’t believe in, or demanding that you use marketing tactics that make you feel icky. Integrity and reputation are everything when you’re out there on your own. Sacrifice them for no one.
5. They drag you away from your goals. As a freelancer, everything you do, from sending emails to creating a website, reinforces your brand. Or not. Think about your dream job, whether it’s getting a photo spread in a national magazine, or writing for the best website in your niche. Now think about that client that’s asking you to spend 10 hours a week photo-shopping pictures for a print brochure (gag) or writing mindless SEO articles for pennies a word. If you stick with them long enough, these clients will force you away from the work that you’re passionate about. And they’ll be taking up room that could be filled by the clients and projects that will take your career in the right direction
What are other reasons that you’d fired a toxic client? Share them in a comment
Next week: 5 Ways To Fire That Crappy Client While Keeping Your Dignity Intact!
Image Credit: kathypsblog.blogspot.com
Lately, a lot of people have been asking me how I started this coworking business. Most times, I can’t string together a coherent timeline of events to keep an audience interested in the story (think extrovert/ADHD/too much coffee girl). “Err, intuition, um, googled coworking, uh, money, oh yeah, community building, erm people, freelancers and oh yeah, passion.” Not very compelling. But what I can do is answer very specific questions. Like the one I got asked today for an interview with the Northern Colorado Business Report.
You’ve talked a lot about passion…what do you mean?
The entrepreneur’s salvation and doom lies in the ability to get passionate about something. Really, really passionate. Picture yourself up at 2 am, then 2:30am, then 3:17am, then for the rest of the night crouched in the second floor bedroom pounding out notes by the dim light of your laptop wondering which of your friends would be most likely to take your phone call at this hour-type passion. This is what spurs entrepreneurs on. Having ideas, great ideas, and making them happen. This passion will sustain them during slow sales, working 22 days straight and epic public relations mishaps.
This passion also cripples some entrepreneurs when it comes to the day to day tedious tasks like tracking money-in/money-out with some lame accounting software that makes them feel like they’ve never used a computer before. Tasks like cleaning the toilet and sweeping the floor don’t possess the allure they once did when they decided NOT to hire a janitorial service. Entrepreneurs fail easily when tasks don’t provide immediate gratification toward the completion of the goal that relates directly to the passion. Unlike the 6 degrees of separation rule, entrepreneurs can only tolerate about 1 degree of separation between the task at hand and world domination.
Unfortunately, the day to day tasks tend to sustain the shiny and passion inducing ones. Alas, the paradox of passion.
What are you passionate about and how do you marry the passion with the day to day necessities?
I ran as fast as I could to get outside. It was sunny and inexplicably bright. What wonderful delights would the yard hold today? Would I climb a tree, turn on the sprinkler and run through it? Would I dig a hole? A light breeze flicked the leaves on the big cottonwood tree. I watched it as I ran. I grabbed the corner of the kitchen island so I could whip around faster.
I woke up on the floor. My head hurt. Mom cleaned the sliding glass door to an invisible sheen again.
I could have done more. I could have made a bigger impact. I could have changed things/people/lives for the better. I feel this swelling inside my chest. It’s somewhere between the lump you get right before you cry and the kind of utter exploding happiness you feel when a puppy wriggles in your hand or you watch two baby bunnies squirm.
Possible but not yet actual.
What to do with the utter certainty that you didn’t get to go all the way with your plans, your passion, your inspiration, your life’s work? Were you cut off at the pass? Did someone beat you to it? Did you sabotage yourself?
I had this great job once. A perfect job, really. The kind that hundreds of people wanted and didn’t get. I got it. I planned on working there for 26 years. For 86 days I ran so fast I lapped myself. I ran at full speed while I looked so far in to the future at what *could* be that I didn’t see the obvious barriers right in front of me. Instead of running in to a door, it was shown to me.
That’s what they call potential. Undeveloped excellence. I sure had a lot of potential in that job. Bursting with ideas, alive with passion and well regarded by most of my coworkers as “the best [insert job title] person I’ve ever had.” Too bad I didn’t have even a cursory idea how to implement my big ideas in a way that wouldn’t result in my swift termination.
Do it anyway.
So I started a company. My very own squirmy bunny that I could raise up right in the vision of my own potential. Now I’ve got the developed excellence and ALL . I . WANT is to go back to that dream company and set the record straight.
I’d step off their elevator in impossibly cute shoes and say in an impossibly articulate way, “I was great for your company. I had the vision, the passion to carry it out and a whole boatload of employees who STILL WANT what I have to offer. But I’m Cohere’s now so I can’t come back to you. Your sprinkler is on and I can’t run through it.”
And they’ll smile and weep and hug me and offer me some ridiculous compensation to just hear my thoughts.
Bringing coworking to Loveland has been an adventure. We’ve roved around looking for fast, reliable and secure internet. We’ve picked up shop and moved mid day for greener pastures. We’ve celebrated milestones and then suffered disappointment when things didn’t work out after all. I’ve asked myself several times if I can really do *this* again. Can I?
It seems like a hundred years ago when the Fort Collins crew was crammed into that reception area at RMI2 for free coworking. I have to think hard to remember how every Tuesday morning I would arrive twitter-pated to start the day and explore the concept of coworking with my new little circle of friends. I’d drag tables and chairs together and arrange them in some sort of semblance of a “real office” and then wait for the first freelancers to start arriving. We did this for just 5 weeks. Five weeks was all it took to grow a little community of coworking addicts in Old Town. 6 weeks after that Cohere opened. Ah, Cohere. Our (near) perfect little slice of historic Old Town with exposed brick, original hardwood floors, sunlight everywhere, sweet high back chairs and fun furniture. Comfort. Bliss. Sweet productivity and calm all at once. Hasn’t it always been this way?
Flash to today: in the back room of Dazbog in downtown Loveland. Four freelancers, 8 cups of coffee and the weirdest collection of music playing over the loud speaker (think The Beatles, funk and Bruce Springstein together at last). Don’t misunderstand me. Dazbog has been great. The owner has been flexible and helpful (the free snacks didn’t hurt)! But we’re in a coffee shop. You’ve all heard me talk about the horrors of freelancing from coffee shops and yet here we are again. We’ve found about the best possible coffee shop situation. To have a private room with a door, windows and a caffeine source 12 steps away is really, truly delightful.
I have to keep reminding myself that our beginnings in Fort Collins really were humble and not the perfect, flourishing community that we are today. Remember dragging those tables around? I mean, really dragging that stuff from the way back of the building? Remember those not so comfy plastic chairs? How about trading off and on for power with the only outlet? Remember that? What about the day we browned out the internet connection because there were 14 of us in a room built for 6 on an internet connection that was probably meant for 4?
In discussing the current coworking situation in Loveland today, we realized that the reason the U.S. economy needs entrepreneurs is because entrepreneurs can’t remember what it was like to start the first business. Much like child birth (or so I’ve heard), I just can’t remember if or how much pain there was when I started Cohere Fort Collins. I can remember the facts of having to move furniture back and forth but I don’t really remember the irritation or exhaustion of it all. I remember having a hundred things to do each day but I have no idea what I was feeling other than excitement. I think that this is the ONLY reason that entrepreneurs carry on. We take the risks, we take the plunge, and we’re never, ever looking over our shoulders into the past to remember how it was the last time. We just can’t remember the pain.
So we lost our free internet connection in Loveland today and will remain in the coffee shop for many more weeks. So we’ll be cold and need to wear jackets while we cowork. So we’ll be distracted by the weird music playing. So what? The most important part about coworking is being together. Just being together. We did it at RMI2, we’ll do it at Dazbog and we’ll keep doing it until we crash their internet and use up all of their chairs!
Sure, I don’t really remember the pain of starting Cohere the first time around. I’m sure to forget the little quirks that Loveland has held so far. But when we open in Denver next year, I’ll be just as excited and just as blissfully unaware of the past points of pain as I am today.
The Power of Connection
Connection means different things to different people, but in reality, it is at the core of our DNA. It’s something I knew from a science perspective, but never truly “got” at a lifestyle level until now.
I recently sat in on a presentation by Joan King, a Ph.D in Neurosciences and Psychology, who also served as the Chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology for the Tufts University School of Medicine. Her talk was short, but left an impact. She focused on the neurology of connection, explaining the basic function of cells and how they work independently and as a unit.
She pointed out that when cells are separated in a Petri dish, they immediately start searching for other cells to connect with and form a bond. If unable to find a connection, they die.
This is why I feel Cohere is a great alternative for dis-connected workers. As a writer who works primarily from a home office, I often spent long days alone, especially while working on deadline. My in-person connection to like minds faded quickly in exchange for purely digital relationships and writing deadlines. Even though I couldn’t put my finger on it, I always felt a little something was missing.
Transition to More Fun and Enhanced Creativity
As I transitioned to showing up at a welcoming, laid back place to work, I realized just how much I missed the energy of buzzing minds and spontaneous creative collaborations. I find it extremely helpful to share and exchange ideas with others who are not directly tied to my project, but offer incredibly valuable insight on new approaches or solutions.
Its even MORE fun to blow off steam and be silly in the middle of the day for no reason other than to decompress and have a good time. My membership is a great reminder that as a human being I can give myself permission to infuse light, laughter and play into my day at a moment’s notice, but the choice is up to me.
The Cohere “Workday”
I get work done as efficiently, perhaps even more so at Cohere because there are others working right alongside me; people focused on their passions too. My fellow Coherians also remind me that I am a human being allowed to take breaks. I’m not just some content machine always chugging towards the next deadline.
Cohere Madam, Miss Angel, is fantastic about organizing collaborative events, and my workmates also create spontaneous opportunities to grab lunch, snacks or entice me to delve into a fun, five minute video diversion.
I want to take this opportunity to applaud the core values and culture of Cohere, as well as those I cowork with on a regular basis. I have met and connected with amazing people, people who not only inspire me in my current business, but really activate me to take my company, Buzzword, to the next level. More importantly, the like-mind connections I am creating help me craft my very own kick-ass Petri dish.
I luh-huv my job. If you can even call it that. I still can’t believe that I’m allowed to hang around awesome coworking people, answer the occasional question, give tours, dink around on social media and make coffee in the morning as my job description. I am waiting for a swat force to crash through the skylight, rappel down and arrest me. My crime: loving my job.
For years, I confused “being good at my job” with “loving my job so much that I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant (channeling Tracey Jordan).” My previous jobs have been painfully simple. Show up, complete some boring checklist, talk people off emotional ledges, dork around for the remaining 6 hours, go home and repeat. I did this for 8 years! 8 years! 8 years! Those are years I’ll never get back.
Here are some warning signs that you might be just good at your job but not loving it.
1. You can get 8 hours of work done in about 90 minutes and still achieve an Oustanding on your performance review while spending the other 6.5 hours surfing the web, chatting with your coworkers and taking long lunches. My former bosses are probably pooping themselves right now.
2. You complain about your job–A LOT. Complaining is a symptom of desperation, sadness, depression, longing and dissatisfaction. There are a small percentage of people who just get off on complaining. If you’re doing it, there’s a good reason.
3. Your boss asks you to stop innovating because the company can’t keep up with all of your ideas. Dysfunctional company aside, run for your life!
4. Every morning when your alarm clock goes off you get any one of the following symptoms: a stomach ache, vomiting, headache, tears, nashing of teeth, exhaustion, fury, a bad attitude, swearing, nausea. Either you’re pregnant or you secretly hate your job. Move on OR go buy a pregnancy test.
5. Work feels like work. Run, Forrest, run.
I used to hear this all the time, “if you love your job you’ll never work another day in your life.” I wouldn’t go that far but the mundane tasks like paying the bills, cleaning the urinal and fixing typos on stuff become much more bearable when you get to do those things around people you love in a space that makes you feel awesome.
Please, don’t learn to love your existing job. Take a breath, take a leap and change your life. Do you love your job and why?
Zachariah (Cohere member) shared that the above title is my job description! I love it and it has inspired today’s post.
I come from a small town and enjoyed relative peace of mind knowing that our banker lived just up the street and gave out loans based on reputation. My school teacher was also my Brownie leader and my mom handed out the food stamps to our neighbors who were down on their luck. My best friend’s dad raised the cattle we ate, my uncle grew our corn and you could see into the kitchen at the bakery where my brother worked mornings.
In an increasingly global economy, products are made and services are rendered on the other side of the globe instead of right around the corner. I long for the bygone days of knowing my farmer, my baker and my candlestick maker and their children, spouses, cousins and their debt to income ratios as well as who was dating who every Saturday night. How can I get a little slice of this hometown nostalgia in a world where it is cheaper to make and ship bowling balls over here from China?
Managing Cohere has been an excellent exercise in keeping things local and provides daily lessons on how deeply you must CARE for your customers, especially when there are no layers of staff or thousands of miles between me and them. I see my customer’s faces and speak with each of them nearly daily. They witness how I work and interact and run the business. There are no secrets in Cohere (we have very thin walls). How many businesses can say that they actually see and talk with their customers every single day? Even the local coffee shop will draw the occasional tourist whom they will never see again.
Cohere is held up by local people who care. Our coffee is roasted by a woman named Jackie. She hand roasts and delivers our coffee right to our door and stands there and chats while I write her an old fashioned check. When is the last time you shook hands with your coffee roaster? Soon, we’ll enjoy the fruits of Grant Farms labor when the summer harvest starts. When is the last time you set foot on the land where your produce is harvested? Cohere t-shirts are printed by a man named Jason who does his work around the corner from here. He takes the order, prints the shirts and takes my payment. There is no 1-800 number–I just knock on his door. Our signs were made by a woman named Amanda. She delivered the signs to Cohere and stayed to explain how to install them.
Our furniture was made by a man named Drew. He bought beetle kill wood from Colorado forests and created everything in his garage, trucked it up here and installed it. All of these people care about their customers–deeply and locally.
Who serves you locally and how do you know that they care about you?