Duck, Duck, Choose

One of the most difficult challenges you’ll face as an entrepreneur or freelancer is choosing (people, projects, helpers, well wishers, friends and competition).  These decisions go beyond day to day decisions like which coffee shop to land in (if you’re not already coworking).  Many people will offer you their help as you start out and if everything goes right, so much work will eventually flow in that you’ll need to make some tough decisions about where to apply your time and energy.  Here are a few tips to help guide you:

Have a strategic goal that you are trying to accomplish with your business.

The standard, “I create websites” just won’t do.  There are at least 5 different web developers at Cohere right now and they all have very distinct niches.  Saying, “I create visually appealing, high traffic websites for science fiction authors”  will serve you much better in the long run than scrambling to take every bit of work that comes your way.  Having vagueness around what specific skill you bring to your industry will confuse your potential customers and actually decreases your net worth in the mind of the consumer.  Being good at 1 thing instead of mediocre at many bumps you up “expert wise” and allows you to charge more–BONUS.

Give “helpers” their first task as quickly as possible.

Many people just like offering help but have no intention of doing anything for you that will actually help your business.  For every 12 offers of help I got in starting Cohere, only 1 or 2 actually came through at crunch time.  Give those who offer to help a very small task.  If they complete it well and ask for more, keep them on tap.  If they flake on you at the first sign of even a little work, politely ignore or deflect their future offers of help.  For the small percentage of valuable helpers, always be thinking of how you can return the favor when they need help.

Shed what you hate.

Befriend other people in your industry.  This will allow you to contract out the portions of projects that make you want to tear your hair out.  Chances are, your dislike for a particular part of a project is someone else’s perfect cup of tea.  Work together using your individual strengths to hammer out projects more quickly.  You’ll procrastinate less and sleep better knowing that someone else is on it (and loving it).

This also goes for outsourcing.  As soon as you can afford it, outsource any business task that gives you heartburn.  For me it was accounting.  I lost about 35 pounds in mental baggage as soon as I ponied up to get a book keeper.  You can also outsource any activity that you can pay someone a lower hourly wage than you pay yourself.  If your time is worth $100 dollars an hour and you save one hour by outsourcing accounting at $35/hour, you just made $65 in billable hours (extra time you are available to do what you get paid to do).

The reality is–starting out as a freelancer or starting your own business will be HARD.  They do this on purpose to weed out the weak and un-passionate.  How do you stay on track with your business?