In August 2016, I quit my nine-to-five job.
I was tired of spending my days staring miserably at mind-numbing spreadsheets and desperately wishing for our systems to crash so I could go home early.
I had been working in corporate finance for five years, and as you can imagine, I was bored out of my mind.
Fast forward to December 2018, and I am officially (and gainfully) self-employed. I don’t have a side gig to help pay my bills. I’m not constantly searching online job ads. And I feel comfortable enough with my finances that I can finally breathe.
I’m the happiest, most productive, and most fulfilled I have ever been in my life.
But getting from point A (the soul-sucking corporate gig) to point B (working for my mentors with the flexibility and freedom of a freelancer) was no easy task.
And today I’m going to shed some light on how I got to where I am now.
Self-awareness is a superpower
“Each person has a greater potential for success in specific areas, and the key to human development is building on who you already are.” – Don Clifton
Developing self-awareness sits at the top of everything I have been able to accomplish over the last few years.
It’s helped me conquer procrastination, perfectionism, and plenty of other obstacles that I had previously allowed to stand in my way.
Simple self-discovery gives you the confidence to step outside your comfort zone and take on challenges you may have previously dismissed as “too hard.”
So, before we dive into the more business-related strategies I’m going to share with you, here are several of my favorite ways to learn more about yourself.
- Kathy Kolbe’s Kolbe A Index: An assessment that measures your conative strengths, which is the why behind what you do.
- Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz: See how you meet inner and outer expectations in your life. It’s incredibly helpful for habit development.
- Sally Hogshead’s Fascination Advantage: A personality test that measures how others perceive you at your best and how you can use your most powerful traits to make a better first impression.
- Perry Marshall’s Marketing DNA Test: This tool is used to assess your natural persuasion and communication style. (You can grab it for free if you get his 80/20 Sales & Marketing book).
Moving past the profound power of self-awareness and the catalyzing effects of curiosity, there are more specific actions I took to leave the corporate conveyor belt and enter the world of freelancing.
I made plenty of mistakes and wrong turns before I found (and actually implemented) these strategies and systems, but in the hope that I can reduce the time it takes for you to find your own “freelancing groove,” here are five key moves.
Key Move #1: Self-directed learning
How to strengthen your skill set, stack your talents, and focus your learning
I spent plenty of time learning new things when I first discovered online business.
The problem was, I wasn’t implementing the impactful stuff. I was always falling for “shiny-object syndrome” or procrastinating on the hard stuff. Sure, the courses I bought were great, but I was just consuming constantly, and never creating.
That is, until I adopted the concept of “just in time” learning.
“Just in time” learning is about focus. When you focus your studying and can implement as you go, you can turn what you learn into a sellable skill and use it directly in your business or next career move.
I learned “how to learn” a little too late for my liking (and managed to rack up some significant debt from being so unfocused). But once I figured out how to weave what I learned into my projects to achieve my goals — my results started to change.
If you’re like me and love to learn — but get stuck on actually implementing the lessons — I suggest shifting into “just in time” mode.
Focus on one thing you want to improve, understand how it will directly affect and improve a current project you have, and use it to achieve the results you want.
It pays to invest in the right education. But it’s a waste of time and money if you don’t take the action necessary to use what you learn.
Key Move #2: Relationship building
How to build valuable and genuine relationships with your mentors (and turn them into paying clients)
The word “networking” has always produced icky feelings for me. And because of my distaste for it, I’ve never set foot at any networking event.
I do all my connecting and communicating online. And for the most part, I focus on connecting with the people I love to learn from.
Up until very recently, I had never met any of my online mentors. But I now work with two of them!
Brian Clark and Sonia Simone have taught me so much over the last few years. And just by being present, genuinely curious, and eager to add value, I was able to build those relationships into opportunities that changed my life.
Bear in mind that both these relationships started out completely one-sided, but as I began to develop my connections, possibilities started to present themselves.
If you’re wondering how to open these kinds of doors for yourself — here are a few things I did:
- I signed up for my mentors’ email lists and read their blogs.
- I used Twitter to stay on their radars (a less crowded place for networking than Facebook or Instagram).
- I bought their courses and eagerly learned from them. (They do what I wanted to do, so it made sense).
- I developed my skills enough so that I could offer value to them in the future.
These are simple steps — but they take time. And while most of us look for quick fixes and shortcuts, playing the long game has always produced better results for me.
The digital world makes it very easy to connect with people you don’t know (but want to). And as long as you’re consistent, genuine, and aren’t looking for them to give you anything in return, the opportunities are endless.
Key Move #3: Guest blogging
How to ease your marketing fears by using a strategy that makes sense for you
Marketing was the most difficult concept for me to grasp when I first started out online. In fact, a lack of marketing is why my first business venture failed so epically.
I am not a natural salesperson. I hate rejection and don’t enjoy that side of business at all.
But I learned from my mentors that there are better ways to sell than the “in your face, pick me, pick me” style that I was aware of.
As an introvert who prefers written communication, discovering content marketing was a huge “aha” moment for me. And learning this alternative way to sell and market myself is what led me to where I am now.
Guest blogging is my favorite marketing and traffic strategy to use. And coupled with smart email marketing, it’s a killer combination for any solo business operator.
But most importantly, it was the marketing strategy that worked for me. Mainly because writing was something I really wanted to do, and that desire meant I was willing to invest time, energy, and resources to develop the skill.
And of course, my career benefitted from my writing too. After all, it was the strategy I used to start writing for Brian on Further, which led to working with him on Unemployable.
Using a marketing strategy that fulfills you creatively and exercises your strengths is going to produce better results than one you force yourself to do because you “should” do it.
It also makes it easier to push past the fear and procrastination, and actually achieve the results you want.
Key Move #4: Personal Kanban
How to skyrocket your productivity with a self-management system that sticks
Self-management is a struggle for almost every freelancer I’ve met.
But luckily, it’s a skill you can develop. And when you find a system that sticks, it can transform the way you work.
In my search for productivity superpowers, I found that I needed my most important tasks out in front of me, screaming at me to get done. And this is where Personal Kanban shone through. It’s visual, tactile, and completely in your face. Plus, you get to play with Post-its.
Personal Kanban is how I manage myself and my projects. It allows me to focus on the work — not the organization of the work — making progress and getting results significantly easier.
If you struggle with getting things done and want to feel more on top of your work, you might like to try it too. I’ve written about how Personal Kanban works and my experience with it here.
As a freelancer (or really anyone who has side-projects or a busy schedule), your self-management strategy is at the core of how much (or how little) you can accomplish. So invest time into creating a system that works for you.
Key Move #5: Develop a support system
How to run a sustainable business positioned for growth
On any challenging journey, we’re confronted with obstacles that we don’t yet know how to overcome. And as you work your way through the solution, there are times when it feels like you will never find it.
This is where a fully-rounded support network becomes critical. Because stacking your support system is what’s going to get you through the tough times.
Connect with your mentors, look into getting a coach, seek out a community that can help you problem-solve, and find yourself a “business buddy” to brainstorm with.
Surround yourself with action-takers. The more you see others around you actually doing things, the more you’ll want to do things too.
Bonus: Commit to course correction
Before I started freelancing, I had two failed businesses under my belt.
The first was just a terrible idea and product, and the second I never managed to monetize because I let procrastination and a fear of selling get in my way.
But both of those failures (and the lessons I learned from them) lead to working for Brian at Unemployable, and now, working with Copyblogger as part of their editorial team.
“Having a growth mindset won’t make you successful, but not having one will prevent you from trying in the first place.” – James Clear
Embracing a growth mindset reminds us that mistakes and missteps are a part of the learning process. And committing to course correction is how you can move forward again, perhaps with a different approach, a new strategy, or a deeper understanding of what went wrong and why.
The road is long — don’t rush the journey
It took me two years from when I quit my job to finally get to do something that I love, that challenges me and that can actually pay my bills. And I had spent another two years prior to that learning everything I could to try to change my circumstances.
It feels like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, four years is nothing.
I’d rather struggle on the road to heightened self-awareness and working toward goals that mean something to me than stay stuck and miserable in a career where fulfillment, joy, and most importantly, growth weren’t on the menu.
If you are struggling with your next move, worrying about your future, or feeling stuck in your current situation, consider getting to know yourself a bit better.
Self-awareness is an incredibly easy first step. And once you develop that keener sense of who you are, how you like to work, and what you’re really great at — the next steps become easier to take.