2014 was a great year and 2015 is going to be a great one as well. As I reflect back on the year there are 14 things that come to the forefront of my mind that were lessons to take to heart.
1) Set a few goals then map out steps
In 2014 I admit I set too many goals for myself. When the last part of the year arrived I was in a rush finish my goals and I ended up not completing everything I planned. It is better to have a few goals and then smaller goals which are subsets of the larger ones. The less goals you have the more you can focus on completing those goals and moving on to the next one. Trust me by the time you have completed all of your goals you will come up with new ones in 2015.
2) Learn to say NO
I have struggled with saying no for years and I am somewhat of a people pleaser. I believe that I want to be perceived as dependable so I do not always tell people NO upfront. The truth is saying yes to everything has led to me running around all week without a moment to catch my breath. The truth is you need to say no to some things so that you can say yes in the future. There is also a science to saying no that I am continually learning, don’t just say no or decline directly give some insight to the person asking as to why you cannot accommodate their request and point them in a direction that they can still get the help/assistance they need. For me this meant declining some projects I wanted to take but I knew I didn’t have the time to complete. I either gave potential client some advice or pointed them to another web designer that I knew had an open schedule.
3) Don’t wait for permission
There is a temptation to believe in order to reach your goals you need someone to “validate” you and this is simply not true. I have been a victim to this temptation myself. For example, I have a goal to take on more public speaking opportunities so guess what? I’m a speaker now. Why? Because I just told you I am a speaker. In other words most public speakers are viewed as public speakers because they make themselves available in some shape form or fashion to be booked to speak. Of course it will take work to become a prolific speaker but you have to start somewhere. I am applying this same logic in my own business; I’m expanding my services and letting people know “hey I can help you with this because I have developed the skill to do so”. Think about it, if you need to get the brakes fixed on your car, you may go to Brake Check or Meineke, why? I’ll tell you why because the company told you “we specialize in fixing breaks”, and you go there and let them work on your car and don’t even ask how long the techs have been trained. Again you don’t need permission to start, but you will need skill to back up your claims.
4) Don’t let preparation turn into procrastination
Planning is great, and planning is necessary. If you fail to plan then plan to fail, however too much planning can lead to procrastination and at a certain point you will have to actually do the work. I have so many Google Docs filled with plans and information on ideas I came up with. They are great ideas and great notes, but I did not put them into direct action. The best thing you can do is to start a new project, and once you begin you can continue to iterate and revise the project while it is live. Don’t be shy about allowing people to publicly see you improve on your ideas.
5) Not all haters are hateful
I frequent reddit on almost a daily basis. While on reddit I spent my time answering questions and contributing to the community because I wanted to make sure I was genuinely helping people with the advice I gave. I felt the need to share an article I wrote with the reddit community because it was exactly the answer to someone’s question. Once I submitted the blog article the community tore me apart. They ridiculed me, talked about how bad my writing was, berated me for grammatical mistakes and blew it off as worthless information. I was shocked; after all I contributed how can they so harshly criticize me, “they’re just haters” right? Instead of allowing their comments to upset me I took the time to read them and not focus on the words but the heart of what they were really trying to say and there was some truth to it. If I write a blog post sure there may be some mistakes but I need to take time to edit the content before releasing to the public. Even though I took time to look it over I need to become better as a writer and editor. Not all haters are bad, some good can come from them if there is a bit of truth in what they say.
6) Books don’t write themselves
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, in the second quarter of 2014 in April I purchased and began reading the book Authority by Nathan Barry. The book is a step by step guide to self-publishing and establishing yourself as an authority in a certain niche or subject matter. I read the book and was inspired to write a book of my own which led to the creation and start of the book Freelance Jumpstart. Originally I thought I would be able to sit down and crank out the book in no time but I spent a majority of my time reading books, completing client work, working on projects and reassessing the direction of my company inPhocus Media. In all of the shuffle I found a few moments to write some chapters for the book but I did not finish the book like I originally set out to do. Not finishing the book has allowed me to add better content and incorporate feedback from the online course I launched.
7) A focus on writing leads to guest posts offers
I always wondered the best strategy to become a guest author on other blogs. Earlier this year I emailed some of the top blogs I enjoy and gave them a list of topics I was willing to write for them. I was rejected by all of them, every single one of them. This led me to begin a blog of my own and also spurred me to interact with the online blogging community through Medium. After writing a few articles and sharing them on the internet I soon had some of the same blogs that rejected me contact me to write guest posts for them. If you are looking for an effective way to become a guest author don’t wait for them to contact you, continue to write great content and build up a following of your own. Every now and then point them to the content and show them you have the ability to engaging content. As you grow people will reach out to you and you will continually improve. Soon you will have a bank of articles to point people to and it serves as a portfolio of your writing ability.
8) Use the equipment you have now, upgrade later
I have many goals and ideas in my head and I am a bit of a perfectionist. This has delayed me in producing more blog posts, videos, because graphics because they were not “perfect” or I needed better equipment. I spent too much time this year looking at the latest pieces of technology and software. I was convinced that I needed better equipment in order to produce better content. The truth is I have to start with what I have and use that equipment and as time goes by and more funds come through my business I can upgrade equipment and software, plus my audience will be able to see my improvements.
9) Networking is Necessary
Networking has really allowed me to meet with people that are of a similar mindset when it comes to business. You will need these types of people when you have an idea you would like to bounce of someone or you need feedback from someone who can relate to your niche. Network wherever you can, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dribbble, Behance, get social. Nothing can replace networking in person though Meetup.com and NetworkAfterWork.com have served as great tools to allow me to work on my people skills.
10) Improve some of your previous work
I am always looking for the next big idea or the next big project. In actuality I know my skills as a digital marketer and designer improved during the year especially due to all the knowledge I was taking in. There were previous projects that I could apply my new knowledge to and make them better. This is the approach I look with the Freelance Jumpstart Video Course. I launched the course on August 5, 2014 and continually improved the course and re-launched it again after implementing the feedback I received on it. I did not completely have to start from scratch and the course was really improved upon.
I read and completed more books this year than I have in previous years. I believe I read and re-read a total of 12 books this year. There is a wealth of knowledge to be learned from books in just about any subject you chose to learn about. In my case since I was in the process of writing a book so I not only read to learn and be entertained but I also read to observe the structure, tone, and writing style from various authors. A takeaway from these books is to communicate your point and do not get caught up in lengthy prose. Reinforce your point for increased clarity and then move on. Also no one wants to know just facts, mix in stories to keep the readers’ attention.
12) Do what others are not doing
Another lesson I learned this year to is to write down what others are doing that is working but look for opportunities that they may be missing. A common temptation is to look at what other people have done that is successful and simply mimic what they are doing. This may work every now and then but it may not work for your unique situation. There are many factors that constitute success so to focus solely on a technique without understanding the details may end up being a waste of time. Evaluate where you are in your business and look for opportunities that best serve your niche even if it has not yet been done.
13) Stay in touch with your audience
I am starting to notice a trend with some of the more popular people I follow online. The trend is that their business is growing which is a great thing however they are becoming too busy to respond to everyone in their audience. This year I have done a few simple things that impressed clients such as calling them back and responding to their email in a timely manner. That sounds like common sense but unfortunately it is not so common. The truth is people are busy but if you make sure you get back to the people that contact you and are willing to support you then they will become your brand ambassadors in the future and perhaps even a great friend or client for years to come.
14) Don’t sell yourself short
This point relates a little bit to the point I made earlier about not waiting for permission. The key here is if you are looking to begin an online business, or jump into the world of freelancing you are free to do so. You may not be the best ever in your niche but you will be surprised to know that you know more than 80% of other people out there. Experience is not everything, there is this belief that you cannot charge what your worth because you haven’t been in the industry long enough. The truth is people value great work and if you can produce great work then it should be valued regardless of your experience level. You will definitely hear more on not selling yourself short in 2015.