Are you happy with the results you’re getting and money you’re making online? I’m talking to those who run digital businesses, small agencies or offer freelance services. You got into your field for a reason. You had a goal, vision, dream, or at the very least, you could see it working.
There were so many things in my own life that pushed me towards entrepreneurship, it’s difficult to list them all. There were many motivating factors. Besides the motivation was the fact that I could see myself succeeding by going down a certain path.
Some people may read that last statement and think I’m talking about visualization. Actually, I’m talking about something much deeper than that. It was more like a vision that’s a part of you than it is a picture you create in your imagination. I hope that makes sense because I’m really at a loss to explain it much better than that.
So, I guess the real question is, are you still happy with the current path you’ve taken? Or, do you feel you need to make some adjustments based upon where you’re at with it today?
What Work Do You Love or Really Enjoy Doing?
Some of us learned the technical stuff, like programming, because our original goal was to build something. If you can’t afford to pay someone else to do the work, the alternative is to learn how to do it yourself. That’s what I did with a lot of things. Once you get good at something, others will look to hire you to help them.
I was in the process of building one thing which opened the door of opportunity to do something else. In the beginning, I’d invest hours upon hours in learning how to do the work. I absolutely loved it, too!
Maybe you’ve found, as I did, that the addition of a business element changed things for you?
I realized my technical skills weren’t quite technical enough. My design skills needed to be taken to the next level, too. The word “fun” was replaced with “needs to be better.”
Yes, there will always be challenges. Once you meet those challenges and conquer them, you move on to the next level.
On the other side of the coin, it may not be worth investing the time in learning certain skills yourself. The good thing is, there are many skilled sub-contractors out there who can help you.
How Your Position Might Transform Over Time
The sporting world gives us some great examples that can be applied to business. As a boxing fan, the story of Ray Arcel comes immediately to mind. Ray Arcel was considered to be one of the greatest boxing trainers of all time. Training a fighter is hard work. As a trainer grows older, it’s difficult (or impossible) to do much of the physical, hands-on work anymore. So, they hire others to do the physically demanding work. Their position is more like that of the captain of a ship.
The prep work can be done by well-trained people. Then, the head of the team is responsible for putting all the pieces together. They take the credit (or the blame) for the final outcome.
You can use the same approach. Depending on what type of online service you offer, the prep-work that used to be done by hand may now be done through an automated process. Even the people who used to do things “by hand” are favoring a more automated approach.
One day, your “team” may end up being you, your significant other, and a bunch of apps!
What Do You Want Your Business to Look Like?
Let’s back up for a minute and consider how you started your current business. Maybe you started out with the simple idea of making some money online? You didn’t say, “I’m going to build a freelancing business,” or “I’m going to build an online agency.” You simply tested the waters to see if you could sell your service.
I’m putting this scenario out there because not everyone starts off with a complete, formal, business and marketing plan.
Many people start out with the general idea along with several possibilities and outcomes in mind. They take action and based upon whatever happens next, they’ll make adjustments, and keep moving forward.
Side projects can follow this pattern. In other words, you’re not entirely certain you’re taking the best course of action. You’re just thinking, “Time will tell.” If good things happen, you stay the course. If not much of anything happens, you may scrap the project entirely.
One mistake I made in the early days was having an expensive overhead. I associated SIZE with PROFITABILITY. It was almost on a sub-conscious level, but I thought the bigger my business was, the more profitable it would be. Today, I encourage following a business model that has a lower overhead with less moving parts based on my personal experience with having done the exact opposite.
Is the Stress Worth it?
In the 1990’s, I did quite a bit of printing in my offline business. From bookbinding machines to high-speed printers and copiers, I had it all. And let me tell you, it was an expensive operation. I was in the publishing business and it was intense, to say the least. In order to keep up with the industry, I was immersed in my work all the time.
I went to bed counting the money, and I work up counting the money. The bills just never stopped. I know bills never stop anyway, but from a stress-related standpoint, the big bills created a lot more stress than the little ones. Honestly, after a while, it just wasn’t worth it.
For me, the level of stress I was dealing just wasn’t worth the return I was getting on my investment. It just wasn’t worth the effort. Once you start asking yourself, “Is this worth it?” there’s a very good chance you’re approaching a crossroads of sorts in your life.
Changing Times for Freelancers and Agencies
Times change. You can’t afford to get stuck in the past. Think about some of the things you spent your time doing back in 2008. Are you still doing those same things today, or have things changed? Are your interests today identical to what they were back then? Probably not. Do you still talk to the same people about the same things? Again, probably not.
There are times and seasons in business just like there are times and seasons in life. I believe we can apply this thinking to the Freelancer and Small Agency business models.
According to a number of the “data miners” out there, the number one concern among freelancers today is their ability to distinguish themselves from competing freelancers in their marketplace. This is why freelancers, in increasing numbers, are seeking various certifications to attach to their personal brands.
For example, if you’re a certified partner with a well-known, online entity, it can create a perceived advantage over competitors who aren’t.
The question is, what percentage of the marketplace will be influenced in a buying decision as a result of one or more certifications that you may carry? In an age of increased skepticism, degrees, diplomas, and certifications don’t carry the clout they once did.
If I sold ad-management services using Google, a Google AdWords certification might help. If I were hiring someone to take over my own ad campaigns, I think I’d be more influenced by a referral or by the good old know-like-trust principle. After talking with them, their ability to answer my questions to my satisfaction would probably make the existence or non-existence of any certifications a moot point.
About five years ago, I acquired a few certifications myself and added the badges to a few of my websites. Did it help my marketing efforts?
No. In my case, there weren’t any upticks.
I did give me the added satisfaction of knowing I’d passed certain tests. But no, there wasn’t a measurable change of any kind that I could point to. A diploma or certification from an institution like Harvard might move the needle? Obviously, if your certification comes from a world-renown entity, it can be a different story. That’s my take on certifications.
Small Agency Concerns
Okay, let’s talk about small agencies. What are the top concerns in today’s market? The direct answer is – maintaining value. The agency owners of today are looking to add new services to existing base of services in order to create new revenue streams and maintain value. That’s a wordy way of saying, “They’re looking for more cool stuff to sell.”
The more value you bring to the table, the better, right? In the past, I would have said – absolutely. In recent years, however, I’ve scrutinized the meaning of “value” more than I have in the past. What’s considered valuable in your eyes may not be the same to your clients.
In my opinion, there are two types of value. Perceived value and actual value. The perceived valued is based on your belief in what will happen as the result of a purchase. The actual value is the final, measurable result. You buy a gym membership to launch your new, “get-in-shape” resolution for next year. Then, you stop going to the gym after two months (for many different reasons).
Whether the reasons were valid or not doesn’t change the end value or actual value of the initial purchase.
That makes sense, right? We buy things, get involved with projects, or do things that never amount to much of anything. In the beginning, it looked good or we wouldn’t have started.
Your clients have been down this road as much as you have. You can sell new services based on perceived value… but it’s the actual value that will determine the reality you’ll be facing 6-12 months from now. The return on investment (ROI) is where the rubber meets the road.
Hitting the Reset Button
I’d like to share a quick analogy with you. I’ve seen people wrestle with computer problems for years. The other day last week, we had a problem with one of our computers. I typed the issue into the search box and pulled up years’ worth of forum threads from the Microsoft site from others who’d encountered the same problem. There were several YouTube videos that also offered various solutions.
When all else fails, though, there’s one solution that always makes its way to the table. That is – restore the computer to factory settings and reload everything.
All hassles aside, nothing is as thorough as a fresh install when it comes to eliminating hard-to-solve issues.
A similar approach can be used in business. Sometimes broken things can be fixed. Other times, it’s better to replace the old thing with something new.
Be ruthless when it comes to getting rid of things in your business that don’t matter. I’m talking about things that don’t bring a measurable ROI to your bottom line.
Things to Think About
In conclusion, I’d like to redirect your attention to a few immutable truths –
- You have to sell it.
You can have 101 different services, if you can’t sell any of them consistently, it won’t matter much.
2. Real connections to people.
If you sell services, perhaps nothing will be more effective than making real, one-on-one connections with people. I’m talking about connecting with other business owners and decision makers in your local area.
Yes, I can almost hear a collective groan after that last sentence. It doesn’t have to be a painstakingly slow, laborious process, though. A short, local podcast, for example, can be a great outreach tool. Short videos work great, too, especially if you’re willing to talk on camera.
The whole idea is to become a familiar name and face in your community. That’s why I’m suggesting video. It’s just like TV when you think about it. Once people get used to seeing your face and hearing your voice, a level of trust is gained.
You just have to be consistent. Even if you’re just sharing tips, create a schedule and stay with it. You can take advantage of the “TV Effect” within your own city, town or community.
I started this article with the question – “Are you happy with your business?” Would you agree that life is too short to get stuck doing the same old thing the same old way? Especially when things aren’t working out so well.
Sure, you get comfortable doing things a certain way and don’t feel like changing. Doing something new means – you won’t feel as comfortable. Doing something new means – you won’t be able to put yourself on autopilot. But, doing something new in your business also means you may finally be approaching your moment of breakthrough.
And that, at least from where I’m sitting, makes it worth the effort.