My two biggest lessons from 2011

Flying lesson by Jon Oakley

When I refer to my biggest lessons, there’s a reason I don’t call them insights or learnings.  No, these were lessons, the kind of training one gets on the battlefield, and on a battlefield, you don’t emerge unscathed.

To that point, I’m a little hesitant to share these with two weeks remaining in the year, in case Murphy shows up and decides I’m not done with the education yet.  But here they are.  They’re focused on work for hire kinds of business, since that was a big part of the year for me (and there’s a third lesson lurking in there, I think, but more on that another time.)

Don’t worry about everything getting approved at once

From past (salaried) work experience, and talking to others, I don’t think this is unique: you put out a lot of proposals and responses, and at first it looks like your quarter is lined up perfectly with one deadline magically set to happen after the other, with everything spaced out just right.  And then clients start to delay approvals, and it starts to look like everything’s going to be shifted so it all has to be done in the same week.  All eight projects that you’re a shoo in for, they’re all going to need the same resources (typically: you) at the exact same time.

So you pull back, even if subconsciously.  You don’t push as hard when new leads arrive.  You start “selling from your heels” on the existing stuff.  Work gets devalued.  And at the end of it, you’re lucky if two of the projects are a go.  And that’s the thing: you really feel lucky that you somehow dodged a bullet of having clients want to pay you to do things.

Yeah, it’s pretty much crap.  Having too many projects on the go is a nice problem to have.  Focus instead on the terms of the contracts, so you can get some cash flow in to support the extra resources you need.  Yes, you’ll be very busy for a while, especially since you’re doubling down on marketing for even more work, but the alternative is that slow trickle that comes from timidity in the face of potential, which, trust me, sucks way worse.

Don’t do work until the deal’s approved

And while you’re waiting for all these deals to close, just, you know, not all at once, the temptation might come about to start on one or two of them a bit early, so you can be more comfortable with the workload when it’s official.  And maybe, you think, starting early will let you beat the client’s wildest expectations in terms of schedule, and they’ll shower you with more work and referrals down the road.

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who’s ever done this.  Stop laughing.

Of course, a job that’s being talked about is very different than a job that’s actually been paid for, and until things get signed and money gets advanced, it’s all talk.  To work on these projects in anticipation of an approval is procrastination, nothing more, and if things are that slow, there are 37 different marketing strategies that need developing that are probably outside of your current comfort zone, unlike the safe zone of heads down work, paid or not.

So that’s 2011 in a nutshell.  It wasn’t a disaster of a year, but the lessons were there and they left their mark.  It’s fine, as long as you’re still standing, and the same lessons aren’t being talked about in 2012.

Photo by  Jon Oakley, as a reminder that (one hopes) not all lessons are painful.





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