Learning From Mentors: 5 Invaluable Freelance Insights

Written by Josh Hoffman on April 5, 2017

Surrounding yourself with strong mentors is vital on the path to freelance success. Today, we don’t need to feel limited by where we live to find the community we need. As my friend Todd Brison says, “The internet has removed geography as a barrier to get to know people.”

Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to glean learning from mentors and distinguished teachers. Here are five lessons I gained from them along the way you can apply to your own journey:

1. The Agreement Expiration Clause

When I started freelancing, I created a template for my service agreements with new clients. I reviewed the agreement with my grandfather, a successful entrepreneur, and he opened my eyes to possibilities I never considered. “What happens if the client waits six months or even one year to sign the agreement?” he asked. “Are the terms, including how much you want to be paid, still going to be valid? What if you no longer offer these services by the time they sign the agreement?”

To ensure you don’t need to uphold the original terms agreed upon long ago, add an agreement expiration clause to your contracts, in which you clearly state that the agreement, if left unsigned by the client by a specific date, will no longer prove valid. Not only does this offer you security, but this tactic creates a sense of urgency with potential clients by incentivizing them to sign the agreement sooner rather than later if they want to maintain the originally agreed upon terms.

My agreement expiration clause is as follows: “This agreement is rendered completely invalid if it is not received by the service provider, signed and dated by the client, on or before [insert date 30 days from the date of the agreement].”

2. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

My first client, a family-run business, was owned and operated by the original owner, as well as his son and son-in-law (who hired me). The original owner, an older gentleman who was on the more traditional side, often bucked at changing old methods, saying, “We’ve always done it this way.” His son-in-law, however, was less attached to the status quo, forward-thinking and of the opposite mindset: What got you here won’t get you there.

What does this mean for freelancers? Always be reinventing. Reinvent your craft, your skills, your personal brand, your network, your vision and how you market yourself — because being romantic about past success can stagger future growth.

3. People Will Waste Your Time If You Let Them

Early on in my freelance journey, I met the owner of a successful digital agency, which charges per hour, as opposed to per project, or on a retainer. His main reason for doing so: People will waste your time if you let them.

By charging per hour, you can keep clients honest about how much they ask of you, because they know that if they ask for something more than originally agreed upon, they will need to pay for it. This strategy also minimizes time spent tending to unnecessary phone calls and meetings. As this agency owner explained to me, they charge for anything falling under “project facilitation” — anything that advances the completion of a project.

4. Treat Yourself as Your Own Client

For the first three years of my freelance business, I solely relied on word of mouth to attract new clients. Then, one day, I was on the phone with a friend of mine who asked me a question that ultimately changed the trajectory of my success: “If you’re so good at social media marketing, why don’t you have a robust social media presence?”

I was struck by the truth of his words. When you use your own services to benefit your business, you create a more compelling case when selling yourself to potential clients. Not to mention, you also attract more leads by virtue.

5. Embrace Impermanence and Self-Compassion

My cousin Adam turned me onto the notions of impermanence and self-compassion as themes to fuel my vision. Impermanence suggests nothing lasts forever. You can apply this principle to the indy lifestyle in many ways, including:

  1. Realizing and accepting you will not work forever with the same clients you have today.
  2. Consistently refining your skills to stay relevant in your field.

Approaching work from this framework can help you continuously attract new clients by proactively marketing yourself. While it’s good to be proud of your accomplishments, it’s also important to refrain from getting too romantic about the methods you used to achieve past success. Reinvention is crucial to long-term success.

Self-compassion is the practice of being at peace with the potential sufferings that come with freelancing — fear, frustration, confusion, helplessness, failure, burnout, pressure, disappointment and uncertainty — so long as you continue to do your best. “Many times when you criticize or judge yourself, you feel isolated. It seems as though you are the only one in the world who has that particular flaw,” writes Bobbi Emel, a psychotherapist. “And yet, we are all imperfect. We all suffer. And so we are all connected by our shared humanity.”

In the end, learning from mentors is the name of the freelancing game.

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