How Your Freelance Business Is Like The Deadliest Catch

I find it hardest to get motivated just after finishing a big project. Launch-day nerves turn into workday fatigue and it becomes increasingly difficult to sit in the chair in front of my computer when there’s a perfectly good couch in the next room.

It was in just this frame of mind that I decided to turn on the television last week to watch an hour of The Deadliest Catch marathon on the Discovery Channel. (For those of you who don’t know, The Deadliest Catch is a reality TV show about fishing for Alaskan King Crabs in the Bering Sea.)

Eight hours later, I did what any good freelancer would do–justify a day’s worth of billable hours spent on the couch by writing a blog post about what I was watching. (Freshbooks has a ‘research’ category–just kidding.)

Lucky for me, it turns out that Bering Sea fishermen can teach us a lot about running a freelance business.

WARNING: This post contains bad fishing puns and poor maritime clichés. If you have a weak stomach for that sort of thing, or are prone to eye-rolling and grimacing, you may want to skip this one. Proceed at your own risk.

Freelancing Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

As if the constant threats of dying from drowning, or getting hit by a half-ton crab pot aren’t enough, these fishermen drink and smoke as if they didn’t want to live.

As freelancers, our risk of freezing to death is pretty low (well there was that one winter I worked in Vermont), but there are other health concerns. Sitting in front of a computer for 12+ hours a day drinking coffee and soda and breaking only to eat last night’s leftover pizza is just as likely to cause problems to your health.

Eat right. Exercise. (Don’t spend eight hours on the couch watching The Deadliest Catch.)

Keep At It

I became a freelancer for many different reasons. Cold-calls and marketing were not among them.

Unless you’re extremely lucky, chances are that you’ll have to spend a significant portion of your time looking for prospective clients. This means planning where you’re going to look, sending numerous proposals, and waiting.

Like our fishermen, sometimes you get back more business than you can handle and you buy a house or a Harley, or whatever. Other times, (and more often than any of us would like to admit) you are left with an empty in-box and a strong inclination to go back to your old day job.

Spending weeks at a time not getting any response to your marketing efforts can be as disheartening as pulling up a pot full of seaweed. The simple takeaway here is to keep at it. I sent dozens of emails before I landed my first client or and hundreds of phone calls before I landed my first whale. (Don’t look at me like that, this whole post is a big fishing metaphor, remember?)

I convert most of my leads these days, but it’s a direct result of the lessons learned from those early failures.

No Man Is An Island

Working by yourself for 40+ hours a week can be lonely. Fortunately, most freelancers aren’t stuck on the deck of a ship 20 nautical miles from Sag Harbor. A simple change of venue can make a big impact. For many of us, moving the operation to the local coffeehouse from time to time is enough. I also know people who love co-working arrangements. Others work with clients on-site.

In my industry (web development), working in isolation can also have a negative impact on the quality of work. Web developers are constantly having to learn and relearn core skills and, personally, I couldn’t do it without the help of my colleagues.

Shut Up and Fish

Every captain on the show has a different (better) strategy to catch more crab. Some of their ideas are common sense, some are very methodical, some are just ridiculous. Some boats haul in a ton and some don’t do as well.

There’s no one right way to be a successful freelancer either. I mean, on this site alone there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different pieces of advice on how to succeed. Like in fishing, there are no guarantees that one will work and the other won’t.

Ultimately, working on your craft with passion is the only thing between you and a boatload of crab. So, shut up and fish.

Your Turn

This post has been a lot of fun. As you can see, you can learn about freelancing by watching TV sometimes. ;)

What are some of the parallels between fishing and freelancing that you can see? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image by aktraildog