Working on Your Business, Not Just in It

When you’re a freelancer, you often find yourself doing several jobs. You may design, develop, write, manage, bill, consult and answer the phone. Unfortunately, while we’re busy taking care of all these roles in the day-to-day management of our business, we forget to step back and take a look at the long term.

Working on the business may not seem important when you’ve got ten active clients and six projects due this week, however it’s an important task you need to take care of, if you ever plan on growing your business (whether you plan to stay a single person business or not).

What exactly is working on your business versus working in it? Working in your business means taking care of the daily things, the clients, the billing, and the actual work. Working on your business, however, deals with stepping back and seeing how your business can improve, where you want your business to go, and so on. You should aim to try and work on your business, at least for a few hours every month.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can work on your business.


How Can Your Business Improve?

Do you have goals you want to reach while freelancing? Have you reached those or did you make them and then forget about them? It’s easy to lose sight of those beginning of the year goals we make for our business, since we tend to aim for the stars and then get wrapped up in actual work.

Think of a goal you’d like to reach. For example, if you’d like to make $100,000 this year, don’t just write that down and forget about it. Turn it into action steps and break it up into smaller goals that you can actually attain:

  • So, if you want to make $100,000 this year, that’s $8,333 you need to make a month.
  • That means you need to aim to make $2,083 a week.
  • If you charge $100 an hour, that means you need to bill 21 hours a week.

See how breaking down our seemingly impossible goal of making $100,000 in a year, doesn’t seem too big when we find out we only need to bill 21 hours a week to make it?

Improving your business, though, doesn’t always just deal with money. One of the ways I wanted to improve my business was to make myself more productive. I did that by moving my office to happier place in the house, one I didn’t dread coming to and had plenty of light (and therefore, less headaches).

Take a step back from working every once in a while to take an objective look at your business and ask yourself, what can I do to improve it?

Where Do You Want Your Business to Go?

When freelancers first start out, they don’t normally have any sort of target market or clientele they go after. Beginning freelancers often spread their work and proposals to as many potential clients as they can, in order to get enough work to stay afloat.

While this works in the beginning, it doesn’t often for long. You should have a certain amount of knowledge of the kind of work your client is in, and that’s often hard to do if you cater to everyone and everything. This is why I recommend specializing your services, your clients or both.

Not only is specializing important, but where do you want your business to go? Do you always want to offer those Flash services, or would you rather be doing iPhone apps?

It’s important to step back and think of the perfect client with the perfect project. What kind of project and client would that be? Where are they in real life? How can you get there?

If you fail to think about these kinds of business questions, you’ll often find yourself with the crappiest clients and projects, even after years of freelancing. You can’t get awesome projects until you know just what those awesome projects are to you.

I did this after only a few months of freelancing and it really set the pace for being scheduled up for weeks, even months at a time. Knowing who it is you want to work with and what kind of work you want to do, unconsciously helps you move yourself in that direction.

Do I Want to Grow?

I’ve known for forever that I don’t want to grow in terms of size. I don’t eventually want to rent a big office and hire employees and turn into a real agency. But, you might want this for yourself.

Like everything else, this is another question that will determine exactly how you work day-to-day. What are your dreams? Do you want to become an agency or do you like working by yourself out of your home office?

It was once my dream to buy one of those 100-year-old multi-level buildings in downtown Nashville, where I could live on the top floor and run an agency in the bottom. But, then I worked for several agencies and realized how dysfunctional it was, plus how becoming an owner of one of them means you no longer get to do the work you love, but instead are busy with running the company. That wasn’t something I wanted to do.

If you plan on staying a simple freelancer, there are others way to grow. You can grow your professional network and avoid hiring employees, but team up with other freelancers who do what you don’t and pass work between each other. I’ve teamed up with several designers and back-end programmers to help me get jobs I would normally turn down. Each person manages the client during their work, so I don’t have to play project manager either!

So take a step back and think about where you want your business to be in five years, ten years and beyond.

Your Thoughts

What are some of the ways you’ve worked on your business to improve it?

Image by Travis Isaacs