Working on Working

Freelance working
The WP Crowd

Theresa Jennings

Published: May 9, 2016

When we get to an age where having a job is required to keep from being homeless, we often hear the phrase, “If you don’t have a job, you need to make a job of finding a job.”

When you’re self-employed, however, if you’re not working, you need to be working on working. Because you need to afford an internet connection, electricity, and eating.

Skill Building, Deep and Wide

In web design and development, things are changing at a breath-taking pace. New software, programming languages, design trends, marketing — something is changing every day. You can never rest on what you’ve always done., Treehouse, and Udemy offer online courses in software and business for a low cost that can work around your deadlines and downtime.

Check out free online courses in a wide variety of subjects from Coursera, an organization that partners with universities like Princeton University, the University of Michigan, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania, and more. They do have set class schedules, but you still have the flexibility to work them into your own schedule. No matter what business you are in, it can only help your bottom line if you are conversant in a wide range of subjects.

For learning computer programming for free, or close to free, there are Codecademy and Programr.

Launch your favorite search engine and check out the want ads to research your field’s skill requirements. Even if you’ve just graduated from college, you didn’t learn everything you needed to know sitting in a classroom. Be a self-starter and learn those skills if you don’t already have them. If you do have the skills, deepen your skillset by learning more about them. Now I’m making WordPress sites. I have been for about 6 years. Before that, regular websites for 6 years. Before that, graphic design since the mid-70s. I am pretty comfortable with CSS and HTML, but now I need to know PHP, JavaScript/jQuery, and even SEO and social media. WP-CLI is also a big thing, so I need to get better at command line.

At some point, you might have to decide to specialize in a few things, because you can’t possibly learn how to do it all. Work daily to become the very best at what you do. Learn everything you can, and tell people what you know. One thing I love about WordPress is their philosophy of “Learn, then teach.” In other words, when you get past the beginner stage, start putting in proposals to speak at WordCamps and even your local business groups and meetups.

Sell Yourself

I’m amazed at the number of ways you can sell yourself and your products or services today. Not only can you create a great website that is search engine-friendly, but you can create a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a LinkedIn account, a Snapchat account, Instagram, and a Pinterest page for your business (Pinterest is a great way to create awareness of your and your clients’ products). But you can’t expect to generate interest if you’re not involved. It IS social media, after all. Participate.

In the same way you can’t expect to throw up a website and have viewers flock to your site, begging for your services or products, you can’t create a social media account or five and neglect it. Generate interest, create a conversation. When you’ve done all that for yourself, you may be able to offer those services to your clients, too.

Become a go-to expert in your field (or work on it, at least). Blog. Look for opportunities to write for other blog and article outlets, that of course will circle round to linking to your own website.

Discover local and regional PR sources, and let people know what you’re up to. Did you win an award? Brag a little. Were you asked to speak to a group? Let people know when and where you’ll be and what your topic is.

The Elevator Pitch

You are only as successful as the work you have lined up. How are you marketing yourself? Have you joined any professional organizations, and are you actually attending their events? Assuming you’re attending an event, have you retired to a corner of the room with a couple of your friends? I know I’m guilty of this. Or are you working the room with an outstretched hand and your “elevator pitch”?

The “elevator pitch,” according to Aileen Pincus of Bloomberg Businessweek, is “being able to sum up unique aspects of your service or product in a way that excites others  [and] should be a fundamental skill.”

Evaluate your elevator pitch often, make sure it addresses the needs of your intended audience, and always be ready with it. Practice it in front of the mirror until you feel comfortable with it. It doesn’t need to be perfect.

Dotting Your I’s and Crossing your T’s

I’ve seen a website where the owner offers proofreading and editing services, yet the businessperson’s site is filled with typos — I’m being gracious when I call them typos. I’m assuming the person knew they were errors in the first place. Every single thing you or another person produces on behalf of your business is a reflection of you (I had to clean up some errors I found in my own work here — humbling — and…again). If grammar is not your strong suit, find someone you can pay to clean up your work (a word of warning — just because someone has an English degree doesn’t mean they can write or clean up your work). If you don’t do this, it affects your credibility. It says, “If I couldn’t take the time to attend to this detail, I’m going to be equally as sloppy with what I do for you.” There are people out there savvy enough to recognize the errors, and they won’t call you or refer you to their friends.

Take a Deep Breath

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with “working on working.” How will you find the time? It’s a struggle for me, but if the phone is not ringing with potential clients, I have to take an honest look at my work ethic and ask myself, “What was more important? Watching a TV show, or marketing my business?” Yes, I have to make time for downtime and recharging my batteries, but I need to make sure I’m spending at least 40 hours a week working — billable and non-billable hours, and if I’m not working, then I need to be working on working.

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