Editor's Note: I've been expanding and refining my ideas a lot this year in my presentations, without writing much of it down. So when copywriter, Sean Chamberlin, asked me if I had captured them anywhere he could read them, I threw the ball back into his court and asked if he would take a stab at it -- and he did! I loved it so much I'm posting here as a guest blog.
Five Masterful Maxims from Ilise Benun
by Sean Chamberlin
One of the challenges of running your own freelance business is keeping your eye on the prize.
The pushmi-pullyus of marketing, management, and finances compete for your attention as you dash from one task to the next.
As I pull together the pieces of my own freelance business—and push my message of sustainability—it’s a never-ending juggle-struggle to…
…attract new ones…
…maintain a website…
…craft a social identity…
…learn new skills…
…sharpen old ones…
…feed the cat…
It’s mentally and physically exhausting.
There’s little opportunity to ask: what the heck am I doing here?
Fortunately, there’s one voice in the “cocktail-party noise” of our everyday business life that calls us back to what’s important.
Enter creative professionals marketing coach extraordinaire, Ilise Benun.
For decades, she has guided freelancers and creators towards the quieter waters of a successful and joy-generating business.
One that lights up your life…and your clients’ as well.
Here’s five simple and practical pillars of wisdom to guide you and your business in a productive, profitable, and purposeful direction.
Pillar #1: Go Slow
If you’ve ever listened to Ilise, you already know her most sage advice: Slow down.
Two simple words. So hard to do.
Slowing down makes us mindful of the moment. Not just what we’re doing in the moment, but how it makes us feel.
Slowing down forces us to pay attention to those voices in our head. They’re telling us something important about ourselves. We should listen to them.
Ask yourself: What emotions bubble up as you engage in the activities of your work?
Happiness? Dread? Exhilaration? Frustration?
These emotions serve as signposts for the health of your business. And they drive critical decisions.
It’s better to make choices with a clear mind than a rattled one.
Going slowfully and mindfully puts you at your best.
Pillar #2: Serve Your Clients and Your Self
The oft-advertised “golden rule” of marketing is to focus on your clients and their needs. And that is true when it comes to your marketing—it’s all about them!
But at the same time, and more important, according to Benun, is to pay attention to you and your needs.
Your business is not just about your clients. It’s about you, too.
Let. That. Sink. In.
Ask yourself: Who is your business really for? Why am I doing this?
The answer should be…for you! Self-employment…emphasis on the self.
When you operate a freelance business, you have the freedom to make it whatever and however you want it to be.
Even before you have your first client, you have a business. You’re creating, planning, networking, managing, and establishing your unique presence in the marketplace.
If you are engaged in the activities of running a business, you have a business. And it’s your business.
As Benun says, getting paid is simply a byproduct of your business. A necessary one, for sure. But not the reason you get up in the wee hours of the morning with that can-do spirit. Your passion for your business comes from the freedom and autonomy inherent in owning your business and doing things your way…literally and emotionally.
Pillar #3: Treat Your Business Like Your Own Personal Laboratory
Yep. You’re a scientist now.
When things go right in your business, the victory is yours.
But when things go wrong, there’s only one person to blame.
How will you respond to your failures?
The mindset of a self-employed person must be one of learning from your mistakes—every single one of them—what educators call the growth mindset.
A growth mindset gives you the strength to see your successes and failures as teachable moments.
And it offers the reward of distilling your successes into templates for success with future projects.
In this way, your freelance business becomes a laboratory for your personal and professional growth.
As Benun says, “when you treat your business as a laboratory, you get to experiment and practice and try out all these new skills and strategies.”
But learning from your mistakes offers an even deeper benefit.
Knowing that you can try new skills and experiment with different strategies gives you the freedom to be creative in how you approach your business.
Because no matter what happens, you’re going to learn something valuable. Something you can improve upon next time. Making your business stronger, better, faster.
You’ll make mistakes…lots of them. But you’ll get comfortable and learn from your mistakes. That’s how you grow.
Being stronger personally makes you much stronger professionally.
As Carl Jung put it, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Pillar #4: Listen to the Market
With the mind of a scientist, you can approach the marketplace as a place to learn from.
And the best way to learn is to listen.
Can you “hear” the opportunities right now…the kinds of problems your freelance business can solve…the best way to serve different market segments?
For freelancers, the best place to discover what the market wants is LinkedIn.
As Ilise frequently reminds us, “The market is on LinkedIn.”
Listening to the marketplace on LinkedIn can take several forms.
Connect with colleagues. Connect with classmates. Search for creators in your niche and related ones. Watch their approach to getting clients. Learn from their writing. Multiply your chances to hear about new and emerging market opportunities. Build a virtual support group.
Connect with prospects in your niche. Search your industry or local businesses. Build a network of relationships. Discover their needs and challenges through articles they post. Develop familiarity and trust through interactions with their posts. Be ready to help them when their moment of need arises.
Follow industry and market segment groups. Read their posts. Watch for trends Check out their memberships for prospects. Post articles and develop authority.
Pay attention to reactions. Read the comments on articles that come across your timeline. Keep a swipe file of comments that reveal motives, triggers, and pain points. Strategize ways you might use those motives, triggers, and pain points to serve prospects.
Write and post your own articles. Watch who responds. Take note of which articles generate buzz and which ones land flat. Mix up the topics and discover what’s hot and what’s not.
LinkedIn works like an imperfect mirror that reflects the wants, needs, and challenges of businesses across the globe. If you’re diligent—and spend at least 15 minutes daily on LinkedIn as Ilise recommends—you will build a community of prospects that turn into clients when the time is right.
Pillar #5: Use Curiosity and Generosity as Marketing Tools
Your relationships with people—professionally and personally—are the anchors that stabilize your business.
Developing deeper and more meaningful relationships starts with one simple trait: curiosity.
“Curiosity opens the door to conversation,” Benun tells us.
When you ask someone to explain what they do…how they do it…why they do it…you open a window into their thinking, their challenges, the things that drive them crazy and the things that cause them to jump for joy.
And it all begins with a few simple questions. You might ask…
What do you do day to day?
What are the most important challenges in your business?
How would you like to be perceived by your customers?
Where would you like to be in 5, 10, 20 years?
What makes you happy in your business?
With curiosity, you will gain insight. Insights increases focus. Focus delivers results when you sit down to write a proposal, craft a piece of content, or plan a marketing strategy.
The better you know the people you serve, the better you can serve them.
Curiosity—taking the time to learn about and get to know another person better—is a form of generosity.
As the popular song goes, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”
This doesn’t mean giving your service away—unless you decide you want to work for free—but it means providing unasked-for value.
Generosity means showing you care. Being real. Having truthful and genuine conversations with your prospects and clients. Demonstrating that you want to help them succeed in every way possible.
When you use generosity as a marketing tool, you feel better about your business and yourself. And you stand a higher chance of gaining someone’s trust—and their business—because they want to work with you.
Slowing down…nurturing your inner self…treating your business as a place to experiment and try new things…discovering the marketplace through intentional practices…and caring about people—these are the core ideas that have the potential to provide a strong foundation for your productive, profitable, and purposeful business.
And it takes time.
But you can do it…with a little help from a friend.
Once you master these foundational tools, the sky’s the limit. Because no one can take away the happiness you feel when running your own freelance business.
If you would like to learn more about keeping your business on an intentional path to joy-generating success, subscribe to Ilise Benun’s Marketing Mentor podcast, the marketing podcast for creative pros.
About Sean Chamberlin
Sean Chamberlin is a freelance sustainability writer and science educator with a lifelong love for the ocean. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and at blueplanetpublishing.com
And if you’d like to chat about this article, connect with me on LinkedIn, / or scribble me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!