I am a terrible golfer.
I will hack my way around a course in three figures. My best score is 98. Those of you who are golfers can no doubt appreciate my lack of talent.
You may (quite reasonably) wonder what this has to do with reshaping your freelance business. The answer is in fact everything: golf serves as a perfect analogy for freelancing (or any business for that matter). More specifically, the steps necessary to improve your golf swing and your game can be lifted and directly applied to your business.
While I may be a poor golfer, I know a thing or two about creating a freelance business that works. If you feel that your business is in need of an overhaul or you simply want to improve the quality of your clients and earn more, the solution can be found in the steps below.
Step 1: Analyze Your Swing
If you attend a golf lesson the first thing any coach worth his or her salt will do is take a good look at your swing.
They’ll do nothing more than have you hit a few balls and observe the unique combination of biomechanical movements that allow you to transfer energy from the clubhead to the ball (hopefully). After all, they can’t begin to improve you until they have a solid idea of your weaknesses as a player.
In the same manner, the first step you need to take in remodelling your business is to analyze its every facet in much the same way that a coach would analyze a golf swing.
Start by clearly delineating each section of your business, such as:
- Service delivery
Then divide each section into subsections, for example:
- Social media
- Cold calling
- Paid advertising
Drill down as far as it is practical do so in the same way that a golf coach will isolate particular parts of your swing that need working on. Analyze each area of your business that is not performing at capacity and make note of the problem(s). While the concept of recreating a biomechanically correct swing path may seem utterly impossible, improving one small section of your swing is far less intimidating. In the same way you should look to isolate problematic areas within your business that can be tackled in bitesize pieces.
Once you have hit a few balls a golf coach will have a pretty good idea of everything that is wrong with your swing. However, they will not overwhelm you with commentary on all of your technical failings. Instead they will mention one thing and have you start work on that. However, as a business owner you need to play the part of both coach and player — you need to be aware of all the issues within your business but only focus on one at a time. You avoid being overwhelmed by employing the tried-and-tested method of simply writing everything down. After all, once it is out of your brain and down on paper you don’t need to worry about it until you’re ready to.
At the end of this process you should have two things:
- A complete “map” of your business and its constituent parts
- A clear picture of what parts of your business are in need of improvement
This is the complete analysis of your swing. Now it’s time to move onto the next step.
Step 2: Look for “Quick Wins”
There’s nothing more encouraging at the start of an endeavor than quick wins — immediately measurable improvements that can be implemented in a short space of time and with ease. They are are always a good thing and any good golf coach will seek out quick wins to encourage motivation and confidence in their student.
Equipment is an obvious place in which someone can experience quick wins: balls and/or clubs that are more suited to their style of play, better shoes, a GPS rangefinder, and so on. A coach might make any number of suggestions that could result in an immediate measurable improvement in their game (i.e. they go and shoot a good round).
As such, before you get stuck into the bulk of your business remodelling effort should give yourself a bit of encouragement by seeking out quick wins. These will typically be easily implemented efficiency improvements, with obvious examples being a ban on social media within working hours, limiting yourself to checking emails just once or twice per day, and so on. With a little forethought and discipline you can improve your efficiency exponentially by implementing quick wins.
Quick wins can also involve more creative thinking. For instance, say your rate is $75 per hour and you spend five hours per month on bookkeeping. You can hire a good bookkeeper for $25 per hour so why not do that, spend five more hours on client work and earn a net $250 more per month?
Finally, quick wins can be a little more drastic. For instance, you might choose to dump that ongoing low-paying client that you have been intending to do away with for months. Since you are taking your business in a brave new direction, why not take the opportunity to make a bold move? Not only will this free up time for a better quality client, the stress relief factor cannot be underestimated.
Look to the map of your business that you put together in step one as guidance and consider the three “types” of quick wins you should be looking for:
- Efficiency improvements
- Creative improvements
- Brave improvements
Then go about implementing them. The tendency for chronic “over involvement” in our businesses can result in the potential for multiple quick wins if we just take a moment to spot them and take action.
Step 3: Tackle the Fundamental Issues
This is where a golf coach really earns his or her pay; when they make the decision as to what you are going to work on within your swing. It is how they guide you at this point that can make a huge deal of difference — while persistence will ultimately lead to improvement, the correct approach can make quick improvement far more likely.
It’s also the time at which a coach makes a decision as to whether or not the swing is worth working with or in fact needs to be completely remodelled from the ground up. Do you have a good fundamental basis for what could be a good swing or is your technique so intrinsically flawed that one must start from scratch?
This is the question you have to ask of your business: is it fundamentally flawed or just in need of remodelling? You must be honest with yourself at this stage as an emotional attachment to your business is to be expected.
Fortunately, the likelihood is that your business does have great potential and that you have a lot to work with. As per stage one you should have clearly identified the issues — the key now is in brainstorming solutions and prioritizing them appropriately. I have found that this step can be carried out at the same time in a “chicken and egg” style — i.e. the act of determining the viability of a given solution can help you to figure out what the solution should actually be.
Let me explain that by outlining the prioritization method I recommend — a 1-3 scoring system over four levels:
- Value: how much will this change positively affect your business in terms of income?
- Reward: how rewarding will this change be to you personally?
- Complexity: how difficult will this change be to implement?
- Likelihood of success: how confident are you of the change working as planned?
You need not understand the solution in order to score value and reward because you know what your desired outcome is. But the stimulation in imagining the positive solution can often galvanize you into formulating the solution, at which point you can score it in terms of complexity and its likelihood of success.
If you cannot think of a solution then you must seek to simplify the issue in the same way that a golf coach would isolate a very specific part of your swing so that you could work on it. There is always a solution — just keep drilling down until you get to the absolute core of the issue and you will get there eventually.
This process of scoring can make prioritization completely quantifiable — simply add up the star ratings and sort them by value. Here’s a mockup of how you might do this:
Obviously I would be more descriptive in terms of the proposed solution in reality but you get the idea.
Although I have said that this scoring system makes prioritization quantifiable, I would advise that you use it as a guide (as opposed to an absolute indicator) when prioritizing — it may not be that you implement the improvements in the exact order that they are in, but it will make the decision-making process far easier.
One Step at a Time
At this point you should have a clear picture of the issues within your business, you should have already implemented some quick wins and you will have an ordered list of actions to take in order to remodel your business into something that ultimately makes more money and fulfils you. You’re set to go, one step at a time!
The key to this method of remodelling your business is that it avoids a feeling of being overwhelmed. At any one point you should only be working on one issue and that issue should be simple enough that you can tackle it without feeling like you have too much on your plate. If the solution is too complex and/or large then it either needs to be simplified or broken down into smaller parts.
Improvement along these lines is nothing but a process — as long as you persist in your efforts and keep your eye on the ball, the growth of your business is all but guaranteed.
What do you think about my approach? Fire away in the comments section below!