Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Finding the work you love

The last couple of weeks, I gotta tell you, have been insane. I don't think I've had this many calls and e-mails from people who want to work with me since I started the zen kitchen a year ago! Mind you, this is all a very Good Thing, but it's definitely been interesting trying to manage all the new-business calls while also trying to keep my marketing machine going, work on projects for my current clients, and try desparately to get the new site up and running (which, I also gotta tell you, has been taking the back-burner a bit lately).

One of the key results of this current influx of come-work-with-me activity is that it's gotten me thinking a lot more about the work I really want to be doing. As any self-employed person can probably tell you, the reasons you go into business for yourself often have more to do with getting to choose the people you work with than just about any other concern (the first time I find myself confronted with a true jerk and get to tell him "no, thanks," is probably the happiest moment I've ever experienced as an entrepreneur), and doing work you truly love and enjoy is probably the other biggest need most of us have. So why do we so often find ourselves taking "whatever comes along" whether or not it truly fulfills us?

I'll be honest, it's fear. You get so used to the security of the weekly paycheck that when you don't have it, or you're having a slow patch and your savings is starting to dwindle, you get afraid that you'll never find work again, and you end up saying "yes" to that project you knew you shouldn't have taken. Within two weeks, you're stressed out, miserable, and wondering why you chose to go into business for yourself if this is what you have to deal wiith.

Not wanting to fall into this trap again, and being confronted by a string of people who just Didn't Get It when it came to my services and the true value I could bring to their business, I decided to develop an action plan for turning things around. I made a list of my 5-6 favorite clients and projects over the last 12 months and wrote down exactly why they were so cool. And I started noticing distinct patterns:

  • All of them trusted in my talent and creativity, and hired me because they loved my work - not just because I was a web designer they met at a networking event;

  • All of them had company values and a corporate culture that were in line with my personal values and interests;

  • All of them paid me well and respected the value I brought to the table;

  • All of my contacts at the organization were people I got along with personally;

  • All of them were businesses that I was helping to succeed.

Armed with this information, I was able to come up with a list of questions to ask myself when I'm interviewing any potential client:

  • Can I get behind what they're doing?

  • Can I really help them succeed, and how?

  • Do I get a good vibe from them? Do they respect me and what I do?

  • What is their budget? Is it reasonable considering what they're looking for, and can they allocate more if it's needed?

  • Can I get really jazzed about this project, or does it give me more of a "yeah, I guess I could do that" feeling?

Having this list on me while chatting with clients has already saved me a ton of time and stress, it's gotten me some really great clients, and helped me realize a few of the relationships I had that weren't quite working out for me. Plus, now that I have a good idea of the TYPE of people and projects that I want to be working with, it gives me even more info to start the search for clients that will be a good fit for the studio as I go into my second year.

Who are your favorite clients?

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