Each month I write a detailed Lab Report about my freelance business, Never North Labs, and the journey I’m going on to CRUSH IT! I go over my processes, challenges, lessons learned, and other important happenings each month.
I believe it’s my responsibility to be completely transparent and upfront with you by providing a glimpse into how my business is performing. I do this because I believe in transparency and authenticity online. You should know who I am and what I’m doing in my own business (the good, the bad, and the ugly).
I’m just an ordinary person, like you, with my own baggage and life problems to deal with. Finding freedom in freelancing is not an overnight thing that happens with some magic technique. In fact, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to pull it off. If you don’t take action though, you’ll never see results.
My hope is that by taking you along for the ride you can not only see what is possible, but that we all struggle in our own ways.
While this post is all about the Never North Empire, we are a community that supports and encourages each other. Post your own progress in the comments section each month so we can take our businesses to the next-level together.
So let’s get this party started!
This month we are combining Lab Reports for August and September since we took the month of August for some much needed R&R. For the last 10 months Paolo and I have been working our asses off to next-level our business while dealing with an overwhelming amount of problems. Many of which I’ve talked about in past Lab Reports already.
In Italy, most of the country takes August for vacation so almost all of the stores have signs up saying: “CLOSED: On Vacation from August X – X.” When things started to go south, this inspired me to take August off too. When in Rome… right?
When August started I was ahead of schedule for the first time in over a year and super stoked about my 5-figure Dream Client win in July… then I got sick for 10 days and was forced to rest. I quickly found out just how much I needed it. I pushed myself so hard that my body just sort of shut-down and demanded that I chill. My work productivity plummeted and creative work was taking me an extraordinary amount of time.
So I did the bare minimum to keep from bottle-necking my team and took some much needed rest and relaxation to travel around Rome, Stockholm, and make the journey to Bangkok, Thailand, our next stop. I really needed to recharge myself after dealing with fire for so long and find my balance in order to get my creative juices flowing once again.
When I came back in September, I needed to be ON IT, since I was behind on work again. I have 3 sites I’m working to launch to free up my commitments so I can focus on Never North and consulting. When I arrived in Bangkok at the end of August I immediately headed to Koh Chang island where I met up with my developer, Henry, to finish up a client project together.
I was SO STOKED to be on the beach, but it rained for 8 out of the 9 days we were there. :| The rain flooded the island; power and internet outages were becoming an everyday occurrence and one of the bridges on the island was completely washed away. Although I’m normally stoked to have some adventure, this really killed my mood and spirits. Life on the road is not always easy!
The endless rain and flooding!
The bridge that washed away.
So we left the island and headed to Chiang Mai where we could get our ‘home’ for the next 6-months and settle down. We found a beautiful 3 story condo just outside of town for $600 per month. We have 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms so when my friends arrive to town they have a place to stay. It also gives us some much needed space and a large area perfect for co-working and having people over.
We found our balance and creativity returned.
I’ve said this before, but we’ve invested a lot of money into building Never North and developing my freelance design business Never North Labs into a consulting firm. I’ve hired people to take care of the things I’m not good at or shouldn’t be working on, even if I didn’t have the client budget to do it.
This has enabled me to spend more time where I need to so that we can grow, but it’s definitely given me a financial headache. I still have tasks I need to outsource, but our current budget won’t allow for it. We do the best we can with what we have and live life a little bit on the edge right now. Thankfully, here in Chiang Mai life is very affordable and we’ve got some kickass clients. :)
The Creative Practice
I briefly talk about my “Creative Practice” on my Start Here page. Here’s a quick recap:
- Conscious – We are conscious of the people and environments we surround ourselves with. Energy vampires are quickly disposed of while people that make us feel better are brought in closer.
- Creative – Everyday we do something to express our creativity and push our limits. If we don’t use our “creative muscle” it starts to die a slow nasty death and our soul gets eaten away.
- Mindfulness – We are mindful of the things we say to ourselves. We show gratitude for at least one thing everyday and do our best to serve others.
- Movement – We were meant to move and explore the world. Everyday we do something to activate our muscles; it can be yoga, skateboarding, surfing, hiking, walking, tennis, whatever.
It’s about doing one little task in each one of these categories, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Every time I follow this religiously, I have creative balance. It’s imperative to maintaining balance in this freelance life, but it’s not easy. Everyone drops the ball at some point. I am no exception and I’m not going to sit here and talk to you from my high horse and ignore that this problem is something I struggle with too.
When you push yourself too hard and neglect your basic needs, work gets harder and takes longer to complete. It goes in a downward spiral and motivation and creativity become more difficult to attain the deeper you go. That’s not good when you are working to next-level your business and be THE best at what you do. You need to be in top form! The creative practice sets you up for success and provides the balance you need to do your best work.
Business Processes & Management
As I’m growing from a one-person freelancer to a freelancer that has a core team of 5 other freelancers working for me I’ve had to learn how to manage not only people, but my business better. I’ve always hired freelancers to help me with certain aspects of projects, so I’m not new to directing people, but they were usually one-time things.
Now I actually have my core team working for me both full- and part-time on a contract basis!! Whoa. I didn’t even think that was really possible a few months ago. My systems were not set up to handle this. It kind of complicated everything in a time when I didn’t have the time to get the correct systems in place beforehand. Things that I thought would be super easy to do and could get done in a few days, have ended up taking me MONTHS to accomplish. Which leads me to…
Wow. Everything has been delayed. There were issues I just didn’t see coming in the transition until I got into the heat of it. In the case of several big projects, I had to start over multiple times based on mistakes and process errors. There were also some tasks that took 10x the time I thought they would.
I feel strongly about doing quality work even if it means I have to delay the project. I want my work to be worth the wait. If I’m going to do something, I want to do it right!
I also am not as capable as I used to be since I had my medical issue come into play. I have to be more realistic and honest with myself on how much I can physically handle and ensure I maintain balance and set realistic expectations.
I spoke too soon about things I “was going to do” and ended up not having time to do all of them because of the above. I didn’t prioritize correctly and for that I feel like a bit of a failure.
I should have done things first, and then announce them when they were completed. :\
The only thing that matters though is that you keep moving forward and learn from your mistakes. We’ll get there eventually.
Travel & Inspiration Overload
Did we have some epic adventures in August during our time-off? Yes. Yes, we did. The world is my playground and when I get to have unlimited adventure with the freedom I’ve created in my life, it inspires me endlessly. Here’s a recap of the awesomeness that happened in August and September and the things that inspired me. Prepare to be overwhelmed with some epic travel photos.
Walking the streets of Rome, Italy
A 2-night layover in Stockholm, Sweden on the way to Bangkok, Thailand
And because we’re a little ridiculous and weird, we thought it would be funny to take photos of Zulu in front of monuments too!
Arriving to Thailand
What the hell is that thing? They called it the gator fish.
Working with Henry
Henry is the developer behind Never North and now yTravel Blog (more on that in a second). He’s currently in Thailand so we met up in Koh Chang and Chiang Mai to work together on our shared projects. Most of my work is remote so I never get to work side-by-side with someone. It was a refreshing taste of awesome sauce. The collaboration really helped us level up our work and deliver a better end-product to the client.
Launching yTravel Blog
My team and I got to work and launched yTravel Blog at the end of September. yTravel Blog is the first site where I went beyond being “just a designer.” I creative directed my team and did a complete overhaul of their brand, website, and business to position them as leaders in the travel blogging space.
The next post on Never North will be a detailed case study of the behind-the-scenes efforts and thinking that went into the making of yTravel Blog. For now, you can check out the comments I made on Dribbble here.
yTravel Blog is now my biggest and best case study to help me sell more of the type of projects I love to do. I lost a lot of blood, sweat, and tears over that website, but it’s a testament of the work I know I’m capable of. I’ve got a few more sites like this in the works and I’ll have a solid portfolio for Never North Labs.
I learned a lot from the development of yTravel Blog and my other dream clients in the past few months. I’ve gotten more clear on the type of services I want to offer in my freelance agency, how processes should work, and the direction the business will be going. I’m just an ordinary designer fumbling along and trying to figure this out as I go, just like you.
Never Forget! ;)
If you’re not saying, “HELL YES” to a project, then the answer is simply, “No, Thanks.” Tweet This
Plans & Pivots
Dark Sail Live Project Case Study
I’ve been talking about doing a project live on Never North with Dark Sail for a few months now. Unfortunately, the client potentially needs to postpone their project until next year due to their personal circumstances. We are currently working on a solution and more details, but until then we’ll focus on a few other more pressing matters.
Never North Labs
I don’t have a website or brand for Never North Labs. This is pathetic and needs to change. Sooner rather than later.
I’ve been working really hard to finish up client projects and get the free time to focus on Never North. Never North is a lot of work. Did you know it takes us from 8-30 hours for every blog post on this site? We focus on quality and believe it’s worth the wait.
Unfortunately, as explained above, not everything works out how we plan it to. I’ve adjusted, moved forward as best I could, but now it’s time to kick it up a gear. I’m STILL in the heat of it, but I will continue to make baby steps forward to improve.
- Develop brand positioning and strategy for Never North Labs and it’s new service offerings.
- Create a detailed case study for yTravel Blog.
- Rev up the engine at Never North (start posting more frequently! Goal: 1x/week)
Each month we highlight the awesomeness of other Northies. This month we have Brett Lair. Brett’s been helping me with some design work for my clients and recently quit his job to pursue freelance full-time. *high five*
Here are a few words from Brett:
“I almost can’t believe it, but I’ve been freelancing full-time for about a month now. It’s still very clear when I gave the agency I was unhappily working for my two weeks notice. Why didn’t I do this earlier!?
Fear. Fear of not knowing where my next paycheque will come from. Fear of not being able to make next month’s rent. Fear of letting myself down and having to return to a “regular” job. I’m sure the majority of freelancers can relate to this fear, but now that I’ve made it to the other side, there’s really no better time than now to go for it.
While I was fortunate enough to have some clients that I’ve been working with for years to keep me afloat, things immediately picked up. I took on new clients that offered projects that I’m passionate about and I’m finally able to feel proud about what I’m doing.
For what it’s worth, if you’re looking for a sign to take the leap and get over the fear… this is it.”
You heard him, right? There’s your kick in the ass.
It’s your turn!
For a chance to win this months giveaway item write a comment below answering this question:
Where do you want to be in six months?
Lab Report Giveaway!
Seven days after the publication of this post, I will select the comment I like the most and send a handcrafted care package made just for you from Thailand to kickstart your journey. The Sunday Market in Chiang Mai is full of creative awesomeness and we’ll pick out a few items to send you as a thank you for being a loyal Never North reader.
Until next time kids. Toodles.