The Lab Report: My Monthly Freelance Biz Breakdown – Jul 2014
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. Please 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!
In our last Lab Report I talked about how things got real. Due to unforseen circumstances I struggled financially to follow my dream and say ‘no’ to projects that weren’t a right fit (even though I really needed the money). Saying ‘no’ really hurt and brought on complicated challenges. But yet, it opened up the space to say ‘yes’ to a much better opportunity. In June’s Lab Report I was able to create a barely 5-figure deal with Dream Client #1. This month, it gets even better.
But first, let’s take a step back for a moment.
When I set off 4 years ago to ‘start over’ I had a phat bank account and was ready to have some fun traveling around the world indefinitely. I sold everything I owned, quit all my clients, and set off on my new life and business. I had enough money to last me 2-years on the road when I left.
What was supposed to be my dream turned into my nightmare. Right after I departed almost four years ago, disaster struck and continued to strike over and over again. I built up and lost my savings several times due to life events happening that needed to be taken care of, like my health.
So when I say for 31 days, nothing blew up and I even got to see a little bit of Rome this month… that’s a BIG DEAL! And cause for celebration.
Let the good times roll
Rather than go over all the bad things that happened during this hard time, I’d like to highlight the good instead. The beauty of life is what keeps me going. Life may be more difficult going down the unconventional path, but I am free. I can live and work anywhere in the world and create whatever kind of business I want to create. I love my life. Struggles and all. My failures and successes are my own and that is something I will always fight for and never give up.
So let’s get to it!
Had a spectacular road trip around the United States meeting strangers with the rule, “if someone asks you to do something and you don’t already have plans, the answer must always be yes.” (You know like the movie, “Yes Man“) I had the most awkward, surprising, hilarious, scary, and difficult moments that would probably make a great book someday.
I got to stay in palace in Dijbouti (Africa) and swim with whale sharks with my long-time friend Kav.
I trained Muay Thai in Thailand with a family of fighters for a year. I had 2 fights and won by KO in round 2 in both. That means I’m undefeated as a fighter. Bitches. :)
Met and fell in love with Paolo on the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand. After Paolo and I met, I chased the cruise ship he worked on around Asia. Singapore, Bangkok, Saigon, Halong Bay, and Hong Kong creating a real-life love story… He quit his job in Hong Kong and we started our journey together by meeting in Austin, TX. We’ve traveled to 9 countries together since November 2012 and going strong.
Every time I spend a significant amount of time inside of a country I make an effort to learn the local language. Right now I’m focusing on Italian so that I can communicate with Paolo’s friends and family better making us a biligual couple. In the past I’ve learned Spanish (intermediate), Sign Language (beginner), Bislama (advanced), and Thai (beginner/intermediate).
Learned to Surf in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Everything we own fits into our backpacks. When you minimize you can afford to spend more on high quality items that are durable and perfect for you. For us, it must be light, take up little space, and be versatile for our changing needs. Finding the perfect item to add to my belongings is a glorious feeling.
Filled up a 48 page passport in just a few years time. Last week I picked up my new passport at the US embassy in Rome.
So while there have been some shitty times, life has been pretty amazing to me regardless.
“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” – John Lubbock
Several months ago when I was in the thick of it and trying to figure out what to do… I told a few people that I wanted to charge $1,000 per day to start my consulting services and others my goal was to work my way up to charging a minimum of $15k per website (of which I would only produce a maximum of 3 per year). Nobody took me seriously.
Back when I had corporate clients it was easier to get big contracts because they had budgets, but now I’m working with entrepreneurs for the creative freedom they provide and the impact my work makes.
I started at the bottom to make a name for myself. I had the freedom to do that because I was working in Thailand where the dollar goes incredibly far using geo arbitrage. My living expenses were a measly $700 per month for a nice apartment ($150), eating out for every meal ($1-2 in the market and $5-7 in a Western restaurant), Muay Thai training ($200/month), weekly massages ($5 each), tourist stuff ($15-100 depending), spending money, and a motorbike rental ($70/month).
I could take a project based on it’s creative merits alone and work with the clients (crappy) budget to build a new creative portfolio by over delivering. Even though I was worth more and was making $4-8k per month with corporate clients previously, the opportunity to set my portfolio up for success is what I was ultimately after. I wanted to create the type of work I loved to invite more of it into my life at higher prices.
With each project I raised my level of service, changed my processes based on what I learned, and continued to improve to what it is today.
Many designers will scoff at working for cheap or free, but finding the right projects to work for despite their nonexistent budget helped me create the type of portfolio and results I needed to attract the High-Value dream clients I was after.
A short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.
Even though I’ve been saying, ‘no’ to projects that don’t align with my new direction, it’s not easy. I want to take them on sometimes because they are fun creative projects, but I have to remind myself what my priorities are and where I want to go.
Will it take me closer or further from my goals?
Since I’ve been working with budget strapped entrepreneurs the last few years I’m used to being pressured on price constantly or working more hours than I’m being paid for. Now that I’ve got the portfolio and results to back my value I shouldn’t be doing that anymore. While I’m confident in my work and am getting incredible results I have a soft heart for creative endeavours and things I enjoy working on. I end up pricing lower than I want to or should and as a result sell myself short.
My work is creating additional revenue streams, increasing conversion rates, and multiplying existing revenues. In the past with corporate clients I couldn’t prove the value of my design work, but in the digital age with entrepreneurs and analytics I can clearly prove value.
Why am I doing this to myself?
Energy Levels & Exhaustion
I have to manage my energy and time very carefully to preserve my mental and physical strength..
I want to do, see, and be so much more than I am right now, but my exhaustion really holds me back. I dream of a day I can reach my full potential and reclaim my energy.
Everyone has their struggles, this is mine.
Doing work I hate
My tolerance is at an all-time low for working on activities I dislike doing. I get frustrated very easily and want to procrastinate. This has been motivating me to find more people to help me with certain tasks and continue to open up my space. However, there are still quite a few tasks that I need to continue to take care of right now and they frustrate me. I just want it taken care of for me and to not think about it.
Dream Client #1 turns into a healthy 5-figure deal!
I hit the jackpot on my first High-Value client. Our barely 5-figure deal last month has just been expanded into a healthy mid-5-figure deal in July and is signed until the end of the year! This means that I’m only required to work a few days per month and the rest of the time can be spent having fun and building Never North.
What blows my mind is when I initially sat down back in March in the midst of the business meltdown I made a list of exactly what I wanted.
Dream Biz Consulting + Life
Dream Client Personality
- Open to new and bold ideas
- Serious about next-leveling their business
- Respects my creative process and value
- Understands great work takes time
- Authentic & easy to work with
- Has an already successful website earning at least $10k per month in revenue.
- Website has identifiable problems that can be addressed to level-up their biz.
- Minimum budget $15k.
- Business that I believe in and stand behind. (Adds something positive to the world)
- A max of 4 hours of work per day, the rest is play.
- A passionate team that supports me so I can focus on the right tasks.
For all the people that told me it couldn’t be done or rolled their eyes at me, this is for you…
When I wrote that stuff back in March, I didn’t expect it to immediately start to come true, but it did in ways I couldn’t even imagine at the time. I was thinking I would have to work my way up to it, not get it on the first try!!!
Dream Client #1 and I met in April from a post I made on Reddit. We’ve been working together for a few months now and it’s going really well. I’ve added so much value that they continue to ask for more. I basically said, here’s how I can add value to your business and what I would change or rethink and pretty much got the response, “Shut up and take my money. I want all of it.”
These are the kind of things dream clients say:
Plans & Pivots
Next Stop: Thailand!
So naturally, given this news we decided to pack up and move to Thailand again (sorry Berlin) bringing Paolo and I’s love story full circle. We use geo-arbitriage to buy more with our money and have the freedom to work less/save more. We’ll be finishing up our three final design contracts and the only requirement is working a few days per month to earn my consulting fees with Dream Client #1. After that I have the rest of the month (and year) to be free to explore my consulting offer and Never North.
My design projects are scheduled to end in September. I created the space I needed and now it’s time to build. I CAN NOT WAIT TO GO TO THAILAND. Italy is awesome and is a second home to me now, but I’m just super stoked to be going to Thailand.
Project Mentorship Consulting
I’ve made a mark in the travel entrepreneur niche as that is where most of my clients have come from the last few years. Although I’m not taking on any new clients there are some good projects coming my way still. I decided to leverage this and pass the projects to the talented Never Northie’s on our email list and separately consult with the client as needed since they wanted to work with me specifically.
However, after doing tons of research, talking with clients and contractors, and working to set-up processes I realized that I couldn’t add more things to my plate right now. While this is something I would like to do down the line, the timing doesn’t quite seem right just yet.
So I decided to table this type of consulting and completely pass the entire projects to Northie’s with no involvement from me whatsoever at this time. In July, I sent out an email to our Never North mailing list requesting applications. You guys are a talented bunch and while I haven’t contacted or set anything up yet, I’ll be doing this as soon as I’m able.
For July my next steps were:
- Figure out finances to not take on any new design projects. – CHECK
- Complete my final design projects and move 100% towards consulting – IN-PROGRESS Scheduled to be complete in September
- Figure out where to go next. – CHECK MOVING TO THAILAND
- Start working ON my business and not so much IN it. – CHECK
Next Steps for August:
- Create the first post about the Dark Sail project on Never North (for real this time—it’s already in progress)
- Create a seamless process for client billing and invoicing given the new direction and added team members my business has now. My old system is no longer relevant.
- Create processes for repetitive tasks and find staff to complete them on my behalf.
- Take our new project management system and input and invite my remaining clients into the Asana workspace. (no more email!!)
It’s your turn!
What does your dream client look like? Answer in the comments below.