The highs of freelancing

Freelancing has a lot of ups and downs. But for the most part, the highs are higher than a typical day job, and the lows aren’t quite as low.

What do I love most about freelancing?

  • The freedom. It’s a totally different way of life. It’s a totally different approach to each day. Instead of getting up too early to go somewhere you don’t want to go and do things you don’t want to do, you can structure each day as you see fit. You can take a break when you want. You can go to a long lunch with a friend or your child’s doctor appointment without asking permission. You can pursue new opportunities or ideas to build your business and chart your own course. I’m still not completely used to this – it’s amazing.
  • Winning new business. Such a rush! Every time I win a new freelance project I feel like an NBA draft pick. I love the thrill of the chase, building new relationships, proving myself to new clients, learning about new businesses and new subjects.
  • Repeat business. Getting repeat business from loyal clients is like having the wind at your back. I already know the client, we already trust each other, I already know the requirements and particular details that are important to them.
  • Being “almost” too busy. I love having a full slate of work. I love looking at the clock and realizing that the day has flown by and I don’t know quite how I’m going to manage to get everything done.
  • Helping people. I enjoy just the basic act of helping someone get something done. People hire freelancers and consultants when they have a project that they can’t get done by themselves, or when they need some fresh thinking or outside perspective, or when they need someone else’s skills that will free them up to work on what they do best. I enjoy doing my part to make a difference on each project.
  • Making money. Being self-employed is so rewarding because you really see the link between effort and results – if you work extra hours on the weekend, you get more money. If you’re smart about managing your time and you’re productive all week, you can take an extra half-day off on Friday. It’s fun when projects go smoothly and clients are happy and bills are getting paid on time, and all of a sudden you see the money start piling up. All while having fun and having full control over how you spend your day.

I quit my job today

Today was my last day at my day job. From now on, I’m a full-time freelancer, working from home, working on projects with clients all over the world.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the happiest days of my life. Other than meeting my wife and getting married, other than becoming a father, this is the most excited I’ve ever been.

This has been a long and winding journey, to say the least. I’ve been thinking about making this move for quite some time. I had to wait for our new baby to be born (which happened in May), then I went on FMLA leave for 10 weeks to take a “test drive” and see how much I could make by working from home full time.

The response was highly encouraging – I hit my income targets for three paydays in a row, while still being available during the day to fix lunch and change diapers and take my son to the park.

And while I was on leave, freelancing full-time, I got some crazy news from my day job. On July 9, it was announced that my company was shutting down and being restructured into the larger corporation that owns it. This was shocking news. My company had been around for over 100 years – generations of people had worked there and earned a good living and generous benefits. And now they were announcing over 3,000 job cuts nationwide, with 1,000 job losses in Des Moines.

I went back to work on July 16 to see what the situation was. Back before the announcement, I originally had planned to resign, but I wanted to take a few days to see how likely it was that my job would be cut, and if so, what kind of severance package I might expect. After crunching some numbers and weighing some options, I ultimately decided to just put in my resignation letter and get on with starting my business full-time – I think my (former) job would have been pretty safe, and even if my job had been cut, it might have taken at least 6 months. So I decided to just give my 2 weeks’ notice and get started on my future, rather than wait around for a severance package that might never come.

It felt really good to make this decision and know that it was done. If I would have lingered on hoping for a severance package, it would have been a weird way to work – being in the situation where everyone else’s worst-case scenario was my best-case scenario. I sent a farewell e-mail to my former colleagues today saying, “I hope you all will be working for this company for as long as you want to.” I really do sympathize with everyone who is trapped in all this uncertainty – and I’m optimistic that most of them will probably be able to find other jobs within the company.

Even though I gave 2 weeks’ notice, my managers very graciously allowed me to leave early (today) while still getting paid through August 3. So now I can start my new freelance career with a “mini-severance package.” I’m going to hit the ground running on Monday morning – I’ve already got a full slate of projects and client calls lined up for next week, with some other projects in the pipeline. As I experienced during my six-week “test run” in June and July, opportunities often materialize while you’re doing the work. Clients send repeat projects. People invite you to bid on their jobs in Elance. Success has a momentum all its own! As long as I keep working and trying and communicating with people, good things will happen.

I know that this business idea can work. I’m sure there will be ups and downs along the way – I’ve already experienced some of those aspects of the freelance life – but ultimately I have faith that if I keep working hard, if I keep building strong relationships, and if I keep delivering great results for my clients, I will be able to earn as much money as I want.

Quitting my day job was the easy part – now I need to go do the work of building a business! But I know it can be done.

On Hiatus

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated my site. I apologize to my regular readers who might have been wondering, “whatever happened to Ben Gran?”

In my defense, it’s been a pretty crazy month. First I got really busy with freelance work. Then one of my friends committed suicide. Then my wife and I welcomed the arrival of our second child.

So I’ve been busy, and thinking about other things.

I’m reconsidering what I want to do with this blog. I’m hoping to make it a little more freewheeling, a little more fun, a little more funny and irreverent.

One immediate change is that I have decided to turn off Comments on my blog. Thanks to everyone who sent thoughtful, constructive comments about things I’d posted here, but I’ve decided to treat this blog as more of a monologue and less of a public forum. In the future, anyone who wants to comment on my blog can send me an e-mail at

Watch for more updates later in June…

Are you a procrastinator or an incubator?

I read a great article awhile back about procrastination, and how we need to think differently about procrastination.

Some people who think they’re procrastinators are actually “incubators.” They still get the work done, and with a high level of quality – it’s just that they need some time along the way to let the ideas percolate.

So are you a procrastinator, or an incubator? Maybe you should stop worrying about being a procrastinator. Embrace it. Maybe you’re not really “procrastinating” after all…

“Procrastinators may have a habit of putting off important work. They may not ever get to projects or leave projects half finished. Importantly, when they do complete projects, the quality might be mediocre as a result of their lack of engagement or inability to work well under pressure.

What [an incubator presents is] something qualitatively different: a clear sense of deadlines, confidence that the work would be complete on time, certainty that the work would be of superior quality and the ability to subconsciously process important ideas while doing other — often recreational — activities.”

I’ve decided that I’m not a procrastinator, I’m an incubator. Sometimes the ideas need to sit and stew for a few days before they’re ready to launch.

How about you?

“It’s lonely at the top”

Does it have to be?

Too often, people in positions of power tend to become remote. They lose touch with the people who are affected by their decisions. They start keeping their guard up all the time – everyone starts to be seen as a supplicant, rival or potential threat. Power can be isolating. It can undermine the best part of people – it can make people lose touch with what they wanted to accomplish by gaining power in the first place.

I have a mentor who is a high ranking executive. But he’s incredibly generous with his time, he’s connected, he’s engaged, and he’s always looking for ways to help. He’s a philanthropist and a community leader and he’s involved in all kinds of stuff going on all over town. He’s one of the least lonely people I’ve ever met.

Maybe the people who find themselves lonely at the top…were already lonely to begin with.

Who are you trying to impress?

As you get older, there are fewer and fewer people to impress.

When you’re young, you have so many people to impress: teachers, classmates, your parents, your friends, parents of friends.

You get a little older and you go to college. You’re constantly meeting new people, trying to make an impression, making snap judgments about whether people are “your kind of people” or not, trying to be liked, trying to fit in, trying to find your place.

You finish college and go out into the real world. Now you have to impress your boss, your co-workers. After work you go to bars, parties, mixers, and always you’re trying, on some level or another, to impress the people you meet. You’re always out there, always searching, always putting your best foot forward, or at least trying to.

And then before you know it, all of a sudden you’re married and you have kids and a house and a career. You settle down. You stay home on Saturday nights and cook dinner. You drive to your parents’ house for Sunday lunch. You go to a movie two or three times a year. Your horizons have narrowed. It’s harder to travel, harder to go out, and it’s increasingly unheard of to go to bars or parties or mixers.

As you get older, the world shrinks. But there’s a certain kind of freedom in that – in not having so many people to impress.

The Tonight Show staff

Circling back to the Tonight Show once again…

I know this is old news, but I was rather surprised to read that Conan O’Brien had 190 people on his Tonight Show staff. (I’ve read that Jay Leno has a similar number of staffers on his show.)

This seems like a huge number of people. Why do they need 200 staffers just to put on a 42-minute TV show? (Half of which is taken up by musical acts and celebrity interviews.) I’m sure that the Tonight Show staff are working hard, but how many people do you need to put on a comedy show? How many writers does it take to write a late night monologue?

When I worked at the Governor’s office, we had a staff of about 30 people. And that was to run the executive branch of a state government with an annual budget of over $4 billion.

Granted, no one at the Governor’s office ever came up with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. So maybe all those Tonight Show staffers are necessary, after all.

P.S. I haven’t watched late night TV in several years, but my sympathies in the Jay vs. Conan brouhaha were fully with Team Coco. And I hope that the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on TV” tour is a smashing success.

Corruption is so tacky

This article from the N.Y. Times talks about how the leaders of South Africa are becoming so blatantly corrupt that people are calling for “lifestyle audits” to find out how public servants in a not-terribly-wealthy country can afford BMWs and designer watches.

I don’t mean to pick on South Africa, because corruption is a problem in lots of countries all over the world. It’s a tough problem to solve. Once a place develops an entrenched culture of political corruption, bribes and embezzlement from the public coffers, it often becomes hard to stop – and hard to find people who want to serve in public office for the right reasons.

Maybe the way to fight corruption is to make corruption something to be ashamed of – not just because it’s wrong, but because it’s tacky.

Seriously. Is there anything more slimy and tawdry and in poor taste than selling your office? Is there a bigger sign of a leader’s insecurity than the fact that he spends his people’s money on a nice watch and a fleet of cars?

If you’re the president of a country, you have the power to change the lives of millions of people for the better. And instead you buy yourself a nice watch and a fast car? What are you, nine years old? These guys remind me of Borat bragging about his VCR remote control – don’t they know how embarrassing they are, to their countries and to themselves?

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, and he gave the money away to charity. That’s what a leader should do – be generous. Give the money away. Real leaders aren’t motivated by money and flashy, shiny things – they’re motivated by making a difference; not by looting as much treasure as they can get for themselves.

How to Make Money on Elance? Read this book.

If you want to learn how to make money on Elance – how to write effective bids that get results, how to make the best use of your time in bidding on projects, and how to command a higher hourly rate for your work, then I have an eBook to recommend.

It’s called 7 Elance Bidding Strategies That Work by J. Smith Adams.

J. Smith Adams and I got acquainted on Twitter back when I was first starting out on Elance. At the time, he had a blog called “Elance Money” with a lot of the same ideas that are now part of his eBook.  J. Smith Adams’ ideas were hugely influential in how I got my start on Elance – and now I’m an Elance Premier Provider and the Grand Prize winner of the Elance “New Way to Work” contest. (Not to brag.) The point is, the guy knows what he’s talking about. He helped me, and he can probably help you.

Anyone who uses Elance to find work can learn something from this book. Whether you’re just getting started on Elance or whether you’re an Elance veteran looking to boost your profits, I think it can help you. I’ve started to adjust my own project bids based on the techniques and tips in this book (including my phone number and e-mail with every project bid? D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that before?).

What this book emphasizes is that success on Elance is about words – the words you write on your project bids, the words you interpret from clients’ project descriptions, and the words you don’t see. J. Smith Adams shows you how to read between the lines, how to look for the hidden messages inside an Elance project description – how to find the unspoken needs that a client has so you can address what they’re looking for. He’ll show you how to create a concise and effective Elance profile – you might be doing something wrong that you’re not even aware of yet. He’ll show you how to convince a prospective client that you can confidently deliver the results they’re looking for – again, by focusing on the client’s needs and putting your best foot forward. Most of all, he’s going to challenge and change your mindset about the opportunities that Elance can deliver.

One of my favorite ideas from this book is the concept that “it takes just as much energy to win small as it does to win big.” Elance can be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re new – there are so many jobs with so many different skill sets and specialties. But what you need to keep in mind is that time is your most precious asset. If you’re going to spend time scanning Elance jobs and submitting proposals, you need to focus on the jobs that are truly worth your time.

The book costs $75.95. I think that most Elancers can quickly recoup the cost of this investment – if the book helps you get one additional $500 project that you otherwise might have missed, or if the techniques in this book help you boost your profit margin on a job by $150, you’re already money ahead.

Did I mention that the book is concise, lively, and practical? No fluff, no wasted words – just a tightly written and informative book that is designed to help you make more money on Elance. I’m glad to have read it, and I think you will be too.

Disclaimer: I do not have any financial interest in recommending this book. I do not get a commission, I’m not an affiliate – I just like the author’s ideas and so I’m recommending it to you. He did give me a free copy to review (we’re old Twitter friends, after all) but I would have gladly paid the $75.