“Experiencing failure is to be living, and steering away from failure is simply to be alive. “
The quote above perfectly sums up the experience of a freelancer, and what makes many back away in terror. Face it people, we live in a world where only the successful ends of journeys are celebrated. In an industry where we are bombarded with success story after success story, it makes you wonder if those people were simply born winners? To answer this, THEY WEREN’T!
In this article three freelancers share their “failure to success” stories:
- Spencer Forman of LabSecrets and LabZip relates how Ning unplugged him and his partner and how he started all over.
- Dainis Graveris, founder of 1WD, tells us how 2.5 million monthly unique visitors dropped to 1.8 million, and a change of focus for our readers.
- Jamal Jackson’s story of how the dawn of Facebook affected my early freelancing career and how it changed me for the better.
Every success story you can think of has a turbulent journey filled with many failures prior to that celebrated point of success. As a freelancer, you’re going to become best friends with failing and it’s important to have an idea of how to deal with this dear friend.
That’s why here, we’re going to be taking a look at a couple of the common failures that every freelancer experiences, or will experience, and give some advice on how to handle them. In addition, at the end some of the 1WD team members will get a little personal and share their favorite failure stories.
The Inexperienced Freelancer With No Clientele
Starting a career as a freelancer in the web industry only takes a name and a URL, and you’re good to go. However, actually getting work is nowhere near as easy without some experience behind you. It honestly will make anyone feel like a failure from the start.
How to handle this
Well, there is only one way to get yourself into a better situation. Getting to work! When you have no reputable past experiences, or stellar work, the only thing you can do is work for the purpose of building your brand. Here are some good ways to do this:
- Pro bono work for non-profit organizations (what is pro bono, why and when spec work is a good idea)
- Creating themes, plugins, and other assets that can be sold (creates a great passive income)
- Get in touch with established freelancers in your area to create friendships
- If you have the knowledge, share it by blogging or writing tutorials
- Tweak popular open licensed themes and sell them
- Create your own projects
All these solutions are great places to start if you’re very inexperienced and just itching to get a great leap into the industry.
What is the worth of good advice if you aren’t given any advice on what not to do as well? You now have a good idea on what you should be doing, and how to get going. To add to that here is a little warning message.
DON’T WORK FOR LESS THEN YOU ARE WORTH!
This approach is only a race to the bottom because there is always someone cheaper, and selling yourself short may affect your confidence depending on the type of person you are.
When all the Rain Stops and Your Business Hits a Drought
If you can find one freelancer who says they never had a drought of client work being presented to them, then I’ll show you a freelancer who is going to have one in the near future. The freelancer’s lifestyle is a roller coaster, with mighty nice highs and awfully dreadful lows. It isn’t possible to create a sustainable income from client work alone because eventually it will just dry up. When this happens, not many know how to deal with it accordingly, even if they’ve been through it before.
Always make sure that all clients and partners have provided proper written legal documentation showing their approval. If they don’t, then the possibility of them being able to sue once things start moving in a great way becomes highly likely.
Now it’s time for you to read a couple of stories from the people here at 1WD, and see how we turned these failures into great learning experiences. The main takeaway though – Never Ever Stop Learning!
Spencer Forman’s Story
“Hello… it’s Spence, the Evil Genius, from LabSecrets”, a software development and consulting company that produces turnkey social networking and monetization solutions for entrepreneurs.
Here Spencer takes some time to discuss with us his favorite failure, and the great outcome this lesson allowed for him to attain.
I went from over 6,000 happy customers to being unplugged and called an idiot by my industry peers.
Earlier in my career I had success with WidgetLaboratory on Ning. One day we had over six thousand happy customers, making tens of thousands a month, and then one morning woke up and Ning (and their Venture Capitalists no doubt) unplugged us and all our customers. Had 3 TechCrunch articles, some funny ValleyWag posts, etc, all outlining it. While most of our customers thought we were in the “right” and supported us, we were called “idiots” by Michael Arrington and others…
My partner took it very hard. I enjoyed it, because I love a good dog fight. Admittedly, it looked grim.
But entrepreneurs and freelancers have to believe in the impossible.
Within a week or so, from the ashes, I was on Skype with London and we were scheduled to fly there to meet with a startup called SocialGO, who ultimately hired us to build a product to compete with Ning. Within days we had a six figure contract and fee sharing deal.
That was certainly a memorable time with a massive “FAIL”… followed by what I like to think was a huge recovery/learning experience. It led me here today with all the “Lab” stuff.
My partner ultimately moved on. He was less of an entrepreneur/freelancer and more of a “hired gun” developer who could just sit and code for cash. That was a good choice for him though, as it liberated us both to be the best we can be.”
Jamal Jackson’s Story
“Hi! I’m Jamal Jackson and I freelance under my Five Alarm Interactive(FAI) brand as a designer and developer. I started freelancing in 2008 when I was 16 after spending a couple of years prior to that creating MySpace layouts.
What mattered most to me, and still does, was the feeling of being respected by my peers.
So sometime at the beginning of 2008, I think, I really don’t remember, MySpace was overtaken by Facebook as the popular social networking site. Well, for a person who was making a fine living for themselves, maybe a few thousand dollars a week when I wanted to work, that was a devastating blow.
My entire niche market was slowly vanishing before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.
My only two options were to either give up and call it a day for my career on the outskirts of the web industry or change my skill set.
So I changed my skill set and targeted a different market. There was only one problem I didn’t expect… You really don’t get a warm welcome from others when you claim MySpace as your first taste of the industry. Looking back, maybe some of it was warranted since none of the people I knew back then are still around today.
Anyway, because of my less than impressive background and tender age, I had trouble getting work or being taken seriously. That really hit a nerve and shaped my whole career because nothing became more important to me than respect. Having that as my main goal quickly led me down a road of very little income.
I turned down a lot of opportunities to create a stable income and clientele simply because I felt the work I would be doing didn’t satisfy me creatively. Mix that together with the clients that I really wanted that did not probably bother to read my cold emails or proposals, and you got yourself one hell of a mess.
I realized when I was about 17 that I wasn’t going to get the respect I deserved, or grow creatively for that matter, if I continued down this path. I started to get more active in web communities, more specifically, ConceptFeedback, and man, the first time I posted my work it got destroyed. However that is what I needed, the harsh criticism from creatives who I now view as friends helped me grow amazingly fast. I gained more confidence from this, and started to present myself better on the web and in my approach to clients.
A year from that I started blogging seriously, and started working with Dainis and the 1WD team. Blogging helped me build a name in this market, and define who I was as a creative.
The moral of my story is that I needed to transition from wanting respect as a creative, to wanting it as a business. Doing this changed my whole perspective and allowed me to finally start growing my company seriously.
This brought me opportunities to work for high profile clients from March of Dimes to AT&T, and allowed me to turn down job offers from some of the biggest names in the Atlanta area.”
“Hey there, my name is Dainis and I am the founder of this very blog 1stwebdesigner.”
Today I will share my failures and what changes I have made, that up to now are still in the process of settling down.
I was very frustrated that I lost my passion and started to drink much more frequently and lost my joy for work.
I could tell that for the past two years when I thought 1WD was a big success, it was instead slowly going to ruins. And the reason? The very reason why 1WD was liked by so many – because we approved a lot of guest author articles. The problem was that guest authors just wanted quick cash and visibility, but they didn’t care much about community. I didn’t push community hard enough because I was blinded by the growing traffic numbers.
If traffic is growing – then to grow business – we need more articles which will help improve traffic, right?
While I was blinded with Google’s huge traffic and growth (over 2011 we improved monthly traffic by one million unique visitors), in March, everything changed. I am glad now that it worked out so, but it was very frustrating for all of 2012.
We had 2.5 million unique visitors and suddenly that number dropped to 1.8 million. Google Panda and Google Penguin stopped favoring 1WD as they did in the past for reasons which are still not clear to me.
For the past year I tried everything – worked on 1WD’s loading speed, worked on better SEO, worked on going through 40,000 blog comments to remove spammy ones, started editing and cleaned up existing blog posts. Nothing worked.
I was very frustrated that I lost my passion and started to drink much more frequently and lost my joy for work.
..and then I learned my lesson. How 1WD was founded. For the first two years most articles were written by me, I was super engaged with related web design blogs, with community – replying to comments, engaging with everybody. As 1WD grew, I worked more in the background, managing the business itself. Outsourcing tasks to writers, hiring more people. It was all good and valuable experience, but all this time I was pushing only TRAFFIC.
More, more, more..I was always thirsty for more visitors, because that’s how I measured how successful 1WD was. And after painful blow, it took time for me to understand.
I understood that traffic is nothing if there is no loyal following, if there are no like-minded people, no readers who love and stand by what 1WD represents.
As Steve Jobs said after he was fired from Apple:
In the last several months, we stopped working with a lot of guest authors and we are now focusing on a smaller team who really love 1WD’s vision and will stand by it.
We stopped publishing regular daily list articles – while we thought we could maintain high standards and deliver quality articles every day, in all honesty we couldn’t – we became like a factory just trying to produce more and lost creativity along the way.
We got engaged with our community again, we asked for feedback and listened to what the readers want to learn here. Each comment written here by readers is being responded to! If you take the time to add your experiences, tell your story – we repay the same way.
We started creating videos, because it is the closest way that we can connect with you – our reader! I knew we needed videos, but 1WD grew and we stopped trying new things, became defensive. Common problem by every company that becomes big and stops experimenting, because now they have something to lose.
While I am telling this story, and it’s not yet finished, we haven’t yet recovered from the Google hit, but now I don’t want us to. Community is all that counts, if you appreciate our work, then we have accomplished our goal.
With 1.8 million unique monthly visitors, we don’t need more traffic. We need people who can place their trust in us, and then we can work on our own products that we know you want. How? Because we ask you questions, listen to your feedback and take time to engage with you via the comments.
I hope you enjoyed this story and keep coming back here to see how the story continues.
And again on failures – if you fail often, then you will be the most successful person. That’s how it works.
It’s not how we fall, it’s how we get up again.
Now it’s Your Turn
Take a second in the comments section and leave a story about a failure you’ve experienced in your career. We’d love to hear it!