I am a producer, project manager, and business specialist. I created this podcast because I’m passionate about helping business owners, freelancers & other self-employed creatives succeed… and have fun doing it.
There’s nothing like the privilege of working for yourself – making your own rules, owning your time, and trusting your instincts to make the right decisions. But I’ll be honest – it’s not always easy. It can feel overwhelming with all the things you have to do, but you CAN do it – you just have to be motivated and willing to do the work.
My tips will help you handle the “business” side of things so you can focus on your talent. I’ll share the common issues we face, along with the solutions that have worked for me and my clients.
You already have everything you need to succeed. I’m just here to guide you.
How to Be a Good Client
I spend a lot of time talking about building relationships with clients and how to approach things from the vendor perspective. But many of us who have clients also ARE clients, because we hire other contractors to do portions of our projects. So I’m wondering how many of us put as much effort into being a good client as we expect our clients to do for us. It’s that whole idea of treat others how you want to be treated. It’s simple in concept but for some reason it seems trickier in execution.
For me, I like to think I’m consistent across the board. It’s important to me to treat all people well, regardless of whether they are paying me, I am paying them, or there’s no money involved. Kindness is my own form of currency, and one that matters a great deal to me. I wish that sentiment was shared more often, but it seems everyone has their own way. I also think it’s easier for those of us who have done freelance work ourselves to know what not to do. Most of my clients who started out as freelancers are the ones who pay the fastest and show the most appreciation for the people they hire.
There are a lot of ways to be a good client, mostly by just being a good human, but I think there are a few behaviors that form a strong foundation. Those are related to compensation, communication, respect, appreciation, and the obvious one, paying people on time.
Let’s get the money conversation out of the way first because it does matter. When you hire someone, you’re relying on their talent and expertise to do things you can’t, don’t want to, or don’t have time to do yourself. This comes at a cost, just as you’d expect if someone was hiring you. To be a good client, don’t insult your vendor by balking at reasonable rates or trying to beat them down for a low price. It’s one thing to negotiate, but it’s another to undervalue someone’s services. They say “you get what you pay for” for a reason. You can pick cheap or good, but not both. You won’t settle for less than what you’re worth, so don’t expect someone else to do that for you.
We all know how frustrating it can be when you think you’re on the same page with a client but then it turns out they were hoping for something different. Spare yourself and your vendors that problem by communicating properly from the beginning. Make sure to discuss what you expect in terms of hours, deadlines, and deliverables. If you have a contract, give them time to review it. If they have a contract, read it and ask any questions you may have. Everyone understands that sometimes changes are needed, but don’t be that client that asks for “one little change” 18 times and then act surprised when they bill you for that time. You probably know how it feels to be on the other end of that conversation, so you don’t want to do that to someone else.
Also, remember that communication goes both ways. You expect them to deliver on time, but you need to hold up your end of the deal as well. So if they ask you to clarify something, or they need something from you in order to move forward, don’t make them wait. Yes, you’re busy, but they’re trying to help you. If you need to send them a document, or weigh in on something, you’re only hurting yourself by not responding quickly. Every hour you delay on your end is an hour delayed on their end as well, and there’s only so much time before a deadline. You don’t want them rushing at the last minute, increasing the chance for mistakes. This is such an easy situation to avoid, but it happens all the time. Be a good client and communicate!
Boundaries. You know how I feel about them. You probably feel similarly. It drives you crazy when a client texts you at night or during the weekend or any time outside of your normal working hours. Or when they want to have a bunch of meetings but aren’t productive during those meetings and end up
How Many Clients Should You Have?
I was asked an interesting question the other day: How many clients should you have? I’ve never really thought about that before and I’m not sure there’s a concrete answer for that. But I thought it was worth exploring here. I don’t think it’s so much about a number as it as about balance, factoring in workload, income, and other needs. I suppose the easy answer is “enough.” You need enough clients to keep your business healthy, but not so many you can’t keep up. Let’s talk about what that really means, starting with some general ideas. Then I’ll share what my plan was when I started, how it’s changed over the years, and how I feel about it now.
In general, I wouldn’t set a number of clients as an expectation. I say that because clients vary so much in what they bring to your business. You could have a large number of clients who bring you one job each, a few clients who bring you several projects each, or some combination of the two. Some of that might depend upon what type of work you do, how you market yourself, or how you prioritize your decisions. Your short-term and long-term goals are factors as well. You might be looking for one big account that will offer more stable income, or you might be looking for some smaller jobs to fill out your available time. There is no right or wrong way to do any of it. It all depends on your personal strategy. And that’s what I’d focus on instead of the number.
I never formed a proper written strategy, but I had ideas in my head. I did prepare a business plan in the beginning, but I don’t think I looked at it once after it was completed. I’m pretty sure I found it a couple years ago and it made me laugh, but even now I don’t remember what was in it. I tried to dig it up to reference, but it’s probably on an old backup drive somewhere and I didn’t want to lose any more time searching and getting distracted with other things I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m sure you know how that goes. Squirrel!
When I first started my business, I thought I was going to move away from production entirely to focus on consulting for other small businesses. The fun had fizzled out in the work I was doing, and I felt more drawn to helping others. I had spent so many years learning the best ways to run a business, and the best ways not to, and I saw a trend amongst my friends who owned creative businesses - many needed some guidance but not necessarily a full-time manager. I didn’t want to work full-time for anyone, so it made perfect sense to me. Of course, this was out-of-the-box thinking, because traditional companies assumed management was full-time and in the office back then.
I actually had a marketing agency that had reached out to represent me at that time wanting to promote me as the “part-time CEO.” I thought it had a nice ring to it, but at the same time, I don’t like it when solopreneurs call themselves the CEO of their company. This is only an opinion, and I understand that many don’t agree with me, so I won’t get into it much further, but it feels like an ego thing to me. And I was so burned out on the corporate world, that I didn’t want to try to bring in that kind of structure in terms of a title, and I didn’t want to present my company as anything bigger than what it was. I just wanted to be me.
The first test to my plan came while I still had my regular job. My first client was a referral from a makeup artist friend – it was a photography business with a small staff of other photographers, retouchers, and admins. The owner was also the primary photographer, so it was important that he spent his time out shooting and not doing the day-to-day work at the office. But they were lacking structure and he knew things could be running more efficiently. So I went in, reviewed the systems, talked to the staff individually, and got a sense of what was happening. I made suggestions, helped implement new procedures, and trained the staff. A b
Setting Boundaries without Being Defensive
We all know I have a lot of favorite things about being self-employed. On that list is being able to set your own rules for how you run your business. You get to choose your hours, your location, how you communicate, which systems work for you, and everything else. It’s way better than having to fit the mold that someone else controls and might not align with what is right for you. But, that doesn’t mean that you get your way all the time. If that’s what you are expecting, and you get defensive when someone needs you to do something differently, you will end up creating challenges that don’t need to exist.
Two important skills I talk about a lot are communication and setting boundaries. I call them both skills because there is a nuance to doing them correctly. Everyone can communicate, but it doesn’t mean they can do it well. Same with setting boundaries. When you’re dealing with people every day, whether they are clients or vendors, you have to be able to communicate effectively and set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and make sure those relationships are in a good place. One of the best ways to do that is to keep your negative emotions in check and don’t use them to fuel your interactions. It’s much better to go into discussions from a neutral place, listen to what the other person says, and explain your point of view in a more logical way.
For the record, this applies to non-business relationships as well.
I’ll use a common occurrence to explain what I mean by keeping it logical vs emotional. The client wants you to attend a meeting at their office. You know that it’s a waste of your time to drive all the way there when you can accomplish the same goal in an email or phone call. So how do you respond?
Response 1: Not setting a boundary would mean you go anyway but the whole time you’re thinking about how you don’t want to be there and how much time it’s taking away from everything else you need to do. Chances are your client will pick up on that demeanor and interpret it as a behavioral issue.
Response 2: Reacting emotionally would be sighing at the request or going into a diatribe about how you don’t like in-person meetings and how you have so much to do and it would be an inconvenience to you. Basically making it all about you instead of considering what’s good for them. And since they are paying you, they probably won’t appreciate that.
Response 3: A logical, client-friendly response would be to explain that the time it would take to travel to and from a meeting at their office would take away from the work you need to do for them. Offer the solution of discussing their agenda at the same time, but on the phone or Zoom instead, assuring them that you’ll be able to accomplish the same goals without hindering progress on their project.
With the logical response, you’re making it about the client and helping them see that you are looking out for them. They might not have considered the extra time it would take you because they’re already at the office. Or they might work better in a group setting and assume you’ll find the same value in a situation that will actually slow you down. Or they might just want to see you because they like you, so they think offering the invitation is a nice gesture.
You might even ask them if it’s important for it to be in person, or why they feel it needs to be in person, and see what they say. I find that nearly every time, that’s just what they’re used to and they hadn’t put any other thought into it at all. I usually hear, “Oh, no reason. A call or Zoom is fine.” You never want to assume you know the intention behind a request, or react negatively based on an assumption. It’s always better to just ask.
So, not setting a boundary would mean you’re doing something you don’t want to do, and maybe didn’t even have to do, and you’ll possibly end up resentful for it even though you didn’t try to help yourself. Responding emo
How do You Take Time Off When You ARE Your Business?
When you own your own business and you ARE your own business, taking time off can feel overwhelmingly impossible. But you owe it to yourself to prioritize your own well-being and taking breaks is a big part of that. This episode is about making that time through outsourcing, planning, committing to yourself the same as you would to a client, and more.
What are some ways you give yourself time off? Do you generally go for the big blocks of time, more consistent smaller actions, or somewhere in between? I’d love to hear how you prioritize yourself and make time to take breaks in your business. Post your thoughts on social and tag me, or send me a message to keep this conversation going. You can find me @aardvarkgirl or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for listening!
At the beginning of a new year, it seems most people are focused on being productive. What can I accomplish this year? What changes can I implement to run my business more effectively? It starts with setting new goals and formulating plans for how to achieve them. I think it’s great to do that, not just in January, but throughout the year. I talked about resolutions in episode 34 at the start of 2021. But where I’m at now, and what’s top of mind for me, is the opposite of being more productive. It’s taking more breaks. But how do you do that when YOU are your business?
Being a single-person business has many perks, but it also comes with some challenges. If you need time off for whatever reason, that means your business stops. We don’t really get paid time off or holidays, at least not in the traditional sense. To me, that’s not a big deal because I also don’t have to work 40 hours a week or do anything I don’t want to do, and I can take time whenever I want it without someone else approving. But, when you’re working at a regular job, there are usually other employees there who can handle your work while you’re out. When it’s just you, you don’t always have the luxury of handing it off to someone else.
But it’s necessary to take time off. We can’t work every day without serious repercussions to our mental health. It’s why burnout is so prevalent amongst the self-employed. It’s too easy to get stuck in that that “time is money” mindset and if we’re not working every second, our businesses will fail. And while it is true that if you’re providing a service and don’t necessarily have that passive income, time you’re not working IS time you aren’t earning, that’s not the most important thing. That’s not to say that money isn’t important because we all know it is, but it has to come along with that balance of time, which is equally important.
It doesn’t mean you need to take a 2-week vacation every few months, although if you can do that you absolutely should. Sometimes it just means taking the time where you can find it, even if it’s only an hour a day. It really comes down to time management, which usually isn’t a strength for creatives. But here are some ways you can take time off from your business to take care of yourself.
The obvious solution isn’t always practical, and that’s to outsource. If you have someone else who can handle your tasks, it’s much easier to step away. But many of us are hesitant to do this for a number of reasons. The biggest one for me has always been that it would take me longer to train someone than to just do it myself. It’s true, but that’s also a limiting mindset because it means I’ll always be stuck doing it myself. The other reason for me is that I’ve yet to find anyone I can trust to do what I do at the level it needs to be done for my clients. That’s not meant in an arrogant or condescending way, but there are a lot of nuances to how I do my work and that’s why my clients depend on me. If I were to hand things off to someone else, I’d need to know they’d represent me correctly and that one is tricky. For many others, it feels like paying someon
2021 in Review
Well, it finally happened. As you may have noticed, I’ve been gone for a few weeks. I officially ran out of time. I’ve always done my best to prioritize this podcast, but I got to the point where it was either make another episode or take some much-needed rest and I had to choose the latter. You’ve heard me talk about the importance of self-care and taking breaks and I stand by it. I rarely let myself get to the point where that’s even a question, but the last several months have been intense. I continue to be grateful for all of the work and opportunities, but it was a lot. Every time I told myself, “I’ll take a break after this job,” something else came up that I didn’t want to turn down and the cycle continued.
But now here we are at the end of the year and it’s finally time. The last big job ended mid-December and I don’t have any major obligations until February. My plan is to take at least a month off to rest, catch up on personal things, and mentally prepare myself for what’s to come. I do fully intend to come back to weekly podcasts and to start interviewing again, but hopefully you understand why I need a little time off and don’t forget about me while I’m gone.
But I wanted to at least say hello, wish you all happy holidays, and do a quick recap of 2021 to figure out how I got here in the first place.
Usually, the end of December into the beginning of January is slow. By December, everyone has wrapped up projects for the year and gone into holiday mode. January budgets haven’t been allocated yet and it takes a little time to get back into the swing of things. I’ve always enjoyed that time, especially since I started working for myself, because it’s a restful way to end one year and start the next.
This year, that didn’t really happen. All of January and the first week of February was spent wrapping up season 22 of Intervention, which was 34 consecutive weeks of intense work for me that started in June of 2020. Fortunately, I got a few weeks off in February but jumped straight into season 23 in the beginning of March, which was another 30 consecutive weeks that ended October 1st. So the two seasons were 64 of 68 weeks from mid-2020 through October 2021, where each week was at least 5 working days and often bled into the weekends because of when the shoots were scheduled.
Working on a series full-time like that is plenty enough to warrant a long break. But that wasn’t all I was doing.
In April, there was the Skechers spring marketing video and the Mercedes Tony Hawk commercial. We also started working on the new website and booking platform for The Voice Actors Studio, which took 6 months of planning and regular meetings and testing before launching in September, followed by all the troubleshooting and refining that’s still ongoing.
In May, we started preproduction for Blue Origin’s First Human Flight in July, which took me into the field for the first time since March of 2020. Showing the world the first successful launch of humans into space was pretty special.
August brought along the Traditional Medicinals shoot. September was the launch of the TVAS website AND when the craziest episode of Intervention was at its most chaotic AND that bled right into the 2nd Human Flight AND the Skechers fall marketing video. That was around the time I started really needing a break.
I thought November might give me that rest, but we went straight into planning for the 3rd human flight, which happened in early December.
On top of all of this, I have a handful of monthly retainer clients where I’m working various hours on things like consulting, managing, and bookkeeping. I produced 49 podcast episodes, taught 8 3-hour workshops, and found a way to squeeze in 6 new coaching clients.
So yeah. That was 2021 for me. It’s been such a fantastic year for work and I do not take that for granted. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about navigating the roller coaster of self-employment, i
Lessons from Elsha
If we’re connected on social, you may have seen that the world recently lost a special soul, Elsha Stockseth. I first met Elsha in 2017 when Dave and I took a one-day thousand-mile roundtrip drive to interview her for “Dream Out Loud.” She was well-known by the U2 community at that point, but neither of us had met her. She was unable to travel for that tour, but we knew it was important to include her in the film. We didn’t know how much it would change our lives.
We often overuse words like “special” and “amazing” and “miracle,” but Elsha was all of these things. Despite dealing with the daily challenges of living with severe muscular dystrophy, she was happy, positive, and peaceful. At that point, she couldn’t move any part of her body besides her eyes, but those eyes were full of light. It’s impossible to explain her beauty and grace with words, but those who were lucky enough to be in her presence know exactly what I mean. She instantly made you feel at ease around her with a kindness and the best laugh I’ve ever heard.
Her parents, Joel and Shanna, are equally kind and wonderful human beings. They showed us around the house and her “Blue Room,” which was full of U2 goodies and race medals. Oh yeah, she was huge in the local running community even though she wasn’t able to actually run herself. People would be her legs, pushing her through 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons, and even a few triathlons. Racing allowed her to feel a freedom she hadn’t known before and it became one of her favorite activities.
Elsha did a lot of things. Besides running and attending U2 concerts when she could, she was an artist. She drew and painted using Photoshop and a head mouse. She created and sold her “eArt” Christmas cards around the world and used the proceeds to help orphans and disadvantaged children in Africa and South America. Because, of course, she had a giant heart and giving spirit. She sponsored a young boy in Kenya and paid for his schooling. She donated toys to orphanages. She felt that she didn’t really need the money and was passionate about helping others. That’s just who she was.
What does any of this have to do with being self-employed? The way Elsha lived is full of lessons for anyone who wants a better life and to be a better person. These lessons can easily be applied to who you are, how you run your business, and the quality of your interactions with others. She had a way of putting things in perspective, inspiring others, and getting things done. She was an inspiration to so many people, and this episode is my way of sharing her brilliance with you.
Lesson #1: Challenges Don’t Define You.
Even though she had some obvious challenges, Elsha never let them define her. She didn’t feel sorry for herself or like she had any limitations at all. She lived a life full of love and joy and embraced her differences rather than letting them hold her back. When she was met with a new obstacle, she figured out how to get through it. And she didn’t want anyone else feeling sorry for her either. Perhaps that’s why she was so good at making other people feel comfortable around her. She made it clear that while she may be smaller than most, she was no less extraordinary.
Running a business isn’t always easy, and we all face challenges at times. Being successful doesn’t mean being perfect. It’s about how we react in those imperfect situations. Do we let them defeat us or empower us? Do we give up or do we learn from them? Do we let fear stop us or motivate us to keep going? I don’t know if it’s tenacity or stubbornness or just an unwillingness to accept anything less, but Elsha and I had that attitude in common. Every problem has a solution, but sometimes we have to be creative to find it. Fewer things are more rewarding than overcoming what seemed like an impossible challenge at the time, so embrace the opportunities when they’re presented.
Lesson #2: I can do anythin
Great format. Great length. Great content.
Sharp and smart!
Perfect length! Love this show... so appreciated for this voice in this space!
Very approachable and full of ideas and info
Aardvark Girl is engaging while presenting helpful, topical information. As a freelance creator, I’m so glad I found this podcast—I know the info will be helpful for me moving forward! Many of the episodes are tiny bite-size listens, from 5-20 minutes, so you don’t have topic or host fatigue.