Giving Myself a 300% Raise

I’ve been postponing writing, getting caught up with other projects (the excuse) and not really knowing what to write about (more honestly). A big part of my block has come from confusion. June was a remarkably successful month– but I wasn’t sure why. I wanted to be able to give steps to follow, be able to say, Do This and you will Earn Money. But I couldn’t figure out why my income spiked so much, and I was afraid it would dip back down low again, leaving me looking like a fool.

I’m currently able to relax a bit right now, secure in the knowledge that many other things will keep me looking foolish enough for the time being.

June was, as I’ve mentioned, unprecedented. I’ll post full income stats sometime soon, but essentially it was Dec-1k, Jan-4k, Feb-3k, Mar-2.5k, Apr-1.5k, May-1.5k. In March I had a trip to Hong Kong and bought my tickets home for my July visit, and in May I went on the motorcycle ride, and by the end of May I was hovering just above and below $1,000 in my bank account. It was a bit nerve wracking.

But then June hit, and as I said last time, I’d produced as much in the first nine days as I had brought in during either April or May. And that little change in phrase of produced versus brought in was part of a series of important mental shifts. But more on that in a moment.

The first important shift happened while travelling, when I wanted to stay in a cheap hotel (~$6 per night each) and my buddies wanted to stay in a nicer place (~ $20 per night each). I was focused on cost– my friends were focused on value. Because when we stayed in a nicer place, we could each work comfortably for 2-3 hours, as opposed to working uncomfortably or not at all. The benefits of the additional money spent were huge, and it’s much easier to sell yourself to a client when you’re happy and relaxed. So, number one: focus on value, and sell the same.

A second very important change was something I’d been working on for a while, neatly captured by a phrase from a friend of mine: I learned to lean in. What? The hardest thing for me had been talking to clients via Skype or telephone. I don’t like phones, and I dislike video chats even more. So, I avoided them. I neatly told myself it was due to the lifestyle I wanted to live, using Ferris as an excuse to avoid what made me uncomfortable. But in June, I began suggesting conferences at every opportunity. Yes, it made me uncomfortable, and so I needed to do it as often as possible. This is also related to Cal Newport‘s discussions of deliberate practice: masters become great by always working on the areas which are difficult. Otherwise it’s play, not practice. So, I suggested video conferences, I took jobs which were slightly beyond my skill set, I asked for more per hour than I had any history of earning.

Related to the video conferences, I radically changed how I sold myself, and how I communicated overall. I read this amazing article on email structure, and applied it to every bit of communication I used. Essentially, every paragraph has a point now, and after giving information, I end each paragraph with either an action point or a question. (I’ll post my actual proposals soon for you to see it in practical application.) And as I said, it’s no longer just email.

Every conversation I have with a client, and every email, has a goal. An express, often written, goal. So, the goal of writing a proposal is to get the client to reply with interest and more information. My call to action at the end of the proposal always offers two good choices: “Would you prefer to continue this conversation via teleconference, or would you like to arrange a teleconference later this week?” Notice both options are them talking to me. Do they always? No, but I do make it seem the obvious choice. I also will switch the order of the two depending on my interest. The second option is slightly stronger, and so I place my preferred option second. And this happens for every email; I always end with the next step.

Before a phone conversation, I write down 1-3 goals I’m going to try to achieve, and look at how I’ll do that. What are the points that will demonstrate that my goal is good for them? I often write those down, too.

At the intersection of leaning in and communication sits difficult communication. There are often emails I want to procrastinate on responding to. But I’ve realized that responses generally have a 24-hr. window of positive emotion. After a day, people start to feel like you’re ignoring them. I’m selling myself as a person who is easy to communicate with; that’s why they’re hiring me instead of the perfectly qualified Indian engineer at 1/5 my rate. So I have to make good on that. Even beyond that, keeping in mind this window forces me to deal with issues instead of avoiding them, resolving them and getting them off my mind. Am I perfect at it? No. But it does help to push myself in that direction.

Alright, this is #_©/°π€ long for a blog post, but I’m almost done. I promise the end is exciting.

The last big change was boring: it was accounting and bookkeeping. I began estimating hours for each project, and listing them on a board with earnings and due dates.  This covered two important aspects: I more accurately predicted my schedule, allowing me to fill in any free time with projects while still meeting deadlines, and I also was able to track value production instead of income. Income is dependent on pay schedules, bank transfer times, and client timeliness. Value production is under my control, and highly motivating.

And perhaps motivation was the biggest change. I’d decided the month before that loving life, being excited about what was happening, was hugely important, and so I began to make decisions on it. When thinking about my upcoming trip in July and the work I would need to do, I asked myself, “What would make this trip more exciting?” And, feeling like a motorcycle ride would be exciting, I chose to buy one. Late at night, when my pen would scratch across a sketch I was finishing for a client because I’d fallen asleep, I would think of buying a bike, the feel of riding through the mountains, and I would force myself to finish.

How much of a difference did this all make? I had a goal for June of earning 5k in a month so that I could buy a KLR 650 in Colorado. In April and May I’d earned about $1,500 each month, and I thought that $5,000 would be ridiculous and almost impossible. And in a way, I was right: I blew right past 5k and my final tally of work produced in June was  just over seven thousand two hundred dollars, more than four times my prior two months.

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