Reward

Today I got my first $1k+ payment; coming in at 10:54pm and $1890.35, it’s a sign I’m moving up into the majors. Well, out of little league, at least.

This morning I was torn. The first part was unproductive; I actually surfed the internet a bit during work time, a first since starting this business. Part of it was because I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Christmas, and I wanted to find the motto (see the end of the post) for LIFE magazine quoted in it. The film was amazing, inspiring me again to pursue greater freedom and adventure, and really making me want to see both Iceland and the Himalayas.

But a larger reason I was distracted this morning is I hadn’t received funding for either of my two current jobs, and I was concerned that they might fall through. I was torn between the idea of working on them to get a head start on my busy next few weeks and the idea that if they haven’t paid, then I shouldn’t start work yet. I was worried.

Realizing that helped. I gave myself the option of either taking the day off or beginning sketches for the sprinkler job. I gave myself the option, and that felt good. I wasn’t trapped anymore. I chose to take a risk on the hours of work.

In a slight compromise, I also decided today was a good day to buy some existing sprinklers to compare designs, so I got a nice ride across town in. While out there I found a beautiful little coffee shop and decided to do the sketches there. I feel, completely without substantiation, that I was more creative in that open space with a fountain. Who knows? But I can say I enjoyed working there.

And that took the first big load off my mind. This job, which I thought I might fail at, actually looks like it will be quite simple. A lot of analysis, but a simple concept. After an hour I had five concepts, one of which I’m pretty certain to use.

This afternoon I decided to take another step and create the report, including more attractive sketches. These were purely for the customer to see the ideas I had; they didn’t create any value for the project, but they’ll hopefully ensure the perceived value of the work I’ve done.

And tonight, success. The escrow has been funded, the funds have been released and now I’m 1890.35 USD wealthier than when I woke. Even better, I’m closer to building a fully portable lifestyle with a business that can support me wherever I roam.

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw close to, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of LIFE.” – LIFE magazine motto, as quoted in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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Christmas Miracles

It’s the day after Christmas and I want to sleep, but I couldn’t miss this update. On the 23rd I finished work discouraged. I was working four leads for bigger jobs and one I hadn’t heard from in a week, one in two days, one had been awarded to someone else, and one hadn’t responded since my bid. I knew that the holidays kept people from responding as quickly, but I was looking at a holiday with now work – not a cheery prospect.

On Monday evening I had a conference with a client who wants a pet product designed. Having not gotten good responses from my (beautiful! but long) word doc project plans, I sent a condensed version of the plan in a message along with a (slightly lower) price (because I had no other jobs). And he said yes! Miracle one: I had another job lined up.

I spent most of the night of the 23rd working to finish up my mirror and locket job, staying up past four. I woke up to great news: the sprinkler emitter job, the one I wrote about two weeks ago which had been silent for 8 days, wrote back to accept my proposal. They’d received my email asking about further questions and wishing a happy holiday, and apologized for the delay. Miracle two: I have a big job lined up.

So now I’m awaiting first payment on two jobs. I’ve gone ahead and started work on the requirements and concepts, and I really am hoping that they don’t back out. My basic theory is to treat the clients as friends and partners, and not be too strict about a couple days either side for payments, which I think will last until I get burned.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I wake up tomorrow $2k richer.

 

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Patience

Patience – why it’s a virtue and how I need more of it

Discouragement – the daily snare

Waiting – Indigo and I hate it

Losing – hopefully only temporarily

These were all potential titles for this post I haven’t written. As you can guess, I haven’t has much good news since last time. Or at least, it feels that way.

I’ve spent overwhelmingly more time talking to a handful of clients about a few jobs than I have spent actually producing anything. And my reward has been, drum roll please: silence.

Now, I like silence. This week I went up to the mountains and sat on a peak looking over the mountain ranges below and marinated in the silence. But this silence is different.

With the sprinkler job, which seemed so sure, I didn’t bid with a prototype, and when they asked about the possibility I sent back an amendment. I responded quickly, provided a reasonable solution, I thought, and have since been greeted with: silence.

With the phone lamp design contest I spent several hours designing, speaking to the project lead, tweaking and expanding. They were to decide on Monday, and since Monday afternoon I have had: silence.

A few days ago I spoke to a guy who wants to repurpose used kegs. I spent several hours creating a proposal to days ago and sent it off and have since been accompanied by: silence.

And of course there’s surf guy who is always lagging in communication. But at least with him I expect the silence.

With the others I’m trying to quickly figure out what I’m doing wrong, because after investing 4 – 10 hours in each of these jobs, something I’m doing seems to be scaring them off.

Whatever it is, I need to figure it out quickly. Of the five jobs I was hoping for, I’ve got one proposal left to write. Again, the client seems very positive about working together. And it would be a fun job, something that would really stretch my creativity. But how do I land it?

Here’s hoping for a Christmas miracle where all the silence turns to Elance deposits.

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True confession

My irrational fear: talking on phones. Yes, I have trouble communicating by phone and avoid it as much as possible. Can’t understand why? Congratulations. That must be nice for you. For me, phones take away most of what I rely on to gauge people: facial expressions and body language. Couple that with difficulty timing comments and phones are a nightmare.

So when I was asked to be available for a phone conversation, I was hesitant. But, this client is 10 times my usual and willing to pay for the work, and I couldn’t turn that down. And the last time I missed a call I lost most of my shot at designing a standup surf board. And so I reluctantly scheduled a call for 3AM. Yes, that’s the 3 when normal people sleep.

But I was nervous. I’d just read Ramit Sethi’s post on barriers being good in that they filter out the others competing for what you want. But this call looked like it could filter me out.

I woke at 3:00 and told myself repeatedly that I wanted this job and could deliver. When I hadn’t heard from the client by 3:25, I chocked it up to experience, felt glad about not having to speak on the phone, wrote a message to reschedule and went back to bed.

Getting a call ten minutes later was not a thrilling surprise. I told myself I didn’t want to work with inconsiderate clients, that if they can’t keep a schedule I would pass, that I could afford to let them go because I’d already met my ramen profitability for the month. I silenced the phone and went to bed.

And felt like a coward. I really just was afraid of failing, being rejected, sounding stupid. Knowing that, I picked up when it rang again, and looked for pants to buckle on after I answered and discovered I was having a business conversation completely naked.

The chat was surprisingly pleasant. Most exciting was them telling me that they liked my proposal best, and would go with me as long as I hit the same ballpark as the competitors. They wanted me for the job.

They want me for the job. A $3,000 project, and they want me to do it. I haven’t landed it yet, but things look good.

I’m too excited to sleep.

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Waking up

I had a dream last night that made me wake in a minor panic. I dreamt I’d gotten fired and was debating whether to stay in Chiang Mai, wondering if I’d need to get a job teaching in a local school, calculating levels of bank accounts into baht equivalent, thinking about what I was going to do to survive. I woke, and remembered that everything is okay because I can’t get fired, I don’t have a boss, and as long as I work hard, the money is there.

People think of freelancing as an inherently insecure venture. What’s true is that freelancing is requires absolute personal responsibility, and some actions have long-range unforeseen consequences. You can’t float as a freelancer, showing up for eight hours and cruising Facebook for six, and still get paid. You don’t know exactly what your paycheck will be at the end of the month, so you can’t write a good zero balance budget. But at the end of the day, my income is on my own shoulders. Whether this month is lean or not will be determined by my own efforts, my willingness to learn, my ability to perceive my own weaknesses and work on them, my courage to gamble on my strengths. And that’s a brilliantly secure feeling.

I’d been in my first professional job only six months when a round of layoffs hit. My area of the office became a wasteland. The woman across from me who’d been there eleven years was gone. The woman behind me who’d been there two years was gone. The guy in front of me- one year- gone. Beside me- six years- gone. Diagonally across- two years- gone. There was weaping on the day of the  pink slip handout, and we who weren’t laid off wandered around seeing which of our friend’s lives had been suddenly shaken. One former coworker hung himself two weeks later.

In Bangkok I found myself on the wrong end of the pink slip artillery, a polite, “I’d like to ask you to step down” causing my contemporary world to drastically shift, and my perception of security to change permanently. It didn’t matter that I was putting in long hard hours, sacrificing health and personal life. It didn’t matter that the lack of results was partially due to outside factors. It didn’t even matter that I’d improved drastically in the six months at the job and was beginning to get better results, results that have yet to be matched by the three managers and assistants who’ve worked there since. What mattered is ultimately others had decided I wasn’t doing my job well enough and that it would end.

Now I’m not saying risks are bad, or that you shouldn’t trust others with parts of your life. But at the end of the day, I want to be my own quarterback and take responsibility for my own life.

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Reigning It In (part 2)

As promised, I’m continuing my rant on keeping clients in check. The awesome thing is, now I’m doing it with a taste of positive experience. I just bid a second job for the same client, but this time made it clear I’d be limiting my time. Included in my proposal are nine (count ’em – 9!) milestones for a two-week project. Everything is detailed as far as number of revisions and what to expect. I’ve also included a clause discussing further revisions expanding the job — in next year. I don’t think there can be a mistake now.

The important lesson, though, is that I don’t think my client is a bad guy. He wanted things done just so and that’s okay. If I’d put all of this in the first agreement I don’t think there would have been any problem and, honestly, I think I would have been earning more.

As an aside, I was pretty careful in my wording. I kept the focus on the positive, like this: “Over the next weeks I have some other commitments as I mentioned, but this plan will allow me to incorporate these final touches into my workflow. If we need to do more rounds of major conceptual or minor cosmetic edits, or try other ideas or add more components, we can definitely talk about expanding and extending the project into the new year. And of course, once you get into prototyping, we can talk about how to move forward from there if you need anything. And, at the end, I hope I can see pictures of the final product when you’ve had it made.

I’m really excited to see how all of this will look together at the end…”

It’s clear, but I’m keeping the client focused on the end of the project, the piece that he holds in his hands. Or, on his computer screen. Details.

In order to avoid future mistakes, I’ve done a little research on contracts and ways to avoid “revision hell”. This article has some good ideas I’ll start using with the next project I win, and this one I could definitely identify with. I also stumbled across some project management ideas to incorporate more.

And, being Monday morning, I need to work.

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Birdddsss in the Skyyy…

It’s Saturday night and I’m feeling good. The end of job number two is in my sights, but what’s more, I know a little more about how to structure the next proposal so I don’t end up with the same frustration of endless edits.

Oddly, just half an hour ago I was dragging my feet, feeling pretty antsy, wanting to be done. I was hesitating to start some tolerance and drawing analysis. Then I realized it was because I wasn’t sure whether or not to postpone and incorporate some changes. Postponing means telling my client that the edits will be part of the next job. Me wanting to keep clients happy, even at times to my detriment, wars with that. But as soon as I decided I definitely want to finish this job as is and save the edits for the “finishing touches” job my client already proposed, I felt free. And I rocked through all the tolerance analysis necessary in less than half an hour. 

My client sent over another drawing this afternoon with an entirely different and difficult to model concept, but I am able to just smile this time. Firstly because the new idea is truly beautiful and I’m glad to get to bring it to life. But more because I’ve already made the decision that additional edits are going to be part of the next cycle, not this one. So a new concept is fine — I’ll get paid for it. 

Hurrah for money coming in. Speaking of which, I pulled money from an ATM today from my American account equaling the amount I earned last month. That’s a good feeling, like my first real paycheck. [Pinnochio voice] “I’m a real designer!”

 

So, I’m almost done with the drawings and assemblies, with just a few footnotes needing to be added before I can send that s*** and close the project. 

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Reigning It In (part 1)

Because there will certainly need to be a part two after I’ve done more research. Here’s the dilemma: I want the client to be satisfied, but I also want to finish the job and move on. I thought I was thorough with my proposal, but I didn’t account for how often the client would come back asking for changes. And some bug changes, not little ones. Moving from a single arch to a curling ribbon. A nearly complete mirror design with a flat bottom to one that’s oval. Changes that effect the project time long coming down the day I’d hoped to finish. And I didn’t set up a way to deal with it.

But I will. My buddy suggested limiting the number of edits, which in my case I think will look like a stage gate process. Nail down the basic form using sketches, agree on it, then move forward — with no going back. Model the concept, then allow aesthetic tweaks. One round of aesthetic edits. Then the price ticks up.

At least, that seems the solution for now. I’ll do some research and share what I find. But let me warn you: never, ever bid a job without preparing for the edits.

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Staying Alert

I almost forgot one incredible thing about yesterday: I was alert and functioning well for most of the 18 hour span I worked. Yesterday I coupled the Pomodoro technique with short bursts of exercise, keeping myself at peak alertness much longer than I would have thought possible. Of course, I also drank a lot of coffee.

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And another

This may not be too clear. After staying up till two, rising before nine to work, then working almost straight from 9:30 to 3:30 the next morning, I’m not at my most clear-headed.

Yesterday I was hoping to finish the project, but I had to postpone the deadline. Edits came through after eleven last night, and I knew I wouldn’t sleep at all if I tried to get it done. I have some breathing room now, but I’m not thrilled with it.

My professor in college (uni), Dr. O, warned about this. Next project I’ll put on an irreversible gate system where once something is nailed down and approved, any further changes will push the project deadline back and increase customer cost. I’m absorbing a lot of lost hours here.

But nobody ever said education was cheap. Enough complaining. It’s time to work.

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