You might remember me talking about a little thing called Challenge 500. It was a free challenge for freelancers designed to help them put the “free” back in freelancing. By “free” I didn’t mean working for free, but rather the freedom to work the way we want to, to set our own rules.
So how did it go?
Did anyone sign up?
The answers to those questions are a resounding “AMAZINGLY!” and “YES!” (You could also put the two answers together to answer the second question, which was how lucky I felt about the whole thing!) Was it 500 freelancers (as per my adorably enthusiastic goal)? No, but it was a healthy 350+ who took up the challenge and, most importantly, took some action.
So what happened?
Each day I sent out an email to each participant, with a bit of an explanation of the day’s challenge, along with a link to a daily challenge page, which had a video and a downloadable workbook. The workbook contained a range of resources – some days it was a guide for calculations, other days it was a questionnaire, and others it contained templates for sending to clients.
One of the first things I learnt was…the internet is most certainly magic, but time travel is still tricky. How so? The emails were all set to send at 8am in the recipient’s time zone (and most of them did)…but I quickly discovered that if an email account is set up with a generic time zone, no amount of Mail Chimp magic’s going to send that email at the time I want. Lesson learnt and, after Day 1, all emails were sent at midnight to arrive the next morning.
The next thing I learnt was…
Facebook groups rock!
I’d originally intended that participants would share their discoveries and a-ha moments on the Silver Tongue Facebook page, but, on the first day, the awesome Tanya (you’ll remember her as one of the panellists on Let’s Talk Rates) suggested that participants might be sharing information and revelations they’d rather keep in a closed, private setting. So the Challenge 500 group was born! It’s been a terrifically supportive and positive group and is actually going to remain open as an evergreen space for Chalenge 500’ers to share, support and inspire. So speaking of discoveries and a-ha moments, what were they? What did participants do during the challenge?
Dreaming, planning and being selfish
Being selfish doesn’t sound very nice, does it? But, if I’m honest, it was a common theme of Challenge 500. I mentioned a few paragraphs ago that the challenge was designed to remind us about the freedom of freelancing, and being free to work the way we want, charge the rates we want and work with clients we like (and who value us.) Well, to do all this we needed to get clear on what we really wanted, so the first three days were looking at these key areas: on Day 1 we dug into what matters to us most (which produced some surprising results for many participants!), on Day 2 we delved into our finances and discovered what we really need to be charging, and on Day 3 we discovered what we really think of our clients (on the whole – it was pretty positive.)
Paring everything back to what matters most to us was enlightening on many fronts. Some of us realised that our priorities weren’t what we always thought they were, others discovered that although their head might give them one priority, their heart told a different story. For me, I discovered the following, and this is what I wrote to the group about my personal Day 1 a-ha:
“This year, I’ve discovered (and surrendered to) the fact that when I work on things I really enjoy, not only does it go much more smoothly (not to mention quicker) but I also feel so much better about myself.
I used to struggle a bit with not having a “clever” specialism and worried that my passions weren’t highbrow enough. Even when I started being brave enough to follow them and do the types of things I really like, I felt I was somehow “cheating” and often charged lower…I think I thought it wasn’t fair to charge higher rates when I enjoyed the work, or when it didn’t take me long.”
On Day 2 we looked at the way we charge. To do so, we had to get a bit admin-crazy and pull out our bank statements (business and personal) and really study our expenses and outgoings. For many of us, this was enlightening by itself, for others, it confirmed what they already keep track of (don’t you just hate people like that 😉 ) We used this info to figure out our rates, and thought about how it compares to our income goals and also how it matches up to our current rates.
An interesting discovery from Day 2 was how non-billable work affects us – oftentimes our rates did match our calculations, but we found that overall in the year our income was below what we’d expect, if we were working the hours we set for ourselves. It begs the question – how do we combat this? Is the answer to raise our prices, thus absorbing some of the non-billable time into our rates? That’s up to you, of course!
Our third day was about analysing our current client base, and building towards some more action-taking. So on Wednesday we spent our time figuring out if our favourite clients really were so fantastic and if our “baddies” were actually abysmal after all. My own results surprised me – it seemed that even if a client was reliable and paid good rates, if there wasn’t the respect for my time and my availability then I had an overall negative view on the relationship.
For others it was a positive exercise, as they realised that their current client base was pretty darn great, and there were few things that couldn’t be fixed – always a reassuring result! It has the added bonus of making the creation of ideal client profiles much easier, seeing as you already have examples of what you’re looking for right in front of you!
Time for action
That’s not to say that there wasn’t room for improvement. Thursday was all about the action (the slightly scary action.) On Thursday we sent out emails raising our rates or bidding farewell. At this point, it’s worth stressing that it rarely comes to the “bidding farewell” action. Often, a simple tweak, or re-clarification can save a relationship – in my experience most relationships can be salvaged. It’s only when a client consistently doesn’t pay (or delays) or there’s a fundamental mismatch in communication or working styles that the “Dear John” emails need to come out. And anyway, the scary stuff didn’t last for long….
On Friday we were still all about the action, but the action was uplifting and designed to remind us of our all-round awesomeness. Yes, it was recommendation day. I provided a couple of templates for participants to tweak and then they sent them out into their client world and got ready to lounge in the love that came back. And come back it did! It was so much fun getting emails from colleagues with screenshots of their recommendations already in-situ on their websites, Linkedin profiles and Proz pages!
One of my favourite comments of the week (though I suspect it was felt most on feel-good Friday) was,
“Taking action is actually fun!”
And it is! I had such a good time going through all of the challenges with everyone and had my own fair share of a-has and uh-ohs throughout the week. I learned a lot about my business, not to mention about the power of accountability…because there’s nothing like a Facebook group-full of people to motivate you each day!
So what did participants say about it?
It’s always better to hear about what people thought in their own words, so here’s a selection of comments from the freelancers who took part in December’s Challenge 500:
“Jo put a lot of effort into creating a great Challenge 500. Her daily goals and her instructions were super clear and useful. With her posts and her workbooks, she gave me the necessary tools to break down the steps to achieve what I had put on hold for too long on my to do list. She offered great and tailored templates to use for the trickiest actions, which I’m particularly grateful for! She also created and managed a Facebook group for all the participants, encouraging us to give feedback and answering our questions. Great job, thanks a lot!”
Eva Lena Vermeersch, Translator EN/RU>FR, Copywriter
“I just want to say how insightful the Challenge 500 has been for me! Jo Rourke is a genuine motivator and ever-so-gently gave us the push to dig deep and analyse our current business situation, our client base and encouraged us to make positive decisions and steps towards a more prosperous 2017. I have already recommended to colleagues, as well as some friends who have other types of freelance careers. A big thank you!”
Kim Edwards-Buarque, Freelance Translator & Copywriter – Spanish & Portuguese > English
“You can count me as one of the Challenge 500 “fans!” The Challenge 500 mini course was inspiring, motivating, and a good kick in the behind to get things done that needed to get done; all in a supportive and team-like environment!”
Karin Rockstad, Freelance Translator Spanish-English
“Thank you so much again for putting these 5 great days together. Sometimes we tend to get a bit lost in our day-to-day working life and this kind of mini challenge is what we need as a little push to keep us going in the right direction. And it’s even better when the content is so easy and clear to understand and effective.”
Laurence Rapaille, Freelance translator and proofreader (En, Sp, De > Fr)
English and French private tutor
So when are we doing it again?
The next round of Challenge 500 will be starting on Monday 27th March 2017.
So how do you sign up?
Just fill in your first name and your email at the bottom of this page.
When is it?
The next Challenge 500 of 2017 kicks off on Monday 27th March 2017. If you’re interested in participating, fill in your details in the form at the bottom of the page!
Is it still free?
Who can do it?
Any freelancer at all.