3 Crucial Things Startups and Freelancers Often Forget

Ben Steenstra
24 Mar 2019 | 9 mins read

In Aleppo, Slim was well on his way to become a professional boxer, reaching for the stars, when he decided to flee the country due to the war violence. Once he set foot in The Netherlands, Slim decided he’d like to become an inspiration for fellow refugees. He decided that no matter his whereabouts, he wanted to become the boxing champion. Three years have passed, and this goal appears to be quite difficult. Finding the best boxing school and acquiring the best nutrition for his goal turned out to be just a few of the many missing ingredients to make his dream come true. This is why he is currently working as a personal trainer. While working with me in my backyard, ordering me to do another set of 40 push-ups while I’m already on the brink of dissection, Slim asked me the best way to approach and achieve his goal.

For years now, startups and freelancers have come knocking with two questions: “How do I start my own company, and how do I get any customers”. More often than not, the answer to this question is simpler than you might think.

Usually, startups, and freelancers start their business with the following to-do list:

  1. Logo and website: Create an internet website with the coolest possible logo.
  2. Social media: At the very least, create a Facebook and Instagram account for your business, and fill this space with impressive content. Make sure to share everything you create on your Twitter account as well.
  3. Start a YouTube channel and post as many videos as possible, in which you explain your craft and clarify how well you are at it.
  4. Platform marketing: Sign up on various online platforms such as a marketplace, Craigslist and like-minded websites where you can offer your services free of cost.
  5. Blogs: Make sure you write a blog once in a while and share this on all your channels.
  6. Events: Visit events that your target group is also likely to visit.

Many freelancers seem to believe that if you’re visible enough online, work will come your way. They await, hopefully, believing that their efforts will shine through the violent maze of competitors that the internet is so full of. Sooner or later, they will realize that this approach is very time-consuming, it requires a lot of discipline and usually doesn’t book the results one might have hoped.

Crucial Things Startups and Freelancers Often Forget - The A/B Choice

Instantly Making Money Is A Choice

It used to be different I’ve been blessed with the fact that I was told to start working at a very young age. I needed to earn my own money and I didn’t care what gig came my way. Washing cars, delivering groceries, designing logos or painting houses, I’ve done it all. At the time, it had to be physical work though, and your customers had to come from your own network, as the internet wasn’t what it is today. Back then, it had 25 million users worldwide, which sounds like a lot, but really isn’t.

One day, I decided to start my own advertising agency. Without taking into account what comparable agencies were doing, I figured advertising agencies would need designers, software engineers, event organizers, marketing specialists and some smart purchasers under one roof. It was 1995, and obviously, we were not taken seriously.

In 1996, a guy named Steven, the owner of a huge retail chain in The Netherlands was the first who understood. He looked at a business and asked himself these three simple questions:

1. Are they working hard for their money?

2. Are they reliable and do I have a personal connection with them?

3. Do they solve issues?

If the answer was YES to all 3 questions, Steven didn’t really mind who we were or how we positioned ourselves. Luckily, we felt the same way.

Our way of working had great results, and we ended up working together for more than 20 years. The business that grew from this partnership has over 100 employees, which is still active to this day, serving many multinationals all over the globe.

What does your neighbor need?

Promoting your business is always a good idea. When it comes to promotion, the more is always the better. We used to do that by hanging our service on a bulletin board in supermarkets. That’s something that is still being done, but that is beside the point.

What current freelancers often leave out is their own inner circle. We reach out to strangers all over the internet, but we are too scared to ask our own neighbor for example. To get the car washing, house painting, logo designing, and other gigs, I had to turn to my own inner circle. The first clients I ever had were good friends and familiar faces. Back in the day, this was also caused by a lack of tools, but I resorted to people who knew and trusted me. They could testify to the fact that I was a hard-working, kind boy who has a passion for helping others with their problems.

Making money is a choice

Let’s get back to Slim’s hopes and dreams. Slim lives right beside the Westerpark in Amsterdam. The Westerpark is a perfect spot for a workout or jog, prior to work in the morning or later in the evening. It has free access and has all the facilities to forget the world for an hour and just focus on yourself and your exercise. Around the parks are tens of thousands of people’s houses and hundreds of companies, who could all potentially be a client of Slim.

At this point, Slim has a choice.

A. He could spend a ton of time online, creating his own website, the coolest logo, writing blogs and updating his social media channels with informative or funny posts, or he could go for option

B. Contact his direct circle, his neighbor and everyone he knows to ask them whether they would be interested in his services.

He also has the choice to:

A: Record videos, spent days to edit this content and hope to go viral on various media platforms

B: Visit businesses face2face with the question of whether they are interested in some after-hours team building by group training.

Luckily, there are many other choices. For example…

A: Spent all of his time and money on both, but his savings were drained when he arrived in The Netherlands and this approach is not going to fill it back up again any time soon.

B: Offer even more services. If the business he approached doesn’t want any group training in the Westerpark, perhaps they need a cleaner for their office. If the neighbor prefers to spend his evening drinking beer in front of the television, perhaps he’d need a window cleaner once a month.

If Slim decides to go for option B in all three aforementioned polls, this would give Slim an alternative to-do list in how he could start his business and get his first clients. It’s a way smaller to-do list but perhaps has even more impact. The to-do list would look like this:

Personal questions

Ask everyone in your inner and even outer circle if there’s a problem that you could help them fix. Take all jobs — Keep telling people your real expertise, remind them of your talent but take every job that comes on your path. All in good time — if you have any time left, start your online communication. This approach has several benefits:

  1. A direct cash flow. This approach would enable making money right away. You’d have food in the fridge and perhaps even some money to start saving again.
  2. Getting a network of clients who trust you. Are they working hard for their money? Are they reliable and do I have a personal connection with them? Do they solve issues?
  3. Grow to your target. Even though you’re doing different jobs than your dream job, in the beginning, you maintain the possibility to offer your actual expertise. While washing the windows, you can ask your neighbor whether he’d be up for a work-out session. Chances are, one day he’ll eventually say yes.
  4. Efficiency. You’ll have more funds sooner and you won’t have to spend your days thinking about what your next social media post is going to look like. You’ll even have time left to spend some quality time with friends.
  5. Short-and-long term strategy. You’ll only spend the time you have left on your website, your logo and your social media posts. Not because you have to, but because you can and it will help you in the long haul.
  6. Ambassadors. By helping everyone with their issues, you’ll build a network of ambassadors who really know you and appreciate your work. No 2.000 followers who like your post once in a while, but actual people who will tell others about how wonderful it was to have you by their side.

It’s your choice.

Choosing to go down the one or the other path means you’ll have to work a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. There’s nothing wrong with that, but everyone only has 24 hours in a day. If you’re not in a rush, the online and social media approach might work for you, it’s a good approach no doubt. Personally, I’m living and breathing proof that the alternative approach works, but there are definitely people out there who have made it big-time using the online approach. You can reach a lot of people online and having a lot of followers comes in handy in a lot of subject areas. So, my plea would be: “The one approach isn’t necessarily better than the other, but you do have a choice”.

Ooh and another thing… In case you’re ever around Westerpark and you would like to get a private lesson from Slim, check out Slim at CallTheONE. He can also teach you online from a distance via live video!

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