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Business Survival Guide : 8 practices of a long term contractor

Originally posted on FreelanceSwitch

According to the Webster Dictionary, a practice is:
– to follow or observe habitually or customarily
– to exercise or pursue as a profession, art, or occupation
– to perform or do repeatedly in order to acquire skill or proficiency

None of the practices below are technical for one simple reason – technically, you should already be good at what you do. After all, you are selling your services as an expert, and if you suck at your specialty, then god help you and those who hire you. Its those vital things that you may NOT be good at that creep up behind you and then take you out.

1) Practice Selling yourself and Your Business

Suggested Book: How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger

As an independent contractor, you are constantly putting yourself out of work. Thats why learning sales is absolutely not optional if you plan to make it long term. I’m not talking shmarmy sales techniques. I mean how to ask the right questions, how to build relationships, when to listen and when to talk. When do you push hard and when do you compromise. How to build long term clients that last.

Tips: Get out of the office and meet one new person every single day. Have a great business card. Practice making warm sales calls. Ask lost of questions. Keep a calendar. Always follow up. Request referrals from existing customers.

2) Practice Smart Money Management

Suggested Book: The Four Laws of Debt Free Prosperity by Blaine Harris and Charles Coonradt

Most our clients pay anywhere between Net-30 to Net-90+. That means I can work like a dog and never see a cent for 3-4 months at times. In order to be able to handle the peeks and valley of the freelance lifestyle my wife & I had to learn some financial skills. Nothing crazy, just spend less than you make. Sometimes though, thats easier said than done. This book has a real simple series of strategies and suggestions which are taught within a fun story (no boring finance books for me).

Tips: Get Quicken or Money and track every penny for 3 months (download statement). Create a budget that can actually succeed. Set financial check points and goals. Don’t let your situation discourage you – it may seem bad but this information will give you the tools you need to improve it slowly.

3) Practice Picking & Managing the Right People

Suggested Book: First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

We seem to manage people constantly. We manage our clients, ourselves, our team, our kids and even our spouses. First you actually have to like them or no management techniques will ever work. People are just too smart. Then, its time to learn and refine. I love books based upon some good homework. So 80,000 interviews later, Gallup put together this book explaining what a good manager does and does not do. How they pick their team. How they deal with motivation, with placement, with bureaucracy and more. The chapter on “knowledge, skill & talent” is at the core of the team building startegy we are currently putting into place.

Tips: Listen, listen, listen. Ask questions. Listen again. Don’t be afraid of confrontation. Pick people and clients carefully. Pair people to balance strength & weaknesses.

4) Practice Your Communication

Suggested book: Positive Personality Profiles: Discover Personality Insights to Understand Yourself and Others by Robert A Rohm Ph.D

In the end, all we do is work with people. Yup, we build stuff, but that is only to solve people problems. The better we understand what drives people and how they communicate, the better our business runs (and the better parent, spouse, mentor, teammate we are). Rohm’s system is by far the most clear and accessible personality system I have worked with. Its simple enough that I can carry it in my head, and because of that I actually apply it constantly. For a brief overview: the model of human behavior: understanding personality.

Tips: Know thy self. You will make mistakes, learn from them, then let them go. Practice responding rather than reacting.

5) Practice Being a Good Partner

Suggested Books: The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mateby Gary Chapman
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley Jr.
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships by John Gray

As Donald Trump said recently (and he would know): no better way to choke a business than a flailing marriage. Early in our second company, my business mentor spent a lot of time with Julie & I just listening. He would gave the same answers over and over. Shane – “Happy Wife, Happy Life”. Julie – “Do you Want to be Right or do you Want to be Happy”. After all, when you fight in the morning, what are you thinking about all day? Your customers needs or the fight? Your partner can be your greatest asset or your greatest liability.Invest in them like you invest in your business.

Tips: Schedule time for those who mater. You control your calendar, not your business (though it rarely feels that way). Apologize often. Never ever fight dirty – attack the issue all you like – never attack the person. Never say the word “breakup” or “divorce”. Count your blessings every single morning. Learn to speak the right love language – it changes absolutely everything.

6) Practice Your Dream

Suggested Books: The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson

No one ever said life, or business, would be easy. Its not supposed to be easy, but it is worth it. Sometimes we need to be able to focus on the victory, especially when seems so far away, so you can make it through the struggles. Learn how to build your dream. If you love cars go to the Porche dealership and test drive one (if you show up in a nice suit with the right posture and know how to talk cars, they will let you). If family is your motivation, have pictures of them all over, schedule “dream days” in which you spend time with them doing those things that excite you. Keep your reason why present and alive, touch it, see it, smell it, hear it, taste it, dream it … then live it.

Tips: Plaster your fridge with pictures. Keep a diary. Make a list of the top 100 things you want to have, do or become (see mine at the bottom of the blog post on why I am in business) with your life. Give yourself small concrete achievable steps – winning and loosing both become habits. Dream big – life’s a bit brighter that way. Spend time with people who believe in your dream and avoid those who are not supportive.

7) Practice Studentship, Servantship & Mentorship

Suggested book: Self-Made in America: Plain Talk for Plain People About the Meaning of Success by John McCormack

As John explains, no one is self made. We succeed through the grace and support of many people: mentors, partners, spouses, children and our teams. You have three roles you will always be playing. As a student you will need to continue learning and growing to improve your ability to run your business. The world never stops changing and you either keep up with it or become a victim in the process. Surround yourself with people who have some measure of success and learn from them. Be a servant to your customers and your team. After all, your income is in direct proportion to the problems that you solve. When you cater to their needs, ou move your own cause forward. Share the knowledge and information you have with people so that they may be more successful chasing their dreams. A rising tide raises all ships.

Tips: Find a mentor who has significant success in your industry and a vested interest in the growth of your business. Don’t be afraid to share your network (Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends), it always pays off. Only take advice from people who have already arrived at where you want to be. Get to know your customer. Make the client’s owner/project manager a hero, there is no greater win. Learn about the passions and aspiration of your team. Help them get there.

8) Practice Joy, Laughter & Smile

Suggested book: There’s Treasure Everywhere–A Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Watterson
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)

Julie’s mom told me a few weeks ago “I had a list of all the things I truly wanted to accomplish with my life. When looking it over a few days ago, I realized I had accomplished all of them. I have had a truly fantastic life. I am really happy.” Building a business is one of the most rewarding pieces of my life. But it is not the entire formula. In our charter Peter & I listed our priorities: Family, Finance, Faith, Friends & Fitness. Success in life means success in all of these. Make sure you are balanced over time (temporary unbalance is normal) and remember to laugh and appreciate today while you struggle through this journey called life.

Tips: Surf every day (or do something you love). Find something that makes you laugh. Get exercise – whats the point of all that money if you keel over with a heart attack in 3 years. Get a pet (dog’s love you no matter how bad the day went). Maids are cheaper than fights – find simple solution and act on them. Prayer is good for the heart. Healthy food can taste good.

Like Chinese Herbal Pill of Business – these will make you harder and stronger for longer, guaranteed o ‘yo money back. =)