In today’s ever-changing business landscape, many professionals are opting out of the full-time job market and forging their own paths as entrepreneurs and freelancers. Both job titles entail certain responsibilities and come with unique challenges to professionals who’ve been accustomed to steady work and income. If you’re aspiring to go it on your own, how exactly do you build a client base, find good work and overcome the fear that can cripple the self-employed? To answer this question I turn to Master marketer and New York Times best-selling author Seth Godin, whose vast experiences have allowed him to discern precisely how to make the transition successful.
Mindset is everything
One of the first challenges to overcome is adopting the right mindset, which means knowing the difference between an entrepreneur and a freelancer. Godin used to consider himself an entrepreneur, and in his mind, his focus was on building a business.
“For me, it’s the act of building a business bigger than yourself, probably with someone else’s money…a business that can work and thrive without you there, a business successful enough that you can sell it and give your investors a profit,” explains Godin.
Godin now considers himself a freelancer, which requires a completely different mindset.
“Freelancers are craftspeople who get paid when we work,” he said. “An entrepreneur has to deal with infinity. Your investors want an infinite return because you can grow to be infinitely big. Freelancers live in a finite world because there are only 24 hours in a day. A freelancer achieves more by getting better clients who are easy to work with, pay more and let you do better work. Freelancers don’t want more, they want better.”
How to deal with the fear of failure
Once you’ve adopted the right mindset, you’ll eventually have to confront the fear of failure. In Godin’s mind, part of the reason we feel this fear is because we’re raised in a culture that seeks to create compliant and competent workers who can be cogs in the large industrial complex. Being a cog is nice and comfortable… until it’s not.
“One day a few years ago, 20,000 people at the Ford Motor Company lost their job all in one day,” Godin recalled. “They didn’t get fired for insubordination. They did what they were told until the day their boss realized they weren’t making them enough money, so they were fired. This is happening in more industries and it’s likely going to happen to you, so you as might as well pick yourself first.”
Picking ourselves leads to new freedom and opportunities, but also comes with fear. It’s a natural byproduct of the decision to work for yourself. Godin wrestles with this fear every day and has learned that the best way to deal with it is to acknowledge it and use it to your advantage. Fear should be seen as a signal to do exactly what it’s telling you not to do. This behavior will ultimately lead you to accomplish truly great things.
“Deep down, every human being is hardwired to avoid failure and fear risk,” Godin explained. “That’s from a part of our brain called the amygdala. We have discomfort and anxiety because the amygdala is trying to get us to survive, but the world it was optimized for disappeared a hundred thousand years ago.”
Once we experience fear, we can recognize it by how it makes us feel. In moments where we experience that fear, the question becomes how to constructively deal with it. The wrong answer, Godin says, is to try and make it go away. Fear doesn’t go away and temporary “fixes” like alcohol only create larger problems down the road. Rather than shove it aside, Godin uses his fear as a compass.
“I feel the fear every single day when I’m about to do something important,” he said. “In fact, the fear tells me that what I’m doing is important. When I feel it, I’m thankful for it letting me know I’m onto something, and then I do that thing.”
This ritual of listening for the fear and doing the thing that makes us afraid helps us in two ways.
“First, the amygdala, which is a wily beast, will begin to calm down because the fear being produced there actually causes us to do the thing our brain wanted us to avoid. The amygdala and the fear also help you develop this inherent sense of where the edge is, and if you can go to those edges, you can make a difference.”
If you’re good enough, you will succeed
Godin would tell you the main way he makes a difference is with his daily blog updates. In fact, if you type “Seth” into Google, his blog is one of the first results that comes up. He grew his blog from 10 readers to over 1 million with no SEO tricks or click bait headlines. He merely offered something valuable that readers wanted to share.
“Growing your blog readership is simple, but it is not easy,” he said. “You start by telling 10 people who know and trust you. They will look at what you made, and if it’s good, they’ll share it of their own volition because they’ll receive a reward from others for sharing it. Now you’ve reached 20 people and it will continue to spread.”
If that doesn’t happen, Godin says you need to create better work. This formula applies to all topics and fields of interest. Godin’s blog is all purpose, but as he explains, you could write a blog for people in the plumbing supply industry with a focus on HVAC, and if you’re content is good enough, the eight people you know in that industry might start reading your blog. Then, if you’re “generous and profound in what you have to say,” your readership will scale enough to increase your ability to actually work in that industry.