When I went freelance, the first thing I did was delete Slack.
I’d just left a job at an international media company, where policy dedicated that we use a slew of time-tracking programs, messaging apps, and admin tools. Not to mention the all-hands meetings, company off-sites, and training days. Deleting Slack was my quiet protest of all corporate impositions that had ruled my life.
As I started to build my freelance business, however, I realized that some of those processes weren’t so bad after all. Try as I might to bumble along without any real method to my madness, it didn’t take long to figure out that I needed to do some “strategic planning” and other such jargon-laden practices.
However, I modified them to actually serve tangible purpose. I started to re-introduce some of the corporate trends I thought I’d left behind me—and my business has thrived as a result.
Here are four corporate practices that every successful freelancer should embrace.
Set professional goals
One way to grow a healthy business is by setting clear goals. Having defined targets will make it easier to move your career in the right direction. When you work for a big company, however, you typically have to align your personal objectives with the company’s overall mission. This can make it difficult to work toward your career milestones if they don’t align perfectly.
When you are the boss, employee, and CEO, you get to set the goals at all levels. The jury’s still out on the “right way” to go about setting these goals, though.
I use the 1-2-3 goal-setting routine, which involves setting a 90-day deadline for an “outcome goal,” which is a quantitative objective. For example, an outcome goal might be to make $20,000 in 90 days. Once I have my objective, I outline three major actions that’ll help me achieve it. Using the same example, your three steps could be: redoing your marketing strategy, attending a networking event, and approaching new clients.
Conduct a performance review
Performance reviews are easily one of the most dreaded parts of corporate life. As research professor and author Brené Brown said in her TED Talk on vulnerability, “You get an evaluation from your boss, and she tells you 37 things that you do really awesome and one ‘opportunity for growth,’ and all you can think about is that opportunity for growth.”
Bosses aren’t exactly in love with the system either. The Society for Human Resource Management found that 95 percent of managers are dissatisfied with their employer’s performance management processes.
When you’re your own boss, an appraisal doesn’t need to feel like a trip to the principal’s office. If you’ve set professional goals, a review is a way to stay on track. Write down your accomplishments along with projects that didn’t go as planned. If needed, re-examine whether your goals are still relevant. It might make sense to do one every quarter or create a feedback form that you send to clients at the end of each project.
Treat yourself to an off-site
As freelancers, it’s all too easy to get swept up by the need to do more, which is how you lose sight of your vision and goals. Off-sites, meanwhile, are all about stepping outside of the daily grind to refocus and come up with fresh ideas. In the corporate space, off-sites are team activities or retreats conducted somewhere other than the office. But even if you’re the only employee and your office is your bedroom, time away is valuable for generating business development strategies, story ideas, and educational opportunities.
I did an off-site recently. I booked a room in a co-working space for a day and asked myself questions like: What has gone well? What has not gone well? What do I need to do my job better? What are my concerns? I scribbled the answers down with colorful markers, and by the end of it, I felt re-energized and ready to throw myself back into work with a clear idea of what I wanted out of my business.
Company off-sites often fall short when managers don’t build in the time to follow up on ideas once they’re back in the office. Don’t fall into the same trap. When it’s your business, it’s your responsibility to make sure all that blue-sky thinking connects to the day-to-day operations.
Embrace digital transformation
A tornado is currently tearing through the corporate world. Companies are overhauling IT systems, streamlining internal processes, and re-positioning themselves as “digital-first” organizations. The International Data Corporation, a market intelligence companies, predicts that by 2019 companies will spend $1.7 trillion on digital transformation.
Digital transformation strategies sound very corporate and complicated, but in reality, what we’re talking about is taking full advantage of the business opportunities that technology offers. Digital transformation can simply mean investing in training in new platforms, using better software and apps that will make your life easier. For me, this meant upgrading from a spreadsheet to accounting software and finding a project management app that helps me keep track of my assignments.
In fact, freelancers are at an advantage when it comes to making this kind of transition. The hardest part, said McKinsey advisor and digital entrepreneur James Bilefield, is the “cultural transformation in businesses that have very deep legacy and cultural roots.” This is where being a nimble company of one pays off. When the only person who needs buy-in is you, it’s a lot easier to make impactful change.
I never did re-install Slack, though.