It’s Saturday night, my partner is watching MMA fights, and I am riveted. Not for the amount of knocks a human can take or spotting the techniques the fighters use. It’s because I am learning a big fat lesson about freelancing. Or perhaps even life.
Don’t believe me? Here’s what MMA can teach you about freelancing.
Use your knowledge base to the best advantage
MMA is very much about knowing where your strength lies, and looking how well suited it is to a particular match on an opponent by opponent basis. There is as much strategy behind an ex-judo Olympian avoiding a grappling match with a former team mate as there is with the same fighter waiting for opportunity to coil around a boxing native like a grappling python.
Each fighter takes the skills they have at an elite level and grows that knowledge base through expanding on skills. This is less about developing distinct skills to rely on a moment by moment basis, but having a seamless transition across an entirely complimentary skill base.
Freelancing is much the same.
You may begin your career as a photographer and soon find that design will help you grow your business. Or you’ll enter copywriting and soon find you need to develop a marketer’s outlook. Community management may spin into managing content or being able to produce events. Whatever the case, your core skills base will help inform you on how to grow.
Even if you always only ever bring one core skills to a project, you need to understand how your work strategically works with the other projects elements.
Walk the walk, talk the talk
Nothing makes you think “GOOD!” when someone loses a match than seeing them parade like a peacock beforehand. Smack talk and pre-match rev up interviews are very much a part of MMA. There’s a very fine line between the competitors who have confidence, the one’s you love to hate for the drama of it all, and the dudes you wish would be on the end of a TKO within the first 60 seconds because he’s a complete jerk.
In freelancing, you can quietly go about your business and let your projects do the talking. Or you can make a lifestyle out of marketing yourself as a popular and sought after professional. But if you forget about your customers and/or constantly make yourself the centre of attention with every project and business dealing, pretty soon you’ll have an audience of people just waiting for you to fall from grace.
Put on a great show of professionalism, but know when to disappear into the background. You are after all, there to supply a service to the audience as opposed to your ego. Take pleasure and pride in your handiwork, but don’t make your personality so big it overshadows what you do.
You won’t win every time
Some MMA fighters have better tallies than others, but winning every match every time is impossible. What is taken from a match and how you deal with it is the key to being invited back into the ring to compete again.
How is that any different to freelancing?
Little freelancer, you won’t win every job. When you first start out, you’ll also have to take pretty much any opportunity that comes past and probably still have the snot beaten out of you.
As your career progresses, you’ll move from simply seeing the work and going for it to seeing other freelancers waiting in the wings. Some of them will become your training buddies, other’s your love having a bit of smack talk with, and others will be looking for any possible opportunity to bring you down.
Sometimes the jobs you want will slip through your fingers. Other times the clients you work with will end up being a big old bag of crazy.
In times like this, the only thing you can do is learn from your mistakes, keep your head in the game, and keep on going. Yes, you’ll have some days where you’ll wonder what on earth you are doing, but it’s how you overcome those days that will give you the greatest insight into why freelancing is for you.
Train hard or go home
A dude that fancies his ability at the local community hall is not an MMA fighter anymore than a soloist who is stuck in their own way of doing things is a freelancer.
As a freelancer, you owe it to your clients to know what you are doing. You have to keep up with what is going on in your industry. You also need to know how to do what is best for your client, not simply what you feel the most confident doing. If what you are confident in isn’t what they need, be big enough to cut them loose or train your bum off until you get to the point where you are.
Freelancers who are in this for working in pyjamas and lah-de-dah latte sipping meetings are not freelancers. They are people who are on a holiday between office jobs.
You can work to your own schedule, but the emphasis is always on work. Don’t glorify the work load and the stress, push through it.
Don’t let others pull you down
Watch an MMA fighter and you’ll soon see that every muscle in their body, every limb at their disposal, is always directed towards not being put in a choke or an arm bar. You don’t want to end up on the floor with someone on top of you disabling your movement. You can kiss a match goodbye if you let that happen.
Freelancing is more about navigating other people’s attitudes than most people realise.
Once you start letting your clients or other freelancers dictate the terms of your business, you’re headed for the floor. Through your training and your experience, you know what to charge, how long things take, why clients choose you and why you are in the business in the first instance. This is knowledge others don’t share, understand or even care about. Therefore only you know what works for you.
Whether they want you to work for a discount or free, or you’re so focussed on your competitor’s you’ve started doing what they do instead of what is right for you, you are giving the other person control of your business.
Why would you do that? They aren’t the one taking the risk or training like you do. They aren’t the one who has to pay your bills or feed your family.
Fixating on pleasing a difficult client or on the freelance jerk down the road talking crap behind your back means you are distracted. It’s no longer your match. The minute you hand over control to anyone else, you are heading for a loss. And it won’t just be your project you may lose sight of. You could lose your dignity, your confidence and your ability to come back from it, too.
Have faith in your skills and always remember why you do what you do.
The bottom line:
Just like a fighter walking into a ring, a freelancer is ultimately responsible for the outcome a pretty big battle- not with the client but with the prevailing conditions that can influence the outcome of a project.
The moment we stop believing in ourselves or worse still, stop realising where we fit in on the scheme of things, the focus is lost. Without focus, goals and a true idea of where we want our freelancing career should go, we risk losing control of what we do.
Freelancing is a tough gig. You have to be unbelievably mentally strong yet still remaining creative, compassionate and sensitive to changes as they occur.
It is a train hard or go home style scenario that isn’t suited to all people. You just need to know that it’s a career worth fighting for, even after a smack in the chops or the matches that don’t work in your favour. You need to get up when you get kicked in the guts and smile for the onlookers, and then still have enough tank to retreat to the change room to get your game face back on for the next match.
Freelancing is long hours, silly questions and standing millimetres from the edge of failure while looking towards the brighter outcomes.
Its self motivation, self promoting and self preservation all tied up in a neat little 24 hours.
But the wins certainly are worth it. And the losses at a minimum teach you a lesson you’ll never forget. At best, they’ll be a source of inspiration for the next freelance challenge you tackle.
And that’s what MMA can teach you about freelancing.