The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Guide to Freelancing
You might be scratching your head at the correlation between freelancing and a (now defunct) supernatural based TV show, but I believe Buffy the Vampire Slayer can teach us a thing or two about the business of freelancing. Here are ten lessons on how to become a better freelancer, straight from the slayer’s mouth.
1. Prepare well for each project or situation
“Do you have everything? Books? Lunch? Stakes?”
How many times have we seen Giles or Buffy preparing exactly what weapons they need to kill the latest baddie? They don’t hope for the best when they go into battle.
The same applies to freelancing, for example when meeting a new client we don’t want to just turn up and hope that we land the contract. Delivering a great resulting project means learning about the client, their business, objectives, goals and expectations before even entering the room.
The quote by Carl W. Buechner – “Fail to plan, plan to fail”, sums up perfectly how a lack of forethought and planning will ultimately lead to failure.
2. Have a good support network around you
“Giles! I accidentally killed Spike! That’s okay, right?”
Where would Buffy be without Xander, Giles and Willow, otherwise known as the “Scooby Gang”? Those characters were a constant support for her and undoubtedly made the series such a success.
Freelancing can at times make you feel isolated so it’s important to have a network of family, friends and peers to support and encourage you. Keeping that connection with people outside of our own little office space can’t be underestimated. Many freelancers have gone back to the 9-5 simply because of the loneliness they experienced.
Fortunately we have so many communication methods and channels available to us now that easily enables us to reach out to others. For instance Skype, Twitter, Web Conferencing and IM are just a few. Don’t forget offline either with meetups, conferences and open coffees usually available in most cities to help connect with like-minded people, exchange ideas, tips and help to form friendships.
3. Make sure you have the right tools for the job
“A flare gun? Xander, if I find Spike, I’m staking him, not signaling ships at sea.”
Trying to create a beautiful, unique user interface with Microsoft Paint is just not going to cut it. That’s perhaps a little extreme, but you get my point.
Leaving aside the Mac versus PC debate, making sure you have the necessary hardware and software to complete your work in an efficient, productive and reliable manner is essential. Spending the necessary money on equipment and software will pay dividends and is a worthwhile investment in your business.
You wouldn’t see Buffy taking a teddy bear to kick some vampire butt, would you?
4. Create a good work and life balance
“Sure. We saved the world, I say we party. I mean, I got all pretty.”
Just like Buffy, this is one of the aspects that most of us struggle with. Juggling client work with family life can become a battle. Most of us pursue freelancing so we can have more control over our career and working hours, and as a result of this, spend more time enjoying life with our family and friends.
Becoming a ‘workaholic’ and spending too long in the office can cause problems in our family life and impact on our own health. It’s because of this that we need to create a set of working hours that suits both our work and creative process and leaves a sufficient amount of time for us to relax and enjoy life away from the stresses of freelancing.
5. Know your strengths and weaknesses
“Oh come on! Stake through the heart. A little sunlight. It’s like falling off a log”
Buffy knew she rocked when it came to staking vampires, but trawling through books in the library for information was not her strong point, so Willow and Xander undertook this on most occasions.
We are all blessed with certain strengths and weaknesses, and knowing these when it comes to freelancing can be the difference between being a successful freelancer and a struggling one.
Making your strengths your greatest asset is key, if you are great at interacting with people, make communication one of your key selling points. Equally if you know time management is one of your weaknesses, aim to improve it as much as possible.
Being completely honest with yourself is essential here!
6. Continually update your skills and knowledge
“I’m just worried this whole session’s gonna turn into some training montage from an 80s movie.”
Throughout her time as a slayer, Buffy had to constantly learn new combat skills and find unique ways to defeat her opponents. If she became comfortable and complacent, it didn’t take too long before she was quickly reminded of the need to stay sharp and alert.
It’s important as a freelancer to not slide too deep into our ‘comfortable zone’. As it’s easy to rely on skills which you have been using for years, but that’s how you get stuck building sites with tables while web design revolves around CSS.
Keeping up to date with the latest news, technology and trends is essential if we want to keep both ourselves and our business current.
7. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone
“I’ll end up an old lady who can only live with cats.”
Buffy was consistently forced to venture into unknown territory and step outside of her comfort zone to battle new enemies.
At some point we are all faced with stepping into the unknown and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone, it could be speaking at a conference or working within a new niche. These types of experiences open up new opportunities and build our confidence, so it’s important not to let fear hold us back.
8. Grab your opportunities with full force
“From now on we won’t just face our worst fears, we will seek them out.”
Rarely does Buffy pass up the chance to get ahead of those pesky vampires. While we aren’t going out hunting creatures of the night, if an opportunity appears which is of benefit to us, we shouldn’t simply let it fade away without investigating its possibilities.
Of course this doesn’t mean jumping into every opportunity feet first with no prior thought. It’s about seeing an opportunity that could help you and your business and with planning and preparation taking advantage of it.
One of the moments that transformed my freelancing career was a reply I sent to a LinkedIn request for a designer from Leo Babauta. I saw the opportunity to work with someone who I admired and respected and who has since put me in contact with some amazing entrepreneurs.
9. Keep your focus and concentration on each task
“I don’t have time for vendettas. The mission is what matters.”
While Buffy was guilty in certain situations of letting herself get distracted, overall once on a mission, she was completely focused on the task in hand.
Many of us work on several projects at the same time, which is why we need to be so good at time and project management. However multi-tasking tends to be less efficient than focusing on one core task, completing it and moving onto the next one. Switching constantly between tasks means we often end up less productive and more prone to errors and stress.
Learning to single-task and focus on the essentials will help keep you both productive and profitable.
10. Never lose your sense of humor
“You stabbed Jonathan to death. What were you trying to do, scratch his back from the front?”
Watch any Buffy episode and you will hear a multitude of humorous one-liners. From Buffy’s sarcastic put-downs to Xander’s off-hand jokes, they find a way to inject humor into even the most dangerous situation.
We work hard to deliver great results to our clients, keep up to date with our industry, network and market ourselves and expand our knowledge and skills. It’s because of this at times we can feel tired and frustrated, but without the ability to laugh at the craziness that is freelancing at times, you can soon become burnt out and stressed.
This doesn’t mean having a hearty chuckle when a client refuses to pay us or being cavalier, but it does mean being able to enjoy our freelance life.