Don’t underestimate starting small

Don't underestimate starting small | Spruce Rd.

I admit it — one of my first clients was a friend of a friend who owned a pool company. And I am unashamed. I designed whatever creative vision they came up with. Everything from web banners, powerpoint backgrounds and advertisements. Thankfully, I’m sure I’ve lost those design files by now and don’t have proof of the tacky beach ball themed ads.

This client came to me during my last semester of college, and I gladly accepted the extra cash. No contract, clear processes, timelines or roles defined… just the wild west of freelancing.

At this point, you might expect me to run through everything that I did wrong in those early days, but instead I look back at this time as foundational to Spruce Rd.

We talk a lot about gaining a long-term approach to your brand, which is definitely crucial for any successful business. Yet in doing so, we quickly move past the seemingly small moments that provide the steps to move toward our long-term goals. The steps that in hindsight appear as missteps. Ones where we compromised our pricing, time and value, with excitement in hopes of taking a step toward our long-term goal. I’ve made plenty of these “missteps” in freelancing prior to launching Spruce Rd., and have learned to not look back ashamed, but instead appreciate the lessons learned along the way.

Progress over perfection

Before I commit to anything, I have a tendency to over-research to the point of not taking action. My Evernote is full of wild ideas, strategies and brainstorming, just sitting there with little execution. This analytical side of me has its benefits, yet can lead to downfall if I’m not careful.

As I write this, I’m on a road trip with my husband moving across country. During our 12 hour drives, I’m taking advantage of the down time to write, work on my course and business on my laptop. I keep running into the same problem — my battery runs out. So, of course I take to my phone and start the in-depth research on a cost-effective solution to charge my laptop in the car. I’ve read reviews and settled on a $35 option from Best Buy that will solve my dilemma. I begin calling several Best Buy’s on route to see if they have it in stock. Meanwhile, my husband has a very different approach to research. He hears me on the phone talking pricing, and product details, yet what does he do? When stopped at a gas station he comes back to the car grinning with an adapter about 4 times the size of the one I found, and $20 more. He says there were other options, but the attendant up-sold him to this one!

We can’t help but laugh, mostly at how different we approach things. Elliot gets it done, I overanalyze before committing. Both are valid approaches, yet you have to admire anyone who moves forward and makes progress.

The same can be said for your freelance business. If you try to setup everything perfect from the beginning, you’ll end up paralyzed and never start. Though there is part of you that resists moving forward with freelancing until you have clear pricing, processes and perspective defined, there needs to be a push to overcome these fears and make progress. You’ll learn over time how to streamline your process. Until then, you need to play the game to earn experience to shape your perspective. Even if you play the game “wrong,” at least you provided yourself with legitimate hands-on learning opportunities.

Through my first freelancing jobs, as unglamorous as they were, I gained valuable experiences working with clients, learning which jobs I enjoyed most, pricing and setting boundaries. Yes, I’m sure I was aware these were important factors in freelancing at the time, but I wouldn’t have the perspective I now have that was shaped from these early projects.

Maybe you have a full-time job right now, and occasionally take on a freelance project. Maybe you are hoping to transition to freelancing eventually. Either way, I want to encourage you to make progress in light of your long-term goals. Be willing to learn from these experiences, and make steps to refine for the next opportunity. Though you may feel insecure in accepting a small postcard design, production work or heck, even cheesy beach ball ads, you’ll gain valuable insight into freelancing, allowing you to take steps (not missteps) toward your long-term goals.