Lately I’ve been reflecting on the day-to-day differences between a freelance business and a productized one and why I ultimately decided to commit to one over the other.
The more I think about it, the more it feels like I’m transitioning from a kind of business “hunter-gatherer” to a business “gardener” or “farmer.” And I have to say, I like it.
Before, when I worked as a freelance consultant, day-to-day life was pretty loose — relaxed, but also unstructured and uncertain. Punctuated with periods of high stress and big gains. Endless cycle of feast or famine.
I worked whenever I landed projects I wanted to work on, triumphed when I “caught a big fish” (aka landed a well-paying & interesting project), but then didn’t really know what to do with myself in the rest of the time. I watched a lot of Netflix. I browsed the internet. I felt distracted and unproductive, but then couldn’t bring myself to work on anything in my free time because on some level I didn’t want to waste my free time on more “work.”
I was making a good living, but I also felt like I wasn’t growing professionally, either. Moreover, while I was getting better at “catching” bigger fish, it bothered me that I didn’t feel as though I had any real control over my circumstances or, by extension, my sense of professional self-worth. Great clients either came my way or didn’t. When they did, I felt productive, driven & worthwhile. When they didn’t, I felt rudderless and constantly beset with a low-level current of “what now?” anxiety.
Since I decided to focus entirely on building out productized services, it feels like I’ve given up the short-term thrills of landing “big game” projects in favor of raising a small crop of packages that can sustain me passively (ok, the whole hunter-farmer analogy is getting a little strained, I admit).
Now, instead of chasing paying work requests as they swim past, I ignore them and work all day on building a system that pays NOTHING in the short-term, in the hope that it will bear fruit in the long term.
And that, I think, is the hardest part of the transition to products: turning away from the instant cash and professional validation of “the hunt” to focus on building a system that “raises” cash in a more scalable, predictable way. You can't rely on external validation like client demand or income to prop up your ego or self-worth anymore. It has to come from within, which feels pretty uncomfortable at the beginning.
But there are definite perks to doing so (at least there have been for me, so far). Most important thus far: I wake up happy and excited to get down to work now, and I haven’t felt that way in a pretty long time. Stuck in an unhealthy routine of stressed-out, deadline-driven productivity and brain-shrinking sloth, I rarely felt excited about what I had to do on any given day. Now I just get up, peruse my kanban board with an enormous coffee in hand, and pick off tasks one by one, at my own pace. No clients breathing down my neck, no deadlines looming in the near future.
Also, I have no idea why, but for some reason I procrastinate way less when I don’t have any deadlines. (I guess that’s just classic kid mentality in me: Tell me I have to do something by a certain time, and I’ll put it off for as long as humanly possible. Give me all the time in the world and no pressure, and I’ll get on it immediately).
In any case, just another rambling reflection on this li’l journey of mine. Just call me Farmer Momo.