These days I don’t fish much but I do have a lot of free time thanks to my career change from a university professor to a freelance consultant. The last two weeks have been uncommonly slow and I’ll admit that I started to get a little worried; however, yesterday the clouds parted and three big jobs came in. I have a little free time between editing jobs and a social meeting (networking opportunity) this afternoon and I wanted to share some observations about how similar freelancing and fishing can be.
1. You have to keep a lot of lines in the water.
Before I became incredibly sick on the deep sea fishing expedition I was intrigued by the people who set up multiple poles and lines. I didn’t understand how they could hold all of them at the same time and it turns out they didn’t have to. It took a bit of juggling (time management) to keep them all checked and baited but as we pulled into port these were the guys with the biggest hauls.
Similarly, it was important for me to stay in touch with my clients and contacts during the down time earlier this month. Whether it was reminding them that I was here if they needed me or just saying hello and asking how they were doing, I wanted to be the first person they thought of if an opportunity arose that they could use me or recommend me.
2. You have to be patient.
Fishing takes patience. I’m sure that some people are very active fishermen, always letting the line out and reeling it back in, checking the currents, switching bait and lures, etc. Others bring a case of beer and finish “fishing” when all the cans are empty. In any case, some days the fish just aren’t biting so you have to find ways to enjoy the process even when you aren't catching anything.
The first two weeks of May were kind of like that for me. I had to choose whether to cycle through the emotions of anger, fear, and disappointment or enjoy the down time, work on long-term (potentially unpaid) projects, and develop my professional network. I'd be lying if I said I didn't do both.
3. People love to give advice.
If you don’t have a cooler full of trophy fish, other fishermen will be quick to let you know that you chose the wrong spot, the wrong time, the wrong lure, and the wrong bait. The guy next to you will correct the angle you hold the pole at even when they aren’t catching anything either. Not only that, they didn’t even ask if you’re fishing for the same thing they are. Sure, most of them mean well, but it’s inevitable that if you have a fishing pole in your hands someone is bound to offer up some friendly wisdom.
People have not been afraid to tell me the best way to get new customers, even if they don’t know the types of customers I am looking for. I know they are trying to help but sharing their experiences without knowing if our situations are similar is often counterproductive. I am also guilty of this. Whether it is a case of offering advice to my wife when she just wants to vent or over-talking in a staff meeting, I am also guilty of sharing my “wisdom” more than I need to. If I become a better listener people will trust me more and if they really want my advice I’m sure they will say the magic words “What do you think?”. Getting better at active listening is a process. I’m working on it.
4. It can be incredibly rewarding.
I would imagine it is an amazing feeling to pull a huge marlin into a boat after struggling with it for hours. You won! It’s a trophy fish that you will show photos of, tell stories about, and possibly even mount in your man cave. That fish is the culmination of a great deal of effort on your part and if you did it by yourself it is even more fulfilling.
Freelancing can be the same way. Sure, it takes the client agreeing to hire you and I do rely on my network to help introduce my services to people they know but I still have to do the legwork. Getting monthly paychecks from a university was like eating frozen fish fillets from the supermarket for dinner while getting paid by a new client is like cooking a trout you caught and cleaned over a campfire in the woods. It just tastes different. Maybe it’s the fact that you can always walk into the supermarket and walk out with a box of frozen fish fillets but when you go camping part of the thrill is not knowing what you’ll be eating or even if you’ll be eating well that night. When you take that first bite of the fish you reeled in it is oh so satisfying.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone, and neither is fishing. I only have four days of work lined up for next month so far but a lot of lines in the water. For some people that would lead to sleepless nights, however I’m choosing to trust myself, trust my clients, and trust the three rules of freelancing: 1. Be qualified 2. Be connected 3. Be available. As a freelancer you may not bring home dinner every night but when you do it tastes that much better.