(Make sure you watch the video at the end of this post.)

I had a weird dream.

Now I don’t usually share my dreams with anyone, let along my blog readers. Plus, I forget most of my dreams before I’m fully awake. But this dream was special.

It was special because it illustrated so perfectly what many freelancers and business owners do when they first start their adventure. And if they’re not careful, it instills a bad habit that is tough to shake. It will lead to lost opportunities, lost income, and maybe even a lost business.

Here’s the dream

I had a very small part of a theatrical production. I met many wonderfully talented actors. They were excited to be there and loved being a part of a production that would entertain people.

Another actress had just had a falling out with the producer, which gave me pause but I thought “well, it’s between the two of them.” I didn’t want to get involved. Then I decided that I wanted to have something to prove that I was a part of this production, something  I could put on my resume or share with others online.

The closest I could find to prove this was a cheap, flimsy card that served as some ID. The card wasn’t given out to any of the actors but I knew where it was located.

So I took it, with the intention of returning it, but I wanted to make a copy. The producer and his assistants discovered me before I was able to leave with the card and he made a big deal of taking it away while his assistants held me back (I guess thinking I’d try to lunge for it. Yes, dreams are weird).

But by that point, I was mad. It was just a stupid card but it was at least proof that I had spent my time and energy on being a part of the production. And so, I ripped into the producer.

I told him that all I wanted was to prove I was in the production (later, after waking, I thought about the playbill, but I think because I had such a small part, there was this understanding that my name wouldn’t be listed in it because it was such a small part).

Now, as revealing as that part of the dream was — what happened next is the core of my message:

I yelled at the producer for being so selfish and insensitive for not wanting to allow me to have something to show for my time because… dammit, my time was worth something! I even quoted him my hourly rate. He and his assistants mocked me and then tried to justify what they did, which was mainly working everyone almost to death for a production for which few would get any credit.

Here’s the point:

Are you undervaluing your time?

When you’re first building your business, there is the temptation to do whatever you can to “get your name out there.” Sometimes this includes doing things for people that you aren’t paid to do but you think it may have a “goodwill” feature that has the lucky recipient so thrilled that he or she will refer real business to you and someday, will actually buy your product or service because you were so nice to them.

Don’t fall for it.

Seriously. If you’re a business owner (and freelancers, you are business owners), do not give away your time and expertise like this. It’s one thing to help a friend on occasion. But it’s another when either a new contact approaches you saying, “Well, I really can’t afford much” and because you’re starting out, you see it as an opportunity to build your portfolio.

Don’t do it.

As you may have guessed, I speak from experience. I have given my expertise to individuals and thought that they would introduce me to better opportunities. Not only did that NOT happen, they didn’t even say “thanks” for what I gave them.

This is simply unacceptable.

When you do such things, you end up wanting to use your head like a basketball and dribble it on a wall.

Value yourself. Value what you are bringing into the world. There is a time to be generous with your expertise such as using a blog or e-newsletter to share it with the world. But when individuals approach you, looking downcast while murmuring, “Well, I can’t afford much..” resist that temptation to help them.

Yes, I know it sounds cold-hearted. But ultimately, apart from creating a passive income-generating machine, you only have time to make money. Know how to invest your time well.

For instance, avoid some of these time-suckers:

Useless Meetings

I had someone request a meeting. I thought it was to discuss his need for copywriting and because we knew each other fairly well, I scheduled a meeting. When we met, it turned out he wanted to sell me on the idea of being a sponsor. When someone asks for a meeting, clarify the purpose.

There will be times when you do want to meet someone for networking purposes but if you think they’re asking to meet you to discuss business, get it on the table so you won’t waste your time. Ask such questions as these: “Is this to discuss a new project and you want my input? Or is this a friendly get-together?” Depending on your priorities, you’ll be able to make better choices regarding whether you’ll meet with the person or correspond instead via email.

Facebook or Some Other Social Media Tool

Yes, you should use social media to promote your business. But if you find yourself tapping out updates on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, it’s time to shut it down. Checking your friends’ updates and commenting on them is one of the biggest time sinks out there. Wait until you’ve put in some work hours before taking a break to socialize. Better yet, put your activity on a timer. Set it for 10 – 15 minutes as you take a break and when the timer goes off, you’re done for awhile.

TV and Movies

I’m an entertainment addict. I love TV shows and all sorts of movies. But I realize how easily they eat into my day, especially if I’m not careful. I may watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica (re-imagined) during lunch, but when I’m finished eating, I turn it off. It’s good to take breaks but again, be aware how quickly an hour can go by and you have nothing to show for it. Use entertainment as a “carrot” to reward yourself after putting in work that gets you paid.

Those are just a few tidbits to help you stay on track. Some of you who are reading this may be light-years ahead of me in productivity, but some of you may be where I was last year.

Value your time. Because believe me, there are many people willing to take advantage of it and won’t even thank you after getting what they wanted. Forewarned is forearmed.

And now, the video that you absolutely MUST watch. (NSFW language)

He is absolutely 100% right.

He couldn’t be more right. Live and learn, my fellow creatives!


3 responses to “My Weird Dream: And What It Can Teach You About Making Money”

  1. Don Wallace Avatar

    The nature of the problem is this. In order to demand proper rates and terms and to be respected for it, you absolutely *have* to have self confidence. Gaining that self confidence varies widely for many people.

    For a naturally self-promoting type of individual, it is the most natural thing in the world to play the role of the prima donna and to demand big bucks for little. Facebook, LinkedIn groups, and social media are full of individuals of no substance who are basically open mouths broadcasting the supposed excitement of their personal brand.

    For someone like myself who was a career engineer originally, I wince when I can’t back up every little claim in detail. I am totally of substance. The problem is, clients read that tendency as “doesn’t have self confidence therefore is not very good.” I think because being “of substance” is so rare in our society, you just aren’t believed.

    So, I’m one of the types who requires validation in order to confidently promote myself. That is generally not understood whatsoever in the business world. The business world equates self confidence with competency, period.

    Also, there is the very “crowdsourced”, social media aware mentality that cuts a wide swath in freelancing. Fiverr, Elance, Odesk, and Guru.com train clients to treat professional relationships like low value cash transactions. I honestly believe that having even minimal contact with those places is poison for your self confidence if you are trying to establish yourself as a serious creative freelancer. I don’t even look for services on Fiverr for amusement any more. It’s too demoralizing to see people abasing themselves for peanuts.

  2. Mickey Maguire Avatar

    Don, it’s true that some people have issues with those who are self-assured and confident. It really depends on whether or not an individual is insecure or lacks assertiveness how they’ll respond to people at networking events or meetings. There are lots of folks out there trying to project the image of a “social media expert” or an ace “consultant” and lack years of real-world experience that I typically associate with business people of professional caliber.

    The best gigs any freelancer can get are referrals by word-of-mouth or work from those with whom you are already associated. I used to get all my work that way.

    As an engineer, use your analytical nature as one of your best assets. If you can translate jargon into plain English, you will never lack work. Check out white paper writing. Most white papers are very dry reading. If you can turn the work of engineers into something that the average professional can read (which is eighth-grade-reading-level, by the way), you will make big money. It will take a while to ramp-up, but, once you do, they’ll be knocking on your door.

    Mickey Maguire

  3. Don Wallace Avatar

    Hi, Mickey – I was speaking to the article’s key point, which is that there is enormous pressure out there in the real world to lower your rates. To that I was adding the observation that the only solution to that particular problem is self confidence.

    I’m talking about the self confidence to refuse bad deals and to confront cheap players with realistic and not basement rates, and the self confidence to walk away when the game is rigged. As well as the self confidence to approach better, high paying markets.

    Re: allegedly high paying niche markets like white papers – you still need self confidence – identifying a target market is just a small part of the battle. In the instance of white papers, you need to price the service correctly, and it takes high self confidence to ask upper five digits for a 15-20 page report.

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