Work is an Experiment

My business looks nothing like it did a year ago. And I’m okay with that because of how I’ve come to view work.

When I quit my job three years ago and hung out my shingle as a consultant, I focused on helping small businesses learn and use social media.

That was what I did for two years — social media strategy. I’ll save you the painful details and just tell you now — the paid work was slow.

I believed in the service I was providing but I found over time that my customers — creative entrepreneurs and small business owners — didn’t have the budget to invest hundreds of dollars in a social media strategy.

Because those people were a lot like me. New business owner. Bootstrapping as much as I could.

And I didn’t have hundreds of dollars to invest in anything.

My Work Experiment

So I began an experiment to see what kind of work people would pay me for.

My 2 Step Process

Here’s how I did it. Just two steps.

1. I took an inventory of my skills.

2. I started to talk to people.

And by this, I mean that I literally wrote down every skill I had on a yellow legal pad and then began to talk to people. Friends, former colleagues, connections on social media.

I talked to them over coffee. Over the phone. Email. I wasn’t selling anything (this is key). But I was telling people the kind of work I was doing and then asking them what they needed help with while building their thing.

What I Discovered

Yes, small businesses and entrepreneurs needed the marketing strategy — whether it was content marketing, social media or email (usually all three).

But they really needed a way to launch their thing — business, book, big idea — online first. And a lot of them were apprehensive about trying to do it on their own or hiring a designer off Elance or Craigslist.

They didn’t just want someone with technical or design skills. They needed someone who understood the relationship between good design and good content and could help develop a strategy combining both from the start.

And they didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend.

So what skills did I have that could help them? I went back to my list.

1. I could combine my skills in WordPress, Photoshop and Illustrator to customize WordPress themes and help people launch their sites online. 2. I could combine my writing, design and strategy skills to help them develop a strategy to launch and grow their business.

With a clearer idea of how I could help my customers, I packaged my services together and got to work. Talking to people (online and off), commenting on blogs, writing on my own blog and connecting on social media.

For four months, I did this, the marketing part. For free. And then it started to pay off.

I got my first web design client after she read I comment I’d made on a Facebook page about how to set up a website. She found my website and liked my holistic approach to design and marketing.

I worked hard to do a great job. She referred me to her friends.

Then an established blogger reached out to me to help him design a presentation for SlideShare. An opportunity that came after months of commenting on his blog, chatting over email and then talking on the phone (all in that order).

Quick side note on connecting with influencers online: These opportunities don’t happen overnight. All those months I spent building a relationship were just that — seeking to contribute something valuable to the work he was doing online and learning as much as I could from his success. The chance to work with him was a welcomed surprise.

After a few of those took off on SlideShare, people — my people, small businesses and creative entrepreneurs — started emailing me to inquire about my services.

My client list grew very quickly from a mix of folks that found me not just through SlideShare but Twitter, Facebook, blogs, referrals from clients and conversations with friends and family.

The Result?

Now, a year after starting my work experiment, my business has grown to the point where I have a two-month waiting list for new clients.

Not only that, I’m discovering who my audience really is — creative entrepreneurs launching their businesses online.

And I’m still experimenting. Designing websites, presentations, book covers, album covers, logos. And marketing strategy.

Now it’s your turn.

You can do this too. Whether you want to launch a new business, start a side project or create a new income stream for an existing business, experiment!

Here are the two steps:

1. Take an inventory of your skills. Write down every skill you have, even if no one has ever paid you for it.

2. Find people to talk to who could benefit from your skills. Talk to friends, family, coworkers, local business owners about the skills you have. Join LinkedIn groups. Comment on relevant blogs (i.e. the ones your customers read). Answer questions on reddit.

You might have a website already. You might be active on social media. But that doesn’t mean people — even the people that know you well — know the skills you have and how you can help them.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation like this (online and off):

Friend: “I really need to get a website up. But I’m so overwhelmed by it all — I don’t know how to set it up and even if I did, what do I put on the site?”

Me: I can help with that.

Friend: Awesome, you know someone who can do that?

Me: Yes, me!

Friend: You do websites? When did that happen?

So talk to people. Find out what they’re up to and then share with them how you can help.

How to Make This Work For You

The key to making this work?

Understand that this might not work. Try it anyway.

You have to strip away your fears of things not working. Because a lot of ideas won’t. But that’s okay. This is an experiment.

And here’s the wonderful thing about experimenting.

If you hate it, if it doesn’t make enough money or if it’s not the best way to serve your customers, kill it.

But you simply won’t know until you try it (whatever “it” is).

You might be surprised at what does work, what people actually pay you for. And what kind of work you love doing.

Love this? Sign up for my weekly newsletter.