We’ve been talking with WordPress freelancers, taking stock of how far they’ve come.
Today we’re talking with Jenny Beaumont. She is the co-organizer of WordCamp Paris and WordCamp Europe, a frequent speaker at WordCamps in France and abroad, and contributes to a number of blogs. After 17 years building things in and around the web, she is taking a year-long sabbatical to get a new outlook on life and to work on her first book, Doing it Wrong, the Story of an Incidental Entrepreneur (working title).
“It’s important to ask yourself regularly why you do what you do, and to make sure that your business and your practices are in line with the answer.” -Jenny Beaumont
The conversation covers putting yourself out there, saying no and taking a break:
What was your greatest success as a freelancer?
I believe my greatest success as a freelancer was simply putting myself out there, accepting the challenge of independence over seeking employment. My continued success was making that same decision year after year for 15 years.
Not that I had a lot of choices in the beginning. I was 28 years old and had just moved to France two years prior to start a web agency with a couple associates. When things didn’t work out for us, I was left sitting in front of my computer thinking about what to do next. As an American, and with the type of visa I had at the time, I wasn’t eligible for a job. So working for myself was the only option I had if I wanted to stay in France.
And then the phone rang. It was the communications director from a Canadian company that was developing 3D laser modeling for dental prosthetics. They had a lab set up just outside the city of Lyon where I was living at the time. He said, “We have this big project, can you come meet me at our offices right away?” After explaining that my company had closed down I said, “But I’d be happy to come talk to you.” And my freelance business was born.
That project ending up growing to include two websites, a CD-ROM (remember those?), multiple videos and decor for a trade show stand. I was able to bring three other people on board to share in the fun and the profit.
What was your greatest failure as a freelancer, and what did you learn from it?
As much as saying “yes” created my success, not saying “no” often enough is my biggest failure. Because just as saying yes leads to opportunities of all kinds, so too can it lead to trouble.
In time I became better at recognizing the red flags of a difficult or dishonest client, or of an overly ambitious project, but I was slow to pick up on the most important thing of all for a freelancer: knowing your own limitations.
They can be directly related to your skills, and they can be physical and mental limitations as well. How many late nights can you work and for how long? How many days in a row can you keep going without taking a proper break—not just a night off or a weekend, but a real vacation? How much time do you dedicate to your own well being? How about to your education, to your personal and professional development? Do you sometimes get in over your head?
Ultimately what I learned, besides that I’m not invincible, is that it’s important to ask yourself regularly why you do what you do, and to make sure that your business and your practices are in line with the answer. In the early days I wanted what I thought was freedom; I wanted to make money; I wanted to prove that I could succeed. Today I know that true freedom comes from within, that money isn’t as important as value, and that I have nothing to prove.
When your focus shifts, when your priorities change, then your work methods, and maybe even the work itself, need to change too.
Looking ahead, where do you need to grow as a freelancer?
That’s really the question now, isn’t it? And it’s exactly the reason I decided to take a year off, to think about where I’m going and how to best foster growth. Moving forward I am guided by two principles: simplification and value.
Simplification will be my mantra and will involve removing the clutter and complication from all aspects of my life. Cutting back to the essentials whether it’s in my home or on my computer, and even so far as my relationships.
The Tibetan word for discipline is tsul trim:
“Tsul means ‘appropriate or just’, and trim means ‘rule’ or ‘way’. So discipline is to do what is appropriate or just; that is, in an excessively complicated age, to simplify our lives.” –The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
I love this definition of discipline as simplifying our lives. This small change in perspective has already helped me grow immensely, both professionally and personally.
Value will be my beacon, guiding my choices as I simplify and my aspiration as I create. Does this add value?
“I constantly ask this question because circumstances constantly change: because something adds value to my life today doesn’t mean it’ll add value to my life tomorrow, so I keep asking and I keep adjusting accordingly.” –Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus
Together these two guiding principles will help me grow where I need it most: learning to say no; pacing myself, my time and my energy; doing less at a time so that I can give more of myself to everything I take on; only taking on those things in which I find inherit value, whatever that might mean for me on a given day.