Like ballet dancers, freelancers must hone their craft and learn when to hide their work and when to pull back the curtain and show their work.
As a child, I was all about dance — obsessed with ballet.
Every year, I begged my parents to take more classes and my sisters did the same. Our family was at the studio nearly every day of the week. When I was in junior high school, I was at the studio every day but Thursday and Sunday, and because I auditioned for the Children’s Ballet Company every year, on Saturdays I was there from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
In elementary school, I dreamed of dancing en-pointe. At my studio, you had to reach a certain age before they would let you go through the evaluation to earn that privilege and I couldn’t wait. That dream finally came true in seventh grade and I was over the moon with excitement.
Ballet was a huge part of my life and when I had a daughter of my own, I signed her up for ballet too. But she hated it. She complained that it was too slow, boring, and complex. She said the technique demands and precision required made dance less fun, and she didn’t like being forced to wear a leotard and pink tights.
But that’s what I loved about it.
The Magic Of Ballet And Business
For centuries ballet has captivated audiences, leaving them in awe of dancers’ flexibility, strength, movement, and grace. Dancers seem to glide across stages and fly through the air, and that’s only possible because ballet is strict, rigorous, meticulous, complex, and challenging — more so than any other style of dance.
- It greets you with nearly unattainable expectations.
- It requires perfection.
- It demands that you pour everything you are and everything you have to give into it.
Yet, as difficult as ballet and dancing en-pointe is, great ballet shows none of the work. Not even a hint of it.
Ballet dancers use every bit of feeling and every muscle in their bodies to move in miraculous ways and tell incredible visual stories — and the best dancers make it look effortless.
You never see them struggle to lift their leg into arabesque or perform a series of fouettes or pirouettes that leave you wondering how they’re not falling over from dizziness.
They just dance and create magic — and that’s what your clients want from you.
If you have ever heard the idiom, “no one wants to know how the sausage gets made,” this is the same concept.
- No one wants to go to the ballet and see dancers count off the steps, make mistakes, struggle to complete the moves, or grimace from physical strain or pain.
- No client wants to hire an expert only to hear how hard the project is, see mistakes, field complaints or excuses, or be told you have personal drama getting in the way.
Hide Your Work
When watching a dancer perform a Grand Jeté — a leap that results in a full split mid-air — you never want to see a ballerina struggle or hear them land. The movement must be the picture of ease and grace. And while less experienced dancers wearing soft ballet shoes can get away with imperfection, those en-pointe wearing ballet shoes with hard-toe boxes, have no room for error.
Not only are mistakes en-pointe dangerous, but failing to land lightly or step softly makes a loud, cringe-worthy smacking sound against the hard floors — and the louder that sound is, the more it signals amateur.
Freelancers and service-based business owners must take a cue from ballet dancers and ballet companies and hide any struggle during a performance.
- When on a sales call, don’t share personal drama or personal challenges or point out things in your personal life that might get in the way.
- When doing work a client hired you to do, don’t tell them how hard it is or complain — and definitely don’t tell them you ran into a problem with also presenting a solution.
- When presenting drafts or completed work to clients, don’t point out things you were frustrated with or things you could have done better.
Don’t give clients any reason to second-guess their decision to hire you.
Clients don’t want to see the struggle and hear about problems, and most of them also don’t want to “see how the sausage is made.”
Clients want an expert they can feel confident in — an experienced professional that will show up as the expert and lead them through the project/process. They want to trust that you can deliver on your promises, create the transformation and results you say you can, and provide an extraordinary experience.
And yes, they want it to be as effortless as possible.
Show Your Work
Dance studios and ballet companies are powered by class fees, performance ticket sales, fundraisers, and donations by patrons of the arts. They need people to give them money to pay their dancers and staff, keep the lights on, and create new shows.
Your freelance business is powered by clients (and maybe course, membership, or information product sales). You need clients to hire you so you can pay yourself, pay your expenses, and return a profit to the business for reinvestment and continuing education.
How do you get clients to hire you over your competition? The same way ballet companies do it: By showing your work.
Yes, I just told you to hide your work and now, I’m telling you to show your work.
Ballet and business require you to do both.
While no one wants to see the work during a performance, they are curious about the work that went into an impressive performance and you better bet they’d love to peek behind the scenes and get a glimpse of how it all comes together. That’s why ballet companies will pull back the curtain and invite their biggest donors and most influential patrons to tour the studios, watch a rehearsal, and meet the dancers. Making them feel like they’re part of the magic is what inspires future monetary gifts.
When you see a ballet dancer take off her pointe shoes after a rehearsal, and you see bloody, bruised toes, sores, and the tape and lambswool that protect their toes inside the shoes, you can’t help but be impressed at their dedication to their craft. Seeing the actual physical harm their feet endure while they glide gracefully across the floor helps you understand the sacrifice and strength that powers the beauty.
Prospective clients and people interested in your work are also curious about your process and how you do what you do — and they too would love to peek behind the scenes of your projects and get a glimpse of how it all comes together.
So give them that.
Build trust, create confidence, inspire action by pulling back the curtain and making them feel like part of the magic AFTER you complete a project.
- Publish a case study that details your problem-solving skills and creative process.
- Show examples of your early sketching and alternate ideas that were thrown out, and talk about your design thinking.
- Highlight a project challenge and how you overcame it to delight a client.
- Show before and after transformations.
- Invite people to a free consult or exploratory call to ask questions.
And if you do invite prospects to a rehearsal and show something still in progress, make it amazing and make it about the process.
Practice Your Work
If you have ever attended a theater or dance performance — a kid’s recital, a school shown, or a professional performance — I guarantee there was one dancer that stood out from the rest. A dancer you felt drawn to, one you almost couldn’t stop watching.
Yes, that dancer likely has natural talent. But that dancer also likely works harder and practices more than anyone else.
Professional dancers put in tens of thousands of hours stretching, building strength, honing their technique, and practicing their craft. It’s demanding, exacting, repetitious work. But it’s that practice and repetition that allows them to move their bodies as if it is completely natural and almost automatic. It’s what empowers them to stop counting steps and thinking about technique, truly feel the music and move with emotion.
When a dancer can stop thinking and just live in the dance, they’re able to pour themselves and their personality into the performance and make it their own.
If you’ve ever watched any performance-based, reality TV competition shows — The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance, or World Of Dance — that’s what the judges want.
- They don’t want to hear a song exactly like the original.
- They want the singer to make it unique and put their own spin on it.
- They don’t want to see a dancer only go through the movements.
- They want emotion and personality poured into the choreography.
The repetitive work and practice are what create the experience and expertise needed to move with grace and ease. It’s the difference between a dancer you can’t take your eyes off and one that blends in. In ballet, it’s the difference between a soloist or principal dancer and a member of the corps de ballet.
As a freelancer, building authority and expertise works the same way.
If you want to build an undeniable reputation, stand out and get noticed, be the only choice for your ideal clients, and build a sustainable, profitable freelance business, like a dancer, you need to constantly practice, hone your craft, and work harder than your competition so you can be better than your competition.
- Seek out and say yes to creative projects that push you outside of your comfort zone.
- Beyond client work, tackle creative challenges and do projects for fun.
- Watch tutorials, watch demos, read blog posts, read case studies, and never stop learning new skills, tips, and tricks.
- Listen to podcasts, attend presentations, and watch masterclasses and webinars by others who do the same thing you do about what you do to.
- Experiment, explore, nurture your curiosity, and expand your awareness of adjacent topics, services, challenges, and wishes.
- Talk to people — clients, leads, prospects, peers — and gather insights and feedback about what you do.
The stronger your commitment is to learning and the more open you are to new ideas, alternate approaches, and fresh perspectives, the better freelancer you’ll be and the more value you’ll provide to clients.
Be A Ballet Dancer In Your Freelance Business
To build a profitable, sustainable, successful freelance business or micro agency, you must think like a ballet dancer.
- Make the creative process as smooth, easy, and effortless as possible, and give clients a consistent, extraordinary experience.
- Pull back the curtain and provide a glimpse of the work that goes into the transformations you create in a way that builds confidence, establishes trust, and inspires people to hire you.
- Take advantage of every opportunity to improve your skills — on the delivery side and the business side — and put in the work needed to elevate your expertise and authority (more work than your competition will put in).
These three things are the difference between a sought-after expert and someone who blends in with everyone else and having reliable systems in place and flying by seat of your pants. They’re also what will empower you to share ideas and step up as a thought leader instead of merely regurgitating other people’s advice and opinions — and that alone can open the floodgates of new amazing clients you love.
And the best part is that with the right information, resources, and support, anyone, including you, can do it — and if you need some help, I’ve got your back.