Running a freelance business is like baking cookies: Clients don't care what tools you use, only that they get a delicious cookie at the end.
Mmmmm homemade cookies. M&M cookies. Thick, chewy cookies with lots of M&Ms. Delicious. M&M Cookies are one of my favorite cookies — they always have been — but over the years, I have had to tweak ALL of my recipes.
Why? I grew up in a family that liked crunchy cookies and now I have a husband and kids who love soft, chewy cookies. I had to adapt my recipes because over time, things change.
Now, there are a lot of different recipes for chocolate chip or M&M cookies. Even NPR published a post about the science behind creating your favorite chocolate chip cookie.
Everyone likes cookies, but we all like different variations of the same cookies.
- Some people, like my parents, prefer their cookies crunchy.
- Other people prefer their cookies thick and chewy or still sort of doughy.
- Some people like small bite-size cookies and others like big giant cookies.
And, while we all follow slightly different recipes or buy different brands, the core ingredients are similar from recipe to recipe, and we all end up with a cookie as the final product.
The notion of running a freelance business is nearly the same…
Similar Tools, Same End Product
We all have our own preferred brands and ingredients that we keep stocked in our pantries for baking. We also have our own tools — measuring cups, spoons, bowls, and baking sheets. Similarly, from freelancer to freelancer and business to business, the ingredients and tools may change, but often the end result is the same.
- Graphic designers and web designers may use different software but the end product is still a completed design.
- Web developers may use different code editors, code snippets, and plugins but the end result is still a website that works.
- Coaches may use different methodologies or approaches or tools but they all still help their clients achieve a big goal.
Different Processes, Same End Result
When establishing and growing a freelance business, documented systems and processes are critical to long-term sustainability, yet again, there is no one cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solution. As with our own baking process, nearly every freelancer I know who does the same thing I do follows a slightly different process to get the job done.
When making M&M cookies:
- I first sort all of the M&Ms by color into separate bowls
- I then mix wet ingredients, add dry ingredients to the bowl, and mix the dough
- I then incorporate the brown M&Ms into the dough
- Next, I form the dough balls, placing them on the cookie sheets and place the color M&Ms on top, one color at a time, making sure they all have equal pieces of each color
- Finally, I add any of the M&Ms that are left to the dough balls, in any extra spaces I can find, and put them in the oven.
Once when I was baking cookies and sorting the M&Ms by color, my husband stared at the counter with a bewildered look on his face. He asked, “Why was I separating the M&Ms? Why didn’t I just mix the entire bag into the dough?” Then later, he came in to eat a finished cookie and was confused. He wondered, “Why did I go to the effort of separating the M&Ms to just mix them up again?”
My answer was something along the lines of, “I’m baking and doing the work, so I’m doing it my way. You got the cookies you wanted, so why do you care how they were made?”
Yes, Making Cookies Is Like Running A Freelance Business
I have my favorite recipes — some of which were carried over from my mother, whom I now suspect made up this M&M sorting ritual to give us kids something non-messy to help with. Nevertheless, it’s how I like to do it, how I am comfortable doing it, and how I want to keep doing it.
I do things my way, but it’s not the only way, and others may critique or question my way.
My husband wasn’t wrong in suggesting I just mix the entire bag into the dough to save time. After all, the cookies would taste the same, they just wouldn’t be as pretty — and the visual appeal matters to me. I can’t imagine NOT arranging the M&Ms one by one on top of each cookie! The visual appeal matters to me when working on a design project too, as design makes a difference in perception, experience, and conversion.
People will critique your approach and they’ll suggest you change your recipe or your workflow based on their preferences and experiences. Let them!
Just like my way isn’t the only way, your way of doing something isn’t the only way. Also, the “way it’s always been done” isn’t necessarily the best way. This is why Profitable Project Plan includes interviews with subject matter experts — they introduce alternate ideas, new approaches, and fresh perspectives so members can compare and contrast new insights with what’s in the program and make the best implementation decisions for their businesses and goals.
Plus, there is no harm in listening, acknowledging, and evaluating because you get to decide what you do with the information.
When your mind is closed to new ideas, you miss out on valuable opportunities for improvement. When you fail to recognize that there might be a better way, you stunt growth and create plateaus. Exposure to how other people complete the same tasks you do helps you get better.
In Every Decision, Consider The Audience
My family likes thick chewy cookies, so I used my tools, knowledge, experience, and ingredients to alter the original recipe and make cookies I knew my family would love. Now, if I were baking cookies for my parents, I’d follow the original recipe and make crunchy cookies because that is how they like their cookies.
My process and tools remain the same — I only have to make a small tweak to the ingredients to make the right cookie for the right person.
As a freelancer, client services operates the same way. I don’t change my process or tools every time I take on a new client or project, but the ingredients — the scope of work, the plugins, the deliverables — change based on the client.
Tools And Ingredients Don’t Matter
Your family doesn’t care which brand of sugar you use. They don’t care if you use glass or plastic measuring cups. They don’t care if all of the M&Ms are mixed in the dough or meticulously placed on top. They care that they end up with a cookie they love.
Clients don’t care how the work gets done.
They don’t care what website template or WordPress theme or code base web designers or developers use. They don’t care if graphic designers use Photoshop or Illustrator, Invision, Affinity, or Canva, or what user experience designers use to create wireframes or surveys. Clients care that the work they hired you do to gets done well, gets done on time, and gets done within budget…
Clients care that the work gets done well, gets done on time, and gets done within budget.
That’s the crux of delivering extraordinary client services, creating brand evangelists, earning more business from existing clients, and gaining more referrals. It’s not the tools used or the software, it’s you building strong relationships with clients and delivering on your promises.
Just Make A Good Cookie!
When everyone else is talking about the cool tools they are using, evaluating every new thing to hit AppSumo, yet again wasting time evaluating a new CMS, or belittling others for not doing it “their way” — don’t worry about it. Don’t get caught up in the belief that your cookies will be inferior if you don’t use a specific brand of vanilla.
Focus on your freelance business and your clients, on delivering a high-quality solution that meets their needs, and doing your best with the tools you know and are comfortable with.
Then, when hungry mouths aren’t chomping at the bit for hot, right-out-of-the-oven cookies, and you have time to try a new recipe, go for it! Experiment with other ingredients and tools, and if you like the results you create, add them to your pantry to use on your next project.