#155: Why You Need to Set Standards in Your Business — and How to Do It Right

Interesting fact: The biggest reason writers become (and stay) self-employed is freedom and flexibility — not money.

That’s what I’ve uncovered after surveying thousands of writers over the past eight years.

More freedom around when you work … whom you work with … what you work on … where you work … and where you take your skills and career.

This week we celebrate Independence Day here in the U.S. So I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of freedom.

And the sad truth is that way too many freelance writers are worse off today than they were when traditionally employed.

They’re constantly struggling to earn a good living. Or they’re working with bad clients on projects they hate. Or they’re working longer hours than they ever have. Or all of the above!

That’s not freedom!

Why does this happen? And how can we break the cycle? That’s what today’s episode is all about.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smartphone, tablet or iPod.


Why Does This Happen?

We all start off with good intentions. But as we try to grow our business, we end up saying “yes” to too many things.

Before we know it, we’re worse off than we were as employees. We’re working 12-hour days, 6 days a week. We’re no longer taking care of ourselves. We might even be neglecting our family.

And to make matters worse, we’re not earning nearly enough to make up for all the sacrifice.

What’s crazy is that this happens SO SLOWLY … we don’t even realize we’re going down the wrong path — until it’s too late. Until we burn out.

Why Standards Are the Answer

Fortunately, there’s a way out of that mess. And it all starts by making (and adhering to) a list of standards.

Think of standards as rules for our business. Not the bad kind of rules that limit our freedom. Instead, think of these as guiding principles that ensure our business remains healthy and sustainable.

Here’s the thing. Unless we have an objective measure to guide the day-to-day decision making in our business, it’s too easy to let our feelings and emotions take over.

And feelings and emotions are horrible “managers.” They’re way too subjective.

Standards, however, are very objective. They’re the ultimate litmus test. And if you adhere to them consistently, they’ll help you stay on track.

How to Set Your Own Standards

Start by brainstorming ideas. Take 30 – 60 minutes to write a big list of things you will and won’t do in your business.

As with any brainstorming exercise, don’t judge any of your ideas. Just write down whatever comes to mind. Try to come up with at least 1 or 2 pages of ideas.

To make it easier, write down every idea as a “I only ______” or “I don’t ________” statement. For example…

  • I do not provide free or “spec” work for any reason.
  • I charge a 25 percent premium for all rush jobs.
  • I do not begin work without 50 percent of the project fees paid up front.
  • I don’t write white papers or annual reports.
  • I don’t work for ad agencies.
  • I don’t answer the phone every time it rings. To speak with me, clients or prospects must first book an appointment.
  • I take every Friday afternoon off.
  • I take every July off from work to travel and be with my family.
  • I don’t do any work after 4:00 pm.
  • I don’t do work that requires me to sacrifice my weekends.
  • I only do work that’s in my target market.
  • I only accept projects where I can earn an internal hourly rate of $150 or higher.

Put everything you think of on paper. And don’t worry (yet) about how realistic they might be or how you’re going to possibly uphold that standard.

Once you’ve run out of ideas, put the list away for a day or two. You’ll likely think of a few more ideas later that day when you’re walking the dog or doing the dishes. That’s fine. Just jot them down and add them to your list.

Next, pare down your list so the whole thing fits on one page. Consolidate ideas as needed. Delete repetitive items. Boil it down to the few do’s and don’ts you simply cannot compromise on.

That’s it. Now you have a list of standards!

How to Make Them Work

Two final thoughts. First, it’s important that you review your list weekly. I suggest doing that Monday mornings as you set your weekly goals and plan your week.

If you don’t review it, you’ll forget what’s on your list and you risk slipping back.

Second, it’s OK if you must make an exception here or there. Life happens.

But the purpose of your list of standards isn’t 100% compliance. The purpose is to have an objective measure for making good decisions.

As long as you understand that you’re making an exception (and WHY you’re making that exception), you’ll be OK.

The important thing is to not make “exception-making” the norm. Otherwise you risk slipping back and making the old ways the new normal.

Go ahead. Start your list today. And let’s get you on a path to greater freedom and fulfillment.


By the way … whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you grow your freelance business:

1. Grab a free copy of my training class for writers who are new to freelancing.
It’s called “The 3 Magic Levers: How to Get Your Writing Business Off the Ground and Land Your First Paying Client.” Click Here

2. Download a free copy of my book for ESTABLISHED writers/copywriters.
You’ll discover how to quickly and predictably reawaken dead leads, generate new client opportunities and convert not-yet-ready prospects into freelance writing clients. — Click Here

3. Join our “Get Better Clients Academy”
You’ll get a personalized action plan based on where you are today in your business. Plus all the tools, scripts, checklists, cheat sheets and templates you’ll need to escape feast-or-famine … grow your income … and land clients who love and respect you. — Click Here

4. Get your website DONE!
If you’ve been struggling to get your website done … or if you’re not happy with what you’ve got today… let my team and me build you a beautiful website for your writing business. We’ll do all the hard work! Email me at [email protected] … put “WEBSITE” in the subject line … and I’ll reply with the details.