Forget those "find your purpose" pdf worksheets that get forgotten about as soon as you hit save and get back to the day job – this episode will help you figure out what really drives your business so you can transform it from ticking along to truly thriving.
Matt Saunders, former freelance web designer and creator of the Freelance Business Builder, shares how finding his vision set him on the path to building a successful and scalable business.
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, everyone, Louise Shanahan here, and today we are going to dive into a topic that is probably quite easy to ignore but could actually make the difference between a freelance business that merely survives and ticks along and one that's truly thriving, and that is having a vision for what you want your business to look like. And who better to help us break this down than Matt Saunders who is the creator of the Freelance Business Builder. Hi, Matt, thank you for joining me.
Matt: Hey, Louise, thanks for having me.
L: When we hear words like vision, and strategy, and purpose, these can often feel a bit like something that might be a better fit for a bigger business and maybe a bit grand and highfalutin for a company of one, but that's not really the case, is it? I wonder to start if you could share why you think it's important for freelancers to have a vision for their business, and perhaps what led you to that epiphany yourself?
M: I spent many years being self-employed, feeling quite directionless. I remember I was working with my brother at the time, and we had a little design agency, and we were doing some nice work for some reasonable clients. But I remember we were talking one day about where is this going? What's the bigger picture? What are we building towards? And it took me many years to really figure out how to even approach answering that question. I think at the time, looking back, I would have said that the vision and the mission and the purpose, and all these kind of grandiose sounding things were more the preserve of bigger businesses, corporations, or maybe people who were just operating at a higher level than how I saw myself at that time. But then I kind of realised just how important it is. I decided to change my website design offering to support small non-profits. The reason for that was I went to a few different events in my local area and I saw the work that they were doing, and I was thinking, there's an opportunity here to find a bit more meaning in the work that I'm doing, I want to use my skills to have some kind of impact. I started approaching the idea of modelling my whole offering, basically niching into working with those organisations. And that enabled me to create a vision for the business. Once I had that idea, it didn't need to be this kind of well thought out plan, it was just a vision, literally what am I going to work towards here? Once I had that kind of end in mind, it enabled me to build the business and the steps towards making that happen?
L: What would you say some of the differences are between a business with a vision and one without? Is it as straightforward as you just have a clear direction of what you're working towards or is there more to it than that?
M: To be honest, I think that's probably all there is to it. But the impact that it has on your life is quite significant because it gives you a reason for, I was gonna say getting out of bed in the morning, but that sounds a bit much, depends really how deep you want to go with it. But for me, it kind of helped to articulate what I was doing on a daily basis. And it also helped me to align myself with my clients and get closer to them. So as a designer, developer, for example, there's often tension in the creative process between clients and what they want and their opinions and the different stakeholders and the conflicts that people have, and all that sort of stuff. What helped me to kind of overcome a lot of that was to have a shared purpose. I could see what these organisations were trying to achieve, and I was trying to help them to achieve it. So because of that, we could put our petty differences aside, we're all on the same side. I think a lot of the problems that small businesses and freelancers have is that there's a big gap between themselves and their client, and that in that void, that's where tensions and misunderstandings can arise. If you can integrate purpose and meaning into your business that is aligned with that of your clients, that gap closes, and all of a sudden the work that you're doing, it's higher quality and projects just run more peacefully.
L: I wonder if there's something there about it helping you resolve internal conflicts as well. Not just maybe miscommunications or misalignment with your clients or other people that you're working with. But maybe if there are situations that come up where you're not quite sure what to do, or you're facing a challenge or an obstacle in your business and having a vision could be a way to help you get through that and keep going, a reason to keep going.
M: Definitely, it gives you a kind of guiding principle. It helps you to make decisions that are in line with where you want to go. I think of just a solo business owner standing at a crossroads and there's no real reason to go down either one of those routes. I find I've personally done this, and I find a lot of other people do, they'll go partway down one of the routes, and then run back, and then they'll go down another route, and then they'll run back again. And we don't give things the time and effort and consistency and persistence that's needed to actually reach any level of success. And I think having that purpose, having some sort of guiding principle, enables you to go down one of those routes, and stick to it. And it's like you say, it kind of helps you to overcome those internal conflicts with the business as well. Because when you really know what you're trying to achieve, and who you're trying to support and who you're trying to serve, it helps you to make decisions on which platform should I be on? What's my messaging? Should I try paid advertising? Or should I go this route? Instead of trying bits and pieces, and largely failing at all of them, which, you know, I've been through extensive periods of that, there's a lot of learning there, for sure. But I think if you want to build something that's scalable, having that underlying reason for its existence is really important.
L: I'm just thinking about the difference between a vision and a purpose. Could you maybe say a little bit about that, just to make sure that we have those things clear in our minds?
M: Yeah, these words, they all sound kind of similar, don't they? And they all conjure up these nice feelings. For me, the purpose is almost like the mission. It's the reason why you're doing something. The vision is, what does the world look like when that mission has been accomplished? It’s what change are you trying to effect on a larger scale through your personal/business mission?
L: That's helpful. So it's kind of like the vision is the what, and the purpose is the why?
M: Yeah, you answered that a lot quicker than I did.
L: You're right, we do hear these words quite a lot, and I'm wondering if you've got any thoughts on how we actually figure out what these things are. How do we actually figure out what our purpose and our vision is? Because it seems like it would be very easy to pick the obvious things like, my purpose is to support my family, or to do work that we love, or to contribute to our community. And I wonder if there's a tendency for people to feel like they have to see something socially acceptable, rather than something straightforward, like, I want to make money. I wonder if you've got any thoughts on how freelancers can figure out a purpose or a vision that genuinely means something to them?
M: For me, purpose is like a gradient. And it's also changeable. It's something that can change throughout your life with your experiences. But also, you know, you're not either purpose driven or you're not, I think there are different levels. For me, it's about what gives you inspiration. One of the ways that I've used to kind of work this out, there's two kind of two steps to it. One of them is to look back at your own personal history, your own stories, if you like, and ask yourself a few questions such as, when have I been empowered? Or when have I felt respected? When have I done my best work? And try and write down what's happened for you there. Then from that, you can begin to understand what's important to you, what your values are, and what your value system looks like. Then I find once you know that you've got a better idea of the kind of work that you want to do and the sort of people who you want to support. Because I think that's what a lot of this comes down to, you know, people talk about niching and purposeful business as spotting a gap in the market and then filling it with some service or product that hasn't been created yet, or doing it better. And that's absolutely fine. But I think if you really want to do it with intrinsic motivation, it helps to look at yourself and find what's driving you and then find other people who are trying to do something similar, or to do something different but you can support them in a way with your skills, that for me, that's how you find the purpose. It's more about the people than anything, I think, because that's where you're gonna get your inspiration.
L: I'm wondering, when it comes to pursuing our purpose and realising our vision, sometimes there might be obstacles that come up along the way. And sometimes those obstacles can be tricky, we may not even realise that they're there, we're just feeling some sort of resistance. I wonder if you've got any thoughts on how we identify and overcome obstacles to realising our vision?
M: Work with a coach!
L: I like what you did there.
M: Genuinely. I mean when I talked earlier about stories, you know, there's lots of experiences that we've all had in our lives that give us a lesson, teach us to do something or to avoid something else. And for me, if you want to embark on something bigger or something new, then that often involves resetting, to some degree, your biases, your negative experiences and your assumptions about something. And working with a coach will help to highlight some of those blocks that you mentioned, and then push them aside. You can't really move forward if there's a block in your way. If you're struggling with, like preconceived ideas about a particular industry, for example, like charities, people think, oh, there's no money there or they're not business savvy, so I don't want to work with them. And that's not true. I've met some amazing people that are incredibly motivated and talented and with the right approach, they can unlock the funding to get their stuff done. And if I'd have let that belief that that I'd had, and things that I've heard other people tell me about, you know, why would you want to work with a charity there's no money in that sector. You know, not that I was going in it for the money but obviously we all need to have an income to build a business. But the point is to remove those blocks, you need to spend some time with yourself, and ideally an objective third party who will be able to see those blocks and help you move them aside. You can't really get that from your partner or your friends, you can't really do it on your own, because your brain will keep you safe by not allowing you to look at things once your brain has created little safety nets around the place. There's a reason for that, the blocks exist because the brain has put them there from past experiences, so if you can find a way to remove those blocks, then everything will open up. And you don't find your purpose, you don't find a mission, unless you're open to it.
L: I love that idea of your brain creating these little safety nets for you and stopping you from maybe thinking about different ways of doing business and challenging assumptions. And this reminds me of something that you mentioned when we spoke before about how you had made an intentional shift in your business from focusing on inbound leads and having clients come to you to being more intentional about outbound leads. I wonder if you could say a bit more about that because that feels like that would be a good example there?
M: I spent many years just marketing myself as a web developer, or a web designer, or WordPress designer, whatever. And, you know, there's no point of difference there, really, so what’s the message that you take out there? I spent quite a lot of time sending cold messages to people introducing myself in that way. And obviously, it didn't resonate, because it was a scattergun approach with nothing to kind of underpin it. Whereas if you have an identified client, and you know what their pain points and their aspirations are, and you have modelled some sort of offer around that, that is an amazing starting point for a conversation. And if you know, if you believe, that you can help solve their problems, from a mindset perspective it makes cold outreach so much easier. Because you're not constantly thinking, oh, am I interrupting this person, am I gonna get ignored, am I gonna get rejected, am I gonna get blocked, and all these kinds of things. You know, people say they hate sales, and yet at the same time we all actually sell, like we all have to sell and we all do it, so why hate it? I would say embrace it, and to embrace it you have to have, I personally believe, structure behind you of who am I targeting specifically, what specifically am I helping them with, and tuning into my own belief if I genuinely believe I can help them, which I do, why would I not reach out to them?
L: Thank you Matt, that's been so helpful, I definitely want to go back and listen to this again, I think there's loads in here. Where can people find out more about what you're up to, your current projects, anything to announce?
M: Thank you, Louise. I've just literally launched a course this morning called the Freelance Business Builder, which actually talks a lot about this stuff, mindset, strategy, and a lot of it is based on my own experience and learnings. You can get to that at mattsaunders.uk/course/fbb.
L: That's great, we'll put that in the show notes. Yeah, I like that it feels like a shift in how we see ourselves from being just a freelancer in quotes to being a business owner. And it's this kind of support that we need to do that, isn't it?
M: Yeah, definitely. There's definitely a growth curve here, and one that I've been through myself. And that's why I do what I do now because I want to help other people through that same process.
L: Well, speaking of purpose, exactly.
L: Thanks, everyone for listening. And just a wee reminder to please leave a review, or share this episode with a friend if you find this helpful and you think they might benefit from it too. All right, thank you, everybody, and until next time, happy freelancing.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.