This week, Facebook went down! Was your thumb twitching nervously all of Monday evening? Did you rush to update your Pinterest account or sign up for MailChimp? As everyone is reminded yet again of the dangers of building your business on borrowed land (i.e. relying on one company's apps as a source of leads and clients), this episode digs into some of the single points of failure that can arise in a freelance business. Specifically:
"You don’t ever want to be in a position where there’s a single point of failure in your business. You don’t want there to be a single tool or process where a glitch with that thing means your whole business grinds to a halt. So how can you spread your risk? "
-- Louise Shanahan
Louise Shanahan is a freelance health copywriter and health tech white paper writer. 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.
Hello friends, welcome back to 15 Minute Freelancer, or welcome for the first time, if you’ve never listened before. If you’re a regular listener and you enjoy this (which I hope you do, otherwise why are you regularly listening?) please do leave a review and subscribe, I really appreciate the love. I’m back after a cheeky week off podcasting. It’s funny how when you set yourself a goal to do something every week, it feels really bad to skip a week. Like when you promise yourself you’ll go to the gym four times a week and then if you end up only going twice you feel like you were slacking, but it’s actually still pretty good isn’t it? You’re still getting those reps in. Anyway, last week, when I didn’t have an episode ready to publish, I was super busy with various things and was going away to Aberdeen for a long weekend, I thought you know what, the world won’t end if I just miss a week. If I’m going to practice what I preach on this podcast, it really shouldn’t be a big deal for me to say I’m not going to stick to my plan one week. I always say on here that as a freelancer you get to decide how you run your business, and for me one of the most important benefits of being self-employed is having the freedom and flexibility to fit your work around your life, rather than the other way around, so I figure aha! That is the perfect lesson to share.
Sometimes you can't do All The Things. Sometimes you have to prioritise. Some things have to wait. It doesn’t mean you’re not still doing a brilliant job. So that was the wee freelancing nugget I shared on the twitters last week: it's OK to take a break!
But I’m back, and speaking of Twitter… this week Facebook went down! Did you notice? Did you care? Was your thumb twitching nervously all of Monday evening, or are you normal? I wonder how many people rushed to update their LinkedIn profiles and Pinterest accounts. I bet MailChimp subscriptions went up this week, as everyone realised it’s probably not a good idea to rely too much on a single corporation. This is actually what I want to talk about today.
Now, obviously there is a much wider conversation to have about all the issues with privacy and data security and influencing democracy and damaging mental health and all of that with these apps, and I’m hoping to have a special guest come on and talk about some of that sometime soon, but even if you would like to avoid using Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for those reasons, the reality is that for a lot of small business owners, using these apps feels like a bit of a business tax. It’s something a lot of people have to do even if they’d rather not. If you run FB or IG ads or you get a lot of your leads and clients through these apps, it can feel a bit daunting or unrealistic to say you’re going to quit without an obvious alternative.
I tell myself often that I will delete these accounts for various ethical reasons, but in all honesty, I have struggled to do so. WhatsApp is the main way I stay in touch with family and friends, I use Instagram a bit for work, though less so recently, and I have a FB account that I keep only really because there are some great communities on there that I don’t quite want to cut ties with yet. Although I noticed this week I hadn’t logged in for 10 months, so maybe I may as well quit. So while there are alternatives, at the moment, I’m still wandering the edges of the FB ecosystem. Luckily for me then, that when the lights went out on those apps earlier this week, it didn’t really affect me. But for a lot of businesses who rely on ads and organic traffic from those sites, or freelancers who get most of their clients through Instagram, people who run FB communities, I bet that was a hairy few hours.
I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of people talking about this was a reminder not to build your business on borrowed land. We know that if we rely on a third party for leads and traffic and clients, then we’re powerless in the event that they shut that off. If we rely on a particular tool, but we don’t control that tool, then we’re in quite a risky position if the person who owns that tool decides to get rid of it or even just change it in some way. Now, it’s not much help to be reminded of that when it’s actually happening and you DON’T yet have an alternative. But it’s a useful reminder not to rely on a single app or a single company.
If you’re a freelancer in a visual field, such as a photographer or designer, IG is probably a great way to showcase your work. But maybe it’s sensible to also have your own website where you host your portfolio yourself. If you get a lot of your leads through FB communities, it might be sensible to have an email list too, so you can contact those people through another route if you need to. If you’re a social media strategist or you work with clients on the social media side of things, how can you support those clients to future-proof their businesses in the event that the apps they rely on go down?
It feels like a bit of a contradiction – usually the advice is to niche down, to focus your services in one area – but if your very specific niche relies on a specific tool, you’re a freelance FB ads expert, for example, what happens if that industry or tool just disappears one day? Are you ready to pivot? Many businesses in hospitality and tourism experienced that last year, of course, with the pandemic.
And when we think about marketing our freelancing services, again, the advice is often to not worry about spreading yourself too thin and trying to be in all places at all times, and instead to get really good at one or two platforms or channels. But if you focus on a single channel for generating leads and that channel goes dark, you’re kind of screwed, aren’t you? How do you remain visible to the clients you want to connect with?
Now, I know we were only talking about these apps going down for a few hours this week, it’s hardly the end of the world, but the broader point is that you have no control over them. You don’t ever want to be in a position where there’s a single point of failure in your business. You don’t want there to be a single tool or process where a glitch with that thing means your whole business grinds to a halt. So how can you spread your risk? I’m not saying you need to be active on every platform and have a website and an email newsletter and a Youtube channel and a podcast or whatever. It’s just a reminder that if your business relies on people finding you to hire you, you need to make it consistently easy for them to find you, and easy for you to communicate with them. It’s a balance. You don’t want or need to be everywhere at once and spreading yourself too thin, but equally, you don’t want to end up in a blackout if the one or two channels you rely on go dark at the same time. Which, when one company dominates so much of the market, is entirely possible. So it makes sense to grow your audience on a platform that you own yourself, like an email list, even if you don’t really plan to use it often.
It also makes sense to own or look after your content too. It might be a total pain, but I think it’s useful to keep a copy of your posts somewhere. Think about how much great material you’ve posted on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram etc over the years – have you got a copy of it anywhere? Even copying and pasting your posts into a Google doc or spreadsheet or something to keep track of it means you can repurpose it in future. Otherwise you post it once and after a few hours it’s lost in the ether. And if for some reason the app you’re using has a real snafu, you might lose old posts forever. What a waste of all that work! There are various content scheduling apps and things like Zapier that could help with this – maybe you set up a Zap to send your Instagram posts to google drive or something.
Like I say, the point is about guarding against a single point of failure. So, for each tool that you use in your business – and think more broadly than social media – think about your email client, your website, your accounting software, Zoom, Calendly, all of it. If any of those tools were to fail for some reason, do you have a backup plan? I’m not trying to make you panic! Or rather, maybe I’m encouraging you to feel a tiny pinch of panic now, rather than an avalanche of panic later when. I dunno, you’re about to start a live webinar and your screen goes blue.
Another point that popped into my mind this week when I was thinking specifically about how we as freelancers can future proof our businesses for the possibility of our favourite tools or apps failing, was what happens if it’s not the tools that go down, but it’s YOU? What happens if your business relies on you showing up every day, doing all the client work and admin tasks, posting content relentlessly, keeping all the information in your head. What if you need a day off, or you get sick, or there’s an emergency of some sort, or, you know, you want to have a life outside of work? Are YOU the single point of failure in your business? For a lot of self-employed people, the answer is probably yes. Argh! It sounds stressful, but actually we can make plans for this quite easily. For example, if you have a virtual assistant, you can give them access to your password manager so they have access to your tools and apps so they can take care of any emergencies in the event that you’re offline. You can make your content marketing easier by using social media scheduling tools, so you’re not committed to posting on the fly every day or every week. What I should do with this podcast, if I really want to commit to posting every week, is to record a bunch in advance. I do mean to, honest! And when it comes to client work, have you got other people you could outsource to in an emergency, that you know will do a great job in your absence? Have you got provisions in your contracts for building in a bit of extra time if you need it?
All of this future-proofing and worst-case-scenario-planning will be different for all of us, and the likelihood of these things happening is pretty low, so I don’t want you to be worrying unduly about this – lets keep it in perspective – these companies don’t want their apps to be out of use any more than we do. But it’s just another reminder to make sure we build a freelance business that has a little bit of order and organisation behind the scenes, so we’re not flying by the seat of our pants every day. I don’t think you need a full-on risk assessment, although by all means do that if you’re so inclined, and actually now as a former civil servant I’m thinking, hmm, maybe that’s not such a bad idea… but with solid processes and a bit of a back-up plan, you can have a freelance business that runs smoothly even in the event of unforeseen fiascos.
I hope this given you some food for thought, and if you have any questions or comments, please drop me a note on memo.fm/15 or find me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Ok! That’s all for today, see you next time!
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 answered on the podcast find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing!