We’ve all heard the idea that you need to work on your business, as well as in it.
Getting this balance right is so crucial if you want to be a successful freelancer in the longterm, and do more than just survive.
Freelancing can involve spinning countless plates at the same time. The key thing to be able to do, however, is to identify which plates you actually should be spinning in the first place, and which you should be leaving alone.
This is tough on a day-to-day basis, as you fight fires, deal with clients, and do the work that earns you the money to pay your bills.
Actually taking the time to step back from the day-to-day activities, and assess your business objectively so you can see how to improve it and move forward, is something that all freelancers know they should be doing, but few do consistently.
Because of this, goals get missed, values get lost and stagnation tends to set in.
It’s so easy to get blown off course when you’re swamped with client work, or when you’re putting in the hours into marketing and seeing no immediate return.
This is where the Compass Rule – productivity system for freelancers – comes in.
What is the Compass Rule
I know how easy it is to lose track of your business’s direction. It happened to me when I first went freelance.
A couple of years slipped by in a blink of an eye, and I’d barely progressed my business from what it was on the day I started out.
I was locked in a feast to famine cycle.
My marketing and admin screeched to a halt when my client work grew, meaning I’d have barren months, lying awake, wondering when the next leads would come in.
I lost confidence and lost my enthusiasm for this lifestyle.
Then, one day towards the end of this period, I stayed up all night working on a huge client project.
As the sun rose in the morning, before my 9AM deadline, I felt the elation of finally finishing it – only to be suddenly hit by the unique dread that comes with having no active clients and no idea where the next cheque will come from.
After two months of intense, all-consuming work, I suddenly had none at all. I realised that this cycle couldn’t be right – so I decided that something had to change.
I went freelance to live life on my terms, and to enjoy the flexibility and freedom of being in control of my life and my work.
So I decided to step back and make a small change that would add up exponentially creating a huge shift over time.
I discovered the magic of the Compass Rule.
Staying on Track
We all know that goals and targets can be helpful.
We know there are habits we should be following and wise advice that we should be implementing.
But without reminding ourselves constantly of what we should be focussing on and the lessons we should be following, we drift off-track.
We suddenly remember this wisdom the next time we are forced to take a break and look at our business from a distance.
The Compass Method is built on an incredibly simple idea.
Running a freelance business is like sailing a ship.
If you don’t know where you want to go or have a vague idea of your destination, then you will get blown off course – and you could end up anywhere.
Navigating the journey
This is where the compass comes in.
Even with a defined destination, a ship will start to drift off course without constantly checking in with its compass, to confirm that it’s on track.
A small deviation from the correct direction will have minimal impact in the short term. But, this lack of direction multiplies exponentially throughout a long journey.
If a ship’s compass is even one or two degrees off what it should be, then that ship could land on a different continent altogether when it should be arriving.
To avoid this, ships are constantly evaluating, and making micro-adjustments. Taking stock of the circumstances – the winds and currents – in that moment, and tweaking their heading accordingly.
You can take this exact principle and apply it to your freelance journey. If you are not constantly evaluating your course, and making small adjustments, then you will start to drift – and you can lose years in the process.
The problem for most of us, is that we only check in on our business and our goals – every once in a while.
The Compass Method provides a simple framework, which you can start using straight away to get control of your freelance business and define its future.
And once that future has been defined, you will check in on it regularly, ensuring you stay on course and can make adjustments in a flexible, agile way.
Define your destination
The Compass Method is a simple system, ludicrously simple in-fact, but its effects are profound.
It helped – and still helps me – to stay positive, motivated, and moving forward.
And it can help you too.
So first, you need to think about your long-term goals, and what you actually want in the future.
This will be the destination you are aiming for – so be ambitious but realistic. Don’t rush this part. Really think about what you actually want, and the kind of life that you want to live.
Next, you will define your Vision. Your reason for embarking on this journey in the first place. Money can be a valid reason, but running a successful freelance business is about much more than just money.
You will need something that you believe in, something that will keep you going through the dark days and something and which makes it all worthwhile.
These values will filter through your business, and help you to stay motivated and inspired.
This vision should align with your values as a person. Your business should be personal.
Waypoints / Goals
Now you know your destination, and the reason why you’re making this journey, it’s time to start breaking things down a little and getting practical.
In the method, I ask you to define your Waypoints. These are essentially medium-term goals. Hit them, and you’re on track. Miss them and you need to change something.
Rather than thinking annually, which often leads to slow progress and then a sudden burst of activity as the deadline approaches, thinking quarterly creates a great balance between healthy deadline pressure and having enough time to get serious projects done and make real progress.
Quarterly goals and assessments also give you a chance to reassess and reposition depending on what’s happening at the time.
Look at 2020 for example. Few of the painstakingly crafted annual goals devised in boardrooms across the country have remained relevant following the events of March and beyond.
The Compass Method allows you to completely pivot and redefine your goals in the face of this kind of external challenge and unexpected event.
So next, we define our top three strategic goals that we want to hit to know we’re moving in the right direction and to confirm that our bearings are correct.
These will be the three most valuable things you can do with this time. Make them challenging, but achievable.
You might be tempted to add more, but stick to three. This will force you to think hard about them and decide what is a real priority, and what will help you move towards your longer-term goals.
Now we will break things down even further. Look at your three waypoints, and for each one break down the specific actions you need to take to achieve them.
These may be one-off tasks, or they may be things you need to do on a daily or weekly basis.
Try not to go over ten in total.
We don’t want to go over this number because you will need to leave space for the other things that you have to do – like client work, for example.
You need to make these must do’s challenging but achievable. They should be activities that will clearly move you forwards towards your waypoints.
Once you’ve done this, you have the blueprints for success.
Follow these steps and you will be moving towards your goals and destination each and every day.
So it’s pretty simple right? And this is where most productivity and strategy models stop.
But I know things aren’t that simple. Because you have a human brain in your head, and we know that our brains and thoughts do not necessarily cooperate with our best intentions.
All freelancers spend time building their skills, but the most fundamental skill that will affect your success is your mindset.
So The Compass Method also has a section to help you bolster and improve your mindset – keeping it on track and focussed.
This is broken down into three parts.
Here you can add the most gushing praise you have received from clients.
Most of us ask for references and then never look at them again, or post them on our websites.
Reminding yourself that real people value your work, enough to write praise about you, can give you a real confidence boost when you need it.
It may seem cheesy, but find a couple of quotes that really motivate or inspire you. Some quotes, ideas and concepts can instantly remind us of certain truths and ideas that can change your mindset in a moment.
You may have some of your own already, but if you’re not reminding yourself of them, you will forget them when you need their lessons the most.
Look back over the last 6-12 months and write down some of the things that you have achieved.
We often feel inferior when comparing ourselves to others, but the only person you can compare yourself to is yourself in the past. Looking back like this is a timely reminder that you are moving forward and are actually making progress.
Staying on track
We now have all of the ingredients we need for success.
If you could truly ingest and keep all of this information, and keep it present in your mind at all times, you would feel a lot more motivated, inspired and confident in everything you do.
You would stay focussed on what is actually important, compare yourself to your past self only, and see the real progress you are making.
The problem is, we lose focus and forget these key pieces of information as we get sucked into our business and client work.
Weekly Direction Checks
That’s why the key to the Compass Method is the weekly Direction Checks.
Every Monday morning you will block out 15 minutes and pull out this document, so you can set your weekly tasks, and remind yourself of what’s inside.
This is your compass check.
This is the process that will allow you to set your mindset, and make the tiny adjustments required to maintain high efficiency, stay on track and avoid drifting away from your goals and values.
Each morning you should also spend 5 minutes looking at your mindset boosts.
I find it helps to write them on a new sheet of paper each day. You can do this above your daily to-do list.
This daily reminder will help to cement these ideas in your mind and subconscious. This is a technique recommended by Brian Tracy, in the classic book The Power of Self Confidence.
Having these ideas, and positive comments in your brain will help you to spot new opportunities when they arise, and help you to be more positive and take the right actions.
I’ve found it can really help you to be clear on what you actually want over a long period of time.
There is one final component to the method – Accountability.
On Mondays, during your Direction Check, you will set yourself the goals that you need to hit to remain on track.
On Friday afternoon, you can then look back and assess whether you’ve hit them or not.
Accountability will be key to this. This is why we encourage you to join our Facebook group here.
On Monday’s our members post their list of core tasks for the week, and then on Friday’s we have to rank ourselves, whether we’ve achieved what we said we would or not.
Even this commitment – putting your goals out there in public – can have a massively positive effect.
So join now, and get started this Monday.
In the group, you can also download a free template to help you get your head around the method, and start experiencing its benefits, right away.
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