In this episode, Stefan and Mohammed talk about how Canadian freelancers can build a pipeline of clients that enables them to start working full-time on their business.
Heads up: This episode has swears.
Short on time? Skip to the parts you're most interested in.
[00:56] Getting started with freelancing
[08:53] Rebooting after a company-wide layoff
[12:57] Stefan's Five Fucks
[15:16] Growing your side business
[20:51] Driver for writing The 50 Laws of Freelancing
[25:01] Managing multiple businesses at once
[29:28] Keeping your client pipeline full
[32:16] Things to keep in mind when building your pipeline
[33:27] Considerations for building out loud
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Mohammed: Let's get started. What do you do as a freelancer?
Stefan: I am a freelance writer. I started out just writing for people and have since evolved into more of [an expert on] the whole content lifecycle; content strategy, ideation, creating, editing, and even helping a little bit with the distribution — that's something that's relatively new for me.
Getting into freelancing was a bit of an accident in the sense that I actually tried to start a tech company in 2015, but I majored in sociology and women's studies and the only coding I know is the sum function on Excel. So, that didn't go that well and I was hurting for cash, honestly. I was nearly broke at the time because I spent all of my own money to try to bootstrap the company. It didn't bring in any revenue and I really, really needed the cash.
I was approached by Doug Soltys who was and is the Editor in Chief of BetaKit and I just pitched myself. I said, “I can do a bit of writing. I had done some content marketing for the business and while it didn't end up generating clients, it actually wasn't a failure of the content. It was a different failure.”
He read my stuff and said, “Okay, I'll keep you in mind if I have anything.” And it wasn't until about two months later that he reached out and said, “One of our writers [is] sick, do you want to just cover this event? Are you free?” And it was the next day.
I absolutely was free [due to] being broke [and] not having a business to run. So, I went to the event and it was an interview with Satish Kanwar who at the time had just recently had his company, Jet Cooper, acquired by Shopify. Satish is now a senior-level executive at Shopify and has been there since the acquisition.
I interviewed him, covered the event and that was about it. Then Doug and the BetaKit team liked my writing and they liked how quickly I could produce [a story]. I produced an article about three hours after the events, which was, I didn't know at the time, very fast.
And so they said, “Do you want more work?” And I said, “Okay, yes. I'm broke. I'll take your money. Thank you.” And I wrote maybe four or five articles for BetaKit, nothing major. And then, I was on King West in Toronto, downtown at an event, and someone cornered me and goes, “Wait, are you Stefan from BetaKit?” And I [remember], ‘Oh my God. Did I write something bad about you? Please don't hurt me. Like we're in public. You have to control yourself,’ quickly going through my head but I said, “Yeah, I am. What's up?” And he goes, “I love your writing. Can I please pay you to write for me?”
I was shocked! At that time, I was making a little bit of money. I was doing a tiny bit of consulting and was job hunting. But, of course, I was still paying off some debts from the failed company. So without even thinking, I responded, ”Yes, I'll take your money.”
And that's actually how I started my freelance business in 2017. It was a very crazy experience. Shortly thereafter, someone who I had actually pitched to be a client of the first company [who had] politely declined, emailed me after I got this freelance business going that I hadn't told anyone about and goes, “I hear you're a consultant. Can you help me?”
And so I actually ended up really, luckily, closing my first $1000 of business before I even had registered the business. I thought, “Okay, I should probably register this thing.” And I took myself to MaRS, the innovation center in Toronto. I got on the wifi and I just sat through every page of Government of Canada documentation on registering a business.
And, I registered [the business in] April 2017. And that is the long story of how I got myself into freelancing.
It was actually an interesting serendipitous moment. I got laid off that morning and then that afternoon I closed a freelance client. I had a call booked anyway, that I was going to sneak off and take, and I got the client.
Mohammed: That is quite the adventure. What's [been] going on [since then]? How's business?
Stefan: Business is good. You know, knock on wood. I'm incredibly grateful. I have been really lucky to have the vast majority of my business be inbound. I ran the company as a side hustle for two years from April 2017 to January 2019 [while] I was working. I [got] a job at a tech startup [because] I needed stable employment income to help me pay off some debts.
[I needed to] rebuild my financial life after the failed business, so I [freelanced] as a side hustle. The thing that really helped me was being incredibly focused on what I did. I based my [business] off the stuff that I did with BetaKit; that was my first client. I still got to work with them and they were able to send me to amazing events and give me access to interview some amazing entrepreneurs and business executives and government folks that helped me build some of my initial networks as a writer.
I actually got all these clients inbound asking me to write for them and sometimes even edit for them. And that's how I started expanding my offerings. It was pretty much just whatever clients had a budget for. And so it went well. And then I actually ended up joining who was at the time my biggest client.
So, I had my full-time job, I had secured this big client, and I was going to use them as my anchor client to go out on my own. I was actually planning to leave my full-time job at the end of 2017, early 2018 and go full-time because the business had actually exploded.
Then I closed the $1000 client. And by the end of 2017, I actually hit my job income. I matched my income with my business one month. I was feeling high and mighty [but] what ended up happening was that that large client said, “We don't think we want to keep working with you as a freelancer anymore, but we really like you. Would you like to join?”
They gave me an offer to join as a full-time employee and I decided to take it. My gut was kind of mixed — I didn't really know what I wanted at the time. [But] I took the job and it was a really interesting experience. I was there for just under a year — February 2018 to January 2019.
I was running my business as a side hustle throughout that whole time, but I had wound it down a little bit, turning away clients because I wanted to focus on this job. And then unfortunately in January 2019, I actually got laid off. The company did a mass layoff and I was unfortunately impacted, but that was the moment I said [to myself], “You know what? I'm going to struggle through it and I'm going to build this business because I don't want to have to go through this experience again.”
It was actually an interesting serendipitous moment. I got laid off that morning and then that afternoon I closed a freelance client. I had a call booked anyway, that I was going to sneak off and take, and I got the client.
I think the client at the time was maybe $500, just a small project. And I was like, ‘This is groceries for the month. I can eat. Problem solved.’ And I went from there. So it's been really good. That's not to say it hasn't had some low moments, but on the whole, it has been such an amazing experience that led to a lot of really good things in 2019. [I grew] the business full-time, [became] more sustainable and, in the end, I started giving away free consulting sessions and that's actually how you and I got in touch.
[I wanted to] offer as many of the lessons that I had learned as possible, and that became my new method of building my network because I wasn't attending events all the time like I had been in 2017 and 2018. And through giving advice and getting the feedback that it was valuable and starting to really think consciously through all of the lessons that I had learned, those notes all came together and informed my book, The 50 Laws of Freelancing. So, it's been quite a journey so far and I'm so grateful for the opportunities that I've had.
Mohammed: You said how when you were laid off from your full-time work, that was not an experience you wanted to have again and so you decided to just double down on freelancing. What was it about that experience that you didn't want?
I suppose many people, especially now with COVID, have been laid off and they're looking for work again. But obviously, for you, there was something about being laid off that [was] just not an experience you wanted to have happen again.
Stefan: Yeah. So, it was [a few] things and only one of them was the literal layoff experience. I'd worked for a few companies in my career to that date and didn't really have the best experience. And I don't mean to blame the companies. They had their positives and negatives as every company does and I definitely had some responsibility for my own experience that I didn't necessarily take ownership of at the time. So, I had some individually bad experiences as an employee and it just wasn't the best vibe for me. I was always the employee who was questioning everything and just poking around and asking why something doesn't work and, in some cases, just not really understanding how corporations work sometimes. I think that was a function of both being young and being a little hardheaded.
Then came the actual layoff experience which, for anyone who's been laid off, just sucks. I don't know that I've spoken to any person who's ever been laid off that went, “Oh yeah. That was a really pleasant experience. I'd love to do that again next week.” It's really painful on a few levels. [On a personal level, you tend to ask], ‘Why me?’ But I've learned to just never ask that question.
You never get the closure that you're actually seeking. Then there are the mechanics of being laid off. There's something embarrassing about walking out of an office with a box: everybody knows what that means. And so there's the visual element that is really hard to mitigate even when the company offers to mail your stuff instead of forcing you to walk out. Which, in this case, that employer actually did. But then, it was written about in the media and it's like, “Well, okay. We all know.”
But the other part of this was thinking consciously about what I actually want in my career. When I hit rock bottom, after my business failed, I made up this system called ‘My Five Fucks.’
The gist of the system was [that I would] write down the things that I actually want and that I actually value and the things that I say that I value as well. And then from there, writing down some action items that, if I do those action items, I'm living like I care about the things that I say I care about.
I made that system at the beginning of 2017/end of 2016 when my business was failing. It had taken a long time, but at that moment, I had lost most of my money, as I said. I was very overweight; I was about 75 pounds overweight. I was dealing with some mental health issues and depression, and it just was not a fun time. [But] I started to see a lot of improvement from the system. I actually wrote about that in my newsletter, Remotely Inclined.
But come 2019, when I got laid off, I look back on those Fucks and I just [think], ‘Is being an employee actually going to get me what I want? Is the action of being an employee, living like I care about those things that I say I want in my life?’ And the short answer for me was, ‘No.’ There are many great things about being an employee, but it didn't drive towards what I fundamentally wanted.
I needed entrepreneurship. And that was the ultimate decision; to say the struggles of entrepreneurship are preferable for me to the struggles of being an employee.
The emergency fuck was always about making sure that my baseline wasn't full capacity. I knew from the experience with my business, that there would always be life's little emergencies that pop up. And if I didn't create capacity for that from the start, I wouldn't be able to deal with emergencies. They would compound and ruin me.
Mohammed: And of those ‘Five Fucks’, what would be an example?
Stefan: I actually have the same five categories no matter what: physical health, mental health, financial health, relationships, and what I call the emergency fuck. I did that based on the core challenges that I was facing at the time, but if you look at those four categories, that's pretty much how you interact with the world: your body, your mind, your wallet, and your relationships.
I developed it out and it was super generic. For physical health, it was ‘just look good.’ It was all that I could muster at the time. And then for financial health, it was ‘completely reset my foundation within three years.’ You know, I was in debt, I'd spent a lot of money, et cetera. So, I wanted to make that tangible. From there, it was just little actions. It was ‘save a little bit more every month.’ So, if I put away a $100, the next month I had to put away $101, you know, it doesn't have to be this enormous multiple. It just has to be more [because] I want to set the habit of saving more.
As for physical health, it was ‘get to the gym two times a week’ and that manifested. Those were just a couple of casual examples. And then the emergency fuck was always about making sure that my baseline wasn't full capacity. I knew from the experience with my business, that there would always be life's little emergencies that pop up. And if I didn't create capacity for that from the start, I wouldn't be able to deal with emergencies. They would compound and ruin me. Then I wouldn't be able to take advantage of opportunities.
For example, my whole financial state was focused on my job at the time because that was going to be [the] driver of resetting my life. But it was my emergency fuck that allowed me to fulfill a side hustle business because I had that extra 20% capacity allocated to my business which helped me grow it on the side and not have to worry because I knew that my job was taken care of already.
Mohammed: The other thing I also want to understand is that you mentioned as you had your full-time work, your emergency fuck was supported or being satisfied by your side business. How did you grow that side business?
Stefan: Completely inbound, actually. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm very grateful and lucky that I've never really had to send a cold pitch. What I found was the most impactful for me in terms of building my inbound funnel was three things: one was my one-liner. And what I mean by that is a super simple way to both describe myself and be described.
And I think that's something that a lot of freelancers or even just entrepreneurs can mess up. I know that I did a lot. So when I first started learning about it, it was all, talk about who you help and talk about this extra thing and talk about the impact you're making on the world. And that ended up with a very odd caption like, “I'm helping businesses change the world with content.”
And, you know, it's super not real. That might be correct. And that might be how I feel about what I'm doing and that may be my ultimate vision, but [it’s] not very tangible. So I made [my pitch] far more specific and it was simple.
I just said, “I write content for scaling tech startups.” That was the first one-liner that I found really worked. The reason that I think it worked was that it made it really easy to describe myself quickly. So, at an event or in a Twitter chat or something like that, it's super simple.
It doesn't require a lot of characters, but then also it's conversational in nature so that you, as an example, could think about me and think, ‘Oh yeah, Stefan's the startup writer guy.’ And so it made referrals and inbounds really easy because other people could casually talk about me. And I've actually been on multiple sales calls where the people have been like, “I heard about you from this other person who heard about you from a client.”
So, it wasn't even direct referrals, but second-order referrals because the way that I describe myself is incredibly easy to repeat. I basically thought about it from a customer success perspective of giving people the language that you want them to use and make it easy for them. Make sure that they don't have to think to support you. That was number one.
The second [way I grew my business] was getting involved. In 2017, I think I went to 200 tech events. I was out multiple nights a week. I set a rule that I wouldn't do more than one event in one night because I did that once and it was horrendous. But I was out three to five nights a week and I was doing everything that I possibly could.
And when I couldn't afford to pay for the events I offered to volunteer for the events. And that way helped a little bit, I'd show up and move chairs or something and they would let me in. So, when I was really broke and couldn't afford it, that was a great way to do it. And then when I didn't go to events quite as much, I stayed as involved as I could on social media. I offered free consulting sessions. I try to maintain conversations with people as often as I can and still [go] to events. And now, with COVID, it's just all online.
So, I made up my one-liner and that was number one. But then I actually had to go talk to people about my one-liner and eventually got to a point where people would say, “Oh, you're Stefan. I've seen you enough or heard of you enough.”
And then the third [way] was actually asking for referrals the right way. And what I realized was asking for a referral is fundamentally asking for a favour.
If I go, “Hey Mohammed, I would love [it] if you could refer some business my way.” I'm fundamentally asking you for a favour. Even if I'm going to compensate you, even if there's an affiliate commission or something to that effect, I'm asking you to spend your social capital on me. And that's not to say you wouldn't, and that's not to say that people aren't happy to do it, but it's not a value-add relationship.
You're doing something for me and I didn't like that notion. I didn't want to ask people to do things for me. I genuinely believed that I could help people. So, I reframed my ask and instead of saying, “Hey Mohammed, could you please refer someone to me?” I would just say, “Hey Mohammed, if you know any startups that need help with content, I'd be happy to help them.”
And maybe it was I'll offer a free consulting session or maybe it was simply just you know I write content for startups. So, if they need any help, let them know. And what I've found that did, was it would let the person that I'm talking to be a helper to someone else. So, instead of asking you to look out into your world, do some research on my behalf, pinpoint who you think would pay me money and then make a connection I'm instead saying just exist in your world and if someone is complaining about their content, you get to come in with a solution and say, “I actually know someone if you want an intro.”
So, that was one thing that I realized generated a lot more referrals. Not all of them worked out, which is okay. But by [empowering] someone to be a helper, as opposed to asking for someone for a favour, it generated a lot of wins for me. Those are the three things that were really the most impactful for building my inbound funnel and getting my clients.
They're also all three individual laws in my book, which if you do want to buy it, you can read about more in-depth, but that's the gist of it. I don't mean to say you have to buy the book to understand what I'm talking about.
When I was [researching] the freelance world when starting my own business, there was so much advice that was very correct, but not very applicable. Things like, “Be true to yourself.” Okay. Well, what does that actually mean? And how does it get me more business?
Mohammed: [...] I want to come back to understanding the whole building [of a] pipeline because I think what you've described is quite interesting and I want to dive a little deeper. But, in regards to 50 Laws of Freelancing, what was the driver behind writing that book?
Stefan: That's a great question. I have to give a lot of credit to a coach named Melanie Parish. I didn't actually hire her; I interviewed her. She wrote a book called The Experimental Leader and I interviewed her about that book. We were just talking about running experiments and removing a lot of pressure from yourself as an entrepreneur and saying, “What can you get done quickly that you'll see if you get some progress, you'll see if you like it, you'll see it if it helps your business?”
So, I was running these little experiments and parts of them were for my newsletter, Remotely Inclined, and it was like, ‘I'm going to try this style of writing. I'm going to add a share button to all of my articles and see if people share it more.’
And then it was about my blog, Pulse Blueprint, which is a small little blog about the workplace. And I thought, ‘Okay, I'll try these couple of things and see if I can generate some awesome contributor content so it's not just me talking on the blog.’ Then I decided to try a little bit bigger; I was reading another interesting book called Key Person of Influence. And it talked about this idea of writing a book and this idea of putting your thoughts down in a long-form way.
I had already been a writer for some time. I've been writing again since late 2016 and [have] been doing some pretty long-form content. What I realized was I had a lot of ideas and I wanted to focus on something. And so what became The 50 Laws of Freelancing was actually just going to be a [a long-form] blog post originally. I was going to aim for maybe 2000 words or something and write about the business as it actually operates.
And what I mean by that is all of the road-tested, practical things that I've learned in my own business that I have tested, that other people have shared with me, and that I have consulted with other freelancers on that worked. And it was always [through] the lens of ‘Did it achieve its stated outcome?’ Because when I was [researching] the freelance world when starting my own business, there was so much advice that was very correct, but not very applicable.
Things like, “Be true to yourself.” Okay. Well, what does that actually mean? And how does it get me more business? It's hard to be true to myself when I can't afford food. So, I just thought, ‘I'm just going start writing things down.’
I was thinking about this just before bed one night and I sent an email [to myself] with [notes] like, “Do this; don't do this; avoid this; here's a concern; here's something to think about.” And I think that email ended up hitting 37 bullet points. So, I thought, ‘This is either going to be more of an anthology or a serial or a multi-phase blog post or something.’
And I just went to bed and then a few days later I was like, ‘Wait, why don't I run an experiment and write a book?’ Because I already had so many of the points — I had 37, or I guess I'd actually [...] got up to like 42 or 43. And as I started thinking more, I could add a little more and add a little more and add a little more and I ended up hitting 50.
So the long and short of it was: it was an experiment and it was something that I did in small pieces where it was like, ‘Add as many things as I can think of right now. Outline it a little bit more. Write a little bit, a little bit, a little bit.’
[...] By [doing] those little steps, as frequently as I could with client work and such, it all came together pretty quickly. I'd been collecting this information for over a year via all these different data feeds that I mentioned, like consulting and such. So, that by the time I actually sat down to write, it came together in just a few months.
Mohammed: Wow. There's quite a lot there, but I think the biggest thing that stood out is how are you managing all of this when you have full-time freelance work? There is your Remotely Inclined publication. There is Pulse Blueprint. You have your consulting calls. And then of course you're also writing and somehow managing whatever social life that there is in COVID times.
How are you balancing all of this?
Stefan: Lots of coffee. Admittedly, part of this was the time that we got back in our lives with the COVID lockdown. I took real stock of the mini commutes. You know, I'm a remote worker, but I live in downtown Toronto. And sometimes I [would] go to a coworking space or visit a client site. And you realize that that takes up hours of your day.
So, I did get some time back and I did dedicate a lot of that time to writing. And that was just a circumstantial win and trying to make the best of a really crappy situation globally. But the other part of it was I considered this book my side project.
[Regarding] the Five Fucks method, this book was my emergency fuck. My financial fuck is dedicated to my job. My relationship fuck is dedicated to my partner that I've been with for over two years now. And between mental health and physical health, I'm working on different things and staying as in shape as possible without gyms.
[...] Any extra capacity I had, I just threw into the book. I was really okay saying [to myself], ‘I don't need to have this outline done this week. I'm going to give it all I have today. And if that's not complete, then I will give it all I have tomorrow and give it all I have the next day,’ And just being okay kind of giving myself permission to not follow a timeline.
Instead [I would ask myself], ‘Did I accomplish something? Have I moved forward?’ That [resulted in] two interesting [outcomes]. One: it activated my competitive spirit. I wanted to do more. So I'd be like, ‘How can I get more efficient?’
[Secondly], it provided the intrinsic energy that you get from accomplishment. When you accomplish something you want more accomplishments. So, I actually found energy; I found creativity. And the reason why I think that happened was a little bit of a guideline, I suppose, that I set for my business when the pandemic started.
I looked at what was going on with the pandemic. I was actually travelling when the global shutdown was announced so I had to rush to get an emergency flight home. And I thought, ‘If this is going to be my life now, I am not doing anything that I don't like.’ Because so much that is out of my control, I really, really don't like.
So, I started to say to myself, ‘Anything that I have control over, make it something I like.’ And that's why I started producing more content for [Remotely Inclined] because it was actually, for me, a way to connect with people (because on the Remotely Inclined podcast, I would interview other remote entrepreneurs).
So, I get to meet [and talk to] new people which, especially around COVID, I felt that I really, really needed. It was almost a statement for my mental health. [With] 50 Laws of Freelancing, a lot of people would have expected my first book to be more about remote work since I run a newsletter about remote work and I talk very actively about it on social media.
But I opted for The 50 Laws of Freelancing because it was an amazing creative outlet for me to talk about a different area of my business. And I enjoy both of those things. [The] same goes for Pulse Blueprint. I enjoy reading contributed articles that come in. I enjoy writing my own. I like the games that each one is focused on.
The newsletter game is one thing, the blogging SEO game is one thing, and writing a book is [another] thing. And that keeps me energized. So, only did things I liked. I was open to trying anything, but I only stayed with the things I liked. That's why I think I started to get that energy where I was a little bit competitive with myself and I wanted to do more, but then working actually gave me energy as opposed to [taking] away my energy.
Mohammed: Right. And as you've been doing all of these different projects, initiatives, [and] work that gives you that energy and that [makes] you feel good [...] how are you making time for client work? [And] how are you ensuring that your client pipeline continues to stay full?
Stefan: Great question. My business did take about a 40% hit in the height of the pandemic. I'm lucky in the sense that I was very lean; I am lean by design. I didn't start adding staff even when there [were] some earlier opportunities to do so, or rather I experimented with adding staff and it didn't go all that well.
So, the first part was being lean and it allowed the business to ebb a little bit, much as I didn't want it to. But then the other thing is the things I mentioned earlier around having a one-liner, getting involved, and being out there and asking for referrals the right way — that still continues for me.
Remotely Inclined went from nothing in February of 2020 when I launched it. And we're now at over 700 Remotely Inclined subscribers. That's not tons and tons when you consider some newsletters — I think The Hustle has over a million subscribers — but it gets my name out there.
And I've actually closed a couple of clients because of that. I started spending more time getting involved digitally. I take part in Twitter chats. I build out loud, which is the concept of showing your work when you're building your company, not just marketing the good stuff, but explaining just what you're doing, the good, bad, ugly, whatever.
And that's helped because I'm no longer afraid to give advice to people for fear of being embarrassed or saying something wrong. I can just explain what I'm up to. I've been able to connect with people on Reddit, on IndieHackers and other [communities]. And I've kind of refined my one-liner a little bit. It's not just content for startups anymore, but also for venture capitalists and even governments.
So that's the other piece that I've grown a little bit: recognizing where higher quality referral sources can come from. If I write for companies, then maybe I should be talking to the existing company communities. And in the tech world, that could be venture capitalists. A venture capitalist might interact with 50 companies in any given week and that's an opportunity for potential referrals.
Again, if you say, “[Let me know] if you know anyone that needs help with content.” Well, if a venture capitalist is mentoring 35 companies, I'm sure a couple of them might have content challenges. So, it became about thinking not only how I can provide more value in terms of offering more services, but also thinking about how I can help people where it's mutually beneficial to help each other.
I think freelancers need to break the idea that we have to be local, that we have to be the local tech freelancer [or] whatever. Freelancing is a business, just like any other. You have an addressable market, just like any other.
Mohammed: And what else would you say freelancers should keep in mind as they think about building their pipeline?
Stefan: Don't be afraid of paperwork for getting U.S. clients or international clients. I started working with some American clients about seven or eight months ago and it's been fantastic. There is definitely some paperwork to deal with, but don't be afraid of it. It's pretty straightforward when you read the guides.
But the reason I say that is because it opens your market. I think freelancers need to break the idea that we have to be local, that we have to be the local tech freelancer [or] whatever. Freelancing is a business, just like any other. You have an addressable market, just like any other.
And there are some limitations around scope, but you can get around a lot of those by automating a lot of administrative tasks. For instance, automating sending invoices and things like that, to save you bits of time here and there to get more done. Because if you only think of your horizons as local, you're missing so much of the equation, given how much value [can] be delivered remotely as the whole world is really picking up on these days.
Mohammed: I quite liked that. And I also like your idea of building out loud. I [think] a lot of people feel self-conscious or don't want to come across as [being] too egoistic, I suppose.
[...] It's like, ‘I don't know if I want to share that kind of stuff publicly because who knows what's going to happen.’ Or, ‘I don’t want it to come across in a manner where it seems that I may be a little too full of myself.’ What are your thoughts for those who may have those types of thought processes or perhaps may even be facing some imposter syndrome there?
Stefan: As a freelance entrepreneur, you've got to be your own best advocate. As RuPaul says, “If you don't love yourself, how [in the hell are] you gonna love somebody else?” But more tangibly, what I found really helped me was finding communities where that kind of conversation is normal and even expected.
I think IndieHackers is a good example of this. If you just show up on IndieHackers and don't share what you're trying, you're less likely to get some engagement. The community is focused on helping people just like you, the indie hacker, which is the small-time entrepreneur, the solo entrepreneur, the freelancer, et cetera.
So finding communities where that is expected was great for me because it was a safe space. It also taught me how to talk about it without coming across as too boastful. And the thing that I've noticed is there are two kinds of people who build out loud.
Sometimes people build out loud thinking that it's a marketing channel which, it is in the sense that it can help you get your name out there and has helped me as well. But it can't [come] from that. It has to [come from the desire of] helping people. What I found to be helpful for me [is to] look at an ask for help or an experience that I want to share and think very consciously about if it can actually help someone.
So, if someone posts a question asking about content and [how they can write faster] or something to that effect, I have very legitimate experiences that I can share. The way that I frame it is “What I did was this” or “I approach it thinking about these things.”
You're not stating that your answer is the best answer in the world. You're not stating that you have solved everything. And you're not stating any guarantees of success. You're just explaining what you did to give that person an idea, a potential solution for them to try out.
When it comes to sharing an experience ad hoc, where you bring it forward. For me, I've often [thought] consciously about whether someone can read what I wrote and then go [and] do something about it as opposed to think of me as interesting. It's almost like who I am is secondary to what was done.
I frame [my advice] as, “I was trying to accomplish X. Here's what I did that helped me accomplish X. So if you're trying to accomplish X, maybe try these [things] out. I hope it helps.” As opposed to, “Look what I did. Look how great I am. Look how smart I am.”
[...] Find those communities where what you want to talk about is valued and asked for and then put your identity secondary; focus on the accomplishment and the action.
Mohammed: Thank you. I've really enjoyed learning from you. There is so much here. I've got plenty of sticky notes with scribbles written down. So, as we wrap up, where can people find out more about you and your work online?
Mohammed: Yeah, we'll make sure to include it in the show notes and link to it when it's live so I'm super excited for that. Stefan, thank you so much!
Stefan: Of course. Thank you.