We’ve started a new year, which means many people are asking big questions about their life and work.
Whether you’ve decided to make 2023 the year you finally launch into freelancing, or you’ve been doing it a while and want to step things up a bit, I want to talk to you today about the all-important “pivot.”
Companies all over the world make pivots all the time by adding new lines of business, closing things down that aren’t working, and shifting their business strategies.
Just a few months ago, Meta (Facebook) made one of the highest-profile pivots in a long time.
Having sunk billions into their new Metaverse, it became clear to CEO Mark Zuckerberg that he needed to pivot.
Investors were selling Facebook like crazy, tanking the share price and rebelling against the seemingly bottomless chasm that the Metaverse was creating on Facebook’s finances.
Eventually, the pressure got too great, and he had to spivot.
But pivots aren’t just for major corporations. They are for individuals too.
And I want to start by telling you a story of someone who didn’t make a pivot that turned into a very costly career mistake.
There was an accountant (we’ll call him Bill) who worked with a particular accounting program. He was an expert both in good accounting practices and with this specific program.
He could balance the books, run reports, and do anything his company needed faster than virtually anyone else.
There was just one problem…
As the business grew and technology developed, this accounting program slowly became more and more obsolete. It wasn’t web-based, so it didn’t directly tie into newer software programs. It wasn’t able to be integrated into their new business management systems, and the manual data entry became too slow, error-prone, and unwieldy to justify. (Bill was good, but even he made mistakes from time to time).
The company loved Bill, and Bill loved this program like a child. So, as new accounting programs came along, he just stuck with what he knew and loved.
Eventually, the company had to completely switch systems despite their loyalty to Bill.
This was when Bill realized he’d made a mistake. Bill was so profoundly unfamiliar with these new systems that he couldn’t make the jump, so eventually, he was let go by the company.
He was a good accountant who knew the business and how to do his job well. He had a good reputation and did his job well. But still, it was too late.
His failure to learn new programs before they were integrated and his failure to see what was going to happen cost a good accountant his career with his company.
Stories like this illustrate the importance of pivoting at the right time. But, this is hard. Pivoting is scary for most of us. It requires us to take a chance, step out of our comfort zone, and try something new.
And, scariest of all, it might not work.
So, with this in mind, I’d love to address seven common questions about pivoting as a freelancer.
Often, when we think of pivoting, we think of it as a reorientation of some sort. Usually, we are no longer doing one thing and start doing another. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
You can actually think of pivoting in four different ways:
This is the “classic” pivot. You started as a web designer but found too many clients asking you to do database management. So, you drop web designing and begin focusing on database management instead.
You are a web designer. But, maybe you have enough people inquiring about taking crypto-currency that you begin doing blockchain development in addition to web design.
You are a web-designer, but because technology has changed, you’ve moved away from an outdated methodology so you can incorporate new services and technologies.
You are a successful web developer, but you want (or need) to make your income more predictable. So, you move from a traditional developer-for-hire methodology to a data-driven-development methodology where clients pay you to regularly update their site on a recurring basis.
You see, pivoting isn’t necessarily dropping one thing, doing business in a whole new way, or taking a chance on something else. Sometimes the “pivot” doesn’t even really involve doing new work. It actually involves doing the same work you always do but in a new way.
If you think about it like this, pivoting is a lot less scary and requires less of a terrifying leap into the dark. And, as you’ll see later, framing a “pivot” like this helps you discern when, where, and how to make one.
We tend to make it far more complicated than it is by thinking of it as an either/or situation. Sometimes it is, but usually, it doesn’t need to be.
I don’t know. I mean, what do I know about YOUR business?
You actually know, or by considering a few things, you can make that decision pretty quickly.
Let me guide you through the decision making process by giving you a few questions to consider:
Are any of my “core services” falling out of frequent use by my core clients? If they are, it may be time to consider replacing them with something else (or maybe pivoting toward clients who use these things).
Has more than one client asked me to do something I’m not already doing? If so, could I, and would I be interested or able to do it?
Is there a part of my business that dominates the majority of my time?
Is there one thing that helps me make an outsized impact for my clients that others don’t do (i.e., that sets me apart)?
Is there another type of client that would be more satisfying or lucrative for me to work with?
None of these will give you a simple yes or no. But answering these questions will help you decide what opportunities or issues you have in your current business.
The trick is to pay attention to your clients, your competitors, and your industry. If you are attentive to what people are saying, they should tell you when to pivot, whether that is in 2023 or in any other year.
Before you need to.
Ok, that is somewhat of a joke. But, seriously. If your clients are drying up and you are running out of work, you should already have pivoted. The question is, how do you avoid finding yourself in this position?
If you pivot too early, you might be all alone, kicking the dust and waiting for others to arrive. But, if you pivot too late, you’ll be trying to force yourself into an already crowded space.
So, how do you pivot when it is just right?
Listen to your clients. Listen to what they are asking you to do. Pay attention if they ask you to do things you don’t currently do or if their needs are changing.
Pay attention to other people in your industry, particularly what changes they are making to their business model.
Every freelancer is on a unique journey, and Embracing the Journey as a Freelancer means you’ll have to make changes as you go along.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to live like the accountant I mentioned above. He kept his head down, doing something with excellence but ignoring the changes in the wider world.
There is no perfect “right time” to pivot. But, if you are relentlessly focused on serving your clients in the best possible way, you’ll know when to pivot because your clients will tell you. They’ll be asking you about new things, or you’ll find out about new and innovative ways to serve your clients better.
You always want to pivot in order to serve your clients better, not to chase the industry.
Freelancers all struggle with “shiny object” syndrome.
There is always someone loudly shouting about some new opportunity that will take our industry by storm.
We don’t want to be left out of a new and exciting opportunity.
We don’t want to be the last person doing the same old boring stuff while everyone else races ahead of us, scooping up all the most lucrative clients.
Here’s the thing, if an opportunity is really that great, there is always more room for you, whether you jump in a few weeks or a few months later.
Whether in freelancing, investing, or any other area of life, if someone says, “this is a golden opportunity but you must strike now,” they probably don’t have your best interests at heart.
As a freelancer, you always want your first priority to be taking care of your current clients. Hopefully, that means bringing them with you into any new and exciting opportunity.
Above all, never leave behind your current clients to chase some new opportunity.
Let other people be the first adopters, making all the mistakes and blazing the trail.
Learn from them and bring your clients along as you jump in slowly and steadily.
If you can help it, never pivot, hoping to find new clients; pivot to serve your current clients better. Above all, don’t abandon good clients chasing the crowd, hoping to find marginally better ones.
Serve your clients, and good things will happen to you.
As I previously mentioned, bring your clients with you, if at all possible.
They are still with you because they believe in you. If you are pivoting to something that can help them, never leave them behind.
If you like working with them, stay with them.
I can’t stress this enough - never leave behind good clients to chase a new opportunity! Good clients are worth their weight in gold!
In the rare instance that you can’t bring them with you (because maybe you have too many opportunities in your new area or because you don’t have the capacity), don’t leave them high and dry.
If you can’t take them with you, at least take care of them. Find someone to help them, someone competent to take your place.
People always remember the way you leave.
Some freelancers tend to drop their old clients abruptly, leaving them in a tight spot. If you end things poorly with a client, that is a good way to sour the entire relationship with them, ruining the chance that they’ll come back to you later on or recommend you to new clients.
This is tricky, as are all pricing decisions. Pricing Your Services as a Freelance Developer requires careful thought and strategy.
So, if you are just starting in a new area or pivoting to something new, you’ll want to give some sort of discount to incentivize potential clients.
Making a limited-time offer or adding a discount for the first few clients is always good.
But this isn’t necessary if you are taking your current clients with you. Don’t offer a discount if it isn’t needed.
If you are simply adding new offerings that have high value to your clients, you may need to increase your prices (or increase them for new clients).
It really depends on what type of pivot you are making.
Rarely. But, really, this comes down to how you present it to your clients (i.e., marketing).
The more often you shift the large-scale strategy of your freelance career, the more people will question whether you have the knowledge or follow-through to stick with them over the long term.
So, announcing some large pivot to your potential clients should be rare. And, more importantly, it should always be for an unbelievably good reason.
But smaller things, like shedding outdated services that people don’t really use, can be done quietly.
And clients always love when you add more competencies.
Make small pivots (like adding new lines of business) as often as you need to keep your clients happy, your skills sharp, and your career moving forward.
Doing this only helps you get better.
Major pivots signal to clients (even happy ones) that all is not well with you. If it was, you wouldn’t need to pivot. That undermines their trust in you and your long-term ability to deliver on their behalf.
Major pivots should be rare. And, hopefully, they’ll never happen because you’ve been making consistent small changes to how you serve your clients so that you can serve them better.
At the end of the day, the question isn’t whether or not you should pivot.
The question is, how?
If you honestly address the seven questions that I’ve laid out for you, you should be able to pivot in a way that both protects your current clients and helps you connect with new ones.
You’ll know when to pivot, why you should pivot, and in what areas to pivot.
Pivoting involves re-shuffling what you offer, getting rid of things that don’t matter, adding things that people are asking for, and finding new and better ways to serve your current and new clients.
Pivoting well is the key not only to staying in business but also to building a thriving freelance career.
Thanks for reading!