Here are three lessons for freelancers and small business owners that I learned while camping with my family over the weekend.
Learn How to Build a Proper Fire
Lesson one: It’s really hard to light a log on fire with just a match.
The people in the campsite next to us were really struggling to get their campfire going, and I had to step in and help. I saw they were just stacking up their logs, dowsing it in lighter fluid, and striking a match. Now, it did create a big flame, but the flame only lasted for about a minute, which was not enough time and not enough heat to really get the fire going.
To make a proper fire, you need to start small. Start with tiny tinder – some newspaper or small dry twigs will do the trick. Once that gets burning, you can add some kindling – larger sticks, not much bigger than your finger. And then finally, once that’s burning and you have a lot of heat, then you can add your large logs or “fuel.” And now you’ve got a fire that can light up the night, keep you warm, and toast your marshmallows.
When it comes to starting your business, I know you’re eager to see the “big flame” results. It might be tempting to squirt a little lighter fluid on there to get results quickly. You’re thinking about spending some money on Facebook or Google ads to drive some traffic. But have you validated your business idea yet? Do you know that you actually have some heat there that’s good for cooking?
There is a time and place for paid ads, but that time doesn’t come until after you have a (fairly) predictable revenue stream.
Start with just one client and try to serve them as well as you possibly can before you worry about scaling. Test and optimize, and then slowly iterate and add new things. Don’t go big right out the gate or else you’ll risk smothering the fire and or spending money on resources that aren’t actually going to leave any lasting results behind. The big, flashy results and website traffic that paid ads generate disappear as soon as the money gets burned up.
Pitch Your Tent Inside Another Tent
Lesson two: If it looks like the weather is going to be iffy, pitch your tent inside another tent.
I am a fair weather camper, and when I saw the forecast was calling for a lot of rain during the entire time that we’d be out camping, I started second-guessing our plans, and I was thinking about putting the kibosh on the whole thing. But one of our friends offered to let us borrow their canopy. And this thing was huge; you could hold a tiny wedding reception in it.
So we brought it along and got up first thing when we arrived at our campsite. Now we had a nice, dry space to pitch our tent without worrying about rain getting in and soaking the tent, and washing away all of our stuff before we even had a chance to set up. I’m so thankful for it. And it reminded me of how I started my business.
I started out just freelancing, taking on a few gigs in addition to my full-time job. I didn’t quit before I had enough momentum built that I knew that I could take care of my family and not worry about everything getting washed away in a storm, especially in this dicey economy.
The weather’s crazy right now. Play it safe.
If you have a new business idea, try to grow it as much as possible and get established while you’re holding down another job. If you already have a business and you have a new idea for a product or service that you’d like to launch, try to launch it within the context of what you already have established. Test it out. See if it has legs before you go and spin up a whole new operation.
Going back to lesson one, start small. Test your idea, validate it, build up some heat and momentum. And if you have something that can keep you dry and keep the rain off your fire while you’re trying to build it, you’re going to be a much happier camper.
Don’t Go It Alone
Lesson three: Go with friends.
I’ve been camping in one form or another for the better part of my life. My family had a pop-up camper that we took across country. I went to summer camp, living out of primitive cabins most summers during my childhood. And I did a little bit of backpacking during college. But this was our first all-family tent camping experience that my wife was joining. And despite all my past experience, I’ve never really done anything quite like this – where we’re responsible for meal planning and taking care of children and living in a tent without a ton of resources available. But we went with friends who have done this before; who have been to this specific park; who have brought their families; who know everything that we don’t quite know yet.
Our friends shared their knowledge and, more than that, they shared their stuff.
Now, we weren’t completely unprepared, but there were some things that we didn’t know we needed (or would be really helpful to have), and there were some things that we just plain forgot back at the house.
If it wasn’t for our friends stepping in and being generous, we would have been a lot colder, a lot wetter, a lot less caffeinated, and our car had to get jump started twice. If we were on our own, we would have been stuck in the woods.
If you’re building a business, you don’t need to do it alone. Get plugged into community. Find people who have already been around the block a few times, who have experience doing what you want to do, and who might have a lot of insight on good ways, better ways, and of trying to build a business.
I am very fortunate to have made friends with other small business owners and entrepreneurs, and I’ve joined several membership communities where people are really generous with their time and their resources and their knowledge. Some of these people have sent work my way, have introduced me to other people who have become clients or guests for my YouTube channel, or they’ve become really great connections and friends.
Going camping in a campground surrounded by people who enjoy your company, who invite you over to share a meal or play a game, and help you out of a bind when your car battery dies, is a lot more enjoyable than being lost in the woods surrounded by things that want to eat you.
Likewise, building a business while plugged into a community of people who are rooting for you and actively helping you out is going to give you so much more peace of mind and so much more satisfaction and enjoyment in the process of building your business.
Despite the rain and the cold and lacking the comforts of home, my family and I had a great time camping out. And that was due in large part to the people we were with.
I say it here often: Self-employment doesn’t have to be by-yourself-employment. I love helping people like you grow their side gig into their central gig and build a sustainable and satisfying business. If there’s anything that I can do to help you along your self-employment journey, don’t hesitate to reach out.