The idea that smart people who grew up in a good environment would be successful is a common idea that may not actually be true. There are many other factors that lead to success beyond intelligence and work ethics. This video by the Art of Improvement highlights seven reasons why a “smart person” may end up being unsuccessful. Knowing these reasons can make you more aware of how you act in the workplace and outside of it and allow you to incorporate change to maximize your success.
What’s your definition of professional success? Is it having a high income? Working with the best clients? Or working enough so you can enjoy all other aspects of life? We’re not going to debate that in this post (because it’s Friday and nobody wants to have that discussion) but we do want to help you achieve your goal with the help of this video from Proactive Thinker.
The video reveals four habits that they say every successful person shares, and they can all be applied specifically to independent IT contractors. The video is just under 5 minutes and provides more details, but here’s a quick summary:
- Learn to Say No: You can’t work on every project and you can’t do other team members’ work while still expecting to serve your clients to the best of your ability.
- Accept the Reality: Things go wrong in IT projects and in your job search. Accept what you can control and work with it.
- Manage Your Energy: The healthier you are and better you eat, the more productive you’ll be.
- Take Ownership of Your Environment: You can’t control the people a client hires, but you can control your friends. Do everything you can to surround yourself with others who support your goals.
What else would you add to the list?
The very nature of IT can be lonely, especially so for someone working independently. As an independent contractor, you generally don’t have any immediate colleagues. Often your clients want to hand over their problems for you to fix and they don’t want to be caught up in technical issues they don’t understand. They’re happy to leave you on your own. Once you start working on projects you may be surrounded by the world of bits, bytes, code and networks, with little to no human interaction.
It’s enough to make you feel like the old Maytag repairman, the loneliest guy in town. Worse than simply being lonely, your confidence, competence, and happiness can suffer if you’re working in a black box with little to no communication and feedback. You need all three of these attributes to win jobs, negotiate rates, and deal with clients. The good news is that you can take proactive steps to enhance each of these.
Keep your confidence high
Practice regular techniques to maintain a high level of confidence and provide motivation.
- Solicit customer feedback. If you utilize a simple feedback process, most of the time you’ll get thanks and positive comments. This is not only satisfying, but will help you better understand what your clients value. At times you will get negative comments. Think of these as gifts to help you improve. After all, without feedback, no improvement is possible. Address the issues and your next clients will not have these complaints.
- Set milestones and goals and celebrate achievement. Since you don’t have a boss to give you a pat on the back, be your own cheerleader. Rather than waiting until the end of a major project to give yourself some recognition, do it daily. Be sure to reflect back on what you have accomplished; don’t just grimace at the long to-do list remaining.
Keep your competence high
In order to be confident, you need to be competent.
- Benchmark within the IT and greater business field not only for specific technology solutions, but also to understand characteristics and practices of the best IT people.
- Create your own self-assessment. Using the benchmark information and customer feedback, create a self-assessment process that you can use with each project or client for honest reflection on your strengths and weaknesses, what you delivered, and how you could have done things better.
- Reinvest in yourself by improving in any areas where you have gaps and building new skills. The world of IT changes practically overnight, meaning clients have constantly changing needs. Stay ahead of the curve by carving out some time to become knowledgeable in new technologies in advance.
You are spending 40, 50, or more hours each week at your job. Take steps to make work fun and rewarding.
- Create your own team. If you work independently, you don’t generally have the socialization opportunities that other 9-to-5 business folks have. But you can make them. Take the time and energy to partner with your customer on a personal basis. Participate in networking events. Find a mentor. Put together a team of resources that you can call on for help and reciprocate in turn.
- Smile. Call center employees are routinely trained to smile while they’re on the phone since customers can hear the pleasantness in their tone of voice. That same effect can work for you in IT, even if you’re the only one who “hears” the smile.
- Love your work. If you find that the work you do has become tedious, find ways to transition to something that piques your interest. New clients, new technologies, new approaches, and even working in a new setting can make the work itself more enjoyable.
- Be assertive to meet your rights and needs. Studies have shown that assertiveness at work can help deliver happiness. Although your policy may be that the customer is always right, that doesn’t mean you should let customers walk all over you.
Have difficult clients? Fire them.
Consider this situation. You have a client who:
- Constantly changes requirements while you are working on his or her project
- Always demands work to be done on a rush basis, creating disruption to your schedule
- Asks for a little bit more when you’re approaching the end of the project… and doesn’t understand that a scope change deserves more payment
- Rarely expresses satisfaction or gratitude
- Seems to distrust you, even after you’ve worked together multiple times
- Pays less or takes more time than your other clients
If you do all-in unit costing for this client, including your time for extra bits of communication and changes, you might find that you’re getting a lot less in payment per hour of attention and generating a lot more personal stress compared to any of your other clients.
Of course, your first efforts will be to work with the client through communications and contracting. With tact, process skills, and plenty of patience, you might be able to groom this troublesome client to be as professional as the rest of your customers. However, sometimes this type of client just doesn’t get it… and never will. If that’s the case, you might want to cut your losses. After all, if you get rid of a “bad” client who consumes an inordinate amount of time and causes you stress, you can replace him or her with one or more “good” clients you absolutely love working with.
If you want to fire a client, you will have to be tactful. Let the customer save face to the extent you can without compromising your values or losing significant money. You don’t want to create such hard feelings that your client starts a word-of-mouth campaign to discredit you.
What’s the bottom line?
Until you become the next IT whiz with a success like Apple, Amazon, or Facebook, you’re likely to continue to work largely by yourself and rely on yourself. But that can be quite okay. As the noted author Wayne Dyer said, “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.”
Visit Acuity Training’s guide to confidence for specific assertiveness tactics to apply throughout each step of your freelance process.
There was a time in my life when I looked around me and realized that a lot of the people I knew never actually did anything. They talked a lot about doing things – writing books, going back to school, going skiing – but nothing ever actually got done.
Today I prefer to surround myself with a different sort of person – one who does things. They’re better conversationalists: talking about all the things you did, rather than all the things you’re “going” to do makes for better conversation. Also they’re a galvanizing force. Being around people who do a lot of things makes me want to do things. And doing things is good.
Of course, we all have different ideas of what it means to be successful. For some it’s great wealth, for others it’s great life balance and great love. Whatever we’re striving for, the people with whom we surround ourselves have a big impact on whether we achieve it.
If you’re looking for a job, changing careers, or starting a business, the people in your life will be absolutely instrumental in your success or failure.
Here are five people who will help you get a little closer to your goals. Feel free to add your own. Then head over here to read about the 10 people you need to ditch before they drag you down.
The connector: This is the person who knows everyone. They have thousands of Facebook friends, who are real actual friends (not random strangers they don’t actually know in person), and everyone knows who they are. The connector is well liked and always willing to connect the people they know with each other.
The cheerleader: The cheerleader thinks everything you do is awesome, and is always encouraging you to do more of whatever you want to do. You want to start a business, go back to school, invent something to end world hunger? The cheerleader is sure you can do it.
The realist: Cheerleaders are great but sometimes they’re … what’s the word? … oh, yes, crazy. Sometimes your ideas are just bad. It’s not that you want people to step on your dreams but maybe you shouldn’t quit your job to write that musical about Nazis. Oh, wait, that’s The Producers…or is it The Sound of Music? OK, so maybe that particular idea is actually great. But the realist will let you know if you have a really bad one, and be your sounding board. The realist is not a pessimist. The realist can also help you come up with realistic ways to implement your ideas.
The idea generator: I have one friend who is an endless fountain of creative energy. He has as many ideas for other people as he does for himself – art projects, writing projects, business projects, solutions to problems. He never runs out and is always willing to share. No, they’re not all great ideas and some are crazy, but many are great, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Just being around him gives me ideas. Everyone should seek out someone like this to have around when your own idea well is tapped.
The success story: The success story is the person who is living their dream, whether that turned out to be the original dream they’ve been chasing all their lives, or some variation thereupon. I’ve got many of these in my life and every one of them is an inspiration when it seems like everything sucks.
Who do you keep close?
How much time do you spend meeting people? How much time do you spend building on relationships that you have established? What do you expect from those relationships? Will they help you? Do you only build relationships with people you think will help you?
Networking is often viewed as a great way to build a professional reputation, to add to your client base or to open doors to meet new recruiters. It is really hard to draw a straight line correlation between networking efforts and return on those efforts, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because if you are “networking” purely for your own gain, then likely you will fail.
Here is a selfless approach to networking:
- Go to events where you will meet new people, otherwise you’re just hanging out with old friends and nobody’s benefiting. This doesn’t mean ditching your friends completely, but make sure it’s not only your friends.
- Depending on your trade, networking opportunities can be hard to find, so take some initiative and find new events, rather than waiting for somebody send you an invitation. If you want to build a niche network, you may even need to start your own networking group.
- Networking with the intent of “taking” is very transparent. Most people won’t retain “takers” in their network (as a side note, you should also avoid these folks).
- Help others because it will ultimately come back, but do it because want to, not because you want to get something back.
- Avoid abusing your network. Refrain from giving names out to people you don’t know, and genuinely get to know someone before asking for names of their contacts.
- If you believe that an introduction will benefit someone you know then make that introduction.
- Network with people who you think are interesting, otherwise it’s just boring for everybody.
There are many rewards to networking but if you don’t treat your network properly, you’ll never get to reap those rewards. Do you have any other tips for selfless networking? Have you ever encountered a selfish networker? Tell us your stories in the comments below.
Most people in business would like to be a little more successful. More specifically, most contractors would love to make more money.
No matter your profession, if you can develop your “time management” skills to the point where you are more productive than the people around you, then you WILL be more successful. After all, the more productive contractor fits more into their schedule and, ultimately, makes more money!
It is NOT rocket science! It is about continually looking at how you might improve. Here are some points to think about:
- There are many ways in which we all waste time every day. What if you could reclaim some, or most of that wasted time? Could you work on a small project for another client? Add more effort into a matrix for a proposal? Do more networking?
- Most of us get easily distracted which takes us away from our most productive work. If it’s not the plethora of social media, it’s the news flashes, water cooler gossip or our private lives intruding into our work time. The ability to FOCUS on work and tame those distractions will help us reclaim that wasted time and make us MUCH more productive.
- Most people coast through their day and just “do stuff.” They are busy from the minute they arrive to the minute they leave, but it is not always a productive busy! The only way that you get better is by making time to improve!
This improvement is ALL within your control. It is VERY easy to reclaim time each day, and if you can make that into productive time then you can be more efficient, take on more value adding tasks, and just maybe get more time to enjoy leisure activities in a stress free way!
Are you prepared to put in the effort, to get some ideas, try them and really work at improving your productivity? Let us know how you plan to do it in the comments below.
There is an old saying that if you want to get something done give it to a busy person, they will find a way to get it done. There is a lot of truth in that saying
People who can get things done are often the “go-to” contractor on a client site, successfully manage multiple contracts at once, and sit on boards for industry associations and charities. If you’re not one of these people, it SHOULD beg a couple of questions: How do they do it? and Can I do that too? After all, it’s the easiest way to increase your revenue and your professional reputation!
Obviously not everyone wants to get those extra contracts, so this won’t apply to them. Also, not everyone is willing to work one little bit more than they need to, so this won’t apply to them either. However, if you WANT to be successful, or you WANT to go above and beyond for your clients, or you WANT to do the best that you can then this does apply to you.
Truly busy people typically have a couple of characteristics that help them:
- Attitude. They care! They want to do the right thing. They want to succeed. They take pride in their work.
- Time Management. They apply sound time management techniques and are always looking to be as efficient as they can.
How do they take on that EXTRA task AND get it done?
They are motivated to succeed which is really half the battle. Then they give that job the right level of priority so it fits into their day/week/month and shift other “less important” tasks around. Have you ever REALLY looked at how you spend your time? Someone who is exceedingly efficient at managing their time will increasingly fill their time with “high return” activities, squeezing out the “low return” activities with an end result of a much higher level of productivity. THAT is how the busy people GET THINGS DONE!
IF you want to be successful and IF you have that great attitude then the next thing you can focus on that will have the best return for your career is Time Management. It’s not an overnight fix, it is truly a lifelong learning exercise but it is worth it. You can read a few of our past posts on Time Management here.
Being able to get things done will not only help you do more for your client, you’ll eventually be able to take on more contracts and, ultimately, increase your revenue stream! The question is, are you willing to put in the extra effort it takes and change some routines to achieve that goal?
Whatever your position in life you will take pleasure from success. There seems to be one consistent factor when dealing with successful people — they find ways to overcome the barriers in their way.
In other words, the best way to achieve success is to focus on how to get it, not on why you can’t do it. So if your habit is to focus on the problems and why you can’t achieve the success you want, then you need to change that thinking. Instead you need to step back and look at what you could possibly do to achieve your goal. Here are some tips:
- Keep the end in mind. Don’t focus on the problem or barrier, instead, focus on the end result.
- Brainstorm. Write down every thought you might have about how to get to that end result no matter how outlandish.
- Set Small Goals. If the goal is BIG, then try to develop interim goals. If you set a goal of becoming the lead project manager on a multi-million dollar project but have no project management experience, you might want to start with taking a few courses in that area!
- Collaborate. When you have crystallized your goal in your mind and have some thoughts about how to get there, talk to others. Two heads are better than one, and the more people discussing and brainstorming the issue the better. For example, if you have a business issue, involve your peers and anyone else you think might be able to bring ideas to the table. Do NOT underestimate the creativity of the junior members of your team.
- Focus. All of this needs to happen with a total focus on the issue. You cannot be doing this in between your regular tasks, the next big deadline etc. Set aside dedicated time; it doesn’t need to be days but perhaps an hour or four!
- Humility. Don’t think you need to have all the answers. Give credit to those who do help. Be willing to help others when they need it!
- Believe! If you don’t believe that you can succeed then your chances are dramatically reduced. Everything is possible you just need to find the key!
Success — whether it is winning a new contract, learning a new skill, or even achieving a level of fitness — is achievable. It takes work, it takes commitment and it takes a little courage. Are you up for it?