Better, not bigger - Writer Paul Jarvis
After falling into freelance life accidentally in the late nineties, Paul Jarvis has helped to shape the way many freelancers work.
He started out designing websites for professional athletes, working from his parent’s basement on a self-built computer. And now, 20 years later, Paul is a writer and published author who helps entrepreneurs build businesses that are better, not bigger.
Through his weekly email series, the Sunday Dispatches, multiple podcasts and online courses, and now his book, Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business, Paul teaches freelancers to make up their own rules when it comes to how they want their businesses to look.
In this episode though it’s finally time to hear his story.
How did he get started? How did he get to where he is today: happy to be a company of one?
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TRANSCRIPT OF THE BEING FREELANCE PODCAST WITH WRITER PAUL JARVIS AND STEVE FOLLAND
Steve Folland: As ever, how about we get started, hearing how you got started being freelance.
Paul Jarvis: This was actually an accident. I didn't mean to be a freelancer. So what I mean by that is, I was working at an agency at the time in Toronto, Canada and I liked the clients that we were working with, but it didn't like the way that the agency was run. I didn't like the way that they were treating their clients, so I decided that I wanted to quit and I wanted to go find basically another agency job. I was gonna go, I was actually gonna go to the library to look up how to write a resume because one, the internet only had about six pages on it back then and two, I'd never actually written a resume, so I didn't know how to do that.
Paul Jarvis: But the day after I quit, I started to get calls from the clients at the agency saying like, "Hey Paul, we liked working with you more than we liked working with the agency. How about you let us know where you're going to go next in terms of jobs because we'd love to take our business there." And after I got a handful of those calls, I was like, entrepreneur freelance light bulb goes off in my head and I was like, what if I just start working with these people and that's what I did. So I kind of started with kind of a quite a few clients to work with kind of by accident like I said. I think I did end up going to the library that day instead, but I went to the library to look up how to start a business in Canada instead of how to write a resume. I actually still don't know how to write a resume because I've never actually written one.
Steve Folland: That's so cool though. So almost immediately, not only have we become freelance, but you actually have clients.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah. I 100% just fell into that. I don't even recommend people, like there's no way to even give advice on do what I did. It's just that kind of how I fell into freelancing.
Steve Folland: So how did you find it, was it quite change?
Paul Jarvis: Really difficult. So what I mean by that is, I knew how to do my job, I knew how to be a designer, I knew how to do the work that I was getting paid to do, but it didn't know how to run a business because I'd never run a business. I was fresh out of dropping out of university at the time. So I didn't know how to do anything with regards to business. So I actually really sucked at it for a long time. I was awful at running a business. And I was a horrible business owner, freelancer, but then I learned I got better at that stuff and then kind of was able to kind of work in equal parts being a freelance designer and being a business owner of a freelancing business.
Steve Folland: So how did it evolve from there?
Paul Jarvis: Basically I just had to keep learning from my mistakes. So I had a lot of mistakes as far as billing went. I kind of took the mentality of, oh, I'll get paid, don't need to worry about chasing clients for money or following up on invoices or doing anything until I basically got to a point where I realized I had been working for one client, the biggest client at the time for free for about six months. And I was like, I'm basically telling this client that it's okay to not pay me because they keep not paying me and then I keep doing the work.
Paul Jarvis: So I'm really just showing them that hey, we don't need to pay this guy. He just keeps doing work free. And I was like, I should probably put a stop to that. And I mean it's definitely a lot harder to put a stop to that if you let it go for longer than it is to like nip it in the bud right away. And so, I ended up having to get a lawyer involved. They took 25% or something. I only got paid probably 25% of what was though. So it turned into basically a real mess for me, but I learned from that in the most painful way possible. But I did learn from it and I soldier on.
Steve Folland: At this point was this the late 90s?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, this was still in the 90s. I was still a young freelancer.
Steve Folland: Were you not working from home? Were you going into businesses at all like what was it?
Paul Jarvis: No, I was definitely working from home. I was actually still at the time when I started living with my parents. So I was living at home with them doing this job. I even got like a computer set up in the basement on like one of my dad's work bench tables and using a computer that I had built from spare parts because I always had been a nerd and still am a nerd. So yeah, I wasn't going into, I wasn't working locally. I mean all the clients that I was working with when I started, that kind of came over for me cause we're all based in the states. So I think I went down there maybe once. I was working with pro sports, so I think I went down for the Superbowl when it was in Tampa Bay. It was probably the only time I met up with clients in person at that time. I ended up selling my tickets to the Superbowl because you can get a lot of money for Superbowl tickets and you can still watch the game. So I ended up selling those for, it was probably a thousand dollars a ticket and then I just watched the game from somebody's house instead.
Steve Folland: And what was the client kind of work you would do? Like was it, was there like a pattern to it or was it for anybody or?
Paul Jarvis: There was definitely, like at the time I was mostly niche down into pro sports. I was doing websites for, well, American pro sports. So I was doing websites for like the NFL, NBA, NHL, couple baseball sites. And it was very templated. It was basically, the Internet had just started because I'm old, we establish that and all of these athletes were kind of on the very early bandwagon. In the very smart bandwagon. I think of kind of a personal brand and trying to build a name for themselves and actually build additional streams of income for themselves by selling products under their own brand. So I was basically skinning Ecommerce stores to get technical, a skinny Ecommerce stores for all these athletes and for their, the agents that represented them.
Steve Folland: Wow. And did you find like, I mean did you have loads of work going on? Did you have to market yourself and go and find other clients or?
Paul Jarvis: Not in the beginning, no. I was supremely lucky in that regard. I didn't have to do any of that. I was so busy working and it was basically one after another and I was so busy doing that. But then, when I realized that it didn't really want, it was so boring doing the, like there was no creativity. It had to all, this is before like Shopify or any of these actually nice Ecommerce systems. The design had to fall within like this dimension and this dimension for the header picture, this dimension and this dimension for the photo, it was so little creativity in that work. It just felt like I was stamping widgets in a widget factory to be honest. So I didn't have to start figuring out like the marketing and sales side of things until I decided that I didn't wanna do that anymore.
Paul Jarvis: I still wanted to be a freelancer, but I just didn't wanna do that tedious, monotonous type work. Plus I'm not really a big sports person, so it wasn't even, like it would've been so cool if I was really into professional sports. My sister is the athlete in the family, I'm the nerd. So it wasn't even that good of a fit in terms of like what I was interested in.
Steve Folland: So how long were you into it, was it that you thought, no, I wanna go off to something else?
Paul Jarvis: I did that for quite a while. Yeah, it's probably two or three years. Is around the time. So I moved to the West Coast in 2000 and it was probably around the time that I moved to the West Coast that I decided that that wasn't really what I wanted to do. People were just starting to contact me at that time too, to get work done that wasn't in like the pro sports arena. So I was just like, I should probably think about moving to a different focus.
Steve Folland: Yeah. So it was like seeing a need for kind of resonated with what you were feeling anyway?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, at the time and still I'm very big on just making connections with people. There's so much business advice that is just absolute rubbish. That obviously I think so. But I think the advice of business is all about who you know has just always been true for me. So all of the work that I've done regardless of industry, regardless of even the type of work, has all been because I've just worked at fostering relationships with other people, not because I could get something out of them, but just because they're doing something interesting, I'm probably doing something interesting to them and just kind of going from there. So when I started to move away from athlete work, I just had a network of people who knew that I was a designer and knew that I could put out quality websites, they were just like, hey, if you ever wanna do some different kinds of work then let me know and that just kind of snowballed from there.
Steve Folland: And how about people like you, so you would knowing people who might offer you work, but then with people within the business world by the sounds of it, were you part of communities of other freelancers?
Paul Jarvis: No, I was not. And I mean it's funny now because fast forward to now, I teach a course on freelancing and I run a community for freelancers. But at the time, to be honest, there wasn't, freelancing wasn't really a thing back then. When I told people that I work for myself, they didn't get it. And this is like 20 years ago and nowadays if you say you work for yourself, everybody's like, oh yeah. Everybody does that now. But back then it was just like, well, what do you mean you don't work for a company? What do you do for work? And people just didn't understand it. So there actually was, it actually kinda lonely. There wasn't that many people doing the type of work that I was doing on their own. Like outside of agencies or outside of a companies.
Steve Folland: Clearly, as you just mentioned, there's a long way to go in this journey. So how did it start to evolve then as you changed focus?
Paul Jarvis: I was really starting to hone in on like what mattered about the type of work that I was doing and thinking about more, it's very difficult to compete as like the best designer. So one: I'm not the best designer, I don't have the talent to be the best designer. I'm a pretty good designer but I'm not the best. And I also don't know how to quantify that. But I also found that the people that were hiring me and that we're happy with my work, they wanted work that was great. It still has to be at a pro level for sure, but the difference between the top five percent of freelancers in an industry and the 0.001% percent at the very top, nobody outside of that industry could even, even has the skills to be able to tell that, plus is probably fairly subjective. So I kind of realized after I had done the first bunch of work with the athletes stuff, I realized that people were hiring me not just because I was a decent designer but because I was doing the work.
Paul Jarvis: And so, if I said it was gonna do something, I would do it. If I said it was gonna be done by a certain time, it would be done by certain time. If I said it was gonna cost a certain amount of money, it would cost a certain amount of money. So it was basically keeping the social contracts with everybody. And it's funny that people kept saying to me as I, like when I started to all the way now, I've had so many bad experiences with other freelancers who just disappear or don't do the work or they're hard to get ahold of and you're different. And I was like I can, like this is something I can control, this is something I can compete with. I can be a decent communicator, I can be somebody who keeps my word with clients and this is the thing above the design work, this is the thing that's bringing them back. This is the thing that's getting them to tell every single person they know to hire me and not google other designers or like go to Fiverr or Upwork to look for other designers. This is the thing that's making me stand out.
Paul Jarvis: So this is the thing that I started focusing on. And then I realized I can apply this to basically any niche. I can apply this to any kind of audience focus and I can start to see results after working on it for a while. So after that I started working mostly with big corporations like Mercedes, Microsoft, like fortune 500, fortune 100 kind of businesses. And I did kind of the same thing, but I just, I did the work I said I was gonna do, I always kept my word and I was very communicative and I really explained why I was doing things or why I was making decisions on top of just trying to do the best that I could with the design work that I was doing.
Steve Folland: And how did you get in with those companies? Was that just through your connections or were you-
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, personal network. Like I can't, it would be funny if I just walked in the front door of Microsoft then was like, hey everybody, do you wanna hire a freelance web designer? Like I just, I don't think that would work, but I was continually building my network of people who were interesting and people that worked kind of in the same field or people that hire, more importantly people that were hiring designers. And just kind of always putting out feelers to see what people were working on. The other thing that I found, because it was working with a lot of startups at the time, and this was just before the first.com bubble burst, was that if I worked with a startup or a team at the time, they would go belly up within about six months because that was basically how it was working except for a handful of startups that didn't.
Paul Jarvis: And then there like 10 people that I was working with, we'd go to 10 different companies and if I did a good job for them for the business, I was really communicative, I did the work that I said I was gonna do. Then it would have 10 leads because they all went to a different company and all of those 10 companies would also need websites. And so all 10 of those people would contact me for the 10 new website. So one project would turn into 10 and then 10 would turn into 100 leads and kind of like that. So I always made sure that I was doing work that people were really happy with. And then, 'cause people switched jobs all the time. It's funny, I don't switch job. I've worked for myself for 20 years and people say that being a freelancer is risky. And then I see all my friends that worked for big companies and they've all switched jobs or been laid off or downsized five or six times by now. And I'm still like two decades later doing the exact same thing from my house and my pyjamas so.
Steve Folland: Yeah, it'd be nice if banks understood that fact as well, wouldn't it?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah. I mean, I've had such problems. I think even getting things like a mortgage. And it's like, oh, you work for yourself do you? Well, now we require 50% down payment not 10%. I'm like, really? 'Cause you can see my salary is exactly the same for over a decade. And it's still like, yeah, banks are just old school and, yeah, silly in that regard for sure.
Steve Folland: So what would your website, like your presence online have looked? So talking about I guess like the year 2000 or whatever that you were just talking about as these people are starting companies, breaking up companies moving on and so on, so forth. If I went to your website, back then what would I have seen?
Paul Jarvis: You would have seen a one page website. And it would have said something like I build websites and then it would say the industry that I was focused on at the time and then it would have a bulleted list of the projects that I had done and an email address. I think I had a website like that for about 10 or 12 years, because my website didn't do anything. My website didn't generate leads. My networking skills generated leads. People only wanted to go to the website to make sure I wasn't like talking out of my ass for, like, oh yeah, I do websites and then they like google me or whatever and they don't find anything.
Paul Jarvis: So I really just had a website to have like a list of sites that I had done and clients that I'd worked with in the past. Just to kind of make it valid that if somebody was like looking me up, they would say like, oh yeah, this is, not like anybody could put up a website that would say anything at all. It's the Internet after all, but it was just kind of like a validation after conversation. Like all of my clients came from word of mouth, so my website was really just secondary to that.
Steve Folland: Clearly you're going into a phase where you about to work with loads of big companies. How did you manage your workload? If I don't know, if Mercedes for example, or Microsoft knock on my door, it must be tempting to say, yes, but I'm already working on something else. Like how was that phase?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah. I mean this is where I, this is where we start to see Paul, the salesperson and Paul the positioner, because what I found is that people kind of want what they can't have and when you're freelancing, I think this is a good thing. I think it's a good thing if you're not immediately available because it creates this kind of air about your expertise where if somebody comes knocking on my door and he's like, hey, I need some web work. And I say I'm busy. That seems like that would be a bad thing to say, but if I say I'm busy right now because I'm fully booked because I'm always fully booked, but if we talk and it's a good fit for the project, you sign a contract and you give me down payments. Yeah, I got better with money. That's the first part. Then I can put you in my calendar from a month from now or two months from now. There's homework that you need to anyways to get ready for the project to make it a success.
Paul Jarvis: So if this seems like a good fit, then I need to lock you into my calendar now or you're gonna lose that spot. I think I pretty much landed almost every project that I would explain things in that way because people are like, oh my God, I don't wanna miss out. And like, oh, he must be good. He's so popular. And it was just like I was popular because I would only take on a certain amount of work all the time. I mean, I could have grown my business and hired other freelancers or started an agency myself and then been able to take on work, but I was like, I don't really wanna do that. I'm not interested in that. So what can I do to make my business has just a freelancer the most successful, the most profitable without having to kill myself working like a gazillion hours a week because I said yes to everything. I think every opportunity has a cost associated. We just have to be smart about what we say yes to and have to pay the price for and what we don't say yes to.
Steve Folland: It's interesting 'cause you say you could have hired others and it didn't necessarily need to become an agency, you could have hired other people to work alongside you remotely just like you were. Was that ever a temptation, did you dip the toe?
Paul Jarvis: I'm pretty sure I did bring on a couple subcontractors. For me though, I suck at management and delegation. And I actually really enjoyed doing the work. I liked doing the writing, I like doing the design work. If I was managing designers or writers doing it, then I'd be jealous of them. And it doesn't make sense for a boss to be jealous of his employees. So I never wanted to do that. I wasn't really interested in growth and I mean, I'm still not. I mean, I wrote a book on this subject, but I'm just not really, I always wanted to find a way to make the business work for me because it was my business. If I was at the helm of this business, if I was the one calling the shots, then I wanted to make sure the business work for me because running a business is hard, being a freelancer is hard. If I didn't wanna make things work for me, it would be easier to just go work for somebody else and just assume that the way things work in their businesses the way I'm okay with.
Paul Jarvis: So being that I wanted to stay a freelancer and stay working for myself, I was like, how about I just make my business and shape my business around kind of the way that I want it to look and it's never involved hiring people. I mean, I work with partners on projects and like if a client needed a developer or somebody else to do some work, I would say, hey, you can hire this person. I've worked with them before, they do great work, hire them separately from me and we'll work together. That way I don't need to manage them, but they're available and we can kind of be a bit more then some of our parts working together and collaborating well.
Steve Folland: So at what point did you start writing, frankly, I introduced you as a writer at the beginning. You're very well known for your weekly email. And as you mentioned you've got a book, it's out there. When did you start that?
Paul Jarvis: Yes, so it was about 10 years in. I realized that if I started to share the things that I know that it could ultimately just help me. Like if I could just shared all of the things I know. And what I noticed in the design world specifically was that when designers were sharing, they were sharing things or writing articles or making videos just for other designers. And I was like, what are you doing? Like why would I do that? Designers aren't gonna hire me as clients, they're designers. They're the same skillset as me. Why don't I try to create content or write for the people who are hiring web designers because if they're reading, what I have to say about what makes a good client or what makes a website design a success or teach them how to be better clients so they get the end result that they want. Then if they're reading this and is resonating with them, then maybe they'll just gonna hire me. As it like, oh, I agree with what Paul said about like being a good client or how to hire the right web designer. Well, he seems like the right web designer. So why don't I just hire him?
Paul Jarvis: So I started, yeah, I was probably about 10 years ago. And then it kinda went from articles that I was writing to the newsletters that's kind of morphed into what it is now, but in the beginning it was just shared with a much smaller group. And then at writing articles and that. And then eventually publishing a few books for people who are looking to make online businesses and kind of see success with that. So yeah, it was definitely, I probably should have started writing sooner to be honest, but I didn't. And I kept telling myself, well, you're not a writer so you shouldn't be writing. And then I realized, well, that's garbage because all it takes to be a writer is to start writing, so why don't I just do that instead.
Steve Folland: It was effectively content marketing before, anybody was talking about content marketing?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, pretty much. It was me basically figuring out that if people were learning from me then they would assume I was an expert. And if they wanted to hire an expert then they would wanna hire the expert they know. So just keep making content and yeah, like you said, doing content marketing in that way.
Steve Folland: So how did that change? Was it just the reaction that you got from your audience?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I mean, I kind of after, I guess probably a year or two of writing, I was like, this is interesting to me. And at the time I had been designing and doing client work for a lot of years. So I was like, what if my job changes a little bit and I was like, well, maybe I should start to think about like writing as a career and I still wanna keep working for myself, that's never changed. I don't even think I'm employable at this point in my life. And then number of visible tattoos I have or the surly attitude that I maintain. But I was like, what if I move from being a designer to a writer, what would that look like?
Paul Jarvis: And so I decided if I'm gonna do this as more of a more of a job that I want than a hobby that I wanna pursue, I was like, okay, I'm gonna keep track of my income separate. So my designing come separate from my writing and product income. And if my writing income begins to make more than my design income in less amount of time, then that seems like a viable career, like slight shift for me. So that's kind of what I worked towards in the beginning. Took about two and a half years to get there, but that's kind of the plan that I started in with.
Steve Folland: And was that like weekly articles? Weekly, consistent?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, basically writing articles about once a week. This is kind of, and this is probably now about six or seven years ago, so it was kind of around the start of the Sunday dispatches. And it was writing weekly articles as well as at the time I was trying to grow my reach as a domain expert in whatever it is I'm an expert in. And so I was trying to write articles for publications because I realized that there's a potential audience out there for me. They just don't know who I am yet, but they're already spending time on the Internet. So I need to go to them in the beginning. I need to go find where they're hanging out and start to show up on their radar in those places. And so I was basically writing for any publication that would have me being like just making stuff for other places so that they would see it and then come to me, which luckily that happened and then yeah, I started to write books and those started to sell well. And then I started to make courses and started to do well as well. And then I started to make software. So it all kind of started from the writing place though.
Paul Jarvis: And that's why I said in the beginning you were like, how should I introduce you? And I was like writer, because that's basically what takes up the bulk of my day. Like regardless of the type of work I'm doing now is mostly writing. Even if it's making software, it's still mostly writing and then a bit of development and still quite a bit of design.
Steve Folland: Was it quite a shift when you decided to meet you first course?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, like I mean, it was honestly pretty tough because I was, I kept thinking that I was being an idiot because I was kind of at the top of my game as a freelance designer and I was basically saying, what if I just stopped doing this? And it's like when you're doing well in your businesses making money and you have like a client backlog and you're like, maybe I'm gonna stop doing what's working. It also is probably gonna go through your head unless you're filled with ego completely that maybe this isn't the right idea because you're stopping doing something that's obviously working very well. So I definitely had a lot of those thoughts, but I also knew that the writing was actually going fairly well. The things that I was writing, we're doing well and being well received and definitely generating some income. Plus I love my clients.
Paul Jarvis: At the time of kind of winding that down, I was only working with people that I've really liked working with that were really smart, that we're really actually great online business owners as well. So I actually learned a lot from the people that I was working with. And so yeah, just kinda kept, it kept going from there and the courses were just kind of like a next progression from the writing books.
Steve Folland: Was the a tipping point? Because there must've been that moment where you had zero email subscribers or zero audience. Can you remember that there a point where it felt like it was taken off?
Paul Jarvis: There wasn't even one point. I think that it was like a two and a half year run to being an overnight success at writing where it was just, it was so incremental. It was like I looked at, in MailChimp the other day and like the first email that I sent out to the Sunday dispatches was to 69 people. Then the next week it was 72 and then the next week it might've been 100. And then for a couple years it was just like slow, like every week it was like $100 more, 200 more, sometimes four or 500 more and it just kept slowly growing and everything I did made a little dent in that. Every product I released made a bit more money than the last one. It was just such a slow build that there wasn't even one tipping point.
Paul Jarvis: So there was just one day I was like, I'm making more doing this than I am doing my design work. So maybe this client that I'm working with now is my last client. And I was like, maybe I can do this. And then I just don't know when, I guess, I probably emailed them and was I like, hey, this is the last part. Because most of the time when I was working with clients, they would never leave in the best possible way where I would work with somebody and I do a website for them and then they would like that work. So they'd hired me again. There was a few clients that I did, probably a dozen, maybe 15 projects with, where it just kept going or like as they new business or as their business grew they just needed more stuff, so I would do more projects with them.
Paul Jarvis: So it was really tough to let those clients go. But eventually I just told them one by one with a little tear in my eye that, I can't. I'm no longer gonna be doing this here is somebody I think you could probably hire instead of me who's just as awesome or more awesome at the work. And I'm sorry to have to part ways, but, yeah, I'm pursuing something different now. And they were all understandable. Actually when I started writing books, there's three or four clients that I was working with that were like my biggest promoters, like they already had big audiences and they promoted my books and they actually really helped the initial traction of some of the paid books that I had written take off, which I was really grateful and thankful for.
Steve Folland: And when it came to making the courses, how did that feel for you like workload wise? We've had a few people on who've made courses, the classic in quotation marks, passive income, which really can't be. How did you find that change in your work?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I mean I really think passive income is just separation of work and revenue, where it's not really passive, you're just doing the work beforehand to make the money in the future. So with the products and with the writing stuff, I went very slowly. So the first book that I wrote cost me $0 because at the time, well, I just had weird experiments for no reason. Well, for not much reason. So at the time of writing my first book I was not spending any money that year other than gas and groceries and obviously rent, but I wasn't spending money on anything so. And it was a cookbook and all of my cutlery and plates are ugly because I don't care what my plates and cutlery would look like. So I traded for editing work.
Paul Jarvis: My buddy was a pastry chef at a five star restaurant in the town that I live, so he let me borrow a bunch of stuff. I traded the photographer food for taking all of the photos. I'm like, hey, you can eat all the things you take pictures of please. And so she did that. And so I basically tried to build it as slowly as possible where the first book didn't take a whole lot of time, didn't take any money. I think I registered the domain name so I guess it costs me $12 and then that started to make money. So I started to invest a little bit more money and a little bit more time in the next book. And by the time I got to courses, which was probably three books in, my writing was making a decent amount of money. So I could spend about three or four months building something that was generating zero money in the hopes that it would generate money in the future.
Paul Jarvis: And I only did that because I knew that the books were doing alright and I was just like slowly, progressively growing, growing the income, growing the fan base and all of that. And so when I made my first course, which was creative class, I knew that I could spend a bit more time working on it and it's like, I'm lucky too that the skillset that I have, it's easy for me to build a website because this is what I've done for 20 years. So I know how to design a course. I know how to write a course that I've been writing for a while. I figured out how to do video and the easiest way possible by just hitting record and keynote on my Mac. So that part was actually pretty straightforward. I knew how to build payment system because I had been building them and they got a lot easier since the mid 90s. So it was all just like, I feel like courses for me was just like a combination of all of the skills that I've been working on for years past.
Steve Folland: Yeah. From that one course Creative Class, which still exists or be indifferent iterations today as well, how many more courses did you, how long would you spend, would you then go right onto the next thing or would the course take, I don't know, like lots of attending like a garden?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, they definitely require work and for me it's mostly like I'm a big systems and processes nerd, so I like to have onboarding of a course dialled in completely. So somebody buys a course, I answered the questions they might have before they ask them. And I like to make it, so it's easy to progress through the lesson. So I want all of the course to feel like a finished piece of software that's easy to use. So the opposite of Microsoft Word or something like that. Where I don't wanna have to work on helping people with the same problems because I feel like that's a fault of mine if that happens. And people have issues that are unique to them, then I'm happy to help. That's my job as a course creator, as a teacher to help people like that. But I wanna answer, pre answer all the questions beforehand. So I work really hard at that.
Paul Jarvis: So I feel like the work that I have to do as a course runner is to answer specific questions like typically when my course is open, the bulk of my work, because everything's automated now, it's just answering emails from people and just like if somebody is like is this course right or wrong for me. I'm gonna spend some time thinking about well, is this score is actually right or wrong for them? And sometimes I'm gonna say it's not. Sometimes I'm gonna say it is. Or even answering questions, like my favourite question that I ever got, I'm never gonna forget it, it's a story that I always tell when people ask about this, is in the creative class. And then kind of what I talk about with freelancing, you and I have talked about today, word of mouth and referrals are such a huge part of what I teach and what I feel is very important for freelancers.
Paul Jarvis: And so one time when Creative Class had just opened, I got an email from a lady who was like, this course seems really good. This seems really to resonate with how I wanna a run my business. She's like, but you talk a lot about word of mouth and referrals and she's like, my job is a Death Doula, so if I do my job correctly, my client is dead at the end of our work together. She's like, I cannot get a word of mouth recommendation because my client has passed on. So she's like, is this course right for me? And I'm like there's no sales copy that I could write that could address this specific issue that this lady had. I mean, I didn't even know that this was a death doula as a thing. I didn't even know that this existed as like a freelance job even.
Paul Jarvis: So I feel like that's part of the non passive thing. Like I wanna be available to people who are interested in my course. I've also found to that, a lot of times the pre sales questions are more to see that I care enough about answering the question and that there's a human on the other side of this digital transaction than anything else. Like people ask me questions because they wanna see how long it takes me to answer, if I'm just shuffling the answer off or if I'm just putting time into the answer before they make a purchase because I think a lot of times all of these courses can be really automated and there can be no human interaction, so I feel like that's part of my job as well as tending the garden of existing students. There's a community for all of my courses. So I spend a bit of time every day in the chat and if people have questions wanna answer them. If people have topics I wanna weigh in. If people are sharing with each other, I wanna encourage them and that sort of thing.
Steve Folland: You mentioned products earlier as well, so you've got courses, you've got products. Have you spent time creating things and then eventually ended up switching something off, like killing it?
Paul Jarvis: Oh yeah. All the time. Probably killed off more products than I currently sell, because if something is not working I don't wanna keep doing it. I don't wanna keep doing something if it's not working. I'm obviously gonna give it a try and I'm gonna try to make it work and I'm gonna try to, especially with products, try to reposition them because maybe I got the sales copy or the positioning wrong, but after a certain amount of time running a business is hard enough. I don't want, I wanna take off things that don't have to be hard off of my plate. So if a product isn't doing well or if a product, even after a ton of work on my end just isn't selling where it needs to be selling, then yeah, I'm gonna kill it all, I killed it off.
Paul Jarvis: Courses that I've killed are software products, I've killed off podcasts. You name the type of product, I've probably killed, I'd probably killed off at least one of those.
Steve Folland: And it ends up feeling better afterwards?
Paul Jarvis: Oh yeah, it's scary as hell. And the second before you're like, should I kill this off, should this stop existing and then as soon as you do, you're just like, ah, so nice. And then you open up space to work on another thing that could have the potential to do much better, which I think is a good thing.
Steve Folland: Yeah. You mentioned podcasts. When did you get into that and how did that feel for you?
Paul Jarvis: Probably, I think my first show was Miserable Office Hours with Jason Zook. It was tough, like he basically had to convince me, I love podcasting now, but I'm also introverted and my preferred means of communication is written. So he really had to push me and this is around when podcasting was really starting to take off. He's like, oh, we should have, like we talk on Skype all the time and we're ridiculously funny. So other people would definitely love to listen to us. And I was like, I don't know. And he's like, dude, we're doing a podcast. I was like, okay. And then it did do well and then I was like, okay, yeah, I probably shouldn't have pushed so hard against this. And since then I think I've had one, two, three, four or five podcasts since then. And I think I have two active ones now.
Paul Jarvis: So yeah, it started out tough because I don't like, talking isn't my default preferred state of communication. But as I've done more of it, I've started to realize that like, Hey, this is actually a mode of communication that my audience really like. So my business exists to serve them in exchange for money and value. So why not do this? Why don't I do the things that they like, if it's not awful for me to do or it doesn't go against anything like morals or ethics to do it. But I do think that it is a pretty good medium. And I mean, even now, like I really like it and I'm like I enjoy it, I just recorded the audio book for company of one which was hours and hours in a studio talking and I mean it was definitely exhausting. I'm not gonna lie, but it was still, I really enjoyed giving voice to the book that I had written.
Steve Folland: Company of one, you've spoken about the fact that you didn't wanna grow as a business.
Paul Jarvis: The point of the book and the thesis of the book is not that growth is bad, but that growth should be considered. And I think for myself, for somebody who I've admitted is very bad at managing and who likes doing this stuff, if growth doesn't make sense for me, if I was starting Airbnb and I had one property on it, I don't think it would be a success because I would need more than one property on it. So to build a marketplace where people can book other people's houses around the world. So I think growth makes sense in a lot of times, but growth also doesn't make sense in a lot of times.
Paul Jarvis: And it was just a message that I had felt to my core was smart for me to do, but nobody else was talking about it. So I was like, what if I can write a book to share with people who feel the same as I do because everybody else is talking about the other side all the time. You can go to any event, read any article in any business publication about why growth is good and why growth is basically the thing you're supposed to do if you succeed in business. And I was like, there's probably people like me. And then I started to write articles about it for my mailing list about why I don't like growth. And I was like inundated with people who are like, I thought I was the only one who felt this way. And I was like, yes, there's a book here.
Steve Folland: One thing I wanted to touch upon as I do with pretty much everybody I think I speak to is, the whole work life balance of things?
Paul Jarvis: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I mean, it's always a struggle to be honest. When we work for ourselves, we know that like if we're not working, we're not making money, so maybe we should keep working to make more money, but then there's a certain, like we're not machines, like we're not, like our bodies aren't built to sit, especially for most freelancers aren't built to sit at a desk staring at a monitor all day. Like I feel like I can be more productive if I go to the gym or if I eat well or if I get eight hours of sleep at night and these things seem counter intuitive, but they're not. They're actually good for productivity.
Paul Jarvis: There was a study done by, I think it was Pew Research. And this is only about American. So it may or may not apply to the rest of the world, I don't know. But where they found that productivity kind of peaks at about 50 hours maximum a week. And if you work more than that, you're basically just sitting there not being productive. And also I don't even think that number of hours is a mark of productivity. I think it'd be truly productive if you're working less and not more. I think that this whole idea in society that like busyness as a badge of honour, that like sleeping on your couch like Elon Musk get his office is a badge of honour, is kind of misguided where I feel like I don't wanna be punished for getting my work done quickly. I wanna be rewarded for that. So I wanna build a business around that and I mean sure, there's some times when I'm busy, like my book just launched. I am busy right now because a book that I've been working on for years just came out. But in a month I'm not gonna be busy.
Paul Jarvis: And I don't want busy to be my default state. And I mean, I can weather the busyness and the stress and the overwhelm if it's sometimes, if it's all of the time, if it's my default state then I don't feel like that's good for my physical health, my mental health, any social health. I don't think that's good for anything. I don't think that's sustainable either. Like I've worked for myself for 20 years. I wanna keep working for myself for another 20 years and that's not gonna happen if I'm like burning the candle at both ends or trying to do 16 hour days, I wanna do three or four hours of creative work and then maybe an hour or two of admin work and be done. And that's perfect for me. Some days aren't like that. Some days definitely stressful longer, but most days are pretty much that.
Steve Folland: Nice. Yeah. You spoke there about the future, so I mean, 'cause you've already established that you're really old. Old man into another 20 years, but I've heard you on podcast before, probably on Invisible Office Hours, talking about investing for example. There was a point when you started thinking about longer term future?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I mean, so in terms of long-term goals I have none. I'm really bad at planning specifics for the future, but I'm also stress adverse. So I've been putting money into investments and just like index funds. I got an invest in the stock market. I don't understand the stock market. Why would I put money into something I don't understand. Playing the lottery is easier and it pretty much gives you the same results, but investing in passive income things like, an index fund like a low-cost index fund, which is paying off typically above inflation every year. I've kind of always done that because I've always felt like, well, what if everything stops tomorrow for me? And I mean I put things in place so that doesn't happen and I have like liquid assets in case I have lean months, but I've always invested a lot.
Paul Jarvis: And it's like in my 20s I was pretty much stupid in every other aspect of my life, but when it came to investing or when it came to like savings, I was always a squirrel. I always figured like I don't know what the future looks like, so why not safer that? Why not live below my means if possible. And like kind of not spending anything for a year was an experiment in that could I live with less? And there's definitely some things I couldn't live with. One time I did, I think we had no furniture for six months 'cause we were trying to just determine exactly what furniture was required and what wasn't. My back hurt after a month and I was like, we need a couch and a bed. I just asked that, I don't care, but like we need a couch, we can't sleep on a blow up mattress. This is ridiculous. So we changed.
Paul Jarvis: But like I always try to live, even as a freelancer our incomes can be very different month to month, but I've always kind of looked at, okay, what's the average for 12 months? What do I need to pay myself just the minimum amount to cover my expenses each month. And then that's my salary. And like I paid myself a salary for as long as I can remember. I don't remember when it started paying myself a salary as a freelancer, but it's been at least 10, 15 years at least. Where I've had a set salary where I've known like this is how much I need to live off of I can live with the amount that I have. I don't need a lavish or luxurious lifestyle in all regards.
Paul Jarvis: Certainly some things I spend money on, which I don't have to, but it makes me happy, so why the hell not. But like if I need to spend less on my life, I need to make less, so I'm stress less because I hit profitability every month a lot sooner. And then everything else like I put into savings and I say like I could be like Mr. Money Mustache and try to live off of like 30,000 a year and live in the woods. I don't even know where he lives now, but like I could try to do that now and I could probably do that, but I'm not really interested in that because that's somebody else's version of success. That's somebody else's version of a life that they want. It's not necessarily what I want, so I wanna try to figure out what I want. But yeah, savings of have always, long answer to a short question, savings have always been ridiculously important to me because I never know what's coming next or what could happen.
Steve Folland: Now, if you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I think it's that you're in charge. So you can make the rules of how you want your business to look and obviously it needs to be profitable, it needs to be valuable, it needs to be helpful, but you don't have to run or start a business that looks like somebody else's business to make it legitimate. Like by virtue of you existing as a business and profiting from it, your business can look however it needs to look. I struggled with that in the beginning and then now I'm like, I don't know why I just didn't see this sooner.
Steve Folland: Did you always feel like a business? 'Cause for me, like that, I remember when I first went freelance, my wife saying, oh yeah, Steve is starting his own business and I was like, no, I'm not. But actually after a while you start to realize that that is it. How was that for you?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I think it's funny, especially in the creative world, like as designers, writers, photographers that kind of thing. We all feel like, oh, business yucky. And then when we work for ourselves we're like, oh, is not a real business? But it kind of is. We need to make a profit, we need to be valuable to the people we serve. Our business is about serving others for money and so we need to do our taxes. All of the things that a business does, every single freelancer has to do to make a living doing it. So I think that, in thinking that, eww businesses yucky, we probably just think that it's yucky in the way that we see other businesses work. And that's why we freelance in the first place. And so if we make our business and we run it in a non-yucky way, it's actually pretty cool. It's actually kind of fun to run a business on your own.
Steve Folland: Paul it's been really good chat with you, especially because when I first went freelance, a friend of mine sent me an email. It was ‘You are not a large corporation’.
Paul Jarvis: I remember that email.
Steve Folland: I still have the email stuck away in a folder.
Paul Jarvis: It's on my website too.
Steve Folland: So I'll put a link to that, but yeah, it really spoke to me at the time. Yeah, it's been cool watching the way that you've evolved over the past few years while I have been as well. So thank you so much for chatting. Go to beingfreelance.com and go and see what Paul is up to as you won't be disappointed. Well, thanks so much and all the best with the book and all the best being freelance.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah. Thanks Steve. I appreciate it. This was such a great talk.