I once started listing all the things I needed to work on before I could become a rich-ass superstar freelancer.

I ended up with a list of sixteen things. It was all brilliant stuff I got from books.

“Change mix of agency versus direct clients.” “Expand client prospecting/more regular. Newsletter?” “Target copy-intensive verticals.” “More diligent about time-tracking, comparing against estimates.” “Migrate to project-based pricing.”

It was all MBA stuff like that. I cringe to think about it now.

Trouble was, there was no way I could ever juggle sixteen objectives. (Especially stupid ones.) Or six. Or even three.

Since birth, I’ve been saddled with a brain that has but one channel.

The best I could do was focus on one simple thing at a time. Or, as my friends put it, one “dumbed-down over-simplified thing at a time.” (Which is what most people do, even if they claim otherwise.)

Call these mantras.

Or even themes, which is a better term, I think.

You need one plain and simple thing to repeat to yourself as you shower in the morning. Or as you sit down to work. Or as you dial into a call with a client. Or as you wonder how the hell to respond to an email. Or when you are walking the dog.

One simple thing to keep above your desk, as North Star.

Get that one thing right, everything else falls into place around it. No additional crap needed.

My favorites:

This one saved me from crashing and burning at least twice. And it cranked up my income each time. I had gone into my ‘auteur’ phase, championing my particular take on copywriting above all else. I got a reputation as an argumentative bete noir, enfant terrible, a pain in the ass. Clients were slipping away, and it was hard to land new ones. Until I got off my high horse and changed my marching orders.

Make the client look good.

Ah. When I make that my job, the clouds part, the heavens sing, and money flows. I’m here to make the client look like a hero to her boss. To help her kick ass, score points. It is not about me. Say that to yourself every hour on the hour and your business will magically clarify itself.

My designer friend Kevin chants a variation of this.

Make their job easier.

When you think of it, any client who has ever hired any freelancer, did so for that very reason. No matter what they say. Ease a burden, relieve pain. People will sign checks for that. Sit down to work today thinking how you will do that. Your life will change.


For long stretches I’ve had a huge problem with productivity. It’s genetic. Or a character flaw. There is paying work on the desk, but I dawdle over it. Or I fritter too much time away emailing, talking, outlining, thinking, planning to write. Thinking about planning to write. Reading posts about how others write about planning to think. Or planning to think about getting the thing done. I have to slap myself and say . . .

Write all day.

How simple could it be? Tennis players hit tennis balls all day. Bricklayers lay brick all day. Executives . . . well I don’t know. Bank tellers tell all day.

But me, a supposedly professional writer, I can easily do everything but write from dawn till dusk. When I make it my mantra to write all day, everything is simpler. I’m either writing a job. Or writing an email to get a job. Writing a blog post to get an email to write a job. When I write all day, only good things happen. Even if I write dross and dreck. When I don’t write all day, things start to suck, and fast.

Substitute ‘design’, ‘translate’, ‘code’, ‘illustrate’. Same thing. Do what you do. All day. Life will change.


I stole this one from a friend who had been milking two cash cow clients for ages. Within a week, both of them imploded in corporate convulsions. He was adrift and lost. He had to reboot, way too late in the game. He taught me to change my morning prayer . . .

Talk to someone new today.

This is a hard one for me. But when I get scared about being left behind, I do it, and stuff happens. If you’re more comfortable talking, call. If you’re more comfortable writing, tweet. Or email. Or send pictures. Or sketches. Step outside your circle.

For the next eighteen days, wake up thinking this and let me know how you’re doing. Don’t screw this up by setting goals. “Nine new client contacts per week. Six interviews this month.” This is not about bean-counting. This is mindset. Just talk to someone new today.


Delight somebody.

When writing this blog I get way too tangled up in trying for clever, twitter-worthy, posty, viral stuff that gets a  jillion hits and 987 retweets. Never works. Instead I now think about . . .

One true sentence.

Start there. Then try for another. And another. This is infernally difficult. But do it, and you’ll be okay.

Or, as many others have said.

Bleed a little.

Bare something. Open a vein. Say what most people don’t.

Or this one.

Would you rather work for a boss?