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3 Things I Learned At The Double Your Freelancing Conference

Last week, I hosted my first-ever conference.

Unlike a lot of the work I do nowadays (like creating educational content, getting clients, being interviewed on podcasts, and so on), this was something that definitely took me out of my comfort zone. While I hosted a number of events for my agency, mostly with the intent of generating sales leads, I never hosted a huge conference.

But I did it. And based on the 60ish or so surveys I received back so far, attendees gave it an average 4.8/5 star rating — yay!

In this article, I’m not going to comb over every talk and summarize what was covered. Plenty of other reviews and summaries, which I’ve listed at the bottom, have already done that. Rather, I’m going to share both what I’ve learned and confirmed after spending a few days surrounded by 120 of some of the most business-minded freelancers, consultants, and agency owners around.

Over the years, I’ve been to a number of conferences. Most of them were technical and were attended by a mix of employees, employers, and freelancers. If anything related to freelancing or consulting, it was during a periphery talk rather than a keynote.

When planning the Double Your Freelancing Conference, I wanted it to be technology agnostic. Whether you’re a Ruby developer, a designer of logos, a freelance blogger, or whatever else, you’d get something out of each talk. And since the focus was entirely on the business behind our crafts, I opened by letting people know that it was safe to unplug from their clients and their projects.

Last Thursday morning, we kicked off a two-day spa retreat for businesses. And here’s what I learned…

1. We’re all in this together

I had a friend who I invited to the Thursday night after party (which was amazing — we chartered a large boat and went on a 3-hour sunset cruise into the Chesapeake Bay). He knows nothing about freelancing or technology, but he knows a bit about business.

“For a business conference, everyone I met was super friendly and was legitimately trying to help each other.”

IMG_0777You know how it often takes someone else to notice something that’s been right in front of your nose all along? Well, that’s exactly what that comment, especially the latter bit, did to me. He was right. A lot of us were competitors of each other, but we were opening up and sharing what’s worked and what hasn’t.

I’ve never went to many suit-and-tie business conferences in the past, but I’ve been to my fair share of local business networking groups.

Most chats I’ve had at these events have always rung a bit selfish. Each person was trying to figure out what they could get from or sell to the other, which was closed (as quickly as possible) by a ritualistic exchange of business cards.

But the conversations at the conference were largely genuine.

People wanted to learn from each other and, most importantly, help each other.

2. We’re not afraid to invest

The people I met weren’t afraid to invest time and money in their businesses.

One of the biggest challenges for my own business was getting comfortable with the fact that revenue isn’t the same as profit, and that your availability (time where you’re working) shouldn’t be spent entirely on you client projects.

Everyone who was at the conference was giving up at least three days of billable time. They spent money on the conference, the flights, and the hotel. They forfeited short-term revenue for long-term success.IMG_0779

I have to tell you: this was one of the hardest things for me to appreciate and adopt in my own business.

Whether paying for a course or book to learn something new, hiring people to help me grow my business, either in an advisorial role (coaching) or immersive (virtual assistants, audio engineers, etc.), or spending money on ads or paid networking opportunities, I used to reluctantly earmark money from client revenue with the intent of growing and sustaining my business.

The attendees at the conference cared more about where they’ll be in a year or two than what particular projects or clients they might happen to have on deck at the moment.

3. We acknowledge our faults

If you hang around enough online forums for freelancers, you’ll inevitably run across posts like:”My clients all suck! They’re such cheapskates.”

In fact, there are a number of websites dedicated to mocking clients for silly requests or ridiculous expectations. While there’s some truth in all of that, rarely do freelancers who have had a bad client or two sit back and think, “How have I contributed to this problem?”

IMG_0762I truly think the hallmark of a mature freelancer is someone who owns up to his or her limitations.

They don’t think, “I hate my client for raising a fit over the fact that I billed for meetings” (this was me a few years ago). Instead, they question, “How could I have set expectations differently
so this client would willingly and happily pay for meetings?”
Everyone I talked with was chiefly interested in growing both personally and professionally. We want to be better and offer a premium service to our clients, and the natural end that we’ll achieve is more money, high client values, and so on.

I was really impressed by how much ownership each attendee took to his or her success. Rather than thinking that so-and-so is just inherently more lucky or well connected, they instead tried to reverse engineer the other’s success. What are they doing right? Wrong? What can I learn from them? How can I help them learn from my own experiences?

More reviews:

Now that this year’s conference is behind us, my focus is now on the next version of Double Your Freelancing Clients, which is opening up for registration in November.

But it does look like we’ll be hosting another conference next year with new talks and topics, along with some new speakers. There might even be a European version of what happened last week in Virginia sometime next year. A comment below is a great way to indicate your interest… hint hint 🙂 )

The recordings, which are now being finalized, are now available to pre-order again at a discount.

Here are some other reviews:

(Am I missing you review? Link to it in the comments and I’ll include it.)

  • Shelley Tran
  • Number 3 is a great point– it’s easy to blame the client but takes a lot more effort to figure out how we contributed to the conflict, whether it be a communication problem or a product problem. Glad your conference was such a success, congrats!

    • Thanks so much Meg! Yeah, I see a LOT of client bashing happening on the Interwebs. Some legit, most… not so much 🙂

  • Great recap, totally agree on the importance of owning up to the client relationship rather than dismissing the client as bad. We have to go on the assumption that most people are actually good earnest people and not the tiny percent who legitimately want to make your life miserable.

    And I think I’ve already told you 3 different ways that DYFC 2016 should definitely happen, but for completeness I’ll say it again in this blog comment 😉 Definitely my favourite conference this year and hats off for pulling it off so well.

    • So happy to hear that Matt, and thanks again for the great audio “review”!

  • Thank you for making this conference happen Brennan.
    I’m already implementing some of the excellent pointers and tips learned through those talks and I’m loving it. My productivity is already improving and I’m making these small changes a daily habit!

    I loved the fact that this conference was kept small.
    It made the entire group of attendees much more accessible.
    I never had so many great conversations with other freelancers.

    • Awesome David! I agree 100% with the size comment. Keep me in the loop and let me know what sort of impact the conference has had. I might even do future podcast episodes where I interview people who attended the conference and have success stories to share.

  • Come to Europe! I prebook already.

    • How does mid-June sound?

      • Mid-June would be great.

      • Sounds great

      • Mila Frerichs

        A little earlier might be even better. June is a good time to go on vacation.

        And if you want to go to both conferences (DYFC & DYFC Europe) earlier would be easier to schedule 🙂

        Can’t wait for the videos.

  • RahoulB

    Don’t come to Europe – I need an excuse to go to you 🙂

    • Why not both? 🙂 Seriously though, lots of people simply can’t afford / make the time to hop the ocean, so I’d ideally like to have a European equivalent.

  • Susan

    I just found out about this conference! Sorry I missed it. Looks like great takeaways. I vote for a West Coast conference next year!

    • Thank you Susan! A lot will depend on pricing. Hosting something in SF, for example, easily puts the total cost for an attendee in the few thousands of dollars range.

  • Looking forward to the recordings Brennan since I couldn’t attend. AND super excited to hear you’re thinking about doing a European version! 🙂 Pick Norway for the conference! Awesome work with the DYFC and again, can’t wait to see what everybody is talking about!

    • Awesome Ken! How’s mid-June? Location is TBD (depends on pricing, really)

      • Mid-June is perfect, should be beautiful summer weather by then. 🙂 My house is at your disposal for no charge, haha. 😉

  • Hey Brennan.

    Thanks for the RT. Here’s my article to add. 😉

  • Leuchtthurm

    I start putting aside money for attendance of DYFConf Europe now! 🙂

    • How’s mid-June?

      • Leuchtthurm

        Mid-June is fine!

      • Mid-June would be good.

      • Iain Smith

        In London or somewhere else?

    • What, DYFConf Europe? That would be amazing, count me in!

  • MTBkelly

    Agree on all three counts, Brennan. It’s easier to make meaningful connections in a small group format. We also talked about the fact that we came from various backgrounds – writers, SaaS, digital marketing and other agency niches which introduces different perspectives and approaches and may even lead to teaming up with some attendees on some projects. That’s fantastic! We really enjoyed it.

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