How to become a successful freelancer | Paul Jarvis Interview

Ever dreamed of ditching the cubicle to work from home? Trying to build a business as a solo entrepreneur? Turning your passion into a paycheck? Freelancing may be all the rage but not everyone is Boba Fett.

Paul Jarvis is a leading freelance designer and bestselling author of The Good Creative. He just launched a new course on freelancing called The Creative Class that lays out the systems he's used to do consistently successful projects for top clients. I'm a big fan of Paul's writing on creativity and entrepreneurship (here's an example), so I was thrilled when he agreed to share some of his hard-earned lessons. I've been self-employed since grad school, so the topic is close to my heart. Any freelancer would do well to learn from his down-to-Earth perspective.

Here are some of the questions we tackle:
  • How did you go out on your own and start freelancing? What role do designers play in the big picture of technology in society?
  • Why has freelancing gone from being a weird hobby to a serious career path over the past 15 years? How does it compare to other forms of entrepreneurship? What does the future of work look like?
  • How do you balance research and production on design projects? How do you go about understanding what you are designing for? At any given time, are you working on many small projects or a couple of big ones?
  • What are the biggest mistakes that freelancers make? Where are the elephant traps?
  • What's the most counter-intuitive thing you've learned about freelancing and design?
  • How can I become a better freelancer?
  • What tools or resources do you recommend for freelancers? What's something about freelancing/design that you believe in but few people agree with?
  • What is survivorship bias and how does it impact freelancers/entrepreneurs trying to find success? If we can't use role models as models for success, what should we think about instead?
  • How do authors build and inspire audiences?
  • What's your creative process like behind-the-scenes?
  • What are the best books you’ve read recently?
  • What’s the most important question I’m not asking?
Paul's reading recommendations:
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How to turn customers into champions | Brant Cooper & Jeremiah Gardner

Branding is so old-school: Superbowl commercials, Maddison Avenue, platinum-plated advertising budgets. Isn't branding a waste of time for a tech startup? Isn't it the opposite of the lean startup approach? Aren't products supposed to speak for themselves?

Not if you want passionate customers, according to Brant Cooper and Jeremiah Gardner. Brant is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lean Entrepreneur and Jeremiah is an agency veteran who's built brands for startups and Fortune 500 companies. In their new book, The Lean Brand, Brant and Jeremiah lay out the new-school of branding by applying lean principles to audience building. They kindly agreed to share some how-to wisdom based on case studies with top tech companies to help you turn your customers into champions.

In the interview, we tackle critical questions like:
  • What does “brand” mean anyway?
  • Why should entrepreneurs care about branding? Don’t they have more important things to worry about?
  • What’s the biggest branding mistake that companies make?
  • How do you find and inspire passionate customers?
  • In all of your interviews and case studies for the book, what was the most counter-intuitive thing you learned?
  • What differentiates The Lean Brand approach? What makes it “lean”?
  • What tools can entrepreneurs use to optimize their brand? Can you give a specific example of a company successfully applying that tool?
  • What’s something you present in the book that few people agree with you on? Why do others disagree and why is your position true?
  • What inspired the book? What was your creative process like?
  • How are you applying the lessons from The Lean Brand to launching the book itself?
  • What have you learned as entrepreneurs that informs your work as authors and vice versa?
  • What are the best books you’ve read recently?
  • What’s the most important question I’m not asking?
Some books we mention:
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Where to find high-quality journalism on the Internet | Jeff Campagna Interview

Jeff Campagna is an author, journalist, and co-founder of independent startup publisher Compass Cultura. His stories have appeared in The Daily Beast, Smithsonian Magazine, Vice Magazine, The Atlantic's Longreads,, and many other publications. Compass Cultura is a subscription-based publisher of high-quality, in-depth stories. Everything I've read there so far has been top notch.

I came across a great story by Jeff on the future of travel publishing on Medium (which in itself is an example of the future of publishing). His perspective nailed how the Internet is changing the nature of reporting, news consumption, and journalism's business model. As an author, this is a topic that fascinates me to no end. I reached out to Jeff and he was generous enough to a share a number of insights on what's really going on behind the scenes.

Why is the internet packed with top ten lists, link bait, promotional content, and other crappy stories? Where did all the good stuff go?

I don't think it went anywhere. It's still there. It's just buried. I'm not quite sure what the origin of Internet drivel is. Maybe it's because it's easy to consume. Like candy. Like pop music. Maybe because it's just more entertaining than journalism and informative writing. Maybe it's because, as a species, we are losing our desire to learn. But, good reading is still out here. And good readers are too. And it's not a case of ridding the internet of all the drivel so that the good readers can find the good reading. It's about forging the Internet in such a way that users can find the content they want with ease, whatever that content may be.

What does the future of journalism look like? How is technology shaping that future? What is driving the shift?

This is a massive question. I may be a journalist, and also an independent publisher, but I certainly don't have the qualifications or the expertise to predict the digital outcomes of either. I hope journalism will maintain a certain standard of quality, objectivity and accuracy in an age of speed, anonymity, and openness. Technology is obviously shaping the future of journalism (and everything else for that matter). Users are reading more on their smartphones than on their desktops. This is crazy to me.

How can writers monetize stories? How is this changing? How does business model impact the quality and process of reporting?

There are many ways writers can try to monetize their stories. Patreon, Beacon Reader and Contributoria are all examples of audience-funded (and sometimes even audience-edited) publishers who are embracing the implementation of open journalism in the digital age. I think what they are doing is great. Though I'm not sure if it's the answer. As a journalist, I still tend to rely on the old system of selling a story to an editor who then packages it for the readership of his or her outlet. I guess I still believe in the old-school approach of branded curation. But not because it's the best approach. I'm not sure if anyone in the digital publishing world has really gotten it right, yet.

What is Compass Cultura up to? Who are the other top players and what are they doing?

At Compass Cultura, we are doing our best to offer people higher-quality international and travel-based journalism in an easy-to-read, advertisement-free environment. We're trying to maintain a very tight focus. People have asked us if we license our platform to other publishers (in the way The Atavist licences their platform through The Creatavist) but the truth is, we're not a start-up tech company. We just want to tell great stories. Compass Cultura uses a sub-compact philosophy. We're not the first to do so. BKLYNR is another great example of well-executed sub-compact publishing. We are simply applying new trends in digital publishing to the travel-based journalism sector.

Is there an analog for people writing fiction? What new challenges do they face? What new solutions are out there?

Fiction is a very different animal. The Internet is a perfect vehicle to bring back the phenomena of 19th century serialized fiction, but it's not really being done yet—certainly not by any mainstream authors or publishers. But I think someone should give it a go. The closet relative to sub-compact publishing in the fiction world would probably be Kindle Singles. And some mainstream authors have had success with them. But, fiction is a tough nut to crack.

At the end of the day, what does this all mean for readers? For writers?

At the end of the day, what we are all working towards is a sort of democratization of publishing. Putting the power in the hands of the reader. For the first time in history, publishers can analyze exactly how exactly their readers are interacting with their content. With the invention of the Internet, web analytics and mobile apps, the relationship between content-provider and content-consumer has shifted from being a monologue to being a dialogue. Instead of publishers pushing content to readers, readers are sort of pulling it to them. But, this tool can be used for evil. I mean, web analytics are almost entirely responsible for the horrible state of digital advertising. Clicks, clicks, clicks. Time on site. Bounce rate. These metrics could (and should) be used to improve content quality, not increase ad revenue.

Does your experience as a writer/journalist inform your role as a founder at Compass Cultura and vice versa (i.e. creative <--> business)? Have you learned anything counterintuitive so far?

My journalism background absolutely informs my role as Compass Cultura's founder and creative director. In fact, my experience in journalism was the fountainhead for the project. Though it sounds crass, we publish the kind of content on Compass Cultura that we ourselves like to read. And I do the same as a journalist. I look for, and write, the kind of stories that I enjoy reading.

What's the best story you've read recently?

Well, I may be biased but, the best piece of journalism I've read recently is, without a doubt, Francesca Borri's article on the remnants of life in Aleppo, Syria. She is a very important journalist and her way of educating readers is honest and poetic—in my opinion, the two requirements of great journalism.

What important question am I not asking?

I think an important question to ask, and not just of me but everyone, is: what kind of Internet do we want? It's our choice. Though sometimes the internet feels like such a big place, it can't possibly be controlled. But it can. Do we want an Internet where deceiving native advertising is commonplace and corporate agendas are fed to us without even knowing it? Or do we want an internet that works for us, and not them. An Internet where content is king and high-quality products are easy to find. Of course, both Internets will always exist in some correlation or another. But, to me, the Internet is a castle that you are either building up or tearing down.

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How Startups Get Customers | Justin Mares Interview

Traction is what every entrepreneur wants these days. Whether it's your revenue, acquisition funnel, or engagement numbers, every venture investor demands strong growth rates before writing a check. It's no longer enough to just build a widget and let the world come to you. The most successful new companies are approaching traction with the same seriousness as product development.

Justin Mares is the co-author of Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers (his co-author, Gabriel Weinberg is the founder/CEO of DuckDuckGo). Justin is the former Director of Revenue at Exceptional, a software company that Rackspace acquired for 8 figures in 2013. He has previously founded two startups (one acquired, one bust) and runs a growth meetup in San Francisco. You can find his writing on marketing and personal-development on his blog,

Justin and Gabe interviewed Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Alexis Ohanian (reddit), Eric Ries (The Lean Startup), Noah Kagan (AppSumo), Andrew Chen, and 40+ other top tech entrepreneurs to inform the lessons they share in the book.

In the interview, Justin and I tackle some of these questions:
  • How can entrepreneurs get new customers for their startups? How can they execute a differentiated growth strategy and find traction?
  • Why is traction so important? 
  • What is the biggest traction mistake startups make? How should they think differently? What's the biggest traction mistake Justin has ever made?
  • What was the most counter-intuitive thing they discovered in their interviews with the top 1% of tech founders?
  • What was their creative process for the book? Any interesting similarities/differences with product development?
  • If Jimmy Wales and Alexis Ohanian had a traction battle, how would the fight go down and who would win? 
  • What have you learned from being an entrepreneur that has informed your work as an author, and vice versa?
  • If authors are entrepreneurs and books are products, what should writers experiment with to generate traction for new books? What are Justin and Gabe doing to launch Traction? What have the results been so far? How can authors get new readers by using traction tactics?
During the interview we mention the following three podcasts:
  • StartUp: Alex Blumberg was a producer for This American Life on NPR before starting his own podcasting company and recording the entire process of founding a new business.
  • It's Not The Product, It's The Person: this episode of This American Life is about starting a startup, Alex is featured.
  • Serial: this is a fantastic new podcast where the host, Sarah Koenig, investigates a real life murder mystery. The plot thickens with every episode.
 Check them out and let me know what you think.

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