Category: Your Pricing Model

Independence is…

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Have you ever been really frustrated at work and had a thought like, “I can’t wait to retire and be in charge of my schedule!”

Or better, “If I started my own company, I’d never need to lean on anyone – it would be me in charge!”

I remember in my employee days what kinds of things would trigger these thoughts. My boss telling me to do something I fundamentally disagreed with. Being asked to do things outside of normal work hours. Getting reprimanded for going outside the boundary to do the right thing.

The struggle was real!

So you can imagine that with the lustful lens of entrepreneurship, I thought that it was total freedom and independence. 

I didn’t owe anything to anyone. I was my own.

So maybe you think this too. 

Many people think these are pairs –



In reality, they are opposites!

Independence is enough self-trust to take on risk, challenge and fear to create our own opportunities, and to do so despite what others think is best for us.

Notice, this definition, one I had to sit on for a while, isn’t about freedom and attachment to others or demand, it’s all about our choices to operate of our self-interest.

So if we think about what we need to be independent, we also need sustainability. By Sustainability I mean that our own needs can be met because of our strength and skills and mindset – all four things stemming from financial, physical, mental and emotional health.

When I look at how the world portrays independence, it’s only considerate of us….

One. Not others. Ours only. 

It’s all about what we have, are, and can be. It’s all us and our ability to take and extract value. 

And the way most people would describe entrepreneurship is similar….

“It’s my ability to build a business that makes me money and takes care of my needs for success, significance, etc.”

Selfish language…notice it?

It’s an absolute opportunity to increase our earnings, happiness, work-life balance and several other things. But growth is the key. It’s an ability to satisfy our need to lead, or our need to be significant. It feeds our ego. It can feed our connection and growth too.

But to me, these are opposite. They exist in contradiction. 

Being an entrepreneur you actually INCREASE your dependency. Let me explain.

To be a great entrepreneur, you must be DEPENDANT, or better stated, INTERDEPENDENT

To solve problems, you need others, you need to listen, to hear, and to understand. For who will pay for your solutions? Where will this money you want to earn come from?

To solve problems you need to take action with, be a part of and immersed in a culture or community. How will your business be sustainable if you cannot stay a part of an economic ecosystem?

You need others – and without others, you cannot be an entrepreneur. From the macro, no one can be an entrepreneur alone. 

Expectations of being more independant is normal and simple to new entrepreneurs, but they in fact should relish the moments that create interdependance. These can exist in a lot of ways.

If you hire employees or teammates, or bring on partners, you are now INTERDEPENDANT – the success of one is the success of all. As is failure.

If you have a client that’s now a part of your business, you are dependent on them for revenue, and they on you for service. 

To misunderstand this is to devalue and shortside your growth as a business and leader. 

So, as you go about considering your next phase of independence, it seems logical to review what you believe independence to be and how it works.

Neighborhoods, communities, companies are all interdependent. Just like I rely on the mailman, UPS and FedEx to bring packages to me when I order them, trusting they will leave them in the mail area, I also trust that the residents where I live will not take what I’ve ordered for themselves.

Without this trust, there is no such things as freedom, but our freedom stems from Interdependence.

What’s something you depend on now that you are grateful for? Is it a person? A thing (car, train etc) or a place (gym, etc)?

Share your thoughts below!

Pay versus Purpose: 5 Lessons @ 5 Months

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It’s been some time since I wrote lengthy posts on this page….Hello, from the other side….(Sorry, that damn Adele song is on so much I had to do it!)



Things are different now, but for the right reasons. Today I’ll share a monumental change that’s happened, how it happened, and how it liberated me.

I sit at 2:42 in a Starbucks. My office is everywhere, and nowhere. I am currently handling ‘upkeep’ – email responses, small tedious tasks, and setting up meetings – for the upcoming weeks. I’m prepping for the launch of Ortus Academy’s Financial Literacy program. I’m researching community developers for a client, and designing a flyer for another. Compared to a year ago, I am less burdened (as in I feel less stress) while also managing to work nearly 2-4 times as productively.

On this side of the proverbial fence, there are three main things that a person can do in a day:

  1. Work towards a payment
  2. Work towards a mission or purpose
  3. Not work

At first glance it appears that number three is not a viable option in a lifestyle that is dependent on finding your own income sources, however, I’ve found that it’s actually an important aspect of this change. Because work and play are now so blurred, I have to work hard to define boundaries, create off-times, and disconnect, otherwise, I can’t recharge. More on that later.

Working towards a payment and working towards a purpose are clearly different in intent, and that brings me to my point today:

If you are focused on your payment, it becomes harder to be focused on your purpose.

Building a non-profit has been a tough challenge. It’s a lot to set up, expensive as well, and it takes time to do something great. Nonetheless, we’ve made progress. I, as the visionary, have gone through my ups and downs that most do – you lose sight of the bigger picture, and become intent on the short term snapshot as a reflection of your progress. When clear on where we wanted to go, in a big context, the smaller components have become easier to identify, goals have been easier to set, and progress is quicker to see.

Some days I eat my ego alive. Other days I thrive, confident to cockiness borders. Some days I’m virulent, other days I’m passive.

I’ve had the fortune to be able to make money in a lot of different ways.  Since leaving a full time job, I of course have to hustle to make ends meet. I trimmed my expenses by about 23%, knocking down smaller expenses and living within my means. I slimmed to only what I need to have and I cut out some fruitless spending in favor of a different method of getting my “shop” on. I took on some odd jobs, but by keeping my rates high, and using some arbitrage, was able to net well and maintain a low work rate. But making ends meet was never the goal. Naturally, I sacrificed the floor to take away the ceiling with the hope that I would earn more than I was before, but I also wanted to do things I loved – anything from writing, to reading, to getting healthier, to more youth involvement, more family time and deeper relationships. Money can’t do those for me, but smart work and smart time investments can.



Lesson 1: Barter, Barter, Barter



There’s real value in being able to trade. It’s an old school method, dating back to before money was even around. In the BC era, artisans and craftsmen bartered to survive, trading for what they could not create, build or grow themselves. Bartering has a poor stigma to it, as though it’s not approved, but elite freelancers and smart businessmen know a good deal doesn’t mean a pretty one.

I offer my services in exchange for someone else’s, and compare them and the value of them so that it’s mutually beneficial. Remember, there are limits that everyone has. Some people need cash in their business, so I’m not often put off if I receive a no. However, if it does work, I’m sure to have constant check ins to make sure both parties are happy.


  • No cash exchange means no taxes paid
  • Services that you normally wouldn’t have access to become available
  • Can still leverage the relationship for testimonials, references
  • You’ve still earned a client


  • While you’re not working for free, you’re still using your time
  • It’s easy to take advantage or be taken advantage of; consistent check ins are key
  • Your impulses may pull you to exchange for things you don’t really need


Lesson 2: Mentors and Persons of Interest – Give First, Ask Later




Since I no longer have a job structure to do it for me, I’ve become a professional networker. Sometimes I need some support in overcoming a wall, a good reference to an auto vinyl company, or a sounding board to make sure I’m on the right path. For example, you’d be surprised how quickly a reference can change your hunt for a qualified company, service, or person. I spend a lot of time building a network of trustworthy, reliable, high-integrity people. When I get stuck with decisions or choices, I lean on them for advice, but it didn’t start that way.

More importantly, these are the smartest, most prevalent names I can find, and their expertise far outweighs mine.  I like to be the weakest, dumbest, most inexperienced guy in the room.

To join their team, (and later, for them to join mine) I’ve employed a lot of different strategies, reaching people in and out of network for a multitude of reasons. Have a Person of Interest (POI) that would be a good mentor, a reliable source of advice, a great hub for meeting others, or is a personal hero? Here’s a few ways you can reach them with credibility and get them in your corner:

Before any contact, reflect on your POI’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). What can you offer to them? Second, can you clearly state what it is you’re looking for? Help, money, or a chat, isn’t specific enough for someone who gets consistent requests for donations of time or expertise.

Winning Strategies:

  • Solve a problem you know they face (you’d be surprised what you can come up with from online sources). Whenever you reach out to a new party, have an angle; give, offer, or supply something to them before you ask for something in return.
  • Connect them to someone that can solve their problem. You don’t have to be the guy they need, but if you can be the link between the two, you’ve become a strong utility, worthy of attention.
  • Find referrals from Friends, Family, or Close Colleagues of your POI
  • Approach the POI from two angles. If you know his confidant, and his personal trainer, and you can get a referral from both, you’re going to be more likely to make contact.
  • Have nothing to offer? That’s ok, but don’t hide that, in fact, share what you’re interested in and that you’re unsure of how you could make the relationship two-way.

Losing Strategies

  • Sending a long email shows that you aren’t respectful of their time. Keep it concise, and if it’s not concise, take the time to make it that way. Reminds me of the quote “I’m sorry this letter was so long. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
  • Never, EVER, EVER lie about your connection to them, your interest, what you found in researching them, or how you can help them. It seems like a no-brainer, and I haven’t done it, but I’ve seen relationships crumble and reputations broken this way.
  • “People don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell it.” Process that before you move forward with an elaborate attempt to lure a high-quality person into your network.
  • Keep your communication relevant. If you’re off on a tangent, and you emailed me, I’d stop as soon as I lost you. Other successful people think that way as well. Time is limited.


Lesson 3: Be Bored, and Leverage Itimgres2


For the OCD, always going Dynamos like myself, the hardest thing to do is stop. Sometimes, I work so frivolity that I forget to eat, so I have to constantly work on this, personally.

This advice comes from my good friend, Jae Jin, a musician that was dear enough to impart some of his mantras with me. When you work for yourself, on yourself, or in your own business, you go, and when you aren’t going, you’re generally sleeping. It’s sink or swim.

Reflection, and problem solving, don’t come from mysterious places – the brain processes and breaks down solutions. They always tell you to take a 15 minute break at work, but how often does that happen? Now that I work whenever and wherever, I have to tell myself to walk away from problems.

But why boredom? That’s the polar opposite, isn’t it?

In order to fully launch into your pursuit, namely your purpose, your downtime is vital. Watch a TV show, get out in the sun, go for a walk, and sit in public with your phone off and in your pocket. When you start up again, go full throttle into what you’re doing and don’t stop til you’re dead tired, and repeat the process. The break in between has been the genesis of many a bright idea.

Suggestions for Boredom Breaks:

  • Turn your phone off and use your watch (whoa, I know) to track time. If you have an hour, give yourself an uninterrupted hour.
  • Watch a TV show, and let your mind wander into whatever it is that’s happening. Forget about the meetings, problems, employees, offers, and whatever else is up there. Let the clouds roll by for a while.
  • Do something creative (paint, draw, doodle, etc.) or exercise – both are known vices for entrepreneurs and freelancers
  • A sharp body is a fitting home for a sharp mind.
  • Read: Read for fun, read for research, read for reference. PRO TIP: Be careful on internet reading. It’s easy to get distracted and lost.


Lesson 4: Categorize Your Endeavors




It’s okay that you have to make ends meet, there’s truth in that. But, if you’ve ever been caught up taking on more than you’re used to, working longer than you thought you would, you can probably relate to feeling like you’re “in too deep” with a project you weren’t pumped about. If you’re onto your purpose, but a project is about your means, label it as such.

I’m not suggesting you prioritize one over the other, because your quality of work is important as a professional, but knowing you are doing something to keep yourself afloat, rather than to reach towards your purpose, is imperative. When things get stressful with your means, you can give yourself a reminder based on what’s most important, and what you’re main focus is. When I feel overwhelmed, I remember the impact I’m trying to make, rather than the money that I need to make it happen. That calms me.

Whatever method you use to keep yourself on track (calendar, white board, lists, chalk on a sidewalk, whatever), make another one, and separate it into two parts, labeled “Means,” and “Purpose.” The projects that you have get identified this way.


Lesson 5: Have Some Fun


I currently have 7 projects on my desk. Some overlap more than others, but they are all more deeply connected to WHO I am now than my projects were with a full time job. Someone assigned me that when I was their employee. Now, it’s my rules.

To be able to pick my projects is a blessing. I really do admonish and appreciate all that I have, and do so every day. Now, when I don’t think I’ll enjoy doing something, I can say no, or amicably walk away.

If you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t put in 100%. I have so much going on, that when I put into a project, I HAVE to give 100%. Imagine training for an iron man (running, swimming, biking) and not training hard for any of them. When I’m on the grind, I’m going as fast and hard as I can.

Some tips to make sure you have fun:

  • I like to think of Aaron at age 30, 35 and 40; knowing I’ll get through it, what will he think about these projects looking back. Sometimes that helps me relax a bit and know that I’ll be ok.
  • I enjoy comedy. I put on comedies in the background when I’m creating art, creating material, or building programmatic materials. It makes me laugh and is good background noise.
  • Call a friend during a break. Ask them how they’re doing. When they ask you about you (since everyone answers in three words “things are good,”) really dive in and ask them for more info. See how they are REALLY doing.



For all those freelancers out there, I hope this is helpful. If you’re thinking about how much you dislike your job, because it misaligns to what you think your purpose is, then let this article be the kickstart to practice the above. Do it while you’re in your job, and you have little risk. After work, see if you can apply what I’ve learned. I bet it helps!



The Big 3 Takeaways from My First $20

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I can hardly recall what I had for lunch earlier today, but I will never forget the first time I earned $20.

Free work yielded a referral, and I got a call a few days later. He told me about what he wanted, his vision, and how long he had before he needed a design. Everything was smooth. Until….

“What do you charge?”

“Um. Well. Uh……”

A few more seconds of frazzle.

“I guess $20 an hour. It’s probably a four hour job,” I said shakenly.

Truth be told, I had no idea how long it would take. I did, looking back, a moderately good job. This small sale put me on a whole new journey, one that I’m still on today.

So let’s dive into some lessons learned while reflecting on the origin of it all.

I made a ton of mistakes selling my artwork and graphics, learning to coach (which is selling my product to parents and delivering to youth – a complex business scheme) and building a revenue tracking system for a large corporation.

I learned faster when I messed up, versus when I was successful. Mistakes force you to adapt NOW.

My first $20 taught me three things, the hard way:


  1. If I’m going to make money doing something, I have to take myself seriously and project that.
  2. Before I sell anything, I should know what it costs to do so, whether that be time or supplies.
  3. If I’m not ready to name a price and offer my services, I don’t have to. I can make the proposal in the way that I’m comfortable, where I can articulate my ideas well, but I have to approach it the right way.

That’s not to say that success isn’t awesome, either. I know that I would have killed for some input on a second income when I got started, just to know someone else was feeling the same way. With success comes a lot of things, and I remember these three awesome thoughts that I hope you have too:

“I can make money doing something I love”

“I got paid to do this, and I don’t have any education in it.”

“I am not even that good yet. Imagine if I could get 10x better what I could make.”


Let’s get straight to it:



  1. Be More than a Hobbyist

 If you’ve come here to side-stream, or to improve it, you need to make sure you are always using this word in conversation when you bring up your talent, work, passion, or job.


Professional: (n) – engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.

I met two clients after starting just from putting my profession out there when they ask what I do. I am quick to distinguish what I’m doing for money (ex. presentations) from what I do for fun (ex. snowboarding).


Here’s an example:

Brian: “I’m a dog walker for big breeds in the Norfolk area.”

Frank: “I’m a professional dog walker for big breeds in the Norfolk area.”

At this point, Brian is saying “I’m a hobbyist.” There’s nothing wrong with that, unless he’s trying to earn money from this approach. I know absolutely nothing about dog walking, but I know Frank is making money doing it and that he’s got an area and a type that he serves.

Whether you are making $3 or $3MM, you are a professional– you do your work for an exchange of cash.

You want the fact that you do your craft, love or solution for money conveyed and yes, you say it even if you haven’t sold anything, yet. It is an important distinction.

As Side-Streamers, we should be projecting that we do this for money and we have a specialty. Put it out there.  People want your help, your expertise and your ideas.

Don’t just say that you’re a photographer. Tell them you’re a professional photographer and you do family shots at carnivals. I’m not a presentation guy; I’m a professional presentation designer that loves to spice up talks for persons of interest. Don’t make it up, but share it!

It’s awkward at first – work through it and continue to use it. The more you say it the better it will feel and the more it will resonate.

How many times have you heard someone say: “Maybe we should hire a professional,” or something to that effect. You want to be in that group, so assign yourself that title.

Bottom Line: Use the word professional and mention your specialty.


  1. Know Your Costs

When I got asked my hourly rate, I was on the spot and nervous. I didn’t know, so I sold my time for $20/hr. That one worked out. But only because my service didn’t involve costs at that point.

Fast forward a year, to where I was doing some digital paintings on the side. I posted a shot on Facebook, and got a request from a friend for a copy. I was so excited. $30 I screamed!

Turns out printing was $20, and shipping was $8.

Print, Pick Up, Pack, Ship, Cash Check = $2 Profit. Wow.


I don’t like focusing on what I’ll get out of a client initially, after all, that’s what makes me a good Side-Streamer. I want to be obsessed with knocking my service out of the park!

Still, you need to know, roughly, what things will cost when you take on a project. Remember, information is EVERYWHERE. What supplies do you need? What software are you using? What about travel time? Sometimes it’s not that easy, but I urge you to take time to write it all out. (If you’re on the spot, see takeaway number 3!)

Am I telling you to have a figure down to the cents of it – no. But if someone says, I’d like you to build a presentation for my 5-minute talk, I know it will take me a few hours of image editing for that length of time in a presentation, and even more the arrange the images in a logical display. I can’t quote him a $100 pricetag. I won’t do well on an 8-hour project.

Bottom Line: Get familiar with your costs to produce. Maybe it’s zero, $40 per transaction, $15 in shipping per sale, or a flat space rental of $50/hr. You can’t earn until you know what the cost is!



  1. Carrot & Stick Technique: Displace Estimate & Beat Competition

If you don’t know the guy that rambles and quizzes you about a project and 30 seconds later says, “What will it cost?” then count yourself lucky.

Many numbers people will try to intimidate you to do complex math like you’re Stephen Hawking.

See, I won’t forget this guy. I had quoted him $20/hr for four hours. It took 10. I wanted the job, but I lost my balance back from that overly type-A question right in my face. I wasn’t prepared.

The Carrot-and-Stick Technique relies on you having good communication, and it’s a two-part process.


The CARROT… (at the meeting/phone call/etc.)

I think better about my work not standing in front of someone, so I make sure I’m give myself the chance to do that. If I’m asked for an immediate quote, I say something like:



“Before I give you a price I’d like to ask you some questions,

get a feel for what you’re asking for exactly, and then map out my idea and what

it could cost. You’ll have a full idea of what I would do and an accurate estimate of the cost.

I’ll get your email and I will send you a full description and proposed price later today/tomorrow/reasonable deadline.

How’s that sound?

Notice, I made this entire thing about him. I didn’t say – “I need to calculate my potential earning at home.” It’s about me giving him a fair rate and great service. [Bonus Point if you work professional into this kind of statement]

As a Side-Streamer it’s important we make EVERYTHING about our client. (Join the email list and learn ALL about this in the Guide to Price Your Side-Stream)

Simple fact of business – if someone is paying me, it doesn’t matter if I love it, it matters that they do. You have the tools to nail it right here:  Read the Boomerang Technique to prevent missing what they want from your service

A few here and there will demand a price on the spot. I manage to give them a fair range, but ask for a moment to think, go to the bathroom, or pop out a cell phone and do some math. “I can give you a best guess range, and then follow up with more details later.” I tend to overinflate these numbers if they are pushy, just because they are being difficult.


The STICK…(the communication before the pitch)

There’s no easier way to beat competition than by great communication. Send an email when you get home to thank them for meeting with you, like this:


“Hey ____________.

 Thanks for meeting with me yesterday. I’ll be working on your estimate today

and will get it to you as promised by [deadline you gave].  If you have any questions

in the meantime, feel free to ask them!”

It’s an easy a business gesture shows you listened. You want a happy customer experience from the meeting to the quote to the estimate.

As you lay groundwork for a good relationship of service to your client, build your pitch around what you already know about him or her.

Next, you’ll send him your estimate, and don’t think you have to have a perfect excel file emailed to him – do what makes you comfortable. If you’re better with numbers, use numbers. If words suit you, do it! When you email someone your price, you’re sending them a pitch or proposal. If all you do is write a dollar amount, you’re missing a HUGE opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to really put time into your pitch. They will notice. For high conversions on a proposal, read my guide here.

Bottom Line: If you’re pressured, put the game back on your terms by effectively communicating with your client.




In essence, I learned that:

– There are people that want me to do free work, but I dispel them quickly; I’m a professional.

– Making money requires spending money. If you know what you would spend, you’re set to earn.

– Communication and a two-step approach are identified with high-value service.



What did you learn from your first Side-Stream money?