Ice Ice Baby

We were on vacation last week in Iceland, a country that has almost as many beautiful waterfalls as it does words containing silent consonants.

It was, as you have no doubt heard or perhaps even experienced, spectacular. Like most visitors, we ran the table of available activities…

…hiking on a glacier; horseback riding on the beach; bathing in a hot spring; pushing an unsuspecting sheep over the edge of a cliff (don’t write to me; I am kidding).

All in all, a terrific week … although it was not what I expected.

That’s because once summer ends, winter in Iceland arrives quickly – days filled with nonstop, cold windy rain are common this time of year.

And so, as a man whose idea of a vacation involves drinking beer shirtless in the hot sun, I was kind of dreading it. Between you and me, about the only thing I was really looking forward to were the legendarily clean public restrooms (in this regard, it did not disappoint).

Fortunately, and much to our surprise, we were blessed with a week of extraordinarily nice weather – sunny, windless, beautiful days.

And even though we were prepared to vacation in whatever weather came our way, it would have been an entirely different experience – one that you tell people about after the fact, but don’t really enjoy while it’s happening.

You know, like giving birth without medication, or sharing an elevator with Nicolas Cage.

Your Business “Environment” Matters, Too

When it comes to choosing clients and projects, many independent professionals focus strictly on the objective facts and figures. Things like: How much am I getting paid? How much work is involved? How long will it take?

All of this matters, of course. But like visiting Iceland, the “environment” within which the work occurs has a huge impact on your overall experience.

Three things worth considering in this regard…

#1. Who are your clients?

All clients are not created equal. Some are a pleasure to work with. Others treat you badly, pay you slowly, and drive you crazy.

You can be working on the exact same type of project for two different firms and it’s like night and day. The terrain may be the same, but the weather is not.

That’s why I move very slowly in agreeing to work with people I don’t know. I pay close attention to who they are and how they talk to me – not just what they want.

Would I have more work if I were more flexible in this regard? Probably, but I’d have a lot more headaches too.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I don’t have a single client anymore that I don’t like, respect, and enjoy talking to.

#2. Where are you working?

People are often surprised to learn that I don’t work out of my house. But I’ve always had an office.

Partly because when I started back in 2000, that’s just what people did. But mostly it’s because I like having my own space and I need more alone time than the average human.

There’s no right answer, of course. And if you prefer working at home, or in a coffee shop, or wherever, that’s fine.

But figure out the environment that works for you.

As my friend Jim told me years ago when I first started: “The few extra dollars it costs to rent an office won’t make or break you. Not being at your best will.”

#3. What are your rules?

If you started a retail business, you’d put guidelines in place on Day 1: Closed on Mondays, shoes and shirts required, children must be leashed, whatever. Your business, your rules.

Many professionals, however, never even think to establish these types of guidelines. That’s a mistake. If you don’t make the rules, your clients will make them for you.

For example…

Do you require a deposit up front to begin work? How much?

Are you available in the evening? On the weekend?

Do you charge for travel? Do you speak for free? Do you offer unlimited revisions?

Here, too, there’s no right or wrong on any of this. But you don’t want to just let it happen.

It’s up to you to specify the circumstances under which you work best. (Letting somebody else do that is called a “job.”)

Here’s the bottom line

Work is not just work.

It happens within a particular context – an environment.

Is it subjective? Absolutely.

Can it make all the difference between an enjoyable experience and a miserable, rain-soaked slog?

As we say in Iceland: Ja.


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