Big Green Balloon With Your Name on It

5 min. read
February 24, 2023

I prided myself on improvisation for years.

That’s what poets and writers do, right? We throw stuff against the wall while we wait for inspiration to strike.

One wouldn’t presume to be too mechanical and try to staple the muse to the wall with process. Humpf.

Then, my self-concept changed. Needing to make more money—how gauche, I know—had a hand in that change.

When you’re a freelancer trying to provide for a family and working with a pool of limited time (one that seems to keep shrinking), improvisation’s shine wears off.

Improvisation started to look like self-imposed inefficiency, and when I calculated what it had cost me, I found myself with a losing equation.

I couldn’t afford, literally, to reinvent the process with each project, and frankly, in moments of naked honesty, I would have told you that my lack of well-defined process never felt all that artistic to begin with.

It felt rather sloppy and wasteful, like ruining what could have been a gorgeous brunch because I got the steps out of order and my hollandaise sauce separated.

Every freelancer and every solopreneur comes to certain crisis points when you realize you can’t stay the same

You must make definitive changes.

Often, there’s a triggering event that precipitates this painful awareness:

  • You tried to delegate to a subcontractor who botched the project. Your postmortem revealed that you’d more or less expected the poor gal to be a mind reader and fill in gaping holes in your nonexistent project brief. Sorry, pal.
  • A client caught a handful of embarrassing mistakes, post launch, and you didn’t have a good excuse. Do you have a post-launch checklist for website projects? Uh, nothing written down…
  • A project takes way longer than expected, and that overage pummels your effective hourly rate (EHR). Worst of all, your least favorite business partner, Hindsight, points out that 90% of the messes and miscommunication could have been avoided.

Right after the project, the causes of these freelance flubs are gold coins in a glass of water. Bright. Unmistakeable. Valuable.

But how do we prevent history from repeating itself?

The real gut-punch comes when you find yourself learning the same lesson AGAIN.


If you want predictable outcomes for clients and an effective hourly rate that predictably goes up too, improvisation simply doesn’t work as well as structure and process.

Like a chef, you need mise en place. Until you’ve nailed that hollandaise 100 times in a row, keep glancing at the recipe.

A checklist or template is no good to you if you can’t quickly, easily reference it.

Artists and creatives we may be, but efficiency is still friend, not foe.

The more incremental gains in efficiency I make, the less time I put into tasks and projects while delivering acceptable or truly excellent outcomes.

The less time I put in, the higher my EHR rises, like a shamrock-colored balloon. Hello, beautiful.

The higher my EHR goes, the easier it is to hit my target monthly income with fewer hours invested in fewer projects.

The more easily I hit…

Forget it. Let’s be blunt. The less I improvise, the more money I make: a big green balloon with my name on it. Don’t you want one too?

It’s still comical to me that I’ve become so fanatical about standard operating procedures (SOPs), and all the worksheets, checklists, templates, cheat sheets, video tutorials, and screenshots with ugly, unmissable arrows contained therein.

What business does a poet have being in business?

The poet in me can have his conniption. For shame! What about the children?! What would your grandmother say?!

She'd probably say that, growing up on a farm in Fayetteville, Tennessee, they saw higher yields when they tilled, sowed, pruned, hoed, fertilized, irrigated, and harvested on time.

Better Process = Higher Yields

We absolutely have to undergo this paradigm shift before we can fully embrace designed, documented processes as a help, not a hindrance; a money-making must-have for committed freelancers, not a nicety.

It wasn’t until I read Build a Business, Not a Job by David Finkel and Stephanie Harkness in March 2018 that I realized the error of my ways.

That book cracked the egg of a limiting belief about my need for unconstrained creativity.

Other books, including The eMyth, Clockwork, Built to Scale, and Traction, all talk about more or less the same thing: the benefits of clearly defined and scalable process.

Now I have all these processes in place:

  • Complete freelance project checklist
  • Complete onboarding process for new coaching clients
  • Complete branding methodology
  • Complete, bajillion-step long process for writing blog posts with a high likelihood of ranking
  • How to hire a fantastic virtual assistant (which in true meta fashion my fantastic virtual assistant helped me create)

And that’s just a fraction of them.

This process of defining processes is ongoing. As soon as I finish one, I find a way to improve it!

Improvement > Improvisation

So what are my recommendations to you?

1. Create SOPs

  • Pick the project you do most often.
  • Set a timer for 15 minutes and list out every step you can think of for a) setup, b) implementation, c) client feedback, and d) wrap-up.
  • Reset the timer for 15 minutes and think of any of these projects that didn’t go well. See if in the misty recesses of your memory you can remember those valuable insights, those gold coins. What should you always do moving forward? Add anything you think of to your freshly minted SOP.
  • List out other projects you do, and assign a date in your calendar for repeating this 30-minute exercise. Shoot for one new SOP a week. No need to overdo it.

2. Give Moxie a look

Though I’ve been at this for 14 years now, I’m still looking for wins. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been migrating my entire business over to Moxie.

I’ve come to believe Moxie is the best $16 per month you can spend on your freelance business.

The switch has made it possible for me to cancel multiple other subscriptions, including Paperbell, Calendly, and PandaDoc.

Even if you’re already using Bonsai, Dubsado, or Honeybook, I encourage you to check out Moxie. Here’s a non-affiliate link to the homepage.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info

Austin L Church portrait photo.

About the Author,
Austin L. Church

Austin L. Church is a writer, brand consultant, and freelance coach. He started freelancing in 2009 after finishing his M.A. in Literature and getting laid off from a marketing agency. Freelancing led to mobile apps (Bright Newt), a tech startup (, a children's book (Grabbling), and a branding studio (Balernum). Austin loves teaching freelancers and consultants how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, and fun. He and his wife live with their three children in Knoxville, Tennessee.


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