The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now – Chinese proverb
What if you’re trying to find examples of valuable work you’ve done but nothing comes to mind?
You might have done lots of things – jobs, projects, hobbies – but it’s hard to see how you can use them to explain to someone else why they should work with you.
But what if that’s hard to find, especially if you’re looking at entering work for the first time or trying to change your field entirely.
Create a past first
When you haven’t got a track record the first thing to do is get to work creating one.
You need a portfolio of work to show prospective customers and it doesn’t matter whether what you did was paid for or not – what matters is being able to prove that you have done similar work in the past first.
Without that, you’re unlikely to get anyone to accept a proposal from you.
That means spending time working on projects, creating demos, putting together prototypes.
The idea is to show work, not work in progress – complete examples of the kinds of things you do.
Give yourself time
It takes time to create a track record and it’s worth investing the time because you will build on that experience to design the rest of your life.
Clearly, if you haven’t got funding then you need to find something else to do to pay the bills while you develop your experience on the side.
This may be hard to do, so you have to find ways to make it easy.
The simplest way to do this is to give yourself ridiculously easy goals, set very low hurdles, just so you can get started.
It can still take time and you may still find it hard to get started.
For example, back in 2015 I tried to have a go at writing.
Looking back at the entries I lasted for 14 days.
2016 was worse, I made 6 entries.
It wasn’t that I didn’t write at all – I just didn’t write for myself on things that interested me.
In early 2017 I set myself a low target – three paragraphs of anything a day.
I could write whatever I wanted as long as I wrote three paragraphs – around ten lines, around 100 words.
That year I wrote 284 three paragraph sections.
And in the middle of that year I started writing my blog on a regular basis, eventually writing 157 articles.
They weren’t particularly good and it took a couple of years to discover a voice and start writing in a way that felt natural.
Three years later, and half a million words in, I’m still learning and figuring out how to improve and learn – and that will take the rest of my life.
At the same time, I have built a body of work that I can draw on when people ask me what I do or have a question on a topic I’ve discussed here before.
If you’re in a position where you’re starting today, then be kind to yourself, give yourself time to plant a seed and watch it grow.
Plan for longer than you think because then, when things happen faster, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Every field is different, and also the same
You may think that your industry is different or that you need something else to break in, some kind of shortcut.
I was trying to teach maths to one of the small people in the house yesterday and it was proving challenging.
The small person couldn’t understand why you couldn’t get from the question to the answer in one step, why you had to mess about with all the intermediate working out that came along with a problem in long division.
“There must be a way to just get to the answer,” the smaller person wailed.
You have to take it step by step – but eventually you can get pretty far that way.
While it’s tempting to take a huge leap or hitch a ride with someone else – those approaches either take too much energy and carry a high risk of failure or they depend on what other people do.
If you’re starting this project because it means something to you then take the time to build something that you will benefit from over the long term.
Building on your past
You can start to move forward when you have that past in place.
The most important thing you now have is proof – proof that you can do something.
You will have found that even if you had to do your first projects for free, people eventually started to pay you for what you did as long as they received value in exchange.
It might have taken two years, it might have taken five – and you might have had to finance that time through a day job or with freelance or consulting work.
Either way, you’re here now and ready to get started.
What you need to do is draw on this past to build your future.
And that starts with crafting your story.
Let’s look at that in the next post.