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How Playing Board Games Made Me a Better Freelancer

I’m a rather geeky kind of guy, and I’m proud of it.

Instead of hitting up the club and eating out at nice restaurant, I’d rather spend my Friday nights huddled around a table with my friends as we laugh, fake-cry, exaggerated-gasp, and OMG-what-just-happened “WHOOOOAAAAA” our way through a variety of make-believe scenarios as presented by the board games we adore.

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Whether we’ve just suffered a Betrayal at House on the Hill and we’re frantically running around collecting items to ward off the advancing demon horde, are desperately trying to piece together a legendary airship to escape the Forbidden Desert before the sands swallow us whole, or simply need to settle Catan before someone locks up all the wheat tiles and in doing so rams a stake through the heart of our friendship, the complex situations, rules, and mechanics of contemporary board games very much mimic a number of the challenges that we as freelancers face.

Don’t have enough coins to purchase a critical piece of equipment that could help you score big points (aka contracts)? You’ll have to rely on trading with the people at the table or perhaps just wait a few rounds before you can proceed.

Just got the rug pulled out from under you when you skunked an Intelligence roll on what was supposed to be a sure thing (aka made a fool out of yourself in front of an important contact)? That’s gonna hurt. Better find a way to boost your other traits before the big encounter at the end of the round.

They might just seem like a fun way to fill a Saturday afternoon, but believe it or not, there are several key takeaways from board games that can help you to up your freelance game.

You’re Stronger Together Than You Are Alone

Nobody can win it all without help. That’s a lesson I learned by playing Scotland Yard, a cooperative “one against everyone else” game that requires a team of investigators to chase mysterious fugitive Mister X around London and corner him before he can escape using one of London’s many subways, buses, cabs, and waterways. And with 199 different locations to investigate, it takes a coordinated team to catch Mister X and bring him to justice.

This lesson showed up in my freelance business when, after a year of working from home. I was feeling isolated, depressed, and unmotivated.

My problem?

I’m an extrovert, and I was working from home every day – meaning I’d often go stretches of 5 days or even longer without talking to another human being except for a quick “hey, how are you doing?” to the cashier at the coffee shop.

I got to the point that I’d stopped marketing myself because I had no drive to work, and what little work I had, I was doing between 10 PM and 3 AM because why not?

That’s when I knew that something had to change. So I marched myself down to the nearest co-working space and bought a monthly plan. And over a year later, I’m still there. Simply having that co-working space has helped me to increase my income by over $2,000/month – which is well worth the $175/month I pay for my desk.

Even the Worst Hand Can Win the Day

So tell me if this sounds familiar:

Someone shuffles the deck, deals the cards, and starts the game. And immediately, you look at your hand and you know: “I ain’t got this.”

But “don’t count your cards before they’re played” is an all-too-familiar lesson for those who play BANG!, a Spaghetti Western card game that pits a Sheriff and his loyal Deputies against a group of low-down Outlaws who are out for the lawman’s blood and a feisty Renegade who’s out to rule the town and will kill anyone who stands in the way.

Just because you’ve got a clear shot at your target, that doesn’t mean you won’t get interfered with. Sure, you can try to take out the Deputy with a bullet or two, but there’s a good chance that the Deputy is using an Iron Plate as a makeshift shield or is hiding behind a Barrel. And while time may not heal all wounds, Beer certainly does. In a rapidly-changing, trust-no-one game, even the worst hand can still throw a few surprises at your enemies or keep you alive & breathing for one more round.

When it comes to freelancing, that means even when you’ve just suffered a tremendous setback – when that big retainer client has decided to give your monthly projects to someone in-house, when you didn’t space your projects out right and now you’re working 60-hour weeks and barely sleeping, or when you’ve been burned out and don’t even feel like finding a new project – always keep faith. Because everyone’s pulling from the same deck of cards, and you’re bound to eventually draw something you can use.

Don’t Take It Too Seriously. There’s Always Another Round Coming.

So you’ve just finished a round, and you ended up losing – hard. Your cash reserves are next to nil, you’ve got the worst hand you’ve ever seen, and you could swear that everyone else is somehow cheating. It seems like there’s some kind of a strategy to this game, but you can’t figure it out for the life of you and it’s starting to really tick you off.

Breathe. It’s just a game. It’s not the end of the world. So what if things didn’t go your way? There’s always another game (client, contract, project, workshop, etc) on the horizon.

Oftentimes we tend to take our freelance careers really seriously – which is good, if we want to get ahead. But there comes a point at which being serious about freelancing causes you more grief than it’s worth – and when that happens, you have to remember that there’s a pattern and a system and rules that will work in your favour if you just learn how the game is played.

Mike Straus Mike Straus is a freelance copywriter who helps businesses of all sizes to stand out, do something different, and get heard. He founded Brand Gesture Marketing to help startups, freelancers, and established businesses that are tired of “just okay” marketing. Tired of “content”. Tired of the same old stuff. Businesses that want to nix the cliches and do something that works.

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Mike, I love this post and this way of thinking about your freelance career! Thank you for sharing, this is such a great lesson for freelancers and entrepreneurs in general! I really enjoyed the analogy you used about how “everyone is pulling from the same deck.” That makes me feel so much more encouraged because I know I have just as much chance as anyone else to make this work.

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