How Hacker Paradise Helped Me Grow My Business

When I started my freelance content writing business two years ago, I thought I’d be a smarty pants about it and get a part-time job so I could pay the bills while I built my portfolio and client base. That plan worked great for a while, until one day I realized my business wasn’t really growing at all, and my part-time job was taking up a big chunk of my time and energy.

So, it was both cathartic and terrifying when I quit my part-time job and packed up my life in Seattle to join the Hacker Paradise crew in Mexico City. When I set off for Mexico in June, I was ready to meet some interesting people and get to work on my business, but I wasn’t really thinking about how Hacker Paradise could help me grow my business. As it turned out, I made two great decisions that spring: quitting the part-time job, and signing up for six weeks with Hacker Paradise. By becoming part of the HP community, and taking advantage of the professional development opportunities, my freelance business has doubled. Here’s how Hacker Paradise helped me grow my business in just six weeks:

Goals

I’ve always been a bit of an overachiever, so I’m no stranger to setting goals for myself and writing them down. Something I am less familiar with is talking about them in front of other people. One of the first experiences you have as an HP participant is sitting down with the group for a biweekly Goals session.

The facilitators encouraged us to come ready to talk about one personal goal and one professional goal. I came to Mexico City with the goal of getting more clients, but this activity pushed me to frame my goals in a more concrete way. Once I knew I’d be talking about it in front of the group, I shifted my goal to something measurable, so that first week I said, “I’m going to pursue three specific leads this week.” And you know what? I did! We kept each other updated on our progress via Slack, and met again two weeks later to talk about a fresh set of goals.

I was really surprised at just how powerful this was for me. Not only does it create accountability, but the structure of it subtly pushed me towards framing my goals in a more actionable way, which in turn made it easier for me to accomplish them. (If you want more info on the power of SMART goals, check out this article on mindtools.com.) 

Talks

During HP trips, every Thursday we have Talks – an opportunity for each participant to give a 20-minute talk on the topic of their choice. I bristled at the idea at first – after all, I’m a writer, not a speaker. I thought that I would probably give a terrible talk once and have no opportunity to improve on my performance. But my brother suggested I go for it (and one of my mentors agreed). As a freelancer and business owner, you never know when you might be called on to present a proposal or an idea, so I went for it and I’m so glad I did. I gave a talk on how to write a great food review, which was fun and relevant because so many of us rely on online reviews to find good food when traveling. Giving this talk did not turn me into Tony Robbins, but you know what? It felt good! It got me to step outside of my comfort zone and work on an important skill at the same time.

Reciprocity

Every other week (when we aren’t doing goals) the group gets together so everyone can ask for help or support. You can really ask for anything – a buddy to go see a movie (or drag show!) with you, or help building an app. As a freelancer, I’m often trying to solve issues entirely on my own. For me, Reciprocity was a good reminder to ask for help when I need it!

When I was trying to get my professional website together for a job application and realized the final step – connecting my custom domain to the finished site – wasn’t exactly an easy one, I put a call out on Slack for help and had two volunteers within minutes! It was that easy, and their help was so valuable to me.

Community

If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you probably know how overwhelming they can be. When you’re on an HP trip, there are tons of networking opportunities, but it happens more organically. As you get to know each other over dinner, drinks, or sharing an Uber to Xochimilco, you get to know what other people, what they do and what they’re passionate about.

Outside of the structure of our bi-weekly Reciprocity sessions, people on these trips are more than willing to help each other. I had an informal conversation with another participant and told him I wanted to find more consistent remote work. He later sent me a job post that was right up my alley. The next week, my roommate arrived and it turns out she works for the company that posted the job, and offered to refer me. I didn’t get the job, but I learned some interesting things in the process – and it pushed me to finish my website!

I also met a fellow freelancer who gave me some great ideas for working with clients across time zones, and then ended up hiring me to create content for his website! Another participant sent me a referral when she encountered someone looking for a content writer.

All of this happened so naturally, too. It’s amazing to me to be part of a community where other people are so willing to help you in any way they can. I’ve seen people find yoga buddies, schedule feedback sessions for projects and talk out exciting new ideas over a cervesa. If you’re an independent worker or business, looking for support as you grow, then the Hacker Paradise community is a wonderful place to find it.

by Emilia Arnold