“Self-control” is something that most folks admit to struggling with and most folks want more of. Why is it so elusive? Some folks blame the times we live in and the access we have to more “temptations” than ever before. Others say self-control doesn’t matter and that “if it feels good, do it”. Still others try and try to force themselves to make certain choices, then achieve success for a time, only to fall and become more discouraged and demotivated than ever.

As a web developer, I’ve found the concept of self-control particularly relevant. I’ve studied the topic and experimented for years with varying degrees of success. As my business has grown and the demands on my time have increased, I’ve found the lessons I’ve learned (and the importance of reminding myself of those lessons) particularly important.

Why Self Control-Matters

As freelancers and business owners in the web development industry we are able to enjoy quite a few benefits, including:

  • Flexible Hours – Outside of scheduled interactions with clients, we can work just about anytime we want.
  • Flexible Work Environment – Web development is increasingly a “remote” industry with many of us choosing to work from the comforts of our home.
  • High Income Potential – As web developers, our income potential is high, matching and even passing that of many other more established professional industries.

Each of those benefits, though, offer a big “downside” as it relates to self-control. Here’s how:

  • The fact that we can set our own hours means that we can also choose not to work or work a lot less than a project needs.
  • With more and more of us working remotely, the fact that we can work from home means that our work environment (especially with children) can be easily distraction prone.
  • With a high income there is the temptation to “take it easy”. While experiencing the benefits of a high income is a great thing, a lack of self-control can lead us to that income for granted and waste it.

In my own experience I’ve noticed a clear correlation to a strong sense of self-control and success in my work. I’ve also noticed the same correlation to when I’ve felt “out of control” and the times where my quality of service has suffered.

For me, I’ve decided that a strong sense of self-control matters – a lot. I suspect that many of you have already reached the same conclusion and have decided that, yes, having more self-control matters.

What Is Self-Control?

Self-control (sometimes called self-regulation or self-discipline) is the ability to control what you think, feel, and do.

Roy Baumeister in his book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength suggests that willpower, the fuel that feeds your sense of self-control, is actually a finite resource and can be both exhausted and replenished by the choices you make.

That is why your sense of self-control can feel stronger in the morning after making a few good decisions (e.g. getting up earlier, eating a healthy breakfast, etc) then at the end of a long, stressful day at work when all you want to do is “take it easy” (and eat ice cream, and watch movies).

How To Improve Self-Control

With the understanding that self-control matters, the next logical step is to say “Ok, what can we do to improve self-control?” Based on Roy Baumeister’s book and on a presentation I recently listened to by Dr. Magna Parks2 I’ve compiled a list six strategies for improving self-control. Let’s jump straight to them!

1. Develop A Long-Term Focus

In the Fall of 2011, my wife and I decided to get out of debt. We had been in debt for years and, though we had a vague hope that we’d get out someday, somehow, we had lost all sense of priority and were doing our best just to keep up. We decided that we were done with that and it was time to focus. In just 3 1/2 months, we worked together to pay off $26,000 worth of debt by working very hard and exercising a high level of intensity. The time management and focus required to perform at that level demanded self-control and that self-control was fueled by a sense of long-term focus that took me beyond the challenges of the day.

If you’d like to improve your own sense of self-control, develop a long-term focus. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make It Clear – The very nature of focus requires that you have a clear grasp on what exactly you are trying to accomplish. My wife and I knew the amount of our debt to the penny and we earned, nearly to the penny, what it took to pay it off within just a day of the deadline to do so.
  • Create a “Dream Board” – Put up a blank poster board on your wall and tape pictures of your dreams to it. Look at it and focus on it for a minute or two each day. My wife and I created a dream board that Fall and, looking back now, we’ve achieved nearly everything on that list.

2. Develop A Self-Forgetful Attitude

When it comes to maintaining self-control we are our own worst enemies. If you’re craving something that isn’t good for you it becomes harder to resist the more you think about it. At the same time, distracting yourself from that craving and “forgetting” it makes it easier to resist. During my teenage years I developed an addiction to computer/video gaming. I fueled that addiction, with little restraint, for several years until I realized that there were more important things in life to focus my time and efforts on. To this day, though, I have to work to control my past addiction. When the demands on my time are particularly stressful the desire to finish work and just go “game” suddenly pop-up and the more I think about that desire or imagine the games I could play the harder it becomes to resist the urge to play and the more the quality of the work I’m doing suffers. The answer? I push the thoughts aside and distract myself from those desires by focusing on something else.

If you’re struggling with an addiction or simply a lack of self-control with a particular desire, cultivate an attitude of self-forgetfulness and distract yourself from those cravings and desires by switching your thoughts to something else. Here are a few ideas:

  • Stand Up – Step away from that self-focused situation and move on to focus your attention on something else.
  • Help Someone Else – A good way to be “self-forgetful” is to focus your energy on being of help to someone else. Take a break from what you’re working on and help out around the house. Take your dog for a walk or volunteer to take your neighbor’s dog for a walk.

3. Create A Pre-Commitment Strategy

Keeping in mind that willpower is a finite resource one excellent strategy for improving self-control is to simply make decisions in advance. This why the concept of a schedule is so powerful. Make your decisions in advance when it’s easy to do so and then, when a difficult situation arises, there’s no need to exercise willpower and self-control to make the right choice – the choice was already made.

Here are a few examples of pre-commitment strategies:

  • For my current morning routine I set out my shoes the night before. When I wake up, I get out of bed, tired or not, put my clothes and shoes on, and head out for my morning walk. I made the decision the night before and, when the morning came, I didn’t have to lay in bed and figure out what to do next – I already knew.
  • When I create my schedule for the week I set aside blocks of time for each of my project commitments. When that time rolls around, whether I feel like working on that project or not, I don’t have to think about it – the decision was already made. It’s on the schedule, so I get to work.

If you want to improve your sense of self-control, make things easier for you by making decisions in advance.

4. Involve People You Care About

Accountability is a powerful strategy for strengthening and maintaining a sense of self-control. My brother and I noticed that we were sleeping in on the weekends (which tends to make it harder to keep getting up early during the rest of the week) so he took the initiative to plan early morning adventures (e.g. hiking a trail, climbing a mountain, kayaking, etc) that required getting up early. So, whereas I might have normally slept in on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I knew that Joshua was expecting me to join him at 5 AM to climb a mountain and I didn’t want to let him down. Suddenly, an area that I struggled with (getting up early on weekends) wasn’t a problem because I involved people I cared about.

Here are a few ideas for involving people you care about:

  • Scheduled Reviews – Pick a consistent time, on a weekly or even daily basis to connect with someone you care about and give a progress report. When my brother and I were working to get on the habit of waking up by 5 AM we would text each other when we woke up, which would help to prompt and encourage each other to keep it up.
  • Stated Intentions – If you’re working to improve self-control in a particular area, let a spouse or family member know. Just the act of saying it out-loud, especially in the context of someone who wants to see you succeed, can go a long ways towards strengthening your ability to stick to your intention.

5. Establish Clear Personal Rules & Boundaries

Along with creating a pre-commitment strategy, setting up clear “If A then B” rules and boundaries for yourself can help eliminate the need to exercise extra willpower and make staying “in control” a lot easier. For instance, if you’re a smoker and trying to quit, pay for your gas at the pump rather than walking inside where you have the option to buy cigarettes. If you’re trying to cut back on junk food, set a clear limit (perhaps “nothing” or “only 1 piece”) rather than a fuzzy “oh, I’ll just eat a little bit.”

When it comes to running a web development business, most rules and boundaries that I setup involve how I prioritize and manage my time. For instance, I know that the early part of the day is the best time for more brain intensive activities (like writing or programming). Accordingly, I avoid scheduling calls and checking email until after I’ve accomplished my morning objectives. I am then able to spend time on communication with the satisfaction that I’ve already accomplished a major objective for the day.

Another example is creating rules for how I spend my time after work. In order to get up early the next day it’s important that I get to bed at a good time (my target is between 9 and 10 PM) – accordingly, I’ve created a personal rule to not use “media” (unless my wife and I are doing so together) after 8 PM. That ensures I don’t let myself get lost reading tech news or following my friends on Facebook.

Look for ways to setup clear personal rules and boundaries in your own life to make exercising self-control easier. Here are a few ideas:

  • Setup Reminders – If you’re creating a new habit or trying to break an old, setup reminders. The glass of water on my desk reminds me to keep drinking throughout the day. The chart on my desk reminds me to make sure that I eat my fruits and vegetables for the day and that I get outside to get some fresh air and sunshine. Setup reminders, using objects, or time-reminders on your phone or computer, to help you stick to your personal rules.
  • Setup Schedules – If you’re dealing with a lot of interruptions or you’re just having a hard time focus, put a schedule to work and pre-determine what you’re going to work on. Then, ignore the interruptions till after the scheduled block of time is completed. If you’re struggling with procrastination, setup a block of time where you will either do the task or do nothing until the time is passed (most folks find it hard to sit or stand and do nothing).

6. Become More Consistent With Religious Activities

Roy Baumeister found that actively religious people, on average, have a higher amount of willpower than those who did not partake in religious activities. When I get out of bed and go for a morning walk I pray during my walk. On my return, I spend time reading the Bible and other material of a religious or devotional nature. The Bible, and the focus and emphasis of the other materials I engage, encourage my sense of self-control and provide a deeper motivation to keep at it. The name of my business, Strive For Mastery, is taken from 1 Corinthians 9:25, which reminds me that “Everyone who strives for the mastery is temperate in all things” – being temperate means exercising self-control in good things and avoiding entirely those things that do me harm.

Much of what I’ve achieved in life has drawn motivation from my religious convictions. Getting out of debt was sparked by a simple reminder that the Bible says to “Owe no man anything except love”. My sense of personal responsibility and integrity is also drawn from the examples and instructions I find in the Bible.

Make time to engage in religious activities and encourage and motivate your sense of self-control. As a Christian, and particularly as a Seventh-day Adventist (I don’t work on Saturdays and I work to cultivate good health), I personally recommend that you take time to pray throughout your day and that you spend time, even just a few minutes, reading the Bible (the Gospels, Proverbs, and Psalms are great books to start). You’ll find encouragement and motivation that maintains and strengthens your sense of self-control.


Improving self-control is a difficult task, but it is worth the effort. As a freelancer or business owner in the web development industry, a strong sense of self-control is particularly valuable and even essential to achieving success. Putting some or all of these strategies to work will help make improving and maintaining a sense of self-control easier and, based on my own experience and the experience of many others, I can assure you with confidence that success will follow.

And that’s a wrap! What do you think? What lessons have you learned about self-control or what are some of the aspects of self-control that you’ve struggled with? What questions do you have? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I look forward to hearing from you!

This interview is the seventh in a series I started to share how web designers and developers got their first client.

Daniel Farbox

Daniel lives in Adelaide Australia with his wife, two children and cat Ziggy. He enjoys everything web from coding and strategy to Internet marketing. Daniel made the shift from contract work and is now the lead strategist and co-director at Farbox Creative, a Hervey Bay web design studio.

1. How did you get your first client?

It all started with the realization that anyone who was truly successful in life seemed to have the same advice to give, “Find something you are passionate about and love doing”. I was on the search for this passion when I picked up a “Sams learn HTML in 24 hours” and started working my way through it. I had run small businesses and spent time trading shares in the past, but neither of these held the interest I was looking for. When I started coding, everything changed. I had found what I was passionate about.

I had only just started to learn web development when, by simply starting conversations about my new hobby, the opportunity came to complete a Christian Business Directory. The Business owners were unhappy with the service they had received from their previous web developer and I took the opportunity to develop the website for them as a learning experience.

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

If you charge $500 for a $6000 website then you will be a popular web designer. Having said that, you will also be poor and hungry. Seriously, even for your first job, I’d suggest not doing this. Even if you really are happy to do the website for a return of $500 for the experience, find an amazing web developer and pay them the other $5500 to mentor you on how to best meet the clients needs. The client will get a good result and good value and you will learn far more, much faster than you would have learning on your own.

From this experience, I also learned that we work in an amazing industry. If you want to learn as you go, the information is out there and a lot of it is freely given. There has been a real culture of give, give, give that made learning about the web quite accessible for anyone with a passion to grow in this area. If you want to fast-track your learning, find the industry leaders who have good communication skills and read their blogs, books and newsletters, listen to their podcasts and then, most importantly, apply what you learn.

3. What advice do you have for folks trying to get their first client?

Be bold. Don’t underestimate the power of this often repeated advice. When you go to close your first sale, and that voice says “You have not done this before, charge less, or warn the client of the possible disaster!” remember that you know more than the person who has asked you for a website. Regardless of how many better web developers there are out there, right at that moment, in that situation, you are the expert. Moreover, if you need help, you know where to go to find it, this alone puts you in a great place to serve them, and you gain that valuable experience you need at the same time.

By charging full rates you can then invest in mentoring. Again, find the best mentors you can in your desired field. Find someone with good communication skills who you ‘click’ with. You will find, even at the mentors high rate, that this can be a great investment and help you grow quickly. If investing is not an option at this point for you, get mentoring, through blogs and forums. Send emails even, it never hurts to ask.

Finally, know your strengths and weaknesses, then find people to work with that compliment your strengths and weaknesses. In the past I have not been one to think quick on my feet in a sales situation, and with time to think in a sales email I would often give far too much information, thus giving a potential client decision paralysis. As much as I tried to grow this skill it was not until I teamed up with people who were great in this area that things started to really move forward. The same thing can happen for you.

Hey there! Ready to get your own first web development client? I've written a free course to get you started! Sign up today: "Four Weeks To Your First Client".

In my consulting business I currently enjoy a 75%+ conversation-to-client ratio, which means that more than 7 out of 10 of the folks that contact me (or that I contact) about work become clients. If you look at the projects where I’ve spent more than an hour on in the sale process, that number is closer to 90%. When I submit a proposal I am usually certain that my offer will be a match for their needs.

How is that so? I follow a four-step process. Let’s look at the steps now.

  1. Qualify your potential client – Before I look deeply into the project and definitely before I make an offer, I qualify the client to make sure that were a match. While budget is a definite factor, requirements, personality, subject matter, and timeline are equally important. I work to make sure, before the relationship grows, that it will be a mutual match.
  2. Establish a personal connection – I care a lot about the clients I serve and the work I do for them and, consequently, establishing and growing a personal connection is a priority for me. At the most basic level, it means caring and taking the time to show you care by paying attention to personal details, by asking questions, and by showing the initiative to share appropriate personal details of your own.
  3. Educate and share value freely – As I get to know the client and their project I offer ideas and recommendations, focusing on giving my very best, without holding back. I look for ways to teach them about concepts and technologies, shedding light on areas that may be new or confusing to them. Oftentimes, the knowledge and recommendations I’ve shared before the sale ends up working its way into the project. I cater the depth and detail of what I share to what I quickly learn of the client’s personality and interests and it makes a difference. Clients have continuously referenced and shown appreciation for the time I’ve taken to educate them and share value.
  4. Ask for the sale – Once I have a clear sense of what the client is trying to accomplish (i.e. their business objectives) I prepare my recommendations and an offer. At the end of the offer (presented via a formal proposal or via email, depending on the size and scope of the project), I ask them if my recommendations are a match for their needs (I expect that they are yet I always leave myself open to the fact that I may have missed something). If so, they give me a “Yes!” and we get started!

And those are the steps! In my free course, Four Weeks To Your First Client, I expand on those steps in even further, so be sure to take a look at that lesson (Lesson #4) if you haven’t already.

Now, with those steps in mind, here are a few additional thoughts:

  1. Don’t rush the process – Building quality relationships takes time. Focus on getting to know your client and their needs before you make an offer. This is important for a lot of reasons. Until you have a clear sense of their needs and what they’re trying to accomplish, how can you make a good offer anyway? A lot of folks are quick to throw out a price and see if sticks – this is a dangerous strategy. Take your time and make sure you’re on target.
  2. Offer options – I rarely offer one price for a project. Instead, I offer a base and “add-ons” as options. This gives the client control over pricing and it also helps to make sure that I’m not making any false assumptions about what they can and can’t afford. I work hard to make sure that each and every combination of options is a match for both them and me.
  3. Narrow the possibilities – When I submit a formal proposal (which is definitely an investment of time), I do so only after carefully narrowing down the possibilities and being as certain as possible of the outcome. My goal is to ensure that the only reason a client does not go with me is that I misunderstood their objectives (a mistake on my part). It won’t be because they couldn’t afford it (I qualified them in the first step).

And that’s a wrap! Did you find that helpful? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll get back to you!

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This interview is the sixth in a series I started to share how web designers and developers got their first client.


David Goldstein resides close to Toronto, Ontario with his spouse, dog, and cat. He specializes in web application security and led the IBM Canada ethical hacking team for a few years before becoming an independent consultant. He now provides website marketing services for real estate agents and continues to provide consulting services for web app security.

1. How did you get your first client?

Getting my first client was unintentional. I was in the early research phase with my website marketing business and wanted to understand small business owner’s “pain points” to learn how I could most help them.

I decided to interview my former real estate agent just because he had previously expressed frustration over technology. Although we weren’t close, he had benefited from my business previously as a client of his so I think this was a goodwill gesture.

We met at a coffee shop and I asked him a series of questions about how he markets himself online. You could see he was really getting into it. About 30 minutes into things, the tide turned. He started asking me a ton of questions about how he could better present himself online to get more leads.

Much of it focused on his current website, which was a cookie-cutter realtor template that had a ton of duplicate content found on his competitor’s sites. I gave him some practical suggestions on what actions he should take and then we ended the interview.

I actually left feeling a bit bad since it seemed my line of questioning steered the conversation into a soft sell for my services. But I hoped if anything he was going to take my suggestions and make some improvements.

Months went by, and then one day I decided to join an online business network called Referral Key. When I signed up, it automatically sent an email to all my contacts who were on the same network. I can’t recall what that email said exactly, but I wasn’t too happy with it since it made it look like I had sent it myself.

Well, turned out my realtor was one of the recipients of this email and this unintentional touchpoint sparked his interest in reaching back out to me. He responded with an email suggesting that I give him a call since he wanted to talk about his website.

So a few days later we spoke by phone. He explained that he knew his website needed work, so I told him my vision for the new site. He liked what he heard and asked for a proposal. Keep in mind all of this was new to me so I was really second-guessing myself through all of this. So I whipped up a proposal and waited.

A few days went by and I hadn’t heard from him. I started to wonder if I had priced myself too high. I had planned on reaching back out to him after a week but I really started to think he wasn’t going to go for it.

After about a week though, I got an email with his acceptance and he said he’d have a cheque ready for me to pick up!

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

Two things. I’m a teacher at heart, not a salesperson. For me it’s moments like this where I get to educate people that I come to life.

This is what I believe generates me business and this experience helped prove that.

Second, touching base with someone doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I used to think it would get on people’s nerves if you followed up with them. In my case it was purely accidental, but I need to be doing more of this.

Again, I think there’s a fine line between being “salesy” and just being authentic with people by asking how things are going with their lives. People are busy these days. Sometimes just remembering you is enough for them to go, “Hey by the way, I’ve been meaning to do something about my website!”

3. What advice do you have for folks trying to get their first client?

Start with your connections and in a non-salesman way, introduce your new business. Let them know what you’re doing now and if they know of someone now or in the future that could benefit from your service, you would be grateful if they could pass on your details.

I would also reach out to non-profit organizations that could really use your help. If they have a poor website, they likely could really benefit from your service. Not only will it score you some karma points, but you’ll build up your portfolio and confidence. People visiting that site would also see your link in the footer which could earn you business. Plus I’m sure the charity would be happy to recommend your services to others.

Hey there! Ready to get your own first web development client? I've written a free course to get you started! Sign up today: "Four Weeks To Your First Client".

This interview is the fifth in a series I started to share how web designers and developers got their first client.


Clay Doss hails from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and currently lives with his wife and daughter in Jasper, Indiana. Today, the bulk of his freelance work comes from coding web projects for other web developers. His journey into the world of freelancing began in a much different place, though. In this interview, he tells the story of his first client with the lessons he learned along the way.

1. How did you get your first client?

I forget where, but one day I randomly read that many professional photo retouchers charged hundreds of dollars an hour for their services. That blew my mind. I was a young, creative computer geek and already had been dabbling in Adobe Photoshop for a few years. Digitally manipulating photographs was always fun, so the idea of charging hundreds of dollars for it sure sounded like a swell business prospect to me!

Well, to get anywhere in the art field, you need a portfolio of your work. I had none. So to build up my intial portfolio I weasled my way into a modeling community online. Inside I found countless models struggling to break into the biz. I found that some had only a handful of painfully amateur and lackluster photos. So I deliberately searched for the most gorgeous models with the worst photography I could find. I offered to freely transform their photos in exchange for using the before and after shots in my portfolio. The models were all too thrilled to get their photos fixed up and I was getting closer to a legit portfolio.

Next, I searched for the very best photographers that were clearly new to the business. The ones that were obviously doing their own sloppy retouching, had no reputation yet, but had photos with great promise. I approached these talented photographers suggesting that collaboration between us newbies could be beneficial to both of us. This led to some great relationships with a couple of upcoming star photographers. My retouching took their photos from great to AMAZING! And their beautiful images added great power to my portfolio. Our individual businesses grew very rapidly through this collaboration. Without powerful allies, the road to success would have been much slower for each of us.

During the couse of all this I also entered several retouching contests. Surprisingly, I managed to win every contest I entered, and though I received no prizes, I received much recognition.

With my portfolio ready, I began searching for paid retouching requests. However, it didn’t take long at all before the word started spreading all on its own. People soon began contacting me inquiring of my process and rates. Yikes! Crunch time had finally come and it was incredibly nerve-wracking! I had no real process yet and had no clue what to charge. I did as much digging and research as I could to uncover the competition’s rates, but retouchers are strangely secretive creatures. I decided to set my rates a little higher than what I imagined other retouchers were charging to see what would happen.

An example of Clay's work retouching a photograph ("before" on the right, "after" on the left)

An example of Clay’s work (“before” on the right, “after” on the left)

Photographers balked at my high rates. I feared I had screwed up my chances. Yet, for some reason, eventually they always decided to give my service a shot. Those minor price squabbles made me even more terrified of disappointing, especially with art being so subjective to personal opinion and so much money on the line. But my philosophy has always been to deliver the best product I possibly could and, no matter the time or cost to me, just always end with a happy client. Despite my fear, every single client was downright giddy with excitement over their transformed photos. Even to this day I believe all of my clients have been excited repeat customers.

2. What did you learn from that first experience?

For me, I first had to assemble a portfolio of work. Starting at ground zero with no experience made it necessary for me to do some free work initially, but it was also neceassary to limit this free work to a short time and quickly grow beyond that. As a newbie with little experience and low confidence, it can be terrifying charging money for the first time. Forcing myself to be bold and fake confidence was the biggest thing I had to learn through all of this. Fortunately, my work quickly proved itself and I eventually grew to have great confidence as an expert in my field.

I also learned that clients can very easily develop the attitude of “I’m paying you to work for me now let me boss you around and waste your time.” In fact, I learned that lesson just through my initial non-paid work! So from the very first paying client, despite my fear, I made the intentional effort to always subtly convey the impression that I was a very busy man who could live without their work and that it was a “privilege” to talk and work with me. There were numerous ways of doing this, like always being incredibly short and succinct, never fighting to get their work, never attempting to convince them to hire me, and just being very matter of fact with absolutely zero “fluffy” nice stuff. Mind you, I was always 100% honest and truthful in all things. This communication tactic simply set the groundwork for how a client should communicate with me. My clients all developed a very healthy fear of me. It ensured that I was unquestionably the one in charge. It kept things moving quickly and efficiently. Clients likewise kept their communication succinct and, being afraid to bother me, only contacted me when absolutely necessary. In short, being in control saved time, made everything easier, and I was never pushed around.

3. What advice do you have for folks trying to get their first client?

Be bold. Be always learning. Be honest with yourself and your clients. And eagerly accept helpful criticisms. The retouching world is a highly competitive field, but I managed to bypass the myriad of competitors quickly by being an eager self-learner open to helpful suggestions.

My motto has always been, “Under-promise. Over-deliver.” Living and working that way has never failed me once and is perhaps the single greatest factor in my line of successes. Whatever your line of business, apply that motto and I’m confident you will be rewarded.

Hey there! Ready to get your own first web development client? I've written a free course to get you started! Sign up today: "Four Weeks To Your First Client".