Need Breakthrough Ideas? Look Outside Your Industry!

Summary: Massive, quantum leaps in performance almost always come from looking elsewhere. In this week's training episode, I'll show you where to look.

A while back, my friend and colleague Dianna Huff responded to a blog post I had written about doing away with the “starving artist” mentality.

Dianna suggested that if you want to truly succeed as a freelancer — if you want to consistently have the clients, projects, income and lifestyle you want (which is essentially how we define “wealthy freelancing”), you need to reach outside of your freelancer circles.

Dianna Huff

Here’s what she suggested:

“If you want to be successful, meaning you make more than enough money to meet your financial obligations, take a few weeks off every year, save money, etc etc., then you need to hang out with other successful people OUTSIDE OF YOUR INDUSTRY.

“This means that if you’re a writer, don’t hang out with writers. Hang out with complementary professionals — i.e. hugely successful Web marketers or bookkeepers or designers or business owners. You’ll not only get some really good ideas, you’ll see how and why others have become successful. You’ll learn to think the way they do. Even better, these people, who aren’t your competitors, will refer work to you.”

Why do I think this idea is so powerful?

Because most of the best ideas in ANY business don’t come from watching competitors. They don’t come from incremental improvements in an existing process or technique within your business.

Massive, quantum leaps in performance almost always come from adapting ideas other businesses outside of your own industry are using successfully.

It’s taking an idea you learned from a freelancer in a completely different field. Or one you saw at your local grocery store and know you can modify and apply to your business somehow. Or one you picked up while reading about a specialty-toys retailer in Entrepreneur magazine.

Look at History!

In fact, if you go back in history to some of the greatest scientific achievements, you’ll find that they were inspired by an event or observation outside of the lab, out there in the real world.

(One quick example: the origin of the binary code, which computers still use today, came from a technique used by the equipment used in textile mills in the 1800s!)

For us freelancers, the key is to keep and open mind. And when we see a successful strategy in another business, we need ask ourselves, “How could a similar strategy help me get more clients, land better projects, serve my clients better, have more time off, increase my income, help my spouse quit his/her job, or pursue a long-held passion?”

Great Ideas Are Everywhere

Recently, I had dinner with a client who’s a hugely successful businessman. Fascinating story, this guy. He's the founder and president of a multi-million-dollar company. Came from very humble beginnings and worked hard to get to where he is today.

I got GREAT value from hearing him tell his story and learning more about how he thinks and how he views the world. Not only because he thinks BIG, but because he provided me with a different perspective on marketing, human nature, business success and injecting passion into what you do every day.

As I drove home and pondered our three-and-a-half-hour discussion over a great dinner, it dawned on me that some of the most impactful conversations I’ve ever had have been with super-successful (in more ways than just material success, by the way) individuals outside of my industry/business.

That’s precisely what we strive for here at International Freelancers Academy — to provide you with great ideas, strategies and insights from both inside AND outside the freelance world. We hope we’re living up to that ideal.

What Have YOU Learned From Others?

So I'm wondering...

What great ideas, tips or strategies have you learned from others outside of your industry or profession?

Please tell me in the comments area below. I'd love to hear from you!!


  • RT

    I'm in the natural health field, but recently I learned about business from my car mechanic. He not only fixed my car's issues at a better price than anyone else could offer, but he also taught me about my car along the way. He explained that he has learned from each job he has done over the past 20 years. He was honest in telling me there was no guarantee with one of the parts he wanted to switch to get the idle rev back to normal. I made a decision to go through with it, and the new car part worked. I appreciated him not offering a 100% guarantee when he didn't know for sure (old mazda miatas can tend toward high idling for various reasons). All in all, I found him to be real and not a shtick. Something I strive for in my own field.

    • edgandia

      That's exactly what I'm talking about. Nice!

  • zeeawan

    Well, well, I've experienced one inspiration recently but I didn't think that I could use it for my freelance career before your post. Thanks for the valuable post.

    I casually scheduled a visit to hill station for a day with friends and that one day turned into a week and I even wished it would have turned into months. Who was behind these extensions!!! Well, that was the inspirational character, our tour guide. He was a smart guy and kept us engaged by telling more and more about unseen places and managed handsome bill.

    To be short, the lesson I got is keep on penetrating into your clients' imaginations and keep on offering them more and more and keep on expanding your relationships for the good sake even if your clients start something casually.

    • edgandia

      Love that!! Thanks for sharing.

  • Carol Tice

    Great post -- I think for me, the thing that's been great is hanging out with marketing and sales copy writers (like you Ed!) -- I've learned SO much from how they operate!

    • edgandia

      Wow!! Thanks, Carol. Means a lot coming from you. And believe me, I've learned a ton from you as well, sistah!

  • MariaN.

    This is a great post, Ed. Thank you for it, and thank you too, Dianna, for prompting it. I'll just add that, in general, the best advice I've gotten was not given as advice but simply as a recounting of what the person had done. I'd also like to say that the broke are not to be spurned. They are often very inventive in leveraging the little they have. I personally was able to help a small arts organization simply by recognizing that three institutions could all derive benefit around one event. I merely had to alert them all to the possibilities. (Which is Raykir's point.) Very little money was spent, and it was more than recouped in ticket sales, in publicity, and in foot traffic.

    • edgandia

      Great point! Yes, we can learn from everyone. I see Dianna's point, and it's valid. And your point is equally as valid.

      Ever meet someone who is homeless, penniless, nothing to their name but the clothes on their back ... and yet they're happier than most people you know? I have. What an incredible life lesson!

  • Rick De Lima

    Hi Ed, Great article as usual. I have been called crazy in the past for stepping out of the box. But you know what? it has been very profitable. I'm an avid reader, so I generally read dozens of articles, ezines and good old fashioned print magazines every month. Most of my reading is outside of my copywriting world.

    Through the years (as you state in your article) I have swiped great ideas from the weirdest sources. Sure, not all of them work for me and my clients, but so far I've got a pretty good bating average.

    My suggestion is always keep your mind open to new ideas and opportunities you come across. You just never know where they could lead you.

    • edgandia

      Big amen to that!

  • Wendy Wood

    Hi Ed! Great article. I would add that ideas and insights also come from others outside your belief system, those who have opposite political views, are older, younger, etc. If we are willing to put our own emotions aside and try to understand the views of others that conflict with our own, and then *truly* listen — it opens up amazing insights within ourselves, our lives and our businesses.

    • edgandia

      So important to do that! I have strong beliefs, and many times they're formed only after consulting a wide variety of beliefs and opinions. Love to chat with folks who think differently -- but only if they're willing to keep the conversation civilized. 😉

  • Raykir

    Ed, insightful ideas in your article. We should also pay attention to complementary products and services in our own industry. For example, in 1990, the computer hardware industry was thriving and software companies like Apple and Microsoft were expanding. A $150,000 investment in either company would be worth over $40 million today. That's a healthy return. Sometimes, a less expensive product or service multiplies the productivity of the product it supports and ultimately becomes more valuable than the supported product. We just need to be aware of the possibility and not overlook it because it is right under our feet.

    • Raykir -- Yep, spot on. Read the book The Launchpad -- it's all about YCombinator. It goes through one of the "batches" and you get to see how "founders" come up with these "micro" ideas -- some of which turn into millions of dollars. The ideas are all based on things that are, basically, right under people's noses.

  • Ed, Great article -- and not because you quoted me. 🙂 Seriously, though, I just read this morning, in a book by the great (and late) Jim Rohn, that you should always take rich successful people out to dinner -- and then ask question, after question, after question. That's how you learn stuff. (Or as Randy Gage says, "Don't take advice from broke people.")

    And don't forget books. I never read books on how to "be creative" or "artistic" or how to improve my writing. I read books outside of my industry that hurt my brain. Within the last month, I've been able to work through a challenge I had -- by reading books about math. So awesome.

    • edgandia

      Thank you, Dianna!! You are spot on with this. And now you have me curious about this math book and how it helped you work through your challenge. Love that!