What Freelancers Can Learn from Enoch Thompson

One of the better shows on TV is Boardwalk Empire. It has a similar kind of “gangster” appeal as something like The Sopranos, but it takes place during Prohibition-era Atlantic City. The main character of Enoch Thompson, played brilliantly like Steve Buscemi, is better known as “Nucky” on the show. He may be a fictional character, but he is based on real life counterpart Enoch L. Johnson. The show also features dramatized versions of historical figures like Gaston Means and Al Capone.

What does a bootlegging politician have to do with the business of freelance writing? While I am certainly not encouraging all the freelancers out there to turn to a life of crime, what I am saying is that there are valuable business lessons that can be learned here. After all, if freelancers can learn from dog trainers and talk show hosts, why can’t they also learn from the (fictionalized) man who effectively ran Atlantic City for a number of years?

Relationships Are Everything

No man is an island… at least, no successful man is. It doesn’t really matter what kind of business you are in, because you will need to forge the right relationships with the right kind of people. For Nucky, he needs relationships with sourcing the bootlegged alcohol. He needs relationships with hired muscle. He needs relationships with customers both in Atlantic City and in other cities that want the booze. Without those relationships, Mr. Thompson is nothing.

The exact same thing can be said about freelancers. We need strong relationships with our clients, to be sure, but we need more than that. It pays to have relationships with people who have complementary expertise, like web developers and graphic designers. And yes, it pays to have relationships with other freelancers too, as we can mutually benefit from reciprocated referrals and shared knowledge.

Money Talks

Nucky might pay Gaston Means for information and he might pay off someone else to take care of some dirty work. At the same time, when he controls the bootlegging industry in New Jersey, he also gains a certain level of power in Atlantic City and throughout the area. Money travels in both directions and it is highly influential.

While some of us may have gotten into the business of freelancing for the relative freedom it may afford, at the end of the day, money still matters. We still need to pay the bills and we need to act accordingly. The client with the biggest budget is, unsurprisingly, quite attractive. In like manner, you’ll have an easier time attracting business partners on a coordinated project if you can also demonstrate how lucrative it can be.

Respect Is Earned, Not Given

You have to start by respecting yourself and truly treating your freelancing as a real business, just as Nucky really treats his bootlegging as a real business. From there, you can’t simply go around and ask to be respected. You can’t even demand to be respected. You can only earn respect–from your friends, family, colleagues, clients and even your enemies–through your actions.

Adapt to Every Situation

It goes without saying that being a highly visible bootlegger in Prohibition-era Atlantic City is going to garner quite a bit of attention, both positive and negative. Enoch Thompson gets more than his fair share of trouble, including getting shot. While freelancing likely won’t put you in the same kinds of life-threatening situations, you do need to learn how to adapt. When Nucky got into trouble with the feds, he deflected and used some political maneuvering to get out of that situation. When his previous partners turned on him, he found different partners in a tighter-knit circle that he could really trust. The political climate changes, so you can’t keep going on as if nothing is different.

And the same is true of freelancing. What may have worked before might not work tomorrow. While you don’t necessarily want to jump from trend to trend, you do need to be prepared to adapt and to be flexible. That is perhaps the single most important trait for any entrepreneur, whether you write apps for the iPhone, design custom company logos, or import Scotch for sale on the Atlantic City boardwalk.