Follow @samuelryan
This is an older article from my early freelance days. I'm writing new ones.

Refocusing Your Business With an “I Am No Good At” List

Living in a world of instant information is a two-edged sword. On one hand, you can find help on nearly any subject, from learning HTML 5 to setting up an LLC. On the other hand, a little knowledge can be dangerous, convincing people that they know more than they actually do about a certain subject. We've all heard someone or other refer to the necessity of "meta tags" for search engines or try to confidently explain that they need more "RAM" so that their computer can hold more photos. 

This self-sufficiency is common among freelancers and entrepreneurs, driving them to do too many things themselves. Granted, an entrepreneur often has no choice but to do many things himself, and as helpful as this may be at times starting out, it is more likely that the "do-everything" attitude will hurt the growth of your business. Many freelancers, entrepreneurs, and even small firms never reach their full potential because they continue to fill roles in which they are either inexperienced or unskilled.

So in creating a business that functions in the best way possible, I find it helpful to constantly keep a list that reminds me of things "I am terrible at." I call the list a "No Good At" list because I want to be harsh and avoid the trap of convincing myself that I could do certain things that I shouldn't be doing. More often than not, you'll be weeding out the stuff you're "just okay" at so you can focus on the things that you are (or can be) a rockstar at. Part of my current list looks something like this:

I Am No Good At:

  • Illustration
  • Accounting/Finances
  • Project Planning
  • Business Organization
  • Careful Proofreading
  • PHP/Java
  • Social Marketing

So what do you do with such a list? Your answer may vary according to your business. Some people would outsource anything outside their expertise. Others would spend hours and outside consultation to be up to speed in as many subjects as possible. Here's a more logical process for dealing with your "No Good At" list.


1. Determine what you must be good at no matter what.

Certain aspects like email and time management will always be a part of your business. Do your best to improve on these and use whatever tactics necessary. You just can't get away without mastering specific business skills.

2. Find an expert and trust them.

 Just because I use Facebook and Twitter doesn't mean I really know social marketing. Or just because I've had my share of college math classes and have read The Intelligent Investor doesn't mean that I should be taking care of my company finances. Although it seems logical to do many things on your own (it's called bootstrapping, right?), relying on the expertise of others (and paying them when necessary) is usually a better choice. Experts often enjoy answering your questions or at least putting you in contact with those who can help.

3. Drop it altogether.

This is the toughest step to take, especially when it feels like you're leaving money on the table. But if a potential client comes to me with a job that requires high usage of illustration, PHP/Java, or OO design, I will typically let them know that I don't do that type of work. Sure, I could track down contractors to take care of such things. But if I can grow my business focusing on the things I am good at, why fill my time with work that is unrelated to my strengths? Great companies are built by focusing on a few things they do very, very well.


Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of believing you have to do everything. Learn to rely on others or turn down certain opportunities. A focused business is a good one, and it begins with realizing what you are not good at.

Get new articles by catching me on Twitter or by subscribing by email:




About Me

My name is . I freelanced for a decade. Now I'm the digital director at FiveStone, a creative agency in NYC. Learn a little more at this vanity site or email me at