Apply These 5 Lessons from Airplane Pilots to Get your Small Business Off the Runway

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6 Business Lessons from Pilots

Airline pilots have a long list of tasks before each flight, but getting to the pilot seat is a feat in its own right. Through hard work, discipline, and a systematic approach, American aviation continually sets records for flight safety. Much of this success rests on the shoulder of the pilots who gracefully navigate massive structures across the skies.

Business Lessons from Pilots

I earned my private pilot license a few years back and picked up some great habits along the way that help me in my business as an online freelance writer. Follow along to discover 5 tips freelancers can learn from pilots.

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Checklists Ensure you Never Forget Anything

Pilots have checklists for everything. There are almost so many checklists you need a checklist to keep track of all of your checklists! But those checklists ensure important safety measures are never skipped or missed before soaring up thousands of feet in the air.

For example, before every flight, the pilot (or traditionally the co-pilot in commercial aviation) does a walk around the plane looking for any defects or potential mechanical problems. Pilots also put the engines through a “run up” process to stress test the engine and look out for any problems that could impede a safe arrival.

As a freelancer, you may have checklists for each article, checklists for a particular client, or checklists for your monthly billing process. I personally keep a checklist of to-dos running in the Asana app plus a handwritten checklist next to my desk while working every day.

Batch Work Schedules are Best

Pilots and flight attendants get to pick their routes based on seniority. There is a reason the most senior pilots tend to pick routes that take them across the ocean. If they fly overseas, they can meet all monthly work requirements in a few flights rather than work on lots of shorter ones.

For example, a pilot with a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo is just under 11 hours nonstop. If you could work 1 hour 11 times or 11 hours 1 time, which would you choose? In the aviation world, a few long-haul flights per month might be all you need to earn your salary. If you can earn more in less time, you should do it.

As a freelancer, I’m always working to bring in the highest quality clients that pay well for a single assignment. While it gets me to the same place as a long list of short projects, getting it all done in one batch is much more efficient and gives me the best income per hour of work.

Know your Tools Inside Out

Before I started flying, I would have had to look to Google to explain what a carburetor does. But as an essential component of the Cessna 150 I used to earn my license, I had to understand how it worked in case of a failure or emergency. As part of my pilot training, I had to learn how carburetors work. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a carburetor expert, but I have a basic understanding of all parts of the Cessna plane I learned to fly.

While you don’t have to understand how the chips work inside your laptop, you should become a credible expert in your field. Whether you are a writer, a graphic designer, a video producer, or anything else, be the very best at it. Understand the tools of the trade and be an expert in your niche. It will serve you well.

Always have an Emergency Plan

On my first flight with my instructor, we were just leveling off at 2,000 feet when he pulled the throttle back and said, “your engine just died, what do you do?” I didn’t know the answer just yet in my first lesson, but my instructor was trying to make an important point beyond what to do in an emergency. He was teaching me to always be ready for an emergency. You never know when one may arrive.

Freelancers can take this to heart with an emergency fund. While we can debate if full-time workers have any level of true job security today, we know freelancers can be let go easily if they don’t perform well or if business needs (or budgets) change. A big emergency fund is required for freelancers.

Strive for a Perfect Landing

The landing is the most difficult and dangerous part of any flight – it isn’t dangerous overall, but it is the most likely time for something to go wrong on a flight. It is also one of the last memories a customer will have of a flight, and pilots want to leave customers with a good impression.

Strive for the same customer experience when delivering a freelance product. Make sure it is perfected and polished. Ensure you have not missed anything from the checklist and double checked that you can submit something you’re proud of. If you deliver a perfect product consistently, your business should only grow and flourish over time.

Learn from Pilots: Always Improve and Strive for Excellence

While much of the commercial flying experience today is handled by autopilot, there is no automated assistant for everything a freelancer has to deal with on a daily basis. But if you follow the example and learn from pilots, you can take your freelance business ever onward and upward like a plane flying into a picturesque sunset.

Setup checklists, build an emergency fund, and work to make your business run as smoothly as possible. If you do, the revenue and profits should follow.

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One Reaction
  1. I am a fan of checklists and it works for me. Gives me a dopamine boost for every task I finish as well.

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