My kids love Thomas & Friends.

It’s a cute show, and it can even be mildly entertaining for adults.

If you’re not familiar with the show, the plot focuses on a railway operation on the fictitious island of Sodor (presumably somewhere in the United Kingdom). Thomas the Train and his fellow steam engines (Percy, Gordon, Henry, and others) spend their days happily making deliveries. An occasional run-in with a snooty diesel engine adds to the mayhem that can ensue.

The railway is managed by a serious, portly fellow named Sir Topham Hatt (an obvious play on words to his trademark top hat). The steam engines are mostly motivated by keeping Sir Topham Hatt happy.

What Freelancers Can Learn from Sir Topham Hatt

To a fault, I’m always thinking about how things relate to business. I know it might be a stretch, but I think Sir Topham Hatt and his engines can teach us freelancers a valuable lesson.

Sir Topham Hatt’s instructions to his engines are always clear. They are, namely:

Be useful and take care.

Simple advice, sure. But stop and think about it for a minute. If you’re always useful to your clients, you’re likely to stay very busy – and keep them happy.

Here’s how you can ensure you’ll always be useful as a freelancer:

  • Routinely ask clients what challenges they are facing – and then figure out how you can solve their problems
  • Don’t vanish for a few days without explanation
  • Keep your todo list up-to-date
  • Figure out ways to delegate aspects of your job to lower-cost team members
  • Implement a continuing education program to keep your skills fresh

Remember, people pay you because you’re useful. Not because you exist. Stay useful, and you’ll always achieve your personal goals!

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Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and

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