Pricing for freelancers
“Your price is WHAT? You work for yourself, I thought you’d be much cheaper!”
It’s something us folks who work for ourselves hear often, especially if we charge premium rates for our products or services.
Customers and clients rarely balk at pricing from large companies, but they seem to quickly tighten their purse strings (I’m no purse expert—do purses even have strings?) if a freelancer or indie product company charges similar prices.
These customers and clients can (wrongly) assume that just because our business is small in terms of people, our prices should be equally small. But what they fail to realize is something too many freelancers and indie product creators fail to think about as well, especially at the start, and that’s the hidden cost that needs covering in a small business.
Ric Edelman (a famous financial advisor), in an interview from Million-dollar, one-person business said that most people don’t know that only about 60% of the compensation for an employee at a large company is their salary. The other 40%, which is quite a bit, is compensation in the form of paid vacation time, funding retirement investments (like 401k’s or RRSP’s), or covering health insurance.
While that math might hold for employee compensation at large companies, it doesn’t for freelancers and solo business people, not even thinking about expenses—and here’s why:
We have to run our own business as well as doing the work. So bookkeeping, dealing with vendors, administration, answering customer support, doing taxes, etc—these all take up a large chunk of time, and aren’t something we’re directly compensated for. So we have to charge more to make sure we make enough to have time to work on these unpaid tasks.
We have to cover our own insurance, which is typically much more expensive than if a large employer covers it (since they get a discounted rate based on volume). And if you’re American, the cost of health insurance can be astronomical. Even here in Canada, I pay about $160/month to cover extended medical and $37/month for basic, mandatory health coverage. A lot of people that work for themselves also get insurance to cover themselves and their families if they can’t work, temporarily or permanently.
We have to make enough to cover our own time off. While it seems on the surface that vacation time is a “luxury”, I don’t think it is. Even if it’s a day here or there to relax or recharge our own batteries, it’s important to not burn out or fill all our time with work.
We have to, hopefully, invest in our future and our own retirement. Even if it’s putting $100 automatically into a low cost index fund, planning for the future is important (that’s the podcast episode Kaleigh and I recorded on this subject)—since we can’t work forever (nor should we). The older we are when we start working for ourselves, the more we have to make sure we have money put away. I follow the Mr. Money Moustache/JL Collins view that retirement requires 25 times what we need to live on saved up, that way we can live off the interest of our investments. And, most importantly, that it’s a marathon or war of attrition to get there—it takes decades to save up that much.
We have to assume the risk of doing something on our own, with no safety net—typically because we don’t pay into unemployment insurance, so we can’t get unemployment benefits.
We have to spend a good deal of our time to seek out, court and acquire new clients or customers. Unless that’s your full-time job at a company (doing sales), it’s not required that every employee at a big company do this. But when you work for yourself, you’ve got to actually find the people who are going to pay you, and that takes a decent amount of time each month to do.
With all of this in mind, even if we run a lean and mean small business with very little overhead or expenses, there are still all of the above that need to be factored into how we price what we offer. Otherwise, we won’t be able to keep working for ourselves for very long. Not to mention, for companies of one or small businesses, probably more than 60% of our compensation goes towards non-salary.
As you can see, it ain’t cheap running your own business, even if it’s small. Costs need to be factored in, and definitely have an impact on your bottom line. A lot of new freelancers or entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking they can afford to charge less than their competition.
So next time you’re considering how much to charge for a service or a product you’re offering, make sure you factor everything into your price. If you’re considering taking a leap to working for yourself from a large employer, you can’t just aim to make the same as your salary, you’ve got to aim much higher.
And if a person complains about your rates or prices, make sure they understand how big an undertaking it is to run a business full-time for the long term. You’re able to pass savings along to them, by having less overhead, but still, you’ve got to run your business, and it helps both them and you that you make enough to stay in business for a long time.
Do you live to work, or work to live?
I’ve always been a freelancer—not because I had to (i.e. I couldn’t find a “real job”), but because I wanted to. Every year I’d get job offers to work at a larger company or an agency. A few clients even prodded every now and again to see what it’d take to get me to work for them full-time (my answer was always to laugh and say $1m/year… which results in zero follow ups from them).
I resisted working for someone else because I enjoyed being unemployable. I acted with great purpose and intention to be my own boss. I didn’t want to freelance only until I was “successful” enough to start a big agency of my own, or build what I had into something larger. My end goal was always to just keep doing better and better as a freelancer. My company, of just me (and a few other freelancers to help), was the perfect size.
A few times over the years I had offers to work for someone else that were tempting. One time, many years ago, an agency that I admired reached out to see what it would take for me to join their ranks. They were pretty good at saying the right things too. Although I’d have to relocate to their head office, I could work from home some days, unless there were meetings. I’d assume a high-up position where I’d be surrounded by smart, skilled and autonomous coworkers. They’d pay me more than I was making, and give me benefits.
It was super tempting and I seriously considered it, more than most offers that came my way. But the more I continued to talk to them, to the founder, to their HR team, to other folks who worked there, I realized that there was this nagging voice inside me, telling me that while I thought all the advantages of working for them were important, there were more important things, to me specifically.
The final piece that led me to unequivocally say that I wasn’t interested was a conversation with one of their HR staffers, who went on and on about getting 3 weeks off a year to start (instead of the usual 2 most other companies offered). She was honestly and genuinely pleased with the extra paid week offered, I could hear it in her voice. The problem for me was, at the time, I was taking 2-3 months (not weeks) off work per year. Sure, it wasn’t paid time off (as a freelancer, you only make money when you’re working), but it was still time away from work and clients.
I finally realized that no amount of money could replace the enjoyment I experienced from my freedom to choose to work or not. I enjoy that I can control the freedom of my day, my work, and my life more than I could if I worked for someone else. And while it’s not complete freedom—nothing offers this except being independently wealthy (one might suppose)—working for yourself has a lot more freedom than most corporate jobs. Yes, it took a while to get to that place with my freelancing, through a lot of trial and error (mostly error), but once I was able to support my family by working for myself, that freedom became the most important thing to me.
Even though I’m no longer a freelancer (I don’t have clients or offer services), I still approach my work the exact same way. With every opportunity or choice that comes my along, I think about the trade-offs. If I proceed, will my day be filled with tasks I dislike? Will the choice lead to less freedom and control over my work? Will it impact what I value as important?
All of this, of course, comes from a slightly entitled place. The choices that are available to me are there because I’ve done well enough with work and saved enough money. I’m also a white guy in a first world country, who came from a middle-class family—and as my buddy Brendan Hufford says, I get to play life on “Easy Mode”.
The ability to make decent money working for ourselves, from home is still a fairly recent phenomena. A confluence of technology, social acceptance that working for yourself is no longer frowned upon (trust me, it was not too long ago), and the increasing number of cheap tools that help us reach more people (social media and mailing lists, for example), set up shop (legal and business services cost far less than they used to), and super cheap and easy ways to collect money online (previously you needed a merchant account which required months of hoop jumping)—all make it possible to do what we do for a living.
Really, this whole “working for yourself” as a freelancer or a company of one or whatever you want to call it, is so incredibly new, there are countless unknowns. Even for myself, 20 years in, I don’t know what things will be like for myself or anyone else working for themselves in another 20 years.
Many of us have the opportunity to choose how we want to work. Which is great, and wasn’t a real option even one generation ago. We have the luxury of thinking about how we want our work to affect both our lives and the lives of others. Do we want to work towards having more time with our family? Towards making more money? Towards fostering a creative outlet? Towards finding a way of working where a disability or health issue is no longer an obstacle? We can. Instead of living to work, we can work so that we can live. And while not everyone has to work for themselves (it’s cool if you don’t want to), many of us consider our options and decide to give it a go.
And while there are a lot of unknowns, long and short term, and while it also requires more work most of the time (because you’ve got do the work and run the business), it’s still completely worth it for some. Personally, I can’t see my life working any other way.
How to be an introverted or awkward salesperson
I’ll never forget the time I was teaching an online workshop and a student mentioned that they weren’t good at selling because they were introverted in business and awkward around other people.
I stopped in my tracks and said to myself, then out loud to the folks watching, “Hey, I’m awkward and I can sell pretty well. Let’s talk about this!”
I proceeded to explain that I honestly don’t think you have to be the stereotypical sales person, with an answer for everything in order to sell well.
I don’t have any of those things. In fact, I’m a super awkward and excitable nerd. I speak too fast, don’t always have answers to questions asked by potential clients, and swear too much when I’m talking to others. I rarely look others in the eye when I talk, and I could have my own TLC show I give birth to so many pregnant pauses.
But still, I consider myself really good at sales. When I did client work, I would “close” pretty much every call I got on. Not because I was slick like the hot tub guy (pre-purchase), but because I did a few things really well, none of which required much talking.
Most sales calls I was on took about 45-60 minutes. Which for any introvert, seems like a worst idea ever to have to talk to someone for that length of time. But what I realized was that in selling services, especially higher end services, my participation was only barely required.
To sell well, I had to three things: Ask questions, shut up and listen, then repeat the answers back. At most the conversations would be 90/10 for them talking to me talking.
If someone asked me to “pitch” them on what I do, I’d stumble, trail off and really, just do an awful job. I suck at talking about what I do and why anyone should hire me. I know I’m awful at this, so I stay away from it. What I am good at is being curious (this helps a whole lot with writing too). I’m good at thinking about what I want to learn from someone else and asking them about it, in lots of questions if necessary, until I’m satisfied that I get it. If you put me in front of a group of people to talk, I’d be awkward. If you put me in front of a group of people where I had to ask them questions, I’d have total confidence in how to lead the conversation and the room.
Even though I’m awkward, I’m good at learning by asking questions. In sales, especially when it’s custom services, you’ve gotta really understand what someone wants in order to have an any chance of them wanting to hire you to help them fix what they need fixing. So sales for me starts with asking questions about the other person and their business until I’m satisfied.
Being introverted in business means more listening than talking
The good thing about asking questions is after you ask something, you really just have to shut up and pay attention. It’s hard to be awkward in a conversation when you don’t have to do much of the talking.
So since I’d rather listen than talk in most situations, being good at sales meant hearing what someone else had to say and paying attention to what they said and how they said it, so I could fully understand how what I knew how to do could help them. Not in a general way, like, “oh ya, I can design your website, sure” but more in a laser-focused, hyper-specific way, like “oh ya, based on the fact that you generate most of your revenue from automation funnels on your MailChimp mailing list, I can help design your website that increases conversions to subscribers, and work with you to increase your open and click rates so more sales happen”.
Because I would spend most of a call asking questions and listening, when it finally did come time for me to talk, all I had to do was quickly mention the specifics of how I could help them. How I said it didn’t have to be confident or slick, because I knew exactly what to say (based on where their problems where) and how to say it (based on the words they used to describe their problem). I could be the most the awkward person in the world, with awards to prove it, and still, if I basically just repeated back what someone needed and how my own skills could help them, they’d be paying attention to what I had to say.
In business, it requires twice as much work to do things in a certain way, just because someone else told you that’s how things are supposed to work. Or because you think something works in a certain way because you read about it on a book or saw it on Suits (probably don’t run a business like those folks). That’s because you’ve gotta do the work and you’ve got to fit yourself into the box you think you should be in because you think that’s how things should work.
The rules for being introverted in business are that there are no rules
There’s no one way things should work in business. Only the way the way you do them.
So if you’re introverted in business or just awkward, be fucking awkward. Own it. Use it. Be the most awkwardly successful business person ever. That way you don’t have to work twice as hard to do things, because it’s way easier to just be yourself, even if you’re selling something.
Never ignore existing customers
When I bought a hot tub a few years ago, the sales guy was very friendly, instantly helpful and followed up several times with phone calls.
I had saved up for over a year to buy a nice one and I was super excited to get it, because being in water is one of my favourite things. I did a ton of research into which was the best one, which used the least amount of power and which brand lasted the longest. When I was ready to pull the trigger, all I needed was to talk to a salesperson to buy it, which he was happy to do.
But, then something happened that I’ve noticed many times before during the process of buying something from a business…
The second I paid for the hot tub, he completely disappeared.
He instantly became too busy trying to sell to the next person to help me with the hot tub I had literally just bought from him. And this is all after he was late on delivery, didn’t install it properly and when I needed it to be fixed (it was damaged by him during the installation), the repairs kept getting delayed—for more than six months.
Where was the helpful and friendly guy I purchased from? How could he be so responsive one day, and completely ignore me the next (after he had my money)?
I tell this story to illustrate a counterintuitive aspect of running a business: sometimes we can forget about the people who’ve just given us money.
It’s even easier to forget them online with digital products, especially during a “launch” when there may be a decent number of folks buying at the same time from us, and we’re focused on getting more buyers in the door.
Sometimes we don’t even meet or talk to these people who were interested and then pulled the trigger. (Some stats for my own products, I’ve only had a 1-on-1 email conversation with about 10% of folks who buy from me). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it means that our funnels or pitches or newsletters are working well. It’s only bad when the lack of relationship leads to a worse relationship on the other side of a sale.
With the hot tub guy story in mind, I want to talk to you about how to do better (much better) in your own business. Here are three areas where things can go wrong after someone is awesome enough to buy something from you:
Customer support for existing customers
If you’re too busy selling to be responsive to support requests, you’re doing it wrong. Yeah yeah, you’ve already got that person’s money, so your other sales emails could mean even more money, but that’s completely short-sighted. Businesses don’t last long when they treat paying customers like shit. Not only do you pretty much guarantee they won’t be a returning customer (like I’ll never buy a hot tub from that guy again), but even worse another two things happen. The first, and this isn’t the case with all products, but for some, there are additional purchases that can happen, and they won’t if you ignore customers. For example: the hot tub will require a ton of chemicals be bought throughout the life of the tub. Monthly even. And you know how many times I’ve bought those chemicals (which probably have a higher markup than the tub for him) from the hot tub guy? Zero. Over the lifetime of the tub I’ll probably spend thousands, even more than the tub’s price. The second thing, and this is true for any/all products, is that treating a customer poorly doesn’t just mean they won’t buy from you, it means they’ll tell everyone they know to do the same. So you lose the business of not just one person, but possibly everyone they’re connected with. Your customer support has to be as good (or better) than your sales communications. Otherwise the best case scenario is a single, really good launch. You’ve got to set client expectations by being at support.
Education for existing customers
Almost everything that someone buys requires a bit of education to ensure that they both understand how what they bought works, and more importantly, how to get the most out of it. People spend their money because they think what they’re buying will make them better or happier or more profitable. Even if you sell yo-yos (pretty self explanatory), the more you can show someone how to best use it, maybe even what tricks they can learn, the more pleased and satisfied they’ll be with what they bought. When it’s something much larger, like an online course, if you don’t teach them how to best use the course, and then how to get the most out of it, chances are that they won’t follow through with all the lessons and doing the work. Things like automation sequences or even webinars for existing customers can make a huge difference in taking people from owning your product, to using and benefiting from your product. Because if they’re using it and it’s serving them well, you better believe that they’ll be telling everyone they know how awesome it and you are.
Followups with existing customers
Most businesspeople like the hot tub guy have a “love ’em and leave ’em” attitude towards customers. The same applies for people that sell cars (I know because I spent years researching cars and talking to car salespeople). They’ll call and call, and follow up repeatedly prior to purchase, when you’re thinking about buying. But then, the moment you do buy, you never hear from them again. Even though, like most other things, it’s probably not the last time you’ll ever buy a hot tub or car. In fact, if you enjoy the experience of buying and the support provided after a sale, chances are you won’t shop around next time. You’ll just head straight to the hot tub store or car dealership you bought from previously and buy again. The same applies to online business: you want them to come straight to you because you did so well the first time, you’ve earned their business again.
In conclusion… existing customers matter
This advice isn’t even just about being an altruistic businessperson and running a business that takes care of its customers because it’s “the right thing to do” (even though it is). It’s about thinking past the short-term of a sale and into how to get someone to from buying from you once to being a fan of everything that you do and sell, forever. Even if you’re introverted, you can still pay attention to existing customers by asking them questions.
I don’t claim to know the specific business models of hot tub stores, but I do know this: the purchase of a hot tub is a singular event that leads to further purchases (almost every month) for the life of the tub, because they require a bunch of different chemicals and parts, at all times. Every store that sells hot tubs, also sells these chemicals. So sure, one big sale is the actual unit, but additional sales add up over years or decades of use. Those chemicals aren’t cheap either, and there’s probably some good markup on them at the retail level. So becoming completely useless to a customer after the sale of a big ticket item pretty much guarantees that they’ll go elsewhere for the life of the hot tub to buy those chemicals—which easily add up to thousands of dollars over about a decade. And, since hot tubs don’t last forever, when someone’s in the market for a new one, you don’t want to rule yourself out of their decision.
So this isn’t just about rainbows and hugs and taking care of the people that support your business (although, obviously, that’s ridiculously important). It’s about building relationships that encourage further commerce in the future. I could be going to hot tub guy’s store every few weeks to buy products from him, but instead I’m going to another store, and giving them my business.
You can’t just spend all your time doing business, you have to spend some of your time working on your business too. Which involves looking for ways to interact with the two main groups of people: customers and people who aren’t yet customers but should be. This means talking to them, surveying them, following up with them, engaging with them so you can learn why they bought (or didn’t buy), what they’re getting value from in your products (or what they don’t like), as well as what success they’ve seen from using them.
Never ignore existing customers, because if they see success from using your product, you can use that story to sell your product more effectively with case studies, success stories or even testimonials. Too many businesses stop paying attention as soon as someone pulls the trigger and buys. They spend all their time on the sales process and none of their time on customer happiness and retention.
So you don’t want to be the “hot tub guy” to your customers. Otherwise, they’ll be talking about you, but not in a good way, like I’ve just done.
Freelancers make the best products
Starting with client-work is the best and most natural progression to get the best head-start to create digital products.
Yet too many times people want to jump the gun.
If you have an idea for a product, your first instinct might be to create that product, right? Sounds like a good next step?
But it’s not.
(Sorry about that – I hate bursting bubbles, unless bubble wrap is involved, that shit’s FUN.)
The idea can be great, but unless you’ve talked to that group of people, understand why they need help with that problem and if it’s valuable enough to solve with a paid product, the road can be pretty uphill to sell it well.
It’s hard to solve a specific problem by creating a product, when you don’t know who you’re solving it for. Because it can’t be “everyone” (unless it’s ending war or stopping global warming or making sure everyone is able to eat). It can’t even be for vagaries, like “people with two eyes” or “folks who have the internet” or “women”.
What’s easier is to create a product that solves a problem for a single person. By doing freelance work (like consulting, writing, designing… for example), you can learn how you solved it for that one person, what went right, what went wrong, and what they valued the most about the solution. Then do it again for someone else, and learn from it. Then again, then again.
Do this one-on-one work until you have a firm grasp on not only what they need but why they need it.
Which brings me to my point: it’s much easier to do 1-on–1 work than 1-to-many product work at the start. In other words, if you haven’t identified your audience or how you can definitively serve them, doing client work makes more sense as a first step to building products.
Sure, there are examples of people who went straight into products and skipped working with clients. But it is more difficult.
If you don’t know what specific people (i.e. your audience) value about your work, it’s hard to sell it en masse. Seriously hard. But if you work individually with people in your audience and really learn what they want, why they want it and how to keep positioning yourself as the person they want it from, it becomes much easier in the future to make things they want as a whole group. You don’t have to do one-on-work forever, but running your product idea as a service to first can be seriously helpful.
A perfect example of someone who took this approach is the brilliant Danielle LaPorte (who I worked with for 12+ years). She started out doing Style Statement sessions with people, one at a time. Then, as those did well, and she wrote a book on it. Next, she started doing Fire Starter Sessions, again, one at a time. To get to products that sell like crazy, she worked with 100s of people in her audience, one-on–one, and started to deeply understand things about them. So when she started building more and more products for them, they did well (see: very well) because she totally understands her audience. She had been talking to them, individually, for years.
If I can use myself as an example, I really feel like the reason my products do alright is because I spent years getting to know my audience and building relationships and trust with them. Decades as a designer, working one-on–one with people. Years honing my writing, interviewing and chatting with and calling up my rat people on the phone. Waiting to write a book until lots of people were asking me to write one—and writing one on a subject lots of people were hiring me to help with. Building courses and software based on knowing the needs of the folks I serve (again, through interacting and listening to them individually).
If I was just starting out, had zero audience, but still had the same skill-set as I currently have, I wouldn’t make a product to start. Yet. First, I’d look for a client who’d benefit from the skills I have. Just one, to start. I’d work with them not only to solve what they came to me to solve, but learn why they came to me in the first place. Then, with that knowledge in hand, I’d find a second client, which would be a little easier, since I could position myself a little better—because I now know what that first client was after. I’d do this again and again, paying attention the whole time, for patterns in wants, needs and motivations.
I wouldn’t necessarily wait decades or years to build a product, either, but I would wait until I noticed trends in what my specific audience was asking me to help with. Because that’d lead me to figure out how best to create 1-to-many products.
If I waited for that (which is hard to do, because having patience can suck most of the time), I’d be set: knowing exactly what I need to make, because I understand exactly what my audience is after, because they were already paying me to help them solve a specific problem.
This observation isn’t meant to be discouraging.
Hell, prove me wrong and make a product without ever doing one-on-one work and I’ll cheer you on. I’m just mentioning what I see as a definitely easier road that typically has a better rate of return. If you haven’t done any one-on-one work and have a product idea, you’re still in a great place, where you can change your mind, redefine what you do and who it’s for, and get a really deep understanding of the audience you want to serve. This is a fun place to be as well, and doesn’t need to be rushed!
What does it take to go pro?
It’s a battle as old as time (or at least feudal Europe): professional vs amateur. Most of us act like amateurs instead of professionals. Not even in terms of skillset (which can be learned), or experience (which happens over time), but in terms of how we treat our work and the way we approach it.
Being a pro has little to do with what you know, it has to do with how you think. And it almost entirely boils down to how we deal with situations that arise in our work. While amateurs complain, make excuses and blame others when their work doesn’t work out the way they want it to, pros accept situations, take responsibility and own every situation that arises, good or bad.
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”Neil Gaiman
Take the following situations. A client has too many change requests. A customer’s frustrated with your product. A student can’t quite grasp what you’re teaching and blames you. A troll on the internet is spewing vitriol about your pet. Pros don’t go straight to blame or volley back flaming balls of verbal shit from a rat-powered trebuchet. Pros own each situation and work to fix it. If they can’t, they own that too.
As Anaïs Nin said, we perceive the world not as it actually is but as we are. We never see the world exactly as it is—we see it as what we hope it will be or we fear it might be. So in the above situations, both a pro and amateur would have the exact same circumstances—but a pro would deal with them in a radically different manner. Pros take situations, own them and work to resolve issues. Amateurs fear that bad situations are the result of the world being against them, and will point fingers everywhere but at themselves. Our mindset is our reality. Which means our reality can be altered if we start to think about things differently. So circumstances don’t matter. It’s how we react.
Even if, nay especially if, a pro is wrong—it’s most important for a pro to get the best outcome than to be right. What’s best for the situation or the project isn’t always best for the pro’s ego. But even as a pro, we sometimes have to suck our pride up and make a situation better. Pros understand the long game, the patience game, (the Hungry, Hungry Hippos game), the working hard to make people as happy as possible game.
The long game requires consistency above all else.
In sports that means practice. In creativity that means being creative every day. In business that means making your company better and not settling. Every. Day. Practice is where learning happens, and where knowledge can turn into wisdom –by doing the same thing over and over, noticing shortcomings, and then working to fix them.
Consistency, however, doesn’t mean perfection. In fact, the more consistent you are with your work, the less you have to be perfect, because individual events blur into averages. Say you’re working a project and it goes to shit, you may feel awfully disheartened or even rethink what you’re doing. Or worse, if the project goes well, your ego could become too inflated and you might assume that nothing can go wrong or that you have nothing left to learn. Whereas, if you were thinking about things as a pro, you’d strive for consistency. Let’s say you win nine of ten proposals on average. The one that got away doesn’t mean as much since your average was an amazing 90% success. You look at the overall picture to find areas for improvement and then work to increase your overall average.
Amateurs don’t realize how much consistency it takes to go from amateur to pro. Envisioning a life where you’re a famous writer or keynote speaker or even rockstar seems nice. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with dreams like that (or even buying a guitar and massive fan to blow through your long hair as you shred on a solo). But the consistent work required to make those dreams a reality may be more than you care to put in. If you want to be a best-selling author, are you happy to spend most days alone, writing? If you want to be a keynote speaker, are you willing to speak at 100s of smaller speaking gigs to get comfortable in front of other people? If you want to be a rockstar, are you willing to practice your instrument every day, run scales and then basically buy a lottery ticket (since succeeding as a musician is almost statistically impossible—if you look at the number of people play music vs the number of people who make a sustainable living playing music)?
Amateurs cannot reach pro level until they develop the mindset required to consistently learn and produce stellar work. They want the outcome but don’t want the process, the daily grind, the work required. And then, if they make a mistake or a routine/habit isn’t built, or there’s any trouble along the way, they assume they’ve failed in some way. Whereas a pro will see those obstacles as places to get better, fix things within themselves and move forward on the path to mastery.
In my own life, there are very few areas where I think I act and think like a pro. And even then, not all the time. In most areas, I’m still an amateur with delusions of being a pro. Most of this comes down to my own fear of failing. I won’t be honest with myself about what’s required and how it’s a process to reach pro status, and not just a single event. So I quit quickly sometimes, because it’s easier to give up than to be honest with myself and take responsibility for what I’m working on.
Luckily, for some of the work I do, I treat my work as a pro would. I listen to complaints or problems and don’t take them as personal insults or dismiss them instantly. I take responsibility when things go wrong, even if it’s not my fault, and work to make things right. Short term it can be challenging, for sure, but long term, I think it’s why I’ve managed to stay in business for nearly two decades.
Indeed, even pros make mistakes. Pros are pros because they can handle being wrong and accept the fact that they always could be wrong. The only way to really learn is to make mistakes, acknowledge them and then improve. Pros don’t have all the answers, they’re just more willing than amateurs to seek them out.
What about you? Where do you feel like an amateur? Where do you feel you’re a pro? How many areas can we realistically be a pro? What expectations should we give ourselves, while still being gentle to ourselves? Whatever the case, it’s some delicious food for thought.
The most important part of your business
My picture and words are on my site. I create and sell my own products. And I pay for my newsletter, as well as hit the “publish” button each week when I send it out to my customers.
Given all that, it’s easy to believe that this is The Paul Jarvis Show—both in terms of me sometimes thinking it and folks, like you, believing it too.
In reality though, nothing is further from the truth.
In fact, the most important person in my business is you.
I’m not trying to butter you up, nor does this article end with me pitching you a product because you’re so super duper important. You’re important because running a successful business means serving others. Not just hippie businesses (or hot-tub related ones) either, but massive, soulless corporations too (although they make the “serving” way more transaction-based).
In the last year, I’ve even made a conscious shift in how I position the products I sell. Although I won’t pretend to not have a big ego, I still have a hard time bragging about the things I create. Fortunately, I’ve found that my customers have no problem bragging for me. They will gladly tell others how great something is. So my courses are now sold by telling other people’s stories as much as possible. That’s why they all include case studies and even student interview videos. My customers who’ve bought, used and benefitted from my courses are actually now the ones that sell them.
Possibly the best part about selling a product is hearing from folks who’ve bought it and then gained something from it. I routinely do video calls with past customers who gush about how their businesses have improved in some tiny part because of insights they gained from me. I leave those calls feeling on top of the world. Confidence issues, if only for a little while, completely fade away. It’s also supremely motivating to make more things.
Word of mouth is still the best marketing. Obviously my sales page and content will say it’s good, my job is to try and sell something. But when other people are talking about it too, referring folks to it and saying how awesome it is, there’s way more trust built. It’s not just me saying buy this thing. There is social proof from others saying buy this thing too.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget the empathy required to sell (mostly because no one teaches us how important empathy is in selling, right?). If you don’t consider the people you’re selling to, what you’re selling will fall short. If business means serving, then selling means figuring out how best to serve. Which is why I happily tell some people not to buy something from me, because if it’s not the best fit, they won’t be happy. It’s also why I use answering support emails as a chance to turn frustration into delight.
It can be difficult to make your business about your existing clientele. If they’re angry about something, or worse, apathetic about what they’ve purchased (for example: they buy a course but never even log in to start the work), then you can feel like who you’re trying hard to serve doesn’t care. But in those moments, even though it’s difficult, you still have to empathize. In fact, that’s the most important time to have empathy, or as Brene Brown says, to feel with someone. In those moments, you have to take a step back and see what went wrong, what you can own about that, and try and do better.
So, how can you make your own customers the stars of your business? How would your business change if they became your focus?
It’s supremely useful to consider these questions and may even evoke pretty awesome feelings about your business.
On being profitable
Becoming and then staying a profitable freelancer is actually fairly easy.
You can technically be profitable with a single sale of a service, if you charge more than it costs you to develop it. That’s why services are easier to push into the black than products – they take less work to set up and start doing.
Let’s dive in…
Let’s say you know how to write author bios. It’s your jam, and you do it well. So well in fact, that you want to do it full time. Of course, you’ll need a roof over your head, food and necessities like power, internet, etc. Say rent is $1000/month, food is $600/month and other necessities are $600/month. With $2,200 in expenses, it takes 5 clients at $500 to be $300 in the black each month. Which, if it takes a day to research, communicate and write an author bio, is totally doable (since most months have 30 days). So you could work 5 days and spend 15 days doing outreach or rounding up leads (using the weekends to relax and eat vegan burritos). To build yourself a buffer (and save for taxes and invest some), aim for 10 clients and you’ll still have half your time to do outreach and find leads.
Easy(ish), right? As far as the math is concerned. Where things get tricky for many of us is when we assume more expenses are required to be more a profitable freelancer.
For example, if you spend $5,000 on a custom website as part of your “marketing”, the next 10 projects don’t go towards rent or taxes or vegan burritos (a necessity). They go towards paying off the website. Or if you hire a business coach at $1000/month, then you have to get at least 2 extra projects a month to cover it. Or if you buy the shiniest new laptop for $3,000, then you need 6 projects to cover that. And so on. Your goal of 10 small projects a month to cover your needs and buffer has now doubled (or more).
Or, maybe you want to teach people how to write their own author bios (which is a great idea, in theory), so you spend three months building a course on bio writing. The course takes up the equivalent of 10 projects worth of time (prospecting and working) so now your course needs to bring in at least $5,000 to be a profitable freelancer. Is that realistically doable? If yes, then go for it! But if your audience and reach isn’t at a point where a product and its development can more than likely cover the money you’d have made if you just did services, then maybe it’s ok to wait a little and continue growing your audience.
I was in the same position. I was doing services and moved into products. But I made sure I never spent too much time on products (which made zero dollars while I developed them), to ensure that services still covered my baseline needs and buffer. Each month I did my service work first, to hit the number I needed, and only then focused on products. Once my products started to bring in money, I began scaling down my services by the amount the products were bringing in. This took a few years for me.
The other problem people run into with trying to be a profitable freelancer is that they scale expenses as revenue scales. You made $8,000 for the last 3 months, which is more than your $5,000 requirement? Spend more on rent or a car! You had one good month of $10,000? Buy a laptop or a new website! And suddenly, even though you’re making more revenue, your profit is either unchanged or in the red.
I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to spend money on your business or make products either. Both can be useful. But in order to become and stay a profitable freelancer, you’ve got to be lean in your expenses and you have to resist the urge to scale up expenses at the same rate that your revenue is scaling.
Too often it’s assumed that profit is the result of more money earned. Not enough people work it from the opposite end, where profit is the result of less money spent. If two people both make $5,000 each in revenue a month, but one person spends $2,600 and the other spends $4,600, the first person is $2,000 more profitable, even though they made exactly the same amount of income.
That’s why I personally prefer to focus on the spending part of profits. I can work less, because making the same amount of money goes further if I spend less of it. And creativity thrives on constraint—like seeing what products can be created on a shoestring budget. It’s why outside of one experiment, I’ve never spent money on ads. And why I haven’t upgraded my work computer in years. And why I focus my efforts for the courses I sell on work I can do (like writing or design) and not on work I can buy (like ads or hiring loads of other freelancers—both can be great, but I only do either if it’s absolutely necessary).
You don’t have to work more to make an extra $2,000. If you can reduce your expenses or simply not buy things in your business, you can work the same amount and get paid the same amount too, but wind up with an extra $2,000 in your pocket. I like that math a lot.
How to get clients as a freelancer
Want to get freelance clients? Most people do it incorrectly. As in, most freelancers start out their business like this:
- They get great at what they do.
- They build a website that talks about their expertise
- They set up their social media profiles and start promoting at people.
- They wait for clients to come to them.
When it’s laid out like that, you can see the obviously flaws. And yet, this is how a lot of freelancers try to start working for themselves. They think that simply being good at what they do is enough to have clients knocking down their door.
There’s a better way:
Start getting freelance clients by getting into the head of the people you want to get hired by
Make a list of people that have hired freelancers that use the same skills as you have and have recently hired for it. Send them a quick email to see if you can ask them for their advice.
Can’t figure out who to ask? Look at successful freelancer’s websites and go to their client list. That’s a whole whack of folks that have hired someone to do what you do. You aren’t trying to steal anyone’s clients, you’re just want to ask them a couple questions.
Questions to ask them:
- Why did they hire the specific freelancer they hired?
- How’d they find out that freelancer they hired?
- What problems where they having that lead them to hiring a freelancer?
- What are the results they expected from hiring a freelancer
People are keen to be seen as experts with advice, and more likely to reply than if you cold-contact them to hire you.
Ask at least 5-10 people to establish a good baseline. Note common words used, common problems and pain points they’ve got and what the top results they expected were.
Let’s consider Frank, who’s a web designer that’s taken a few legal courses in school and really enjoyed them. He wants to figure out what makes lawyers and firms tick in order to get some as clients. Frank wants to work for legal firms that value a progressive online presence.
Here’s how I’d suggest Frank ask them a few questions to see what their online goals are, what’s important to them for a website and the language they use. All law firms have a list of partners/staff so it’d be easy to get some contact info.
[Flattery] I’ve just seen the redesign of your website and it’s brilliant – especially [list a specific feature/function].
[Context] I’m web designer and I was wondering if I could ask you a few quick questions to learn more about how I could best serve your industry.
[Getting to the point quickly] You are definitely a leader in your field, so I’d love to learn what I can – any answers will be kept in the strictest of confidence.
1. What lead you to hiring someone to redesign your website?
2. What were the results did you expect?
3. How did you find the web designer you hired and why did you hire them?
I appreciate your time and I look forward to hearing back from you,
Know that it may take several of these emails to get a response. But there aren’t a shortage of companies you can find with a little bit of digging. When I’ve sent emails like this, here’s an example of a response I’ve received (but let’s keep using Frank):
1. Our website was outdated and we weren’t able to update it ourselves. Most of our clients also visit our site from mobile devices and it wasn’t responsive.
2. We wanted more signups to our firm’s newsletter, which leads to clients hiring us.
3. We found Paul (the designer) because he answered a question we had on twitter. After seeing his portfolio and feeling like his style was a match for our brand, we hired him.
Now you not only know exactly what you target customer wants, expects and hopes for, but you also know the words and the way they describe those details. This works for everything from writing to design to development.
Here’s an email I’ve sent to people to figure out why they hire web designers:
I see that you just had your website redesigned (which is GORGEOUS by the way).
Just wondering if I could ask you 3 questions about your experience with your web designer – it’ll take 5 minutes max and I can either send you the questions or we can hop on Skype.
Compliment (everyone likes those). Be brief (just a few sentences). Be specific (3 questions, 5 minutes, not a big time suck for them).
Once you’ve done 5 of these quick “interviews” you’ll be inside the head of the type of people you want to work with.
Here are a few examples that I’ve received when I’ve asked (these are answers from creative entrepreneurs with million-dollar or more online businesses):
I hired a designer that understands that sales is the ultimate measure of a good business site. If you don’t understand why I need a high contrast color for the most important button, you can’t work for me.
I’ve used a freelancer who does a good job at following directions. I decided to just lay everything out myself [wireframes] and hire a freelancer to design it and a freelancer to chop it up and make it work.
I picked my designer because she took the time to understand my business and really cared about the outcome of her design work after the website launched. I’ll hire her again because she quick to reply to my questions and I felt like she had my back.
What you’ll probably find is that what you thought was the most important thing when pitching your skills isn’t nearly the most important thing a potential client cares about.
Notice how none mentioned price. None mentioned specific programming abilities, responsiveness or trends (like flat design or parallax whatever). These business people want a web designer that positively impacts their bottom line and drives more business for them.
These are obviously specific examples for web designers, but it applies to any type of freelancing. Do the research, understand what your potential clients want and use that when pitching and marketing your work. No existing clients or experience in your industry required!
Another way to do a bit of quick and easy research is to talk to successful freelancers in your industry and ask them specific questions about how they get the work they do. Think about it this way: would you rather reply to an email from someone complimenting you on your work and success with a quick question, or reply to an email from someone you don’t know, asking you to give them work.
The quick question email technique is a great way to get your foot in the door too. You get a good piece of advice from a freelancer who knows their shit, you become a blip on their radar, and you’re seen by them as someone who wants to learn from them, not as someone begging for work.
Here’s an example I got the other day (which I replied to right away):
[Flattery] I read your article on sales advice and it helped me reframe how I pitch to clients, thank you!
[Question] I admire the work you do for your clients and was wondering if they’re more receptive to per-project pricing or per-hour pricing (and why)? If you’ve already written about it, just direct me to the article.
[Your name] Paul Jarvis
[Personal] PS: I saw your rats on IG and had a white one when I was growing up!
10 Ideas to Get Clients when You’re Starting Out
In the beginning, aim for your just a handful of clients. One may be luck or a family friend (thanks mom!). A few clients means you’ve established a base of people who’ll give you money for your expertise. And just as importantly, you’ve learned what worked in terms of landing those clients, so you can use it the same techniques again and again.
Here are a few ideas on how to get those first few clients:
#1 Re-design a popular website and explain why you’ve made the changes you’ve made. Examples here, here, here and here. Which site should you redesign? Focus on the one the type of client you want to be hired by uses the most.
Why do this? A few reasons: first, you’ve flexing your chops as designer (for peers/industry). Second, you’re showing that you understand business and business goals and have specific ideas to make someone else’s business better (for clients). Third, you’re creating the type of work you want more of, based on the style and type of client.
#2 Job boards! We Work Remotely, Authentic Jobs, Smashing Jobs, Elance, Krop, and even Fiverr. In the beginning, become a fire-hose of pitches. Lead with solving their problem not boasting about your skills. If you’re starting out and just plain need the work, bid on anything – even if it’s less than what you want to make – everyone’s gotta start somewhere.
Side note: When I started my rates were quite low. Then I established a rule of thumb: Whenever I’m booked more than 2 months in advance for more than 2 months, my rates should go up. I’ve done this 5 times since I started and it’s always worked out well (as in: I make more but stay packed with work).
Why do this? When you start out you’ve not got a huge network. Responding to as many projects as you can gets your name and portfolio in front of as many people as possible. Even if you spend a few minutes before replying to a posting to learn a bit about the company, you’ll be miles ahead of everyone else. If you hear back from the company and they don’t hire you, ask if you can keep in touch. This is useful if they have future work or even others they can refer you to.
#3 Use your existing contacts. Fellow graduated classmates? Employees from the place you interned? Other freelancers you’ve established some rapport with? Send short and personal emails to everyone you know, telling them what are you freelancing for, and quickly describing the type of clients you’re looking for. you can even offer them a “finders fee” if their lead lands you a gig.
Here’s an example:
Did I tell you I’ve started doing freelance web design? Check out my portfolio here (list free sites or personal projects).
I know how connected you are to creative entrepreneurs, so I’m wondering if you knew anyone who may need a website? I can even sweeten the deal for you by offering you a finders fee as a token of my gratitude.
Notes: Mention what you do specifically, where they can see your work samples and the type of clients you are looking for. Be brief, make it easy for them to say yes with a finders fee.
#4 Talk to other freelancers in your field. These people aren’t competition, they’re your community. Introduce yourself. After you establish a bit of rapport, offer to help them or pick up their slack if they’re too busy to handle their own workload. There are countless networking events online and office. A good way to make connections with industry peers is to show how helpful you are.
Where do you find them? Social media, networking events, professional organizations (like AIGA) and associations (like Freelancers Union). If you went to school for what you’re freelancing, then keep in touch with classmates. If you work at a firm before you freelance, keep in touch with the people that worked at the firm – you’d be surprised how often I’ve been hired by folks I had worked with previously that moved onto other companies.
I get at least one email a day from another designer asking me for open-ended advice, telling me their life story in 10-pages, or pitching their work to me (so I can send them leads). I rarely reply because I don’t know them. I also get emails from other designers with beta-access to products they think I’ll like (because they listen to me on twitter) or sending me short and very specific questions that are easy for me to answer. I love replying to those.
I got this the other day:
Hey Paul, I saw your tweet yesterday about how you schedule tweets about your articles – this isn’t public yet, but check out my app [X] and grab a free account using this promo link [X].
Paul, I know you’re busy and charge good money for consulting, but I’m just starting out as a web designer and had a question I hope you can answer:
How did you land your first client?
Hugs & backflips,
Another idea is to start a podcast or interview series. It’s promotion for the other party, so you may get more response with an offer to feature them. I stay in touch with most people that have interviewed me, because they started out by doing me a favor.
#5 Find the type of people you want to work with where they’re already hanging out.Networking events? Online communities? Find them, go to those places and start conversations. Be helpful, not pushy or salesy.
To list a few online communities for 3 industries:
#6 Create content! The more you talk about your expertise and how it benefits your potential audience, the easier it will be to establish your authority in your field. Start a blog, podcast, Youtube channel, etc. Too many freelancers focus their content on their own industry – create content that benefits your potential clients, not your peers.
The most effective way to become known by both your industry and the people that hire in your industry is by creating content. Start a blog, host a podcast, make YouTube videos, do product reviews, interview folks. Create consistent content that doesn’t suck and you will build a name for yourself.
Here are some specific ideas for what to blog about:
- What’s something you wish every client would know about the type of work you do.
- If clients ask for the same things (i.e. make the logo bigger) and they’re the wrong questions to ask, what can you teach them about the right questions to ask?
- What are some quick fixes clients could make to their business, based on your expertise?
- What are some success stories or case studies from work you’ve done?
- What resources can you share with clients? What books can be recommend?
#7 Start for free. As mentioned above, free work gets a bad wrap, but when you’re just starting out, sometimes it’s necessary to build your portfolio. Working for free is a lot more feasible if you’re still at a job that pays, where you can do it on the side.
How would I pitch someone on doing a free site? I’ve done this when pitching a few charities I believe in who had shitty websites. Charities are great first projects because most of them are great at what they do but awful at anything business.
I’m Paul Jarvis and I help businesses and nonprofits like yours do better and achieve more with their websites. I’ve donated to you for the past couple years because I know you do awesome work.
I have a vision for your website that will help you: build a large community of supports, increase your donations (and increase recurring donations) and even hopefully get you a bit of press.
Typically I charge $7,000 to design and develop a website, but I’d like to offer your my skills and problem solving abilities for free.
Can we setup a call next Tuesday (or whenever works for you), if you’re interested?
Both times I’ve used a script like this the other party has been so floored that I wanted to help them with their business they’ve given me free reigns. You actually see one of the charity sites I did right here.
Working for free is tricky, but has it’s place. You have to be cautious and strategic when working for nothing. But if you’re trying to land your first freelance gig, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
- If you are doing a project for free, make sure the client understands that they’re hiring you for your vision and expertise. Just because the project is free doesn’t mean you’re simply a monkey to whatever they ask for. Make the logo bigger!
- Talk to the client before the project starts about getting a few referrals when the project is finished, since they’ll be happy with your work (make sure this happens!). Also ensure you ask for a testimonial from them once the job is finished.
- Tell them what your “normal” rate is and tell them that if they’re pleased with the results, you’re more than happy to work for them again or for new projects at that rate.
- If you are working for free, make sure it’s in the niche you want to do more work in and it’s the type of client and project you want to do more work for.
Free work, in the absence of finding paying clients can also take the form of side projects or personal projects. These can be a great showcase of your skills and vision.
Personal Story: I got my first job from a personal project. I created (at the time) the world’s largest online slang dictionary. Tens of thousands of people submitted words to it, and it eventually got featured in national newspapers, radio shows and even WIRED magazine. This got the attention of an agency who then begged me to work for them.
#8 Create a product. If you’re a writer, create a guide that helps your type of clients create better content. If you’re a designer, write a how-to for how people that hire designers can make the project run smoother. If you’re a developer, build a quick app that helps your type of client accomplish a task faster. These products can be sold, but if you’re starting out, give them away for free. Make an email course, a printable PDF, even a web app.
Why do this? If you can build something of value, people will start using it and talking about it. If you make something that directly benefits the type of people you want to be hired by, they’ll see you as doing them a favour with the product and know your name.
My friend Nate Kontny created Draft.
Brennan Dunn created a little calculator to show how much per year doubling your hourly rate would bring it (and he has a product for sale too).
#9 Partner up! Find a freelancer that works in a related field with skills that compliment your own and see if you can work together on some projects. Designer? Partner up with a developer to offer a bigger solution. Writer? Partner up with a designer so you can write the content.
Although I know my way around WordPress, I can’t write an app from scratch. So on a few occasions I’ve partnered up with a developer to build everything from an iPhone app, an intranet from scratch and even a few drupal sites. Sometimes I’m the one bringing work to a programmer, but a few times programmers have brought work to me.
I also have a list of writers I trust to get my clients to hire. I know content makes or breaks websites and I know the difference a professional makes. So I always suggest content experts to all my design clients and most of those clients hire one.
#10 Make a list. With a defined niche, it makes it easier to source out prospects to get in touch with. Spend time each day researching companies that fit the profile. Introduce yourself to them. Even if they don’t hire you, they now know your name.How do you pick a niche to focus on? Think about these questions:
- What industry do you actually use products from or enjoy?
- What industry hires freelancers with skills like yours?
- What industry would you enjoy networking in and actually being a part of?
Here’s some more picking an audience wisely from Justin Jackson. Here’s the gist:
I have a friend who wanted to build a product for real estate agents.
I asked him: “Do you hang out with real estate agents?”
He answered: “Well, no.”
I continued: “Do you like going to real estate conferences, trade shows, and workshops?”
Again he replied: “No. I’ve never gone to anything like that. Why would I? I’m a software developer.”
“If you don’t like hanging out with them now,” I asked, “are you sure you’re going to want to serve them (every day) from now on?”
Before You Pitch Anyone, Do Your Homework
This is an idea conceived by Ramit Sethi, called the briefcase technique. Basically, it goes something like this: when you’re pitching a client, bring already-written notes about what you would do to make their business better as it applies to your expertise. People are impressed with anyone that’s done their homework.
I’ve used a similar technique for decades. I always ask as many smart questions as I can when I’m talking to potential clients to understand their business and think of perfect solutions for them that use my skills. I also show them that I’ve done my research about their company specifically and know how I can help.
An example from one of the latest website pitches I won is below. The client is a writer, editor and writing coach. After listening to her tell me about the website she wanted (and since I had done my homework), I ran through a list of solutions for her. I told them to her on the phone, but I also documented them. In summary:
After spending a few hours going over your current site and researching your industry, here are just a few ideas I have for what I can do for your website:
- Your mailing list is only on the sidebar, near the bottom and asks for 5 fields to be filled in. Let’s shorten this to 2 fields (name and email), create a landing page for subscribing and put it at the bottom of each article. I’ve done this on my own site and increased signups by 50%.
- Your homepage is 24 paragraphs without headings or breaks. If we re-write this to include headline (20% of people read all content on pages, whereas 80% read headlines) and shorten it to be focused on one clear goal, we can direct people to your product faster.
- Let’s take your product sales page and remove the navigation and sidebar. This will make your audience have to focus on the product. We can also add screenshots from it and I can design a really great way to showcase testimonials with photos. This will help build social proof you need to increase conversions. The last website I did for a client that used these techniques increased purchases by 34% in the first week.
- You currently have 15 links in your top navigation. If we shorten this to the most important 4-5 (the pages that either capture email addresses, sell products or give your back story), people will more likely get to those pages. We can always link to the other 10 pages in the footer.
This only took 15 minutes to research, and I know the above points work because I talked to previous clients about how my designs impacted their business. Even if you don’t have that data, you can always find industry data online.
The key to winning pitches and making potential clients want to work with you is showing them that you care about their specific business and have ideas for making it better.
When you’re starting out it’s important to talk to as many people as you can about finding work. Ruth Zive of Marketing Wise has a 10-before–10 rule when she started as a freelancer writer.Basically, she’s make sure she has pitched ten publications or potential clients before 10am, every day.
Armed with the research you’ve got from your interviews, when you reach out to potential clients, use that language and focus on solving the right type of problems they might be having. If you do get a meeting or call with them, use the briefcase technique to show that you’ve taken the time to learn about their business.
Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
You can also use those people you interviewed as leads for referrals. Once you’ve put up a website, get in touch with them again. Thank them for taking the time to do the interview and let them know that with their help, expertise and knowledge you’ve launched your business. Perhaps they’ve got a friend or colleague who could use your services?
The business of creativity (part 2)
PRE-S: Part one of this lives here. The second part below focuses on creatives selling out.
Again and again, I see this comment in various forms directed towards myself and others: huckster, fraud, snake-oil salesman, sell-out, spammer, selfish, money-grubber, etc…
“Where’d the guy who cared about creativity and art go? Now you just sell your shitty products!”
If I can set the record straight for a minute: just because someone sells something online, doesn’t mean they’re a fraudster, solely out to take your hard-earned money by any means necessary.
“Like the other monetizing numb-nuts out there, you started sucking the life out of me.”
There’s this growing sentiment that just because a few people online sell shitty, useless things (aimed more at making money than helping others) that all the people who sell things online are doing it for the wrong reasons. My inbox overflows with these types of emails some days.
Yet selling something that requires art and creativity doesn’t make you automagically evil. More than likely, it means you’re brave enough to stick your neck out there and share your take on something with the world. Kind of the opposite of evil, right?
Off the top of my head… Brennan Dunn has probably helped more freelancers with business than anyone I know. He’s created crazy and awesome ways to automate selling what he creates. Mariah Coz is probably the hardest working person I know and helps 1,000s of folks build courses, host webinars and create noticeable brands. She pitches hard and earns everything she gets. I’ve made a good living over the years creating and selling products I absolutely believe are worth more than they cost. And yes, I’ve mentioned those things to my mailing list. Several times.
The idea that a person can’t be creative and sell things without losing themselves to the “dark side” of sales and marketing (like it is heroin or skittles (both are addictive)) is utter bullshit.
You know what?
The main reason you’ve even heard of your favourite creatives is because they’ve found a way to be creative for a living. Otherwise, they’d be at some 9-to-5 job making 99% less art, because it’d only happen at night or when they could eek out time on the weekends. You know who they are because they’re profitable (which means they sell things).
As I’ve mentioned, I love being a sell-out. It makes me so absolutely over-joyed that I can support myself and my family doing weird and helpful things online to make money. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and it makes the hate easily worth bearing. Especially because I hear from people frequently that what they’ve bought from me has made a big difference. (On the contrary, the folks that gripe about what I create have never bought anything I’ve made.)
If you’re worried that you are selling things online for the wrong reasons (like for a quick buck or even fame), you’re actually not selling things for the wrong reasons. People that worry about that are never the ones that should. Just like if you’re worried that money and fame are affecting your art, you’re already aware of the possibility and therefore not really at risk.
And, if you don’t like the way, the means, or the frequency that someone else is pitching what they’ve made, then leave. Quietly. The internet is a big place and if you stop listening to the people that don’t resonate with you, you’ll likely never hear from or of them again. It’s also less effort on your part to simply stop paying attention than to lash out (trust me, I’ve done both).
I enjoy selling the products I make to the rad people on my mailing list. There’s never any pressure to buy anything, and the list will always be a free-to-anyone place where I share my writing, my ideas and my products. It also costs me thousands (and hundreds of hours) a year to run, so I’d be an idiot (or more of one) if I didn’t attempt to sell what I make to the people who are listening sometimes.
I’m not asking for encouragement to keep going either. I don’t need it. I learned a long time ago that it’s stupid to let other’s disapproval guide my actions or creations. If every creative stopped doing what they were doing because someone else objected, the world would have been robbed of all art before even a single piece was made.
What I’m trying to say is this. Let’s not let the loudest voices online be the ones who talk shit about those who make a living from their creativity. Yes, a lot of people are trying to do that, but we shouldn’t slam the ones who are doing it well. We should thank them for showing the world that creativity and commerce can fit together nicely (like the last two pieces of a 1,800 piece jigsaw puzzle).
Selling what you’ve made makes you brave as hell and someone who’s done more for the world than probably every asshat who’s complained about creative people making money from their “impure” art.