Pimpin’ ain’t easy. And neither is freelancing.
People with full-time jobs are often unhappy. I was one of those people.
I hated being told what to do. I hated having to be around people I didn’t want to be around. I hated having a capped amount of money I could make, regardless of how hard or smart I worked. And I hated being told when and where to show up every day like a slave.
To say I hated being an employee is an understatement. I could probably go on for 10,000 word about why being an employee is so awful, but I’ll spare you because if you’re reading this article you probably feel the same way.
So what’s the quickest way to escape employment slavery and live life on your own terms? Freelancing. That’s right, the simplest was to go from being an employee slave to living a free life of health, happiness, and wealth is to become a freelancer.
In a lot of cases you can do the same things you do at work, for the same types of customers, but when you’re a freelancer you cut out the middle man (your boss) and keep all the profits for yourself.
Becoming a freelancer is very simple. All you need is a service to provide, the skill to provide it, a customer who needs it, and a way to get paid. No capital is required, and you’re in business the second one customer pays you one dollar.
Freelancing is that simple. But man oh man, it is not easy. When people are in their cubicle counting down to 5 o’clock they picture life as a freelancer.
No alarm clock, wake up when you want to, work when you want to, no traffic, and no bosses.
And yea, all of the above can be true when you’re a freelancer. But there’s also another factor to the successful freelance lifestyle – the work.
And the work is hard. Sales is all on you. Producing the work is all on you. Collecting payment is all on you. Everything is on you.
Freelancing is rewarding. But it’s hard. Hopefully these 10 freelancing tips make the hard stuff less hard and help you find success as a freelancer. Because I can tell you from my own experience, being a successful freelancer beats the heck out of being someone’s employee slave
1. Bid low to get your foot in the door.
You know what you are when you enter an industry as a freelancer? You’re a rookie. And you know how much respect a rookie deserves? None. I don’t care who you are. When you enter an industry as a freelancer you have to prove yourself and gain new customers’ trust.
On lots of freelancing websites, and in any business community, people give freelancers reviews and ratings. On freelancing websites the reviews are actual reviews listed with your profile. And in the real world, reviews and ratings are your reputation among potential clients.
When you start out your have no reviews and no reputation. You have to get new business at any cost and start accumulating reviews and reputation.
To get new business without any reviews and reputation you have to convince the customer to give you a try.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Why should they select a freelancer with no reviews over a freelancer with 50 reviews and years of proven work? The answer is that they shouldn’t pick you. They have no logical reason to pick you because you have no reviews, no reputation, and no proof that you’re worth hiring.
Since they have no logical reason to hire you, you have to give them one. And the only thing you can control as a new freelancer is the price you charge as a freelancer. So lower your price and give them a reason to take a chance on you.
I don’t care if you got paid $60 an hour as an employee. And I don’t care if other freelancers are charging $60 an hour. As a new freelancer with no reviews and no reputation, you have to charge a lower price in order to give the customer a logical reason to hire you, instead of a proven freelancer.
Bid low and lower your prices to get your foot in the door and get your first customers as a new freelancer. Suck it up, tell your pride to go fuck itself, and work for less than you’re used to in order to get some momentum for your new freelancing business.
2. Once you’re in the door, bid high.
Ah, so you overcame your pride and worked for less than market rates to get your first customers? Great job! Now you can gouge new customers.
I’m being a bit facetious, but now that you’ve acquired your first customers, reviews, and some reputation, your job as a freelancer is now to try and charge the absolute maximum that you can get away with.
You’re not selling tomatoes or some other commodity. You’re selling YOU. And YOU ARE A ROCKSTAR THAT CAN SOLVE YOUR CUSTOMERS’ PROBLEMS. And now you have reviews and a reputation that will back up your claims when you’re selling and trying to get a new customer.
Sam Walton’s successors and Jeff Bezos are in commodity businesses. The Waltons sell food. And Bezos sells books. And they add value to their customers’ lives by selling those commodities at the lowest price possible. These business owners know low prices is the game, their customers know low prices is the game, and if Amazon or Wal-Mart customers ever forget low prices is the game, their many competitors will be happy to remind their customers that all they should care about is low prices.
But freelancers aren’t in the commodity business. We’re in the solving problems business. And how much a solved problem is worth is different for each and every customer.
It’s your job as a freelancer to find out how much solving a problem is worth to a customer and then try to charge them something in the upper end of that range.
Charging customers the absolutely maximum you can get away is how you make real money as a freelancer.
But don’t feel bad. If you can solve your customers’ problems they will love you.
Your customers don’t care about the money. They care about getting their problems solved. Never forget that.
3. Evangelize your customers.
The best source of legal work is the work on your desk.
I have a highly skilled and motivated sales force working for me. And I don’t pay this sales force to work for me. In fact, they pay me!
This motivated and talented sales force is my past and present customers.
I solve my customers’ problems, and I do a great job for them. And in return, not only do they pay me for my services, but they also evangelize for me and enthusiastically recommend me to their friends and business associates.
Every week I get people contacting me to hire me for a new job out of the blue. They say “I was recommended by a friend,” and then they tell me what problem they want me to solve. Then I say “let’s get to work,” and they start paying me to solve their problems. It’s a beautiful thing.
4. Over promise AND over deliver.
I get my customers to go out and enthusiastically sell for me, to evangelize for me, by over promising and over delivering.
I got this over promise and over deliver strategy from James Altucher. At first I was skeptical and thought wow, that sounds really hard. Why try to over sell and over deliver when the common advice is to under sell and over deliver?
Altucher says that under selling and over delivering is lame. He also says that customers are smart and have seen the under promise and over deliver trick many times. In fact, he says that customers are already expecting the under sell and over deliver strategy.
Instead of being lame and like every other freelancer out there, you have to stand out from the rest. You have to shine like a bright star in the night’s sky. You have to over promise and over deliver.
And doing that is hard. It’s really hard. But the results can be tremendous. I like over promising and over delivering for two reasons. First of all, it helps me push myself to constantly improve and do more than I thought I could do. Constantly raising the bar and pushing myself leads to continual improvement and increased confidence. The continual improvement makes me better at my job and increases my competitive advantage over my competition. And the increased confidence shines through in my sales calls and helps me subconsciously transmit confidence and trust to my potential customers. And this of course increases my close rate and leads to more new business.
The other reason I like to over promise and over deliver is because customers go absolutely ape shit when I deliver for them. They are floored with my service level, they are extremely impressed with my performance, and they can’t come up with the words to adequately describe how happy they are with the way, and manner in which, I was able to solve their problem.
This extreme positive reaction to my work doesn’t happen every time. But it happens often enough that it makes over promising and over delivering worth it. My customers are so jazzed up that they go out there and enthusiastically recommend me to their friends and business associates.
If you want to produce that kind of magic, and have that free sales force continually recommending you, then over promise and over deliver, and do it every time.
5. Separate work and the rest of your life.
One of the pitfalls you have to avoid as a freelancer is working 24/7. Now, no one can possibly work 24/7, but it is very possible to be thinking about work or distracted with work 24/7, especially with today’s mobile technology.
As discussed at the beginning of this article, the employee’s lifestyle is not a very attractive one. But, one thing most employees have going for themselves is that they get to physically and mentally check out at 5pm. They get to leave the office and not worry about customers being happy or the bills being paid. They trade their time for money, and when they’re not on the clock they have the right to literally forget about work.
But as a freelancer, you basically trade your life for money (being a freelancer isn’t perfect and there are no free lunches in life). It’s not as bad as it sounds, but yea, as a freelancer you have a lot more to deal with than when you’re in someone else’s employ. And part of dealing with it is dedicating your life to your business. It’s your life, it’s your business, no one else gives a fuck about your success, and no one is going to carry the load for you. Your business and work is now an extremely huge part of your life, and to successfully manage your business, you have to successfully manage your life. They are one in the same.
But you can’y do business 24/7. You’ll burn out and wash up before you know it. You have to give your body, mind, and spirit a break from work every day. And when I say a break, I mean a total break. You can’t spend the small amount of free time and recovery time you give yourself checking email, checking analytics, and doing other bullshit “work” that has nothing to do with making money.
The mobile technology of laptops, tablets, smart phones, and now smart watches allows us to get addicted to doing small work tasks like checking email. I’ve struggled with this myself, and I’ve since put systems in place to help me keep work separate from the rest of my life.
Checking email or other stats throughout the day and night sucks a little bit of your energy each time you do it. If you check your email before bed you’re hurting your chances of recovering through the night and performing at a peak level the next day.
Each click, each check… all those things suck up your energy. And they don’t help you make money. What good is checking your email before bed going to do? Nothing. All you’ll do it stress yourself out by reading what are supposed to be the next day’s emails. And you’re already in bed so it’s not like you’re going to be able to attend to those tasks that night.
The good news is that if you can handle your shit and control yourself when it comes to mobile technology, you will give yourself a real competitive advantage over the competition. I’m a part of the millennial generation, and I can report to you with first hand experience that a large percentage of my generation is addicted to their mobile technology. So while I’m reading a book and getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep so I can recover and kick ass the next day, my millennial competition is checking their email and Facebook at midnight and not getting enough quality rest time away from work.
It’s a tortoise and the hair kind of thing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Getting addicted to your mobile technology severely handicaps your chances of becoming a successful and wealthy freelancer over the long term. Mobile technology is like crack cocaine (I’m not kidding) and you have to avoid getting addicted to it at all costs. If you get and stay addicted to your mobile technology you can kiss your chances of being a successful freelancer goodbye.
6. Be healthy. Do the Daily Practice.
When you are a freelancer, you’re running a business where your body, mind, spirit, and soul are what produces the revenue and income. So the success of your business is 100% correlated to your health as a person. If you are unhealthy, your business won’t be able to earn money. And if you are healthy, your business will be able to earn money.
You have to be healthy in all four areas of life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. To stay healthy in all four areas I recommend doing the Daily Practice.
The Daily Practice is a daily routine and way to live recommended by James Altucher. Click here to read about James Altucher’s Daily Practice.
I cannot stress enough how important being a healthy person is to being a successful freelancer. It’s a 100% correlation.
I stay healthy by doing the Daily Practice every day. And everyone who does the Daily Practice will do it different. You do what works for you. But you have to do it every day, and you have to make it a real practice and way of living.
The Daily Practice is why I was able to go from an employee slave who was very unhappy to a thriving freelancer who wakes up happy every day.
Again, I can’y stress enough how powerful and important the Daily Practice is to both living a healthy life and being a successful freelancer and businessperson.
I’ll leave it at that. But the Daily Practice changed my life, it saved my life, and it’s how I live my life. I can’t recommend the Daily Practice strongly enough.
7. Blog, blog, blog.
I recommend blogging to every business that wants to attract people to their website. This includes local services businesses, digital marketing agencies, and freelancers.
If you want people to pay you for a service (which is what freelancing is), you need to establish yourself as an expert in the field. Blogging helps you establish yourself as an expert. When a potential client is researching you and considering hiring you for a job, they’ll look up your website. If they see a plain, 5 page website it won’t make an impression on them. But if they see that you’ve written over 200 articles on the field that they are considering hiring you for, it will impress them and help foster the thought line of wow, this freelancer truly is an expert, and I want them on my team.
Blogging is also great for SEO. Simply writing articles, even if it’s great content, won’t get you to the top of the search engines overnight, but over the long run, continually adding valuable content to your website in the form of blog articles will improve your chances of getting more search engine traffic.
Again, it won’t happen overnight. But say you write one article a week for five years. Five years into your freelancing career you’ll have over 250 articles on your blog, your blog will be a valuable resource for anyone (including potential clients) looking for information about your field, and instead of having one chance to get search engine traffic (your homepage), you’ll have over 250 articles giving you a chance to get search engine traffic and potential clients every day.
You won’t see the benefits of blogging in the short term, but over the long run, continual blogging can positively impact your freelancing career in a very positive way.
8. Make the first $100.
What’s the first step to making $100,000 a year as a freelancer? Making the first $100.
You have to walk before you run. And you have to crawl before you walk. When you start out freelancing, your sole focus should be on figuring out how to add enough value for someone else that they’ll agree to pay you $100.
And you don’t have to quit your job to become a freelancer and make that first $100 of self-employment income.
Let me repeat that because it’s an extremely important point to understand.
You don’t have to quit your job to become a freelancer.
The stupidest thing you can do is quit your job before you’ve proven to yourself that you have found a profitable freelancing niche.
If you sleep 8 hours a day and work 10 hours a day (8 hour work day plus lunch and commuting), then you’re not able to work on your own side business for 18 hours of the day. But that leaves you 6 full hours every weekday to work on your side business, and of course your have the weekend too.
So there’s plenty of time to launch your freelancing business while you’re still working at your job.
Let your employer be your first investor. Use their paycheck and their job to help you launch your freelancing business. Look at the money your employer is paying you as the capital that is paying for your bills and helping you launch your freelancing business.
Then, after three months, six months, a year, five years (who knows? everyone’s path is different) you’ll have built up a big enough side business that your freelancing income is more than your salary. Then you can comfortably quit your job knowing that you’ll still be making as much money, and you can ease right into your freelancing business full-time and continue to grow it.
Don’t quit your job. Don’t think about making $100,000 a year. Just focus on making that first $100.
9. Live to serve and be customer obsessed.
The number one way to ensure success as a freelancer is to add value to your customers’ businesses and lives. Any business lives and dies by its ability to add value for its customers, but that rule is especially true for a freelancing business.
There are only two parties in a freelancing economy. You, and your customer. And if you’re not adding value for your customer, then they will figure it out very quickly and fire you.
It’s a very simple equation:
Provide value for your customers = make money and stay in business.
Fail to provide value for your customers = your freelancing business will fail.
When you’re a freelancer you have to live to serve your customer. That should be the first thing you think about when you wake up. How can I add value for my customers today? And it should be the last thing you think about before you go to sleep. Did I add value for my customers today?
You truly have to live to serve your customers.
A great way of phrasing this customer service ethic comes from Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. Jeff Bezos says you have to be customer obsessed. I recently read a story about how in the early days of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos was meeting with executives from Toys-R-Us to discuss a potential deal. Bezos pulled up an empty chair to the table and told everyone that the chair was for “the customer” so everyone would be reminded that their deal had to add value for Amazon.com’s customers.
Pulling up an empty chair to represent the customer in high-level business deals? That is being customer obsessed. And to stay in business and thrive as a freelancer, you have to be customer obsessed.
10. Get great at one thing first.
Lots of people have lots of strategies about how to run a service business successfully. Some people recommend doing as many services as you can and providing a one stop shop experience. And other people recommend being laser-focused on one niche. I can see the positives and negatives to each approach, but all I can tell you is what has worked for me as a one-person freelancing business.
Focusing like a laser on one niche is what has worked for me. So I recommend it. If you do the same thing over and over each day, pretty soon you’re going to get good at it. And then you’ll get great at it. And when you are great at something you can create value for customers. And when you create a lot of value you can charge a lot of money.
I like money. Money is good. So my freelance strategy is to get great at one niche (and even a niche within a niche), figure out a way to add tremendous value for customers, and then charge a lot of money to provide that value.
But I’m like Bruce Lee. I’m like water. I’m not stubborn. Every day I wake up with the plan to continue mastering my niche and improving at my niche. But sometimes clients want other, related services. Sometimes I turn them down. But if it’s good client, I’ll consider providing a service that’s outside of my niche but related to my niche.
Adding value to your clients’ lives is the name of the game in freelancing. Most of the time that means providing value in your niche. But if a good client wants to pay you good money to expand beyond your niche just a little bit, then do it and keep the client happy. Commit to a niche, but be flexible in certain situations. That is what has worked for me.