Why be a freelancer?
- It gives us the flexibility of working by not depending on your boss by working as a freelancer.
- It gives us a chance to be free to make our own choices.
- It makes us responsible for the work we do because we chose to do it.
- And finally, it lets us make a living by making a difference.
If you’re starting out as a freelancer or working as a freelancer better stop being generic. As generic ones are the cog in the system and you will always find a struggle in your career. Struggling to get paid fairly, struggling to get new clients, struggling to have the freedom to make a difference. But if you choose to turn pro, to work your way up the ladder, to do the hard work. Of being famous to the family, known for what you do, trusted.
When you choose to do these things, reject the idea of being generic, as difficult as that is. When you do those things, then you are fulfilling your potential as a freelancer. And in this blog, I’m doing it because I want to batter and undermine that voice in your head by how to become a freelancer.
The one that’s been told that you must fit in. The one that’s been told that you should be ever more generic. And I want to push you to enroll with me in a process of thinking differently about what your craft is. And to do the incredibly scary, difficult, and worthwhile work of moving up the ladder. Of going from the cog in the system to the unique, to the remarkable, to the person who gets to make a difference.
Moving up the ladder
To work your way up the ladder, there are four steps.
- You need to see what other people are doing.
- You need to model it, to imagine what it would be like if you were doing it.
- Is once you’ve modeled several of these behaviors, choose one. I could be like that, I’m not willing to be like that. I could model myself after this person, but not that person. And then,
- Build what you need. It’s not just there to be taken.
These are assets. Assets that we acquire over time, assets that we earn. Because we seek them out and we invest in them. The good news is you don’t have to do it full-time. Not right now. You can start part-time. The internet has changed everything. It’s changed everything because an individual can now reach anyone she chooses. An individual can build a footprint online, can start small, can start in the evening, can start on the weekend, and over time drip by drip, build the asset. The leap you need to take is not the leap of quitting your job. The leap you need to take is choosing to be the professional, who invests in building an asset that’s worth owning.
Weaving a Braid
There is a braid that you’re going to be weaving together as you build your career. It’s a braid that includes, and I’m gonna read this to you because it’s worth getting it all right. What do you want to do? Who do you want to change? How much risk are you willing to take as you build this asset? How much work are you prepared to do? Does the work matter? And finally, not to be overlooked, is it even possible? It’s one thing to dream of these changes that you want to make in your clients, or in the market, or in the way you do your work. But it’s foolish to pursue one that’s not possible. You’re just setting yourself up for frustration.
The good news is that it is possible to find a path that’s been trodden before, somewhere else, or in a different industry. But once you choose it, you can get there.
5 Kinds of Freelancing
So there are five kinds of freelancing, and judging from the feedback I’ve gotten from my readers, many people are stuck at level one.
- Level one is what I call the Mechanical Turk. The Mechanical Turk is a service offered by Amazon where someone can put up a job, a really trivial job, and anyone who’s willing to work for $.10 a click can get the job. Mechanical Turk work is working for Uber, right. When someone gets in an Uber no one cares who’s driving the Uber, if you’re a good enough Uber driver you’re done. The good news about being a Mechanical Turk kind of freelancer is you never have to worry about any marketing. You never have to worry about how you get your next gig. It shows up. A middle man brings you the gig. The bad news is you are generic. You are a cog in a system that’s run by somebody else. Our entire goal in this program is to figure out how to get you from level one, the Mechanical Turk, the person who says you can pick anyone and I’m anyone. And take you to the next level and the next level and the next level.
- So level two I call the Handyman. The handyman gets the gig because she’s handy. Right around the corner. The easiest one. The one to grab. Now there’s an advantage to being a handyman if there are lots of people around you who need what you do. Right? That if you are the only wedding photographer within ten miles, you’re handy. So you’re gonna get the gig for that reason and that reason alone. But you can do better than that.
- Level three is Craftsman. The craftsman is somebody who has invested enough in the craft that they are demonstrably a little better than the next person. And so the person who’s shopping around, the business or the consumer who’s looking for a freelancer, says, well, I pick you because you’re a little better.
- The fourth level is to be Unique. To be unique is a whole different game. To be unique is the one and only. The one who will be bragged about by name. The one who will be asked for by name. And you are correct, it is difficult to be the one who is unique, but it is worth it. And then level five is remarkable.
- Level five is the Connector, level five is the person who does work that we must talk about. He does work, she does work that stands out, merely because, it is worth talking about, it is not better than a speck. It is so far forward that it has a name unto itself, right? So you have to decide. Are you someone who does a job, or are you a brand? And what it means to be a brand is to make promises that stand for something that is unique, right? So if we think about going all the way back to the first level in Mechanical Turk. Or you go on Craig’s List, and we type in I wanna move or man with a van, and there are a hundred people listed. Or we think about this new app called Favor.
Where you with a few clicks you can send someone to the nearest Subway to wait in line, but you a veggie sub and bring it to you for $5. Now, $5 is nothing to sneeze at for 15 minutes’ worth of work, but, it’s not a profession. What you are is a cog in a machine waiting for the next person to come up, right? That when you work for an ad agency, and the agency has a big Rolodex. And they call on somebody who’s ever next in the rotation, to do very specific work that anyone can do, you’re always gonna be without power. And so, I want to challenge you to think about these five levels.
Think about where you want to be and what cost, what payment, you’re willing to make to work your way up to the level of unmistakable. Srini Rao has coined the term unmistakable to mean the work of somebody where we can tell it was them. Where we can talk about it to each other and say, only this person could have made it. So how can we tell if you were doing unmistakable work?
Are you unmistakable?
Here’s another list of questions for you.
- If you outsource your work to someone else and didn’t tell me the client, would I be able to tell?
- If someone else saw the work, would they be able to know that you made it? Does it have your fingerprints all over? Is it unmistakably yours?
- This is the juicy one. Is there something about my interaction with you, my interaction as the client with you, that’s bigger than the work itself? If you’re a wedding photographer, is it the prints that someone’s buying? Or, is it the interactions the bride had with you the entire time that they’re actually paying for? Because those interactions are far easier to build in a discernible way than merely saying, I can prove my photographs are better than their photographs.
Different Forms of Merit
The anxiety of saying am I good enough to get to the next level. We say we wanna be judged on merit, not by who we know. We say we wanna be judged by our work. But deep down, all of us are afraid of someone saying, you know, you’re not as good as you think you are. That one sentence completely undermines everything that we do as a freelancer. That over and over again, we say to ourselves, I’m not as good as I say I am. But when we do that we are stealing. We are stealing from our work and we are stealing from our customers. That all of us are capable of being human and delivering interactions that businesses and consumers want to buy from us.
And so, we have to figure out if we are choosing to be a professional at being a freelancer. We are required to figure out, how do we get past that anxiety? How do we look someone in the eye, and make them a promise, and mean it? There are many forms of merit. You know, there’s the cabinet maker, who can guarantee that he will cut a piece of wood perfectly, or the programmer, who’s just a little bit faster and everybody else at coding. But what happens if the programmer is a jerk? What happens if the cabinet maker is late? What happens to the freelancer who can prove that they are better, but is always coming up with an excuse?
Here’s the thing. The placebo effect is about more than drugs. The placebo effect is the story we tell ourselves. That changes our satisfaction with the interactions that we have. And the merit that you are capable of delivering isn’t merely that you have better lenses than somebody else on your camera. Is it merely that you are a slightly better translator of English into Latvian than somebody else? No, what we get to do as freelancers, if we choose, is to make a commitment to deliver something to people that they value. So take a second and make a list of the kinds of things that you could deliver to your clients. Things that go beyond, I can prove my work is better.
You’re better off picking customers who want to buy what you sell. Now that seems super obvious, but it’s something that’s missed all the time. It is easier to sell to someone who is in the market to buy what you have than it is to try to persuade somebody that they’re stupid unless they buy from you. Because people don’t like to feel stupid. They like to solve their problems. Which leads to this challenge that we have as freelancers. What assets are we going to choose to build?
I wanna start with a list of three assets that any freelancer can invest in.
- The brand is not a logo. The brand is the promise you make and the expectation that people have after they hear your promise. Your brand is what you stand for. So, if you, like many freelancers, are a handyman waiting to hear what someone needs from you next, your brand is she’ll do whatever I ask. That’s not much of a brand.
- Permission is the privilege, not the right, but the privilege, to deliver anticipated personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them. How many people, if you didn’t send out that email newsletter, would call you up and complain, wait, I didn’t get your email. That’s what permission looks like. That, over time, any freelancer can earn the privilege of contacting people in a way they want to hear from you.
- Which is often the least important, is Expertise. Are you actually good at your craft? And one thing I’ve noticed, because it’s so challenging to keep it up as a freelancer, it’s so difficult to show up every day and do your work, is that many freelancers fib to themselves. And argue to themselves that they’re better at their craft than they actually are. If you were gonna honestly measure yourself against everyone else who can do what you do. Are you off the charts when it comes to doing your work without making excuses? Off the charts when it comes to delivering a product that people can point to and say, that’s unmistakable. Because if you’re not off the charts, it’s okay. You can rely on other things, like brands, like the placebo effect, like the way you solve customers’ problems, like permission. Or, you could say yes, in fact, I am off the charts, and if that’s the case, go prove it. Go prove it by putting your work into the world in a way that it spreads.
Choose your right customers
So here’s a list of three, plus a bonus, that will help you move up the ladder of quality freelancing and it’s gonna lead to a quick homework assignment. So listen carefully.
- Find a customer who has money. Professionals don’t work for customers who don’t have money.
- Find a customer who has a problem and knows she has a problem.
- Find a solution that only you can provide.
And the bonus, do it in a way that makes that customer eager to tell other people what you did. So make a list of those four steps. Go through them and say, could you do that? Could you find a customer with money? Who knows they have a problem. A problem that can only be solved right now, right here, by you, and can be done in a way that someone’s going to talk about.
The magic of being a freelancer is you don’t have a boss. And since you don’t have a boss, you get to pick the work you’re going to do. You get to pick who your customers are going to be. You get to pick what kind of pricing and effort you put into it. So since you get to pick, you might as well pick from this list of four. A pattern that works.
How to increase your demand
There are three ways that you can get more business.
- You can go to the marketplace and remind them that they need the kind of thing that you sell.
- You can go to the marketplace and satisfy needs that are already existing. This is what happens on Upwork, right? You show up on Upwork. The only people who are on Upwork are people who know they have a problem.
- Which is the most difficult method by far is you can try to initiate a need. You can try to remind people that they have a pain that you or someone like you can solve. Here is the challenge with that. The challenge with that is people who don’t know they have a problem are very good at ignoring you. That’s why it’s so much easier to sell photography to a bride or to someone with a one-month-old baby. Because in those moments people know they have a photographer problem. But trying to get someone with a nine-year-old to realize they have a photographer problem that is more difficult, not impossible. And we’ll talk a little bit about how you can do that. But it’s definitely more difficult.
The reason we need to talk about these now is most freelancers aren’t even aware of this hierarchy. Most freelancers are just waiting for the phone to ring. Either that or they’re so eager for business, they’re running around bothering everybody saying pick me, pick me, even though the person they’re pitching doesn’t think they have a problem.
So let me give you a specific example, and I’m gonna challenge you to write down an example from your industry. There are a lot of corporate coaches in the world now. It’s pretty straightforward to become a corporate coach. The challenge is not becoming a coach, the challenge is getting clients. But there are only two kinds of people in the world. People who know they need a coach, and people who don’t. The people who know they need a coach, probably have one. This means that the only way to become their coach is to get them to fire the coach they already have. And people who don’t know they need a coach, don’t have one because they don’t know they have a problem. This is why it’s difficult to be a corporate coach.
Because the number of people in the world who say to themselves I need a coach, and I don’t know who to hire, is minimal. So the challenge of the coach is to decide, I’m gonna be so good and so famous that people will eagerly fire their existing coach and pick me instead. And plenty of successful coaches have figured out how to do that. Or to say I’m gonna do the hard work of building a groundswell within an organization, or among individuals in a certain industry, to get them to realize they have a problem that coaching can solve. But please understand there’s a big difference between you knowing that coaching is important and them knowing that coaching is important.
- Naseem Mariam, Article “Increase Your Profits and Time Freedom with Outsourcing“
- SVN Prasad, Article “Deep Understanding Of SEO Basics In 2020“
- Kapil Gupta, Article “Top 9 Essential Channels of Digital Marketing“
- Roshni Bhuta, Article “9 Best SEO Blogs To Follow in 2021!“
I hope this article helps you with the complete essence of what we’ve tried to cover here and you can also check out the above additional reading article. Leave a comment below if you find this article interesting.