Hang on, Freelancer!
That’s the picture of a freelancer. Specifically a technical freelancer. Someone in IT who has moved from being a full-time employee to being a long-term contractor, to being a freelancer [for want of a better word].
Hang on, freelancer!
Because any moment, you’re going to have those fingers chopped off. A company is going to put you on 30 days payment (or worse) and then leave you to become a self-employed debt collector.
It’s happened to me … many times. And I’m guessing it’s happened to you.
Hang on, freelancer!
Because you’re going to throw yourself into an endless cycle of feast and famine. Well, famine, anyway.
Hang in there, freelancer.
Because one day, you’re hoping that one day you’re going to go to one of those dreaded networking events that you should be doing. You’ll walk up to someone with dollar signs in your eyes. You’ll blurt out your mandatory, rehearsed elevator pitch, then you’ll start talking technical to someone who
- is technical enough to understand your technical jargon; and
- is in control of a large budget so you can solve their expensive problem; and then they’ll tell you
I hope our multibillion dollar company can afford you. We certainly need you.
In the meantime, freelancer, hang in there.
But to tell you the truth, it’s probably not going to happen.
(But hang in there, because this story does have a happy ending).
You see, there is another way.
Yes, you can be very technical. And you don’t have to sell your soul (since, if you’re like me, and you’re very technical, you’re very non-salesy, you hate the very idea of selling yourself, and even selling your soul would be a big ask.)
Hanging in there?
So there’s the challenge. Big tech whizz kid who isn’t appreciated or rewarded. Sound familiar?
Now, here’s the Aha moment.
Instead of hanging in there, talking technical, and diving more deeply into the technical sphere, what if you could bypass that feast-and-famine cycle, with slow payers and whingeing to your peers about not having enough chargeable hourly work.
What if, instead of hanging in there, freelancer, you could change your title to consultant. It’s an easy search and replace, right?
But changing your title isn’t enough, is it?
What if you could change your position, so that instead of “smart technical person who extracts a slightly higher hourly rate than the average”, you became “solver of expensive business problems who happens to use [insert your technical expertise]”.
There are plenty of ways that freelancers get trapped in the whirlpool of commoditised feast-and-famine cycle, but here are three things you can do straight away to escape that.
- Stop calling yourself a freelancer
In a way, your business model doesn’t matter to anyone else. If you solve the problem for a business, you’re a hero, and who cares whether you’re a solopreneur, in a partnership or the CEO of some megacorp.
However, if you call yourself a freelancer, you’re kind of undermining your hero status. Why? Because you’re effectively a hero who operates on a shoestring.
So, on the one hand, you do want to position yourself as a hero. They don’t make superhero suits in bulk. So this is positioning, which is basically telling the world that you are really, really good at solving a highly specific problem.
There’s only one of you, so you’re really going to make yourself a hero, not by being cheap, but by being the troubleshooter that will save companies the big bucks (or make them bucketloads of money).
Superhero, yes. Freelancer, no. Got it?
Let’s jump to number two.
2. Stop talking technical
This is going to hurt. A lot. As a techie, you like to do the deep dive, jump into diagnosis late at night and find that tiny glitch in the code or the infrastructure which has brought the business to a halt.
Hold that thought.
I mean the one about “business to a halt.”
Because that’s what’s going to drive your revenue turnaround. Business. Somebody else’s business. And what you can do about it.
Because you’re not a technical person. You’re a superhero. And an expensive one at that.
So, you’d better start talking like one.
It’s time to drop your technical talk, and start listening to the pain that the businesses you work with are feeling. Listen, and learn. Those words about their pain are going to be your best copy for your website. And your conversations.
It’s time to stop seeing technical problems and start seeing them as business problems. Start talking in terms of business impact. What business processes break when companies forget to call upon your technical know-how?
If that piece of code doesn’t work, or if that software upgrade goes amiss, what happens to the business? Can’t trade (that’s bad!) Stores closed? Staff laid off? Developers twiddling their thumbs?
Being able to have this conversation — without getting technical — is going to be a huge boost to your role as a consultant.
Do you know why?
Because you’re not going to be talking to technical people. You’re talking to people who are decision makers, who control budgets, who care about the business side of the business.
So that’s tip number three:
3. Talk to the Decision Makers
Here’s the tl;dr of transitioning from being a lowly-paid freelancer to becoming a highly valued consultant (and that includes highly paid, 100% up front, if you please).
- Be a business superhero by identifying and solving expensive problems.
- Offset the expense of hiring a hero against the cost to the business of not getting you in.
- Work for a result, not for hours. Get paid for the result, not for your time.
Well, there’s a lot more to be said, but the first thing is to get a smart mentor. Better still, a group of mentors — not people who are struggling like you in the freelance swamp (although that will help), but people who have struggled in that swamp, held on by their fingers and then jumped over the wall.
My advice? Sign up to Brennan Dunn’s free email course called Double Your Freelancing Rate. Then go to actually spending some money on building your business, working out who to talk to and how to talk to them. Or, like me, who has been through 7 years of hanging on by my fingertips, join the Double Your Freelancing Clients Academy. You can do it all online, but be warned, it will take a lot of time, and you will have to work through a few fears — especially around your right to charge good money for your great services.
As someone who has been through the fears, put in the hours and worked with the most awesome mentors, I can tell you — the soon-to-be-ex-freelancer — that you don’t need to hang onto by your fingertips. You can lift yourself up (with some help) and jump over.
You’ll be amazed at the results.
And in the meantime, while you’re building your business, don’t let go!