Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer
I owe the title of this post to the book written by Liam Veitch of Freelancelift.
I picked up Liam’s book, Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer, only very recently. A little late to the party perhaps, as the book was originally published in 2014. But the lessons within it are timeless.
If you’re a freelancer, and particularly if you deliver web development services, the five phases that Liam outlines in his book make for an incredibly valuable read. He lays out, step by step, a plan of action to go from being a precarious freelancer, unsure where your next meal is coming from, to building a sustainable business that can operate without your direct involvement.
He calls this evolution, a word that perfectly describes the process.
We are each on our own journey, and for me this book helped ratify my thinking and shine a light on the next steps. It will help you, too.
The book is broadly split into five phases that outline the evolution from worried, stressed-out freelancer to successful, sustainable business owner:
- Get evolution-ready
- Repel bad apples, attract dream clients
- Multiply exposure and build your platform
- Levelling out the income roller-coaster, build predictability into the model
- Loosen the reins, working less, earning more
My own personal journey to date places me at #4.
What number are you at?
If you’re unsure, here’s a rough guide:
- If you’re worried about your income, struggle to get clients and have a hard time dealing with the ones you have, you’re probably at phase 1 or 2
- If you’re doing good work that you generally enjoy with clients who respect you, but simply need more of it, you’re likely at phase 3
- If you’ve got a good base of work and a steady stream of income but are looking for ways to stop selling your time for money, you’re probably at phase 4 or perhaps entering phase 5.
It’s been a long road for me but by the end of this year I expect to have “evolved” to phase 5. Take note of where you are now, and let’s examine each step in detail so you know what to expect.
Get evolution ready
This chapter is the reality check. It forces you to recognise that “business” is not a dirty word. This phase focuses on growing up and accepting that if you really want to have a successful, creative professional life, you need direction and goals. You need confidence and intent. And finally, you need accountability.
If your career so far feels a little lacklustre and aimless, working through this first phase will give you a blast of motivation and a desire to get serious about your work.
Repel bad apples, attract dream clients
I am glad that Liam devoted a full chapter to this because it is utterly vital in achieving a peaceful and prosperous career as a business owner.
So often, we talk about getting more clients. But we often neglect to focus on who we want to work with.
You must surpass the first phase in order to fully appreciate this. It is difficult to take seriously the notion that you can choose your clients when you’re bogged down trying to simply make ends meet.
This chapter covers branding and positioning. It focuses heavily on the idea of framing your offering as such to repel clients who won’t respect your process, or will always be seeking the cheapest solution.
“The work you do to repel bad apples will make you irresistible to dream clients”
It took me years to fully understand that the way you present your offering, and how you structure your customer journey, pretty much defines how much a customer is willing to pay for it. Phase two covers this well.
Multiply exposure and build your platform
I really enjoyed this chapter because it features a lot of the ideas that I covered in my own book.
The lesson that Liam attempts to instil here is that you should invest in your own assets. This means your website, your social channels and, in my opinion, your own personal development (an area I believe the book could have discussed in more detail).
Really, what this phase is about is graduating from depending on things like job boards and word of mouth referrals. Both well-established mechanisms for generating new business, but both equally unreliable and have no client qualification process behind them.
By investing in your own marketing, by appearing in the right places, in front of the right people, and by being present at the right times, you get to build your own platform that will give you the necessary foundation to move into the next phase. Really, this chapter is about gaining independence.
Levelling out the income roller-coaster, build predictability into the model
I suspect that many freelancers would instinctively leap to this chapter first. We all want stability, and moving into this phase would achieve that.
But hold on: it is important to understand that the process cannot be rushed. This is an evolution, after all.
This chapter gives guidance on how you can become a partner, an asset, rather than simply an outsourced pair of hands. It empowers you to become vital to your clients. Once you achieve this standing in their minds, they’ll want to continue working with you which makes your income far more predictable.
The idea is that it’s simpler to draw income from existing clients than it is to win new ones. So, phase four offers some strategies on how to achieve this.
Crucially, it also discusses the idea of developing products which can be sold in order to increase income (and exposure) without increasing time investment. Liam’s own examples are his online community, Freelancelift, as well as the very book we’re discussing right now.
This is where I am right now, and I’m excited to be fired up and ready to move into the next phase.
Loosen the reins, working less, earning more
Ultimately, this is what many of us want. Even the most passionate designers and developers don’t want to spend all their time working just to pay the rent. The idea that the earning stops when the work stops creates constant stress.
“The first step to working less and streamlining your business is to understand that your time has value”
And so Liam’s final chapter is on the topic of stepping out of the business. Processes, outsourcing, delegation, recruitment. It’s all covered here.
I’ve personally taken steps toward this, but am still hitting blocks that I need to work through. If you’re somewhere around this point too, there are some good strategies here for working out what to delegate and how you can find some help. Starting by identifying areas that can be outsourced seems like a sensible approach, and minimising the time you spend doing ‘non revenue generating’ activities is crucial.
As somebody who’s been a freelance web developer for a long time, I now see everything as a process. My sales funnel, my development process and my support plans — these are all patterns that can be optimised, departmentalised and outsourced. I very much look forward to delving deeper into this over the months and years ahead.
It doesn’t matter where you’re at on your journey, the ideas outlined in this book will help. In fact, you’ll find a similar message of evolution in many books focused on business and professional development. It’s all about moving from a position of weakness and precarity, to a place of power and security.
After all, isn’t what we’re all craving?