The Freelance Business Blueprint: Make Money Online Serving Others
For better or worse, we’re in the middle of a massive labor shift from employees to entrepreneurs.
In this episode, I want to try and equip you with some skills, frameworks, and mindsets to help navigate that shift.
If you want to make money online, there are a million ways to get it done, but it usually boils down to one thing: helping people.
To help me walk through this stuff I’m joined by Austin L. Church.
Austin’s a writer, brand consultant, and online entrepreneur. He’s been making his living online for the last 12 years, with some of the exact strategies we’re talking about today.
Tune in to hear:
- how to identify your marketable skills
- how to land clients in a crowded marketplace
- the tips and tactics Austin has used to grow his business over the last 12 years
Start with a Skills Inventory
“I think you begin with the skills that you’ve got,” Austin told me.
Austin explained that a lot of people either discount their skills or don’t know what their skills are.
When working with coaching clients, the first thing Austin tells them to do is set a timer and start making a list of all their skills.
If you want to do this, you can ask friends and family, look at past jobs and education, look anywhere that helps you pinpoint what you’re good at and what you have experience doing.
By starting with a comprehensive list of all your skills, you will know what you have to work with and what you can offer.
Soft Skills are Skills Too
If you end up with a list of “softer skills” that you may not think are marketable, Austin said to remember that people will hire you to make their lives easier. Not just based on what skills you’re offering.
Softer skills like customer support, inbox management, etc, all play an important role in your overall skill set.
If you don’t think you have any marketable skills, Austin said you can easily learn some online. You don’t have to pay for training either. There are plenty of free training videos on YouTube and blogs.
Related: 20 In-Demand Freelance Skills
What About the “Freelancer’s Trap”?
The “freelancer’s trap” or “skills trap” is a term used to describe someone getting stuck offering the same service for a set price and not being able to scale up what they’re offering.
Austin calls this “available inventory.” The main resource a freelancer has is their time, and this is further limited by skills. This means everyone is limited to what they can do, and how much time they have available.
This is something Austin has had to overcome as a freelancer himself. When he started to find himself being asked for more than he could do by clients, he started to reach out to friends.
He would ask friends with the necessary skills to help him out, breaking out of the freelancer’s trap. Also enabling him to add project management to his group of skills, and ultimately charge more for future projects.
Related: 7 Ways to Scale a Service Business
Narrow Down to Your Most Marketable Skills
If you did the exercise above and have a list of skills in front of you, some are going to be more marketable than others.
Austin said to start by circling the top three that you see as most important. If you want some external validation, you can look at large freelance marketplaces like Upwork or Fiverr to see what other freelancers are offering.
If you see freelancers with loads of reviews and successful gigs offering skills you’ve listed yourself as having, you know these skills are in demand.
Rise Above Competition with “Killer Positioning”
Unless you have a very specific skill, you’re likely to see no shortage of other freelancers offering similar skills as you on the marketplace.
To get noticed, Austin said this is where something he calls “freelance positioning” comes into play. He sums this up with the following formula:
What clients really want + what makes you special = killer positioning
Austin explained it’s better to jump into a crowded market, as you know there is a demand for your services. From there, you can create that killer positioning and start getting clients.
What Clients Really Want from a Freelancer
People hire other people to make their problems disappear. They also hire people they like. These are two areas Austin teaches people to focus on when marketing themselves.
When creating a profile or a brand, don’t be afraid to include some personal information that people will be able to relate to. In addition, when prospecting for clients, ask them what challenges they’re facing and the areas they need help with.
An example Austin shared is; “no one goes shopping for a hip replacement, however, someone in need of a hip replacement loves the idea of going on a hike with their grandkids.”
Think about the transformation someone wants to go through or their end goal. You need to position yourself as providing the solution to their problem.
Look at what the short-term results, and long-term transformation your potential clients are after Austin explained.
Freelance Discovery Conversations: Questions to Ask
When you get yourself into a position where you’re having a conversation with potential clients, Austin recommends asking questions like:
- Why are we here?
- What happened that made you reach out?
- Why did you start looking for [insert your skills]?
- What’s holding you back from where you want to be three years from now?
- What are you most pressing problems? What are those problems costing you?
Austin said these conversations often end up being more like a business coaching session. He says this is fine, if you can win a client’s confidence, you’ll separate yourself from the other freelancers simply trying to offer them a good deal.
With the information you gain from asking questions like these, you can put together a proposal with a couple of options to help solve their problem.
Most importantly, Austin said you can charge as much as 10x what another freelancer would charge by offering generic services.
This is exactly how Austin said he went from charging $40/hr to selling $40k projects. He said it’s because he offered a “sensitive and caring” approach and solution to clients focused on making their pain go away.
Start With Your Personal Network
Austin said the first place to look for clients is within your own personal network. Tell friends, family members, and anyone you know what you’re doing and that you’re looking for work.
Too many people are embarrassed or coy about telling everyone they’re freelancing, Austin told me. Don’t be. Austin’s first gig came from his roommate after he told him he was a freelance writer.
If you’re concerned about your boss finding out because you’re freelancing outside of your day job, start a second LinkedIn profile just for your freelancing.
Do whatever it takes to get the word out to everyone in your circle that you’re freelancing. Some of your best opportunities might be closer to you than you realize.
Figure Out How Your Clients Are Describing Their Problems
Going outside of your network, Austin explained it’s important to figure out how your potential clients are describing their problems.
One way he recommends doing this is by reading client testimonials for competitors of your ideal clients. Look at how they’re describing their experience–the language they’re using, how they explain their pain point was solved, and so on.
For example, let’s say you’re offering mobile responsive website designs. If you read a bunch of testimonials and can see mobile responsiveness was not a pain point, you should change how you’re marketing your services.
Maybe it’s the overall look and feel of their site redesign that your competitors are talking about. If so, market your services as an overall site redesign. Austin said to also pick up on the terminology and language you see used and incorporate that into your conversation too.
If you want to “score” your offers, Austin shared four criteria:
- Do I like the work?
- Do I enjoy the people?
- Can I make good money?
- Can I get this type of project consistently?
The last question is an important one. If you can get a few clients on retainer, you don’t have to hustle so hard each month finding new clients.
The Power of Strategic Partnerships for Freelancers
Carrying on from the last point about recurring revenue, Austin recommends forming strategic partnerships where possible.
For example, Austin worked with someone specializing in book designs. This is typically a one-off type of gig. Once someone has a design for their book, they won’t be coming back anytime soon.
The way to get a steady flow of work for her was to form a strategic partnership with a book publisher. This way, the publisher is using her to perform tasks they aren’t able to, and as a result, they’re able to offer a more complete service to their clients.
In return, she is benefiting from their marketing and client base and getting a consistent flow of new clients without going out and looking for herself.
Two things worth considering for any freelancers are:
- Can you go directly to who your clients are already doing business with?
- Is there potential to cut out that back and forth with multiple clients?
Related: The OPA Plan: How to Tap Into Other People’s Audiences
Use Your Email Database as a Rolodex
Another tip Austin shared to find clients, and this is something he’s done with success, is to visit your email account and bring up a list of everyone you’ve ever emailed.
You should then whittle down your list to people who wouldn’t mind hearing from you.
Austin then sends three emails:
- General life update – The first email is about making contact again and letting people know what you’ve been up to. While mentioning that you’re now freelancing at the end of the email.
- Professional update – Reply to everyone who responded to your first email with a professional update. Explain you’re freelancing now and what you’re doing. Don’t pitch or try to sell them anything at this point.
- Story + offer – In your third email, you can talk about what you’ve been doing for your clients, then ask if they know anyone in need of the services you’re offering.
“This is more or less the way that I’ve built my business over the last 12 years. Starting conversations, and looking for ways to serve,” Austin told me.
What’s Next for You?
Austin is working on a book about freelancing with the working title Freelance Cake. Writing was his first love, so setting some time aside each day to write this book is making him happy.
The other thing he’s been working on and plans to launch this year is a group coaching program for established freelancers. More so aimed at helping frustrated freelancers become confident consultants.
Austin’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation
“Pay attention to what wants to happen.”
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