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How to Become a Successful Freelancer – Story of a Reluctant Businessman

Austin Church

by Austin Church


Aug 15, 2012


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After reading and reviewing Chris Guillebeau's latest book, The $100 Startup, I decided to start teaching people about business. This resolution was rather peculiar because I never wanted to be a businessman in the first place.

After getting laid off from a marketing firm in April 2009, I started Bright Newt, and for the past three years, I've been on an enlightening journey of self-employment, helping my clients with brand consulting, marketing strategy, and copywriting business. In 2009 I was able to earn 24% more than if I had kept my salary. In 2010, I made 33% more than in 2009, and in 2011, 47% more than 2010.

I was happy to be making more money, but I didn't understood the significance of these numbers.The few friends who knew about this growth told me that this was abnormal, especially for a guy who has never taken a single business class and who at the time would always reach for The Chronicles of Narnia before Good to Great.

One friend went so far to say that I was "really gifted" at business. Me? Good one!

I stopped laughing when I realized he was serious.

After a good friend lost his house to foreclosure, I started pondering the question in earnest. Why had my income had grown by leaps and bounds? My friend was a gifted designer with a box full of awards. Why had his business struggled?

What happened?

Business is not a meritocracy, and just being better at what you do isn't enough to pay your bills and create your desired lifestyle. My friend "Bob" never made the transition from artist to businessman. He made eye-catching logos but had trouble saying no to pushy clients. He did the work, but he didn't build the business.

The nature of my work with Bright Newt often leads to me to cross paths with dozens of Bobs. They generally fall into two categories. The first category includes young artists and creative professionals who want to know how to become a successful freelancer. The second type includes more experienced sole proprietors, small business owners, and entrepreneurs who ask the same question but from different angles:

"Can you help me with marketing"
"Can you help me find more customers?"
"How can I make more money?"
"What do you think I should do?"

These are not "bad" questions, and they represent a measurable goal: making more money. These smart, talented, and ambitious folks recognize that they need help, which is the first step in positive change, right?

I would argue that their questions simply aren't BIG enough. The Bobs find themselves in a missing-the-forest-for-the-trees scenario, or, to use another analogy, one scrap of the map won't do. You need the whole thing: origin, destination, milestones, landmarks, compass, scale, all of it.

The Bobs will get much farther if they start with this question:

How can I create a sustainable, profitable business around what I enjoy more than a conventional 9-to-5 and maybe even love?

My conversations with Bobs usually present an opportunity to point out the forest and redraw the map. Their enthusiasm soon fizzles out when a fresh dilemma arises: Where are they supposed to get the cash to pay for the business coaching that they need to make more cash? Business comes with its own shiny set of Catch-22s.

People tend to ignore free advice.

I've had to walk away from perhaps a hundred of such conversations knowing that I could not afford to give away more than 30 minutes of one-on-one coaching. And even if I was independently wealthy and could work for free, I would still charge.

Why? Am I a greedy, grasping Scrooge? Only on the weekends.

But seriously, people tend to ignore free advice.

Giving away my strategies, tactics, and plans will not catalyze lasting change 99% of the time. People's respect tends to follow their money, so if I really wanted to help the Bobs, I needed to charge them a least a little something. They need to make sacrifices and put some skin in the game.

When I was reading The $100 Startup—to come full circle—I had an epiphany. Why couldn't I team up with
two friends and create various kinds of packaging for all that business and marketing advice? We could charge enough that people would have to take it seriously, yet make it affordable for everyone, even fresh-out-of-college illustrators who believe that what's good for business is bad for their artistic integrity!

The rest, my friends, is Kicktastic history.

Read the next place to learn why the unique business ideas on Kicktastic are a little weird, a lot of fun, and a generous helping of helpful. I'll be sharing an Indian parable, a statistic that will knock your socks off, several insights from a Gallup poll, and a free and quite easy tip for getting more business before the week is out.

Categories: Business, Complete Elephant | Tags: how to become a successful freelancer


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