Many overworked and frustrated freelancers think becoming an entrepreneur is the solution to all their problems. Making money while they sleep seems like the perfect solution to feeling overworked and underpaid. But it can be a trap.
Launching a product and managing a business is vastly different from the craft of doing work for others. You need to figure out who you are and then maximize what you’re best at.
Understanding Freelancers vs. Entrepreneurs
A freelancer is someone who does work for others. They get paid when they do work, they generally don’t get paid when they don’t do work.
An entrepreneur is someone who sets up a scalable system that makes money while they sleep.
This is why being an entrepreneur is often the dream. Who doesn’t want to make money while they sleep?
Don’t Give in to the Elusive Dream
The problem is that freelancers can often feel overworked and underpaid. They get busy and the only way to make more money is to do more work. But there are only so many hours in a day.
Frustration sets in.
And they long for something more. The buzzword world of business and marketing starts to make being an entrepreneur sound like the perfect solution.
So the frustrated freelancer hatches an idea to launch a product, sell a widget, create a class, do something that will make them an entrepreneur. Don’t do it.
In the WP Elevation podcast, marketing guru Seth Godin goes on this brilliant rant giving advice to freelancer Kristina Romero who wanted to launch a product in order to make more money in less time:
Are you listening? Don’t do this. I know what you want. I know that you want to wake up in the morning, open your mailbox and find all this money in it every day for the rest of your life. But you’re not good at this. You’re good at something else. You’re good at being you. …
To join the endless list of hucksters and people who are desperate to get someone to click the button to buy the PDF or the ongoing training or the this and this and this—you know, you could probably make that work for a little while.
But you’re never going to be happy doing it.
And the chances that you’re going to get to the other side of the dip and be the next Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie, Anthony Robbins—it’s not going to happen. Because too many people are trying to get through that dip and the amount it takes to get through it keeps getting greater.
So I know it’s tempting. … But that’s not your thing, that’s not what gets you excited, that’s not what you’re good at, and it’s a cop-out that’s going to cause you many tears in the end. I think instead you need to find clients who are worth every bit of live care and energy and charisma you can bring them. And if you don’t like the clients you’ve got now, get better clients. But that doesn’t mean you should be sitting there making videos that people are going to pay for, because—guess what—digital stuff is really hard to sell.
Embrace Who You Are
Freelancers, you need to recognize who you are and embrace that.
If you really are an entrepreneur and you have these great products inside you and you want to build and scale that kind of a company, go for it.
But if you really just want to code—you’re a freelancer.
And there’s no shame in that.
As Kristina Romero reflected on what she learned from Seth Godin, she said her biggest lesson was learning to be OK with where she’s at as a freelancer.
Godin himself said he’s gone back to freelancing because he loves doing the work:
“I became a freelancer again because what gets me out of bed is the craft of doing it myself.”
Not everybody is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and that’s OK.
Sometimes in the business world we hear this constant need to grow and be bigger and better. Yes, it’s important to be adding new clients and building your business. But that doesn’t always mean bigger and more money. If you’re making a living and it’s working, why does it have to be more?
Sometimes we need a reminder that it’s OK to be content where you are.
And if you’re not content? If you love your work, but you’re frustrated trading time for money? Then you don’t need to sell a product, you just need to do what you do better.
You need to maximize your freelance career.
How to Work Smarter
Here are some ways you can make more money in less time as a freelancer:
- Sell to the right audience. Seth Godin talks about the importance of selling to people who want to buy. You want to find clients who are thrilled to pay you because they understand that you make them more money. Don’t waste time and energy hunting the elusive client with no web page and try to convince them they need one. Find clients who are eager to hire you.
- Look for profits. If you’re trying to make money from tiny local companies with slim profit margins, then there’s even less money for you. Look for the juicy plums. Look for industries that are growing or find ways to take advantage of sectors that are contracting. You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.
- Be the best so you can charge a premium. One of the hazards of being a freelancer is that you’re providing a service like everybody else. You need to find some way to stand out. But simply having the lowest price is never going to solve your problem. So find a niche and own it. Be the best at your niche. Be so good that clients want to pay you more.
- Don’t charge hourly. Seth Godin says, “If you’re getting paid by the hour, you’re probably not doing it right.” Switch to project billing. We’ve talked before about how charging by the project instead of by the hour can make you more money: Learn more about value-based pricing and check out our 22 freelance pricing tips.
- Deeper vs. wider. Instead of trying to find more clients, go deeper with the clients you already have. They already trust you, so find ways to do more for them. Kristina Romero reported taking this advice from Seth Godin: She went through past emails with clients and found things they needed that she hadn’t done yet. So in one week she sent out pitches for $25,000 worth of work. Half of it came through.
- Create systems. Spend less time doing your work by creating processes and streamlining your work. We can often be resistant to this idea because it feels like it takes too much time to set up. But that initial investment of time will pay huge dividends. If you’re always sending clients the same initial questions or you keep hitting the same snags, those are things you can streamline. Check out our productivity series to see how some of the pros are maximizing their time and our process series to see some specific systems and processes you can use.
You don’t have to be a frustrated freelancer. You can still do what you love and make better money doing it. Instead of chasing elusive dreams, focus on what you do now and find ways to do it better.