Thinking of Freelancing? Don’t Quit Your Day Job.

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One of the best things I ever did for my freelance career was keeping my day job. Confused? Let me explain…

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Photo credit: michaelthorner via Compfight cc

No, I’m not working part time at an agency or coffee shop, I do this full-time now.

And no, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t freelance (ever).

But I AM suggesting you don’t just yank the ripcord and plunge blindly into the big, wide world of working for yourself – because chances are, you don’t know how shallow the water is just yet.

One of the most common questions I get from aspiring freelancers is:

“How did you know when to quit your job?”

It’s a great question – and arguably one of the smartest ones you can ask.

See, there’s plenty of advice out there on what to do once you’re ALREADY freelancing – but very little advice on how to make the jump successfully.

And that’s a damn shame.

Because what you do before you start freelancing will shape your career for the years to come – and while you’ve got a day job, you’ve got some stability you can use to start your freelance career out on the best foot possible.

4 CRUCIAL things you should do before you quit your job:

1. Save up at least 3 months of “survival” money. 

Before you decide to make yourself the captain of your own income, you should build yourself a safety net.

Do you know how much your rent, groceries, insurance and lifestyle are costing you? If you didn’t get a single client, how long could you survive with the savings you currently have?

If the answer is less than 3 months, you should be very cautious about venturing out on your own.

Here’s a familiar story…

  • Many freelancers start off optimistic, with a few solid contacts, but then…
  • When those contacts don’t pan out or the work dries up, they’re left without a reliable income source and so…
  • Out of desperation, they start taking on low-paying jobs to make ends meet, working harder for less pay, and…
  • These unimpressive jobs don’t help their portfolio at all. The work you display is the work you attract, so…
  • They get caught in a perpetual cycle of just trying to make ends meet with crappy jobs that keep on coming.

If you give yourself a 3-month cushion, you now have some flexibility to be more aggressive with your pricing and more deliberate about who you work with.

You gain the power to say “No!” to a project and negotiate a rate you’re worth – the most powerful position a freelancer can be in.

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Photo Credit: welldunn via Compfight cc

2. Network on your boss’ dime. 

While you’ve got a full-time or part-time job, you’ve got some sustainable income coming in – which gives you the freedom to invest some of your hours in connecting with people and shaking hands instead of hunching over a keyboard trying to get jobs done.

Most of my work has come through the following channels:

  • Word of mouth referrals
  • Twitter
  • Content I’ve published on my own blogs
  • Content I’ve published to other industry hubs & LinkedIn

But every single one of those channels is a connection I’ve had to fuel, foster and follow-up on.

If you’re not busy sweating bullets about paying rent, you can spend more time fleshing out your portfolio and making connections, without feeling like you’re wasting your time.

3. Invest in your own branding.

Let’s be honest: Food, shelter and living costs are ALWAYS going to come before things like building out a website or getting a logo done.

But here’s the catch 22: If you don’t have time or money to market your business, then paying clients are going to be harder to come by.

One of the best things I did for myself early on was invest in getting some slick branding and a professional-looking site done up for Business Casual Copywriting.

Seems superficial, right?

But it’s not. If you can LOOK the part of a 10-year veteran, and if you can deliver like one, then NOBODY needs to know you just started out.

That means you can charge more, straight out of the gate.

But if you’ve got a terrible site on a domain name you don’t own and a hotmail address? Well, let’s just say – businesses can and DO judge on appearances.

You’ll do well to save up some cash and do your own branding right.

4. Find your first clients.

Controversial? Maybe.

When I did this, I made sure my boss was okay with me doing some work on the side and that it didn’t violate my non-compete.

If feasible, you should be floating out the idea that you’re ready to pick up some side work. If you can nab a couple steady clients before you make the leap (especially if they’re willing to grow with your availability), you’ll be much better set up.

But please – be careful with this one. If there’s a chance that picking up freelance clients would leave a sour taste in your employers’ mouth, don’t risk it – especially if you’re already employed in the field you plan to freelance in.

 

Please – don’t quit your day job (yet).

Use the stability that comes with having some predictable income to set yourself up for long-term success.

It could mean the difference between getting bigger, better projects at a faster rate – or slogging it out in the Upwork salt mines for months to come.

Freelancing: 2 Years, $230,000+ and 9 Big Lessons Later

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Two years ago today, I stocked up on canned chili, dusted off the desk in my home office and officially left my job. 

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Photo Credit: kolbisneat 

If you want the whole story from the early days, I wrote this post 150 days in on how I turned down a guaranteed 6-figure payday to go into a field that (depending on who you asked) guaranteed I’d make hardly anything for a good, long time.

For now, though, here’s an excerpt:

“I printed off the job offer and pinned it to my bulletin board with a circle around the dollar figure I’d just walked away from. This would be my reminder.

Every morning, I’d look at it and remember exactly what I gave up to chase this idiotic dream of bashing a keyboard for profit.”

I had an unspoken goal: I wanted to match it and prove that I could be just as successful (financially) on my own.

In my first year, I came up just shy.

In my second year, I obliterated that number by +28%. 

Since I launched in 2013 full-time, Business Casual Copywriting has generated over $230,000 in profit and more than that in revenue.

That in a supposedly “saturated” industry that “pays peanuts”. But please don’t read me wrong:

I’m not sharing that for your applause or because it makes me feel good to wave around vague income numbers and pretend I’m king banana.

Yes, I hope the dollar figure will earn your interest – but I want the lessons I’ve learned to be the part that earns your respect.

Here are the 9 most important lessons I’ve learned in the past two years:

1. If you want to be a successful freelancer, you can’t just be a strong writer (or artist, or developer, or…)

Some of the best writers I know barely eke out a living off their craft. That is NOT because writing isn’t valuable, demand is low or the market is too saturated.

It’s because freelancing is a business, and they don’t know how to operate like one.

If you want to win as a freelancer, you need to learn how to…

  • Market yourself (the most important skill you can learn)
  • Handle your books
  • Manage your time
  • Negotiate a deal
  • Meet a deadline
  • Network your butt off

Businesses like working with businesspeople – they do NOT like working with clueless creative divas – although they do find how cheaply they can get work out of them attractive for a time.

If you want to win as a freelancer, brush up on your business skills. Hell, I’d say it’s even worth it to go in-house for awhile, just to see how businesses really run.

2. Confidence changes everything.

Nobody ever hit a home run by bunting. And as a freelancer, nobody is going to go to bat for you except yourself.

If you’re afraid to raise your rates, push back on a client or stand up for yourself, you will keep on spinning your tires and continue earning less than you could be.

Here are some facts you need to accept:

  • If you have the talent, your years of experience DO NOT MATTER. Clients pay for your results, not your résumé. 
  • If you operate like a business, hit deadlines, deliver strong copy and are easy to work with, you’re already in the minority of freelancers (just ask anyone who’s hired them before).
    That’s worth a premium.
  • You are going to hear “No”, have clients disappear and quote people who cannot afford you. Deal with it. Being exclusive to an audience who can afford you is actually a good thing.
  • Your clients are making money off the content you provide – usually an out-sized return on what they paid. Don’t be afraid to make some money yourself.

Confidence in the way you charge, communicate and handle your business is attractive to the right audience – and if you don’t push the envelope, you’ll never know what you’re really worth.

Good freelancers change the conversation from “Here’s what we need and what we’ll pay you” to “Here’s the level I’m on – if you want to be on it, here’s what it costs.”

3. Find a focus.

When I started out, I cast a wide net out of fear that if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be enough work.

I don’t regret doing that for one second – it taught me what I was good at writing and showed me where the better margins were. It also helped me survive year one.

But as soon as you figure out where the money is and what you’re really good at/passionate about, you need to cut down your offering and JUST do those things.

If you’re the go-to gal for “___________”, you can command more for that type of work because you have a reputation and more power in the relationship.

I nervously cut blogging from my offering in favor of conversion-focused copy (websites, landing pages, email marketing campaigns). I worried my income would go down. Blogging work is easy to come by and pays reasonably well.

When I eliminated blogging and let the world know my new focus, my income went up instead. My fear was unfounded. Focusing works.

4. Never underestimate the power of a single connection.

I am constantly amazed at how relationships I’ve forged have turned into projects, opportunities and even a TEDx talk!

Brand new freelancers I’ve supported have turned around and sent ME awesome projects.

Whether it’s a client, acquaintance, new friend or fellow freelancer – try to treat everyone with respect and leave them better than you found them.

Have meaningful conversations instead of rolling around, handing out business cards. Be helpful first; listen more than you speak.

And never write anyone off because they’re in a position where they can’t immediately help you or give you a job.

You never know where that person might wind up, or that relationship might lead.

5. Freelancing is a job.

Yes, you can work in your underwear, wake up at 11:00pm and drink beer all day if you want to.

But you shouldn’t.

Freelancing is NOT the beach vacation or easy, unbridled freedom you imagine it to be. Yes, it can be very flexible.

But it’s up to you to set your schedule, nurture your body and mind, deliver for your clients and build your own future.

That doesn’t happen if you’re goofing off on Facebook every day or coasting along, waiting for work to find you.

Equally important, though: Don’t let the lines of your work and the rest of your life blur to the point that you’re staring into your phone at the dinner table with your friends or answering emails at 8:00pm on a Sunday.

This is only a job, not your life. Separate the two.

6. Scaling is harder than you think it will be.

I tried to start a little writing team – and for awhile, it worked. I had 10 subcontractors (not all busy at once) and was passing off work like nobody’s business.

But it fell apart.

I quickly learned that the time I was spending trying to train them, fix their mistakes and compensate for their missed deadlines was easily offsetting the extra income I was making.

I paid them too much, too fast out of wanting to try and prove freelancing could be lucrative.

So I killed the team.

Then, I thought I’d write a book or sell a course. Passive income, right? Both those things sound easy. Neither one is.

Perhaps hardest is giving yourself the time and space to build another asset – ignoring immediate income for the sake of building something bigger.

It’s totally possible, but it’s not as simple as you’re imagining – I promise.

7. Trust your gut (every. single. time.)

When you’re sitting there, staring at that email and feeling uneasy about the client – don’t take them on, no matter how much is on the table.

When you’ve written that quote out but you’re debating lowering the price because you *think* the client might not be able to afford it, stop and go back to your first number.

When you’re scheduling your time and think to yourself, “That’s going to be an ugly weekend.” – don’t book it.

Every single time I’ve gambled against my gut instinct on a decision, I’ve lost – and you will, too.

8. Some days will be total write-offs. That’s OK.

Any writer can relate: There are days you wake up knowing nothing is going to get done that day.

Your best work eludes you. You can’t get traction. You’re burned out, tired and uninspired.

When those days come, flex your freelance muscles and get away from the desk. Exercise. Be with people you care about. Play a video game.

Whatever constitutes a good day for you.

And then, don’t feel guilty about it. Wake up early, get back to work, and plod on.

Stop fighting off days and instead, form habits that keep them from ever showing up.

Find out what sets you off – distractions, habits, stress – and be proactive about the way you go about your day so that the next one will be productive, too.

And please, try to get enough sleep.

9. Money matters – but only so much.

I started this post out with some financial figures because I knew it’d get your attention.

People love talking about what other people make, and the “six-figure dream” is more or less universal among freelancers.

I’m not going to sit here on my throne of privilege and pretend cash isn’t important or worth striving for – because it was for me.

But realize that no matter how much you make, someone else is making more.

Paul Jarvis built a course that’s made him my entire years’ revenue in a few months (and growing).

Joanna from Copy Hackers charges twice my hourly rate and works on projects with minimums twice as big as mine (or bigger).

And my friend Ross Simmonds, who went out around the same time I did, turned my entire two-year profit in ONE year this year.

Even after crushing my first goal, I was kind of bummed out for awhile because I felt like I was behind.

But two years ago, I’d have thought that was insane. Because it IS.

I’m on someone else’s rung, and so are you.

There’s always a bigger fish, and if you choose to compare, you’ll never be satisfied or proud of the life you’re building.

There’s so much more to this than money.

Whether it was the chance to be your own boss, do what you’re good at, have the flexibility to travel – remind your self of what freelancing means to you and what drove you to make the move in the first place.

At the risk of sounding like a cheesy motivational poster on Pinterest, don’t freelance because you want to make a living – freelance because you want to make a life.

Thank you so much to my friends, family, clients and peers who have made this journey so worthwhile.

I’ve still got so much to learn, but I’m looking forward to the trip.

If you’re a freelancer or business reading this and you want to chat about freelancing / ask questions / hire me to help you plan and write content that makes you money:
Business Casual Copywriting 
@JoelKlettke 

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The Crowd Wants You To Win

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Some people are deathly afraid of public speaking.

Like – would rather get a root canal done than have to get up in front of a crowd of people they don’t know and give a talk.

I think it’s because we imagine a sea of judgmental eyes scrutinizing our every move, eager for us to make a mistake – and pounce to pass judgement.

There’s a horrible, wonderful vulnerability to having to get up in front of a crowd and share your ideas and experiences.

In University, I joined a club that was then known as SIFE – Students in Free Enterprise (now called Enactus, which sounds like a bit of an erectile dysfunction pill to me).

The club’s mandate was to empower students to launch projects that created social and economic change in their communities.

My project was SHIFT – I was project manager. SHIFT was, at the heart, consulting – we went in and did Lunch & Learns for businesses on how to employ, retain and communicate with generation Y.

It was a thrill. I loved getting up on a stage in front of sometimes hundreds of executives or C-Level teams and sharing my ideas and research.

It was in this club I would take my public speaking to another level, eventually competing on a national scale. But this post isn’t about that.

It’s about a more important thing I learned, but didn’t realize I had learned, until much later:

The crowd wants you to win.

See, I’m the kind of guy who, at times, is prone to blocking his own shots.

Growing up, I was often the first one to cut myself down – even if nobody else was saying anything negative. Even if nobody noticed what I thought were glaring flaws.

I assumed the world was a sea of judgmental eyes, scrutinizing my every move – waiting to pounce as soon as I messed up.

I think I felt that way because I knew how harsh I could be behind the privacy of closed doors.

We are not all kind people all of the time.

So I somehow internalized the idea that it was me against the world; went on a quest to try to walk perfection’s laughably impossible tightrope – and was the first to announce when I’d fallen off, lest anyone else have the chance.

I expected the feedback after my first SHIFT sessions to be harsh. No executive wanted to hear some punk kid share their mind, right?

But see, the world ain’t like that.

People rallied. Most feedback was positive – or if not, encouraging.

Tonight, I went to Pecha Kucha in Calgary – #23, called “Jam”. It’s a series of talks where the speaker has 20 slides 20 seconds long that automatically advance.

Inevitably at each Pecha Kucha event, someone loses their place, falls behind, stumbles on their words. The slides plod mercilessly on.

But the crowd doesn’t boo. They don’t jeer or roll their eyes. As pointed out by my fiance, it’s actually a rare moment where you see humanity’s kind side come out – the crowd silently willing the speaker to get back on course, quietly (or sometimes not so quietly) encouraging the speaker.

“You can do this! You are awesome! Keep going! C’mon!”

There are claps and cheers. You can feel the whole room leaning forward to embrace the speaker, hoping, wishing, cheering for their victory, spurring them on to finish strong.

The crowd wants you to win.

I’ll be keeping that in mind as I prepare for one of the biggest talks of my life coming up in June.

But more importantly, it’s a nice reminder. The world is not all bad. People are not all cruel. Sure, some are. We like seeing the crashes at Nascar and the open ice hits in hockey, after all.

But if you are earnest, vulnerable and open, the majority of people aren’t waiting in the wings to watch you fail.

When you realize that, public speaking – and taking risks in general – isn’t so scary after all.

 

It’s the Little Things That Make or Break You

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It’s tough to shake a habit – whether it’s a good one, or a bad one.

I’ve been thinking a ton about habits lately, and the structures of discipline that form them/sustain them.

I’ve been spurred on by the book “The Slight Edge”, the premise of which is that the small actions we do every day – the seemingly insignificant things – are the things that make the difference in our lives and determine where we end up.

The idea that the things that are both easy to do, and easy not to do – like spending just 15 minutes a day being active or reading a business book – will be the things that form our habits, and those habits will form our success or downfall.

I can’t disagree. For example – wing nights.

Those wings are so tasty, and won’t kill you if you eat ’em – at least, not today. But eat wings and down a schooner twice a week for a few years, and suddenly, you’ve got some health issues.

That sort of thing.

Anyways, I’ve been trying to change my habits.

Wake up every day and spend 10 – 15 minutes writing down how my business is doing, tracking against my goals and the life I want to build. It’s been hugely illuminating – but it’s been a bit hard.

A tough look in the mirror.

That said, I wake up excited to do it, because I’m actively making decisions to get me where I want to be. 10 minutes every day will compound into 60 HOURS per year spent thinking about my business and making plans.

Neat to think about it that way, right? Compounding interest. It makes more sense when you calculate that outcome.

Another change I’ve been trying to make is recording my diet and exercise regimen. Also not so hot – but if I can just make these small moves and stick to them, I can get that pinwheel spinning. Start by recording, then by fixing, then by ramping up.

An hour a day of exercise will compound into a better, fitter, healthier me.

It’s the little things that make or break you, so you’ve got to mind the little things.

Nobody likes flossing, but it takes almost no time to do and may mean the difference between dentures and pearly whites.

Nobody likes getting up and stretching every hour or so at their desk, but over time, not doing it will twist you up like a pretzel.

Start today. Do something small. Repeat it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, until you change your world.

 

 

Adventures in Setting My Freelance Rates

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Rates are so, so tricky.

In fact, questions about rates are some of the most common that freelancers ask me on coaching calls. How do you decide what you’re worth? How do you structure your rates for clients? Is hourly better than project? Is a day rate better than an hourly rate?

Lots to think about.

I’ve been doing little tests with my rates since January 30th of 2014.

Not just raising them or lowering them, but changing how I displayed them (or if I displayed them at all).

These tests are not scientific, nor am I rigorously measuring the volume of inquiries I get – so what I’m about to share should be taken with a grain of salt. However, I do pay attention to the kinds of leads I’m getting, and here’s what I’ve learned:

Version 1: No rates page

This seems to be the M.O. for most freelancers I come across, and I honestly cannot understand why people stick with it, aside from perhaps fear that by posting rates they’ll lose a portion of their leads.

I have news for you: Losing a portion is good. Very good. As long as it’s the right portion.

Before I had any rates page up, I was inundated with quote requests and would often spend half a day just quoting people.

It was awful. There were tire-kickers, there were legit leads, there were people who thought I should write posts for $20 despite a carefully curated brand and image… I needed a change.

So I set up a rates page to help people self-select.

Version 2: An hourly rate

Terrible. Horrible. Awful way to list your prices.

As soon as you list an hourly rate, all people care about is how long something will take. Yes, I got rid of everyone who wasn’t willing to pay my hourly rate (at that time it was $75; it’s higher now), but in exchange I got people who were hellbent on tracking time instead of the value I could bring.

That’s a key lesson: You really don’t want your price to be the focus. You want it to be your value; the return you can bring your client.

A price point is only there to weed people out, in my opinion.

I decided to switch it up.

Version 3: Average project ranges

Boy, this was a complicated one. I listed out every single type of project I could handle, along with an average range of prices those projects usually cost. It was a HUGE page with a TON of rates, and while it was informative, it was overwhelming.

My lead quality did increase, and I stopped hearing from people hellbent on tracking time.

What happened instead was some serious anchoring. Almost any time I tried to quote above the average range, even if it was justified, I got push back. People seemed to expect their project would naturally fall to the lower end of the spectrum, and I heard a lot of “It’s just a _________”.

Pro tip: Any time a lead says that a project is “just” anything, they’re probably a bad lead because they don’t think their project should take long and thus, not be expensive.

I decided to try another angle…

Version 4: “Starting From”

To eliminate the friction of quoting above the range, I went “starting from”, with a base minimum price.

As you can imagine, anchoring only got worse, with people somehow believing that the starting price should be their price.

I wasn’t dealing with tire-kickers (YAY!) and on the whole lead quality had improved from the time of ranges (YAY!) but the starting point seemed to leave some people scratching their heads.

It was time for another approach, so…

Version 5: A day rate and project minimum (with some persuasive explanation stuff)

I decided, on the advice of some web developers, to try out a day rate. That way, I could just quote number of days for a project and people wouldn’t get their knickers in a bunch.

Except.. well, it didn’t work like that.

As it turns out, unlike web development, very few people see copywriting as a job that should be measured in days, even when they know it’s a process.

I also had an even day rate ($800 at the time), so people did the math and calculated my hourly to $100, and I had people haggling over time all over again.

On the plus side, the day rate was high enough that I wasn’t getting low quality leads anymore or having to explain why I wouldn’t write a website for $500 to an exasperated marketer.

The project minimum I set also seemed to help set expectations. People knew that at very least, they’d be paying $500 to work with me, and surprisingly, unlike the “Starting from” numbers, this didn’t seem to anchor people as much.

But, things still weren’t perfect (if that’s even possible), so I swapped it up to…

Version 6: An uneven day rate and project minimum (and some persuasive sales pitch stuff)

I swapped my day rate from $800 to $850. Wouldn’t you know it – people hate doing math! The moment I did this, I started getting more asks for long-term projects.

Turns out people can’t divide $850 by 8 (average workday), so they don’t even try. Nobody haggled over time anymore. They started understanding that I was quoting for value. This was a big win, and combined with the project minimum, I was getting some good, solid leads.

And then I saw this page: http://snapcopy.co/agency-home/

Now, no disrespect to Joanna of CopyHackers or anyone on the SnapCopy team, but HOKEY DINAH! Those are some seriously high rates.

And while I know I’m still learning and developing as a professional, I’m confident that the quality of my work could come close to something they’d put out.

My research process, from what I know, is similar – and there’s power in the process (which is why I posted mine in my main nav on my site).

Suddenly, a $500 project minimum didn’t seem like as much of an ask anymore. In fact, the only reason I’d kept it at that point is because a portion of my income comes from blog posts or landing page audits and I didn’t want to lose that business.

The average project was already over $2,000 anyways, especially since I’ve been working to get out of blogging and more into landing pages, content marketing strategy consulting and website copy.

So, I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and launched…

Version 7: A project minimum + a persuasive sales pitch

The newest version of my page states a few things plainly:

  1. I charge a project rate
  2. I will ask your budget upfront
  3. My project minimum is $2,000

Interspersed with all of that is links to some testimonials and some compelling arguments for working with me, including:

  • I work fast – you get your work on time.
  • I follow a process – you know exactly what to expect.
  • I get things done right the first time – you haggle less and go live faster.
  • I check in without being asked to – you always know where we’re at.
  • I know what it takes to sell – you get more customers (which is why you’re really hiring me – not for words on a page).

You should really just read the whole page, I think it spells things out nicely.

We’ll see how well this works and what kind of leads I bring on now!

Importantly, I want to mention that throughout all of these changes, the shift in leads was never SO outrageous that I had a noticeable lull or drop-off in business.

For that, I’m both lucky, and fortunate for the network I’ve cultivated that passes me referrals.

But it HAS been interesting to see who contacts you, what for, and how they see you/value what you do.

My plans for the future:

1. Productize landing page audits.

It’s been discouraging to watch as a few other people beat me to the punch here (like “The User is Drunk“), but I have long planned to sell website copy audits where I spend some time reviewing your landing pages or website copy (up to 3 pages in detail) and making specific, actionable recommendations for improvement for just $500.

The deliverables would be a recommendations doc, a video review where I share my findings and a 45min – 1 hour phone call to chat about everything I’ve recommended.

I’ve been honing my skills in The Pit and on all of my paid work, and I am 1000% confident there’s a ton of value I could bring on a paid audit.

And, with my new $2,000 project minimum, a $500 option should look like a steal for those who want tangible improvements on a smaller budget and have the ability to implement.

2. Change my website some more. 

Right now my website has a “Who I Help” section with sub-sections for the different clients I cater to. I’ll soon be testing “What I do”, eliminating a bunch of services I’m no longer in the business of and adding more of a focus on my CRO copywriting work.

3. More videos.

I have a goal to speak at more conferences, and to do that, I need some social proof. I’ll be recording some video audits and vlogs so people hear my voice and see my face – not just read my writing.

4. Targeted guest blogging.

I’m drastically reducing how much I blog for clients in order to spend more time targeting relevant blogs. I want to be published on Moz, ConversionXL, Unbounce, Copyblogger, LeadPages and Shopify before the end of the year. I know I can write something they’d all be excited about, it’s just a time thing.

5. Hiring an apprentice.

Yup. It’s time.

I am actively seeking a copywriter with a similar style and passion who I can mentor into taking over all of my blogging work. BCC may very well be a company of two by this time next year – but working with people is really hard, especially in a talent-based profession like this, so I’m being very careful.

6. Offering a discount for case-study clients.

I’m planning to offer a rare, limited-time discount for working with me if the client agrees to measure and report back on the impact my copy has had for their business.

I know i need more raw numbers to justify the work I do, even as my portfolio continues to grow stronger and word of mouth spreads.

Anyways, thanks for reading.

I hope something in here helped you out. When it comes to rates, always be testing – and never, ever be afraid to try something new.

Confidence is what makes rich freelancers rich, and keeps the poor ones poor. If you’ve got the talent to back it up, don’t ever be afraid to play with what you charge.

Klettke, out!

 

Why I’m Consulting for Free

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A few weeks ago, I started up an online group where people can share their landing pages and get critiques from the inbound community.

I’ve spent hours promoting the group and engaging with every single person who posts. As I write this, we’re at 220+ people.

Not bad.

I respond to every request for a critique with some specific feedback, sharing insights and recommending improvements that will translate into tangible returns for the businesses I’m helping.

And I’ve been doing it for free.

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I don’t give away the farm, mind you – but I’m sharing enough to make it worthwhile to tune in.

This is time and energy I could be directing into my paid projects, and if you’ve followed me at all, you know I’ve typically cringed at any suggestion/request to work for free.

What might make even less sense is that businesses are willing to pay good money for a landing page audit.

I know, because I’ve charged for them. And like the Joker says,

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To make sense of this, I’m going to take a risk here and tear a page right out of my playbook.

Let’s start with the fact that I’ve been looking toward the kind of business I want to build and evaluating how well I’m doing on getting myself there.

I narrowed down my areas of focus to just three things I want Business Casual Copywriting (and myself, personally) to be known for:

  1. CRO copywriting (Landing pages, website copy, email marketing)
  2. The business of freelancing (Teaching freelancers business skills)
  3. Humor (Ha! Ha!)

That’s it, that’s all. Not blogging, not SEO, not terrible hairlines – just those three things.

As I defined these areas of focus, I realized I was missing two key elements for success:

  • Community: While I have a substantial network, it’s not focused around CRO. My reputation has been established as someone who writes blogs/articles and I’ve been getting better known for my abilities in website copy (more projects on that side, which is encouraging). I also don’t have the ear of freelancers just yet; I’m not publishing much work specific to them or going where they hang out. I do Skype calls to help mentor a few, but right now this is all behind the scenes stuff.
  • Credibility: Though my work is strong and I’m proud of my portfolio, I don’t have the case studies to prove myself with CRO to the big fish clients. And while I exceeded my first-year financial goals, I haven’t championed that or built up enough influence with other freelancers to get people to care about my story.

I needed a way to start building both credibility and community.

That’s when I had an idea: Inbound.org had struggled to get their “Groups” functionality going – groups were clunky, poorly advertised and altogether not that useful.

But Inbound.org has a HUGE community of marketers and businesses who read, and they’ve got a vested interest in making “Groups” work and they’re willing and able to improve the experience.

There’s so much potential there, and I had the rare chance to be a first mover on a platform with substantial reach and a dedicated team.

So here’s why I’m basically consulting free of charge:

By starting this group and offering a bit of insight for free, I am…

  • Earning implied authority
    If you’re the guy who owns the CRO-focused group, people assume you know what you’re talking about (until you prove them wrong). I can control the conversation, and have the benefit and responsibility of steering the conversation to productive places.
  • Cultivating a community
    I’ve got 220+ people in a group with at least a passing interest/stated need in the type of work I want to do most.
  • Proving my competence
    By focusing on being genuinely helpful, I’ve given myself a platform to show people my process and that I know what I’m talking about.
  • Attracting (awesome!) partners
    I’ve already approached a few different businesses I know would be interested in a forum full of people running landing page tests and looking to improve conversion rates. I have more sway as a group than I do as an individual right now.
  • Learning a great deal
    Smart people like Rich Page are sharing their insights in The Pit, and I’m learning from them as they pick up things I might’ve missed, or even as I disagree with their assessments.
  • Building goodwill
    I’m not being disingenuous – even if I have something to gain, my entire focus has been on being helpful, and I do believe that kind of sentiment can only bring good things.
  • Creating a market
    It’s no big secret – one day I want to sell guides and eBooks about CRO, maybe even a beginner’s class or two. Both those participating in the community and the lurkers are the people who might one day buy from me.

And it keeps getting better.

Because I was one of the first and most passionate about “Groups”, some of Inbound.org’s developers gave me their emails and now respond lightning-fast to requests for features or fixes. They’ve even gone out of their way to promote the group on their owned media channels.

That’s a benefit I didn’t even see coming; I’m helping to shape and refine the functionality of groups in my own, small way.

Could it all blow up in my face?

Maybe. Possibly. Some days I’m certain it will.

There’s a chance that people won’t ever want to pay for a more comprehensive audit if they’ve seen that I’ll hand out some basics for free.

There’s a (very unlikely) chance that Inbound.org could go belly-up and my group would disappear.

And yes, there’s a very real cost to the time I put into trying to grow this community, and if it never pays off monetarily, it will perhaps be regarded by some as a wasted effort.

But I think it’s impossible to lose here.

I think it’s impossible to invest time in being helpful and useful; to devote yourself to trying to build a community, and come out completely empty handed.

I refuse to believe that’s what will happen. Who knows what one good connection or one thorough bit of feedback might bring?

So for now, I’ll keep putting my time and attention into The Pit, and I’ll watch excitedly as it grows.

Is it the best way to go about this? I don’t know.

Is it a perfect strategy? I doubt it.

If nothing else, it’s made for a wonderful experiment.

(Interested in conversion rate optimization/landing pages? Consider joining us in The Pit: Landing Page Critiques!)

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Photo Credit: davewhittle1 via Compfight cc

Is Present You Ripping Off Future You?

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Lately I’ve been a little bit like Elon Musk – thinkin’ hard about the future.

I’ve been thinking about the business I want to build, the kinds of work I want to do – and admittedly, the revenues I want to have.

As I ponder, I’ve been forced to think about what I want to be known for and where I want to carry influence. Whereas I started off my freelancing career quite broad and willing to work on any kind of project, I always knew I’d specialize.

I just didn’t know in what.

Now, I’ve got a much clearer picture:

  • I want to be known for landing pages and CRO copy
  • I want to be known for finding success in freelancing, and teach freelancers how to build successful businesses.
  • I want to maintain humor as a critical part of my public persona, and be involved in more fun projects.
  • I want a significant portion of my revenue to come from products, not services.

There’s a clarity that comes when you define where you want to be headed. You sit up and realize that unless you change course, you’re never going to get there.

For me, that was a big wake up call.

I realized that the things I’m doing today – even the profitable, good things, are not taking me toward the future I want.

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I’ve been doing so many things that generate immediate returns and revenue that I’ve put off important things that will build future revenue in the areas I actually want to work in.

Prime example: Blogging. 

I blog bi-monthly for a few different places. It’s good work, pays well, and I get my name out there. That brings in more clients, and the revenue I make from blogging forms my most reliable base income every month.

But it eats up a lot of time – time I could be spending marketing other offerings, or writing for my own business, or targeting major hubs like Copyblogger, Unbounce, Optimizely and ConversionXL.

And it also steals time away from developing resources like the process templates I want to give away, the eBooks I want to write as lead generators, or the awesome looking SlideShares I have in mind to create.

I’m robbing myself of great, big tomorrow in the name of a safe, comfy today.

I’ve learned how to say no to clients. Now it’s time to say no to myself, for the benefit of the long game. To learn to be OK with making less for a few months so that I can make more in the long term. To invest my time in the activities that will open doors to collaborate with the businesses I want to align with.

I’ve got so much work to  do.

Photo Credit: fxgamer via Compfight cc

Knowing When to Walk it In

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I’ve always been baffled by the fact that there are people out there who will pay excellent money to ignore you.

Pretty much every consultant or freelancer I’ve ever met can tell you their story of the client who hired them, only to completely ignore all of their suggestions.

Confusing stuff.

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I’ve speculated as to why this keeps happening to so many people, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • The client is scared of change.
    Sometimes, you show people the future and they recoil in horror because it’s unfamiliar to them. I mean, if you managed to show a caveman a shakeweight, he’d probably spontaneously combust. You can’t really help this – some folks are just stuck in their ways.
  • The client wanted a worker bee, not a brain.
    They pay lip service to the idea of loving your work and your perspective, but what they really love is their own perspective. To these folks, you’re just a pair of hands.
  • The client is a control freak.
    Their need to own the situation usurps their rational brain and leaves them making totally idiotic decisions for the sake of feeling like they’re sitting behind the wheel.
  • The client is actually insane.
    Stark, raving mad, cupping powdered margarita mix into their mouths by the handful while bathing in a tub full of sour cream and high heels.

I’m sure there are other reasons – red tape, lack of information, internal conflicts, and so on, and so on.

The truth is, there’s only one solution to this problem: Learning when to walk it in.

It’s tough. You’re a perfectionist. You can see the potential. You know the client is making a mistake. You know your way will get the better result. You want to use this as a case study. You needed this for your portfolio.

There’s certainly a time and place to hold your ground. Sometimes, the client doesn’t “get it” because you didn’t explain it well. Fix that.

And sometimes, the client doesn’t trust you because you haven’t given them the rationale. Do that.

But if they won’t listen to reason, I always tell clients,

“You’re paying me to give you my best advice. At one point, you trusted I’d give it to you. I know this might not be what you want to hear, but based on my expertise, I don’t recommend doing what you’re asking me to do.”

In my head, what that really says is,

“Are you allergic to making money?”

But, at some point, it’s best to just shut up, get paid and walk it in. Some people cannot be helped; there’s no point in putting yourself through hell or letting the project drag on and on to try.

Just give ’em what they want. The dumb, flawed, backwards-ass thing they’re fighting you for.

And then walk it in.

All the way to the bank.

 

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No Jerks

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Awhile ago, I had a tweet launch straight out of my computer and blow up right in my face.

It was an early morning – I was groggy. Waking up, I reached for my phone to see someone had posted something I wanted to read from the Guardian. I clicked through – and there was an ad blocking half my screen.

And there was no way to close it.

Frustrated, I took a screenshot, then took to Twitter to voice my displeasure, calling out the company for a terrible user experience.

It was a reflex. A part of me was envisioning myself as some sort of hero, out to save the digital marketing world and show everyone I knew a thing or two about ads. Namely, that you should be able to close them.

Stupid. There was literally nothing to gain from doing so. But hindsight is 20/20.

And so, the problems began.

Long story short? It turns out that ad campaign was managed by some friends of mine, and I had just made life difficult for them. They got an early-morning phone call from the client and had some explaining to do.

That’s when I got an early-morning phone call from my friends, asking what the hell my problem was.

And that felt terrible.

I messed up. Royally. And it all came down to the fact that I had too little discretion about how I was interacting with the world.

Where I thought I’d earn attention and applause for a sarcastic commentary, I got what I deserved: Smacked.

I did what I could to make amends. Apologized. First on the phone, then in person. Bought everyone who had to handle cleaning up my idiotic mess a beer. But even though we all smiled and shook hands, it didn’t feel good.

It still doesn’t.

That was just one of a few times I’d caught myself being a bit of a… well, a douchenozzle.

So I wrote out a little guideline for myself, scrawled on a bent over piece of paper torn out of one of my seemingly hundreds of notebooks:

“If it is mean-spirited, unnecessarily critical, personal, rude, obnoxious, irrelevant, unhelpful or immature, don’t post it. Period.”

And while I don’t always manage to stick to this (and bend the rules sometimes depending on the circumstances – we all need some immaturity now and then, and sometimes there’s cause to be a bit underhanded), I do try to apply it.

I even had to remind myself of it today after reading a big, long humblebrag of a post and taking to Twitter to decry it.

“Who cares, dude? That won’t endear you to anybody. You’re being a jerk.”

So this whole thing boils down to a simple “No Jerks”.

As I get older and more experienced, one of the things I’ve had to keep reminding myself of is that nobody likes the guy who builds his empire on someone else’s back. Nobody likes having their flaws announced or their mistakes called out to everyone in hearing range.

And you never know what ties you’re severing or possible futures you’re slamming the door on because you just HAD to open your big, fat mouth.

You can be ambitious, you can be clever, you can offer constructive criticism. But when you start making personal attacks or taking joy in tearing something down, it’s time to check yourself.

I’m learning to view my Twitter and social accounts like a stage, with an audience of thousands sitting in front of it. Whatever I spew out there is attributed straight back to my character – and that’s a sobering reminder before tweeting out that I hate someone’s landing page or announce that I’m on to my 3rd beer for the evening.

That’s not who I am. Why would I want to portray myself as otherwise?

I think there’s lots of merit in the idea of stepping away, taking a breather, eating a snack (make sure you’re not just hangry) and moving on with your life.

It’s easy to be critical. It’s tough to either be helpful, or keep your yap shut.

Somethin’ to keep in mind.

You’re On Someone Else’s Rung

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I was watching Unbounce’s PageFights this afternoon, and while I loved the show, I was left feeling a little bummed.

There tends to be two kinds reactions when you see other successful people in your field: Inspiration (how can I get their kind of traction?) or discouragement (why haven’t I already?)

Thinking about my own career trajectory and skill set made me feel a little… small.

I think most people can relate to the idea of wanting to achieve great things in their jobs and personal lives.

So when moments like this come along where you see someone else so good at what they do and so respected, there’s a weird, lingering doubt that creeps in.

You wonder if you’re as good at your job as you’d like to think.

That’s the funny thing with ambition – it can make you feel like a fraud, because you’re never quite where you want to be.

But before I got too caught up in all that unnecessary wallowing, I was reminded of a conversation I stumbled across earlier in the week – two guys chatting back and forth on a forum about a webinar I’d put together.

This comment really struck me:

“Dude is a pro. I don’t know whether to be inspired or discouraged by the level of talent that’s out there.”

Man, I feel the same way!

But it’s a good reminder: While I’m looking up the ladder to the rung I want to be on and seeing all of these top-notch folks with huge influence and years of experience, it’s easy to forget that someone is still looking up the ladder at me, wanting to get where I am.

I have reason to be confident. 

Another mind I look up to – both for her copy and her incredible business sense, is Joanna Wiebe at CopyHackers.

She wrote a great, candid post about loosening the reigns and not taking yourself so seriously, celebrating the wins along the way and not succumbing to self-inflicted pressure.

I’ve got a lot of goals I’ve yet to accomplish:

  • I want to get to the point that I can charge $10,000 for a landing page.
  • I want to be invited to speak at a conference like MozCon.
  • I want to launch an ebook that helps new freelancers make six-figure incomes
  • I want to be invited to collaborate on things like PageFights.

And so on, and so on.

But I’ve already accomplished great things, too:

  • I made more (about 45% more) than my old salary job in my first year of freelancing
  • I did a webinar with Buzzstream that people liked
  • I’ve been invited to write for some pretty great publications
  • I continue to live a lifestyle that allows me to be portable, choose who I want to work with and set my own hours.

So while I might have moments where I feel like I’m not measuring up, I’ve got to try to remind myself that the people I’m comparing myself to have been at this game for years – and there are still people looking up to me.

Just keep doing good work and making big plans. The other stuff will come.

Onward, ho!