Seth Godin and I have never met, but we seem to agree on one thing: Freelancers are not the same as entrepreneurs, just as much as entrepreneurs are not the same as small business owners. I just spoke at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference with my long-time colleague Jeanette Hurt about passive income for freelance writers. Godin just released Freelancers, an episode to his excellent podcast Akimbo. Here's what he said:
Entrepreneurs get paid when they sleep. They create something bigger than themselves. A freelancer, on the other hand, gets paid when she works.
He could have been on my panel (Seth, consider it an open invitation for next year). Most freelancers I know through friendship or coaching are trying to financially scale their business. The problem is that you doing the work isn't scalable. There is only one you. Small business owners often have the same dilemma, which is why we are often the worst bottleneck in our own system.
Why? Most of us became independent creators or business owners because we love doing the work. To have more security, though, you have to give up some of the work. You have to fall more in love with serving your audience.
Focus on outcome, not on process
At the conference, Jeanette and I talked about scrapping the one-and-done: Creating a one of a kind, bespoke experience for the customer. It's doesn't mean slapping something generic and pushing it to your fanbase. Rather, it is doing the upfront work - the research, the feedback loop and the legwork - to understand what your customers need the most, then creating a universal experience to feed them on as many levels as possible.
The problem is that many of us feel guilty for not customizing everything for each and every customer.
Here's a brief example: I wrote The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur, which became a best-seller, so I expanded it into a trilogy. I was asked to speak, and that turned into media appearances, college and corporate talks, and conference stages. Audience members asked for coaching and that started my one-on-one calls. Most recently, my audience wanted more insight, but didn't want to commit to a coaching schedule, so I created a self-guided bootcamp. All were based on the same seed of information: The original Bite-Sized Entrepreneur book. Both the books and the bootcamps provide income even when I'm not working.
Guilt can stop us from delivering the same experience in different ways, as if the creativity police will come arrest us for approaching the same idea at unique angles. But what about the audience? If you listen to what they need instead of your own need to prove your worth, then you can shift your mindset from single serve items to passive income creations that multiply your revenue.
Create a category of one
The second big barrier to freelance success is the fear of not getting work, which really stems from a fear of not being approved by the check writers. I've done entire keynotes on this concept, but the best defense is this: Become a category of one. Godin says it perfectly in his latest podcast. I argued it in my latest book, The Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur, in the appropriately-named chapter Bulletproof.
The more you do business to make sure you bring in a certain level of mass appeal, the less distinctive your mark on your industry. The less distinctive your mark, the more you commoditize your business - and make yourself replaceable by any other, likely cheaper competitor.
The cost, as I talked about before, is all upfront. It is the rejections from potential customers, because the more original you are, the more likely people won't accept you right away. It is the outreach in understanding your ideal customer and making sure that they - not everyone, but they - are getting served. Then you can't be replaced, and that will be reflected in what people will pay you.
I support non-traditional entrepreneurs, the side hustlers, the solopreneurs, the creative people with packed family lives and day jobs. I'm not for the Zuckerbergs, Speigels and Musks of the world, even if I could have been around when they were just starting out. My audience is narrow, which, as Godin argues, has primed me for success. It's back to Kevin Kelly's 1000 True Fans.
The first key is to not work harder than your audience actually wants you to. The second key is to focus your audience enough so that you know who to care about. Then you may still be a freelancer, but also may have a toe in entrepreneurship, since you will be developing something that could scale beyond you.
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