Earlier on in the week, I wrote the third part in a series about building a freelance empire.
Essentially, the article started with some advice for people who go for high end freelance clients – and said to bear in mind that if you’re hunting unicorns, some days you’re going to go hungry.
In other words, if you’re charging the equivalent of hundreds an hour, there are going to be times when clients are hard to come by because not every business or person will spend that much.
So, it’d be prudent to suggest you might need a backup plan for when times get lean.
What Most Gurus (And Sensible People) Will Tell You
Most gurus will tell you “live life on your terms and you’ll find a way.” Or other such mumbo-jumbo that’ll have you quibbling over whether to buy ten-penny noodles at your local discount store. This is obviously not good advice. Be smart people, otherwise you’re going to fall into the trap of the sensible person.
The sensible person is going to tell you to get your job, keep your job and don’t leave it until some mythical point where you have enough to sustain yourself. This is sort of good advice – certainly better than the average guru “Quit your job and move to Asia with only a dream and your willpower… and my ebook of course!”
That said, it’s of limited usefulness in my opinion.
(Take this next paragraph or so with a pinch of salt. I’ve always been self-employed, so the fine details of working for someone else are a bit beyond me.)
If you’re a high-end freelancer and people are throwing thousands of pounds at you, I imagine it to be very difficult to reach their expectations and have a backup job. If you’re working a strict 9-5 with a commute and everything, you have maybe three hours to work if you’re burning the candle at both ends.
Quick turnaround? Difficult.
Last minute calls? Forget it.
Add to that a lot of your clients will expect you to be available during office hours, and your boss is hardly going to be ok with you taking calls for another job… I mean, I know people do this, but I’m not sure it’s recommendable.
Some people suggest creative/freelance types get a job at McDonalds or Starbucks or whatever because it’s part time and you can do your actual career around it. In theory I guess it’s cute, although if anyone has actually got it to work, I’d be interested to hear that, because I don’t know anyone who has.
So What Do You Do?
Alright, back up jobs… not a great idea, although inevitable for most people who are working already and whatnot. No problem there if you’re transitioning into freelance/entrepreneurship.
Whatever you do, don’t quit your job on a hope and prayer, and I’d strongly advise not just quitting college to go to another country with no money or plan. I know some guys do it, but the risk/reward ratio is a little off.
Do all of those things after you know what you’re doing. That’ll tie in nicely with high-end freelancing, which co-incidentally you need to know what you’re doing before you attempt too.
Do low level freelancing, writing books, starting mini-businesses while you have your job. I wouldn’t recommend approaching a super-affiliate and asking for $10k for a project that you’re going to have to tell your McDonalds manager you’re sick for, but writing a few sales letters on UpWork is good.
I’ve written loads about getting started; work your way up, learn the ropes and all that good stuff.
Back Up Plan
I want to talk about something different in this article. That’s the “back up” plan.
No freelancers talk about this. Most entrepreneurs talk about it in aforementioned fuzzy terms.
Your back up plan should consist of a couple of things:
- Scaling up
- Scaling sideways
- Maintaining education
- Filling in the blanks down the chain.
I’ll talk about those quickly; having written them out though, I realise that there are multiple articles to write about each of these.
The biggest mistake I’ve made in my freelancing career is settling. I settled with writing content mill stuff. Then I settled with getting underpaid for sales letters. You should constantly look for better paid opportunities and more access to better networks. It’s not a backup plan per se. but you’ll reach a certain point where if you’re not doing A then you’re potentially doing B.
For example, if you’re not writing direct response marketing copy you’re still able to run consultations for affiliate marketers or whatever, and on a per hour basis you can make as much or more doing that.
I wrote in this article that you can become an authority in multiple niches just by outworking people. Very few copywriters write in multiple niches. I do. I’ve even used pen names in the past to avoid looking like a jack of all trades.
Pulp fiction writers of the past used to do this; a horror writer would never be taken seriously as a romance writer. But some of these writers were putting out a novel a week; far too quickly for their single-genre publishers to deal with. So they just wrote in a different genre, used a pseudonym and pumped out novel after novel.
You can do this with copy, freelancing or anything. If you’re a master web designer then you can work in all kinds of niches doing different things.
If you’re doing both of the above, then you’re going to expose yourself to a lot of different businesses and ideas. You’ll gain a lot of knowledge; sometimes it’ll be niche knowledge that nobody knows about.
You’ll find gaps in the market easily.
Now, most freelancers don’t bother exploring any of these options. “I’m a freelance writer, why do I care about legal qualifications” or “I’m a solo-entrepreneur, why would I need to know project management?”
Most people think you need ten years of experience and a degree to get jobs in those fields, but you can get fully recognised qualifications in those fields for a few hundred pounds. (Less if you’re willing to go far outside the norm.) The same is true with a lot of things; you can get accounting and finance qualifications, law qualifications and more.
This not only makes you smarter, but you’re a more attractive freelancer and it adds to your back up credentials. A medical copywriter with qualifications in financial accounting is never going to be broke, even if copywriting is outlawed tomorrow.
Filling In The Blanks Downwards
You work for high end clients, but you should absolutely provide something for everyone. If you bill $1000 an hour, then obviously you can’t give people the same service for $10. But you can write a book. You can create a course or get someone to do it for you. License products and sell merchandise or give people a taster session or run hourly consulting gigs at a discount for veterans.
The options are virtually unlimited and all of those little sources of income together make a pretty big and powerful back up plan.
When people talk about investing, they rarely talk about a “backup plan.” Instead, they talk about investing wide and diversifying their portfolios.
In other words, having many small baskets instead of one big one.
In careers, people far too often put all of their eggs in a single basket. What’s more, people expect it. You can tell someone you’re trying to become a rapper, and they’ll understand that. It’s stupid and risky, but people are more willing to accept that as a career decision than something like you saying “Well I run fifty websites and they provide residual income.”
Even though one is totally viable and the other is not exactly a stellar career choice, people are fixed in the “eggs in one basket” camp.
As a freelancer, you need to have multiple baskets. You need to explore the various plans and have as many revenue streams and contingency plans as possible.
Oh, and you should also get high-end clients as well.