How I Went From Freelancer to 6-Figure Business
(The 6 Steps)
table of contents
My first web design project ever was for just $50, that was back in 2008, and while $50 was not a lot of money to build a website that took me almost a month to complete, what was worth a lot was the mind-blowing revelation I had that, out there in this big beautiful world, there are lots of people who are willing to pay me money to provide them with a service.
This was actually the first mind-blowing revelation in what would be a long series of mind-blowing revelations over many years that have transformed me into someone that now has a thriving business and over 50 Employees.
Now, considering it would take me at least 10 hours to explain all of those revelations in detail, let’s do this instead:
In this post, I’m going to cover the top 6 mind-blowing revelations that took me from struggling freelancer to booming business owner.
Let ‘s begin!
1. Master freelancing
If you haven’t already figured out how to be a very successful freelancer, then you’re an idiot if you think you’re going to find success in something that is, at least in theory, much more difficult.
90% of online businesses fail in just the first 120 days of operation. Pretty much all of them are idiots. Don’t be an idiot.
Instead, focus on getting good as a freelancer first. Admittedly, this is less a “mind-blowing” revelation, and more of a disclaimer. When you’re first starting out your priority should be building your skills, gathering positive reviews on Facebook and Google, and building a portfolio of happy clients, you can focus on profit later. Even if you’re charging next to nothing, you still need to learn how to “sell” because your clients will still need a good reason as to why they should invest their time into you.
This marks the “beginning” of you learning how to “sell” yourself, which is what I like to call a “simultaneous” skill for freelancers. In other words, as you get better within your chosen freelance skill, you need to simultaneously be improving your ability to sell yourself at an equal rate, otherwise you’ll never earn what you’re actually worth, and you will certainly never have what it takes to grow and scale a business.
The best way to sell yourself is through your portfolio and social proof, much more on that in a second.
2. Specialize within a niche
When I was first starting out as a designer, I would take every design job I could get my hands on. I did this because, well, I needed the money, but it was also great to get lots of experience in different industries early on.
Now for me, the mind-blowing revelation of just how important it is to specialize in a niche actually came years after I had already started to build a name for myself within the real estate website niche.
With each subsequent website I was charging more money, about $2000 per site at this point, and spending less time, about 2 weeks for each site. At this point I would still get offers to do sites that weren’t in real estate, and I would take them, because I was I didn’t realize that the money I was taking, was actually costing me much more than it was worth.
Let me explain, this all finally clicked when I took an offer for $10000 to build an ecommerce site, I had never been offered that much money for a website before, and the idea to say no did not even cross my mind. But here’s the thing, that freaking site took me at least 10x the amount of time that it took me to build a single $2000 real estate website, so that’s essentially a $10,000 loss right there, but far worse was wow much time had I just essentially wasted on a one-off project that I could have instead spent continuing to develop my skills, accumulating testimonials, and improving my efficiency within the real estate website niche. All of the things that were also contributing to me being able to charge more for those sites and finish them in less time.
As you build your skills, assuming you’re working with lots of different types of clients, you’ll be exposed to different niches. As quickly as you can, focus on one of them.
If you’re going to build a business, you need to combine your expertise of your specific freelance skill, with proficiency within a specific industry or “category” of business. Examples of this could include building websites or providing marketing services to ecommerce websites that use Shopify, online accounting services for doctors or dentists, or helping YouTubers to improve their social media growth.
If you fail to specialize in a niche, as a freelancer or business, you will never be as competitive as the freelancers and businesses you’re competing against who do specialize.
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3. Create systems for repetitive tasks… early
As I built more and more websites within the real estate niche, I realized that many of the tasks I was performing were repetitive. It was a mind-blowing revelation for me when I saw the insane amount of time I could save on each project by creating “systems” for these tasks.
The first system I created was an onboarding system which was basically just
- A form that I’d have my clients fill out
- A dropbox folder where I’d have them upload their logo and any images they wanted to use on the site.
- An email that I’d send to the client explaining all of this.
Seeing the amount of time this saved me, I then went on to create all sorts of systems that allowed me to design their websites faster, a “go live” system to get their sites live on the internet, and then systems that helped me to send cold emails more efficiently to be able to find new clients in the first place.
As you get more and more projects under your belt from within the same niche, you should immediately begin to focus on how you can spend less time on each subsequent project, while delivering an equal or superior result.
When freelancers get “stuck” in freelance, it’s almost always because they either failed to find a niche, failed to set up systems, or a combination of the two.
And here’s the thing, once you’ve found a niche and you’ve built some systems, you now have a business. Granted, it’s a pathetic business, because it only has 1 employee (yourself) and it’s not making money unless you’re actually getting new projects, which brings us to…
4. Predictable income is the best income
Ok so at this point in my freelance career I was earning a good amount of money per project, but I’d have good months and bad months, in freelance terms this is called “feast or famine”, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
Knowing that I had to figure out how to start earning residual income, I started charging all of my clients a $20 monthly hosting fee. It wasn’t a lot, but after I got 10 people paying ($20 x 10 = $200 per month) I had another mind-blowing revelation, I was now predictably earning $2400 per year in income for just hosting someone’s website.
I didn’t have to send hundreds of marketing emails, do product demos, or build a new website for someone. This money was coming in virtually on autopilot.
When the lightbulb clicked on this one the game I was playing suddenly changed from “how can I charge more per site” to “how can I sell more sites so that I can collect more monthly fees”. This led me to develop a low cost real estate website ‘template’ that I could build in just a few hours and boom, each one of these I sold meant another monthly fee.
Within a year my monthly recurring income was now greater than what I had been earning directly through freelance projects!
I promise you that regardless of what your chosen freelance profession is, you can figure out a way to charge a monthly fee, even if it’s a small fee, it’s better than nothing. Multiply that out over months and years and you’ll see that it’s actually a lot better than nothing.
Ok, so by this point I now had a real estate web design business, complete with loads of positive reviews, systems, and recurring income, I was now at the point where if I really wanted to go further, I was going to need employees.
5. The big mental shift: first real employee
For the longest time as a freelancer my mentality was “why would I pay someone to do something that I can do better?” It was so dumb to think this way, and in fact what I’m about to explain is the key mental shift that needs to happen if you’re trying to go from freelancer to business owner.
Now at this point I had hired some low cost workers to do things like data entry, but that doesn’t count. The first real employee is the one that you’re worried about hiring because a huge chunk of the money you bring in, possibly even all of it, is now going to be used to pay them.
For me, it was someone that was going to now take over the design of the websites. Was he as good as me? Of course not, but he was pretty good, and with a bit of training and within just a few months he was now able to take over almost all of the design work that I had previously been doing, clients loved him and were leaving great reviews.
But most importantly, I now had a competent person doing the thing that had previously been taking up the largest percentage of my time, which meant that I was now free to focus that same time on growing the business, which brings us to…
6. Systematically replace yourself
With all of this free time, I now began to spend a lot more time on marketing and lead-gen, the problem was that I was not particularly good at marketing and lead-gen.
It was years before I hired my next employee, I don’t exactly remember why I waited so long, but the next and final mind-blowing revelation I had was that what I should have now been focused on more than anything was hiring people to do the things that I wasn’t good at.
When I finally did hire someone to help me with Google ads, within a single week we now had leads flying in at $25 each and I no longer had to spend 4 hours a day sending emails and making phone calls, which by the way, I could have easily hired someone to do that too.
As you make the shift from freelancer to business owner, you should see hiring within the context of the following question:
“How can I replace myself within the areas of my business that are critically important to growth, and also where I suck?”
When I finally made that shift, that was the moment where my business really began to fly.
It took me 8 years to get to where I am now with over 50 employees, if I had followed the 6 lessons that I laid out in this post, I would have gotten there much faster.
Once again those lessons are:
1. Master freelancing
If you’re not a successful freelancer, it’s all but guaranteed you won’t be a successful business owner. Develop your skills, learn to sell, and build a portfolio and reviews first.
2. Specialize within a niche
By focusing on a single niche you can build a specialized expertise and a “reputation” within that niche that will make it easier to score jobs and charge more.
3. Create systems for repeatable tasks… early
Identify as many repetitive tasks as you can and create systems for them, your goal should be to use systems to decrease the amount of time you’re spending on each subsequent project while producing the same or better results.
4. Predictable income is the best income
Regular freelance work is “feast or famine”, that’s not fun. Get creative and find ways to earn monthly income for each project you complete, even if it’s just a small amount.
5. The big mental shift: your first employee
They don’t have to be “better” than you, although that’s certainly a plus. The first employee needs to be “good enough” to free you up to focus more of your time on things that grow the business.
6. Systematically replace yourself
The idea is to keep hiring people to replace all of the stuff that you’re currently doing so that you can free yourself up more and more to focus almost exclusively on growing the business.
Alright guys as always if you enjoyed the post, feel like you benefited from it, consider sharing it with a freelancer friend who’s trying to get to that next level.
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This is the path. Ciao and cya in the next post.
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