Back in 2009 when I was forcibly pushed out of the 9-to-5 nest into the world of freelancing, I had a number of mental hangups that slowed me down, at least at the beginning. The three that I cover in this blog post might be very new to some and very familiar to others. Regardless, I want you to earn what you’re worth.
Whether you’re new to selling your creativity and skills or have already generated significant revenue, you’ve surely encountered the stereotype of the starving artist. Many talented writers, designers, and photographers get stuck in a perpetual cycle of either being flush with cash or scraping by. Financial stability eludes them.
Why is that? Is there something inherent to selling art and creativity, some tragic flaw in human nature, that prevents creatives from making a great living?
The Field of Dreams Fallacy
“Starvation” has very little to do with the work itself—that is, crafting copy or taking photos. Rather, it is tied to a false belief, what I call the “Field of Dreams” fallacy: “If you build it, they will come.”
What works in a movie plot involving a baseball diamond in a cornfield in Iowa newly populated with ghosts doesn’t work in business. (Sorry if I burst your bubble.)
Of course, you can build it. But “they”—that is, cool clients with healthy budgets— most certainly will not come. Why? Because they don’t yet know, like, and trust you.
Do a Google search for “know like trust John Jantsch” for more on that school of thought. Or you can start here.
Marketable Skills Don’t Market Themselves
Though I would wholeheartedly recommend that you pursue excellence and attain the highest level of craftsmanship possible, quality alone won’t grow your bank account.
Photo Credit: Dustin Lee via Unsplash
To earn what you’re worth, you must begin to differentiate between doing the work (i.e., pushing pixels and slinging code) and running a business (e.g., branding, positioning, marketing, pricing, sales, production, fullfillment, and customer care).
Marketable skills don’t market themselves. The skillset that got you into business won’t necessarily help you grow your business. What got you here won’t get you there.
Business smarts, not selling better stuff, will enable you to meet your financial and lifestyle goals.
Smart Business Starts With the Right Mindset
When I ponder why my income has grown significantly over the last seven years, I can identify three crucial shifts in perspective that set me up to succeed at business instead of fail.
How you view yourself, your work, and your relationships with clients can either leave you stranded in the realm of struggling, jaded freelancers or convey you to the magical orchard of money trees.
Shift #1 – Be a businessperson who sells art, not just an artist adrift in the business world.
How you answer this question will influence the decisions you make. Artists sometimes struggle to let go of imperfections, but businesspeople know that perfection is a luxury at best and an impossibility at worst.
Sometimes you run out of time and have to ship something you know isn’t perfect. People buy real products with flaws, not perfect imaginary ones.
Nine times out of ten, perfection keeps you poor. And that tenth time, it won’t necessarily make you more money.
Do great work, of course, but recognize that those “necessary” delays can quickly degenerate into diminishing returns. If Version 5.0 will make you the same amount of money as Version 2.1, should you keep waiting to ship what you’ve got?
Artists stall. Businesspeople ship. Give yourself permission to be the latter.
(By the way, if this type of pragmatic thinking rubs you the wrong way, then that’s a good sign you’re not earning what you’re worth.)
Shift #2 – Be a problem-solver, not just a specialist.
This question relates not to your view of yourself but to your view of your work.
Specialists only charge for the one or two tasks or services that fall within their skillset: “Do you want a website built with Expression Engine? Good. I can help you with that.”
By contrast, problem-solvers focus on their clients’ goals: What would you like to see happen? What’s the ideal outcome? What would be a home run?
You work alongside the client to chart a course and design the means for getting there. Maybe you figure out that the client needs to generate leads with some flagship content, such as a training course delivered via email. Maybe the shortest path to the client’s goal doesn’t involve a new website with Expression Engine.
For me, the key to stepping off that feast-or-famine rollercoaster was having more than two services to sell. I stopped identifying (and introducing) myself as a writer, and I started saying, “I help people sell stuff.” And later, “I help businesses grow, and I make problems go away.” I stopped selling web content and started selling solutions.
Now I can almost always find a way to help a prospective client. In fact, I now turn business away.
Shift #3 – Sell a positive outcome, not just your speciality product.
And if the client ends up needing stuff you can’t provide, then you can do what I did: hire a specialist, add your profit margin to whatever quote she sends you, and sell that higher quote to your client. This is called a convenience charge. The client pays you to manage the project and free him up to focus on other things.
Be a trusted advisor, not a vendor.
Vendors wait for a call. Vendors worry about their pricing and competition. They commoditize their services, or they try to sell a process. They worry about having enough business because the guy down the street is charging less.
Advisors focus on outcomes more than the process. They receive calls from their clients. They sell based on trust, not the market or what their competition is doing. They receive calls from their clients. Advisors work mostly through referrals and a network of relationships. They sometimes turn new businesses away to better serve their existing clients.
If they can’t figure it out on their own, they’ll find someone who can. They don’t have to be good at everything because they recognize that “owning” a relationship is more valuable than selling people stuff they don’t necessarily need.
Do you serve your client’s best interests or your own? Do you believe that you can find a win-win if you just look hard enough? Is doing the right thing more important to you than money?
Good. You’re well on your way to becoming an advisor, and making more money.
I still on occasion hear other friends who work in the creative industry say things like, “Well, that’s just the way freelancing goes.” Yes, the feast-or-famine roller coaster is the way freelancing goes. For some people. But not for everyone. Not for you. You’re going to bypass that defeatist attitude, say, “Why not me?”, and earn what you’re worth.
There you have it, folks.
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