How to Achieve Freedom from Freelance

Freedom

When you’re a freelance creative, adding value depends on your knowledge, skills, and talent alone. It’s easy to think that creative professionals should brand themselves.

Before you choose that route, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you want to be the only resource for customers?
  • Do you want to one day retire and earn passive income?
  • Do you want your small business to grow?

In short, do you really want to create a personal branding prison for yourself?

Some people enjoy being The Man or The Woman. They love the glory and fame of being a professional in demand. That’s perfectly fine, if the limitations and restrictions that result are acceptable consequences of self-branding.

But let’s say you do want to leave the doors open for the future. Let’s say that you’re interested in having a way out of your business that doesn’t involve shutting down the shop for good.

Let’s say the only asset to your business is your brain – what happens then?

Think Product, Not Service

Many creative professionals sell their services. They put all the focus on themselves, the very act of creation. That’s a mistake. It seals the perception that no one else can do what you can – and restricts the growth of your business.

The best answer is to start transferring the focus away from you, the professional. Treat your services like products. Reduce the importance of you, the person accomplishing the task.

Start building the perception that the client receives something tangible when working with you. It doesn’t matter if the client can hold or touch what you created. The client did indeed receive something from you, even if it’s just a feeling that lingers.

You are not your product. You are not your service. The client isn’t walking away with a slice of your brain.

If you want to increase value in your business, stop heaping importance on your own shoulders. Start treating the result as more important than the act of creation.

Extending Faith

When you operate a business, you work hard on establishing a good, solid reputation. That’s what keeps clients coming back to you, right?

Tap into the incredible asset available to you: Established trust.

People already know that you provide something magnificent. They believe in you. They know you can give them what you want. They trust you.

When you extend your own trust and faith to another person, bringing them closer to your business, you transfer some of your customer’s trust to that person. Your clients have faith in you – they’ll have faith in your judgment and be more willing to accept someone else as your equal.

Yes, you’re expanding your business. You’re growing. You’re no longer alone and your partner will work with you to maintain your established brand.

Guess what? You can take a vacation. You can step away. You can bring on more people and create a larger team. You can expand and branch into new services. You can retire. You have backup, a Plan B and an escape.

You achieve freedom.

About the Author: For more advice on how to stop being a creative professional and start being an entrepreneur, drop in at James’ blog, Men with Pens. Better yet, take a vacation from traveling and get the Men with Pens feed.

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  1. I learned this the hard way when I started coaching. You run out of bandwidth pretty quickly.

    There’s a balance between personal branding and your business branding … you can use your personal branding to create the compelling personality that spreads your message, and then let your business brand do the rest.

  2. James, this is even better than your Personal Branding Prison article. I can tell you’re still thinking about this and better explanations have come to you.

    This is a very cogent argument. People who have a need to feel that ego-gratifying importance like a drug will take issue with what you’re saying. And really, it’s probably a little hard to be at peace with this thinking until you’ve already walked a little down the path of finding ways to make it online. People just may not be ready. But when the student is ready, the teacher will indeed appear.

  3. James, It really depends upon the mindset of the individual as you noted, but not always about ego.

    Especially in the the legal profession as a solo practitioner where you have to differentiate yourself and the relationships (the growth of your business) turn on your uniqueness for attraction purposes and then ultimately the result.

    This may shock you. There are many clients who love their attorneys even though they are in prison…many free men who hate their attorneys even though they are free. (too complex for this post) but it has all to do with the individual branding then follow-through.

    I suggest there is a fine balance which allows you to grow and delegate, to not be a prisoner to your brand where only you can do the work…but it is a challenge.

  4. That’s so well put, James. Once again you’ve touched on something that’s essential for any freelancing career. Selective outsourcing of work is one way; creating products that relate to your expertise is another.

  5. This reminds me of the debate over whether or not parents should name their children “So-and-so Junior.” My personal take is, let children have their own names for Pete’s sake.

    Same with businesses – let them flourish without you latching onto them by name.

  6. I agree with the points, but for me it’s easier said than done. If you are really an expert in something, especially in creative professions, it’s not that easy to automate, outsource or train someone do it.

  7. @Bobby, as a coach to creatives I hear exactly what you’ve said more often than not, especially from designers. A great first step is to just get a VA to do the things that CAN be automated. Once you find the freedom in that doing what @Dave Navarro purposed (genius) creating a business brand that is related but separate from your personal brand.
    @James, I will be sharing this post with many a client in the future. Thankyou.

  8. I think also something people need to take a good look at is their company name and web address. I see a lot of websites where the web address is johndoe.com or something.

    Copyblogger can live on even if Brian leaves, however, it couldn’t live on if it was brianclark.com (well, not as good a chance, anyway).

    Here’s the big question and problem: What if you’ve already created a successful business marketing your name and have achieved some level of recognition. Then you decide to change and market your company as a “company” and not your personal name.

    When you do this, you’ll probably lose a little ground you’ve gained. I guess then the challenge is to rebuild some of your lost momentum.

  9. @ Dave – Exactly. We’re a good example of that. We used personal branding to put our style and who we are out there, but at the same time, we’ve always pushed Men with Pens and not James and Harry. It’s a fine balance and well executed, it can have fantastic results.

    @ Michael – Again, you were the inspiration for these posts (and a few more to come in various places around the blogosphere). You’re the perfect example of that lone entrepreneur with something great to offer that will eventually hit a brick wall and burn out – that is, if you don’t plan your strategy now.

    And I agree – on the Internet, it’s damned hard to give up that fame when you reach it. Average people aren’t used to dealing with it and crave the attention.

    @ Susan – I disagree slightly, because lawyers aren’t humble creatures by nature (or at least, that’s our media perception of them). Their brains are their biggest assets, and it’s difficult for them to separate that their brains aren’t the most important thing about securing a business that survives and lives on.

    @ Sharon – For writers, it comes down to this: Sharon writes great work or Get Paid to Write writes great work :)

    @ Buck – Ha, good analogy there!

    @ Bobby – Nothing comes easy in business. It’s a lifelong learning process and takes a lot of thought. But it is really that easy – you may be a fantastic creative professional, but the world is full of people just like you. We love to think we’re *that* unique, but we really aren’t.

    OR! We can be that unique, and teach people.

    @ Melissa – Sharing’s a good thing. Thank you for the kind words :)

  10. @ John – If you’ve made the mistake of too-personal branding and need to switch, you lose a bit of momentum. But it’s one step back, two forward, because the payoffs always exceed the loss.

    Case in point: Men with Pens. (I love using us as an example)

  11. Great post, James! I especially like “Start treating the result as more important than the act of creation.”

    Using a name as a brand can be done–consider David Ogilvy. That name still carries tremendous weight (and it’s still a great agency, I’ve worked with them) after Ogilvy’s death. He took a particular way of doing things and imprinted that firmly on the people working for him. His role was as a leader and spokesman for the organization he created.

    The key, I think, is transmitting the values and skills that make you successful to an organization. The more you can transmit to others, the bigger you can grow. It’s very hard to do, but it can be done.

  12. @James, sorry, I don’t get it. I’d NEVER hire Men With Pens for writing services if I heard you were no longer associated with that company.

    I’d hire YOU at your new entity.

    I’m wrestling with these same issues in my biz. I’m a sports coach who works in a fashion substantially different from most of my peers. Namely, I’m selling my distinctive brain.

    How I might form alliances to outsource work is not obvious to me…

  13. James, I think this is a struggle that many solopreneurs are facing. I agree that even if in the present you have no desire to expand, manage a team or have your business continue when you close shop, this strategy works. By placing the focus on the product it frees you to bring in others as needed. Many people have created a job rather than a business and then find they are in the same bondage they were in working for someone else. Creating a business require a different mindset as you have so clearly articulated.

  14. @James & #13 Mark

    This is what happens with lawyers. If a lawyer is at a big firm, because often he is the only contact with the client, when he leaves the client goes with him. This is what large law firms are creating ‘teams’ so the client says I work at Bigger, Bigger and Best.

    That relationship happens with a solo practitioner as well.

    Yet, in defense of James’ position, if it is done right and the each individual in the team provides the same quality services, results, customer orientation, then the company is the individual and the individual is free.

    But it is very difficult to achieve while plying your trade.

  15. I’d NEVER hire Men With Pens for writing services if I heard you were no longer associated with that company.

    It’s funny, but I’ve dealt with that a bit here at Copyblogger. But now James and Sonia are welcomed by the community as “part of” Copyblogger.

    In a year, will anyone think of Copyblogger as solely “Brian Clark’s blog?” I don’t think so… it takes time, but it’s worth doing.

    With my other sites, I keep myself behind the scenes right from the start so I never have to deal with this issue!

  16. Creating a business from scratch means developing a name for yourself as a result of deep understanding of the market and the customer. Eventually a business grows beyond the capacity of the founder to manage continued growth.

    At that point, the founder needs to learn to replicate or the business may die.

    The lessons in your article apply to so many fields. Such great advice, James.

  17. Brian,

    Ironically, this is what I’m doing with Solo Practice University. It’s strength will be the community and faculty but initially people are being attracted to participate because of what I created up front with Build A Solo Practice where my name lent the blog credibility.

  18. @Brian, interestingly (perhaps)–and I doubt it’s rare–I apply a very stringent filter to yours and other sites that feature a roster of contributors with a range of voices.

    My eyes roll and I contemplate (briefly–until I recall whose voices I’d miss) unsubscribing when hucksters have the microphone, like on May 13th…

  19. @ Mark – You can hire me any day you’d like ;)

    But think on this. Say that you got to know me. Say we built a relationship and you learned that I’m slow to trust others but that when I say someone is ace, everyone knows it’s because that slow trust has been well earned.

    So they perceived Ace to be ace because James said so.

    Eventually, I tell you, “Mark, I’ll be slowly retiring over the next six months. I’d like you and me to start working with Ace, as he’ll be taking over your account.”

    You’re not happy about it, but you trust me. And you trust my judgment, so you agree to possibly trust Ace.

    And eventually, you work with Ace while James goes and drinks tequila on the beach earning a cut of the profits of his business.

    Now, that can also happen quite quickly, but that’s a good example why NEVER is a really big word.

    Also, I’m glad you noticed my name and decided to keep reading ;)

  20. @ James – sorry, a little off topic but the picture for this article cracks me up, especially after reading your last comment in reply to Mark.

    I imagine that’s you in the picture saying, “I’m FREEEE” and then heading off to Mexico to drink that tequila. LOL

  21. John, now that’s funny, for two reasons:

    1. I think that picture is post-tequila.

    2. The picture is of a female.

  22. LOL – I bet you didn’t know James turns into a girl who jumps through the air after he’s had a few shots, did you? ;)

  23. “When you are your brand.” This is the puzzle that creatives confront. I’ll toss out the House of Chanel here. Coco Chanel became the most influential fashion designer of the twentieth century. Why? Because she liked to go to the south of France, but she didn’t like wearing corsets. Her original solutions to that very problem became an iconic look of elegance and class for the woman who wanted to be appropriately, but comfortably dressed. Set free if you will. It is the House of Chanel. Coco is gone. But everything that still comes from 21 Rue Cambon has her mark and personal influence on it. Every person involved at Chanel knows what it’s about. Look at the current commercial, Winona Ryder as Coco Channel in a red silk dress. Check out that bob. Historical context on that one. Vintage Chanel.
    So the question to ponder for creatives is what part of our jobs, can spin off assets? And what is the distinctive “it” that makes our brand? It’s worth some examination. Cause I like the South of France too. If we did not want freedom, what are we doing freelancing? And are we just creating a job? Non. Pas moi.
    Oops. Sorry the comment is so long.

  24. My hair isn’t that long.

  25. Note that comment #25 came from a “JC” with a surname indicating French descent AND a female given name.

    A mischievous mind might reach interesting conclusions, reading that immediately on the heels of the prior 3 comments.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist ;)

  26. DAMMIT! Discovered!!

    Alright, alright, so that’s me in the picture. Brian’s really my husband and Teaching Sells funds our tequila habit.

    I’m sorry, Brian. Will you still love me in the morning? (You *did* choose the picture, I’ll note. I told you not to.)

  27. You know, this gives me an idea and relates to something someone said the other day on Men with Pens.

    Every Sunday James and Harry do a “Drive-By Shooting” where they critique a website requested by its owner.

    Someone mentioned in the comment section, “I’d like to be roasted.” He really meant he’d like his website reviewed and critiqued under an expert’s eye, but we all got a laugh thinking about a roast.

    So – just a brainstorm. What about a “roasting” of a few of the authors on Copyblogger? I bet there’d be a lot of comments (where the people roast).

    Has there been a blogging roast before and I’m already late to this idea?

    I suppose Brian, James, Sonia, etc. would actually have to warm up to the idea.

    ….just a thought of something different and sorry I’ve gotten a little off topic.

  28. Okay, tequila coming out of MY nose at that one Mark! ooh La LA….

  29. jonson roth :

    Excellent article, but let me present another side. Freelancers tend to be solitary, entrepreneurs not so much. If you freelance and don’t self-brand, you suffer. If you want to expand beyond freelancing and be an entrepreneur, that’s great, and this article does an excellent job of speaking to that type of person. But being a successful entrepreneur requires a whole different mindset.

    What’s more, once you switch from freelancer to entrepreneur, there’s a significant change in overall synergy. I know from observation (witnessing and experiencing) that some clients want you no matter what and will not be happy with a “replacement”. (You have to learn to detect that and handle that client yourself, if necessary.) What’s more, your product brand changes as soon as you have new people. It’s inevitable.

    For example, when Copyblogger stopped being Brian Clark quite a long time ago, I wasn’t happy. (Same thing happened with Problogger.) Is Copyblogger still good reading? Yes, but it’s not “Brian Clark’s” Copyblogger anymore. Hasn’t been since I can’t remember when and probably never will be again.

    Is that okay? Maybe. It all depends on whom you ask. It’s kind of like coitus interruptus. Brian is not here as often to give me that mental orgasm that Brian Clark’s Copyblogger gave me. (Not to say that your loving touch doesn’t tickle my fancy, James.)

    In my experience (although that doesn’t make me right), most freelancers are not entrepreneurs. It takes a rare person to go from solitary mindset to working successfully with a partner or three. And if you’re going to brand product instead of yourself, you have to work with others.

    Now here’s a question: How successfully can you build a brand online consisting of several people that are geographically displaced, in a “world” where there’s no functional hierarchy?

  30. @ Jonson – I’m confused.

    A freelancer is someone who operates a self-employed business working independently with clients. An entrepreneur is someone who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.

    An entrepreneur does not mean someone in a joint venture or partnership.

    A freelancer IS an entrepreneur. A freelancer IS running a business venture.

    But you’re right. Until people wake up and figure that out, it’s all hell in a handbasket.

    As for successfully building a brand with geographically displaced people in a virtual world, let me ask you this:

    How can you *not* achieve that successful brand?

    (Thank you. I do aim to please and satisfy.)

  31. I have to agree with Jonson on this. There is a big difference between selling your services and selling a product, between freelancing and running another sort of business.

    As a freelance copywriter, I’m the hired gun people want. I can farm out design or other tasks, I can even sell products, but I can’t stop selling my services or myself. If people thought I wasn’t the guy writing the copy, they would stop hiring me.

    Is there limited bandwidth? Absolutely. But you can make many hundreds of thousands a year with the available bandwidth, so it’s not at limited as some would assume, unless you think billing $500 an hour is limited. I make more than most lawyers.

    The top freelance copywriters write their own copy. Other businesses attract clients in a quasi agency fashion and farm it out to others. I guess you have to choose which way you want to go, but they’re not the same and I think it’s not accurate to suggest that one should try to achieve “freedom” from freelancing.

    Freelancing is what most writers these days aspire to.

  32. Jonson-maybe you would have to call them constellations instead of hierarchies, or better, galaxies.
    Organized around a primary intensely sought vibration or radiance, that is a brand.

  33. @ Dean –

    The top freelance copywriters write their own copy. Other businesses attract clients in a quasi agency fashion and farm it out to others.

    I think you’d be surprised to learn that there are different types of business models. You make it sound quite black or white (and very dirty) – either you’re top and you write your own copy or you suck and you farm it out.

    That’s quite a limited view. I’m very glad that I don’t suck. And that I’m not arrogant.

    Freelancing is what most people aspire to these days, yes – and they screw it up. They overload themselves. They become unhappy. Their families suffer. They spend too much time scrambling. They fail. They become overwhelmed.

    THAT’S what people want freedom from – go ask any freelancer out there if these conditions aren’t issues.

    Because not everyone can earn more than most lawyers. And many people also don’t want to. Money isn’t a measure of worth to many people.

  34. Thanks for the interesting article James. I’ve struggled with the question of branding. I don’t push PoeWar as a personal site. I could see someone else taking it over with only minimal disruption. I could hand it off easily. Unfortunately, by not pushing myself as a brand, if I were to release a book, my name would not carry as much weight as it would if I were front and center on my site. Because I do want to start selling books through the site at some point soon, I have begun to personalize it a bit more, but I have yet to commit either way.

  35. Dean- that makes sense. But I have a question. I am curious. Why did you choose to Direct Creative, instead of Dean Reick ?

  36. The cool thing about having your own shop is you can set it up the way you want. If you love the life of a hired gun, that is a great thing.

    But there are also clearly a good number of freelancers out there who are burned out, exhausted, and would like some way to multiply themselves so they can pay the bills and still have more time for themselves, their families, goofy side projects, etc.

    I think it’s a shame when freelancers want to move to something bigger, but hold back because they think they’re “just not entrepreneurs.” Despite the assertions to the contrary, one can learn to run a successful business. It’s a skill like many others, not a gift handed by the gods on Olympus.

    Now if I had the chops to bill $500 an hour, maybe I would be less interested in coming up with a product. But I fall into what I think is the mainstream here–I can pay my mortgage & feed my kid & cats on what I make, but now I’m looking for a way to do a little better than that without putting 20 more hours a week in. And I want to know that my family will be in good financial shape if anything happened that stopped me from doing my thing.

    So sure, there’s an alternate position, and my hat is off to those for whom freelancing is the perfect answer. I still think James’ frame of thinking in terms of a product rather than a service is a really interesting lens to at least look through.

  37. What Sonia just said is a really important point in this discussion: what happens to you if you get sick or have an accident and wind up in the hospital? Or worse? What happens to your family? That’s not just unfortunate–it’s stupid if you don’t do something about it.

    When you’ve built up an online media property as an asset and are dealing in productized services, it can run of its own accord without you for a period of time (and maybe forever).

    You can do this and have perfectly satisfied customers. You set up the processes. You hire the right people. You train them and seed them with your vision. You approve the work or send it back. You don’t need to be slaving away as though you are your own overworked boss and lowly employee all rolled into one.

  38. If people thought I wasn’t the guy writing the copy, they would stop hiring me.

    I think Clayton Makepeace and a bunch of other top direct response copywriters would disagree with this. They scale up nicely by having others do the writing, while they maintain client relationships and generate the big ideas and provide guidance.

    The key for me is not clients or products, but media properties and continuity revenue. I think the overall point is to create a relationship with a brand rather than a person.

    I too make more than most lawyers (much more than when I was one). I also don’t have clients, because I’m not eager to sell my time for a one-time fee no matter what the hourly rate.

  39. Brian,

    I didn’t know you were a recovering attorney? Makes for a very interesting perspective on branding and removing oneself from the brand as well as the discussion regarding time for money.

  40. “because I’m not eager to sell my time for a one-time fee no matter what the hourly rate.”

    Leveraging. It all is a matter of leveraging. One hour of production can work for us once or we can find a way to “syndicate” that hour of production. We create once, negotiate distribution deals, and the residuals keep that original hour working for us many times over.
    Then we get to go to the south of France.

  41. jonson roth :

    James: I guess there’s no in-between word to clarify. I don’t think of “freelancers” as “entrepreneurs” in the same sense as an entrepreneur who expands his/her business by hiring employees and delegating work. A true entrepreneur does much more than freelance. Maybe it’s the risks they take that distinguishes them. I don’t know at which exact point a freelancer becomes an entrepreneur, but I do know the average freelancer isn’t one (at least not yet).

    Sonia: Don’t be so sure you’re not worthy. In my experience, the companies charging $500/hr often hire the juniors out at peanuts and assign them. It happens more often than it should.

  42. I’m glad you emphasized the importance of freedom in this discussion, since it really is the top goal in the first place. Too often beginning freelancers forget this as they move out on their own although it’s the driving force behind their hard work.

  43. This is a lesson I tried to take from my former company when I quit my job to start writing full time. But it’s definitely still a challenge. I’m very busy with clients, and I often think of slowly adding people, which would start to create an entity vs. just a person. But I know my clients really look to my style and writing to fill their copy needs. And frequently I am asked to come in to fix what another freelance copywriter did. So how can I find someone I trust?

  44. Thanks for your achieve freedom of choice and this strategy works. By placing the focus on the product it frees you to bring in others as needed. Many people have created a job rather than a business

  45. Hey–there’s an erroneous www in the reader portion of where the link is under the men with pens feed. Git rid of this man..!

  46. @ GCJ – What!? Omigod! Who administers this site! I demand my money back! Where’s the manager? I want to talk to someone in charge!

    (oops… old www habits die hard…sorry…)

  47. Fixed.

    And I’m sure James has already gone back to the Word document he sent me and sheepishly realizes that’s the way he typed it. :-)

  48. Just trying to pitch in.

    How many subscribers were lost with this nonsense?

  49. @ GCJ – Brian most likely didn’t lose any. (I prefer not to think about how many I might have lost.)

    @ Brian – I am valiantly trying to pretend I meant to do do that.

  50. @jonson, I didn’t say I wasn’t worthy. :) But someone like Dean has a very distinct skill set, acquired through thousands of hours and a lot of dedication. I haven’t done the particular work he has, and I wouldn’t presume to set myself on the same level professionally, doing what he does.

    I happen to think I kick a mile of ass at what *I* do, and I have a lot of hours and dedication logged myself, but it’s different work and has a different market, and monetizing it will look different for me than it does for Dean.

  51. Great stuff here James. I am in this same boat and have found very quickly pretty much that peole pay more for things when they realize what THEY get out of it – not that I’m just so smart. They don’t pay alot fo rr ME, but they do pay when it’s to their benefit.

  52. I think my comment has been misunderstood.

    I was trying to point out that freelancing and other sorts of business are all different animals.

    The article by James makes it sound like freelancing is a trap and you need a way to escape…and that you should evolve into another sort of business model. Well, if you want something different fine. But there’s nothing wrong with freelancing. Nor is there anything wrong with doing both.

    What James is describing is being an “entrepreneur.” But most freelancers are “propreneurs.” That is, professionals who do something well and can earn good money for it. Most, in my experience, WANT to do the thing they do well, not escape from it.

    To each his own. It’s great to have choices. But I see no reason to try to make comparisons as if one is good and one is bad. Try one. Try the other. Or try both.

  53. I don’t even have my brand solidified and I struggle with the “personal branding prison”! I have 3 different ventures, all with different “brand” identities and am already getting burnt out.