This is the speech I wrote for the session I hosted at WordCamp Seattle on Sunday, October 30th 2016.
*Note: This speech has been written from the perspective of me on stage speaking to an audience rather than being formatted specifically for readers of my blog. I will however be releasing a re-written version of this post soon and if you’d be interested in reading that instead then please sign up for my newsletter.
Thank you. — Thanks for sticking around and sharing an hour of your time with me this afternoon. I know these last few sessions on Sunday’s aren’t the easiest to make it to, so thanks for sticking around to hang out with me today.
Like Chris said, my name is Nathan Reimnitz but online I go by a far less German — and much easier to spell — alias, Nathan Ello.
Now, before we dive into this session I think it’s important that we all get to know one another… And I suppose since I’m the one up here on stage that I should probably go first.
So, let’s get to know me… Well, I’ve been a developing websites for a little over 10 years now, and here’s what my personal journey as a developer has looked like.
The very first projects I worked on 10 years ago were all Dreamweaver and Flash… As the years passed on I’d moved over to Joomla and if you fast forward a few more years I’d finally made my way over to WordPress.
Now, I’m just like many of you (or at least I assume I am), and so even when I’m not getting paid to sit in front of the computer you’d probably still find me there anyways… And that’s why I’ve also included Xcode, since iOS game development is something I’m equally passionate about, and in my spare time I enjoy developing mobile games as well.
But hey, we’re not here to talk about passion projects today now are we? So let’s get back down to business…
Over the last 10 years I’ve worked as both a freelancer as well as a few “real jobs” — as my parents call them — employed by various creative agencies throughout the United States.
But today I don’t have a “real job” — and what I mean by that is that I’m not building websites from someone else’s desk, nine-to-five. — Instead, I’m a full-time freelancer — and what that means is that I’m able to earn my living by helping clients solve their WordPress problems from the comfort of my home.
Okay, enough about me already, now it’s my turn to get to know you…
First off, I’m curious how many of you sitting here today have earned at least some money over the last 12 months, as a freelancer?
If you’ve solved at least 1 problem for 1 client and you got paid to do it, then please put your hand up.
— Wow, take a look around, almost everyone in the room has their hand up…
Okay, let’s try one more — this time I’m looking for those of you who’ve had a “real job” over the last 12 months.
If you’ve been the employee in the employee/employer relationship within the last 12 months, Please raise your hand – and please keep your hands up for just a moment…
Now, if you’d have any interest in earning more money to solve the same (or similar) problems while simultaneously gaining more freedom over your schedule then please put your hand down.
— Take another look around, it’s no surprise that there’s no hands left in the air, right? We’re all okay with getting a raise and having a more flexible schedule — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
And I’m no exception to the rule here either, my hand is down too. Heck, if you’d asked me the same question a year ago I’d have been the first guy in this room with his hand down.
Honestly you’d probably have heard my hand go down from across the room too…
You’re telling me you’ve got a recipe for success in which I can solve the same (or similar) tasks while earning more money and having more control over my schedule?
That recipe sure sounds like it could change the trajectory of my life forever. — I’m listening.
So, that’s exactly why I’m here today… I’m here to share with you the tips, tricks, and strategies I’ve personally implemented which have allowed me to transition from the world of full-time employment to full-time freelancing — successfully.
So, if you are currently an employee my goal here today is to help you develop a strategy that will allow you to make the same transition as I did, from employee to freelancer.
And if you’re already a freelancer then my goal here today is to help you earn more money.
Now, this session is called six-figure freelancing and as you probably imagined I’m here to talk about something that’s often a heavily-guarded secret and taboo topic in our society…
Money… I’m here to talk about money.
Specifically, how you can take home at least one-hundred-thousand dollars (six figures) per year as a freelance designer, developer, or whatever field you happen to be an expert in.
Now, if there’s one thing you learn about me today I hope it’s this…
I believe transparency trumps secrecy.
So, with that said, let me be fully transparent with you…
Here’s my take-home earnings as a freelancer over the last 12 months.
As you can see, I’ve managed to bring home just south of $166K since October 2015.
Now, if you made less money than this over the last 12 months, I’d like you to stick around, I honestly believe I can teach you something during this session that will help you earn more money over your next 12 months.
And if you made more money than this over the last year, I’d like you to stick around as well. After this session let’s connect, I’d love to buy you a coffee (or maybe something stronger).
Okay, so before we dive head-first into answering “how” to earn this much money as a freelancer it’s important we take a step back and set some goals…
Now obviously we know that we’re striving for the $100K mark per year which translates to a little over $8,300 per month — but these are huge, elephant-sized numbers, and we have to eat this elephant one-bit at a time.
In order to do this, we need to break our these numbers down into smaller, bite-sized, goals starting with weekly then drilling down to daily and even hourly goals.
You’ll notice the asterisk next to the daily goal and the question marks under hourly because these goals will fluctuate a bit depending on how much (or little) you actually plan to spend working.
For example, if your goal is to earn $8,300 next month you need to ask yourself do I plan to work every single day, or do I only want to work Monday through Friday? There’s no wrong answer.
Once you’ve decided how many days you’d like to work the next step is to figure out how many hours you’d like to work each day. These examples are based off 8-hours of paid work but if you decide you’d like to work just 4 hours a day then all you need to do is double these numbers.
Or, if you’re more inclined to work just 2 hours per day you’ll need to double them again.
Again, there’s no wrong answer here. But you wouldn’t start a marathon without knowing where the finish line is, right?
So, set a daily goal, and understand how many working hours you’ll need to get paid for — and at which rate, to cross your daily finish line.
Okay, so now that you’ve clearly defined your goals the next most important piece is to hold yourself accountable for them every single day.
The truth is, becoming a successful freelancer is not a single, line-item for you to check off your to-do list, but rather a bunch of small, daily wins, stacked on top of one another, over and over again.
Becoming more successful will require you to both set and measure your goals on a daily basis.
Let’s look at this from a different, non-freelancing angle. Take weight loss, or getting fit, for example…
Most people fail because they go out and buy a gym membership or read a book but fail to make steady and measured progression forward each day. Since they’re not tracking their personal progress on a daily basis and holding themselves accountable they start looking for confirmation in the mirror. And when they don’t see it, they throw in the towel.
Look, there’s no magic pill or magic powder that will give anyone overnight success. And that’s true whether you’re looking to get fit or grow your freelancing business.
So, until you have a plan, and a system to hold yourself accountable you won’t be more any more productive and you will not have a more profitable freelancing business.
The good news is your personal accountability system doesn’t have to be time consuming or stressful. Personally, my accountability system doesn’t take me more than a few seconds each day.
I’ve created a few simple spreadsheets to track my progress and I’d encourage all of you to do the same as well.
At the top you can see my daily accountability spreadsheet, which is pretty simple.
I’m tracking the date a project was opened (the day the made their down payment), which client (or website) this project was for, the date their final payment was issued to me (or the date the project was completed), the total payment amount, along with the referral source.
Then I combine my daily progress into weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly stats.
I’ve also made these spreadsheets available for you to download completely free.
Again, it’s not enough to simply set goals, you must also measure them and hold yourself accountable for them every single day.
I knew that going into my freelance career I wanted to earn $100K per year which meant I needed to bring home (for the sake of round numbers) $275 per day, and here’s how I did over the past 12 months.
How do I know this? Because I held myself accountable and logged my progress into these spreadsheets on a daily basis.
As you can see my track record for goal completion last year is far from perfect, and that’s okay. You don’t have to go 100% on your daily goals to reach your weekly, monthly, or yearly goals.
This is an important lesson to learn — don’t get discouraged over your daily failures.
Let’s look at this from a professional athletes perspective…
Ty Cobb was a professional baseball player and he currently holds the record for the highest batting average of all time. However, his batting average was far from perfect, at just over 1/3 with a .366 average.
Over his career he had 11,434 at bats but just 4,189 hits. I’d imagine every time Ty stepped up to bat his goal was to get a hit, but just like our daily goals in freelancing, it didn’t always work out for him.
Again, do not get discouraged over daily failures.
Just because you don’t meet your daily goal doesn’t mean you won’t meet your weekly goal. And hey, even if you miss a weekly goal doesn’t mean your monthly goal is shot either. You might even fall a bit short on the monthly mark a time or two and your yearly goal can still stay in tact.
Heck, I’m living proof of this.
These swings in your goal completion also represent swings in income. It’s true income as a freelancer — especially on a day to day basis – can be fairly inconsistent. The numbers at the bottom of this slide represent the very best and worst income swings for me.
Obviously you can see that my worst day as a freelancer produced 0 income for me — and that should come as no surprise – but what you don’t see here is that this actually happened to me a little over 100 times over the past 12 months.
And, on top of that, there were also another 90-ish days where I earned some money but it was less than the goal I’d set for myself. So, on average, I only achieved my daily goal 49% of the time – or – 3 days per week.
On the other end of the spectrum – a little over a month ago, on September 21st – I brought home a little over $3300.
That’s almost 12x the daily goal I’d set for myself – so what I’m really trying to say here is that freelancing can be a bit of a financial rollercoaster and you need to be prepared for that.
Now, if you’re wondering how it’s possible to earn over $3300 in one day if you’re only charging $100 per hour and there are only 24 hours in a day, the answer is simple –- sometimes you complete projects as a freelancer and clients take a few days to mark them as complete.
So on September 21st I happened to get 6 clients to sign off on their projects with me along with some affiliate marketing payments (which we’ll talk about more later). Moving onto the weekly and monthly goals you can see similar swings in income as well.
Instead of spending any more time talking about my performance let’s shift gears and focus on how I’ve achieved them.
To be successful on any of these networks you must first identify your area of expertise.
Don’t be a jack of all trades, master of none. What I mean by that is you simply cannot be an expert at everything.
Instead, focus on becoming an expert at one thing; whether that’s design, development, copy writing, photography, social media, or something else entirely.
If it takes you more than a few seconds to identify where you fit into this grid then it’s time to stop and think about what you’re doing. Taking on projects beyond your primary area of expertise is only going to cause you some unnecessary, easily avoidable stress.
Conversely, as an expert in one field, you’ll command much higher premiums for your efficiency and effectiveness.
Let’s go back to the professional athlete analogy from before — Ty Cobb was a professional baseball player, he picked one sport.
While he did play various positions over his career he spent the majority of his defensive career in the outfield (center field and right field), he also never played catcher or shortstop. On offense he mastered batting, on defense he was an expert in the outfield.
We can apply this same approach to freelancing — once you’ve defined your niche and chosen your field of expertise it’s time to drill down even further – it’s time to find your micro-niche.
Personally I’m a WordPress developer, but that doesn’t mean I take on every single development project that comes my way. My micro-niche is solving small problems, quickly.
My average task size over the last 12 months was a few pennies north of the $400 mark. This means that more often than not, the projects I take on are opened and closed within the same-day. And following this strategy has allowed me to close more than 700 tasks for over 350 clients over my last 12 months as a freelancer.
So, onto the hundred-thousand dollar question — How can we earn more as freelancers?
Well, earning more revolves primarily around 3 things; how many incoming leads you can get, how much they cost you, and how quickly you can convert those leads into customers.
Your objective is to transition from actively chasing down any leads, to responding exclusively to inbound leads. Your goal is to have as big of a number as possible here, in terms of percentages we’re striving for 100%.
Now, obviously 100% inbound leads could be achieved easily via paid ads but the problem with paid ads is exactly that, you have to pay for them. Your goal for question #2 here (how much do they cost) is to have as low of a number as possible, ideally these leads will cost you nothing besides the time it takes you to respond to them.
And that brings us to question #3, how quickly can you convert these leads into paying customers? Again, we want to have as low of a number as possible here although this time 0 is not going to be attainable. Personally I’m willing to invest somewhere between 5 to 15 minutes into a project depending on the budget the client has defined.
If the scope of work isn’t clear after that amount of time I always propose a one-hour paid consultation. This helps me eliminate clients who are not serious about paying for my help.
Take it from me, this strategy works. I’m not saying that offering these consultations will convert at 100%, they certainly don’t… But, over the past 12 months I’ve been taken up on this offer many times. And more often than not I’ve been able to successfully open an additional task with the client after helping them properly define their scope of work.
Bottom line, if you’re not offering paid consultations you’re leaving money on the table.
Okay, so back to the numbers… Earlier I mentioned these 700 plus tasks I’ve completed over the last 12 months were for more than 350 unique clients. So now the question you should be asking me isn’t just, how? But more specifically, how do you get so many great leads for free?
Join freelancing networks and affiliate programs.
Let’s start with the freelancing networks first. There are hundreds of outsourcing platforms you can join. You must understand that these platforms are not created equally. As with all things in life each of these networks have unique pros and cons. I’d encourage you to spend some time researching each of these platforms thoroughly before participating in any of them.
Over the last 12 months I’ve joined 4 of these outsourcing networks; Codeable, Clarity, GoDaddy Pro Connect, and LinkedIn ProFinder. Joining these networks, in combination with organic leads from my personal portfolio provide me with nearly an unlimited stream of incoming leads. Sometimes more work than I can handle myself, which is a good problem to have.
Let’s switch gears over to joining affiliate networks for a moment.
There are certainly right and wrong ways to join these affiliate programs. I’ve purposely only joined 2 of these programs and I’d encourage you to apply the same digression when joining affiliate programs as well.
Here’s some of my best-practice tips when joining any affiliate marketing programs.
It’s also important you understand that not all of these outsourcing networks or affiliate programs are created equally. Once you find one that works well for you I’d encourage you to focus your energy there. As you can see here, that’s exactly what I’ve done with Codeable.
Okay, so you’ve joined some of these networks… Now what?
Let’s not approach this as a to-do list here, but rather a systematic approach to expediting your success as a freelancer.
Also, think of these more as guidelines than rules.
Okay, so, let’s say you’ve joined some of these freelancing networks and the systematic approach to freelancing you’ve developed has started to print you some money…
You might ask yourself, well hey, now that I’m a successful freelancer, what’s next?
Well, I’d certainly encourage you to start giving something back to the community and there’s all sorts of different ways you can do this. Here are just a few ideas for you.
Number 1 is certainly the least expensive; release some of your code open source. Whether it’s a new plugin, or theme, or something else you’ve created, this is one of the easiest ways you can give back to the community.
If you’re not a developer then maybe number 2 is more appropriate for you. Volunteer to speak at industry events, like WordCamps for example and share your knowledge with others. Again, this doesn’t have to be a tremendous expense; you can always start with some local events.
Another option is to donate some of your time to work on projects pro-bono. Personally I’ve donated some of my time over the last year to an awesome organization called the United Heroes League, which is a charity that helps keep military kids in sports by providing them with the gear they need to keep playing.
There’s no right or wrong way to give back, so figure out what’s most comfortable for you and go for it.
Okay, let’s backtrack just a bit to that awesome strategy we just developed.
Instead of looking into the future and finding ways to give back let’s focus on actually making our transition into full-time freelancing. The first thing we need to do is take a calculated leap of faith.
Is anyone here familiar with the Gazelle?
For those of you who are not familiar with the Gazelle, let me be the first to tell you these are some pretty incredible animals… Some of them can actually reach speeds of 60 miles per hour, but even more impressive than their top speed is their ability to jump.
Gazelles use their back legs to spring themselves nearly ten feet in the air. So that means if you gave a basketball to one, it could pretty much dunk.
At full speed when a Gazelle jumps it will land nearly 30 yards from where it took off. That’s a massive jump. Think about that for a moment, a gazelle could pretty much jump across this room.
The image you see here is a typical Gazelle habitat at the zoo, and what I want you to pay attention to here is the fence – it’s incredibly short.
Why in the world would a zoo enclose an animal with the ability to leap so high, and so far, with a fence that measures just three feet tall?
Well, because when a Gazelle is raised in captivity it doesn’t know that it can jump over the fence.
Sitting here, it’s easy for us to see that the Gazelle could clear that fence threefold — but it has never tried.
The moral of the story is that you can’t do something if you never try. And you definitely can’t do something if you tell yourself, “I can’t do that!”.
One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Henry Ford, and perhaps some of you have heard this one before… Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”.
And I couldn’t agree more.
If you’re anything like me then you grew up with a bit of pressure to go to school, get a degree, then get a “real” job. These are the three-foot walls that you could easily clear, if only you tried.
So, if I can persuade you to do one thing here today it would be to jump into the world of freelancing.
Jump, and never look back.