Episode number 64 is going to be an interesting one because Laura talks about how she achieved four $20k months in a row over the summer, and what it took to get her freelance business there.
In this episode, you’ll hear about how she’s had to critically assess the different parts of her freelance business and focus her attention only on those projects and clients that were a good fit. She also reflects on the tough decisions that come with on-boarding bigger clients, and what that means from a client portfolio management perspective.
Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of the Better Biz Academy Podcast. So I’ve had all these topics sort of floating around about things that I needed to cover but they weren’t really enough to do their own solo episode so I’m sort of rolling them all together in this fall 2017 update and what you can expect, and there’s really four things on I’m going to cover. I’ll tell you what I did this summer because I’ve really been out of touch with most of my audience.
I’ll talk about having four $20k+ months in a row, what it took to get there, what resources did I use. I’m also going to talk about how that experience helped me recalibrate my business for the fall and beyond and then the new direction for Better Biz Academy that’s coming. So if any of those sound like a potential fit for you, that’s what I’m going to talk about in this update catchup episode.
So, let’s start off right away with the summer update. At the time I’m recording this, it’s nearing the end of September and quite a few things have really just changed for me in my personal life. I moved from North Carolina to Indiana, I’m getting ready to get married, we went on a trip to go white water rafting in West Virginia which was amazing, and then our housing situation sort of escalated pretty quickly to the point where we may have to move again within Indiana- something that really wasn’t in our timeline and kind of came out of nowhere. So it’s been a lot of ‘adapt and overcome’ this entire summer. There’s been a lot of external challenges facing me as I try to handle a really busy workload – and that’s part of the reason why I’ve taken a little bit of a different direction with both my freelance business and my coaching business through Better Biz Academy. I’ve always been balancing both but mostly doing freelancing and this summer, my freelance business just exploded. And because of that, I had to focus on that for the last several months and it was absolutely the right decision.
So, that sort of covers topic number one – just kind of my brief update about where the heck have I been and with part of that too, is the reason that my podcast has really changed. So I started podcasting in December of 2016 and learned a lot from doing that. And I am changing directions with my podcast in the future because originally, I opened it as an interview style show with a couple of episodes of me solo here and there.
And my experience doing interviews – while there were some that were great – I found the hassle of the administrative end of scheduling interviews and getting people to show up and submitting the information they needed, people cancelling five minutes before recording session, it was a really poor use of my time, especially right before our move. So I recorded in a batch session – basically the month of April I was constantly recording episodes because I knew with moving and not having internet at my new place that it was going to be a challenge to have enough material to get through this summer with a podcast. So I’m glad I did that.
There were also challenges with it that made me a little bit disillusioned with that podcast process that I selected. Now nobody forced me to do an interview style show and I’ve had some amazing guests on the show who have come in and provided a lot of value and I’m so grateful for that. But in the future, I’m going to be very choosy about when an interview format is appropriate. If there is a guest that I think you need to hear from, I’m absolutely going to ask them to be on the show. But in the past, I opened the format and really allowed a lot of different people to come on the show. And one of the things I found was that approximately 20% of the people who pitched me and I accepted them to be on the show, they just never showed up. I’m not even talking about an email the day before the morning of – I would just be sitting there on Skype or on the recording software waiting for them and they would never show up and maybe I’d get an email the next day, “oh sorry! I forgot.”
It was such a poor use of my time because I would carve that out in my day to be sitting there to be ready to record, to have reviewed all their materials and it was kind of for nothing. And that happened so many times, especially right before my move even when we implemented a reminder process of telling people the Sunday before or the day before their recording, it still continued to happen. And it was just so frustrating for me because of the time that I put into it and so it ended up being my decision to go a different direction and really focus on a couple of solo episodes.
So because of that, another change that’s happening is, with the summer being so busy for me, I had to make the call that the podcast was really not my number one priority. We would continue to produce episodes as needed or as in had a great topic that I felt should be covered but it’s really not – it’s definitely – not a source of revenue in my business and it wasn’t like – something had to go. Looking at everything that was on my plate and all of these projects that I needed to do or that were generating revenue, it did not make sense to continue with two episodes a week. So we cut it down to one a week. I want to have a little bit of flexibility with how often the podcast comes out. So it should be every week but we’re going to be a little bit flexible with that because that’s how I built my business is to be flexible and to have that freedom. So it’s really important to me to maintain that.
So let’s talk about what really led me to make all of those decisions and to spend a lot of my time this summer focused on my freelance business. I started a freelance mastermind towards the end of April/very beginning of May and just had some amazing mentors who helped me take my business to the next level – as in generating $8,000-$12,000 more a month in revenue only in my freelance business. So I’m not even talking about the coaching stuff, I’m not talking about selling products, they really help me push through to land some amazing retainer clients.
I have a few VIP clients and they order pretty significant retainers every month and I’ve added three of those in the month of May alone. So I went from really having three already to suddenly having six. I had to adapt my schedule because of that and I offer my VIP clients a little bit of a different experience. I spend more time on their projects, there’s sometimes more phone calls involved, I give them faster responses over email; so I had to carve that time out in my day.
So, thanks to this advice that I got from these freelancing experts and all of that, I had four $20k+ months in freelance revenue alone over the summer and that was huge – it was huge for me to go from consistent $10k-$15k months to – I believe June was the first full $20k month and July was about $24k in revenue – so that’s not expenses or anything like that but you know I talk all the time about how freelancing is amazing because it’s low overhead, low expenses.
So that allowed me to get caught up and really invest a lot of that money back into my business as in pitching new clients, hiring new people to help me, getting some new projects rolled out the door and to be able to have a little bit of freedom to work on some of my other personal financial goals and that was huge. But it was also exhausting. I eventually adapted to handling that kind of workload but it showed me something really important which was that I took on new clients without getting rid of some clients. And so I had these smaller clients that were ordering $200 a month worth of something, $500 worth a month but they were taking up a lot of time for that amount of money. My bigger retainer clients were so much easier to work with, contacted me much less often and were really low maintenance, and for me that was a better fit to have the flexibility to travel and (sorry about that, that was my cat) take breaks, do some other things in my business and really just have that flexibility and freedom to accomplish some different things with my business. But having those smaller clients was a wakeup call like “wait a minute! Why am I still serving these smaller clients that are no longer really a fit for the direction my business is going?” Having these six core retainer clients is taking up all of my time and the added revenue I’m bringing in from these clients that are much smaller is not really worth the added effort of taking my focus away from these core VIP clients.
So, I’ll tell you a story about one of these clients that I let go – and it was such an emotional decision. So this was someone I’d worked with for two years, great client, always paid invoices on time, easy to work with, hands off etc. So he was sort of a manager of a digital agency and originally we started out, it was about $800 a month of work every month, so that was great. And then his clients one by one sort of started cancelling and over the summer, there were some changes in the staff working at those places where I would communicate with them. And because of this project, I would have to go to the client, get approval of the topic, write it, wait to see if they’d respond back with edits and it was this ongoing open loop all the time. So I’d send an email, wait for a reply, then have to remember a few days later to go back and say, “hey did you get this? Do you need any edits?” And then inevitably, even after what I wrote was posted, someone would say, “oh we need x changed” and I’d have to log back into the software and change it again or back onto their website. And as these clients dropped off of his radar, they were giving glowing recommendations about the work. In fact I got an unprompted thank you email from my client, the agency manager, saying “wow, I’ve had three separate people on these accounts contact me and say what a pleasure it is to work with you.” We cancelled all the way down to one client. I was really doing one thing per month. It was $200 and it just wasn’t worth it anymore for all of that back and forth and all of those emails and all of those open loops; so I just shared with him very candidly, my business is going in different direction and September will be my last month. And it’s really hard to let a client go even if you know it’s not the right fit for you anymore.
So having bigger freelancing months really showed me that there’s only so much I can do in a day. And as you grow your business, you need to trim what’s on the lower end. So what is no longer working for you anymore, which projects are no longer a fit or are taking your focus away from your core clients and what you love to do. So, I learned a lot about that and recalibrating my business based on my experience.
One of those retainer clients I was a project manager for and it was a great project. I hired all of these freelance writers, I managed them every week, I helped with instructions, I managed the workflow, made sure everybody knew what they were doing and in a way, my work effort, it didn’t backfire – but there is a better term for it and it’s not coming to me right now – we did so well that the client actually sold their business. Someone came to them with an offer and said basically we want to buy this because the quality is so high. So I essentially worked myself out of a job and all of these writers that were doing great work out of a job as well. But for me it really came at the right time because I had been focusing a lot of my efforts on only writing content and web copy and blogs for my legal clients. This had nothing to do with attorneys, it was about completely different topics. It was really using a different part of my brain and while that was nice, it didn’t fit in with the rest of my work. So it always felt like this thing I had to jump in to and switch gears – and I’ve got a great previous podcast episode about what you do to your brain when you ask it to switch gears and change lanes all the time.
So, for me, that project management role is definitely probably wrapping up shortly because it’s been sold to a new company so it’s crazy to think about that. And one thing to consider too is when things change with your client – so when there’s a new owner, when there are new staff members as I just talked about with that other project, things can change a lot for you as the freelancer. I had a project, it was a great – I think it was a $1500 a month retainer, client was easy to work with and then they hired three different project managers who worked on that job and every time a new project manager came on, the rules were different, the submission requirements were different, it was too hard to keep up with. So that’s something to be aware of. If you have a retainer you really like, it’s possible you love the client now but you might not love them in the future and you want to be sure that it’s a good fit when things change over. So I really had to recalibrate my business this summer and take a huge step back from focusing on courses and producing new content for Better Biz Academy. We’re in the process of merging all that old content over to Better Biz Academy, making it a more searchable, easy site to use. And some things had to be cut over the summer just as I didn’t have time to do it. And it’s hard to let that stuff go, it’s hard to let clients go, it’s hard to have projects you have in the works go in. I had all these collaboration projects with people to build courses together and it just had to be put on hold because it wasn’t the right fit given everything that was going on.
So that leads me into my fourth point which is really talking about my new direction, particularly with Better Biz Academy. I am still fully booked as a freelance writer and that is guiding a lot of my decisions about what I do. So there will be less new content on the Better Biz Academy blog for the time being. We’re going to be merging over that old content and then sharing new material that’s created – so podcasts, videos, blogs etc. We may open it up to guest posting from other experienced freelancers so you can learn from them.
I am going to be putting more focus on a new Facebook group. I am going to start a Facebook group about marketing mastery for freelancers and in particular, using Upwork as a tool. Upwork is still such a dirty word in the freelance community. Every day I see in these Facebook group “Upwork! it’s only for chumps” and “No one ever makes any money there” – and that just blows my mind because you can make money there; you can make great money on Upwork if you know what you’re doing and if you stay committed to it.
That Facebook group will have live videos, you’ll be able to ask me questions in various threads so I can cover those questions specifically, and there’s going to be a lot of great freelance marketing material in there, not just specific to Upwork but that will be the focus and you can kind of hear like how I’m managing my freelance business. And I feel that this is a great direction to go because a lot of people out there that I see selling courses to freelancers are not actively marketing their freelance work. They are making a couple hundred dollars a month, may be selling an article or two, and while that’s great and that person may be able to help you write pitches or do something like that, they don’t know much about long term freelancing or scaling the business or outsourcing work or how to stay sane when you do have really busy months or any of these things that come with running a freelance business.
So for me, part of my commitment to my audience has always been that and I still am very much involved in this freelance business, and you hear from me on a very real basis about what I’m doing, what I’m not doing and decisions that I’ve made. So, if that appeals to you to get the perspective of somebody who’s still very active in the freelancing world, still pitching, still delivering work to clients, still working through challenges and getting contracts signed and things like that, stay tuned for the Facebook group and it’s going to be called “Make Money on Upwork – Freelance Marketing Mastery”. And that’ll be really exciting and really the only place where I can connect one on one with people easily because my email inbox tends to get a little out of control these days and I cannot always respond to everything.
And then the third thing I want to say about my new direction is that I’m going to be focused on shorter, more action-packed PDFs and trainings designed to help you with a very specific thing. Now my core courses, The Guide to Killing it on Upwork, which is currently bundled with Yuwanda Black’s Intro to SEO Copywriting Course, that’s something you should consider if you are very new to freelance writing and you really want the one to punch, you really want to know what SEO writing is, you really want to develop amazing writing samples and then you want the marketing tools to bring it all together to land business. I’m still going to continue to recommend that as my number one thing. Yuwanda taught me how to write SEO, I’ve been doing it for five years, four of those full time, great great material and you’re going to get all my Upwork advice too. So check that out in the show notes for the link to that course.
I will also still have access to my “How to Become a VA” course and my “Write Down to Business” freelance writing course but there’s going to be a lot more of a focus in the coming months on shorter things like writing an amazing pitch. Creating great work samples, landing retainer clients, doing sales calls effectively. These kinds of things where you might not need the whole package but you could use a really helpful eBook that tells you how to write a winning pitch that can pay for itself a hundred times over once you nail an amazing pitch. And when I review other people’s work and see why they are struggling, whether it’s cold email pitching or on Upwork, 9 times out of 10 it is because there’s something wrong with their writing samples or their pitch. So consider that as a possibility in the future of what puzzle piece are you missing in your business? Is it self-confidence on the phone calls, is it that you’re sending in really generic pitches and you need help with that? So, check all of that out.
Another resource that I can strongly recommend is the Six Figure Freelancer group on Facebook. Those are my coaches that I am working with, who’ve helped me scale this business tremendously on the freelance side – Alex and Jenny are the real deal. They are also still really freelancing which is huge to me. I get so aggravated when I see people who are not really running a freelance business trying to teach you how to run one yourself. It’s like at least be authentic in that you’ve done it before or that you’re doing it consistently. Jenny and Alex are that real deal and their advice is often spot on, so check that out. Look for my new Upwork and marketing for freelancers Facebook group coming. You’ll have the opportunity to watch Facebook lives there, ask me questions directly etc. So that’s it for this episode of Better Biz Academy. Thanks for hanging with me as I fit in all of these different topics together. Let me know if you have a question you’d like covered on a future episode. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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