In this post, I’ll take you through a framework I call the $300K Flywheel. The number isn’t random. Consistently making $10,000 per month or $100,000 in a year is a significant milestone for freelancers and consultants. It represents a certain validating arrival: “I did it, I broke $100,000 in annual earnings.”
The $100K mark also represents a certain sustainability for those of us who live in countries with a high cost of living. In their seminal 2010 study, Drs. Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman analyzed 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (GHWBI). Respondents with less than $75,000 in annual household income—or $100,000 in today’s dollars—scored themselves lower on both life evaluation and emotional well-being. Deaton summarized the findings this way: “Not having enough money to live a decent life really gets in the way of doing the ordinary things that make people happy.”
Is cracking $100K important for every service-focused entrepreneur? Of course not. Depending on where you live, you may be able to afford “a decent life” for far less, or you may have other sources of income. Far be it from me to tell you what income goals you should have.
The point I want to make is that a lot of us grind toward the $100K goal and then meet with a surprising feeling on the other side of the achievement—exhaustion.
You’re already operating a full capacity. You already turned your bag of productivity tricks inside out. You worked through any number of weekends, telling yourself, “Just this one time.” You finally see months of $8k, $9, and $10k line up in a row (hooray! and whimper whimper), and a little voice in your head has the gall to ask, “How are you possibly going to do that again?”
That’s the problem, and I’d like to tell you about the solution, the $300K Flywheel.
Settle in. Get ready to take some notes. What follows is a distillation of my best thinking after 15 years of trial and error, over $1.8 million earned as a creative entrepreneur, and lots more time lost and money left on the table because I was too busy feeding more hours into the business machine instead of finding the better growth strategy.
I know now it’s possible to have higher income without sacrificing your lifestyle. We can have our freelance cake and eat it too. Zing!
Let me start with two quick stories that illustrate the core problem that freelancers and consultants have.
Story #1 – Grace the Hard-Working Entrepreneur
In early November 2023 I was wrapping up a 1-Day Strategy Sprint with a client. We’ll call her Grace.
Grace is smart. She is excellent at what she does, and if something needs to be done, whatever it is, she’s not too proud to do it. Her work ethic and willingness to make sacrifices inspire me.
When we convened, she said, “Just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll do it.” I sensed her determination. She was ready for me to tell her to buckle down.
I caught her by surprise when I said this: “You can only leverage your own productivity up to a certain point before you burn yourself out. You are your greatest asset, so what could be more wasteful and short-sighted than burning out? You need to do less, not more.”
Grace slammed headfirst into the core problem:
She got to where she is through a willingness to put in the work.
She already maxes out her days, or close enough.
She wants to double her income, but she can’t double her time. No one except Hermione Granger has a magical time multiplier.
She has no more time to give. The give-more-do-more strategy that got her here won’t get her there.
Maybe, maybe, through grit and incremental gains in efficiency, Grace could double her income next year. But doubling it without spending all her time on the business? Doubling it and having a life? Yeah, that’s going to take an entirely different strategy. When I pointed out that Grace needed a $300K Flywheel, her eyes sparked with hope and relief.
However, before she or any of us can embrace a different strategy, we need a different story to tell ourselves.
Story #2 – Austin the Despondent Entrepreneur
Circa 2015, my business partner and I were driving back to Knoxville. We’d stacked up a bunch of meetings with music industry folks in Nashville, and every hour spent on finding the way forward with our startup, Closeup.fm, which wasn’t paying my family’s bills, was one more that I wasn’t spending on my freelance business, which was.
“There’s just not enough time to go around,” I said.
Nathan listened a while longer and then interjected, “Sounds like you need to start telling yourself a different story.”
A different story. Hmm… He was right. I had a choice to make, and you do too: Either we keep telling ourselves that there’s never enough time to work in the business and on the business, or we tell ourselves a story that empowers us to enact real, lasting change in our businesses and lives.
Here’s the story I started telling myself and eventually started believing: There is always enough time for what’s most important.
So let’s bring the two stories together:
We can’t multiply our time, but we can leverage better strategy.
There’s never enough time for everything, but there’s always enough for what’s most important.
Until you start believing in that sufficiency and reaching for better strategy, you will continue to make short-sighted, unsustainable choices in your business. In fact, you will tell yourself that you must.
Are you guilty of that already?
I certainly am. I can give you a host of reasons why I can’t build the business I really want right now.
Okay, I think I’ve set up the problem. Now let’s turn our attention to the solution.
Across my career as a creative entrepreneur, my business has undergone various iterations and evolutions:
I started as a freelance writer.
I built and sold a portfolio of 30+ iOS and Android apps.
I’ve made $100,000s selling digital products.
I co-founded a branding studio with full-time staff.
I started a consulting practice and sold fractional CMO engagements.
I’ve coached nearly 100 freelancers and consultants one-on-one.
I’ve built an audience and digital product business teaching what I know.
Whether you want to stick to your current freelance work, pivot to value-priced consulting, scale up into an agency, or generate leveraged income with digital products, you build the system one piece at a time in a specific order:
Why this order? Because it’s so much easier to build a $300K Flywheel when you aren’t relying exclusively on your effort and productivity. It’s easier to do it with help, and the sooner you get help, the sooner you have more space in your calendar and mind. Breakthrough ideas struggle to enter crowded minds. They slip right in to open ones.
We must implement a system that creates space for receiving breakthrough ideas, gives us time to notice the growth that wants to happen, and gives us the support we need to execute.
This starts with Roadmapping.
Maybe I lied when I said no magical time multiplier was the core problem we have. Maybe the deeper problem is that we don’t know what we want.
You don’t have to have a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal, but you do need to clarify what you want your life to look like in three years.
Regardless, most of the ambitious consultants and freelance creatives I know want more of one or more of the following:
What do you want to see more of in your life?
Picking out the contours of that Distant Mountain makes it easier to see which levers to pull. Destination determines direction, and direction determines strategy. Need to go over water? Pick a boat, not a car. Want to move to Bali? Build a freelance or consulting practice with zero in-person meetings.
You often won’t have the perfect strategy, or the How, at the start. You pick the What and the Why, and the How comes into focus along the way.
Key Outcome: Pick your distant mountain, direction, and strategy.
You’ll need help getting to that Distant Mountain, but before you start putting up job postings, or more likely, biting your fingernails and moaning, “Woe is me! I can’t afford any support!” you need to clean off your cash registers.
Repeatable processes are cash registers. They get you paid.
You can’t keep improvising your processes and nurse inefficiency like some kind of secret elixir to excellent creative outcomes and also expect to have a simple, sturdy, scalable business in any meaningful sense.
Well-designed and documented processes serve us much better. With them, we spend LESS time on tasks. We complete projects to your own and the client’s satisfaction in less time, cumulatively, and therefore preserve more time that you can turn around and invest in another project.
The sooner you start investing in a stable business structure and clearly defined processes, the sooner you produce better creative outcomes for clients and higher effective hourly rates for yourself and set yourself up to delegate effectively.
You start by sorting your tasks and responsibilities into high leverage and low leverage.
Next, you categorize your recurring or ongoing tasks and responsibilities based on their frequency.
Finally, begin designing and documenting the low-leverage tasks that recur daily or weekly. By using SOPs to document then delegate these frequent distractions, you’ll get back more time and margin faster.
Key Outcome: Create an SOP for your signature offer and document 5-8 processes to delegate and free up more time.
In early 2021 I hired a full-time virtual assistant, and in 2022 I made 33% more. In 2023 I made 45% more than in 2022.
Coincidence, my dear Watson? I think not.
Every minute you spent farting around with $10 an hour tasks is a minute you don’t spend in your zone of genius. Freelancers and consultants know this, and yet when I encourage them to hire more support, I bump into the same three limiting beliefs I had:
The work I do is too complex to delegate.
No one can do it quite like I can.
I can’t afford to hire right now.
All three beliefs are partly true only, and all three hold us back. Here’s what I mean:
“The work I do is too complex to delegate.” The work you do may be complex, but you can simplify your offers, your sales process, your onboarding, your fulfillment, your deliverables, and the “scaffolding” or support structures your business needs. Freelancers and consultants gravitate toward productized services for this very reason. Simplicity sells. It’s easier for your clients to buy. Simplicity also scales. Were you to simplify and productize your signature offer, you’d be able to quickly see which pieces you must handle and which ones you can safely automate or delegate. For example, there’s no reason you can’t send new clients a scheduling link, and when some back-and-forth is required, you can cc your VA and let them handle it. That’s what I do.
“No one can do it quite like I can.” I believe you. I’m a special snowflake too. And I’ll play Dr. Phil for a moment and ask, “How’s that working for you?” What if you believed that someone else could do it better than you if you gave them the right process and tools? Even if you’d give them a score of B- compared to your A+, you’d quickly discover that the B- is good enough for the business and for your clients, and that the relative “decrease” in quality, at least from your perspective, successfully extricated you from that task or responsibility. You’ll get a taste of more freedom and decide that scoring an A+ in that area wasn’t as important as you thought. For your VA to send emails with a few typos isn’t the end of the world, and neither is the fallout from other low-grade mistakes. Freeedooomm!
“I can’t afford to hire right now.” What’s an hour of your time worth? Like, if someone came to you tomorrow and wanted to buy 20 hours of your time, what price would you quote them? By continuing to do $ 10-an-hour tasks, we undervalue our time. No wonder we can’t afford more support! Hiring an assistant before you feel ready creates what psychologists call “point of no return” where you force yourself to go find the projects and create the value required to pay for the hire. You’ll have more focus. You’ll be more diligent in follow-ups. You’ll be better at advocating for your own higher prices. And you’ll come across as more established and professional because you have a friggin’ assistant! Does Sally Sometimes who freelances when she feels like it have an assistant? Heck no.
Where nuanced appeals fail, bluntness can win: Entrepreneurs stupider than you or me have figured out how to hire more support. If a VA saves you only 2 or 3 hours per week in the first month, then you win. You can spend that 8-12 hours replacing the bottom 20% of your client base with a client similar to the top 20%, and get a net-positive outcome.
When you have a marketing idea, your VA can go gather comps and resources and help you create the first plan of attack. When you need to dig up helpful resources to give you an excuse to follow up with an inactive client, your VA can track down the perfect podcast episode to share. When you need to take the notes and transcript from a discovery conversation and turn them into a solid recap email and proposal, your VA can do the distillation work and flow the content into your templates.
You’ll be amazed at how much creativity and cash delegation unlocks. In 2023 I will make double what I made in 2021. I couldn’t do that without support, and I want to see you double your income.
Key Outcome: Create a “point of no return” situation by hiring a VA and delegating the 5-8 processes you’ve already documented.
Freelancing and consulting isn’t going to get any easier. Here’s an abbreviated list of the reasons: choppy markets, more competition, clients having more options, more noise, and of course AI. We can succumb to fatalistic, woe-is-me thinking—”ChatGPT and large language models are coming for our jobs! Aarghhh!”—or we can get to work standing out in a sea of sameness.
Seth Godin hit the nail on the head:
“In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”
How do you stand out?
You figure out your key differentiators and then use them to create a positioning cheat code (aka, value proposition). Then, you’ll use both to package up your signature offer. (Or, you’ll go ahead and create a signature offer if you don’t already have one.)
Whom do you serve?
What’s the transformation they want?
And what’s the value of that transformation?
How are you uniquely equipped and capable to help them?
Juicy signature offers stand out from the bland offers that every other freelancer and consultant offers. A bazillion people can “help you with your marketing” but only a golden goose with platinum polka dots can help stability-starved stylists increase inquiries, new clients, and average appointment value, all by 26%, and effectively double their income.
I’m not even a stylist and I want to hire you!
Once you’ve got your signature offer that’s different, relevant, and verifiable, you’ll swim up the value stream and sell your expertise before your skills. Sell the thinking before the doing.
I’ve been selling strategy as a standalone offer since early 2016, and strategy became my bridge from Freelancing Land to Consulting Land. It seldom feels like work, and it transformed my business.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to formalize your advisory offer and bravely put it out into the world. Better yet, start requiring every new client to start with it. Packaging up and selling your expertise won't make freelancing easy, but in my experience, it does make it easier.
Key Outcome: Nail your positioning, signature offer, and initial diagnostic, planning, or strategy offer.
Remember how I said simplicity sells? My friend, you’ve got to build a funnel and consistently put leads in it so that you have people to sell to.
What do I mean by funnel?
You’ll build 4 things:
Traffic – Way to get attention (such as, showing up on LinkedIn)
Lead Magnet – Way to generate leads (such as, giving people a valuable freebie in exchange for their email addresses)
Relationship Builder – Way to stay top of mind (such as, sending a newsletter)
Sales Process – Way to close deals reliably (such as, strategy calls)
None of this has to be esoteric and complicated. For example, let’s say you started sending new connection requests to 100 people in your target audience each week on LinkedIn. The numbers might look like this:
Out of 100, 75 people view your profile.
40 accept your connection request.
15 respond to your first message.
[4 opt in to get your freebie.]
1 books a call.
What if you inserted that valuable freebie where I put the brackets above? Instead of only 1 out of 100 people booking a call, you’ve got the call, and you’ve got 3 other qualified prospects now receiving a nurture sequence and, after that, your newsletters.
It’s a numbers game, and most people aren’t ready to buy right when you get in touch. If you can get them on your email list, you get more at bats, more opportunities to build trust, create value, and invite them to a strategy call (when they’re ready).
Most freelancers and consultants have gaping holes in their marketing funnel. I’ve certainly been guilty of that!
By creating the new pieces you need, plugging the holes, and simplifying your approach, you’ll get better results, meaning both more leads and more opportunities to sell to them later.
Key Outcome: Build a simple marketing funnel.
Now, before your eyes glaze over because you expect me to talk about SEO, SERPs, PPC, and a word salad of garden-fresh acronyms and abbrevs, know this: I’m talking about showing up consistently online with some form of content marketing. It’s hard to be a recognized authority if you’re hard to find, ya know?
Furthermore, to start enough conversations with people willing to pay your premium price, you will need a surplus of leads. Lots of people want to hire me as a coach. Most of them walk away disappointed after I tell them the price. So you and I need to generate a much greater number of opportunities in order to have a much smaller number of qualified leads.
We’ve got dozens of different ways to drive traffic, but the approach that has worked for me is as follows:
Pick a single platform—e.g., LinkedIn.
Pick a minimum commitment—e.g., 1 post per day, 5 comments per day, 10 connection requests sent.
Pick the 5 top problems and pains your dream clients have—e.g., struggling to make time for building the business they really want.
Add a call to action for your lead magnet—e.g., a pre-recorded training showing how to use your framework to make more time.
Double down on what works—e.g., use different post types and ShieldApp.ai analytics to create variations of the post that prompted DMs and started conversations.
If the commitment proves to be too much, keep lowering the bar until it sticks. Consistency and keeping your commitment is more important than frequency—at least at first.
Your goal here is to start wherever you are, grow your audience, and put more content out into the world. Justin Welsh calls each piece of content a “worker,” and I like that. More posts mean a bigger salesforce out there raising awareness for who you are, whom you serve, and how.
In basic terms, you make it easy for people to find you and hop into the top of your funnel.
The strategy here is as easy as slicing into a ripe avocado. Show up, talk about the problems and core transformation, and tell people what they can do next—that is, get your lead magnet.
The more traffic you put into the top of your funnel, the more leads you’ve got.
Key Outcome: Establish a Morning Marketing Habit.
How is this a $300K Flywheel?
I talk to hard-working freelancers and consultants who want to double their income. The problem is, they can’t double their time. They need a different story to tell (”There’s always enough time for what’s most important”), and they need a different strategy.
The right strategy creates a flywheel effect. You push harder at first to get momentum, but eventually, the momentum takes over.
Roadmapping – Get clarity on what you want your life to look like in 3 years with income, time freedom, satisfaction, and impact. You must get a line of sight on that destination before you pick the direction.
Processes – Begin designing and documenting the 5-8 low-leverage tasks that recur daily or weekly. By using SOPs to document then delegate these frequent distractions, you’ll get back more time and margin faster.
Delegation – Hire a virtual assistant to put yourself in a point-of-no-return situation and get back 10 hours or more each week.
Offers – Use the time you freed up to create a juicy signature offer and an initial diagnostic, strategy, or planning offer that you can sell to more prospects before you sell your signature offer. Get your foot in the door and get paid to build trust.
Funnel – Implement a repeatable process for capturing more leads and for staying top of mind with them. Many people won’t be ready to buy right when they opt in, but they’ll be ready to buy eventually. What will you sell them first? Your initial offer. Poifect! And what follows on the heels of the initial offer that built trust? Your signature offer.
Traffic – Put more “workers” out into the world and put traffic into the top of your funnel. You need a surplus of leads to have enough qualified leads each month ready to pay your premium prices.
The $300K Flywheel is fundamentally about revenue design and lifestyle design.
“At every stage of the business as CEO, you actually have to do less. That's what makes the business operate.”
More freelancers and consultants need to operate like CEOs. We need to stop relying exclusively on our effort and productivity. We need to get more support and space to think so that we can have more breakthrough ideas.
How can you implement the $300K Flywheel?
I work with a small number of freelancers and consultants to help them use the $300K Flywheel framework to build momentum toward the revenue and lifestyle they want. This tight-knit community is best for those of you who have already passed the $100K mark, or have gotten really close.
To be considered for the next 6-month sprint, starting January 2, 2024, apply here.
When you’re ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:
Freelance Fixes. This short guide walks you through 6 small but important “fixes” that you can make to raise your income without working longer hours. People really seem to like it.
Morning Marketing Habit. This course will help you build an “always be marketing” practice, become less dependent on referrals, and proactively build the business you want with the clients you want. My own morning marketing habit has enabled me to consistently make 6 figures as a freelancer.
Clarity Session. It’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the bottle. I've done well over 100 of these 1:1 sessions with founders, solopreneurs, and freelancers who wanted guidance, a second opinion, or help creating a plan.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info
About the Author, Austin L. Church
Austin L. Church is a writer, brand consultant, and freelance coach. He started freelancing in 2009 after finishing his M.A. in Literature and getting laid off from a marketing agency. Freelancing led to mobile apps (Bright Newt), a tech startup (Closeup.fm), a children's book (Grabbling), and a branding studio (Balernum). Austin loves teaching freelancers and consultants how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, and fun. He and his wife live with their three children in Knoxville, Tennessee.