Two weeks ago, I gave you 15 shareable advantages, and last week’s newsletter delved deeper into one of them: niching down.
This week, I want to give you a piece of advice:
Stack up as many small advantages as you can.
I’ve had big wins as a freelancer. For example, I landed a $2,900 marketing retainer with a Turks and Caicos resort in October 2009, and making that much with a single client was life-changing for me at the time. I quickly paid off debt from grad school and replenished my savings.
Another milestone occurred in August 2020. I landed a $30,000 brand development and copywriting project with an outdoor brand. The project’s size and scope bolstered my confidence, and the “field research” component scored me $6,000 worth of free camping equipment.
A single project can transform your finances and represent so much more than a financial breakthrough: It validates your belief in yourself. It shows you were right to bet on yourself.
Welcome and needed as such triumphs are, I don’t attribute most of growth to them.
Freelancers can’t bank on big wins, literally or metaphorically.
We need to focus on small wins, not big ones, or singles, not homeruns.
When I was growing up, my dad was a big Hank Aaron fan, so the Atlanta Braves became my team by default. We didn’t have a Major League team in Nashville, so he took me to a few games in Atlanta to watch dazzling talents like Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, David Justice, and Fred McGriff.
Hall of Fame Manager Bobby Cox was undoubtedly part of the magic too. He had 2,149 wins with the Braves, including five World Series appearances. Despite the talent, dominance in the regular season, and excellent coaching, the franchise won the World Series only once (1995) and lost in 1991, 1992, 1996, and 1999.
Twenty-six years went by without another appearance, and no one expected Atlanta to go all the way in 2021. They won only 88 games during the regular season, and had to fight through injuries and illness:
- Star outfielder Ronald Acuña, Jr. tore a knee ligament.
- Jorge Soler missed several games due to coronavirus.
- Veteran starter Charlie Morton broke his leg in Game 1 of the World Series.
That’s what freelancing feels like most of the time: Not knocking a homerun 446 feet out of the park, but lots and lots of base hits, mostly singles, and limping past obstacles.
Each single earns your next at bat. With enough at bats, you stay in the game long enough to catch a pitch right and hit a home run.
But it’s the base hits, not the homers, that represent the sustainable path. Get a base hit 3 out of every 10 at bats, you'll have a .300 batting average: enough to make the Hall of Fame.
Keep nudging that freelance flywheel with small gains in the form of better beliefs, habits, processes, templates, and playbooks, and you will see massive compound returns over time.
It’s taken me 14 years to truly understand that compound effect. I wish I’d set that freelance flywheel into motion sooner.
(Sidenote: Warren Buffett bought his first shares of stock (Cities Service) at age 11. No wonder he’s enjoying the benefits of compound interest!)
Here’s a specific example of using advantages to create a flywheel effect (more momentum without more and more effort):
- Every Monday, I log my key numbers in my Weekly Scorecard.
- This practice automatically reminds me to follow up with leads five times.
- When I’ve either won the project or it’s clear the client has lost interest, I archive the lead.
- When the total value of my pipeline falls below $100,000, I know to throttle up marketing beyond the Minimum Viable Marketing I always do.
- When the total value of my pipeline exceeds $100,000, I know I can divert more time and attention to other projects, such as audience building, my Free Money book, or a new Freelance Cake product.
- As my audience grows and non-service revenue with it, I become pickier with freelance projects.
- Being pickier makes me less desperate to win projects, more effective at sales, and ironically, more attractive as a consultant. (The best negotiators don’t need the deal.)
- As I become more effective at sales, I close higher value engagements with companies I believe in.
- Because I’m well compensated and well aligned with the mission, I enjoy the work more.
- Because I enjoy the work more, I do better work.
- Because I do better work, my confidence and authority grows.
A tool (Weekly Scorecard), habit (logging key numbers on Mondays), and principle (”Follow up 5 times”) produce certain benefits: better time management, focused marketing, and effective sales.
Small advantages, not big triumphs, accrete over time into significant growth.
This is true of baseball, freelancing, physical strength, emotional health, financial stability, intellectual acuity, you name it.
If you want bigger gains in your freelance business, start stacking up small advantages.
- Some advantages rely on well-defined process.
- Some pertain to positioning, packaging, and pricing.
- Some come from marketing and sales tactics.
- Some involve specific practices, such as my Morning Marketing Habit.
- Some leave less room for overthinking, perfectionism, or self doubt.
Remember my Freelance Business Toolkit?
That was one of my attempts to make more small, shareable advantages available to you.
I’m toying with the idea of an expanded “toolkit” and calling it “Advantages.”
(“Shareable Advantages” is too big a mouthful. Sounds like you’re rolling around a bunch of marbles on your tongue.)
This Advantages idea won’t be a course or program. Instead, it will be a collection of my favorite advantages with 5-minute videos explaining how it works or what to do:
- “Here’s my complete freelance project checklist. Now, use it to create your own.”
- “Here’s my complete sales process, including the questions, forms, emails, and proposal templates I use. Now, use them to create your own.”
- “Here’s how I follow up with past clients and silent prospects without getting on their nerves. Customize the templates to make them sound like you.”
- “Here’s how I decide which processes to define and document first. Now, it’s your turn. Use this SOP template.”
- “Here are the exact steps I followed when I hired and onboarded my assistant, who is excellent. Your first step is rewriting my job posting based on your immediate needs.”
That sort of thing.
Whether you have zero interest or all the interest in Advantages, answer this question for yourself:
What’s something I can do today that my future self will thank me for?