If you’ve ever wondered how you can apply what you do for clients to your own business, you can learn a ton from Seth Godin. Seth started a book packaging design consultancy out of his studio apartment in New York City, and just years later, sold it to Yahoo for millions. How did he do it?
“Lots of freelancers start doing this, but give up too quickly. It might take three or five years before the industry starts to rely on you. Work your way up.”
Books were a natural place for Seth to start because publishers were already buying book design from outsiders on a regular basis. He didn’t have to change the way they operated to make a sale. Conversely, a lot of freelancers make the mistake of trying to sell to clients who don’t value their work and are used to getting it for free. That’s a bad combination. After all, making a sale is hard enough. By focusing on an industry that has established how much they value the work you do already — you can develop expertise and assets that are not easily copied by others.
“Never become good at dealing with difficult clients.”
One of Seth’s earliest clients was a massive success. Although Seth had helped create this success, and was entitled to royalties in his contract, the client wanted out. They became difficult to work with and Seth decided to fire them, despite a huge loss in revenue. However, shortly after the decision Seth’s team was so happy, they scurried to find new business. Not only did the company end up making more money, his team produced their best work for clients they actually loved working with.
“Your clients define you. If you’re going to be defined by your work than choose clients who will acquire work you will brag about later.”
Almost all clients want average work because it’s all they know. You have two options: choose clients that want exceptional work or challenge your clients to demand the best from you.
“We can tell when you’re proud of your work. When you point to work that’s mediocre and say “well it’s what my client’s wanted” that doesn’t get you better clients. Focus on your reputation from day one.”
Most people start their freelance career in scarcity mindset, fighting for scraps. Don’t. You have the power to do great work from the very start, if you grab a hold of it. That work will lead to more work you’re proud of and it will become a self re-enforcing cycle.
Sometimes freelancers get entrepreneur envy and start hiring other freelancers to work for them. This doesn’t scale. Managing freelancers is different from being a freelancer. You’ll get into trouble if you make your job about managing other freelancers and saving the best projects for yourself.
“You don’t need more time you just need to decide.”
You can no longer wait for instructions. You must describe solutions to your clients proactively, not ask for them to assign you new tasks. You can’t allow clients to define what they are buying from you — that is your responsibility. When you ask what you should do next, the answer might be: nothing. Or worse, it might be a project that’s so short-sighted it will damage your career over time. Instead say: “here’s what you might need…” For tips on how to phrase these emails, include a whole list of email lines for this here. It’s the exact opposite of what most freelancers do.
“Some people are truly great. The programmer who saves a company months. The cartoonist who draws life-changing images on the backs of business cards. The guitar player who can sit in on a recording session and change everything. These people are first class. They’re in charge. Top of their game. The best of the best. That’s the freelancer each of us is capable of being.”
Once you’ve made your choice. You can no longer afford to simply compete. Find and lead a tribe of people who want you, and only you — and are willing to pay for it. Figure out how to do the best work in your field, for the right clients. Your are capable of being the best of the best.
Seth still calls himself a freelancer to this day. He knows the difference between an entrepreneur and a freelancer better than anyone else I’ve ever encountered. To help you get that clarity and find more clients I created a new service recently. You can check it out below.
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