More than 55 million Americans are freelancers — a full 35 percent of our workforce, according to the 2016 Freelancing in America report. And contrary to enduring myths, it’s not because “they can’t find a job” — it’s a conscious choice based on freedom and empowerment.
79 percent of freelancers believe freelancing is a better situation than traditional employment. Half, in fact, say there’s no amount of money that would get them to replace their current situation with a traditional job.
Today we’re chatting with Emily Leach, a former freelancer who has made it her mission to empower freelancers to go beyond conventional jobs and create businesses from unique vantage points and perspectives. She is the founder of the Texas Freelance Association, the first statewide association of freelance workers in the country, and The Freelance Conference, which she hopes will become the premiere conference for freelancers across the nation.
Her belief is that those working for themselves deserve the same respect as those working for major corporations. This is what drives her tireless fight to ensure this growing population of the “genetically unemployable” (yes, those are her words) are represented and offered some of the same opportunities as those working for large corporations.
Listen in to hear Emily’s perspective on where freelancing is at, and where it’s going. And if you enjoy the episode, please leave a rating over at iTunes by visiting Unemployable.com/iTunes. Thank you!
The Show Notes
The State of Freelancing in 2017, with Emily Leach
Emily Leach: I’m Emily Leach. I help freelancers be free, and I am, without a doubt, unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one, and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our free Profit Pillars course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only, at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com, and take your business and lifestyle to the next level.
Brian Clark: More than 55 million Americans are freelancers — a full 35 percent of our workforce, according to the 2016 Freelancing in America Report. And contrary to enduring myths, it’s not because ‘they can’t find a job’ — it’s a conscious choice based on freedom and empowerment.
Seventy-nine percent of freelancers believe freelancing is a better situation than traditional employment. Half, in fact, say there’s no amount of money that would get them to replace their current situation with a traditional job.
I’m Brian Clark, and this is Unemployable. If you’re currently freelancing or thinking of taking the plunge, then this episode is for you.
Today we’re chatting with Emily Leach, a former freelancer who has made it her mission to empower freelancers to go beyond conventional jobs and create businesses from unique vantage points and perspectives. She’s the founder of the Texas Freelance Association, the first statewide association of freelance workers in the country, and also the Freelance Conference, which she hopes will become the premier conference for freelancers across the nation.
Her belief is that those working for themselves deserve the same respect as those working for major corporations. This is what drives her tireless fight to ensure this growing population of the ‘genetically unemployable’ (yes, those are her words) are represented and offered some of the same opportunities as those working in those large corporations.
Listen in to hear Emily’s perspective on where freelancing is at, and where it’s going. If you enjoy the episode, please leave a rating over at iTunes by visiting Unemployable.com/iTunes. Thank you!
All right, let’s chat with Emily. Emily, thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?
Emily Leach: I am doing really well. Thanks for having me.
Brian Clark: You’re down in Austin, right?
Emily Leach: I am, and the weather is gorgeous today.
Brian Clark: Nice. I’m an ex-Austinite, now in Colorado. The summers finally ran me off, but I love coming back to Austin in the spring and the fall.
Emily Leach: It’s funny because I used to live in Colorado, and the winters drove me off.
Brian Clark: No, really, I don’t mind it. I guess you just have a temperament that’s either more tolerable of cold or hot. Right?
Emily Leach: Right. I grew up on an island. So I’m used to hot, and I just prefer it. So yes.
Brian Clark: Got you. Okay, so we’re going to talk about freelancing today, the state of the industry, if you will. Tell us a little bit about what you do. Then I want to explore your journey up to the point where you founded the association that you work with now.
Emily’s Path to ‘Helping Freelancers Be Free’
Emily Leach: Well, to explain what I do is kind of long and maybe even convoluted. I kind of put it in one small little statement there, saying, “I help freelancers be free,” because what I found over all my years … I’ve been a freelancer since 1992, basically. I don’t even know if we called ourselves freelancers back then, but I know over the last five, maybe even 10 years, the word has become more and more popular and even more accepted in society. So it’s been really fun to watch.
What I found, the more people that I meet that were doing these freelance gigs, is that they didn’t really understand or have that skill of running a business. They had a skill and a ‘craft,’ what most people call it, and they were great at it. But then when it came to running the business, it was scary. It was overwhelming.
So a lot of times they would go back and get a job, not because they weren’t great at what they did, but because just the act of running a business was just more than they wanted to take on. There wasn’t any guidance for them. So I’ve kind of stepped into that space, and I really love it.
Brian Clark: It’s so necessary, and it’s just not freelancers. My first three businesses, I was really great at marketing. That’s usually one of the harder things for people when they’re on their own.
Emily Leach: That’s true.
Brian Clark: But when it came to managing, especially when I added people, I have confessed a hundred times on this show that I was not good at that because I didn’t know how to delegate. I didn’t know how to create processes. Just like you’re saying, it’s not a stay-at-home job. It’s a business.
Emily Leach: Yeah, exactly.
Brian Clark: That’s one of the things, I think, that people need help with. They need resources. They need guidance, because it’s not rocket science or rocket surgery, or whichever one you prefer, but it is something that you need to understand at the right level and implement. You have been a freelancer since ’92? Is that what you said?
Emily Leach: Yeah.
Brian Clark: Okay. Tell us how you got into that. Did you have a real job at any point?
Emily Leach: I actually really love that term, ‘real JOB,’ a real job. It’s actually kind of an interesting story. People love it. I was a single mom, and I did have a real job in Houston, Texas. It was actually my dream job when I got it. I’d spent my entire childhood, if you will, dreaming of going and living in Houston and working in one of those big, tall buildings and working in the oil field industry just like my dad, my brother. And there I was. I was doing it.
About two years in, I literally woke up one Tuesday morning and said, “Yeah, I don’t want to do this. This isn’t what the brochure promised.” I went to work that morning, and I quit. And on Saturday, I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because I thought the name of the town was cool. When I got there, I realized, “I don’t have a job.” I didn’t think it through.
The naiveté of being 21, 22 years old is for you and against you, to some degree, so I just picked up the telephone book and started calling engineering companies because that’s what my degree was in. It turned out that the main software that I knew how to use as an engineering designer — all of DOT for New Mexico DOT and even a lot of the federal government — had switched over to this software. It was kind of new in the industry.
Not many people knew how to use it, so engineering companies had to have one of these operators in their business in order to get those gigs, those contracts. I knew how to use it, and nobody else did. So I ended up working with three or four different engineering firms so that they could claim having one of these designers in their office.
Brian Clark: That’s fascinating. So you weren’t tempted, because you walked away pretty suddenly. You weren’t going to be tempted by one of those firms saying, “Come work for us.” You said, “No. There are a lot of companies that need this, and I need to be independent, to be free,” another theme of this show. Yeah, that’s a pretty brave move for a young person, but it seems to have been the right one.
Emily Leach: It does. I’d love to sit here and say, yes, I wasn’t tempted by it, but looking back, it wasn’t that I was or wasn’t tempted. That’s just what was put on the table and, again, naiveté, so I said, “Okay, this is how it’s going to work.” And they said, “Well, this company needs it.” No one company had enough to keep one person busy all the time, so I sort of stumbled into it.
Then, once I got the flavor of it, I was like, “Hey, this is pretty good Kool-Aid. I like this.” It allowed me to stay at home. My son was only three at the time. I still put him in daycare, so you get stuff done during the day. But here I am quite a few years later, and I’m one of the ‘pioneers,’ what somebody called me one time. I don’t know if that’s something to celebrate or something to say, “Oh, I feel old,” but …
Brian Clark: It goes both ways, trust me.
Emily’s Shift From Being a Freelancer to Wanting to Help Freelancers
Brian Clark: Okay, so you established yourself, by luck or otherwise, as an independent business person, whether we call that freelancing or not. At what point did you shift from being a freelancer to wanting to help other freelancers?
Emily Leach: It started to happen about in 2010, although I didn’t realize it, but I can look back now. I was sitting around a table with a bunch of people, and we decided to come up with and create the first TEDx event out in Albuquerque. Over that period of three or four years of not only putting that together but putting it on for those few years and growing it, it really changed how I thought about my life and what I was doing with it.
I became much less of a ‘me’ person, to where whatever I was doing was all about me having fun and me doing my thing, that kind of mindset. I began to look at the world and say, “How can I be more of a part of it? How can I have purpose?” Those kinds of questions.
By the time I had moved to Austin, almost six years ago now here in about a week, I really wanted to find more to life. It took me a couple of years, to be honest, but in July of 2014, I created the Freelance Conference. It was my way of saying, “Hey, freelancers, my fellow peeps, let’s get together and learn from each other. You’ve learned a lot of great tools and tips and tricks. You’ve failed at stuff, and you’ve succeeded at stuff. Let’s get together and do this.”
We pulled about 100 people together, brought in some speakers, did some workshop stuff, and it was awesome. Now we’re coming in on our third year of the Freelance Conference. Through the Freelance Conference — I know we’re going to get to this later — is where we also decided, a group of us, that, “Hey, we kind of need more of a community.” That’s one of the biggest things I’m finding in this new turn of freelancing, is how much community is needed.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that makes sense.
The Freelance Conference
Brian Clark: So the Freelancer Conference, is that a regional event mainly for Texas people, or do you have people come from all over?
Emily Leach: We’re starting to have people come from all over. This third year, right now, I would say about 20 percent of our ticket sales are from all over the country. That’s exciting. It started out regional because this is where I was, and as the word gets out, freelancers are like, “Wait a minute. Are you telling me there’s a conference specifically for me?”
Regardless of your craft, it’s about learning the business of being a freelancer and, again, getting to connect with your fellow freelancers and learning those lessons or learning them from the brilliant minds that come, as well as each other. The camaraderie and education that comes out of it has been nothing short of fantastic. I’m super proud of that one.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that is excellent.
The Evolution of Freelancing: From Being Stigmatized to Living the Envied Life of the Digital Nomad
Brian Clark: All right, let’s talk about freelancing in general just for a little bit. First of all, you called yourself ‘unemployable’ even before you came on the show, which I love. A lot of people do that as kind of a wry joke. Some people want to start a business, and some people have no other choice. It sounds like you’re like that.
I walked out of a really lucrative big law firm job as an attorney. Not maybe as drastic as you did it, but not really with a big net either. That’s, I think, how some people feel — that this is just not right for me. But we’re now facing a world of automation, AI, and machine learning to where a lot of people are going to become literally unemployable.
The more creative you are, the more self-sufficient you are, it’s ironic that those are the type of people that will be offered jobs, and yet — and tell me if you agree with this — those are also the people that are the less likely to accept a job. It’s kind of a conundrum.
Emily Leach: Exactly.
Brian Clark: You may see this freelance, independent, entrepreneurial ecosystem, community, if you will, or pockets of communities become the preference over traditional employment, especially as hardcore as some employers are right now.
Emily Leach: Yeah. The more society accepts the concept of freelancing — working for yourself, working from home, wherever you want to work from — the more I’ve seen people jump ship and do it. It’s kind of hard to jump ship and go be a freelancer or solopreneur, whatever term you like to use best, when your family and your friends and all of these people are like, “So when are you going to get a real job?”
Brian Clark: Trust me, I heard that a lot in the late ’90s. No one could understand it. It’s just strange. It’s a different mindset.
Emily Leach: Yeah, and I’d just look at them with this blank face and say, “Wait a minute. I pay my rent. I own a house. I own a car. What makes it not a real career?” I know my poor dad, he often would ask me, “Are you okay? Is everything going to be okay?” I’m like, “What do you mean?” “Well, you still don’t have a job.” “No, but I have a business, Dad.” He was going, “Yeah, but …” It was just really contentious, the conversations, because he didn’t understand what I do.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I understand that, too. My parents, same thing, except with the added mystery of, “You went to law school, and now you’re doing what?”
Emily Leach: Right, yeah. I was the one kid that went to college — “And you’re doing what?”
Brian Clark: Yep. Oh, well, I do think a lot of progress has been made, and the Internet has fueled so much of it.
Emily Leach: It really has.
Brian Clark: You go from this stigmatized thing back in the ’90s, to a certain degree, and yet now you’ve got digital nomads. They travel the world working freelance or have small entrepreneurial businesses. Now they’re the envy of a lot of people. That has been a big shift. Talk about that a little bit.
Emily Leach: Oh, it’s just been huge. I did it a little bit. I jumped ship some, and I had, I don’t know, three or four years of my life where I had a place up in Montana. I had my sailboat down here in Corpus Christie, and I had a place in Albuquerque, the places that I really like to spend a fair amount of time. But needless to say, I don’t like the cold.
So I went where I wanted to go, and I could go anywhere. All I needed was some Internet, and I needed my laptop — and I was ready to roll. It allowed me to live on that sailboat part-time and do whatever I wanted, when and wherever I wanted to do it.
Like you said, as people began to catch wind of that and say, “Well, how do you do that?” I said, “Well, let’s talk about what you do. What is your craft? What is that thing that you really like to do?” It turns out that there are a lot of crafts. You have your web design, graphic design, writers. It just goes on and on, developers, to where they no longer need to be tied to an office space.
There’s more and more companies even — I think you alluded to this earlier — where it’s like, “Yeah, we have 20 people that work for us, but only five of them are in the office. All the rest of them can be across the country, so I’m no longer tied to or required to only hire locally, right here in Austin. Maybe the best developer for us is in Massachusetts or in Wyoming, and I can bring them on because I don’t need them in my office all the time.”
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s interesting because we’re 65 people all over the world, mainly North America. But sometimes people don’t realize that we’re not a Boulder company, except that the CEO is here. Our people are traditionally employed, in most cases, and yet you could easily see the lessening need for expensive real estate when you do hire or retain the right person for the job, despite geography.
We call it ‘post-geographic’ companies. Now you’re seeing this type of talk go on in Harvard Business Journal. This is not a little-guy concept anymore. This is going up to the enterprise.
Emily Leach: Yeah, it is. One of the things I’m most curious about, we don’t have the answer to, is how will we reuse all the space that has been built over the years for large corporations? They took a lot of real estate, and how will that get reused and repurposed moving forward? Now, parking spaces are taking on some of that real estate, which is awesome. What’s the next thing?
Brian Clark: Yeah, that’s a big deal for the commercial real estate world. Also, retail is kind of being decimated by online shopping.
Emily Leach: Oh, man.
Brian Clark: We’ve got some serious issues — in automation, real estate — but from a human level, all the survey data I see, people are really truly motivated by freedom, by lifestyle, by flexibility. Very often, a freelancer can make more money than they could with a job.
Emily Leach: Absolutely.
Brian Clark: But that doesn’t seem to be the primary driver.
Why ‘Lifestyle’ Is Driving the Freelancing Trends
Brian Clark: Do you have any interesting stats or trends that you’d like to share with us from your work with the association and the conference?
Emily Leach: I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have stats. One of the issues with freelancers is we’re all at home working. For the most part, we’re working at home in our individual spaces, and so it’s difficult to pull real statistics together. I can tell you from trends that I see, talking to people and getting to know freelancers. I did a tour across the country this last year, so I got to meet a whole lot more freelancers, not just here in Austin, and it’s exactly what you were talking about.
People are leaving their jobs to go freelance for more of a lifestyle, to be able to get more out of our lives, a stay-at-home mom or a stay-at-home dad, or maybe both parents staying at home and being able to be the parents that a lot of us grew up with, a stay-at-home parent of some sort, but still make really great income.
Learning tax code, learning how to do our deductions and stuff so that we can make actually even more out of maybe even the same amount of money. There’s so many pieces of this puzzle that it’s hard to do in any one podcast or interview, but that’s the primary thing. Like you said, it gives them the opportunity to take their kids and maybe travel the country for a year or two and still make their income and be able to introduce their children to an entirely different life than our parents maybe ever dreamt of introducing us to.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that’s fascinating because I was just introduced to the concept of world schooling, which is a play on home schooling. Instead, you take your children with you. They do lessons online, but they’re really learning from exposure to various cultures and just seeing a lot more of the world than you or I saw as children, I’m sure.
Emily Leach: I went out to Qatar a few years back with TED and TEDx, and they brought 650 TEDx organizers together. We spent a week together out there. What I found so fascinating was every person I met that was not from America, they were just so comfortable in any country. They moved in and out of whatever country. I mean physically moved — “I want to go live here, and I want to go live there.” As an American, it’s like, “Okay, I want to go and just visit Europe, so what do I got to do?”
There’s such a disconnect, for the majority of us, because we move in and out of our states, and that’s kind of enough. For those guys, the majority of them, moving from country to country was like us moving from state to state. I just found that so intriguing how comfortable they were with the world and how uncomfortable I was with the world versus just my United States.
Brian Clark: I know, and it’s kind of sad, to a certain degree, because there are a lot of people in the United States who have no interest. They see the world as scary and dangerous, and that’s not actually accurate.
Emily Leach: No.
Brian Clark: But it’s understandable, given the way the media portrays things. You have to go out there and look at it for yourself, and you realize that people are people everywhere. Most of them are good and interesting. There’s only so many bad people in the world, but that’s all we ever hear about.
Emily Leach: Exactly.
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The Difference Between Your Craft and Your Business (and Why It’s a Distinction That Matters)
Brian Clark: You’ve mentioned some things a couple of times that I want to key in on. You’ve mentioned craft, which is the talent, the work that freelancers do. Then there’s the business. I find that people starting out confuse the two. This goes back to Michael Gerber’s E-Myth, working in the business as opposed to on it.
Emily Leach: I was just about to say that.
Brian Clark: Give me a few tips that you try to share with those thinking about going into freelancing or newer freelancers. They’re talented designers, accountants, engineers, or what have you, but it doesn’t snap for them that they’re really running a business and that is a separate thing from doing the work. How do you get them on the right path in a few ways?
Emily Leach: A lot of it depends on the personality because there isn’t a one size fits all. I have definitely defined two different types, if not three or four, but two in particular where you have some people where the concept of it is a business comes natural. They might not know all the details and the ins and outs, but it comes natural to them that, “I’m going to have to do more than my craft.”
Then you have others where it really is just completely overwhelming that there is this business to be ran outside of my craft. They have to be talked to, mentored, managed different. You can’t go to one of the individuals that are just completely overwhelmed and say, “You just have to invoice them.” They’re like, “What? What do I use? How do I … ?” It’s literally that scary for some of them.
Whereas someone that is comfortable with the idea of, “Hey, it’s going to be a business. And I know that I’m going to need to invoice, but I don’t really know what that is. I don’t really know what needs to be in it. I don’t know the specific path to get there.” But you give them the path, and they can run with it. Those guys usually make it a lot further faster, just because they don’t have that uphill battle, if you will.
Then those that just naturally are overwhelmed by it, you have to take it more step by step, and you have to let them see how you can make freelancing as your new lifestyle. Otherwise, it’s always going to feel like you’re being pulled at, and you have to compartmentalize these two lives. Personally, I don’t know if there’s another way around it. When you become a business owner, it becomes a part of you.
Why It’s Vital for Freelancers to Prioritize Having Business Processes in Place
Brian Clark: Do you find that some personality types are super focused on getting more clients, growing their client base, and yet they’re putting that before getting processes in place, understanding the business aspect that needs to be there to handle the higher client flow? That’s what happened to me.
Emily Leach: Yeah, that’s what it is.
Brian Clark: Again, everyone wants to talk about marketing, but if you don’t have your house in order before that marketing miracle happens, you’re going to be miserable. And that’s no fun at all. That’s what drove me out of my last business. It’s been a while now, and now, of course, I know how to delegate. But everyone has to learn that at some point.
Emily Leach: They do, and depending on the route that you’re going to take … I also think there’s at least two routes you can take as a freelancer. When a lot of people stop their job, quit their job, and move on, it’s like, “I want to go be a freelancer, and I just really want to be me, myself, and I.” They have a different path forward than the person that wants to build a business where they are basically the person getting the business.
Then they will have two or three, half a dozen, whatever — either they’re freelancers or employees — and they’re going to build an agency. Or I call them a freelance agency, where most of the people working for them are probably also freelancers. They’ve got two different sets of skills to learn.
But yes, I would say almost 100 percent, with very, very few exceptions, people rush out, they start getting their clients, and then they go home. That’s where the overwhelm can happen, regardless of your personality. It’s like, “Okay, I got to get all this work done.” Then they work really hard on it, they get their payments, and then they have to go and get another one.
They keep going back and forth and up and down, up and down, up and down. Instead of, like you said, “Let’s maybe take a step back, and let’s see what two or three things … ” — you don’t have to do them all — “but what two or three things do we need to have in place and really know about ourselves, as well as our business process, to run our business, and this is how it’s going to be ran,” and holding that line, “I’m not going to do these kind of projects.”
People take whatever they can take, and then they begin hating freelancing. It’s not freelancing’s fault.
Brian Clark: Yeah. That’s just bad marketing. You’ve got to know who you’re going to say no to more than anything. Yet I totally identify it. It’s so easy to step back now and say, “You shouldn’t take that work,” and then they’re like, “What? Are you crazy?”
Emily Leach: Yeah, “I’m hungry. I would really like a new bag of Cheerios.”
Brian Clark: Yeah, but you can easily get caught up in that. And then a year goes by, and you’re like, “What the hell am I doing?”
Emily Leach: Right.
Brian Clark: It’s always interesting to me to see that once someone who comes out as more of a crafts person, a technician type, who succeeds so, therefore, has to build the business side. Then all of a sudden, that entrepreneurial light bulb goes off, and they’re like, “You know, I don’t have to do the work. What I can do is create processes and manage projects and do marketing.” They do become that small agency or even larger.
The Varying Motivations for Freelancing and Why ‘Lateral Skills’ Matter
Brian Clark: Have you identified a personality trait that separates those type of people, or is it just plain old motivation? What drives them more than anything? Is it, “Me, myself, and I, so I can travel,” or is it, “I want to build a legacy”?
Emily Leach: You know what? I have not identified it as a personality, one more than another, as much as what is happening in a person’s life. The “want to go and build an agency” can be triggered by getting married. It can be triggered by, “I’m just tired of being broke,” or, “I just want more time, and this is how I have to do it.” They may go down that road and not finish it because they learned different routes.
Then you have the others that get triggered by maybe a death in the family or something happening that they’ve decided, “You know what? I really want to go experience the world, and I want to learn how to freelance. And I want to learn more about what’s going on around me and find my purpose.” Freelancing has also been a really great asset for people that they really do want to take a step back and say, “What am I here for? Why am I on this planet?”
Brian Clark: The big questions.
Emily Leach: The big questions, and those are kind of difficult to figure out for a lot of us with a full-time job.
Brian Clark: Yeah. It’s absolutely true. Just the personal growth you experience by truly fending for yourself economically, it’s one of the most scary but also empowering things you can do — as long as you understand, again, it is a business.
Emily Leach: It is a business. Yeah, and that is like my mantra. I have people ask me almost every conversation, “So who’s the Freelance Conference for? Who’s this association for?” I say, “It’s for people that identify themselves as freelancers,” and they’re like, “Well, who is a freelancer?” I say, “Well, if you identify yourself as a freelancer, you are, and if you don’t, that’s okay, too.” We just kind of go from there.
Both of those organizations are all about learning the business, how to make your business more effective and more efficient, how to connect you with more work, how to remove as much of that marketing time as we can so that those freelancers that don’t want to go and hire out subcontractors and things like that, they have got to find a way to pull back on the time that’s needed in other pieces of their business.
Maybe they hire an admin person so that, that can get taken care of. Then they don’t do as much marketing because they have strategic relationships … I call them ‘lateral skills.’ When I was doing website design, I had a photographer that I worked with, and that photographer, I swear almost every month he had a new project for me. I didn’t have to go look for projects. They were given to me. You go and find those strategic partnerships and things like that, that can really just help make your marketing time almost nothing.
Brian Clark: Yep. Makes sense.
Why Growth Will Be the Biggest Freelancing Trend in 2017 and Beyond
Brian Clark: What trends do you see impacting freelancers and how for 2017 and maybe the next couple of years? What’s imminent?
Emily Leach: I think that growth is imminent, so that alone. I think that growth, one, I believe that it really needs a voice. That’s one of the things that I’ve been working towards as well is pulling together freelancers in more of a community, so our voices together will be stronger than any one of us individually.
I think benefit plans are going to change. I think there’s going to be some policies that are really going to make a difference in the next … maybe not this administration, who knows, but over the next one or two administrations. We can’t sustain what we have now.
Then just the way that people are learning how to do freelancing. I think that learning curve is going to really get shorter because we’re no longer working completely and totally alone. The more communities that we can build, the more time people have to go to conferences and connect with their peers, the less I have to learn all on my own. It takes the average freelancer over these last few years anywhere from two to three years to go from “I’ve started” to “I’m sustainable.” I would love to see that get down to three or six months.
Brian Clark: Do you guys do any course-level training beyond the conference?
Emily Leach: I personally have not. I’ve talked about a few. I created one for the non-profit, the Texas Freelance Association. We call it Jumpstart, and it really was that. It was the nuts and bolts. It’s five weeks long. You go once a week for five weeks, and you spend an entire day in a group of about 10 people.
You start out with an inventory of your business skills. What is it you know? What is it you kind of know? What do you think you know? What do you just flat out don’t know? Then which ones do you really need to know, and what’s your path to get there? Then you go into what is it you do.
Here’s another thing I found with freelancers, and I’m sure you’ve seen it, too. You’re a graphic designer, but you tell people you do everything. Then they don’t know what to use you for. We go through this entire brainstorming process. Each person goes through it individually with the entire group helping them, to help them dissect down the one thing that they really do and then maybe the two or three other things that help support that.
That clarity is just phenomenal. When they walk out the door, it’s like, “Hey, I’m this. I’m not all those other things. I am this.” There’s been one or two cases where a student walks out and says, “Oh, I’m so relieved I don’t have to do that anymore. I get to do this.”
Brian Clark: It’s odd that you need that context for that discovery to happen, but it happens all the time because you’re caught up in it just trying to keep your head above water.
Emily Leach: That’s the thing that’s making money right now.
Brian Clark: Right.
Emily Leach: Right, and so they keep doing it. We spend the rest of the five weeks going over accounting and jumping into an accounting program. Wave has been a beautiful platform for people to use. Then we bring someone in to help talk about how do you define what your price point is — whether it’s project, whether it’s hourly, whatever. We have someone come in and talk about marketing.
We have an attorney come in and talk about just what you need to know as far as creating LLC, tort law, and things like that. Then we have either another attorney come in or have them come in again and talk about agreements. Why do you need a contract? What needs to be in that contract? How do you get that contract made? All of those little pieces.
We have some open conversations of how you pull yourself out of the mud when you get there. Then we have the opposite day. It would usually happen on a Tuesday, so on the Thursday or Friday, we’d have an accountability call.
It was just so beautiful to watch these freelancers go from feeling overwhelmed and kind of scared to, “Okay, I get it. This is a business.” I’ve had freelancers go through that class that have been freelancing for 20 years. She said, “Man, I learned more in this five weeks than I learned in the last 20 years.”
Brian Clark: Yeah, I think this type of education is going to become indispensable, especially, as you alluded to, the fact that the freelance world is only going to continue to grow. Whether they’re broader communities or pocket communities, of support and education actually just absolutely indispensable.
The Next Freelance Conference
Brian Clark: Emily, thank you so much for your time. Tell us a little bit about the next Freelancer Conference. Maybe you’ll get people from all over even more this year.
Emily Leach: That would be phenomenal. Yes, Freelance Conference is September 8th and 9th. We’re going to have a bonus day on the 7th. If you happen to be in Austin or want to come out early, you can go to the bonus day, which is kind of a co-working tour of additional workshops and panels across Austin, and get to see and meet some of our amazing people around here.
The first day of the conference is kind of your typical conference style. We have eight speakers that are coming out. Then the second day is a day of workshops. I really want people to get some hands-on and walk away with stuff.
The coolest thing that I can’t wait to launch this year is called Gig Exchange. I love connecting freelancers with work, and I love to watch freelancers learn how to make strategic partnerships. So I’m inviting companies out to the conference that either hire freelancers throughout the year, or maybe they’re specifically looking for some freelancers at that point in time in the year, and have them come out and be a part of what we’re calling the Gig Exchange. You can come in, and who knows, you might come to a conference and walk away with project work.
Brian Clark: Very enticing. You’ve got a good URL here, FreelanceConference.com. Pretty much nailed that one.
Emily Leach: Pretty much nailed it, yeah.
Brian Clark: If you’re interested in finding out more, go to FreelanceConference.com. We’ll also have that in the show notes. Emily, again, thank you for your time.
Emily Leach: Hey, thank you so much for having me on.
Brian Clark: All right, everyone. Main takeaways: it’s a business. Got to get that set up right before you can worry about growing or traveling the world, whatever your choice may be. I think, also, the work you say no to is more important than the work you say yes to — it’s a hard one, but it makes a big difference.
Thanks for listening, and keep going.