No matter what your idea of freedom is — whether it’s maximizing earnings or maximizing lifestyle — you will have to find reliable ways to earn more money in less time to achieve it.
Otherwise, you just end up sacrificing the freedom that drew you to becoming a freelancer or entrepreneur in the first place.
Ed Gandia has spent the last decade living on the margins of his business and finding ways to scale it without adding the freedom-robbing complexity that we all want to avoid. And now he teaches writers how to do the same — how to earn more in less time, and how to think more like entrepreneurs than craftsmen.
Listen on to hear Ed and Brian Clark discuss a number of simple methods that Ed has learned for how to “scale light,” plus a few more advanced methods for how to “scale lean.” Each of these methods have helped Ed skip ahead of simple incremental growth and instead experience massive leaps in output and revenue, and, most importantly, having the space he’s needed to create breakthroughs in both his business and life.
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- Four Steps to Landing Higher Paying Clients, with Ed Gandia
- High-Income Business Writing Podcast
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How to Scale Your Business Without Sacrificing Freedom
Ed Gandia: Hey, this is Ed Gandia with High-Income Business Writing, and I help writers and copywriters earn more in less time. And I am absolutely unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the podcast for freelancers and entrepreneurs who value their freedom, creativity, and income way too much to ever accept a regular old job. For the full Unemployable experience, sign up for our email newsletter for tips, tools, and trends that will take your business and lifestyle to the next level. Simply head over to Unemployable.com to join us. That’s Unemployable.com.
Jared Morris: No matter what your idea of freedom is — whether it’s maximizing earnings or maximizing lifestyle — you will have to find reliable ways to earn more money and less time to achieve it.
Otherwise, you just end up sacrificing the freedom that drew you to becoming a freelancer or entrepreneur in the first place.
Ed Gandia has spent the last decade living on the margins of his business and finding ways to scale it without adding the freedom-robbing complexity that we all want to avoid. And now he teaches writers how to do the same — how to earn more in less time, and how to think more like entrepreneurs than craftsmen.
Listen on to hear Ed and Brian Clark discuss a number of simple methods that Ed has learned for how to “scale light,” plus a few more advanced methods for how to “scale lean.” Each of these methods have helped Ed skip ahead of simple incremental growth and instead experience massive leaps in output and revenue, and, most importantly, having the space he’s needed to create breakthroughs in both his business and his life.
I’m Jared Morris and this is Unemployable — tips and tools for building your perfect business. Thanks for joining us.
This episode is brought to you by iThemes hosting for WordPress. That’s our host here at Unemployable, and it keeps the site fast and reliable while not breaking the bank. To save even more, simply visit ithemes.com/BC50 to save $50 off your first year. Or head over to unemployable.com/hosting to read our full review to find out about several unique features that iThemes WordPress hosting includes at no charge, and then click over to your $50 discount from there.
Now, here are Brian Clark and Ed Gandia.
Brian Clark: Ed, my friend, it’s good to have you back on the show.
Ed Gandia: Hey, thanks for having me back, Brian. I appreciate it.
Brian Clark: Yes, you know, I don’t want to tell you this, because it may go to your head, but your episode back in 2017 went over really well. I think it was just a lot of concrete advice on how to get higher paying clients, which is near and dear, I would hope, to any freelancer’s heart. I just wanted to let you know. I don’t know if I ever gave you that feedback, but it was a very popular show and very well received, as it should be.
Ed Gandia: No, that’s awesome. I did get some emails from people who found me through that and heard it. So, I got some great feedback. That’s always great to know.
Brian Clark: Okay, and just so I don’t forget, that show will be linked from the show notes. I would suggest that everyone go and listen to that again or for the first time, if you’re new.
We’re going to talk about some other stuff today, because Ed is a treasure trove of great advice for freelancers, specifically people in the business of freelance writing. But I think you’ll find a lot of these ideas and concepts applicable to any freelance business.
What Is Your Background?
Brian Clark: Ed, let’s talk a little bit about when you were a freelancer, because you’ve gone through the same journey I think everyone does, which is you start out and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and it’s somewhat painful, but then you either fix it or you stay in pain.
Ed Gandia: Yes, you get that moment of joy – “I’m finally free” — and then it’s like, “Oh crap, what do I do here?”
So, I guess a little bit of context, Brian. I came from the world of sales. I was always one of these guys that got thrown to the wolves. I never had this amazing opportunity where everything was given to me and I had all these leads coming my way. I had to find my own leads.
I think what really set me up for success is that in my last sales job I was selling software to contractors. This was a product that was the secondary product with a small software company, and the product was on life support. And they said, “Look, it’s you and another guy. So, it’s pretty straightforward. You’ve got the southern half of the US, he’s got the northern half” which is a massive territory. I had about 250,000 potential prospects to call on.
Very early on, I realized, “You know what? There is no way I can do this through the traditional route. I have to learn how to get more done in less time.” I was forced to be very, very efficient. The reason that was a really good training ground is it set a stage for successful freelancing right out of the gate. I realized that every unit of energy and effort I put into my business as a freelancer had to really count. I had to really maximize the output, maximize the result.
So, when I was starting out, this came about, because I was writing my own marketing materials and sales materials for this company as I was doing sales. And that’s when I realized, “You know what, I could probably do this on my own. I bet I can find clients.”
That mixture of having to write my own stuff and having to be really, really good about — we developed the system, this guy and I, where we would sell the software over the phone and through a Webex demo. Webex was really young back then. This is like 2001, 2002, and my system had to turn a sale quickly. I couldn’t afford to have a six-month sales cycle. Qualifying prospects had to be dead on, meaning vetting them, explaining what we did, showing the value and getting a decision all had to be very, very efficient.
Fast forward to when I did go out on my own as a writer, one of the first things I realized was “I’m not charging by the hour, I’m charging fixed project fees.” A really good metric for me, kind of the top metric is: what am I earning on an hourly basis internally? And that became the basis for all the improvements I made, “How can I get my hourly rate from roughly, let’s say, $85 to $100 or $125.” Does that make sense?
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely, and in a broader sense it makes sense. Whether your idea of freedom is the freedom to maximize your earnings or to maximize your lifestyle, you’ve got to earn more in less time. Nice tagline.
Ed Gandia: Yeah, and you know what it was when it really hit home for me, Brian? It was after the 2008 recession, because that year was really difficult for me. I went full-time freelancing in the summer of 2006. I was doing extremely well. I had been building my business on the side for a few years, and when I went out on my own, I was just booked solid.
When the recession hit, I started losing clients left and right. And when things started coming back and I started landing some new clients, I told myself, “I am not going to go back to that model. I want to be able to put in as little effort as possible and get as much of a return as possible.” Every decision I made was really ultra-focused on that foundational principle.
Now, here’s where things really started moving for me. After that, I realized that I was approaching it the wrong way. I was trying to get from, let’s say, $100 to $115 an hour internally, or maybe $120. I was thinking incrementally. And I realized that I wasn’t going to get to my goals doing it that way. I had to apply lateral thinking and find more elegant solutions to the problem. And that’s when I started finally hitting quickly 150, 200, 250, $300 plus an hour.
That’s what I want to share with you and your listeners today, because I started experimenting with a lot of different things and I found things that could get me there very, very quickly instead of just incremental trial and error.
Brian Clark: When you say “internally,” what you’re saying is, “For every hour you work, whether it’s specifically on a client project or not, you’re averaging 300 bucks.”
Ed Gandia: Yeah, my measure was really more on billable work, but I could have taken it the other way too.
Brian Clark: Okay. I just wanted to make sure. It’s fantastic. I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.
How to “Scale Light”
Brian Clark: There’s probably no one listening that doesn’t think this is an attractive idea. Let’s break it down for them though, because it’s easy to begin trying to do something like this and then quickly get overwhelmed.
Ed Gandia: Yeah, I think the first thing you need to understand is let go of your assumptions. Every time I talk about this with somebody who’s thinking incrementally, they freak out and they think, “There’s just no way. The market won’t bear much more than what I’m earning right now.”
Again, you have to attack the problem from different angles. You can’t do it the top-bottom or bottom-up approach you’ve been taking. That’s why I like to think of it in terms of lateral thinking.
The other thing that I noticed, Brian, is that a lot of people who hear this assume that that means, “Oh yeah, but you’re probably bringing in other writers and doing some really special work. And there were things that you were probably doing that I can’t do. I don’t have the capability or I don’t have the desire.” And that’s not true at all. I was working on very simple marketing communications projects.
The first thing that you’ve got to do is you’ve got to keep it really simple. So what can I do? What simple things can I do that will multiply my hourly rate internally without much change? I started calling this approach “scaling light,” because it allows you to really scale your efforts and your business without adding complexity.
This is where I think most people need to start. Don’t try to add all this complexity and bringing in all these other writers and try to create an agency. I think that’s great. Even if you have those aspirations, I say start with a scaling light model. The scaling light model has four ideas and we can go into these individually.
But first of all, work on getting as much repeat business as possible. Repeat business is a huge opportunity I’m surprised more writers don’t pursue. The second one is high profit packages. The third one is consulting engagements. And then the fourth one is retainer agreements. They’re all a little different. There’s some overlap, but those are basically the elements of scaling light.
You don’t have to do them all. But one or two of these can take you from – if you’re earning, let’s say, $100 an hour to easily $200 plus an hour.
How to Ensure Repeat Business
Brian Clark: What was the first one again?
Ed Gandia: The first one is repeat business.
Brian Clark: It’s similar to retain your business, which is kind of the Holy Grail in my mind. You don’t go find a new client every month. You bill one client every month. So, kind of distinguish between those two.
I would imagine repeat business means a variety of ongoing projects for the same client. But retainer business is, for example, “We need five blog posts a month, and you’re our person to do that. We’re going to pay you X every month to show up and deliver that amount of content.”
Ed Gandia: You got it. One leads to the other. Sometimes you can go straight to a retainer agreement. In many cases though, the best way to get there is to repeat business first.
First of all, I’m surprised at how many writers just do one-off projects for a client. Some of this is really a mindset thing. It’s really making a deal with yourself that, “Look, part of your new requirement will be” — and you don’t have to do this overnight — “I’m going to work toward only working with clients that have a long-term need or a longer term need.” That’s something everyone can do.
Most decisions writers make are based on fear. “Okay, well this is what they’ve got, I’m going to take it.” I think part of the vetting process should be, “Is there a longer term opportunity here?” So that’s the first thing.
The reason it’s a little different from retainers, again, it’s kind of a path to get there. “Okay, let’s go beyond the first project. Suggest complementary projects or deliverables that are within your domain of expertise. Maybe the client doesn’t realize you can also do this other kind of work or maybe they just didn’t think of asking you for help in this other area.
Add on projects, things that the client may not have thought of, “Hey, have you thought about doing this? We worked on this white paper, have you thought about breaking that up and splintering the content into all these short blog posts or turning that into a webinar? I think this would make a fantastic webinar.”
We assume that clients have already thought of all these things, but a marketing director, as you know, Brian, is so incredibly busy. You can’t make too many assumptions. They wear so many hats that they don’t always think of the ideas.
Those are two very simple things where you can start showing and adding value and presenting yourself as more of a trusted advisor instead of just an order taker.
Brian Clark: Absolutely. Let’s delve into the mindset a little bit more, because I know when I speak to writers in particular, I think this applies to all sorts of freelancers, but writers in particular, I tell them, “Don’t market yourself as a writer. You’re a marketing consultant with specialized industry expertise.” And I think you touched on that.
The other thing is we just had Brian Casel on, talking about productized services where you’re really building in a systematized offering that really leads to — it’s inherently tied, I think, in my mind — a retainer style business where you offer one thing, you’re very good at it, and of course, you’re paid every month to deliver it.
Now the pushback I always hear, “I don’t want to specialize. I love doing new things and learning new things and I don’t want to systematize things like that.” But I think that’s a wrong way to look at it. Because again, what did we start with here with this whole concept of 7-Figure Small, which is freedom.
Okay, if you want to work on just projects that interest you as part of your craft or you want to work for nonprofits at a lower rate because that’s important to you — what if you built your core business to cover your basic income? Even more, you can create an incredibly lucrative business that frees up your time to do whatever else you want.
And that’s what I’m trying to get through to people, which is, it’s not either/or. In fact, the freedom you’re creating gives you the option to go do the things you think you’re going to miss out on.
Ed Gandia: Oh, absolutely. And that’s the key. That’s why I love the concept of 7-Figure Small. It doesn’t have to be literal. I mean, you could be at $150,000 a year working 25 hours a week. That sounds amazing to a lot of people. I know it does to me.
I was going to throw one more idea at you with the repeat business. It has to be introduced to internal colleagues or counterparts. I mean, I’ve had clients where just by asking that it’s like, “Oh yeah, absolutely.” They make an introduction, suddenly you’re working for three marketing managers in that organization. You know when you’re doing a good job, when they say, “You know what, Ed, I would love to introduce you. My concern is that you’re going to get so busy that you’re not going to have time for my stuff.” That’s when you know you’re doing things the right way.
Brian Clark: Well, that happens when I work with a great freelancer and I’m like, “God, I want to help them out, but if they get too busy, I’m going to suffer.” You always have to worry about that.
Ed Gandia: Yeah.
How to Get a Foot in the Door
Brian Clark: Let me ask you this because a lot of people I think right now ask, “Okay, how do I get foot in the door at an organization like that in the first place?” Of course, I could give a ton of answers to that, but I want to hear what you think about when you make that connection with the marketing manager before you get the opportunity to go, “Hey, is there anyone else who may need some work?” And I guarantee you, there will be.
Ed Gandia: Yeah. Well, there are a couple of things that are pretty straightforward. One of them is you could just tell by the size of the organization, doing some basic searching on LinkedIn that they have a pretty significant marketing department and maybe multiple divisions. So, in the corporate market, Fortune 1000 level, that’s going to be pretty common.
The other thing I look for is, and this is not a requirement for me to take on a client, but I do kind of poke around just to see. Looking at them on LinkedIn to see how well they are connected and how much experience they have, not just as a marketer but also in that specific industry.
My focus is always enterprise software and if I see that Kim has been in tech marketing for the past 18, 22 years or whatever, and she’s worked in all these different places and she’s connected to 800 plus people, she’s probably a good connector. So, that’s really a good sign, just kind of another check mark on the vetting process.
Creating High-Profit Packages
Brian Clark: Absolutely. So, you scale light to begin with. For some people, this may get them where they want to be – who knows. But there’s a next level (I know there is). So what next?
Ed Gandia: Well, let me add a couple other things with scaling light. The other ones, and I know you talked about this with Brian, which is high-profit packages. A lot you could do there with productized services. We don’t need to get into that, but it’s really about bundling, because many times we’re asked for X, but you could add on and upsell to X with other complementary services.
Ed Gandia: Again, easy things you could add on don’t take a lot of time and effort, but can boost your income on that project – consulting. For instance, one thing that I did, Brian, early on is that for years I included messaging and positioning work, especially with startups when I did their web copy. And I realized, “You know what, I’m giving this away for free. That is ridiculous. I need to start charging for it.”
I remember the first one I did on its own, I charged $2,500 for it. And I thought, “Oh my God, they’re going to balk.” And they took it. They paid $2,500 just for that piece plus the web copy project. And that to me was a wakeup call.
Sometimes you can add a consulting piece where you are consulting in terms of strategy and planning or design, like message architecture, content marketing, planning, etc., that many times you might add or include as part of the project, that should be its own thing. And that could add a lot of money to your pocketbook very quickly.
Brian Clark: I mean, I’m sorry. I’m glad you kept going on this. There’s so much you can do with this so-called “light scaling.” You could almost build your whole business or at least take it to the next level.
But what you said about consulting, again, kind of ties back to positioning itself. I’ve been teaching a lot of people to lead with strategy, which as you know, is incredibly valuable and worth paying for, because if you don’t have that, you can write all the copy in the world and it’s not going to matter. If you’re not sure you’re talking to the right people in the right way, then you’ve got a problem. So yeah, I think that is the important part.
Again, kind of goes back to the, “I’m a consultant who can also deliver content and copy or a consultant who also is a damn good writer. But first and foremost, the value I bring to you is my understanding of your industry, your business, and what your prospects are looking for.”
Ed Gandia: Oh my gosh, Brian, that is so key.
I keep saying, “Look, your clients don’t just want another writer. The world does not need another writer. You know what the world needs? Someone who can bring more than that to the table.” Honestly, for a client, they can find a writer immediately. I mean, they just do a search on Google, go to Upwork, that’s not the problem anymore.
The problem is, “How can I bring someone in who understands my world, understands my industry, my sector, understands the clients that we’re going after? That target market or those target markets? Somebody who can hit the ground running and is easy to work with?” That right there.
It’s assume that if you’re positioning yourself as a writer that you can already write, even though that’s not always the case. They want more.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s true. And people don’t value writing and I hate that. I know some writers get offended at the very thought of that, but it’s just reality. You need to deal with reality, and what people need is high value advice and then execution. Don’t just say, “I can execute, tell me what to write.” What good is that?
Establishing Retainer Agreements
Ed Gandia: Absolutely. So, then the last item there in scaling light is retainer agreements. And we mentioned that at the beginning, that repeat business leads to retainer agreements.
What I would say there is, my biggest piece of advice is, “Look, don’t pitch retainer agreements right out of the gate. Instead, build a relationship first, build some trust and credibility in value and then pitch a retainer agreement.” So much easier to do that than it is to try to get in the door with a retainer agreement.
Brian Clark: So, instead of trying to get them to sign that contract, say, “Let me do some work for you,” even though you know it’s an ongoing need. If they’re happy, then the next step – “You need this next month too.” So, it just becomes a very natural progression as opposed to some sort of hard sell, which a lot of freelancers and writers specifically are not comfortable with doing anyway.
So, show up and do the work, but be strategic yourself. Think about, “What am I trying to get?” Begin with the end in mind.
Ed Gandia: Yeah, and it’s a big ask. There’s a risk.
A marketing director is taking a big risk if you’re pitching a $5,000 a month retainer agreement right out of the gate. But if you can get in the door with a pilot project or two, and then you can do these things we’ve been talking about and build that trust and value, you can then position yourself. You might be able to get $6,000.
The retainer agreement model that I teach is not about selling hours, it’s about just selling a flat recurring fee every month. And then working with a client on this list of things that they need done.
Or in a case of somebody taking an agile approach where they don’t know ahead of time what they’ll need, it’s using either a point system or something similar, but it all requires trust and you haven’t earned that trust, at least not at that level if you’re just pitching them.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s really about comfort more than the money. I mean, they have a budget and it’s not that they don’t want to pay the money, it’s that they want to make sure you’re the right person to pay that money to. And that is not something you figure out right away. Sometimes, you have a good feeling about someone over a meeting with their writing samples, portfolio, etc., but until you work with that person… I know this is me speaking for myself right now. And then a couple of months down the road, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep you on board, because you are solving a problem for me.”
Ed Gandia: Yeah, this is dating first and then let’s get married, as opposed to let’s get married right out of the gate.
Level Up to Lean Scaling
Brian Clark: Absolutely. All right, I’m almost afraid to ask what the next level is. Honestly, a lot of freelancers are really out there struggling just to get by. I would go ahead and rewind at this point and listen to that part again, and then come back. We’re going to hear what Ed had has to say next.
What’s your next level then?
Ed Gandia: Yeah, I would say, “Work those four things first.” You could do some serious damage, and I mean that in a positive way. You could get some great results with that alone.
The next level would be simple scaling or lean scaling. This is when you start experimenting with things that are going to add some more complexity to your business.
So, let me just tell you what the four things are and then we can go into them. The first is bringing in one additional writer. The second one would be bringing in a designer. And these by the way, are still contractors, these are not employees. The third one would be bringing in complementary freelancers, and the fourth one (and this is my favorite, so we’re saving it for last) is bringing offbeat resources. How do those sound?
Brian Clark: That sounds fantastic. And it brings some things to mind. Obviously, Ed works with freelance writers. But if you think about it from a general standpoint, the designer should be bringing in one additional designer and then a writer. The developer should be bringing in writers and designers. You know what I’m saying?
I mean, what’s the total job when you start thinking about what the universe surrounding your part of the project is, it’s a natural bundle opportunity, I suppose, if you want to take that to the next level. But again, as you point out, these are fellow contractors. You’re not dealing with the pain of employees.
Ed Gandia: You’re not. And if you do it one step at a time, you’ll start getting the hang of it. Because let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how much training you have and how you approach it, you’re going to learn as you go and you’re going to make mistakes. And you know what? You’re going to have to be patient.
People who try this, especially creative professionals, they want that creative they bring on to start paying off on day one. And that’s an unrealistic expectation. You may have to try two or three different creative people, whether you’re bringing in a writer or a designer or somebody else. It’s going to take a little bit of trial and error.
Deciding What to Keep and What to Delegate
Ed Gandia: The cool thing is that as you try it, you’re going to learn. Number one, you’re going to learn what it is you want to keep and what it is you want to delegate or outsource. That’s going to become clear.
And the third thing is throughout that whole process, you’re going to be able to document things. I think that’s where a lot of the key lies, Brian, is in just being able to come up with systems internally where you know which parts you’re going to keep and which parts you’re going to outsource or delegate.
Here’s one example. A lot of writers and just all creatives feel, “No, I’m the only one who can do that.” Well, I actually disagree. I think you’re bundling everything together and saying, “I’m the only one who can do this thing.” But if you decouple it, there are all kinds of pieces there in that project, and you’re probably not amazing at all of them.
So, here’s one example for me. I realized over time I was really good at brainstorming strategy, outlining and just cranking out a first draft. From then on, I started losing my gift. I started getting diminishing returns. So, turning it into a second draft, and then editing and proofreading, and then maybe editing again, because I wasn’t sure. I started really losing steam. That is not my zone of genius or even my zone of excellence.
I started noticing there are some things that I do better and some things that I don’t do as well. Who says that I have to do them all? So, one of the first things I tried was, “Okay, let me bring in an additional writer and let me bring him in on a client where there’s a lot of repeat work.” Because if it’s a one-off, it’s going to be hard for them to catch on. So, a lot of repeat work.
Let me take the first part, the strategy and then the outlining, mind mapping and maybe something beyond that. And then let me figure that out, let me bring in the writer, let me have a conversation with him. Let them go to work on a draft, maybe even a second draft, and then I can come back in at the end and help with the editing or give it to someone who will give them the right direction in terms of editing and proofreading. Does that make sense?
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely.
Ed Gandia: You’ve just got to figure out where’s your gift? Most of the time, you don’t excel in each one of those areas.
Brian Clark: I like the idea of decoupling, because whether you feel like you’re a strong first draft writer or a strategist, that level of work — you’re right, taking it all away, down to the finished product is not necessarily what you enjoy and what you’re really brilliant at.
A lot of times in various projects I’m working on, I’ll get the raw material, the idea of the article or whatever, and then I’ll edit that thing into something completely different, but it’s perfect. Because I understand the end reader, the end result that needs to be there. But someone else had the subject matter expertise and the idea that I wouldn’t have had in the first place.
And that’s just flipping on its head what you just said, which is where you start at the beginning. You create the outline of the strategy of what this needs to accomplish and then someone else takes it over the finish line, which is like at Copyblogger with our editor, Stephanie. She’s fantastic at getting everything across the finish line.
So, it’s not true that you have to be there for every dotted I, crossed T, and period.
Ed Gandia: You don’t, you really don’t. And I think that’s a self-limiting belief.
I see that a lot with creatives, because creatives just love their craft. So many creatives see themselves as creative people, as craftsmen, not as entrepreneurs. And I know that’s something you’ve been talking about too. I really believe that the definition doesn’t really matter. It’s really about the mindset.
If you start thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur, you’re going to make better decisions and you’re going to be able to earn more in less time than someone who thinks of themselves as purely a craftsman.
Brian Clark: Yeah, and it doesn’t mean you have to remove yourself from the creative process. It just means that you do the part where you truly shine. I love what you said, something of excellence. What was the term you used?
Ed Gandia: Zone of genius, zone of excellence.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I think everyone has the shining skill, and yet, we feel like everything that surrounds it is also part of that skill sometimes, but not always. And I love it – decoupling.
Building Your Team
Ed Gandia: Yeah. I would say the second one, Brian, is really what it sounds like — bringing in not just a complementary freelancer or creative, but kind of the closest thing to you. So, in the case of a writer, it would usually be a designer. In the case of a designer, it might be a writer.
The third one, though, kind of takes it a little bit further out there, in that it’s not the first person you might think of. Let me give you some examples. For a writer, bringing in a complementary freelancer could mean bringing in, let’s say, someone who can do some research, market research, research for a really extensive 200-page report for a Fortune 500 client that you’ve been working with, especially if it’s specialized research. Somebody who can do event planning.
Let’s just say you’ve got a smaller client and they really need help with a user’s conference you’re putting together, and they don’t really have somebody internally. You’ve built a lot of trust there. You have a good friend of yours who’s an event planner, you might be able to bring him in and help with that. Video production, animation, audio production, illustration — you see what I’m saying?
So, other creative functions that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of immediately, that’s not kind of the standard thing.
Brian Clark: Yeah, and that’s kind of that whole universe of what we’re really trying to get accomplished for the client overall, and where can you participate without stepping over bounds.
So, I do caution against trying to fill a need that is really outside of your lane, especially early on in the relationship, but some things are just so naturally congruent with what you’re doing. You’re actually solving a pain point, because the client is off dealing with someone else. Every time you deal with another person, as you say, as a marketing manager, your stress level just goes up.
Ed Gandia: It does. And I agree with you Brian. It’s got to be something where you’re listening to their pain and you realize, “I know someone who could help with this.” As opposed to, “Wow, I wonder if I can go out there and find someone that I don’t know.” Big difference.
Bring in Offbeat Resources
Ed Gandia: And that leads me to the next one. Now, the next one’s a slightly different version of this, and I call it “Bringing in an offbeat resource or resources,” because it’s a little bit more extreme. Let me give you the story of how this came about for me, because it changed my business. And it actually led me to the next iteration of what I created.
I had a client. They’re actually my last employer, and they didn’t hire me when I left full-time freelancing. A year later, I get a call from one of their VPs — a guy had actually had been doing a little bit of lead generation work for them, email lead gen, and writing the copy for them. And he said, “He’s been doing a great job with that, I hear. What we really need for this product is someone who can then follow up on the leads and get a demo scheduled. So, kind of an appointment setter. Would you be interested in that?”
My first reaction was, “No, that’s not what I do. I used to do that for you years ago. I’m moving on, brother.” And I told him, “You know what, let me think about it.” I don’t know why I said that, but I said, “Let me think about it.”
I’m glad I did, because it hit me later that night that I don’t have to be the one doing that. What if I brought in somebody who could take care of that? And then I remembered that I had someone I knew — two, three months before had said, “Hey, I’m doing appointment setting for tech companies as a freelancer, if you ever know of someone, let me know.” And I had forgotten, but this reminded me.
So, I contacted him. We had a great conversation. Anyway, I pitched the deal to my client and we were able to do a retainer agreement for him to work under me as an appointment setter. His fee to me was $3,000 a month. I charged the client $6,000 a month. So, I was making a $3,000 a month profit on retainer. My work was basically about an hour a week doing a little bit of project management on this thing. And this went on for about 18 months, just to give you an idea.
This is a really offbeat idea, but I think the lesson here is that I know you may not be able to duplicate that same exact thing. The lesson behind this idea is: keep your eyes and ears open.
There might be an opportunity where you see some pain. You see a need that you might be able to fill through somebody else, somebody you already know or trust and come up with a really creative deal where everybody wins. And the markups could be significant.
I happen to know that this company had great budgets, and they didn’t even bat an eye at my $6,000 a month quote.
Brian Clark: Perfect. That does sound ideal. It’s really, like you said, keeping your eyes open. And don’t say no right off the bat, because you don’t personally do that. Become a solution provider even if the solution is not your personal effort.
Ed Gandia: Absolutely. And then the relationship just strengthens, doesn’t it? Because you become a more and more valuable resource the more you do for them.
This eventually led to them asking me, “You know what, this is working great. We also need help with account management. Our customer who is a SaaS company, we want to make sure when they come up with a renewal that we don’t have a high churn. We want to make sure they renew. We need somebody who stays on top of them and just makes sure they’re happy. We don’t have that resource here.”
So, I knew of somebody and I called her and she said, “I’m not interested, but my sister used to work at Hewlett Packard doing that same exact job. Let me connect you with her.” Brought her in, same deal. It was not quite $6,000 a month. I want to say it was maybe half of that, but it was still 100% markup for me. And she was with me for well over a year, and they ended up hiring her full-time.
The point is: keep your eyes and ears open, you never know.
I’ll tell you, Brian, the profit that I was earning with this client and with some other clients that I had on retainer on basic marketing communications work, freed up so much of my week that I was able to launch a blog and co-write my book, The Wealthy Freelancer with Steve Slaunwhite and Pete Savage. And that’s what launched the next phase of my business, which was coaching.
But there’s no way I could have done that without freeing up that kind of time. So, it enabled me to maybe start a side gig essentially.
Brian Clark: Yeah, and reflecting a little on the conversation so far, it seems like there’s a lot of congruency between light scaling in the next level. It’s just adding more value, when you really think about it, and becoming the provider of the solution that the client ultimately needs. But your margins and your profits just from there can really change the scape of your business.
And that’s, I think, where we’re heading. Again, which is, “Okay, now I’m freed up and I can choose.” Again, the freedom. “Do I do another level which is moving beyond client services?” A lot of freelancers dream about that. I think you just gave them a path to how you do it.
Tips for Moving Beyond Client Services
Brian Clark: Let’s hear a little bit more on about how you did it and if you have some general tips on what others can do to diversify into books, products, coaching, what have you.
Ed Gandia: Yeah. So, I’m a creator. I love building and creating new things, very entrepreneurial that way. Instead of taking all that time off, I decided to start the side gig and just to see. I just thought it was neat. I realized that I was good at it. I had been kind of coaching some other writers on the side on building and growing their businesses, just applying a lot of these things that we’ve been talking about.
So, I decided, “Let’s just try this. Let’s launch a business.” At first, it was courses. First, it was a book. The book was traditionally published through an imprint of Penguin. And that gave us (my partners and I) the credibility we needed to then start creating courses.
Long story, but I ended up buying their share of the business. And I did this on my own. To me, this is what I wanted to do. And I didn’t realize it until I started it, but it enabled me to tap into a skill that I didn’t realize I have. And that was the training and the coaching side of it.
Little by little I did more and more coaching, more and more courses. 80% of my income was still clients. But because I was able to free up that time, I was able to create a lot of material. I was able to do a lot of marketing that I needed to get the business off the ground. And today, that’s all I do. My last writing client got acquired last year and these days, I just dedicate everything to this.
Now, I think the core lesson there is that you never know where this will take you, but you won’t know unless you are able to free up some of that time and use a percentage of it to experiment, kind of like Google does. I think their philosophy is “70% of our time is going to be on our core business, 20% is going to be on adjacent businesses. And then 10% is going to be on really wild stuff.” Many of their ideas have come from that 10%. They even have that 20% experimenting time that they require their engineers to have.
So, that’s kind of how I was treating my business. But the only way I was able to free up that time was because of these things we just talked about.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s interesting in this day and age. I did what we now call “content marketing” for eight years before I started Copyblogger, and talking about it with other people. You spent all this time in the trenches truly elevating the level of your business through these techniques. But the joke these days is everyone’s a guru trying to teach courses and they’ve never done really anything.
I think there’s a lot of that feeling perhaps. The people who feel imposter syndrome are not the scheisters who are out there pretending not to be imposters. There are people who through their own processes, through their own experience, have valuable things that they can help others.
And I can’t help but think about this incredible growth in the freelance economy over the next five years. The projections are outrageous. It’ll be more common to be a freelancer than an employee, in the United States at least. And we don’t even know how it’s completely going to play out with the impact of technology and automation and all this good stuff.
I just feel like there’s a need for people like you who can actually help other people out. Yes, you have to have credibility. Yes, you really have to know what you’re talking about.
But I also don’t think it’s something that necessarily people should shy away from. I mean, I understand that you freed up your business, you had valuable things to talk about, and you’re not the type to take a break, obviously.
How Important Is a Desire to Help Others?
Brian Clark: But it seems to me, you’re one of those people who genuinely likes to help people as well. It kind of comes across, that’s why your podcast interviews are so popular. I mean, is that the secret sauce, do you think, a true desire to help others?
Ed Gandia: I really believe I’m wired that way, because now I can connect the dots looking backward in my life. Ever since I was a kid, I was the one who said, “Okay, guys, let me just take charge. I’m going to show you how we’re going to fix this.” It’s always been in me. And now that I’m older, I realize that it’s part of my personality.
I think the lesson here is not so much, “Oh, you could do coaching or you could put courses together.” I think the core lesson is that having that time will give you the space, the mental and creative space you’re going to need to come up with some ideas as to how you could leverage that time.
Now, for some people it might be, “You know what, I wanted to free up that time for some volunteer work, some mission trip work, whatever.” Everyone’s different.
For me, it was, “I want that creative value of trying new things and building new things, and see what works.” That was really important. And with, you’re right, that innate feeling of, “I want to help others.” Because I always felt like, “You know what, I’ve made so many mistakes, if I can help somebody avoid some of those, that’s awesome. That brings me a ridiculous amount of joy.”
Brian Clark: We also have to remember that this all goes in phases.
At some periods of time, we might like to take it easy. I went on a hardcore run for about eight years, 2010 to last year, then sold some businesses and took some time off. And now, I’m kind of ready for the next run.
So, that’s another aspect of what we keep talking about freedom is. Just because you choose to go all out for a little bit, it doesn’t mean you have to do that for the rest of your life. That’s also an aspect of what we’re talking about here.
When you make decisions, sometimes that’s how you feel then and you will feel differently later. And that’s also in my mind the absolute beauty of this kind of life.
Ed Gandia: What’s interesting is everything we just talked about in this interview, now I’m applying it to my coaching business. I’ve been implementing ways over the past 18 months to get more leverage in my business. And I’ve been scaling back every month, little by little to free up that time. And gain, some of it will be for personal use. Some of it will be for that 10%, just wild and crazy, “Let’s think of some cool stuff to do.” So yeah, I’m with you 100%.
I reached a point 18 months ago where I was just near a burnout. And I started applying some of these, the scaling light, the lean scaling — hired a coach, an associate coach who does some of the coaching for me. She just teaches my systems, frameworks, methodologies — not to everybody, but just some of my groups. And that’s freed up an incredible amount of time.
I’ve got a team of seven people, they’re all contractors. So I’ve been able to detach myself a little bit from the business and to me, that’s part of the fun. It’s just like, “Let’s see what we can create without going nuts.”
Where Can We Find You?
Brian Clark: That sounds like you are actually doing this 7-Figure Small thing.
Ed, thanks so much for being on the show. A lot of value, I appreciate your generosity. Tell people where to find you.
Ed Gandia: Yeah, man. Thanks for having me. The best place is B2Blauncher.com. You’ll find all my free resources there, including the podcast and all the articles and goodies.
Brian Clark: Sounds good. All right, Ed, thank you so much. Everyone, thanks for tuning in. Like I said, go back, listen over again. If you’re on the newsletter, you’ll get the full transcript of this conversation, which I think would be pretty valuable. So, make sure you’re on the newsletter and keep going.
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