I recently received a question from a reader named Briana, who asks:
“Paula your story is definitely inspiring. I’m having a bit of trouble though.
Since being laid off in January, I’ve been pursuing a “career” as a freelance writer, and while things are steadily looking up, the fact of the matter is I’m still not making enough for a full time income. 11 months later and the stress of getting a “real job” is even greater than before.
Our lease will be up in February; we have debt to pay down. It’s tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What do you suggest?
I had stopped putting in applications and told myself I’d really take freelancing seriously, but I recently started putting in applications again. It’s truly the last thing I want to do.
I would love to travel, and work from home, or anywhere with WiFi for that matter. I just feel like it’s not realistic for me. Any thoughts/tips?”
This is going to be an epic post, because I want to help you avoid succumbing to “last thing (you) want to do.” People thrive in work they love. People stink at jobs they hate.
I’ve broken this post down into 6 categories:
- Finding Work
- The Real Question You Should Be Asking
- Pricing Your Work
- How Most People Fail
- Versace vs. Pepsi
The tips I’m going to share will apply to people in almost any industry, not just writing.
#1: Finding Work
Finding work is easy – there’s tons of it out there. I’ve created a list of websites that offer freelance work, which is at the bottom of this post. But before you scroll down to that list, ask yourself: Do you view the world as having a scarcity of available work, or do you view it as having an abundance of work?
Step one to finding work is to start a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you view the world as a place of abundance, you start to SEE that abundance everywhere.
I’m sure you’re familiar with “hand-eye coordination.” Our bodies are hardwired to travel in the direction that our eyes view – whether we want to or not. That’s why good drivers look directly ahead, while distracted drivers are likely to steer their car into the shoulder.
That’s also why many drivers collide with bright orange construction equipment. Drivers start looking at these eye-catching objects, and – boom! – their eye-hand coordination steers their car into it.
In other words, our brains unconsciously steer us toward whatever we’re looking at. On a mindfulness level, the same thing happens. See the world as brimming with opportunity – and your brain will unconsciously steer you toward this opportunity.
I know that sounds vague and esoteric, but seeing the world as a place of abundance is a critical first step that can’t be ignored. (And for concrete job-finding guidance, I’ve included a long list of resources at the bottom of this post.)
#2: The Real Question You Should Be Asking
The real question is not “where can I find work?” The real question is: “What work is worthwhile? What work is a waste of time?”
There are two ways to price your work:
The Pepsi Method
High volume, low prices.
Pepsi is burdened with huge overhead – lawyers, advertising, highly-paid executives. But you’d never guess it by the $1.30 two-liter bottles at the store. Pepsi’s sales strategy is “high volume, low prices” – they make their product cheap so that they can sell as many bottles as possible.
It’s easy to do that when you’re selling a mass-produced product. There’s no limit to the number of Pepsi bottles in this world. It’s much tougher to use this strategy when you’re trading your limited time for money.
But – yes, there’s a “but” –
That’s because, frankly, the less they pay you, the less of a risk they take. If your work sucks it won’t bother them as much, because they haven’t invested much into you.
If I pay someone $10 to perform a task, and he totally flops, all I’ve lost is $10. If I hire someone for $10,000 to perform a task, I’m taking a huge leap of faith.
The people who will pay you top-dollar are the people who believe in you. That’s a win-win for you both, but it takes time to build that kind of trust and reputation.
The Versace Method
Low volume, high prices.
Suits and dresses by the Versace label aren’t flying off the shelves like 20-oz. bottles of Pepsi. The company sells a smaller batch of items (they call it “exclusive”) but commands a hefty premium.
When you’re selling your time, you’re selling a genuinely exclusive product. Your time can’t be mass-produced. Supplies are limited.
Your time is worth more than a Versace fragrance. It ought to command a premium.
The problem is, your reputation needs to precede you. I can’t just stitch together some pants and sell them on eBay for $4,000. I don’t have a famous designer label (imagine: “Pants by Paula Pant” – or simply, “Paula’s Pants.”)
Versace can charge those rates, because it trades on its name. It’s not selling pants, it’s selling its reputation. This takes time to develop.
#3: Pricing Your Work
Trying to build a business when your financial footing is shaky is like trying to hang beautiful wallpaper in a house with a rotting foundation.
Step 1: If you’re not earning enough to pay the bills, use the Pepsi Method. Grab as many projects as you can, even though they don’t pay you what you’re worth.
Step 2: Do this until you’re earning enough to meet your minimum monthly bills.
Step 3: Switch to the Versace Method for all your additional work.
Step 4: With each Versace-level project you start, fire at least one Pepsi-level client.
These days I spend a ton of time working on long-term projects that might not pay a dime for 2-3 years. I can afford to do this is because I’ve laid a foundation of “baseline” income.
I use the “Pepsi Method” to hustle for just enough projects to prevent me from needing a day job. Then I switch to Versace-level projects.
With every new Versace-level client I find, I “fire” at least one Pepsi-level client.
(Side note: Don’t necessarily fire your lowest-paying client. Fire the client that drains your energy the most. There are many poorly-paying clients that are a joy to work for – perhaps because they teach you something valuable, or provide you with great connections, or serve a great cause. Conversely, there are plenty of clients that pay handsomely but they’re a “PITA” – a pain-in-the-bleep.)
#4: How Most People Fail
Here’s where many people fail: they give into the temptation to pick the low-hanging fruit, even after their minimum monthly bills are met.
Here’s an example:
Let’s assume you live frugally: you cook at home, rent movies instead of going to a theater, and explain to your mom that instead of buying her a Christmas present this year, you’ll write her a heartfelt letter telling her how much you appreciate her. (She’ll like that more, anyway.)
Thanks to frugal living, you can shave your household expenses down to $2,000 per month.
You go to the resources section at the bottom of this post and find a bunch of Pepsi-level projects, which earn you $3,000 per month. You set aside $1,000 for taxes; the rest pays your bills.
In theory, this is the point where you should switch to higher-level projects. Your foundation is solid. Now it’s time to build.
But the low-hanging fruit tempts people. They see the chance to take on one or two more low-level projects for an extra $800 per month.
With an extra $800 per month, you could dine out every Friday night, get an occasional manicure, and pick up a nice jacket for the winter. Surely one or two more low-level projects won’t hurt, right? Riiiigghhhht?
Don’t get stuck picking the low-hanging fruit. It’s a necessary evil, but don’t do this any longer than necessary. People are their own barriers to high-level success.
#5: Versace vs. Pepsi
How can you tell the difference between low-level and high-level projects? Here’s a rule of thumb: if you have to trade your time for money, it’s low-level. If it establishes a long-term path that (eventually) might allow you to own an income-producing asset, it’s high-level.
Building a website, for example, is a Versace-level activity. It requires a ton of upfront work, and it almost certainly won’t pay much the first year. It might only pay a pittance the second or third year. It might become the next mega-website, or it may never amount to anything. It’s a risk.
You MUST take risks in order to succeed, and you have to accept that some of them might not work out. The key is to keep your cost-of-living to a bare-bones minimum, maintain cash reserves, and avoid debt.
(Read more: How to Bootstrap a Business.)
Buying rental properties, building businesses and investing in index funds are Versace-level activities. The freelance work -– trading time for money -– happens in the meantime.
#6: Resources for Finding Freelance Work
Here’s my standard disclaimer: I’m not necessarily vouching for any of these jobs or resources. It’s up to you to decide if it’s a good fit. Use common sense.
- Writer’s Digest – One of the oldest and largest listing of freelance writing jobs.
- Media Bistro Freelance Marketplace – A forum for freelancers to showcase their work.
- Society of Professional Journalists — A hub of about 20 freelance job sites. Poke around on this site for a while. It includes the “Independent Journalist” blog, which holds advice for freelancers.
- Journalism Jobs – A website where writers, editors, and designers can look for freelance (and staff) gigs.
- ProBlogger Job Board – You can find freelance gigs here along with contract, part-time, and full-time positions.
- Upwork – Choose from a wide variety of categories in which to advertise your services.
- Who Pays Writers? – A resource that lists major publications and how much they pay.