Seven years ago, online I started legitimately freelancing for the first time.
I was so stoked. “If I can find just one or two new clients every month,” I thought to myself, “I’ll be making more than I could at a desk job, doing something I love and with more free time than ever.”
Boy was I wrong.
What I learned less than one year into the process is the business of freelancing is very counter-intuitive.
Let me explain.
Why the business of freelancing is completely backwards
I’ve spent the last 5+ years working with creative freelancers to build a successful business. Two of the most popular reasons people have for making the leap to freelance are:
1) Find more creative freedom
“I want to create on my own terms. Not be subject to my Art Director’s (or anyone else’s) taste.”
2) Find more time freedom
“I’d love to travel more. I can do this sort of work from anywhere, so why am I chained to a desk?”
Then, a year into freelancing, they realise:
1) They have more creative freedom
Sure, they have to answer to clients who sometimes have bizarre requests, but for the most part, they determine the creative direction for themselves.
2) But they don’t have more time freedom
They’ve realised the harsh truth about freelancing: your income is limited by the number of hours in the day.
You’ve got 24 hours
No matter who you are, you’ve got 24 hours every day.
Which means scaling a freelance business that functions traditionally (finding new clients, working on their projects, collecting your paycheck, rinse and repeat) simply won’t work.
Eventually, you’ll run out of hours in the day.
Even if you’re super-creative-person, working 16+ hours every day is not sustainable.
Plus, remember reason #2 for getting into freelancing? You wanted more free-time, remember? Working more hours is simply not the answer to scaling your freelance business and taking it to the next level.
Scaling your freelancing business
If you can’t scale your business by adding more hours to the day or working more hours, how are you supposed to grow your creative business?
You could try charging more. And that will work for a while. But there’s a cap to that as well.
So what should you do when your freelancing business is becoming “time poor?” How can you rescue yourself when you’re feeling burned out on your business? How can you keep growing while finding more free time and maintaining your creative independence?
With this one small daily change: spend one hour every day investing in assets.
What is an asset?
An asset is something that adds serious value to your business. It’s something that will either help you find more free-time or make more money without having to put in more hours.
Assets literally determine the value of a company–from huge corporations to one-person shops like me and you.
You’re giving away your free-time to someone else.
We’ve already talked about how limited your time is. So think about it: every hour you spend working on someone else’s project, is an hour spent building someone else’s empire.
And when you’re building someone else’s empire, it’s hard to also be building your own.
You may snag a great referral or a nice portfolio piece from the project you’ve been slaving over for the last few weeks, but when it comes to real financial growth or an increase in free-time, you’re left with little to your name.
As a freelancer, you dedicate 100% of your time to building for other people. It’s time for that to change.
From now on, dedicate at least one hour every single day to building something for yourself. I’m not necessarily talking about just “fun” projects (although those can help in other ways) either. Take an hour every day to build an asset.
What to build?
Before you get building, here’s some really important advice to keep in mind:
Your asset should be scalable.
What does that mean? It means whatever you’re working on should make it possible for you to eventually bring in more money every day without having to put in the extra hours every day.
For example, a really easy way to scale your business is to make sure the assets you build are resell-able. Whether you’re highly skilled at illustrations, wordpress themes, site graphics, or something completely different, it’s likely there’s a marketplace out there where you can sell your creations.
Companies like Creative Market or Envato offer simple selling opportunities that will help you get started. Once you fall in love with selling, you can also try using software like Selz or Gumroad to sell digital items on your own web site.
You could also try your hand at ebooks, design bundles, video courses, and more. All of these things you can sell again and again without adding more work hours to your week.
The options are practically endless.
Here’s a short list of things you could build starting today.
After putting in an hour every day for a few months, I think you’ll be surprised the kind of progress you can make.
• Create and sell a video course all about professional illustration
• Create some cool vintage icons and sell them in a set
• Create and sell a unique and stunning hand-drawn font
• Start a blog about illustration, design, writing, etc. and use it to promote your sellable items
• Write and sell a step-by-step illustration guide for beginners
There are so many opportunities here.
Start today by sitting down and brainstorming 10 assets you want to start building right away.
When you do, and especially once revenue starts coming in from those efforts, you’ll finally start to see the real freedom you dreamt about when you first started freelancing.
What have I left out?
What do you think about my theory here? Have you built any assets that have helped you grow your creative business in new ways? Share in the comments and let us know what you think.