As a freelancer, you get to be your own boss. Nothing beats working from anywhere, making your own hours, and doing work that you love.
But when you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll probably begin to ask yourself questions like, “Where is this going? Will I be doing the same things 5, 10 years from now? How can I earn more? How can I do more?”
Unfortunately (or fortunately?), freelancers don’t live by the same rules as the corporate world. We can’t simply work hard and get a promotion to a corner office with a higher salary and more responsibility.
Want a raise? You can raise your rates …Until you hit your ceiling. That’s the point at which your clients can no longer afford you and you’re not attractive to larger clients because they only hire agencies.
Or you can take on more work …Until you run out of hours in the day (or burn yourself out).
So if you’re freelancing, how can you level up so you can earn more, do more, and grow both personally and professionally?
Maybe it’s time to promote yourself from Freelancer to Business Owner.
The Difference Between a Freelancer and a Business Owner
The job descriptions of a Freelancer and a Business Owner differ in a few key ways:
- Freelancers sell time. Business owners sell value.
- Freelancers work in their business. Business owners work on their business.
- Freelancers do everything themselves. Business owners design systems and delegate so that the business runs itself.
- Freelancers live project to project. Business owners build assets that grow in value over time.
Let’s break each of these down in detail:
Selling time vs. Selling value
When you’re freelancing, no matter how you bill (hourly, weekly, per project), your income is tied directly to your time. In other words, when you’re not at your desk working, you’re not getting paid.
I personally used to charge flat project fees, but that doesn’t change the equation. When projects aren’t being worked on, I’m delaying my pay check. And I can only take on so many projects at a time before I run out of days to work on them.
Selling value means that you’re selling the end-result that a client receives. How? By selling a product that promises to deliver, say, a 10x increase in sales. The price of the product is less than the ROI, making it a no-brainer value proposition. This is what a business owner does. They sell value.
Working in vs. on your business
As a freelancer, you’re primarily working in your business. That means doing everything yourself.
And by everything, I mean all of the service-related tasks that fill up the to-do list of each individual project. The creative, technical, and support tasks. Pushing pixels. Coding. Writing. Fielding emails. Quality assurance testing. You name it.
Working on your business means focusing on the bigger picture.
Business owners make their business their project. It has no start or end date. Working on your business means working on high-level problems like designing systems to streamline the work, marketing plans to attract more ideal customers, and understanding your customer so that you can add more value for them.
So should you stop doing what you’re doing? Close down photoshop? Stop coding? Stop writing?
No. Here’s the reality: As you promote yourself from Freelancer to Business Owner, you’ll work in both of these worlds for a while, if not indefinitely. You’ll continue to have your hand in the creative and technical side, working in your business. But you’ll also step back and work on the business, finding ways to better leverage your own time.
Ultimately it’s the work you do on your business that will help you level up.
Removing Yourself From The Work
Working on your business means leveraging your time effectively. Is your time better spent inputting content into a client’s website or building your marketing plan to double your growth next year?
Working on growth, strategy, and your big-picture vision is your job as the business owner. But the service work still needs to get done. So how will you remove yourself from the day-to-day grind and free up your time to push things forward?
There’s a multi-phase process that must play out over a number of months to a year or more:
- Standardize. Find ways to make the work as predictable as possible. Focus on doing one service exceptionally well. Choose one standard method of doing things, with one set of tools or framework.
- Streamline. Boost efficiency by leveraging repeatable processes, templates, and/or software.
- Document. Build your “operating manual” for your business, a.k.a. procedures documenting how the work gets done. Start simple and improve your docs over time.
- Delegate. Once you’ve nailed down a set of repeatable tasks and documented them, you’ll be ready to hire and delegate the work. Do this systematically over time. Ease into it by hiring contractors and part-terms at first.
Building an Asset
As a freelancer, the only thing you own is your time. When you sell a billable hour, you’ve just made some quick cash, paid a bill, and stayed “busy”.
Building a business means owning an asset and growing its value over time. When your business is selling a product and a sale is made, you’ve just made some cash from that sale. But more importantly, your business just grew in value. Your business is worth more today than it was yesterday. And you’re on a path to owning something that is exponentially more valuable a year from now.
Building an asset means thinking about the long-game. Taking actions today that will move you closer to your end goals. What are those end goals?
Here are some ideas:
- Selling your business for a big pay day, giving you the runway you’ll need to launch your next (bigger) thing.
- Automating your business so it continues to produce on it’s own, freeing you up to work on other things (or spend more time with your family).
- Allowing you to focus on your craft, while the “nuts and bolts” (the mundane day-to-day tasks) operate without you.
3 Steps to Promoting Yourself
So I just described what your new role as Business Owner will look like. Now how do you get that promotion? Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Think bigger than your current projects. How can you build a valuable asset?
- Find ways to convert your service to a product.
- Streamline the work and learn to delegate and leverage your time to focus on the bigger picture.
In my experience, learning to productize my service was the key that helped me promote myself from freelancer to business owner.