“Is this it?” I thought.
Living one freelance project to the next. Feeling dependent on trading my time for billable hours. Having to chase down unpaid invoices. Putting out one client fire just to see another flare up.
As much as I loved the comfort of working from home and keeping my skills sharp as a freelancer, that question kept returning—”Is this it?”
When this happens, it usually means means my subconscious mind is nudging me toward some sort of next chapter.
I knew I needed to grow beyond freelancing and build a more scalable business.
One that wasn’t so dependent on my time. But more than that: I wanted to grow a team. Maybe launch a product. Have something to sell proactively instead of perpetually hoping for another referral to arrive (before my project pipeline dries up).
But I wasn’t there yet. I didn’t yet have a business that would be the ground upon which I could learn these sorts of entrepreneurial skills.
At this moment, I was still a freelancer, with sporadic projects, deadlines looming, and bills to pay.
That question swirling in the back of my mind was growing louder and more frequent:
“Is this it? How will I grow out of freelancing?”
The Two Most Common Paths Out of Freelancing
Fast forward to today—I own a growing business with a team of over 20 and several products with a growing customer-base. While I love my work, I also love taking time off with my family—while my business keeps producing.
Now let’s be clear: Making this transition didn’t happen for me overnight. It never does.
There are two paths that most freelancers go down when they’re determined to escape the billable hours hustle.
Like so many other freelancers, I attempted to get to that promised land by venturing down both of these paths. How did they work out?
Common Path #1: Grow Into an Agency
Perhaps the path most frequently traveled is to go from freelancer to agency. Maybe that’s because it’s the most natural. As a solo consultant, you can only take on so many projects at a time. But if you hire more people with your skillset, you can take on more.
However, just because it’s a natural path doesn’t make it the optimal one.
When I grew my freelance web design work into a multi-person agency, I not only had the same frustrations I had as a freelancer, but those frustrations were amplified.
As an agency owner, I not only had to bring in enough work to pay my salary, but also the salaries of my team. More clients with more needs meant more fires to put out. Still, we needed more work in order to stay profitable, so I had to keep hustling, taking sales meetings and churning out custom proposals and piling on more projects for my team.
It was chaotic and stressful. Not exactly what I had in mind when I thought about growing out of freelancing.
Common Path #2: Launch a Product
The next most common path freelancers take is to try and launch a product. Perhaps a software product, a training product, a book, etc.
The dream of passive income from digital products is so alluring. And if it’s recurring passive income, like a subscription, that’s even more attractive! Of course it is. We’d all do better with more passive, recurring revenue, am I right?
Well, I went down this path too. Here’s what I found:
My first digital products that I created and sold were WordPress themes (website design templates) for $59 each. I spent months creating those templates. Plus more months perfecting my little online shop where I’d sell them. That’s time I would have otherwise been billing at around $80/hour at the time, but instead “invested” (read: billed $0/hour) in my up-start digital products business.
A few months later, I finally “launched”… Hey! I sold a few! Then I sold a couple more after that… But by the end of the year, this little venture still only amounted to about 1% of my income.
Not exactly the growth trajectory that will get me out of freelancing any time soon.
So I tried writing and selling my first eBook. I spent 3 months writing and writing and writing (again, working for free). I managed to “launch” that to my small email list and earn about $6,000 in a week. Cool! Then, like most who try the info-product model, sales fell off a cliff after that initial launch.
Again, still freelancing to keep my bills paid.
By the way, I only told you about the two products that made some money. I didn’t tell you about the 3 others I spent much more (unpaid) time working on, only to fizzle out and earn $0. Well, actually there ya go, I just told you 😕
Now, to be clear: Making that leap from freelancing to selling products—and selling enough products to surpass your freelancing income—is not impossible. Some have done it. But many more tried and simply couldn’t sustain the long, slow, ramp to break-even, let alone profitability.
A Third (And Better) Way
I wrote this article to tell you that there is a way. A better way.
After trying the first two paths (multiple times), I finally stumbled upon this third option. This was the one that ultimately enabled me to completely move on from freelancing and into owning a scalable business.
Compared to the others, I found this to be the path of least resistance. Plus, not only did this enable me to ditch billable hours for good, but it also positioned me to successfully expand into other products including both software and training.
Build a Productized Service
You’ve probably guessed by now, I’m talking about building a Productized Service. That’s the 3rd, and I believe best way to grow beyond freelancing and into a business that can scale beyond just you.
By productizing your service, you’re able to leapfrog and start operating your business like any other product business.
You’re able to identify a market need, solve it with systems, processes, and people. You can create a focused value proposition, which makes it much easier to sell and much easier for your best clients to buy.
Plus, instead of relying solely on referrals and suffering the peaks and valleys of freelancing, a productized service enables you to build marketing strategies and actually drive growth, predictably.
That’s exactly what happened when I productized my web design service in a focused niche. I was able to grow it into a company that didn’t rely on me to be there every day. That ultimately made it possible for me to sell that business for a substantial exit.
Since that venture worked out so well, I decided to use the productized service model again for my next business. Having honed the process and built up experience as a business owner, I was able to grow this one much faster.
Soon enough, this choice to productize my service positioned me perfectly to expand into other products like software and training.
All while traveling the world with my family and truly enjoying every hour I spend working.
No—I’m not saying any of this this is easy! But what I can absolutely say is that my work today is far more enjoyable, more impactful, and more rewarding than cranking out billable hours and putting out client fires as a freelancer.
Productizing what you do as a freelancer may seem daunting. Perhaps you think it’s not even possible.
I had the same misgivings.
So I gathered some of the key concepts that led to my “ah ha” moments, which ultimately made this model click for me. I explain them in my free video crash course on Productizing Your Service.
In 4 videos, I’ll show you:
- Why creating a “one size fits all” service is not what Productizing is all about.
- How to ditch wasting time writing custom proposals for good.
- How to free yourself from exhausting, day-to-day client work and delegate without sacrificing quality.
- How to make your hours 10x more profitable than your rate as a freelancer.