How to Double Your Income As a Freelancer: #CreativeTribes AMA with Becky Mollenkamp
This story starts with your average freelancer: a writer who worked for hire, fishing gigs. Like all freelancers, she followed a well-worn path — one of working on her business but not owning it. The day she realized she needed to get serious and engage her inner entrepreneur was the day everything changed.
As is almost always the case, those who take the road less traveled are rewarded with greater success. A bit of daring, a lot of hard work, and a spot of luck come together synergistically, creating previously unimagined opportunities.
Armed with a “CEO mindset” and extensive experience in content writing and marketing, Becky Mollenkamp began working with numerous struggling business owners and solopreneurs, helping them engage with their audience in a meaningful, educational, and inspiring way. That’s when the magic happened and she hit the 6-figure mark!
With over twelve years of experience as a freelance superstar, Becky shared the secret to her success with #CreativeTribes earlier this year. Here are the key takeaways from the AMA live chat with Becky.
On treating your business as a business — and appointing yourself CEO
The first and most important thing is to create a mindset of treating your business like a business and acting like the CEO of that business. A lot of freelancers actually treat what they do more like a hobby. I think that may be because they’re doing something they love, which I understand, but that can be a big mistake.
The way we treat our business directly affects how others perceive it. I was guilty of this for years. I quit my editing job at Better Homes & Gardens to be a freelancer. I wanted to work in my PJs! I never really understood that what I was doing was a business. I thought of myself as “just a writer” or “just a freelancer”.
Other businesses want to work with serious businesses, not hobbyists. And they pay businesses much better than someone who’s just doing it because they love it.
On how having the CEO mindset helps the business
Many people make assumptions about freelancers that they don’t have “real jobs”, don’t “really work”, and have nothing but free time. We need to educate people about the fact that we are running businesses, and all that it entails — marketing, sales, client relations, accounting, etc.
Making this big CEO mindset shift helped in big ways. I think it changed how others viewed my business, which was incredibly important, but it also changed how I viewed it — and treated it. I got much more serious about my branding. I set up an LLC, got an EIN, a VA, a business bank account, and started calling myself a “business owner”. All of that made my business look and run more professionally.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is that it changed how I viewed pricing. I stopped undervaluing myself. And that’s one of the most pervasive and troubling problems I see in the freelance world. People who love what they do (especially creative people) are often guilty of not demanding what they are worth.
On how to actually focus on running the business
Investing in my business has been a game changer. The old adage is true — sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Spending less time on things like social media and bookkeeping gives me more time to invest in the projects that pay my bills. It was hard at first for me to hand over something I can do myself, but clearly, it makes more sense to pay a VA $25/hour to do a task that frees me up to do $100+/hour tasks.
On starting with an honest assessment of your business
If you’re just starting or feeling stuck, start by doing an honest assessment of your business:
- How are you presenting yourself and your work to the world?
- Ask yourself if you’re trying to do too much. Look at your goals. Are they realistic? Are they clearly laid out with action steps? It’s impossible to do it all, and you can’t be everything to everyone. Niche down if you can, and scale back to just one big goal at a time.
- Look for ways to streamline and systemize. Choose tools that help you do this. Do what it takes to reduce the amount of time you’re spending on tasks that don’t make you money. Yes, you’ll have to spend some money, but do it in a smart way that costs less than what you can make by working for clients during that time.
- This is the biggest one: Stop charging too little for your work. It’s tempting when you’re not making a lot of money to take any project that comes along. But undervaluing yourself hurts your entire industry, and will only bite you in the butt in the long term. It sets a standard that you are only worth that amount, and it gives a perception that your work isn’t high quality. Demand your worth! If you don’t get it, say no. That’s that.
On project fees and hourly billable rates
I am not a believer in exchanging time for money. I don’t take hourly projects anymore. First of all, I’m really fast and efficient. I don’t think I should be penalized for that. Why should someone who has been working for one year and is still learning make more on a project than me who has 20 years experience and can do it in half the time? I only charge by the project. And, in fact, I’m now moving away from that and only working with a small, select group of clients on a retainer basis. Frankly, my clients don’t need to know how much time I’m giving them. They just need to like the work I deliver.
On how to calculate fees for any project
I know how long it typically takes me to write each type of product I deliver. I always ask a lot of questions about expectations and how much research is involved, so I’m able to bid with a good idea of my time investment. I also know what I can and can’t subcontract and what that will cost.
I know what I want to make, roughly, per hour. It varies based on client. A larger corporate client can afford to pay more, and should in my opinion because my work on their blog will be seen by far more people. So I think of that as a cost per impression and it makes sense for them to pay a higher rate than a smaller client.
All of these are factored into my final pricing. I don’t like having off-the-shelf pricing, which is why there’s no pricing on my website. I’ve never had any problems with pricing this way. Sometimes, I do find that a project takes longer than expected and I end up making less per hour than I had hoped. I call that a learning experience and move on.
On using services like Fiverr
I understand why people do things like Fiverr, especially if you’re truly just starting out and have no portfolio. However, I highly recommend avoiding it. What’s the upside of being in a race to the bottom? If you can’t find clients who will pay a living wage, then perhaps it’s better to return to full-time employment for a while and get more experience, and use your free time to get more education or whatever you need to become a stronger freelancer. Or build up more of a nest egg so you have more cushion to wait out good clients when you do go freelance. That’s harsh advice, I know, but I just don’t see any benefit in anyone undervaluing his or her work (and, in turn, themselves).
On being authentic
There is only one YOU. Yes, there are others who do what you do, but no one does it the way you do. And no one else is you. Some clients will like your approach or style better. Some will just like you better. Stop worrying about what others do and just do what’s right for you. Be authentic and the rest falls into place.
On finding clients
Finding clients can be tough, for sure. I talked about having a niche. I work with unsexy clients. That’s my thing. There aren’t as many people who want to write about pool installations or selling toilets. I’m happy to do that, and my clients appreciate that I do it with skill. I started by doing work in trade magazines (and still do — it’s basically paid marketing) to get experience writing about niche industries. Clients started coming to me because there aren’t a lot of writers who want to do the unsexy work. I’ve also cold pitched people through LinkedIn and been successful that way.
On mentoring and the future
I’m now mentoring budding freelancers (or those who are just struggling to gain traction). I have a 10-week program that’s one-on-one with weekly 1-hour calls and homework. I love giving back in this way. It’s not as lucrative as the writing work, but it’s more rewarding. I’m also continuing to do writing work, but scaling back and focusing on just a handful of clients on a retainer basis.
On Masterminds and leveling up your freelance businesses
Connecting through a Mastermind can really help level up your freelance business. A small group of people (4-6 is great) who are at a similar stage in their business, but in non-competitive industries, meet weekly and use it as a place to vent, get advice, brainstorm ideas, help others, etc. You divide the time equally amongst members to use however they want. You can also lean on each other’s networks.
I honestly don’t think anything has helped my business more than having this group. Everyone shares a similar mindset — authenticity, willing to be vulnerable, commitment to the time involved, and a real drive to grow their businesses. It requires a lot of dedication to commit to a one-hour-plus meeting each week (especially now that I have a baby), but it’s a real kick in the pants. It provides you with accountability, which is huge. We set goals each week and know we will be expected to complete them.
On how long it will take to double your freelancing income
It all depends on where you’re starting from, of course, but I think it’s feasible for someone who hasn’t done any of the things we talked about today to double their income in a year by implementing these strategies.