The 6 Key Layers of a Money-Making Freelance Business with Austin L. Church

Austin L Church teaches us the 6 levers of a successful freelance business: positioning, packaging, pricing, pipeline, psychology, and process. He also discusses pricing techniques.

Transcript
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welcome to the frugal preneur podcast.

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I'm your host, Sarah St.

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John and my guest today is a writer brand consultant and online entrepreneur.

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He helps online creators and entrepreneurs build real brands

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and make a positive impact.

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He teaches freelancers and consultants how to attract high

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paying clients and earn six figures.

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Welcome to the show.

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Austin L.

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Church.

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Thank you hope you'll forgive the middle initial back.

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When I was getting online for the first time, I realized if I didn't include it,

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all of the churches in Austin, Texas would make it impossible for anyone to find me.

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Yeah, it was anyway.

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It's funny to me when people use the middle initial, I'm

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like, oh yeah, I do use that.

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Don't I?

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Yeah.

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Well, I was kind of curious about that and so that makes sense.

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Cause I was like, is there another Austin Church, but what you're saying?

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That makes sense.

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So.

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There are a lots of Austin churches, right.

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They're just not people.

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can you give us a little bit more of your background in history and, and

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how you got into entrepreneurship and freelancing in particular?

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Sure.

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So I thought I was going to be.

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College English professor, and I follow that track.

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I got bachelor's in English, taught high school for a year, decided that

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was not for me, went back to grad school and about halfway through

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my masters in creative writing.

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I realized that I needed a break from academia.

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So I had never intended to go into business.

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I never intended to in the, up in the business world, but there were these pesky

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things called bills and I had some to pay.

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And so I ended up getting a job at a marketing agency.

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Which was the first job really offered to me.

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So again, it wasn't like I had this master plan and laser focus on this career path.

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It just so happened that the first year.

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I got out of grad school was at a marketing agency and Sarah, I loved it.

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And I found that a little bit confusing because if you're an

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artist and you have a liberal arts background, your self concept, your

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identity is this in your own mind.

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Right.

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And there was really no room in my mind for.

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Love of strategy and a love of business.

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And certainly, I don't know at the time, if I could have admitted to

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myself that I liked money, right.

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I still had a very conflicted relationship with money, but anyway fast forward six

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head marketing budgets got slashed and.

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The firm where I was working the principal of the firm, he cut it in half and I was

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part of the half of the team to leave.

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And so suddenly I found myself fun and employed.

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That's what I started calling it.

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And.

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It was a really good thing.

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It was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

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I coach a lot of freelancers who have to have courage.

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they have to put in the resignation, they have to leave the cushy job.

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I just had it taken away.

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I was pushed forcibly out of the nest, but that's the beginning of

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So over 12 years ago now, and I guess the rest is history.

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I've, had a winding path since then, but the one thread of continuity

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has been a love of writing.

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And I guess there are several threads of continuity now that I think

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about it, but love of writing and.

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Love of participating in other people's transformation.

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I have always just loved helping and freelancing was a good way to do that.

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And then selling my creativity too.

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I don't know that when I was in school, I realized that creativity

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was something that you could say.

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But I have found that it is, and then you just package it up and

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call it something like strategy.

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Right.

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that's, how I got started.

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Never wanted to be a businessman pushed out of the nest and 12 years

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later, I think a lot of people, like you said, they have to put in the

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resignation and, make that difficult decision to go out on their own.

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And, income might not always be consistent or predictable.

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But like in your situation, you're kind of.

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I wouldn't say four.

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I mean, you were forced out of your job, but you weren't forced

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into entrepreneurship per se.

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I guess you could have gotten another job, but it gave you the

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opportunity to explore that, I guess.

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So did you start as a freelance writer?

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I did.

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I just lost this job, chances are going and getting another job.

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Exactly.

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Like this is not a safe bet.

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And I was able to get one or two freelance clients early on that

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made things a little bit less scary.

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To be honest, I was a money idiot.

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I had $486 in my checking account.

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And that number is seared into my memory because I was so anxious about this.

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And for a variety of reasons, we could talk about anxiety and other time, but I.

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had a couple of freelance gigs and I was charging hourly at the time

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and was amazed that my salary had paid me around 15 bucks an hour.

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After you factored in benefits and everything else.

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And suddenly I was able to charge $40 an hour to do the exact same work.

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And that was incredible to me.

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And as far as I was concerned, if I could just scrape together enough, work enough

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projects, it would still pay a lot better than if I were working at a coffee shop.

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And so I'm like, yeah, okay.

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If you'll pay me 40 bucks an hour to string together, words for you.

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And maybe do a little bit of like social media strategy at the agency.

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I was the youngest guy, so they're like, oh, you're young.

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You know, about this thing called Facebook because Facebook at the time was still

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only two and a half, three years old in terms of entering the mainstream.

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And so I was the only person at the agency who even had a Facebook account.

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And so by virtue of age, they were just like, well, Hey, you figure this out.

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You figured this out.

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Hey, could you write our brand strategy?

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I'm like, I don't even know what that is.

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They're like, do some Google searches put something that

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you're smart, you're a source.

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We'll go put it together.

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And so I was able to do other things early on because maybe it had enough

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bravado or maybe my past employer.

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Forced me to learn, but writing was definitely the lion's share

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early on and I made a ton of mistakes, but I kind of failed for.

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So what do you do primarily now?

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Do you still do freelancing or is it more you are educating other

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entrepreneurs to become freelancers?

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So it's about a 50 50 split between selling.

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Different types of strategy to my freelance and consulting clients.

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And then a coaching program called business bootcamp for freelancers,

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where I distilled down everything that I have learned, it's a six

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part program, but I guide other freelancers through that program.

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The idea of being.

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None of us learn this stuff in school.

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we've spent thousands of hours in school, and yet if you end up with a

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master's in something like literature, creative writing, or psychology

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chances are, you never had a class.

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That was how to make money as a writer, how to make money as a designer,

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how to make money as a photographer.

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We can all learn business skills.

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It's not like.

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Some people come out of the womb already knowing how to put together an

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invoice or how to put together a good contract or even how to negotiate.

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And so I look back and so many of my mistakes were painful and

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in retrospect seemed unnecessary.

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And so I'm just, I'm passionate about mentoring and helping, other freelancers.

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Do their most joyful and profitable work, because I do think those two can code.

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One thing you talk about on your website are the six piece of

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the freelance cake framework.

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Can you go into that?

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Yeah, sure.

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So, most of your listeners will have heard of the parade of principle or

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more commonly known as the 80 20 rule.

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Right.

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And it's free idea that like 20% of the things that we focus on produce 80% of

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the results as time passed, I realized that I had done certain things and that

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all of my friends who had cracked the six figure mark, which is a milestone

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for a lot of freelancers, Hey, if I can make $5,000 a month and make $60,000

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a year, that would be a big deal.

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And then the next one after that is often making a hundred thousand

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dollars a year as a freelancer.

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Well I looked around.

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I started to see patterns.

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Everybody is kind of doing the same thing.

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Everyone who's reached this level, they're all doing the same thing.

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And the image that comes to mind for me is how you can put all

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of this effort into something.

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And not see good results, like moving a Boulder, right.

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There's a Boulder and it's sitting there on the ground and maybe it's

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sort of in a depression in the ground.

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And it's like, no matter how hard you push against it, you can't budget.

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And then someone else comes along with a big crowbar.

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And then they look around and they find another little stone, like a

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fulcrum, and they set the little stone next to the Boulder, and then

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they pull out this Crow bar and then you sit there and watch this person

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move this Boulder out of the ground.

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And you're.

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why I have, I been trying so hard hustling so much, and then this guy, or this gal

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comes along and makes me look silly, And so I identified we'll call them levers.

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I mean, a crowbar is a lever identified six levers They give you

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this mechanical advantage, right?

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They, take the effort you put in and they, multiply their

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effort or force multipliers.

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And the six are positioning, packaging, pricing, pipeline,

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psychology, and process.

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So you have all these freelancers who seem to be living in

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this sort of exalted realm.

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Right?

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But what's crazy is a lot of them.

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it's not like they're working longer hours.

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They're not working harder.

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They took a step back and they said, okay, there are millions of freelancers.

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How am I going to stand out?

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And so that you spend time saying, what are my differentiators?

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What is my positioning?

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I have to make it easy for potential clients to pick me out from a crowd.

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So, what is it that makes me distinctive?

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Why should my clients care?

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And each of us has a unique mix.

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I've got a whole training on how you can bring in some of

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your specialized knowledge.

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You could bring in some of your past jobs, you could bring in hard skills

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and soft skills and your life story.

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I have a client right now.

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She has two children with special needs.

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And she's got her MBA and she's struggled with some health issues.

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these challenges have produced just as deep well of empathy and her.

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She needs to talk about empathy, cause a lot of people, whether they have another

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kid who needed a little extra help and support or whether it was an aging parent,

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That could be a part of her unique mix.

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but yet a lot of us aren't necessarily told that all of these beautiful and

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lush parts of your personality, oh, that doesn't count as professionalism.

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So let's leave that out of your web copy.

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When in fact we need to be proactively standing out because that's how we

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make, it easy for clients to hire us.

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And so, , there are a very small number of levers that really

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successful freelancers use.

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To make more money in less time and just create more freedom for

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themselves in once I noticed them.

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And once I, kind of after I started using them.

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And then it often happens that then when you actually notice things.

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Then become more intentional about things you were doing intuitively.

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Right.

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But then I got really excited because when I started teaching

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this stuff, I'm like, oh, wow.

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this works for a music teacher in Kenya.

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This works for a social media strategist in Australia.

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This works for a designer in Japan.

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maybe sometimes a little bit skeptical of advice until it seems

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to work for a lot of different people in very different circumstances.

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Right.

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I'm excitable, I get excited about this stuff and but I think there's so much

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complexity and just an overwhelming amount of information that ambitious freelancers.

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Need help setting priorities and focusing on the 20%.

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That is going to produce outsized returns or outsiders results.

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And so that's a very long-winded way of saying that's where the six PS came from.

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I didn't forget your original question.

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I didn't forget it.

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So if someone's thinking about becoming a freelancer, where

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do they get clients from?

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I mean, do you recommend starting out on.

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Upwork or Fiverr or something like that, or I guess what, steps do you recommend?

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Really good question.

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I do think this is where new freelancers, some of the early

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decisions can affect them for years.

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And I think in a positive or negative way.

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I recommend think of a bulls-eye and like with concentric circles

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always start with friends and family.

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if you decide you're going to put out your shingle as a freelancer,

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then find people who you already.

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People in your existing personal network and let them know that you

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are available for hire because the people already in your life are the

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ones most likely to want to help.

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Anyway, to be honest, you're going to make mistakes.

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I make mistakes all the time.

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I'm still learning, but if you're going to make early mistakes, make them with

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the people who will be most gracious, most forgiving, assuming you have some

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gracious forgiving people in your life.

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Right.

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But start with friends and.

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the next place I normally recommend people go is any online community

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where they are already active.

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So if you love being on Twitter or you love being on Tik TOK or Instagram or

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Facebook, LinkedIn, it does not matter.

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There are people who are very successful generating project leads, starting

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conversations, picking up new clients on all of the major, social platforms.

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So pick one of those and show up.

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And I recommend putting in a statistically significant number of activities,

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meaning do it a hundred times.

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Don't just.

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Make three new posts on Facebook or Instagram and then, oh, it didn't work.

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That's too bad.

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you just can't get freelance clients on LinkedIn.

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And then meanwhile, there's this guy over here was like, what are you talking about?

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But he has made 273 posts, right.

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So you have to show up and you have to be helpful.

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Those are sort of the two rules of thumb.

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Just keep showing up and keep helping people.

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But then the third thing I would recommend you might say the third concentric

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circle is whether it is in your, town or your region pick 50 to a hundred

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local businesses that you already like.

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And then figure out a way that you could serve them.

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You could, pour some fuel on their fire try to start a conversation.

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You can do that via email.

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I've had clients just walk in especially now that people are

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getting out a little bit more.

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Right.

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But.

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Walk in and strike up a conversation right now, some of

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the introverts in your audience are probably cringing at this point.

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Like, no, like that sounds like torture to me.

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Right?

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Okay.

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Fine.

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Dig up the owner's email.

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You can get on LinkedIn to figure out who it is and say, Hey, I noticed

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that you all are on Instagram.

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I'm good at Instagram.

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Have you ever considered hiring someone to take that off your plate?

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It can be, the email can be that short, again, statistically significant number

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of activities, pick a hundred businesses and try to start a conversation.

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At the end of the day, freelancing is a numbers game or at least your

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prospecting is, and So once you've put in a statistically significant number of

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activities, probability suggests that you will pick up a few clients and then the

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game becomes, well, what type of work?

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Which clients do?

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I like the most?

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who do I like working with?

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What types of projects paid me?

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Good money and good money.

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It changes based on who you are and your immediate needs and your long-term

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financial goals and the city you live in.

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I mean, you could barely find an apartment for a thousand bucks in New York city.

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You could cover in entire months worth of living expenses and Cebu in the

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Philippines with a thousand bucks.

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So it just, what you term as good money is highly personal, but the

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deal is once you've gone through that process of elimination to figure.

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What types of project and people, you like we'll start to specialize because

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that is part of your positioning.

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That is one of the levers.

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If you are a generalist, if you can help anybody do anything, Oh, well, yeah.

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I could figure out Canva or I could I can be a virtual assistant

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or like, if you want to do any of those things, that's fun.

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But.

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Do a smaller number of do less, but more this smaller number of things

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with excellence and start to build a name for yourself, become known

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for doing this thing for these people and producing these results.

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Right.

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That's another thing that you asked about Upwork and Fiverr and some

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of the freelance marketplaces.

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There's just so much noise.

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There's so much competition.

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I personally think it is really hard to find value conscious

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instead of price conscious clients.

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On Upwork.

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There's always someone who will charge less than you.

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So my experience doing this for 12 years has taught me that people who

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are more interested in value than price make better long-term client.

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So go find those.

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Speaking of that on your website, you talk about the eight to 10 tips

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or tricks of the trade that help freelancers attract high paying clients.

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And I was wondering if you could go into that.

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Sure.

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Let me share some of those number one.

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It's going to be really easy to commoditize you.

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If you charge hourly.

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It's how I got my start.

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It's a fun way to start.

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It makes sense.

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Cause if you've come out of another hourly job, you were working at a

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coffee shop and you're like, you know what, I'm going to do photography.

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Full-time I'm going to go for it.

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Right.

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Or writing or software development, setting up WordPress

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websites, that sort of thing.

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It's a fine way to start.

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But think about it.

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As you get better, the hourly model actually penalizes you for your

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skill and speed and efficiency.

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again, if you're making more per hour than you have ever made

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in the past, that is exciting.

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But if you are not also differentiating.

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And you charge $75 an hour for copywriting and someone else only charges 50.

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And it's not immediately clear to the client.

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Why paying you an extra $25 an hour other than for your perky personality?

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Right?

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If it's not immediately clear, I mean, why wouldn't want all other things being

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equal, most clients would, save money.

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But there are plenty of value conscious clients out there that if you can

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offer them a better experience or happy to pay more for a first class

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ticket, There are always those first class rolls Royce, freelance clients

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out there who are looking for.

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A better overall experience.

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They're looking for less risk.

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They're looking for fewer hassles, like less friction, less stress.

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So my tip is to do whatever you've got to do to get started.

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That's fine.

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Be practical, but switch to fixed price, fixed scope

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projects as quickly as possible.

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You'll make a lot more money that way.

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another thing that comes to mind.

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Lesson that I learned early on, and I'm so thankful to this guy, Andrew,

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for teaching this to me, he was one of my early prospects and I'll

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never forget sitting in his office.

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And he was thumbing through my portfolio and my knees were knocking because I was

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like, This is just feels vulnerable to me.

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he's evaluating me while I'm sitting here right in front of him.

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And he asked me what my freelance rates were and I said, $40 an hour.

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And he sort of nodded and thought that over and he said, can I

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give you a piece of advice?

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And I did not know him.

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He was a friend of a friend I'd never met him up to, before this meeting.

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And I thought, I really did think that he was going to tell me that my rates

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were too high and that if I wanted to get work based on my level of experience,

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Then I needed to go and raise my rates and be the affordable option.

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competitive rates would help me grow my freelance business.

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So I was, I mean, trying not to let my jaw hit the table when he said His

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advice, if I were you, I would raise.

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Your rates to $75 an hour effective immediately because at $40 an

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hour, you will not be taken seriously in larger markets like

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Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville, DC.

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you're actually pretty good, but at $40 an hour is sending the wrong.

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I had never heard that.

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And yet, as soon as he said that, I was like, oh my, it was like, the

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scales fell off my eyes because we see this phenomenon all over the place.

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Right?

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Like, do you respect an inexpensive car or an expensive car?

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Like our respect follows our money typically.

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And so if you had a Timex on one wrist, And a Rolex on the other

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wrist, which do you show more respect?

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the Rolex.

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And it's a weird thing because you might even say like a Timex was a court's

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movement actually keeps time better.

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its function.

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It performs better than the Rolex that has this mechanical movement.

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But we're not rational all the time.

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People, maybe Sarah, maybe you've heard of that, right.

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That people crazy.

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Right.

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but anyway, I call that lesson, the golden suitcase, because he really did

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hand me a suitcase full of gold that day.

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He made me realize that pricing is brands.

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Pricing is your positioning and lower prices send one signal.

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They send the Timex signal and higher prices send a different signal, the

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Rolex signal, and you may not even get a chance to talk to certain

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clients who you truly could serve.

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If.

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They hear about your rates and decide you're too cheap for them.

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So that's actually a good segue.

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You know, tip number three is competitive.

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Rates will not help you grow your freelance business.

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Juicy offers help you grow your freelance business.

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your offers and the services that you provide are not the same.

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a service is like hip replacement surgery.

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And offer is how would you like to go on a hike with your grandkids and not

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experience any discomfort or pain?

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my grandmother who needs a hip replacement, right?

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She is.

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We'll sign me up.

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I can't remember the last time I did not have hip pain.

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So our clients, they have discomfort or they have pain,

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they have expensive problems.

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And then we come in, they're like, I have copywriting services and

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they're like, yeah, that's nice.

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That's cute.

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So.

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Our blog is embarrassing and we know we're missing opportunities and we've

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got a new competitor whose blog is awesome and it's causing some anxiety.

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So if you came in instead and said, we'll make your blog so much better

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than any of your competitors.

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That they will wonder what your secret is.

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And not only that, you're going to start to get a lot more

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leads through your website.

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We expect your leads to go up anywhere from 120 to 150% within the first 90 days.

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And best of all, you don't have to do anything.

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Except meet with us the first Tuesday of each month and talk through topics.

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We'll bring the topics you're going to pick the four that

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you're most excited about.

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And we'll take it from there.

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That is an offer.

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You never even mentioned copywriting or content, right?

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You painted the picture of an outcome that is really desirable to a client.

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And so I just really wish I had figured this out sooner because

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in my early days I was insecure.

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Nobody was more aware of my inexperience than I was.

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I'm like, gosh, I worked at a marketing agency for six months.

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And then before that I was just in school for my entire life.

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why would anyone want to hire me?

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Why would anyone interest their marketing budget to me?

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I had landed my first.

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So within about six and a half, seven months, I had gone

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from money being really scary.

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Too much money being not scary at all.

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And in fact, I was like paying down school debt aggressively.

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And when I look back I'm like, that was when I actually pivoted.

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Two offers instead of just services, not fully understanding

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what I was doing at the time.

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And again, a lot of us can make good moves intuitively, but we don't necessarily

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repeat those results because we didn't understand perhaps what worked it

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was a luxury resort in Turks and Caicos and they were just so worn out

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with their last marketing director.

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Who didn't seem to do anything that they were just like, just someone

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who would communicate with us, right?

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The bar was very, very low.

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But anyway, sell offers put juicy offers in front of your prospects,

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and that is going to help you grow your freelance business a whole

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lot faster than competitive rates.

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So those are three big ones.

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I could keep going, but I've talked, I've talked a blue streak, Well, yeah, I

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think those are definitely important ones to get started with or to keep in mind.

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I had a photography business when I first started my entrepreneurial journey.

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But I couldn't figure out how to differentiate myself from the

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competition other than being like the lowest price photographer in

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Dallas wedding photographer and learn that that wasn't the right approach.

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But, yeah.

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So it's interesting that you brought up charging $40 an hour.

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And how, being known as the lowest price isn't, the type of clients

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you're going to get, or, they say that they're even more demanding yeah.

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Well, and how are we supposed to know some of these things,

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because they're, counter-intuitive.

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if I knew nothing, like if your race, my memory, and then you said, Hey Austin, go

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start a photography business in Dallas.

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I would do exactly what you did.

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It makes sense to say, well, don't people want a good deal.

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Don't they want to pay less.

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I mean, shoot.

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If I have to choose all other things being equal.

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my big day, and this one is like $3,500.

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And I'm like, well, I don't even understand what, what I

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get for another two K right.

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Then I'm going to go with the $1,500.

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Not realizing.

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Certain people just associate price and quality.

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And the thing that I realized is like, somebody out there with half your skill

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is charging three times as much right now.

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What do they know that you don't then when you really start to peel back the layers,

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they're like, oh, they realize that.

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Your prices are signals and you want to attract value conscious people.

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And yes, absolutely hit a home run, give them the best quality

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you can muster, but quality isn't everybody's motivation, saving money.

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Isn't everybody's motivation.

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And you see this in all areas of your life.

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I mentioned that client, which was a resort in Turks and Caicos.

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I was all set to fly down there to do like the first big discovery thing.

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And my passport was expired and I was like, how could this have happened?

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I'm embarrassed.

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So I got on a red eye flight to Boston because that was the city where I was able

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to book like a next day appointment at a passport office and show up in person.

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And I forget how much I had to pay for like the expedited

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passport renewal service.

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But I would have paid anything.

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Take my money, put it on a credit card.

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I don't care.

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I've got to save face.

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I've got to get down there to this island, Providence Cialis with a big

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smile on my face and be like, cause this project was worth over $30,000 to me.

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And so the return on investment, so to speak was through the roof yet.

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I guess what I'm trying to say is I was not looking for a good deal.

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I needed an embarrassing problem to go away because the return on investment was.

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Through the roof for me.

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And so I would like for freelancers to be a whole lot more like the passport

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renewal office that offers the expedited service for people trying not to freak

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out, that's a much better business to be in than, here's your inexpensive, local.

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I got a text message about a logo that costs $9 and 99 cents.

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When Paul Rand, legendary identity designer charged Steve jobs, a

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hundred thousand dollars for a new corporate identity for next computing.

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So on the one hand, you have someone charging $10.

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On the other hand, you have someone charging a hundred thousand

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dollars and the deliverable was the same figure out what Paul Rand

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is doing, that you're not doing.

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Right.

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And do that.

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Don't just assume that everybody wants a good deal because a lot of people

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there, something a whole lot more important to them than saving money.

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But going back to what you said, I would have done the same

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thing you did in Dallas, Yeah.

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I mean, I think it's kind of the thing that people do when they don't know what

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they're doing when they're starting out.

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That's right.

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But the point is like, Pay attention to what the people who have already

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arrived, where you want to be.

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If it's $60,000 a year or a hundred thousand dollars a year, or shoot,

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maybe it's $12,000 a year and you're going to relocate to CBU, Whatever

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lifestyle you want, figure out the people who have arrived here.

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And then reverse engineer their success.

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And like I said, towards the beginning, I realized that six figure freelancers,

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they're all doing the same thing.

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Awesome.

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Well, I've learned so much and I appreciate your time coming on here today.

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And you have, is it a course freelance cake?

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That is the DIY course.

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it talks through the six piece I think it's a lot of fun.

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There are a lot of dad jokes in there before warned.

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that's the, DIY course can do it at your own pace.

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And then there's a program.

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That's the one that has the mentoring layer.

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That's the one where I offer.

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Feedback like we, there are weekly assignments, so it's not

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just, Hey, you really ought to strengthen your positioning and know

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exactly how and why you stand out.

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It's you're going to work on that and then you're going to send it to me.

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And then I'm going to say, Hey, you really need to inject more of your personality in

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this, or you really need to simplify this.

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And I think some people really appreciate.

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a concentrated yet manageable timeframe.

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it's a six week program.

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So by the time you get to the end as like, oh wow, I'm in a

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totally different place now.

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there is a course and there's a program I can also dance on the table.

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Just, I'm not going to Saturday morning, not going to dance yet.

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Maybe next time.

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Maybe I like, yeah, that was weird.

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So people can find both of those@austinlchurch.com.

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Is that the bus place for them to find the course and the mentor program.

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perfect.

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Come say hi on Twitter.

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And then I'll also have show notes at the Sarah St.

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john.com forward slash Austin L.

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Church.

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And was there anything else that you wanted to go over that we hadn't.

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This is a lot of fun and I just really appreciate the conversation.

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