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.


welcome to the frugal preneur podcast. I'm your host, Sarah St. John and my guest today is a writer brand consultant and online entrepreneur. He helps online creators and entrepreneurs build real brands and make a positive impact. He teaches freelancers and consultants how to attract high paying clients and earn six figures. Welcome to the show. Austin L. Church. Thank you hope you'll forgive the middle initial back. When I was getting online for the first time, I realized if I didn't include it, all of the churches in Austin, Texas would make it impossible for anyone to find me. Yeah, it was anyway. It's funny to me when people use the middle initial, I'm like, oh yeah, I do use that. Don't I? Yeah. Well, I was kind of curious about that and so that makes sense. Cause I was like, is there another Austin Church, but what you're saying? That makes sense. So. There are a lots of Austin churches, right. They're just not people. can you give us a little bit more of your background in history and, and how you got into entrepreneurship and freelancing in particular? Sure. So I thought I was going to be. College English professor, and I follow that track. I got bachelor's in English, taught high school for a year, decided that was not for me, went back to grad school and about halfway through my masters in creative writing. I realized that I needed a break from academia. So I had never intended to go into business. I never intended to in the, up in the business world, but there were these pesky things called bills and I had some to pay. And so I ended up getting a job at a marketing agency. Which was the first job really offered to me. So again, it wasn't like I had this master plan and laser focus on this career path. It just so happened that the first year. I got out of grad school was at a marketing agency and Sarah, I loved it. And I found that a little bit confusing because if you're an artist and you have a liberal arts background, your self concept, your identity is this in your own mind. Right. And there was really no room in my mind for. Love of strategy and a love of business. And certainly, I don't know at the time, if I could have admitted to myself that I liked money, right. I still had a very conflicted relationship with money, but anyway fast forward six months, that was when the recession in 2007, 2008, really started to rear its head marketing budgets got slashed and. The firm where I was working the principal of the firm, he cut it in half and I was part of the half of the team to leave. And so suddenly I found myself fun and employed. That's what I started calling it. And. It was a really good thing. It was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I coach a lot of freelancers who have to have courage. they have to put in the resignation, they have to leave the cushy job. I just had it taken away. I was pushed forcibly out of the nest, but that's the beginning of this story that was April, 2009. So over 12 years ago now, and I guess the rest is history. I've, had a winding path since then, but the one thread of continuity has been a love of writing. And I guess there are several threads of continuity now that I think about it, but love of writing and. Love of participating in other people's transformation. I have always just loved helping and freelancing was a good way to do that. And then selling my creativity too. I don't know that when I was in school, I realized that creativity was something that you could say. But I have found that it is, and then you just package it up and call it something like strategy. Right. that's, how I got started. Never wanted to be a businessman pushed out of the nest and 12 years later, I think a lot of people, like you said, they have to put in the resignation and, make that difficult decision to go out on their own. And, income might not always be consistent or predictable. But like in your situation, you're kind of. I wouldn't say four. I mean, you were forced out of your job, but you weren't forced into entrepreneurship per se. I guess you could have gotten another job, but it gave you the opportunity to explore that, I guess. So did you start as a freelance writer? I did. The one moment of clarity I had early may of 2009 was, well, if I just lost this job, chances are going and getting another job. Exactly. Like this is not a safe bet. And I was able to get one or two freelance clients early on that made things a little bit less scary. To be honest, I was a money idiot. I had $486 in my checking account. And that number is seared into my memory because I was so anxious about this. And for a variety of reasons, we could talk about anxiety and other time, but I. had a couple of freelance gigs and I was charging hourly at the time and was amazed that my salary had paid me around 15 bucks an hour. After you factored in benefits and everything else. And suddenly I was able to charge $40 an hour to do the exact same work. And that was incredible to me. And as far as I was concerned, if I could just scrape together enough, work enough projects, it would still pay a lot better than if I were working at a coffee shop. And so I'm like, yeah, okay. If you'll pay me 40 bucks an hour to string together, words for you. And maybe do a little bit of like social media strategy at the agency. I was the youngest guy, so they're like, oh, you're young. You know, about this thing called Facebook because Facebook at the time was still only two and a half, three years old in terms of entering the mainstream. And so I was the only person at the agency who even had a Facebook account. And so by virtue of age, they were just like, well, Hey, you figure this out. You figured this out. Hey, could you write our brand strategy? I'm like, I don't even know what that is. They're like, do some Google searches put something that you're smart, you're a source. We'll go put it together. And so I was able to do other things early on because maybe it had enough bravado or maybe my past employer. Forced me to learn, but writing was definitely the lion's share early on and I made a ton of mistakes, but I kind of failed for. So what do you do primarily now? Do you still do freelancing or is it more you are educating other entrepreneurs to become freelancers? So it's about a 50 50 split between selling. Different types of strategy to my freelance and consulting clients. And then a coaching program called business bootcamp for freelancers, where I distilled down everything that I have learned, it's a six part program, but I guide other freelancers through that program. The idea of being. None of us learn this stuff in school. we've spent thousands of hours in school, and yet if you end up with a master's in something like literature, creative writing, or psychology chances are, you never had a class. That was how to make money as a writer, how to make money as a designer, how to make money as a photographer. We can all learn business skills. It's not like. Some people come out of the womb already knowing how to put together an invoice or how to put together a good contract or even how to negotiate. And so I look back and so many of my mistakes were painful and in retrospect seemed unnecessary. And so I'm just, I'm passionate about mentoring and helping, other freelancers. Do their most joyful and profitable work, because I do think those two can code. One thing you talk about on your website are the six piece of the freelance cake framework. Can you go into that? Yeah, sure. So, most of your listeners will have heard of the parade of principle or more commonly known as the 80 20 rule. Right. And it's free idea that like 20% of the things that we focus on produce 80% of the results as time passed, I realized that I had done certain things and that all of my friends who had cracked the six figure mark, which is a milestone for a lot of freelancers, Hey, if I can make $5,000 a month and make $60,000 a year, that would be a big deal. And then the next one after that is often making a hundred thousand dollars a year as a freelancer. Well I looked around. I started to see patterns. Everybody is kind of doing the same thing. Everyone who's reached this level, they're all doing the same thing. And the image that comes to mind for me is how you can put all of this effort into something. And not see good results, like moving a Boulder, right. There's a Boulder and it's sitting there on the ground and maybe it's sort of in a depression in the ground. And it's like, no matter how hard you push against it, you can't budget. And then someone else comes along with a big crowbar. And then they look around and they find another little stone, like a fulcrum, and they set the little stone next to the Boulder, and then they pull out this Crow bar and then you sit there and watch this person move this Boulder out of the ground. And you're. why I have, I been trying so hard hustling so much, and then this guy, or this gal comes along and makes me look silly, And so I identified we'll call them levers. I mean, a crowbar is a lever identified six levers They give you this mechanical advantage, right? They, take the effort you put in and they, multiply their effort or force multipliers. And the six are positioning, packaging, pricing, pipeline, psychology, and process. So you have all these freelancers who seem to be living in this sort of exalted realm. Right? But what's crazy is a lot of them. it's not like they're working longer hours. They're not working harder. They took a step back and they said, okay, there are millions of freelancers. How am I going to stand out? And so that you spend time saying, what are my differentiators? What is my positioning? I have to make it easy for potential clients to pick me out from a crowd. So, what is it that makes me distinctive? Why should my clients care? And each of us has a unique mix. I've got a whole training on how you can bring in some of your specialized knowledge. You could bring in some of your past jobs, you could bring in hard skills and soft skills and your life story. I have a client right now. She has two children with special needs. And she's got her MBA and she's struggled with some health issues. these challenges have produced just as deep well of empathy and her. She needs to talk about empathy, cause a lot of people, whether they have another kid who needed a little extra help and support or whether it was an aging parent, That could be a part of her unique mix. but yet a lot of us aren't necessarily told that all of these beautiful and lush parts of your personality, oh, that doesn't count as professionalism. So let's leave that out of your web copy. When in fact we need to be proactively standing out because that's how we make, it easy for clients to hire us. And so, there are a very small number of levers that really successful freelancers use. To make more money in less time and just create more freedom for themselves in once I noticed them. And once I, kind of after I started using them. And then it often happens that then when you actually notice things. Then become more intentional about things you were doing intuitively. Right. But then I got really excited because when I started teaching this stuff, I'm like, oh, wow. this works for a music teacher in Kenya. This works for a social media strategist in Australia. This works for a designer in Japan. maybe sometimes a little bit skeptical of advice until it seems to work for a lot of different people in very different circumstances. Right. I'm excitable, I get excited about this stuff and but I think there's so much complexity and just an overwhelming amount of information that ambitious freelancers. Need help setting priorities and focusing on the 20%. That is going to produce outsized returns or outsiders results. And so that's a very long-winded way of saying that's where the six PS came from. I didn't forget your original question. I didn't forget it. So if someone's thinking about becoming a freelancer, where do they get clients from? I mean, do you recommend starting out on. Upwork or Fiverr or something like that, or I guess what, steps do you recommend? Really good question. I do think this is where new freelancers, some of the early decisions can affect them for years. And I think in a positive or negative way. I recommend think of a bulls-eye and like with concentric circles always start with friends and family. if you decide you're going to put out your shingle as a freelancer, then find people who you already. People in your existing personal network and let them know that you are available for hire because the people already in your life are the ones most likely to want to help. Anyway, to be honest, you're going to make mistakes. I make mistakes all the time. I'm still learning, but if you're going to make early mistakes, make them with the people who will be most gracious, most forgiving, assuming you have some gracious forgiving people in your life. Right. But start with friends and. the next place I normally recommend people go is any online community where they are already active. So if you love being on Twitter or you love being on Tik TOK or Instagram or Facebook, LinkedIn, it does not matter. There are people who are very successful generating project leads, starting conversations, picking up new clients on all of the major, social platforms. So pick one of those and show up. And I recommend putting in a statistically significant number of activities, meaning do it a hundred times. Don't just. Make three new posts on Facebook or Instagram and then, oh, it didn't work. That's too bad. you just can't get freelance clients on LinkedIn. And then meanwhile, there's this guy over here was like, what are you talking about? But he has made 273 posts, right. So you have to show up and you have to be helpful. Those are sort of the two rules of thumb. Just keep showing up and keep helping people. But then the third thing I would recommend you might say the third concentric circle is whether it is in your, town or your region pick 50 to a hundred local businesses that you already like. And then figure out a way that you could serve them. You could, pour some fuel on their fire try to start a conversation. You can do that via email. I've had clients just walk in especially now that people are getting out a little bit more. Right. But. Walk in and strike up a conversation right now, some of the introverts in your audience are probably cringing at this point. Like, no, like that sounds like torture to me. Right? Okay. Fine. Dig up the owner's email. You can get on LinkedIn to figure out who it is and say, Hey, I noticed that you all are on Instagram. I'm good at Instagram. Have you ever considered hiring someone to take that off your plate? It can be, the email can be that short, again, statistically significant number of activities, pick a hundred businesses and try to start a conversation. At the end of the day, freelancing is a numbers game or at least your prospecting is, and So once you've put in a statistically significant number of activities, probability suggests that you will pick up a few clients and then the game becomes, well, what type of work? Which clients do? I like the most? who do I like working with? What types of projects paid me? Good money and good money. It changes based on who you are and your immediate needs and your long-term financial goals and the city you live in. I mean, you could barely find an apartment for a thousand bucks in New York city. You could cover in entire months worth of living expenses and Cebu in the Philippines with a thousand bucks. So it just, what you term as good money is highly personal, but the deal is once you've gone through that process of elimination to figure. What types of project and people, you like we'll start to specialize because that is part of your positioning. That is one of the levers. If you are a generalist, if you can help anybody do anything, Oh, well, yeah. I could figure out Canva or I could I can be a virtual assistant or like, if you want to do any of those things, that's fun. But. Do a smaller number of do less, but more this smaller number of things with excellence and start to build a name for yourself, become known for doing this thing for these people and producing these results. Right. That's another thing that you asked about Upwork and Fiverr and some of the freelance marketplaces. There's just so much noise. There's so much competition. I personally think it is really hard to find value conscious instead of price conscious clients. On Upwork. There's always someone who will charge less than you. So my experience doing this for 12 years has taught me that people who are more interested in value than price make better long-term client. So go find those. Speaking of that on your website, you talk about the eight to 10 tips or tricks of the trade that help freelancers attract high paying clients. And I was wondering if you could go into that. Sure. Let me share some of those number one. It's going to be really easy to commoditize you. If you charge hourly. It's how I got my start. It's a fun way to start. It makes sense. Cause if you've come out of another hourly job, you were working at a coffee shop and you're like, you know what, I'm going to do photography. Full-time I'm going to go for it. Right. Or writing or software development, setting up WordPress websites, that sort of thing. It's a fine way to start. But think about it. As you get better, the hourly model actually penalizes you for your skill and speed and efficiency. again, if you're making more per hour than you have ever made in the past, that is exciting. But if you are not also differentiating. And you charge $75 an hour for copywriting and someone else only charges 50. And it's not immediately clear to the client. Why paying you an extra $25 an hour other than for your perky personality? Right? If it's not immediately clear, I mean, why wouldn't want all other things being equal, most clients would, save money. But there are plenty of value conscious clients out there that if you can offer them a better experience or happy to pay more for a first class ticket, There are always those first class rolls Royce, freelance clients out there who are looking for. A better overall experience. They're looking for less risk. They're looking for fewer hassles, like less friction, less stress. So my tip is to do whatever you've got to do to get started. That's fine. Be practical, but switch to fixed price, fixed scope projects as quickly as possible. You'll make a lot more money that way. another thing that comes to mind. Lesson that I learned early on, and I'm so thankful to this guy, Andrew, for teaching this to me, he was one of my early prospects and I'll never forget sitting in his office. And he was thumbing through my portfolio and my knees were knocking because I was like, This is just feels vulnerable to me. he's evaluating me while I'm sitting here right in front of him. And he asked me what my freelance rates were and I said, $40 an hour. And he sort of nodded and thought that over and he said, can I give you a piece of advice? And I did not know him. He was a friend of a friend I'd never met him up to, before this meeting. And I thought, I really did think that he was going to tell me that my rates were too high and that if I wanted to get work based on my level of experience, Then I needed to go and raise my rates and be the affordable option. competitive rates would help me grow my freelance business. So I was, I mean, trying not to let my jaw hit the table when he said His advice, if I were you, I would raise. Your rates to $75 an hour effective immediately because at $40 an hour, you will not be taken seriously in larger markets like Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville, DC. you're actually pretty good, but at $40 an hour is sending the wrong. I had never heard that. And yet, as soon as he said that, I was like, oh my, it was like, the scales fell off my eyes because we see this phenomenon all over the place. Right? Like, do you respect an inexpensive car or an expensive car? Like our respect follows our money typically. And so if you had a Timex on one wrist, And a Rolex on the other wrist, which do you show more respect? the Rolex. And it's a weird thing because you might even say like a Timex was a court's movement actually keeps time better. its function. It performs better than the Rolex that has this mechanical movement. But we're not rational all the time. People, maybe Sarah, maybe you've heard of that, right. That people crazy. Right. but anyway, I call that lesson, the golden suitcase, because he really did hand me a suitcase full of gold that day. He made me realize that pricing is brands. Pricing is your positioning and lower prices send one signal. They send the Timex signal and higher prices send a different signal, the Rolex signal, and you may not even get a chance to talk to certain clients who you truly could serve. If. They hear about your rates and decide you're too cheap for them. So that's actually a good segue. You know, tip number three is competitive. Rates will not help you grow your freelance business. Juicy offers help you grow your freelance business. your offers and the services that you provide are not the same. a service is like hip replacement surgery. And offer is how would you like to go on a hike with your grandkids and not experience any discomfort or pain? my grandmother who needs a hip replacement, right? She is. We'll sign me up. I can't remember the last time I did not have hip pain. So our clients, they have discomfort or they have pain, they have expensive problems. And then we come in, they're like, I have copywriting services and they're like, yeah, that's nice. That's cute. So. Our blog is embarrassing and we know we're missing opportunities and we've got a new competitor whose blog is awesome and it's causing some anxiety. So if you came in instead and said, we'll make your blog so much better than any of your competitors. That they will wonder what your secret is. And not only that, you're going to start to get a lot more leads through your website. We expect your leads to go up anywhere from 120 to 150% within the first 90 days. And best of all, you don't have to do anything. Except meet with us the first Tuesday of each month and talk through topics. We'll bring the topics you're going to pick the four that you're most excited about. And we'll take it from there. That is an offer. You never even mentioned copywriting or content, right? You painted the picture of an outcome that is really desirable to a client. And so I just really wish I had figured this out sooner because in my early days I was insecure. Nobody was more aware of my inexperience than I was. I'm like, gosh, I worked at a marketing agency for six months. And then before that I was just in school for my entire life. why would anyone want to hire me? Why would anyone interest their marketing budget to me? Right I got started in April, 2009. I had landed my first. It was either 2,800 or $2,900 a month retainer by November of 2009. So within about six and a half, seven months, I had gone from money being really scary. Too much money being not scary at all. And in fact, I was like paying down school debt aggressively. And when I look back I'm like, that was when I actually pivoted. Two offers instead of just services, not fully understanding what I was doing at the time. And again, a lot of us can make good moves intuitively, but we don't necessarily repeat those results because we didn't understand perhaps what worked it was a luxury resort in Turks and Caicos and they were just so worn out with their last marketing director. Who didn't seem to do anything that they were just like, just someone who would communicate with us, right? The bar was very, very low. But anyway, sell offers put juicy offers in front of your prospects, and that is going to help you grow your freelance business a whole lot faster than competitive rates. So those are three big ones. I could keep going, but I've talked, I've talked a blue streak, Well, yeah, I think those are definitely important ones to get started with or to keep in mind. I had a photography business when I first started my entrepreneurial journey. But I couldn't figure out how to differentiate myself from the competition other than being like the lowest price photographer in Dallas wedding photographer and learn that that wasn't the right approach. But, yeah. So it's interesting that you brought up charging $40 an hour. And how, being known as the lowest price isn't, the type of clients you're going to get, or, they say that they're even more demanding yeah. Well, and how are we supposed to know some of these things, because they're, counter-intuitive. if I knew nothing, like if your race, my memory, and then you said, Hey Austin, go start a photography business in Dallas. I would do exactly what you did. It makes sense to say, well, don't people want a good deal. Don't they want to pay less. I mean, shoot. If I have to choose all other things being equal. if I could pay this wedding photographer 1500 bucks and they'd give me photos of my big day, and this one is like $3,500. And I'm like, well, I don't even understand what, what I get for another two K right. Then I'm going to go with the $1,500. Not realizing. Certain people just associate price and quality. And the thing that I realized is like, somebody out there with half your skill is charging three times as much right now. What do they know that you don't then when you really start to peel back the layers, they're like, oh, they realize that. Your prices are signals and you want to attract value conscious people. And yes, absolutely hit a home run, give them the best quality you can muster, but quality isn't everybody's motivation, saving money. Isn't everybody's motivation. And you see this in all areas of your life. I mentioned that client, which was a resort in Turks and Caicos. I was all set to fly down there to do like the first big discovery thing. And my passport was expired and I was like, how could this have happened? I'm embarrassed. So I got on a red eye flight to Boston because that was the city where I was able to book like a next day appointment at a passport office and show up in person. And I forget how much I had to pay for like the expedited passport renewal service. But I would have paid anything. Take my money, put it on a credit card. I don't care. I've got to save face. I've got to get down there to this island, Providence Cialis with a big smile on my face and be like, cause this project was worth over $30,000 to me. And so the return on investment, so to speak was through the roof yet. I guess what I'm trying to say is I was not looking for a good deal. I needed an embarrassing problem to go away because the return on investment was. Through the roof for me. And so I would like for freelancers to be a whole lot more like the passport renewal office that offers the expedited service for people trying not to freak out, that's a much better business to be in than, here's your inexpensive, local. I got a text message about a logo that costs $9 and 99 cents. And then there's this classic story from 1986. When Paul Rand, legendary identity designer charged Steve jobs, a hundred thousand dollars for a new corporate identity for next computing. So on the one hand, you have someone charging $10. On the other hand, you have someone charging a hundred thousand dollars and the deliverable was the same figure out what Paul Rand is doing, that you're not doing. Right. And do that. Don't just assume that everybody wants a good deal because a lot of people there, something a whole lot more important to them than saving money. But going back to what you said, I would have done the same thing you did in Dallas, Yeah. I mean, I think it's kind of the thing that people do when they don't know what they're doing when they're starting out. That's right. But the point is like, Pay attention to what the people who have already arrived, where you want to be. If it's $60,000 a year or a hundred thousand dollars a year, or shoot, maybe it's $12,000 a year and you're going to relocate to CBU, Whatever lifestyle you want, figure out the people who have arrived here. And then reverse engineer their success. And like I said, towards the beginning, I realized that six figure freelancers, they're all doing the same thing. Awesome. Well, I've learned so much and I appreciate your time coming on here today. And you have, is it a course freelance cake? That is the DIY course. it talks through the six piece I think it's a lot of fun. There are a lot of dad jokes in there before warned. that's the, DIY course can do it at your own pace. And then there's a program. That's the one that has the mentoring layer. That's the one where I offer. Feedback like we, there are weekly assignments, so it's not just, Hey, you really ought to strengthen your positioning and know exactly how and why you stand out. It's you're going to work on that and then you're going to send it to me. And then I'm going to say, Hey, you really need to inject more of your personality in this, or you really need to simplify this. And I think some people really appreciate. a concentrated yet manageable timeframe. it's a six week program. So by the time you get to the end as like, oh wow, I'm in a totally different place now. there is a course and there's a program I can also dance on the table. Just, I'm not going to Saturday morning, not going to dance yet. Maybe next time. Maybe I like, yeah, that was weird. So people can find both of Is that the bus place for them to find the course and the mentor program. perfect. Come say hi on Twitter. And then I'll also have show notes at the Sarah St. forward slash Austin L. Church. And was there anything else that you wanted to go over that we hadn't. This is a lot of fun and I just really appreciate the conversation.

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