How to grow your business as a freelancer?

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

On May 20th, Freelance Hub club on Clubhouse, we had Max Pete, designer, community manager, and business coach to other freelancers as our guest. We chatted about his journey in freelancing and how he grew his freelancing business into multiple streams.


Can you introduce yourself?


My name is Max. I've been freelancing for the past five years, come from the music industry where I worked at some labels, distribution companies, and a couple of agencies. And now I've been freelancing, specializing in website design and advertising. But lately, focusing a lot more on business coaching for freelancers and also handling community management at Freelance Founders.


When did you make the transition from working full-time to starting your own business? What made you make that decision?


So I decided in 2016. And there were a few different factors that kind of played into it. A couple of major life situations happened, my mom passed away. I was just in San Francisco at the time, and unhappy with the work that I was doing, and wanting something different and being able to travel and and be with family and do other things. So I just decided that: Alright, well, now's the time to do this. And I just put my two weeks notice to leave my nine to five and just decided that like, Hey, I'm going to figure this out. And if I don't figure it out, I can always go back to an office job.


Having control over your life and having that flexibility was your primary motive, then.


The most important things were deciding who I wanted to work with and the industries and companies I wanted to work with. I mean, at that point, I was solely focused on music. And so I want to branch out to other stuff like small businesses, consultants, just other industries. And I think one of the most excellent parts about freelancing and owning your own business, too, is like, there's no real cap into how much you can make. Obviously, it takes a lot of time and, and, you know, years of experience to kind of get to where you want to be, but, it's still really exciting that you don't have this cap that you're only making this much per year, you can be in control of that. And so I think that's a really exciting thing about being a freelancer.


What were the difficulties you faced that you didn't know when starting freelancing?


So going into freelancing, I just focused on the actual production stuff that I was supposed to do or want to do. Not the fact that I have to do all my accounting and business development, all that stuff. And so that was a tough lesson that I had to learn the first year, especially the first six months. When I pictured freelancing, I was like: I get to do the work I want to do all day. And this is going to be great. And I can do X, Y, and Z. But at the end of the day, you're managing and running your own business. And so the actual work that you're doing is just kind of a small part of it. There's a lot of other moving parts.


What is most rewarding about being a freelancer?


For me, it was just the ability to travel and be with my family when I wanted to. Because back when I was working nine to five, I had to literally take all my PTO days to visit my family because they were in Philly, and I was on the West Coast. It was just being able to travel and see them and still work and not have to worry about taking time off or asking for permission to do that. It has been like one of the biggest game-changers and biggest motivations for me to make that leap.


Do you remember how you got your first client?


Honestly, it was on Craigslist. I think I was messaging there because some gig opportunities show up there. And I was at the time trying to take on any website project that came my way. And so I just went on to every major city on Craigslist and searched for websites or job opportunities that were looking for freelancers. And I think I landed a tiny landing page bill. I think it was at the time,  maybe like $300 to $500. But, you know, for me, it was my first gig.


How did you scale your business?


It is building your network one by one and connecting with people. A big part of my strategy was reaching out to other designers that are in my field. So not necessarily looking at other freelance designers as competition, but more to collaborate and work together. That has been a huge referral lead generation source for me throughout the years. Because what happens is, other designers and people who have been freelancing know that there will be peaks and valleys of busy months and slower months. And sometimes, during the busy months, you get way more leads than you can handle, and you don't know what to do with them. And if you have other designers in your network, you can say, "I can't take on this project right now. But I can pass it to someone else." And maybe we can work out a referral fee system; then, it's a win-win for everyone. 


So that was a big focus of mine, for the beginning, few years of freelancing. And also, reaching out to agencies as well, who might not necessarily be looking to have full-time help but want freelancers for certain projects, was also a nice lead generation source for some of my slower months. 


It just takes time. You're not going to have your referral system built up the first year of freelancing because it's that year that you're going to take to grow your business and figure out when what needs to get done. But you know, as the years go on, and if you continue to be a freelancer,  you'll notice that you have this referral network that is constantly driving leads or opportunities that come your way.


How do you decide your pricing?


For my first gig, I just took anything that came my way. It was cool at the time. I thought, "I'm making some money doing this."


Throughout the years, you learn by looking at what you spent, both expensed and time, and what other designers in my field with similar experience are charging. 


In the beginning, I was doing a lot of hourly work. I've stopped doing that. I only charge project-based rates right now because I've noticed that I was penalizing myself for being efficient when I was doing mainly hourly work. I also have my minimum, whether I spend ten hours on it or five or four or whatever it might be.


How did you establish your brand?


I think it's important to share your story: Who you are, why you're doing, what you're doing and who you like to work with. Because at the end of the day there's a lot of people doing similar work as you are. Clients hire you because there's something they connect with, versus solely the work you do. One thing that I  wanted to do is just kind of share more of my story, be super open and transparent, in hopes of if I'm a client, and I'm trying to decide between a couple of freelancers, I might go with Max because he is who I might not have a connection with.


How do you manage all the different projects and lines of work?


I am a pretty organized person in general. I schedule in advance my calendar, blocking time off for certain things that I need to do or writing it down. I'm a big fan of post-it notes, like writing stuff down on a piece of paper and having it in front of me. So I can see what I'm working on, what's coming up. Plus, throughout the years, I've realized that how much I can fit on my plate. While it might seem like a lot, I've been able to narrow down on some projects that  I would have typically said yes. So I have enough room to do multiple things at once.


Do you have any routines that help your productivity?


 I'm a morning person. So I know in the morning, I can focus on deep work and things that I need to get done that day. So if you are freelancing and have control of your schedule, find the peak hours that you feel energized and motivated and want to work and use that time to do your work. I think that's the beauty of working for yourself, tapping into those certain hours without having to be on the computer from nine to five. Having some to-do list that I want to get done that day helps a lot, making sure it will not be that many items. Because looking at your to-do list and seeing 20 things on there can also hinder your productivity. Because you're not going to know where to start, it's going to be super overwhelming. So I always recommend putting around three or four absolute must things that need to get done that day. If you get through them and there's extra time, and you're feeling motivated, then you can move on to your other list of nice to have things to get done that day. Being able to narrow your focus on a few items versus a huge list is super helpful.


One final question: Where do you get your inspiration?


 Very good question. For me, it's my friends, other designers that I follow who run their own businesses. I also get a lot of my inspiration and ideas when I'm outside. When I am taking a walk or running, I can better clear my head and have that space just solely focused on what I'm doing.

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