Transforming Your Blog Into Really Big Business

blog into a businessPhoto by wannes deprez

The idea of blogging as a source of passive income has always seemed a little off to me (and others). In fact, I’d suggest that most bloggers earning significant money from blogging devote as much time to it as a part-time or full-time job.

That’s not as close as we can get, though: passive income should be just that, passive, meaning income for no hands-on work, or income that is hugely disproportionate to the hands-on work required.

If you’re writing blog posts each week, moderating comments, answering email and trying to propel your content forward on social media, you’re not earning passive income. You’re still exchanging time for money.

I’m also skeptical about people who claim to earn passive income from dozens of small niche, SEO and AdSense optimized blogs.

Despite some question marks about the value being provided to visitors, I’m also not sure this is passive income, either.

Most of those maintaining dozens of these blogs do seem to spend a lot of time on them! Darren Rowse has said it can be a full-time job and more.

The precedent

The above scenarios show bloggers running their blogs in a traditional small-business style: cutting costs by doing everything themselves.

The only way to create genuinely passive income is to flip this model on its head and remove yourself from the equation. An inspiring real-life example of this is the entrepreneur Derek Sivers (who runs an amazing blog, despite stolen Favicon… tsk tsk), who created a hugely successful music service in CDBaby.com.

However, Derek wanted more time to share his marketing knowledge with musicians and travel as he did it. After working long hours, seven day weeks and sleeping in his office, Derek decided to re-invent his life by removing himself as much as possible from CDBaby.com.

He still owned the company, was still profiting from it, but he hired someone to do all the hands-on work for him.

Assuming this resulted in work commitments being cut down to just a couple of hours a week–enough to keep the company humming along smoothly on autopilot–he had created a genuine source of passive income.

I have no idea how much the owner of something like CDBaby earns, but I’m guessing the total amount was initially less than what he would have earned doing everything himself.

After all, you have to pay people to replace you. I’m also guessing that pay-cut became a phantom compared to huge percentile increase–probably over 1000%–in time he freed up to enjoy the money he had (by riding around Vietnam on a motorbike, for example).

Someone else might have used the time to start up yet another entrepreneurial venture and repeat the process again.

Real passive income, not delayed rewards

Let’s look at how we could translate this scenario into what we are all in the business of: blogging. The end point is to own a blog that you can run like big business: hands-off, by employing others to do your work and taking the left-over profits.

If you start out half-way there by employing writers for content creation but managing the blog personally (answering email, promoting and so on) you will initially run at a loss, which might be $250 a week if you are publishing one feature article each week-day.

If you take yourself out of the equation completely from the beginning, that loss will run deeper, as you’ll need to cover the cost of a manager.

This isn’t something to be overly afraid of: the same goes for any business–small or large. You should be comfortable with running at a loss initially, and be careful to ensure the blog moves out of the red as it grows.

After all, entrepreneur literally means someone who is accountable for both outcomes and risks in the business they own.

Alternately, you might choose to run the blog on its own profits alone if you don’t have available capital (or aren’t willing to put it at risk).

This model might see you follow a classical small business trajectory, wherein you start off doing everything and gradually reinvest your blog’s earnings into replacing yourself.

You might start off writing five articles a week, then four, then three, then two, then one, then none, paying for staff writers from your blog’s earnings.

When you have enough left over from paying staff writers you could then promote one of them to an editor role: someone who will manage the other writers, answer email, moderate comments and keep the blog running smoothly from day to day.

Regardless of which route you take, either re-investing profits or starting with seed capital, the end point to aim for is to assume a ‘director’-type role, where you spend a couple of hours a week checking in with the editor and providing feedback and instruction.

If you’re brave, you might relinquish this role to someone who knows your vision and can limit your involvement to a weekly progress report.

If your bank balance is climbing at the rate you hoped for, then you have no reason to be any more involved than this.

To reach this point, though, your blog will have to be successful and well trafficked. At a minimum content will cost $200 a week. An editor will cost another $200, at the least.

To turn a profit, your blog will need to be making at least $400 a week, or about $1600 a month. This is equivalent to six banner ads costing about $270 a week each.

Your blog doesn’t need to be in the Technorati Top 100 to reach this kind of level, but you will need either a) around 300,000 page views a month, or b) a niche that encourages the spending of money (it will either be highly productized or read by those who’re willing to spend money to make it).

Niches that create a higher ROI for advertisers mean that you can charge more for your advertising impressions, even if you have less traffic.

Once you have on blog running passively in this way, you can start another, and repeat the process. The two key elements of success here are, firstly, your own savvy for creating popular blogs, and secondly, your sense for good people and good content.

You shouldn’t abide an editor who lets your blog stagnate, or a writer who rarely receives more than a lukewarm response. Work with them to rectify the situation, or find someone else: either way, never let yourself become complacent.

If you’re interested in running a big business model blog, here are some principles to keep in mind:

  • Small niches probably won’t work here unless you’re selling an expensive product or service. If you’re relying mainly on advertising, you need to have broad appeal (which = good traffic). This isn’t to suggest you blog about ‘business’ or ‘technology’, but rather that you don’t blog about super-specific topics.
  • Always think about ways to weave in income streams that go beyond advertising. This includes job boards, eBooks, products, subscription-only content, courses and video seminars.
  • If you earn most of your profit via privately negotiated advertising based on page views, search out and treasure writers with a knack for social media optimized content. You don’t necessarily have to charge advertisers for social media page views, but charging the same price for more traffic can make your advertising plans much more attractive.
  • Your writers are the lifeblood of your blogs. Eventually you will want your editor to handle the hiring and (if necessary) firing of them, but initially you will probably be in charge of putting a writing team together. Scrimping on your authors is like scrimping on fresh ingredients in a restaurant–it only lowers the quality of your product.
  • The best writers are people who run their own flourishing blog. You should also look to have a social media maverick amongst them: someone who knows how to write headlines that kill.
  • You should pay a minimum of $30 for a 500 word article, and at least $50 for a 1,000 word article. A good strategy is to work out your pricing based on a minimum rate or more. I think $50 posts that are 750 words or more is perfect if you’re publishing long-ish feature posts.
  • Don’t always look for the cheapest deal. If an author is asking for $75 or $100 per article it probably means they’re receiving a lot of offers and can afford to have you say no–which probably means they’re also bloody good. Don’t be afraid to pay more for writers with that certain star quality.

Most important of all is this: treat your blog like a real business. Invest money in it. Hire a good consultant, hire a marketer, get a professional design and logo.

If you want to play it safe, only re-invest what you earn. Fundamentally, though, the old saying is as true here as it is anywhere else: you have to spend money to make money.

Business owners who boast about their minuscule expenditures are probably only talking about money: usually, they trade time in its place.

Sadly, they don’t believe their time is worth anything. The web is at the forefront of a new culture that says time is infinitely more valuable.

 

Find Your ‘Flow’ and the Money Will Follow

finding your flowPhoto by muha.

The well-worn phrase “Do what you love and the money will follow” leaves a lot to be desired. Even if you could get paid to watch episodes of LOST (you can’t), you’d probably yearn for more rewarding work.

There is a marked difference between things you love that could make money and things you love that won’t.

As a general rule, if it helps you enter a ‘Flow state’, it’s a winner. If it doesn’t, it won’t make for gratifying or lucrative work.

‘Flow’ (see Wikipedia page), a psychological phenomenon, is how you feel when performing a task that absorbs 100% of your focus.

Time seems to run faster while in a flow state – hours can pass without notice because you are too focused to care about the passing of time.

If you stop and think about it, I’m sure you can think of one activity that makes you feel this way, whether it’s writing a blog post, web design, exercising or developing new business ideas.

To enter a flow state while performing a task, the following criteria need to be met:

1. You must be challenged, but not too much. You’d be unlikely to enter a flow state as a beginner guitarist trying to learn Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’.

Simply seeking out each note, let alone arranging them in the correct rhythm, would be extremely difficult and frustrating.

You’d quickly want to bail out and try ‘Ode to Joy’ instead. Thinking about other tasks instead of the one you’re doing is not compatible with flow.

On the other hand, a talented guitarist is not going to enter a flow state playing ‘Ode to Joy’ by the book.

There’s no challenge in it, so her mind is likely to wander and not achieve the 100% focus required for flow.

2. You must be doing creative mental work. This includes problem solving, strategic thinking and thinking ‘on your feet’.

3. You must see great value in the work. I find my monthly accounts challenging but not too challenging to do, but this doesn’t mean I enjoy them. To find flow, the task you’re doing must have personal value to you.

No Flow, No Happiness

Psychologists have found that regularly achieving a state of flow is one of the primary determinants of happiness.

It follows, then, that the best possible way to make a living is to make money by doing tasks that put you into a flow state.

The greatest thing is, because these tasks require specific skills to complete – skills that you have – ‘flow’ is the perfect way to separate things you love that people might pay you for (they require skill) versus things you love that are extremely hard to get paid for (watching LOST, which only requires a television!)

If you don’t feel that any of your current skills have monetary value to someone else, searching for ‘flow’ is an excellent way to discover new skills that you will love practicing.

If I find myself 100% focused and losing track of time when reading beginner-level articles on stock trading, this is a signal that the skill is worth more investigation.

Two Ways to Fill a Life Missing Flow

If you’re interested in blogging, you’re probably familiar with the ‘Blog Profits Blueprint‘ school of thought, aimed at creating sources of advertising and affiliate income that require only a few hours of maintenance each day.

Ideas around passive income and The Four-Hour Work Week come from the same angle – that you should minimize income ‘work’ to leave more time for non-work activities that help you achieve flow.

While possible, this setup is extremely difficult to achieve – and perhaps personal experience has shown you that!

If working 2 hours a day on income generating activities and earning $5,000 a month, you still need to earn over $80 per hour that you work. Someone earning $5,000 a month with a four-hour workweek would need to earn over $300 an hour.

To me, this seems unnecessarily complicated and difficult. If the aim is to minimize ‘work’ to make time for activities that put you into ‘flow’, wouldn’t it make more sense to seek a scenario where your ‘work’ and ‘flow tasks’ were one and the same?

It’s true that you could never spend 100% of work time in ‘flow’, unless invoicing and clearing your inbox are passions.

But nor could you make a living from AdSense and affiliates without spending some amount of time on boring admin tasks.

The laws of probability also make a case for earning money from your flow tasks. Working 40 hours a week doing tasks you find flow-inducing (and assuming all hours a billable), you can make $5,000 a month earning about $31 an hour.

If you’re ‘working’ 2 hours a day and making money from affiliate marketing, you need to earn roughly 250% of that amount per hour. If you’re doing a 4-hour work week you need to earn a whopping 10x that amount per hour!

Needless to say, there are a lot more ordinary people earning $31 an hour (and more) as freelancers than there are people earning $80 an hour as bloggers and affiliate marketers, or $300 an hour as passive income gurus.

Sure, they do exist, and congratulations to them, but only a very small percentage of people who try to lead the ‘passive income’ lifestyle succeed.

The biggest irony I see is people who work thousands of hours to set up modest passive income streams to support themselves while they pursue unpaid ‘flow’ activities using skills that have a going rate of $50 – $100 an hour!

The could have earned more and saved months or even years of their lives making money from their skill directly.

Is Passive Income Really the Recipe for Happiness?

In an ideal world we could work 1 hour a day and spend the rest of the time at home programming apps or playing piano or whatever else puts us into flow.

In reality, when left to our own devices we’ll often pick ‘junk food’ tasks over flow tasks because flow tasks are challenging while junk food tasks provide instant gratification. Examples of junk food tasks are things like aimlessly browsing YouTube, watching bad mid-day television or taking naps.

As psychologist Dan Gilbert has shown, humans are often very bad at predicting and doing what really makes us happy. Without external motivators we may spend the rest of our day watching re-runs of Family Guy rather than working on the blog design of our dreams.

Instead, try adding income and reputation to the mix and it becomes much easier to motivate yourself to consistently perform tasks that put you into flow.

The person with only self-imposed pressures to create their dream blog design will probably finish three months after the person being paid $60 an hour with a Monday deadline.

Lastly, working for ‘flow’ is a fantastic opportunity to become a genuine expert at something. Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours of hard work before someone can call themselves an expert.

Dabble in something on evenings and weekends for a total of 10 hours a week and you can gather 500 hours towards expertise each year (I’ve subtracted 20 hours a year for practice time missed due to unforeseen events – this figure is being very generous though).

Keep at it for 20 years and voila, you might just be an expert.

Contrast this with 35 hours a week of practice (say, in Flash game design), and you can hit that 10,000 hour mark in about 5 years and 9 months – roughly 1/4 of the time.

If you’re being paid only the average rate for a Flash programmer (about $50 an hour) you’ve earned a total of $500,000 acquiring your expertise, instead of the $0 earned practicing in non-work time.

The Best Way to Make a Living from Blogging Is…

Selling a service that puts you into ‘flow’ is the best way for most people to make money from blogging.

Even if you don’t have a skill that can be easily commodified yet, learning a new one will be much easier than making thousands of dollars each month from advertising and affiliate programs. The latter requires just as much practice and may never be rewarded at all.

While being an expert in a niche is valuable, being an expert in a professional skill is even more valuable. (Being an expert in both is better, and that’s what I hope to teach you.)

If Google decides it doesn’t like you, if AdSense changes drastically, if you lose your mojo and traffic dries up, so can your income if it is solely based on advertising and affiliate sales. But the skills you have, with continual practice, will last forever.

This is a topic I want to discuss much more. I feel that there’s an over-abundance of information on how to make a pittance with advertising and affiliate programs, but very few credible sources of information on how to earn a good living with a freelance business fed through your blog.

I’ve done it, and I’m confident I can teach any person to do the same. That being said, I know this lifestyle is not everyone’s cup of tea and for that reason I won’t be devoting a lot of time to the topic on this blog.

Instead I’ll be creating a newsletter on this topic, so only people who want to learn will receive the content.

I know some of you have been trying to earn an income through blog ads and affiliate sales and are getting tired of not being rewarded.

I know some of you are interested in freelancing but unsure of how to make money from your skills or where to start. I know some of you are already freelancers but would like to get more clients, charge more and ween yourself off local work so that you can take your business anywhere.

I’m confident the newsletter will teach you how to do all these things – and it will also be fun for me to try something different!

A Practical Guide to Earning Six Figures: Re-inventing What You Have

Many people struggle with the duality of enjoying their current work while yearning for an increased income.

Our Freelance Switch survey showed that many freelancers are working part-time to supplement their core source of income (salaried work).

What do you do if you love being in your profession but know it’s unlikely to ever allow you to earn six figures a year?

What should you do if you know freelancing is not the right choice for you?

You’ll need to supplement (or eventually replace) your income through strategies that are high-yield, low time, and enjoyable in their own right.

If you’re already working 40 hours a week, the time you spend trying to set up supplemental income streams should not feel like work. Ultimately, I would suggest taking up an income-producing hobby.

Investing.

A friend of mine delivers newspapers from his car during the day and spends between 5 – 10 hours a week buying and selling stocks.

The latter produces most of his income, but he’s unwilling to leave the first job because of the friends he’s made at the newspaper warehouse. He’s mathematically minded, so investing suits him well.

Income earned is also not tied to time, and stocks can earn him money while he’s not attending to them. If you’re worried about the financial risk, consider bootstrapping after one initial investment.

Blogging.

Whether you make money directly (through advertising on one or multiple blogs), or indirectly (through offering services on a blog), blogging is a hobby with the potential to earn a supplementary income.

If you’re a freelancer, focus on getting blog readers to your services page. If you create great content but you can’t be prolific, focus on building one very popular blog.

If you’re able to produce lots of content but you’re unsure how to create a super-popular blog, focus on creating a small network of two or three blogs. A few moderately popular blogs can earn just as much as a one highly popular blog.

Blog/Website flipping.

With some pundits valuing subscribers at $35 each, NorthxEast is apparently worth $105,000 (yeah right!).

I think $10,000 to $15,000 would be a much more realistic figure, but the example does show that blogs and websites can accrue a lot of value.

If you’re quite good at monetizing blogs/websites and drawing traffic to them, growing and then ‘flipping’ your properties could be quite lucrative.

As you build a larger network of web properties, you can channel your existing traffic into new projects to give them a very useful head-start.

Create an online product (web app, paid membership website, etc).

Blogs are certainly not the only way to ‘make money online’. Web apps are being built and becoming successful at a rapid rate, as are premium content websites, membership-only websites, and so on.

However, the start-up costs for these can be quite high if your idea requires that you work with a web developer to make it happen.

Consulting.

Simply the act of imparting your skills and expertise to others, or making recommendations based on your knowledge, consulting carries a high per-hour rate and is highly customizable.

Aside from traditional types of consulting (SEO consulting, branding consultations, etc.), there’s nothing to stop a talented World of Warcraft player offering consulting to players who want to increase their skills, a high-achieving student offering consultations on how to achieve similar results, a freelancer offering consultations on how to start freelancing, and so on.

If you have skills or knowledge that other people want to learn, you may be able to turn this into a source of supplementary income, even if not in ‘traditional’ fields.

I encourage you to break down the above options (or the many others that are available to you) into stepping stone goals, just as we’re doing with the task of earning six figures. It’s an incredibly useful approach for achieving any goal that you have.

Final notes on this method

Keep in mind, however, that if you earn $50,000 a year in your regular job, you will need to double that income in the ten extra hours you work, equivalent to more than $100 an hour (as you will surely need at least one hour a week to do non-billable tasks).

In other words, the decision to stay with your existing core income will add another level of difficulty to the task of increasing it (but where there’s a will, there’s a way).

Instead, you might eventually choose to reduce the amount of time you work in your day job and increase the amount of time you spend tapping into extra sources of income.

You might decide to work 25 hours a week instead of 40, with another 25 hours devoted to an income producing hobby.

One last tool

One of my favorite ideas from the 4HWW is designed to help you change the way you think about things that seem impossible or very difficult.

You’re asked to imagine a scenario where you had no choice but to achieve one of your most ambitious goals.

Once you start making plans instead of excuses, you’ll be surprised to find that anything someone else has done before can be repeated.

This method won’t help you walk on water, but it could help you earn six figures, learn seven languages, or travel eight times around the world.

I’ll leave you with these three questions and answers:

  • How many people have audacious goals? Many.
  • How many people define what exactly would be required to reach them? Fewer.
  • How many people define what’s needed, then undertake all of those steps? Few.

Few succeed, but it’s those few that do.

A Practical Guide to Earning Six Figures: Reboot Your Career

This post is part two in a series. If you’re learning how to earn six figures, start here.

If you’re not overly attached to your current job and would be willing to switch it for something better, this route is for you.

Some of the things that prevent us from pursuing new and better jobs really don’t matter as much as you think.

I don’t have the skills to do anything else.

That’s kind of irrelevant. You can learn anything with enough time. You might not be naturally gifted, but a gift simply doesn’t compare to dedication.

Just because you don’t have the skills now doesn’t mean you won’t have them in six months or a year. You don’t have them because you’re not trying to have them yet.

I’m not qualified.

You could pick what you want to do, and then get qualified, but that can be expensive. Going back to school may not fit with your schedule or your lifestyle, either.

Instead, I’d suggest you focus on entering a field where you are often judged on your skills rather than your qualifications.

Many types of freelancing fit this bill, while also commanding high hourly rates. I’ll explore this point further in point #3.

From here on, this article will mainly outline the possibility of becoming a six figure freelancer. If this idea doesn’t appeal to you (please read the article first, maybe I can change your mind) I’ll present another route to earning six figures in my third and final post in the series.

I don’t know what to aim for.

At Freelance Switch, we conducted a survey of 3,000 freelancers to find out what their average hourly rates were. Here are the results:

hourly rate times industry

Keep in mind that this is an average, meaning 50% of freelancers are charging more than that. Does that mean 50% of freelancers are earning six figures?

Probably not, as they’re unable to fill 40 hours a week with billable work. Still, if you can optimize your work-week to minimize non-billable work (such as invoicing and liaising with clients), and maximize billable hours, six figures through freelancing is probably your most viable option.

I suggest this field because it balances a high rate of pay with an emphasis on what you can do rather than what you’re qualified to do.

Most freelance jobs will look to your portfolio rather than your academic history when determining whether you’re the right person for the job.

Your suitability for a freelance career rests on skills that you can teach yourself relatively cheaply (in comparison to taking a high-end course or getting a degree).

Why is this the case? Most clients don’t have a deep understanding of the industry they’re looking to hire in, so they wouldn’t actually know what kinds of qualifications are out there.

You’ll find the story is different when jobs are posted by other freelancers or a firm: they’re a bit more likely to ask for qualifications, so keep this in mind.

But–here’s why you shouldn’t charge by the hour

Freelancers have to pay for more stuff than everyone else. With greater expenses, you need to earn more to compensate.

However, you may have a hard time telling a client that they’re paying you $75 an hour to design a logo, or $100 an hour for your copywriting work.

Understand that I talk about hourly rates because these are an average–not the number you put on your website.

If you work 40 hours a week and earn $2,000 a week, you’re on track for a six figure income (gross). That does not mean you should tell clients that your rate is $50 an hour.

Let’s say you charge $300 for a logo design that takes you three hours to create. You’re making $100 an hour, but if you don’t tell your client, they’ll never know.

They’re not a logo designer themselves, so they’re unlikely to have any idea how long the process takes. $300 for a good logo sounds pretty reasonable. Paying someone $100 an hour probably doesn’t!

Another example: you charge a client $1999 for a web design that takes twenty hours. Once again, you’re earning $100 an hour.

In an industry where web designs can cost up to $6000, your client will feel like they’re getting a bargain. How many hours you work is irrelevant.

They’re paying for your work, not your time, and you should be rewarded for being efficient. If you finish a job early, you earn more per hour.

To summarize: being paid by the hour will limit you. You will earn more per hour if you charge for finished projects alone.

I would suggest this is probably the only way you can earn six figures net rather than gross–unless you’re a consultant, of course!

Lucrative fields

If you enjoy writing, here are some options with good average hourly earnings:

Freelance writing for print or online.

Note that the rate per article for this type of work varies very steeply. Successful freelance writers will tell you that a 500 word piece is worth no less than $50.

Online content is also a booming industry, with many website owners and bloggers outsourcing content creation. You can expect to command higher rates when you’re writing about something you’re knowledgeable about.

Freelance copywriting.

From producing the text for webpages to writing sales letters, pamphlets and emails, copywriters help people sell things through words.

You can teach yourself this skill by buying some copywriting books and reading examples of good copy. Practice (and proofreading) makes perfect.

If you’re artistic, here are some options with good average hourly earnings:

Freelance graphic design.

This can include logo design, magazine design, and so on. You’ll want to develop decent skills with Adobe Photoshop at the very least, though having the ability to create designs by hand will also benefit you.

Design can be quite theoretical, so you’ll need to read up on your chosen field voraciously.

Freelance web design.

Did you know that you can design websites without knowing one line of code?

Photoshop source files can be converted into working code quite cheaply and quickly. If you know what looks good but don’t want to immerse yourself in code, this could be an option for you.

Once again, Photoshop is an essential skill, as is an understanding of web design principles, typography and usability. Books and online resources can help here.

Freelance photography.

If you have good equipment and a bit of skill, why not make money from your passion?

Freelance illustration.

If you can wield a pen, pencil or paint-brush with expertise, there’s a market for your services. Digital scanners and fast international postage means you can also work for clients anywhere in the world.

If you’re a problem solver, here are some options with high hourly rates:

Freelance coder.

Whether you’re coding websites, applications or software, freelance coders commanded the highest rates according to our survey. This is another skill you can teach yourself with the help of books and tutorials.

Freelance SEO.

Search-engine optimization is a booming industry and every business wants a piece of it. Competition is fierce, so how can you differentiate?

Learning how to be a freelancer

Once you have the skills, you need to learn how to turn them into a business. As editor of Freelance Switch, I’ve read many resources hoping to teach you how to start your freelancing career with a bang, but nothing compares to the book ‘How to be a Rockstar Freelancer‘, which is truly the most comprehensive resource available (and cheap, too).

Another thing that makes this career-path the perfect choice is that it’s not an all or nothing venture. You can work anywhere from 1 to 100 hours a week (though the latter is strongly discouraged!).

Test the waters by adding 5 or 10 hours of freelancing a week on top of your day job, then phase out the latter once you’ve established a firm grounding for your six figure freelancing career.

Learning how to be a six figure freelancer

As stated earlier in the series, just because a freelancer is earning between $50 and $100 an hour for their services does not guarantee they are earning six figures a year.

A freelancer could be charging those rates but only completing a few jobs a week, the rest of the time taken up with finding work, client liaison, invoicing and so on.

I’ve noticed that the key differentiator between high-earning freelancers and the average freelancer is the ability to minimize non-billable activities and maximize billable work.

The foundational activities they practice are:

1. Creating a situation where clients chase them, not the other way round.

Receiving job offers in your inbox on auto-pilot is a really nice situation to be in. By placing a ‘Hire Me‘ page on my blogs, I’ve been able to achieve this.

Other freelancers achieve the same effect by building a wide network of clients and working mainly on referrals. Other freelancers do it by concentrating on clients who provide a stream of regular work.

Others do it by building a strong personal brand and name recognition through an online presence. I’m sure when many of you think logo designer, you think David Airey, for example.

2. By batching.

Six figure freelancers batch tasks like invoicing and other mandatory business process.

3. By outsourcing.

Six figure freelancers rarely do it without help. A freelancer is required to wear many hats and it’s impossible to be talented and efficient at all of them.

For that reason, savvy freelancers are increasingly outsourcing the things that used to bog them down.

4. By making client liaison efficient.

Let’s say you offer one service to most of your clients. You’ll often find yourself having to explain the details of that service to new clients.

The savvy freelancer makes use of templates and will try to answer possible questions before they’re asked.

Emails aren’t time consuming to write — it’s the space in-between emails that can make them inefficient. If you can learn to keep back-and-forth emails to a minimum, you’ll save plenty of time.

5. By incrementally raising their rates proportionate to their increasing experience.

If you’re earning $75 an hour you can obviously afford to do less billable hours and still hit six figures a year. Most freelancers who raise their rates slowly and steadily over time are surprised at the positive results.

6. Charging for completed projects rather than by the hour.

I’ve already talked about this, but it’s worth restating here.

They differentiate

Freelancers who differentiate earn more. Here’s why: if there are a thousand other freelancers offering the same service as you, with similar skills and similar portfolios, then as far as the client is concerned, the only real difference is price, and freelancers are forced to compete on that basis.

If your client isn’t aware of your competition (or it doesn’t exist), they can’t make price-comparisons. If nobody creates web designs quite like you do, a client is less likely to be sucked in by a lower price elsewhere, because they know they’re not getting the same product in return.

Many freelancers differentiate by specializing, i.e.

  • SEO Copywriting targeting young people
  • Pet photography
  • Usability consulting
  • Freelance writing on specialist topics
  • Coding in an obscure language

On the last point, a friend of mine knows a guy who earns over 200k by working three months a year. He crams plenty of overtime into those three months, but he’s able to earn so much in such a short time because he works in a very obscure and difficult programming language.

There’s very little competition for him, so he can charge almost whatever he likes. He spends the other nine months of the year traveling and vagabonding. Not a bad way to live!

If you can’t differentiate based on skills, differentiate by specializing, or by creating a recognizable personal brand.

If your personal brand is strong enough, you can specialize simply by being you. People want your specific approach because it’s yours. Other people can’t compete at being you.

Part three, the final part in the series, will be coming soon. In it, I’ll discuss how you can earn six figures by supplementing your current work, or by replacing it with a non-freelance alternative.

A Practical Guide to Earning Six Figures: Changing Your Mind

How to have the freedom and flexibility to live the life you want.

Hello push-back, hello skepticism. You don’t want to read this post. You don’t want to like it. You don’t want to have your aspirations tugged at with promises the author can’t keep.

And that’s fair, because too often, that’s the story of the web. Big promises, big disappointments, and a whole-lot of self-interested voices.

You’re ready for me to tell you about my six figure income; how I got there, and how you can too. Hey — I might even offer you a discount on my $99 eBook.

Unfortunately, I’m not earning six figures, and I don’t have an eBook. I don’t have any landing pages replete with bright-red lettering and enthusiastic testimonials from people who may or may not exist.

I don’t have a product, or an agenda, aside from describing the journey I’m on to transform my life.

Like many of us, I hope to do that by transforming my income. Best of all, I think I’ve got it figured out — and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you.

Deconstructing six figures

Pipe-dream? I don’t think so. The idea itself sounds unassailable, of course. Some people are made to be well-off, while others are ordinary.

The six-figure earners have ideas that we don’t have. They’re entrepreneurs with money to buy their dreams. The list of assumptions grows ever-longer.

I started to believe these assumptions might be false when my line of work brought me into contact with a slew of six figure earners. I waited for the big idea, and the secret qualities I didn’t have.

Instead, I found the stark differences I’d expected simply weren’t there. They were about as smart as everyone else. They worked about as much (sometimes less, because they didn’t need to). They had just as many ideas.

There was one stark difference, however–something I found to be common across most of the people I talked to. They were pragmatic in their approach to big goals.

They filled the space we usually leave empty (the conceptual gap between where we are and where we’d love to be) with stepping stones.

They built their own staircase of smaller goals, stacked on top of each other, to go from here to there. They had deconstructed six figures.

Why a six figure target?

Earning six figures is not a self-evident good. However, it’s a figure that, to many of us, represents freedom and comfortable living, but certainly not luxurious living, and certainly not extravagant living (until you start to venture higher up in the six-figure order, at least).

This article uses the lower six figures as an example, but many of its principals could be expanded to reach even higher income ranges, if that’s what you would require to meet your goals.

For some of you, your goals may be a round-trip around the world, owning your favorite car, or living in Paris.

For others, you might desire a house large enough to truly accommodate your family, to send your children to college and then help them financially throughout their lives, and to take a second honeymoon.

The reason I mainly discuss income rather than goals in this article is because every person has radically different goals, but increasing your income can help you to achieve many of them.

Here’s what it means to earn six figures:

You work fifty weeks a year, 40 hours a week, at $50 an hour.

OR

You work fifty weeks a year, 80 hours a week, at $25 an hour.

There are many more combinations of hours and prices, but let’s kill #2 straight away. It makes me uneasy. I hope it makes you uneasy too.

This (very basic) mathematical deconstruction of six figures reveals two things: doubling your hours will get you there, but that’s not a viable option. Six figures has no value if you’re working that much.

Secondly, that we need to be paid significantly more for the hours we work, with a minimum being $50 an hour, 40 hours a week. Alternately, we might be paid more per hour and work less.

The next practical step: find a way to earn an average of at least $50 per hour worked.

‘Finding a way’ does not include meaningful glances at your boss when raise time comes around. Raises are only going to take you so far, and I don’t think your financial future should rest in the hands of one person–that person not being you.

You have two concrete options: do what’s necessary to find work that can be billed at $50+ an hour, or supplement your existing work with high-paying, time minimal work (no more than ten hours per week).

Just like we deconstructed six figures, we’re going to deconstruct both of these goals into a series of pragmatic steps and choices.