If I had to sum up the key requirements in order to be a successful independent consultant or freelancer, I’d break it down to these three simple steps. If you can get these three things figured out, you’ll be on the right track to becoming a highly paid expert in your field.
1. Develop your ability to solve an expensive problem for someone
The main reason that people will give you money is because you will help them either make money or stop losing money.
If a business is currently making $10k in profit per day, and you can help them increase that to $15k per day, then their expensive problem is that they’re making $5k per day less than they could be making. Or, if a business is currently spending $5k per month (or the equivalent in labor hours) doing a manual task over and over again, and if you have the ability to create an automated solution that will eliminate that expense, then there’s an expensive problem you can solve.
The amount of money that you will be paid as a freelancer or solo consultant is directly tied to the value that a client assigns to the problem you can help them solve. As long as your fee is cheaper than the problem you’re solving, then it makes financial sense for the client to pay you for the solution.
You already have a skill set that could be solving a problem for someone. Figure out what your most valuable skills are, and then hone those skills over time through experience and self education. It may take some trial and error to narrow in on how your skills best fit the need in the market, but start somewhere and then adjust over time.
Make sure you’re focusing on what problem you can solve, not just the skill you have. You’re not just a developer, a designer, or a writer — you’re a consultant that uses one of those tools to help a business make more money.
2. Build up a consistent stream of leads
No matter how skilled you are, if people don’t know about your services then you won’t make any money. It is absolutely essential that you have a steady stream of leads coming in, preferably from a variety of sources.
For example, you might go to a networking event once a week and start conversations with other local business owners. This may result in a few leads per month, but it’s probably not enough. You might also get leads through your LinkedIn network, through your friends and acquaintances, through a Facebook ad funnel, by publishing a book, by getting organic traffic to your blog, by attending conferences in your clients’ industry, or by trolling online job boards.
Figure out what you have to do in order to bring in a consistent number of leads each month, and then stick to that plan no matter what.
Let’s do some quick back-of-the-envelope math to figure out roughly how many leads you need each month:
Target income per month — First, we’ll set a target income goal. For the sake of example, we’ll say $10k per month.
Income per client — Next, figure out what your average profit per client or engagement is. We’ll use $2500 for this example.
Based on steps 1 and 2, you need an average of 4 new clients or engagements per month to hit you target income of $10k/month.
Leads needed per month — Finally, we have to figure out how many leads you need per month in order to get those 4 new clients. For this example, we’ll assume that 1/3 of your leads result in a paid engagement. Therefore, to get 4 new clients per month, you need 12 leads per month.
Notice that we can play around with each of the variables separately. If you increase your average income per client, then you’ll need fewer leads and clients per month to hit your target income. If you increase the percentage of leads who turn into clients, then you need fewer leads per month. By working to increase each of these variables separately, your monthly income will go up significantly.
3. Start now, start small, and grow incrementally
When I first started freelancing 5 years ago, I got my first job on Upwork for $10/hr, and I took any graphic design or web development job I could find. Over time, I raised my rates and focused in on a specific niche (the expensive problem I could solve). Now I have the freedom to work at home or while traveling, I have an amazing team that helps me tackle our projects, and I’m earning enough to live comfortably and save for the future.
No matter what stage you’re at right now, the important thing is to continue developing your skills and honing in on your ability to be compensated for helping people solve a specific problem.
The exact software tools, sales techniques, lead sources, etc. will evolve over time. The important thing is to get started now.