This is the first part of our forthcoming series on freelancing and the gig economy, exploring the 3 major challenges to consider if you’re going to be successful working independently.
You’ve been hearing it for years: “You have a talent for this,” or “I could use 10 other people with your skill set,” or “Can you teach me how you did that?” Kinda cool, isn’t it? After a while, it sinks in. I’m pretty good at this, others appreciate it, and I like doing it, too. So what am I doing dealing with all the hassles of an office job when I could be out there on my own, doing what I want when I want and, just maybe, making even more? You know what? I think I can crush this!
And now you’re out there and, sure, you’re making ends meet and the work itself is pretty decent. But it’s not exactly going gangbusters, and the clients and projects you’re really seeking are somehow out of reach. To top it off, you’re no longer vying with colleagues you work side-by-side with every day, but with a virtual sea of other professionals out there doing the same thing you’re doing. And let’s face it — most of them aren’t too shabby.
That’s when it dawns on you: talent and passion aren’t enough to succeed when you’re in business for yourself. They’re necessary, but they’re far from sufficient. When it comes down to it, it’s the things they didn’t teach you in school that often make the difference in achieving sustainable success.
A friend of mine made this observation based on his own life experience. His mother was a professional pianist. She had attended conservatory and learned to play concertos and sonatas with exquisite skill but initially struggled to find steady and satisfying work. “It’s like they taught her everything about being a world-class concert pianist except how to land a gig performing with an orchestra,” he said.
The first step to making sure your talent is recognized and put to its best use is to shift the focus from yourself and take a fresh look at what your client needs. Potential clients aren’t just looking for a skill; they’re looking for a problem to be solved, often an urgent one.
Get beyond the need for a specific something and try to understand what the client is ultimately trying to accomplish and why that’s important. When you can convey your understanding of the real problem and position yourself as someone with the ability to solve it, then you’re getting somewhere. While your expertise might get you noticed, being able to understand a client’s needs and helping to solve a problem will take you to the next level.
Quick tip: Try to identify your client’s primary “pain point.” Listen carefully to not just the “what” of their situation but also the “why” and “how” things might be different for them and their organization if the pain point can be addressed.
Now, back to you. Depending on your field, you might be one of thousands out there vying for many of the same coveted projects or companies. You need to find a way to make yourself stand out. You have to be able to brand yourself and offer a distinct and compelling value proposition. A freelancer with a flair for etymology made this point: “The word talent comes from the Greek word talentos, which translates to “monetary value” — you have to remember that you have to deliver value to the people who invest in you.
So what do you uniquely offer? The answer is yours to determine, but it might be good to not focus in too narrowly on a particular skill or ability. Often value comes not from being able to do one thing better than your competitors, but from being able to do a great number of things quite well. In fact, many successful freelancers will tell you that a varied and dynamic skillset allows them to establish multiple revenue streams, seek more varied opportunities, and provides insurance should any one skill fall out of demand.
Quick tip: Check out Strategyzer or another similar platform and start to play with their value proposition tools. They allow you to distill your observations about what clients really have on their minds and how your services and solutions provide a compelling way to address their needs.
Being aware of your unique value proposition is the first step. But once you’ve determined your strengths, there is still work to be done, and it may vary for each client. The key is to make an effort up front and constantly revisit and reevaluate how you can be most useful and what sets you apart from the pack. This level of reflection will quickly push you towards the front of the line.
For those of you who aren’t currently freelancing but are giving it some serious consideration, hopefully this gives you perspective on the realities of this type of work and the differences from what you might have experienced thus far in your career. If you’d like to dive deeper on that topic, please attend this complimentary webinar on Jan. 18, sponsored by MBO Partners.