Employees wait. Freelancers shouldn’t.

In a waiting roomAs an employee of a company, you’ll often turn up for work and then wait to be told what to do.

That’s the nature of being an employee. You have supervisors and managers who draw up lists of what needs to be done, and then you get allocated items from that list.

I have worked with dozens of “newbie freelancers” who find it hard to shake off the habit of waiting.

They put up their website, do some promotion…and then they wait. They wait for someone to call them and offer them work.

Or they wait for a response to a bulk email they have sent out to dozens of prospective clients.

Or they make fifty cold calls, waiting for someone to say yes.

Always waiting…and acting as if they were still in that comfy cubicle.

Can you make a living as a freelancer by putting yourself out there and waiting? Possibly. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

I never wait. Not because companies line up to hire me, because they don’t.

I never wait because I can’t stand the insecurity of not knowing whether I’ll have any work to do next week.

So instead of promoting myself, asking for work, and waiting…I approach clients and prospective clients with ideas.

I don’t ask if they can give me work to do. I present them with a business idea I can help them with.

For example, I spent a little time socially with a business owner last fall. We have never worked together, but enjoy each other’s company. A couple of days later I had an idea. It was a service that could be bolted on the side of his existing business. He already has a list and a ton of engaged customers, and I figured a lot of those customers would want this new service.

I presented him with the idea, he liked it, and we’re nearly ready to launch. So far I have made a very small amount of money for a ton of work. But if the service takes off, I’ll do well from it, for a long time.

I did the same with another company a couple of years ago. Again, I didn’t ask for work. I gave them an idea we could develop together. In that case, I did a great deal of work for no money…and the project was shelved. That happens. Except in this case I got a call a couple of weeks ago, and we’re back on.

More recently, I was asked to write a standard sales letter for a company. The fee was attractive, and I like the people involved, so I said yes. And then I thought about it some more and got back to them with a whole new approach on how to tackle the project. It doesn’t involve a regular sales letter at all. Among other things, it involves flying one of their senior people to the other side of the world for 10 days. Crazy stuff.

There is a lot of extra work involved for me. But if it works, and I think it will, I should do well out of it.

Am I still a “freelance copywriter”? I am. That’s my core skill. But that’s not how I pitch myself. Because being a freelance copywriter usually involves waiting for someone to GIVE you work.

If what I have described so far sounds a bit “advanced”, don’t worry. You don’t have to come up with new business or service ideas to run your freelance business and your life like this.

I have a business friend who hires a lot of freelancers, and there is one guy he absolutely loves right now. Why? Because this freelancer keeps ringing him up at odd times, saying stuff like, “Jimmy, I’m sorry to call you at the weekend, but I just had this great idea!” Those ideas usually involve something simple, like a new headline, or a change to his copy approach, or maybe a new promotional item to try.

This freelancer really is still presenting himself as a copywriter. But he is proactive. He doesn’t wait for Jimmy to call him. He’s always creating new work for himself. He’s in the driver’s seat.

Waiting for work is hugely stressful. It makes you vulnerable. Over time, it makes you feel weak, and less able to do your best work.

Stepping forward with your own ideas is not without its own risks, but it’s a lot more fun, stretches your boundaries and can lead to some windfall profits.

Above all, it makes you feel more alive.

Just waiting doesn’t make you feel alive at all. It makes you feel like you’re living in a cubicle in your own home.


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2 thoughts on “Employees wait. Freelancers shouldn’t.”

  1. Refreshing to hear this. Really sick of people whose sole purpose in life seems to be to split people from their hard-earned money. Nice to see a change, giving out value first.

  2. Hi Nick! I really like this way of thinking and it’s so refreshing. I find myself thinking in a similar way but don’t bring it up because I feel it’s not my place to do it (to people who are not my customers). The thing is, most small business owners don’t know any better unless they’re shown how their results could be improved. Having someone come to them with ideas who can also execute them could be a godsend to them. Onwards and upwards!


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