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Freelancing Growth for an Army of One: Scaling Options

Today I read an article that talked about how freelancers need to consider how much room they'll need as they grow their business. Actually it was a tweet linked to the article above that mentioned freelancers. The article mentions startups.

It struck me because I think of freelancing as the only model that doesn't need to worry about that kind of scale.

First of all, freelancing and the startup model are totally different operational models. In the former, you're building a business based off of selling your labour. In the latter, you're building something of value that is repeatable, scalable, and creates a large amount of value very quickly. The two could not be more different in how you operate them. One is optimized for your personal talents, and the other is optimzed for software to fulfil that role.

When I first read the article, I thought they meant freelancers who are interested in building agencies, but are starting off as a freelancer to build their client base.

Now, don't get me wrong: As a freelancer you can scale your buisness into an agency if that's the model you prefer. You might have that as your growth plan already.

But I want to be clear about what kind of business you're making. When you make that leap, you're moving away from a solo freelance practice, and into an agency model. The type of business is different. The choices you'll make are different. The competetive pressures are different. And when you're done, you're no longer a freelancer; you're the owner of an agency.

I love freelancing because it's the smallest viable business unit. It's the Army of One. It's me and my wits, wiles and the wacky idea that I have something of value that others are willing to pay for. Freelancers are in a way the survivalists of business. But I don't just want to survive. I want to thrive. So how do I scale my income inside that army of one? Here's some ideas.

Scale your freelance income by increasing your rates

Look for the high-value, high-specialization work. Work that is hard to develop talent for in-house. In my practice, lots of people have storytellers in-house, but few have storytellers with audio expertise. This is why my podcasting practice works in that context. Find those new kinds of work, determine the value for them, and add them to your mix. Then ratchet your rate up.

Here's what happenes when you do. You won't lose as many clients as you think. You'll get to do more focused, specialized work, and you'll be happier about it overall. Win-win-win.

Grow your freelance business by partnering with other freelancers

Growing your billables doesn't have to mean hiring someone. I mean, your whole business as a freelancer is based on that fact. Working with other freelancers on projects lets you build flexible teams that are the right fit for the project. And having that influence of being the person who builds value by including others? Well, you can't really put a price tag on that.

What you need to execute well on this are people you trust to get the work done, and a good project manager. You can develop those skills yourself, or farm that out to a freelancer.

Add profit to your freelancing by improving efficiency

This is one of the first areas you should optimize once you're earning decent money as a freelancer. When we're in the middle of our practices, we can become inefficient because we're trying to be effective. The best way to capitalize on that effective vs. efficient loop is to start making those effective processes you developed more efficient. This means operationalizing them so they can be delegated or automated. Your best starting points are in sales, marketing, and project delivery.

So there's three ways to scale your income as a freelancer without sacrificing the agility of your tiny, nimble, army of one! Do you have other tools for scaling your income without scaling your workforce? Tell me about it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram