Lessons from a freelancer who has made over £500k

Tom Hirst, a freelance web developer shares his journey of how he made over £500k in four years. In this post, he shares helpful tips that helped him build his freelance career. Let’s get started!

How I made over £500k in four years

To answer the obvious first:

1. 95% profit;

2. On my own, with a few project, hires;

3. Just freelancing, no other revenue streams.

Onto the good stuff…

Unless you have years of specific expertise and career contacts, you won’t make big money from freelancing overnight. Don’t let anyone sell you this dream.

My first £100K year came after 7 in business. The only freelancing “growth hack” you’ll ever need: Narrow your focus and stick around.

The only freelancing “growth hack” you’ll ever need: Narrow your focus and stick around.

Tom Hirst.

Questions to ask yourself to help narrow your focus:

  1. Who do I like working with?
  2. What do I do better than most?
  3. What feels like fun to me and work to others?
  4. What can I do for a long time?
  5. Where do I want to take this eventually?

It’s not risky to sell a service that isn’t for everyone. It’s smart. Stop being everything for everyone as soon as you can.

5 ways to stick around in freelancing:

  • Do a good job.
  • Do a good job.
  • Do a good job.
  • Do a good job.
  • Do a good job.

Now that I’ve made that clear…

  • Keep marketing even when you’re busy.
  • Don’t burn bridges with good people.
  • Be wary of people with time to waste yours

You’ll only be able to stick around by doing a good job. Reputation spreads exponentially. Leave a positive impression always. Doing free work on the promise of paid work rarely works out. Work for free for yourself to build enough reputation so that “clients” never ask you.

How to work for free for yourself:

  • Self-initiate projects that prove the results of the service you want to sell.
  • Write articles and tutorials that make your expertise obvious.
  • Build an audience of connections that see you as an authority by helping people.

(Work quality + service quality) * marketing ability = freelance potential

You can start freelancing without having had a job doing what you’re selling. It’s hard at the start, but it forces you to fend for yourself. And you’ll pick up skills that are harder to acquire when you’re employed. Becoming a freelancer means becoming a businessperson.

If you don’t want to:

  • Market yourself;
  • Price your work;
  • Sell your services;

Then, Get a job.

Freelancing helps you confront things that scare you. Do you Want to make money this month? Well, you better take those calls. You can’t be picky until you have options. Take your first client to pay the bills. Take your next client to increase your leverage. Raise your prices regularly and experiment like hell.

Asking someone else, “What would you charge for this?” isn’t always as useful as you think. Take advice, sure. But remember, they aren’t you and you aren’t them. You’ll have to do some testing in the real world. Pricing is 50% confidence in your ability and 50% credibility of your ability to others.

Pricing is 50% confidence in your ability and 50% credibility of your ability to others.

Tom Hirst.

Give people a reason to see you as different:

– Price

– Offer

– Client type

– Service type

– Business type

– Specific expertise

– Complimentary skills

If there’s no obvious difference between hiring you and the next best option, prospects will make their decision on price. Not everyone wants to go with the cheapest freelancer. Some people want to go with the most expensive. You’ll want more money until you want more time.

After a point, finding where “enough” becomes your most important focus. There’s always more money to make, there’s never more time to make. It’s OK to stop growing your business for a while to enjoy your life. Know when you work best and protect this time at all costs. You probably need less than as you think. 3-4 hours of focused work is plenty.

Know the downsides of relinquishing your autonomy. Logging hours for clients won’t give you freedom. Accept that your days won’t always go to plan. Embrace a semi-flexible routine to help you cope:

– Set yourself a skeleton schedule

– Add trap door slots for the unforeseen

– When it goes wrong, take it in your stride and get back on it tomorrow

Give yourself multiple calendar slots to do non-negotiable things.

For example:

If you want to work out 3 times per week, give yourself 5 opportunities. Exercise is everything. A healthy body is a healthy mind is a healthy person is a healthy business. Talk to your family to help you to help them.

Freelance flexibility is a blessing and a curse. Set boundaries on both sides of the work/life balance. Don’t half-arse anything. If you’re working, you’re working. If you’re not working, you’re not working. Make the most of everyone’s time by being fully present.

You can work less the longer you freelance because:

1. Your skills improve

2. You work quicker

3. You solve similar problems for similar people

4. You develop systems

5. You command higher prices

The long-game is the smart game. Use your experience to work less. Freelancing is easier when you don’t need the work. You need to be able to walk away from projects. Get here by working on generating more leads than you can handle.

How to generate more leads than you can handle:

– Have a personal website with good SEO

– Write blog posts answering your ideal clients’ problems

– Share your knowledge on social media and in communities for free

– Ensure everyone you work with wants to work with you again

Make marketing part of your job, not an afterthought. Don’t sell all of your best time to clients. Give yourself time to work on your own business or you’ll struggle to progress. Learn to take rejection in your stride. It’ll happen a lot. Freelancing is personal until you don’t get the job.

Learn to take rejection in your stride.

Tom hirst.

Your freelance career starts when your mindset switches From:  “I need the client.” To: “The client needs me”. Being able to enter a negotiation and be happy with either outcome is when the whole game changes.

Learn marketing deeply. Make yourself known for something. When you have authority, you have leverage. When you have leverage, you have optionality. When you have optionality, you have impartiality.

And when you don’t mind how talks turn out one way or another, you can lead a profitable freelance career without working all the time. Do your utmost for every client and make sure there’s another one right around the corner.


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