On the 253rd episode of The Copywriter Club podcast, Laura Briggs breaks down the foundational steps to catapulting your freelance business. Laura is a freelance writer and coach who helps aspiring and current entrepreneurs who are ready to live life on their own terms. Already have a successful business? You’ll hear concepts and ideas through a whole new lens. – Don’t miss this one.
Here’s what we talk about:
- Humans biggest question: “What do I do with my life?”
- Balancing a full-time job and growing a side hustle business.
- The best way to use Upwork and break into the freelance writing world.
- Whether or not you need a website in the beginning.
- Pitching to clients on weekends through LinkedIn.
- Your first portfolio and what it needs to include.
- Landing a 50k ghostwriting book project through Upwork.
- The pros and cons of Upwork and using it to its fullest potential.
- Why you need to personalize your pitches.
- How to overcome the “new writer” syndrome.
- How retainer projects help you with income projections and how to position yourself to secure the deal.
- Building your dream work schedule.
- When you should raise your prices. (and when you shouldn’t.)
- Creating a writing process that works best for you and your creative genius.
- Setting boundaries and tuning into the red flags.
- How to make decisions as a CEO and become an empowered business owner.
- Sales calls and being okay with the silence.
- What most freelancers are doing wrong and how to fix it.
- When you know you’re ready to level up.
- Delegating to others and creating time and space in your business.
- Creating a nonprofit around your core values.
- Offering services that are in demand and match your personality.
Check out the transcript below or hit that play button to listen in.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Kira’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Rob: Being a successful freelance copywriter is about a lot more than just writing the right words for our clients. There are so many things to think about to do beyond the writing, things like finding clients, or pricing yourself effectively, setting up the right packages, things that our clients actually want to buy, and raising our prices as needed, figuring out retainers, project scope, all of that kind of stuff. Our guest for this episode of the Copywriter Club Podcast is Laura Briggs. Laura is known as The Freelance Coach. And in her business, like we do, she helps freelancers deal with these kinds of challenges. In a moment, we’re going to hear how she built her own successful business and then helping others to do the same thing. But first, let me introduce my co-host for today, since Kira is still on maternity leave, Jacob Suckow. Jacob is, I would call him an offer doctor. Jacob, I don’t know if you’ve got a better title for that or not, but he helps his clients really figure out their offers.
Jacob: Awesome. Well, hey Rob, thanks for the introduction, I appreciate it. I don’t know if I’ve ever called myself an offer doctor, but I might have to steal that after today. Excited to be here with you today, excited to hear what Laura has got to say.
Rob: Yeah. I’m looking forward to this conversation also. If you want to find out more about Jacob Suckow, you can find him at top-notchcopy.com, but don’t forget the dash. And one of the things, Jacob, I’m going to mention this, even though it’s not really live here, you’re playing around with this idea of a paid newsletter that you’re thinking about doing, talking about all the things about starting a successful solopreneur business. Maybe just give us like a one-liner for what that might turn into when it gets launched.
Jacob: Yeah, sure. So there’s a big gap in content out there for people like us who are just building something on their own. And typically, we get a lot of really great feedback on everything except financials, sales, pipeline, and behind the curtain marketing and growth strategies. And so that’s what we’ll be doing, 100% behind the scenes, full transparency look into QuickBooks, my pipeline, client work, and everything that I’m doing that’s either working or not.
Rob: That sounds really cool. I can’t wait to check it out when it goes live, we’ll keep everybody informed when it launches. So before we get to our interview with Laura, like last week, I’m going to switch things up just a little bit and talk about the Copywriter Accelerator. That’s because the Copywriter Accelerator, if we’ve timed this right, is actually opening up today. The accelerator itself is made up of eight modules, it takes about 16 weeks. We go through it not as a course, but as a program so that you’re going through with several other copywriters, figuring out things like business mindset, the kind of business that you want to build packages, processes, pricing, branding, getting yourself in front of the right clients, figuring out your X factor, and a lot more. If that sounds like something you’re ready to do in your business, check out the copywriteraccelerator.com. Like I said, it’s now open and the cart will be open until, I believe September 1st. We would love to work with you in the accelerator if that’s a fit for you and your business. So let’s jump into our interview with Laura and her story and find out how she became known as The Freelance Coach.
Laura: I started freelancing in 2012 and was able to leave my full-time job, I used to be a seventh grade teacher. And other people started following that story, and I got profiled in Business Insider, and then that led to strangers asking me about how I did it. And so eventually, I was doing all these one-on-one coffee chats, helping people, especially teachers, telling them how to get started, how to create samples. And then I realized that this would be so much easier if I just consolidated it in one place and had a website and a podcast and free resources that people could use. And so, I’ve been doing that since 2015. And I’ve worked with a lot of different freelancers. They’ve come through my courses or read my books or have been one-on-one coaching clients. And it’s been really interesting to see things that I’ve experienced also be validated by other people and get to see some of the trends that are coming before they really hit the marketplace in a big way. So it’s led to a lot of other speaking engagements about future of work as well.
Rob: So when you were a teacher, what was the impetus to make you think, “I’m not doing this anymore, I need to find something else”? And how was it that you settled on freelancing, writing and the stuff that you’ve ended up doing?
Laura: Well, teaching is an exhausting job. I have a lot of respect for every single person who is a teacher in this country, especially if they have made it to the retirement mark, because I don’t know how you did that job for 20 or 30 years and didn’t lose your mind. I was working 14 hours a day. Then I would go home and I would grade papers and I would do lesson plans for the next day. I worked in a very high needs district, I taught in downtown Baltimore. We didn’t have enough desks or seats for the students, we did not have enough books. I had to use my own personal laptop. It was really, really rough to try to keep up with that pace. I hadn’t studied education either, so I went in through a program that was very similar to Teach for America and had a total of six weeks of training to teach seventh grade. It was not enough, as you can imagine. And so I was really getting burned out. Honestly, it was another teacher of mine who inspired me. I had a professor in college, I took his contemporary literature class, and he pulled me aside after class one day with a paper I had written, and he said, “Have you ever thought about changing majors from economics to English?” And I was like, “No, I’m almost done with college, I’m not starting a whole new thing.” But that comment stayed in my mind. And so I thought, “Well, maybe I do have some writing ability that if I learned it and I finessed it and got at taking feedback, that this could go somewhere.” So I literally Googled how to become a freelance writer and read and absorbed everything I could.
Rob: And what were those first steps that you took as you broke out? Did you just leave teaching cold turkey, “I’m out, I’m doing something new”? Or did you transition out slowly?
Laura: I transitioned to a different job first. I was about to finish up the school year, and an old boss of mine reached out to me and they knew I was teaching because it was the job I’d had before I went into teaching. And she said, “We have another job opening up, we’ll wait for you to finish the school year.” And it was in marketing, so it was related, I’d be doing some writing. And I thought, “Well, this will be a good transition. I’ll do this for a year while I figure out what to do with my life.” Because I was in a PhD program at that time, I wanted to be a professor, I really thought I was going to go into traditional education, and teaching middle school just completely killed that for me, I didn’t want anything to do with education for awhile. So I took a job, that job doing marketing. I stayed there for 13 months. I started my side hustle at the same time that I started that job, but I wanted to give myself a real year to figure out one, was this even sustainable? I didn’t know if there were seasons to freelance writing, I didn’t know if this was something I could keep up with every month or if it would just be a side hustle. So my goal was to make it 12 months and really see what the revenue looked like and if I could make that decision to take the leap from there. And that’s when I left and went full-time in the summer of 2013.
Rob: Okay. So let’s talk about the balance then. You took on the marketing role. What did you start doing to create the side hustle in order to prove the concept?
Laura: I think the first thing was to figure out what types of writing are in demand, because as you know, there’s so many different routes that you can go as a writer, you can do sales copy, you can do SEO content, you can write email newsletters, sometimes it’s a blend of all these different styles of writing. So I wanted to find something that really suited my personality and the fact that I wasn’t a trained writer, I didn’t study journalism or communications. So I knew I was coming in with less experience than most people. I landed on SEO writing as the right fit for me. So my first step was to learn everything I could about that and to create three writing samples that were never published anywhere that I could use to pitch for jobs. I was really active on job boards when I first got started, I did land my first couple of clients on Upwork, which is a dirty word in the freelancer community if it’s a good place or not to land gigs. But for me, it really allowed me to break in and to get some of that important experience and feedback. So on the evenings and weekends, I was very actively pitching my business. I didn’t have a website, I was using my LinkedIn profile. I was using a Dropbox folder of my writing samples. And I spent a lot of time just marketing my business, just trying to land those clients. Most of them were one-off clients writing blogs or a website copy.
Rob: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit more about job boards. So we’ve definitely had other guests talk about Upwork, they’ve started on Upwork. Some of them have even succeeded in Upwork. And like you mentioned, it sometimes has a bad name in the freelancing community, partly because a significant number of clients are price sensitive there, that kind of thing. But having said that, there is a way to make it work. There are clearly copywriters, designers, others on Upwork who are connecting with higher paying clients, they’re retainer clients, those kinds of things. Can we talk a little bit about how you make that work? A lot of people will never be on Upwork or never go to the job boards because of the kind of work that’s there, but for some it’s really a way to get started. Let’s talk about how you did that and how other freelancers can be doing that today.
Laura: Well, I think first it’s worth saying that I still can continue to see success on Upwork as a writer. I’m not as active on there as I used to be, of course, because most of my clients are private clients and on retainer, but I also run a nonprofit where I train military spouses how to break into freelance work, and we consistently see that is an excellent way, especially for the writers and the virtual assistants to get their first experiences and to start building up that stable portfolio. The other thing to note about Upwork is that there are gems in there. One of the very first jobs that I landed on Upwork was a $50,000 ghost writing project. And so there are those clients on there, many writers lament that they’re hard to find. And that is true because if it were easy, every freelancer would be on there snapping up those jobs every day. You have to put in the extra effort to really use the search terminology to find the high end clients. But for new writers, Upwork is great because your clients are pre-sold. You don’t also need to sell them on the fact that this is a service they should invest in. They’re already on the site posting a job saying, I need a website writer, I need a sales copywriter. I know I can’t do this myself. I need someone to help me with the copy for my Facebook ads.” That’s one less barrier you have to overcome. Your only job at that point is to convince them that you are the right person for that job. It’s also great for new writers because the stakes are low. If you’re taking on a project that’s probably a one-time project or a limited engagement, you don’t know yet if you love writing as a freelancer. A lot of people are lured in by the possibilities, but they don’t realize until they’re in it, it’s a lot of work. You spend a lot of your time marketing your business, and then you have to deal with revisions, sometimes you have clients who are crazy. It’s work. So I think it’s a good way to test it out and take on a couple projects and say, “All right, I’m not viewing this as necessarily my profit-generating machine, I’m seeing this as, how can I get some experience here, see if I like it, learn what it’s like to work with a client, and leverage this into bigger and better things if I chose to do it?” So I think what’s most important on Upwork, I’ve hired a lot on Upwork as well, write a really compelling, personalized pitch. 85% of the freelancers on Upwork will not do it, they will copy and paste a 16-paragraph pitch that means absolutely nothing to the client. So really put time into that pitch and then also your writing samples. Clients will overlook lack of experience in general and lack of experience on Upwork if you have excellent writing talent. So it’s definitely hard. It took me, I know that the number was over 30 as far as how many jobs I had to pitch before I even landed my first one, but it can be a great pipeline. And even as an established freelancer, my having a profile on Upwork that other clients find when they Google my name, it does not hurt to have years and years of great feedback from clients there, even if they’re hiring me in other ways and never posted their job on Upwork. So I don’t take the view that it is the destruction of the freelance world, as a lot of people do. There’s some great opportunities there. And it’s all about knowing how to use that system, and also respecting your own boundaries. I saw a job this morning that was offering to pay $4 per 400-word piece of content and I just laughed as soon as I saw it, I was like, “This is such a joke.” Don’t get invested in it, don’t try to correct it or point out that this is a terrible rate no writer would ever accept, but you got to look through those and try to find the better jobs.
Rob: So you mentioned you had some samples that you created, three samples. What did you create and how did you use them as you started pitching yourself to get these clients?
Laura: I know I created a blog about life insurance because I was working at a life insurance brokerage at the time and I knew that would be an accessible thing for me. I also had spent a lot of time working in the legal industry, so I created two blogs just for a general attorney page. They were about as generic as can be like, five things you should do after a car accident. My thinking on the writing samples is if you have an inkling of a niche or an area of expertise that you have that you think you want to target with clients, create the content in your writing samples to match that. So what I would do is I would bid on every job that was relevant to my experience, it would have legal background, it would have financial or life insurance background. And then I would use those samples and say, “Here, this is an example of the style of my writing.” They don’t necessarily need to be published anywhere, like I said, I shared a Dropbox folder. I encourage our operation freelance participants to use Google Documents, to use Microsoft Word documents they add in Dropbox. With writing, you can really showcase a great piece, and it doesn’t need to be on a fancy website or on a portfolio page. So I use those same three writing samples. And of course they’re terrible. Thank goodness we all get better as writers because I don’t know why anybody hired me, they were awful. In hindsight. I’m like, “I thought this was good, these are great.” But don’t stress about that, you can always update your writing samples. So create something for a fictional company or as if you were going to work with a company that you really admire. It helps put that context into a client’s mind of your type of writing style and flow. So just try to keep it simple and create a writing sample for every type of thing that you think you may want to pitch. So you don’t need to write a whole book if you want to sell ghost written books, but create a sample chapter and create a sample white paper if that’s something you want to pitch, because you can get a lot of mileage out of those pieces.
Rob: You also mentioned that, and I don’t mean this to be a tutorial on how to use Upwork, but you’re sharing a lot of really, really good things here. You mentioned that a lot of writers don’t know how you search terms in Upwork in order to find the gems. Okay, so educate me, how do we find the really good clients using the right search terms?
Laura: Well, first of all, disclaimer, that not every client knows how to use Upwork either, so sometimes they don’t get their search parameters or the way they tag their job perfect. So to some extent, all pitching on Upwork is a little bit of a gamble because you’ll have clients who will tag their job as they want an expert, but then they’ll say, “My budget is $20 an hour.” Those two things don’t meet, obviously. But search terms are ways that you break down the massive volume of jobs that are on Upwork. So there’s thousands of them at any given time. It’s updating all day long with new postings. There’s categories, which of course are things like writing and translation, administrative work. You’re going to want to pick one of those kinds of categories to search within. Obviously, as a writer, that’s going to be the writing and translation category. And then I use search terms for things like blog, SEO, copywriter, even the word copywriters spelled wrong, R-I-G-H-T. You do have some clients who, they don’t know, so that’s what they write in there. I also use search terms for my industry. So I type in, legal, law, law firm, attorney, things like that. And then I will break it down by the category of writing and translation. And then you can even go so far as to say I want it to have this budget, or I want it to have been posted however recently, or not have this many applicants or whatever. There’s a tag on there about experience level. I always uncheck entry level, because there’s no point in even looking at a job post that specifically says entry level. So I leave intermediate and expert. You’re condensing the level of terrible jobs when you can weed out some of those entry level things, and they’ll still pop up. But then you use those different search terms. I use it to do a quick look. I’m not spending hours on there. I hop in two or three times a week. Is anything new posted that I need to take a look at? Is there anything even worth my time? And if there isn’t, then I hop off. I think that’s another mistake a lot of people make is they’re like, “Well, I’m spending four hours a day on Upwork.” And it’s like, no, that’s not what you should be doing as a new or an experienced writer. It’s a quick check to see what’s new and bid on the ones that are applicable. But yeah, use those search terms, it’s going to be different for every writer, but if you work in a particular industry, that’s a great way to narrow it down.
Rob: Yeah. That’s really great advice. Just one point of clarification, even as a beginner, you would still untick the beginning jobs and go at the higher level, or would you say as a beginner, I would still want to stay in those low-paying, well, they’re not all low paying, but those beginner jobs?
Laura: Well, I would say that the strategy would vary based on how new you are. If you’ve ever done professional level writing before, if you have clips, if you have other clients, you’re not an entry level writer. So what I might check if you’re new to the Upwork platform is uncheck expert because maybe you don’t feel like you’re there yet, or you don’t feel like you’re there yet on Upwork. What’s the biggest challenge is the overwhelm in the number of job postings, because you could spend all day sorting through them. And so I recommend using the search features to break things down and make it a little more digestible for you. So it’s worth scanning through them. For writers specifically though, I’ve noticed the vast majority of the jobs tagged as entry level are extremely low paying and they’re taking advantage of people who don’t have any writing training who really just want some experience. I told you about that one that pays $4 for 400 words, and that’s before the Upwork fee. And so you will have to sort through more of those things if entry level is tagged that you want it to go through that. That’s why I really use my first order of searching are the keywords and the category, and then I may check or unchecked those experience categories based on how many jobs pop up. If it’s been four days since my last search and nothing new is showing up in my search results, I might play around with that a little bit to see if I can just have some more things pop up and see if they’re a fit for me. But I think it’s just, continue to work on a strategy that exposes you to as many jobs as possible, and don’t waste your energy on the ones where the client is clearly difficult or not a fit.
Rob: Okay. Really good advice. Enough Upwork chat. Let’s talk about how your business evolved, after that first year where you were starting out proof of concept, clearly it worked. As you left your marketing job then, what did you do to grow your business?
Laura: Well, I had been spending 40 hours a week doing a full-time job. And so my freelance business was very much crammed into the fringe hours when I could fit it in, and simply getting those hours gifted back to me was a huge opportunity where I increased my revenue substantially. So from there, my transition became, “Okay, now that I have these hours back, how can I scale my business to a level where I’m not feeling overworked or burned out, but how can I get more of these clients on retainer?” That really became my number one focus, because I felt a lot in my side hustle, every month I was starting over at zero. I’d have to go out, I have to acquire clients all over again, I barely learn their guidelines and turn in their project, and then that project was wrapped up. So for me, that’s really where it became about, “Okay, how do I reposition myself to be a person who provides these services on a monthly basis?” Because I could see not only would that relieve a lot of stress for me, but it allowed cashflow projection because I could tell how much marketing I needed to do in the rest of the month, based on how many set clients I already had. And I still run my freelance writing business today just like that, over 90% of my clients are on retainers with me. And it makes my life a lot easier because I know exactly when I need to pivot or when I need to go out and acquire more business and things like that.
Rob: As you sudden engage with a client, then what does that pitch look like as far as like, “Hey let’s set up a retainer.” Are they coming in with the expectation that they’re going to be working with you for several months? Or is that something that happens as you’re talking to them about how you’re going to help them? What does that whole process look like?
Laura: I think you’d make your life a lot easier if you offer a service that obviously fits well with a retainer, email newsletter writing, SEO blog writing, social media copy, all of these things have a recurring need, and so it’s a lot easier to convince the client that it’s easier to just outsource that every single month. Of course, not every project fits well within that. And so you can choose how much of your business you’d like to be retainer based versus project based. And I know that’s a preference too. I’ve worked with a freelancer before who was a web designer and she’s like, “I want all my projects complete in two weeks or less. That’s my preference. I’d rather do a bunch of really quick turnaround projects and plan my life that way.” So you know you do have that option available to you, but I think the biggest part of it is have something that fits well with the retainer, even if you don’t have a perfect retainer package, you can offer a hybrid to your clients of, “Okay, we know you typically need X, Y, and Z every month, would you benefit from having several hours of my time,” whether it’s consulting or it’s creating one landing page, or maybe it’s two short emails in that time period, or giving them some flexibility to choose different things, I’ve found that works well with some clients to having a cap of, “Hey, our retainer is for $3,000 a month, here’s some different ways that this could look like if you choose to go forward.” But you will make your life a lot easier in many ways by offering a service that is retainer friendly to begin with. And most of them, it starts with a sample job. You do a good job on the sample job, and most of them know they need to outsource that thing on an ongoing basis. If they don’t, that’s when you want to bring it up to and say, “Hey I work with some of my clients on a long-term basis, you won’t have to worry about going out and hiring somebody else. I can work on these projects for you every single month. Obviously, I’m going to get faster at them. And I’m more of an expert in your industry and your business as time goes on.” So that benefits them. I think sometimes it gets positioned the wrong way as like, “Hey, I want to have clients on retainer because it’ll be easier for me, and I want to have ongoing revenue.” Make it all about the client and how it really benefits them to have you in their corner every single month.
Rob: And if I’m thinking as a copywriter, I want to work with more retainer clients, is there a business size that is optimal for these kinds of projects? I can imagine that mom and pops or very small businesses, single sole proprietors, they have the needs, but maybe they don’t have the money or maybe they don’t have the marketing direction. If the other side of the list you’ve got massive enterprise companies that maybe they’re using agencies for this kind of stuff, do you look and say, “Okay, X number of employees,” or there’s certain amount of income? How do you make a judgment call there?
Laura: That’s a great question because I’ve heard lots of other people have specific rules on, well, the company has to have at least a million dollars in revenue. To me, a lot of the times what it really comes down to is something that you can easily research ahead of time, which is how much do they value writing, because some companies may generate $5 million in revenue a year and believe that paying somebody five bucks per piece of website copy is fine because that’s how they’ve always done it, or they had someone in house that was getting paid $40,000 to do that job and crank out copy all the time. So it’s really more about how much do they value it, do they see that this is a service where it’s not just a deliverable, you’re really hiring an expert? Because you don’t want to get into an argument with your clients of, “No, I really do know what I’m doing. I’m following all these best practices.” So there’s a good balance that you have to walk there. I like the medium-sized businesses, and more and more, there’s some really fantastic solopreneurs and small companies that are generating seven figures in revenue. And that’s a great place to be because they don’t have the infrastructure to necessarily hire an agency. Their business still feels too personal to them to hand over to an agency, and they have the need as well. They have to continue producing a lot to have digital course launches and sell books, and all that kind of thing. So I like those what I’d call the high level solopreneurs. And then I also like those small to medium-sized businesses that have a decent budget and value the service, because I don’t know about anyone else, but I know for me working with some of the really big companies, there’s a lot of bureaucracy, there’s a lot of red tape, there’s a lot of this has to be approved by 16 departments before it can get published. And as a writer, that’s just maddening and doesn’t really feel worth it to me.
Rob: Yeah. And you didn’t mention this, but a lot of the enterprise companies too often have net terms, 60 days payables, that kind of thing, which can start to press a writer a little bit on their budget when they’re not getting paid for that work immediately. Let’s break in here and talk a little bit about some of the things that Laura mentioned. Jacob, I’m going to start with you, what jumped out to you from this first almost 25 minutes of discussion?
Jacob: There was a lot to break down in here, there’s a lot packed in. Kudos to Laura, but something that stuck out for me, especially in this first section, was that she mentioned, she decided on a service that she knew was in demand and suited her personality first. She took her time obviously to get her feet wet and get some wins under her belt, but when she backed in and knew that she was going to be doing a lot of work to scale, she decided that she needed to approach it like anything else we would do for a client and figure out where she could fit in best from a positioning standpoint. And I thought that was genius and something a lot of people can model.
Rob: Yeah. I think you’re right about that. A lot of us, when we start out as copywriters, it’s like, “Oh, well, I’ll just do copy, I’ll do whatever the client needs.” And the fact that she focused on something that she knew clients needed without making them figure it out is like you said, is genius. And having that thing that she could do that helped her identify who the right clients would be and then have something for them immediately, I think is a good first step that anybody can borrow, and using their own business and start out farther ahead than those of us who when we were starting out, it’s like, “We’ll just do whatever. We’ll just do whatever it takes.” And along with that, she was trying different things. The side hustle that she put together for herself, I think is another really smart approach, rather than having it all ride or die on the success of being able to land a client or two in that first month or two, having a job, a full-time job while she proves the concept of the copywriting thing, can I find the right clients? Can I figure out what they want? It gives you that safety net in case something goes wrong in your copywriting business, it gives you time to learn, not just how to write better, but the business side of the business, all those things that we talk about in the Copywriter Accelerator that I promoted earlier, all of that stuff, I think her approach there was really smart.
Jacob: Yeah. 100%. And something that I’ve noticed about other folks who’ve build their career as a side hustle, they might not start under the same amount of pressure as other folks who dive in full-time right off the bat is that that space allows you to be so much more strategic in the long run. She said that something she constantly went back to was thinking about, how do I reposition myself to be a person who provides the kind of services that I want to offer? And it’s hard to do that when you’re constantly just worried about replenishing pipeline, and figuring out where the next deal is going to come from. You don’t get a chance to realize where your strengths are at and pay attention to where the market’s actually showing you that it needs more help.
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s a really astute observation and when we started talking together, I didn’t have a plan to talk a lot about Upwork that wasn’t anything that we discussed beforehand, but she had so much, really good information to share, not really about Upwork itself, but really how you succeed as being a copywriter. Obviously, you can do it on Upwork. And what she shared about the specifics of Upwork, I think is really good, but a lot of that stuff applies to how we launch our business with clients outside of places like Freelancer.com or Upwork or whatever. You wouldn’t copy and paste a 16-paragraph pitch to a real client or a referral client that’s coming from somewhere else. So obviously the advice that she gives about stuff not to do on Upwork matters, and it matters to the way that we conduct our business any way that we build it, target a niche, find that thing that is in need, work in promoting your business the same way that you would if you’re on Upwork or off Upwork in order to succeed.
Jacob: Yeah. I agree entirely. And I’ve known quite a few folks who’ve been massively successful on Upwork. We’re talking run in 10, $15,000 a month, student things on there. And what they all have in common is exactly the same as folks who are doing the same numbers off of any platform, or on any other different platform, or no matter where they find their clients, is they understand first and foremost who they’re serving, and then they do all of the background research and work to tailor their pitches to what the pains of those specific folks are. And then they show up and say those on a place where they know that the clients they want to work with are pre-sold, is how I think Laura mentioned it. And that’s not tied down to Upwork, that’s Facebook groups, that’s networking events, that’s different kinds of webinars and Slack communities, and anywhere that you can be on the internet, it’s just all that matters is that you know there’s folks who have a need for what you provide there and you know how to speak to them.
Rob: Yeah. I think the big takeaway for me here, my piece of advice here is if you were just listening to the last 10, 15 minutes or so while Laura is talking about all this stuff to do on Upwork and you thought, “Well, this doesn’t really apply to me,” maybe go back and re-listen to what she was doing and say, “Okay, how can I use the same approach the way that I want to reach out to clients off of Upwork, or with my referrals, or on Facebook,” or wherever it is that your clients are, because what she suggested to do will work anywhere.
Jacob: Let’s go back to our interview with Laura to find out what our business looks like today.
Rob: You mentioned after doing this a few years people started asking you for help doing it in their business, you’ve changed your business a lot. What does your business look like today as far as how much you write versus how much you coach and versus all of the products that you’ve put together? And you’ve got a ton, you’ve got like 16 courses, something two courses, you’ve got three to four books. You’ve done a lot. So how does that all break out today?
Laura: Today my business is probably about 50/50. I actually track my time every week, because I used to be an overworker and was addicted to work and have to be very specific about the time I spend on my computer. So I use a tool that tracks what I’m doing and how much of it. I work about 30 hours a week. I would say half of that is on my freelance client work, and then the other half of that is on what I would consider my coaching or course business. That’s got my books, my podcasts, my courses. I run a free community on Facebook, I have an email list of freelancers who follow me. And so I treat those as two separate buckets. They’re pretty much even now, our freelance business still generates more revenue than the other side of my business, just because I’ve had some client… I have one client who’s had me on retainer for eight and a half years and I have another few clients in the four to five-year space. And so it’s hard to serve that when you lock in those good clients. But that’s something I’m working on so that I have that flexibility to decide how much freelance work do I want to take on and be responsible for versus how much of my time is spent doing things like thought leadership or doing a podcast like this and coming to talk with you.
Rob: I’m curious about those long lasting clients, oftentimes we’ll see retainers last a year or two years, like four years, five years, that starts to be pretty incredible, obviously speaks well of you and the work that you’re doing. But I imagine that you’ve raised your prices with those clients more than one time over the course of that time. Will you tell us the approach that you take as you do that, what’s that conversation look like and how do you make it a net plus for everybody?
Laura: Yeah. So the first thing is don’t raise your prices too often. I’m a huge advocate of getting paid what you’re worth and raising your prices, but it should not be something that’s happening every couple of months, obviously, if you’ve got people on retainers and especially if they’ve worked with you for a long time, because the way that I like to think of it is I’m saving a lot by not having to go out and market for new clients. When some of those new clients may be shorter-term projects, or it might be that retainer that lasts six months or a year or so, I always think about how much easier is my life because I have these clients. So I never want to make them feel like they’re being hit too often with a price increase. I usually let them know several weeks in advance, and I usually give them some type of offer or incentive, or something to help them prepare for it. And I usually do it around the same time every year so it’s not a surprise. It’s not like, “Oh, it’s randomly February and Laura’s raising her prices.” They always know that could come in the summer or that could come in as January gets closer. People are thinking about that anyways and it’s easy to just say, “My prices are going up on January 1st.” So I give them an advance notice. If they’re a really great client, I might offer to keep them at their same terms for a little bit and gradually move into that other place, or if they’re going up and I think my prices are going up and I think there’s a possibility they might leave, I might use that to get clarification on that, figure out like if me saying that my prices are going up is going to drive them away. I have some advanced notice to do some marketing so that I can replace that client as well. But I’m a big fan of not necessarily justifying it. You can if you want, but it’s weird what clients think should cause you to raise your prices. I’ve done a lot of different things in the last couple of years, but for some reason, three of my clients fully expected me to raise my rates after I did my first TEDx Talk. And they all reached out to me about it independently and were like, “Oh, I thought I’d have to pay you more.” And I was like, “Why that particular thing? What was it about that that made you think that my prices were going up?” So people have different perceptions of stuff. I usually just say, “My prices are increasing on January 1st, this is what it’s going to look like. Here’s your options to deal with it? We can wrap up what we have going on and conclude, or this is the date on which the things will take over.” And if they’ve been a really good client, I will often try to give them some type of incentive just to make it feel a little bit less like, “Hey, I’m raising my prices.” And I want to respect the fact that they’ve been with me a long time too.
Rob: When you talk about incentives, are you talking about like three more months at the regular, at the same price and then you move it up or are you adding things to the retainer deliverables, that kind of thing?
Laura: Yeah. It can be simple things. Maybe if it’s a client that I really liked, like the client I’ve had for eight and a half years, I think I’ve spoken to them on the phone four times in that period. So he causes me no additional stress and pays his bill on time every month. So that might be something where I’m like, “Here, I had this idea for some social media copy to go along with the next four blog posts. I’m just going to throw that in while we transition to this new retainer.” So it could be discounts for an extended period of time. I’ve also rolled out a referral program whereas I’m making that transition and I’ll tell them like, “Hey, here’s a way to get some money back, I’ll give you 10% off your next invoice, or I’ll give you $200 cash if you refer any client that books $1,000 or more monthly retainer.” So there’s different ways that you can try and play around with it just to make it not seem so much like you’re just coming at them with a price increase. And my other favorite tip for this, and I’ve coached a lot of my freelance writing clients through this, never just go into it if it’s one of those off times, but you’re like, “It’s October and I have not raised my rates in forever with this client,” or they’re about to resign a six-month or a year-long retainer. Don’t just go in and say, “I’m raising my rates.” This is a great opportunity to recap the work you’ve done together. So talk about some wins. With my SEO freelance writers, I tell them, “Go back, grab their rankings, tell them how many blogs you’ve published. How many of them are ranking in the top 10. If you wrote lead magnets for them, how many people have downloaded that lead magnet?” You want to butter them up and talk about like, “Hey, here’s all the great stuff that your company accomplished in large part due to the work that I helped you with. And by the way, my rates will be going up.” It doesn’t seem as much like you’re just talking about money, and it puts them in a more positive frame of mind to think about the value you bring to the table.
Rob: Okay. That’s super smart. I like that. Let’s talk about your business today then, the coaching that you do, some of your programs, what does that look like? I’m throwing a bunch of questions, I guess, together, but how many people are you coaching at once like one-on-one? And how does that play out as part of your business?
Laura: I have two different ways that I coach with people, one is an all-inclusive coaching, which has done over the voice app, Voxer. That’s basically, you can send me messages between traditional business hours, Monday through Friday, and I usually respond to those messages within 24 hours. That’s a three-month engagement. That’s really for someone who’s working on multiple things at once and has a lot of things they’d like to accomplish during that period. I usually only work with one to three of those clients at a time because of the other things that I’ve got going on, and it’s really hard to be that involved in someone else’s business more than that. I also do one-time strategy sessions where I will give people Day of Voxer access. So they can essentially have that unlimited access to me over the course of one day. And we’ll usually start that by framing it out of one to three things you’d like to chat about over the course of the day. It could be you just launched a new website and you want me to go through and review the copy and give you some feedback, it can be you have two proposals that you’re getting ready to send and you want feedback on, or you want to raise your prices, and we’re going to figure out over the course of the day how to do it. So I just do those sporadically. I don’t even think I really set goals for those. I do a lot of free events with my community, like I’m teaching as a strategy series this summer of like five different things about freelancing. And so I’ll have people reach out to me as a result of that. And I just use those intake calls with them to figure out, do you really need as much help as required in a three-month engagement or does this sound like something that we could knock out in a one hour strategy session or during a Day of Voxer? So I find for me that helps me have variety throughout my day, It doesn’t feel like I’m writing the time. I try to save my wrists and prevent carpal tunnel. So when I can speak and break up the typing with the speaking, that helps a lot. So I would say I do several of those one-time engagements every single month. It’s great to be able to do those too because I know like sometimes when I need the book of business coach, I don’t need three months of their help, I just need an afternoon or a day to really knock out this one thing.
Rob: And in your business as you’re working with people, when do you decide it’s time to create a new program or time to write a new book? How does that process happen?
Laura: A lot of that comes from my coaching clients or people in my Facebook community or on my email list. They’ll hit reply and they’ll start asking questions. Also, if I feel like there’s material out there that maybe isn’t as easily accessible or it’s taught in a different manner… So for me, I know as a student, I don’t want to enroll in any course that has 25 hours of video because I already know I will not watch it and that’s just a waste of my time. Like my SEO writing courses built out of that, I was like, “There’s stuff out there. Oh my gosh, it’s overwhelming. I want to give people something they can watch in a weekend, walk away with the templates, see an example proposal, watch me write an article live and feel like they’re good.” So some of it’s borne from that. I also ask every person who joins my Facebook group, “What is something you want to learn from me?” And we keep a spreadsheet of all of those answers so there’s no shortage of topics. And if I start to see the same thing popping up over and over again, that’s a good indicator. Even in the reviews of my books, what people say that they felt was missing, I’ll go, “Okay, that’s a course. I could not include that in the book, but I could turn that into a course.” I could get that material out there if enough people are interested in it. So I try to listen and then I also try to… I don’t ever create something without having pre-sold it. So I won’t go build the whole course and then sell it, I will tell people like, “The course is coming September 1st,” and then I’ll see if anybody signs up for it, and then I’ll create it if people sign up for it. But that way there’s no pressure on me to put a ton of my hours towards something that no one wants. And if I see that I’ve got students in there, then I’ll build the course in a way that I can deliver it and say, “The modules will be delivered weekly.” And so I record them weekly. And that way, it’s not so overwhelming.
Rob: Yeah. That’s really smart. It’s something that we’ve done with our courses as well, building something out in advance. There’s too much risk that something’s going to fail and that all that time goes to waste, so it’s good to pre-sell anything. Good advice, not just for copywriters, but for our clients as well.
Laura: Yeah, absolutely.
Rob: Okay. So as you’ve developed this pretty cool business half writing, half products, how has your mindset changed? How has your approach to work changed in that time?
Laura: One of the biggest things and the first transitions that I made was probably around visibility, being a ghost writer, it was literally my job for no one to know who I was. And I was very comfortable in that position of, nobody knows who I am, I don’t have a website, my face is not tied to anything. But of course, when I started transitioning into the product side of things, you have to have a face and a brand that goes along with your business. So that was a big one for me. Imposter syndrome, I was like, “Am I really the master of this? Have I really figured this out enough where other people want to learn from me?” There was a lot of feeling like a fraud at the start of that. So supporting yourself with small wins. Like I broke into it, I didn’t want to coach for a long time. I actually had a business coach at the time who said, “Why don’t you just coach someone for 30 days?” She’s like, “Give them one of your unlimited packages for 30 days. If you hate it, you never have to offer it again. And if you love it, you get to keep doing it.” For me, that felt very low risk of, “Okay, let’s see how this goes. And let’s see if this person feels positive about it after 30 days.” And that really bolstered my confidence. I think another one is just around… This is so important that I really believe it is one of the biggest differences between freelancers and six-figure freelancers, is knowing which clients to say no to. I interviewed 20 other freelancers when I was writing the book Six Figure Freelancer to validate this because it was really important for me growing my business and my mindset. And I heard the same thing from all 20 of them. They all said, “The sooner you can tune in to what your red flags are and hold those boundaries and respect them, the easier it will be for you to grow your business. And your clients and potential clients might not always understand that.” I fired a client because it was a very small, like $250 a month project, it just wasn’t worth the effort. And even the communication for that one project, he didn’t really understand that. But to me, it was like, I’m honoring my boundary of my minimum project size is $500 a month at that time. So knowing who you do and don’t want to work with and seeking the clues to try to weed out the bad clients as soon as possible, you have to both know what those factors are and then own it and not feel bad about it. If you’re on a call and you’re getting all the bad vibes and you’re like, “This person feels really difficult to work with.” just say it. Just say, “I don’t think we’re a good fit to work together, I wish you luck in your search,” and cut it off there. And it takes a lot of guts to do that when you have a client that’s like, “But I want to pay you. I’m ready to pay you.” But it’s really a great way of honoring yourself and it’s a big mindset shift that we often as freelancers see ourselves as cogs in someone else’s business. No, you’re a CEO. You are a CEO of your own business. So make the decisions that a CEO would make. If someone’s difficult, if they pay you late every single month, if they ask for ridiculous revisions or try to argue about your expertise, let them go and just walk away, and you will feel such a weight of relief. And then every client on your roster is someone you really love to work with.
Rob: I think that’s fantastic advice. In addition to working with clients that are not a fit, not knowing your red flags, what are some other mistakes that freelancers are making in their business that are holding them back?
Laura: A huge one is not batching their work, especially as a writer. I think we all know that there’s a difference in doing other types of work like answering your emails or showing up on a client video conference and writing. I feel like I tap into a different side of my brain when I am focused and I’m writing. So do not chunk up your day in all these various hodgepodge of activities. I try to block out specific time periods for writing, and there are no meetings allowed during that time, I’m not checking my email during that time, my team is not asking me questions during that time. I might even turn my phone off. I see a lot of writers where they’ll go, “Okay, I have a deadline of tomorrow at 9:00 AM, so I’m going to do my research today, I’m going to write today, I’m going to edit today, and then I’m going to turn it in tomorrow.” And of course at the end of the day, they’re going, “I’m exhausted.” You just spent nine hours working on one thing. I had to completely shift that in my business to do it in chunks. So I do all my research together on Fridays. I look and see what’s coming ahead, and then I plot out people’s titles, their keywords, do I need anyone on my team to grab information like statistics or a good link for me to use, and outline that. And then I write it separately and edit it separately. And it is so much easier for your brain to stay in one lane when you’re saying, “Okay, today we’re doing research. We’re not writing yet, we are just gathering the materials to make writing a faster and easier process.” So that’s a big one, is not batching. I think the other one is it goes back to those price negotiations. All too often, I do a lot of mock sales calls with my coaching clients, and they all do the same thing. I’ll basically act like the most difficult client there’s ever been and I want to push all their buttons and see how they respond on this fake call, and a lot of them will self-negotiate. They’ll start and they’ll say, “Well, based on what you’ve told me, it’s 1,000, but I could do it for 800. I really believe in the mission.” And I’m like, “Why are they already negotiating down? They’re already talking themselves out of the rate they want to charge.” It’s $1,000, and don’t justify it. Just say it, “Based on what you’ve told me, this would be $1,000, and the turnaround time would be X,” and let it hang there. Let there be a moment of silence because the client is waiting for you to like offer something, and if you’re just quiet in that moment, you’ve owned it. You’re like, “No, that’s my rate. Do you want to move forward or not?” It’s hard to do it, but I think it’s a huge power move to do on a call because you’ll be surprised by how many clients will go, “Okay.”
Rob: Yeah, I’ve seen the same thing. Once you are able to own that pricing conversation and you are confident in the price that you say, clients will actually do what we do, they’ll start negotiating, they’ll justify why they should be paying you more or why you can cut the scope because they want to work with you. So it’s basically just flipping it around and being smart about, like you said, not negotiating against ourselves, it’s a terrible mistake.
Laura: Yeah. And we all do it.
Rob: Yeah, totally, totally. Yeah, we all have to overcome it. Earlier, you were talking about one of the mistakes you were making was working too much, you were an overworker. I think a really common thing in the copywriting world, maybe the entire freelancing world, you took some steps, just tracking your time. Is there anything else that you did to be able to step into that? It’s a mindset thing to be able to say, “Yeah, there’s work that I could be doing, but I would actually rather go watch The Office, or I’d rather go spend time with my kids or I’d even rather go work in the garden or get on my bike,” or whatever the thing is. How do you make that mental step away from the work that has to get done sitting on your desk?
Laura: Yeah, it’s a double-edged sword because a lot of us go into business and we love what we do. It’s so much different than a boss leaning over you and telling you you need to work 40 or 50 hours a week, it’s very self-motivated. And we think about our business, even when we’re not intending to. You probably get great ideas in the car, in the shower, working out, whatever, because your brain is always running that even in the background. I think it starts with identifying what is it that you want out of life? Most copywriters, especially if they’re freelance, they went into business for themselves for freedom, for flexibility, for being able to turn down clients, for being able to earn as much as they wanted. And somewhere along the way, it’s really easy to lose sight of that. And so, know yourself and how you can hack your own brain. For me, I didn’t realize I was working that much. To me, I was on my computer a lot and occasionally I’d get an eye strain, headache, but I didn’t know until I started tracking my time and I got one report from, I use RescueTime and it basically tags everything you do, and you can set it as distracting or neutral or productive, which also helps. But I got a report earlier this year that said I clocked 70 hours in one week. And if you’d asked me to estimate how many hours I work, I was like, “Probably around 50, more than I should have, but definitely not 70.” And so know your own self. What is it that will help you? I had a business coach once who made me schedule my personal training and my exercise classes at three o’clock in the afternoon because it was guaranteed I would leave my house and I would not just keep working through the evening. And so think about ways you can hack your own brain. For me, the weekly tracking really helps because I want to stay under a certain number. I don’t want to see that creeping back up, but it’s definitely hard because we love what we do and we really fall to the time expanse to fill what is due. If we have eight hours to do a project, it takes us eight hours to do it, and a lot of us can meet a deadline. But if there’s something that’s far out, that’s a deadline that we’re working on, it’s really easy for that to become an all-consuming project that you end up working on far more than you thought. So reconnect with, why did you start this business? And, what are your personal goals? Maybe it’s something simple like, “I want to work on my novel five hours this week, or I want to take my kids to the park three days this week,” and then start working backwards from there to see, “Does my business, the way I’m running it now, line up with what I actually wanted?”
Rob: We’ve talking a lot about the mistakes that we’ve made or the freelancers make a lot. I’m curious, is there any big thing that you’ve tried out in your business that was just a total failure, that you’re like, “Oh, this is going to work, this is going to be great.” And it was just flops, disappointments. Tell us about something like that.
Laura: Trying to run my writing business as an agency, what a disaster. Another thing where I did not realize how much I hated it until someone else pointed it out to me, in 2015, I was like, “Oh, this is the best way for me to scale my writing business. I will just hire these other writers, I’ll increase my prices, and I’ll do what I do best, which is get the clients and get them through the sales conversations and set up the boundaries and everything.” And number one, I really hated managing other writers. It was just a nightmare. I can empathize with a lot of our clients because almost all of our clients have horror stories and will tell us how many writers have ghosted them, deliver duplicate content, turned in poor quality work, or whatever. I felt that firsthand. But also I realized when I sent in my information to my CPA at the end of the year, I didn’t make hardly any money that year paying myself personally. It all went to this admin time and this management time and I wasn’t doing the things that I thought I was going to love, like the going out and getting the clients. I was doing a lot of editing, I was doing a lot of chasing down writers, I was doing a lot of posting and reposting my invoicing rules, which no one wanted to follow. And so I was just like, “You know what, this isn’t working. I’m releasing myself from running this as an agency.” I am much happier when I am just a solo writer, I get the clients, I do the work. My clients are happier. It’s low stress. And so that was an epic fail for me. And there’s people out there who run awesome writing agencies and they love it, but it was definitely a failure for me.
Rob: Yeah. I think one of the lessons there is, you’re talking about how other people are succeeding in this is that we shouldn’t be building somebody else’s business. We shouldn’t be building something that we see somebody else doing that’s like, “Oh, that looks great.” We need to really figure out how to build a business that supports our goals, our lifestyle, the things that we want. So, yeah, that’s a great lesson. So as you’ve now grown your business from that very early beginnings, Upwork, and now you’ve got this empire, podcasts, Facebook groups, products books, what have you done that has helped you make those transitions and helped you level up over time? Are there specific things that have enabled you to do that?
Laura: Yes, I would say there’s two things. One is always, follow someone who’s several steps ahead of you on the thing that it is that you want to learn. That doesn’t even necessarily always mean hiring them directly, but if I see someone who’s crushing it with a podcast, I’m going to watch them and I’m going to observe, what are they doing? How are they marketing that podcast? How are they fitting that into their schedule, to where it doesn’t feel monotonous? And how are they getting listeners and really enjoying it? So that’s one. And then number two is delegate, delegate, delegate. Like I said, I don’t subcontract my client work, so that means many, many things in the other side of my business are delegated. Every PowerPoint presentation, I do a rough outline and my virtual assistant creates it. My business manager runs both of my podcasts entirely. I show up and record the episodes and that is it, I don’t do anything else with it, somebody else does social media. That frees me up to do the things that I really like and not overwork, and it allows you to support other freelancers too. That’s right in line with my mission of empowering other freelancers. So I get to hire awesome people, I get to hire other military spouses. My virtual assistant has been with me for seven years, is also a former teacher. So I get to contribute to the communities that I love. But they also do awesome work and it takes pressure off of you. Especially if you’re the freelancer who’s thinking about the next step of your business, it’s very possible that you can run your freelance business as a true solopreneur. You have very little help there, but when you expand into other things and you’ve probably experienced this as well with your products and with your podcast, you do need help and you need to hire the right people and treat them really well. It will make a world of difference.
Rob: Well, I love all of that advice, but the first thing you mentioned, following people that are several steps ahead of you, I’m curious who you’re following right now.
Laura: Oh my goodness. Who am I following right now? Well, I’m actually following a lot of leaders in the veteran and military space right now. I mentioned I run a nonprofit in this space. My next book that comes out next spring is called Remote Work for Military Spouses. And so I am watching all of the power players and influencers in the military space where I don’t have as much credibility. And so I’m watching Military Influencer Conference and everyone who’s doing things with Gary Sinise Foundation, and Daymond John. I’m watching those power players to see how are they making connections? How are they giving back to the same community that I care about? And just absorbing things there because I feel like I’m new on that side. I feel like I have a lot of connections in the freelance world, but it’s a little bit different to dive into that military and veteran community. And I’m really learning Facebook ads right now too. That’s another one because I feel like not only will that help me in my own business, but that may be the next service that I add in. I already do Facebook ad copy for clients, but the actual ad management. So I’m trying to learn everything I can from experts in the Facebook ads world.
Rob: Nice. Tell us a little bit more about the nonprofit and what you’re doing to help military spouses. And this is awesome.
Laura: Yeah. I’m a military spouse. My husband’s civilian now, but he was in the Navy for 14 years and we moved nine times during that period. And military spouses have really high unemployment rates, like 30%. Many of them are also under employed because they pick up and move, and if an employer sees on your resume that you’re military affiliated or they just see all that job hopping, then it doesn’t really make it easy to get a job. And so I teach other military spouses and veterans and those who are caregivers to disabled veterans, how to do freelance work. We give them 90 days of training. They learn how to market, they refine their niche, they create their writing samples, their pitch, their portfolio, everything. Our goal is for them to get their first client by the time the 90 days is up. We’ve had multiple people who have exceeded that. One of the students in the first cohort I did give her two weeks’ notice to her day job and she’s like, “I’m making more freelancing, I’m out of here. I’m done doing data entry.” And so it’s been really rewarding to see how that helps people who are stationed in Germany, Japan, Hawaii, where it’s really hard for them to get jobs, and they really are married to their spouse’s career and that’s the career that takes precedence. And I felt that as military spouse, it’s a lot of why freelancing really worked for me is because my job followed me everywhere. So I was very lucky our first year was entirely funded by Upwork. I was out there for a speaking event and the CEO said, “Hey, I want to help you get this off the ground, what would it take?” And gave us the funds to do that. So it’s been a real joy to get to do that, especially in a pandemic when these issues are even more important.
Rob: I love that. Hopefully there’s something we can do to support you in that as well. Tell us also if people have been listening and they’re like, “Okay, sounds like there’s some really cool resources here.” Where should people go to find out more about you, Laura or the different products and offers that you have?
Laura: Yeah. You can check out my website, which is betterbizacademy.com. I host two podcasts. The one that’s most relevant for your listeners is called Advanced Freelancing. I think we’re on episode 135 or something like that. So there’s lots of great material there, free material to go back to, and you can check out all my books there as well.
Rob: Awesome. We will definitely check it out. We really appreciate you taking some time Laura to share so much wisdom with our audience. So thank you very much.
Laura: Thank you.
Rob: That wraps up our interview with Laura Briggs. There are a couple more things that Laura talked about, actually quite a few more things. I made a bunch of notes here that I think are maybe worth revisiting or touching on or reemphasizing. And number one thing that I loved her advice around was really like, how do you raise prices? This is something that I think is really important because I’ve heard so many experts say, January 1st or regularly once a year, you’ve got to raise your prices so that you make sure that they’re always going up. And that advice has always struck me as being not quite right. I’m not saying people shouldn’t raise the prices and that we shouldn’t be making more as we get better, but just raising your prices because it’s time to raise your prices isn’t doing something that services your clients. And oftentimes if the approach is, “Well, it’s January 1st, it’s time to raise my prices,” that sounds bad to the client. I mentioned that as we were talking with Laura, but again, when you raise your prices, I think you need to focus on what’s the benefit to the client? Are they getting something extra? Are they getting something more? Are they getting something better? And how do you demonstrate to them that, “Hey, this 10% increase in prices,” or whatever the increase is actually going to be beneficial to both of us, and it’s not just all about you raising your prices. Well, I don’t know. What’s your approach to that, Jacob as you’ve worked on projects and work with clients?
Jacob: Something I’ve done that’s a little bit different than what Laura has done is I don’t work on a lot of retainers. I’ve worked with some retainer clients before and it’s been short term. And for me specifically, short term projects work a lot better for who I am and my short attention span, but I think that the way that Laura structured everything is genius and something that I would recommend to anybody else who’s trying to work on more of a retainer basis, because in the same way that she covered pitching for her clients, it’s all about how you position the event to your client. Because there are, like you mentioned, Rob, a lot of longstanding benefits for their security of a relationship or for the quality of everything that goes on. But at the end of the day, if you can’t talk about that from the perspective of the folks that you’re working with, then it’s going to fall flat. I think something that she said that really resonated with me was, you don’t necessarily need to justify how you raise your prices, you just need to do it in a way that is ethical and fair, which isn’t whenever you feel like it. And secondarily, you need to T into it in a way that it’s much softer than just, “Hey, my prices are going up. If we want to keep working together, you need to pay more.” It’s recapping results and going back through the great parts of the relationship that in their own light, make the small price increase no matter what it is well worth it in the long run.
Rob: Yeah, I agree. And as you mentioned, the easiest way really to raise your prices is to work on a project basis because then as a new project that comes along, you can simply bump up your prices to reflect scope differences, the value that you’re bringing to the table now it doesn’t feel like a regular price increase. With retainers, it is more difficult, but the way that Laura approaches it is a smart way to do it, and I applaud her for that.
Jacob: Yeah, I would agree. And I think that the way that she structures her pricing increases is around by the way that she goes about the other portions of her business. So when she asked herself how much of my time should go to my freelance clients and the freelance portion of my business, it’s a great way to get a litmus test to understand where you want to be going in the next three to six months. And if it’s that I want to do less client work or that I need to spend more time on my business, she did an amazing job of finding one core idea, which was helping and coaching other freelancers, and then putting together a ton of products that centered around it. And then at the end of the day, she can wait to increase her prices. And then anytime that she’s feeling like she needs to be either making more or wants to grow or really wants to pour on gas, it can be done to those products, and her clients don’t necessarily have to feel that urge or that need from her exclusively.
Rob: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit more about this idea of the centering a bunch of products around one idea and how that benefits your business.
Jacob: Yeah, sure. The best way that I’ve ever heard it labeled as a spoken wheel approach. And it’s genius, because what it allows you to do, and this is something that Laura also did a great job of, was to pick a topic, or a theme, or a strategy that you’re really close to that blends with your personality and to get really, really loud about it. And the more authority and exposure that you can have about your specific opinions and recommendations on this one idea allows you to do two things. First, it allows you to build an audience, and then secondarily, it allows you to start pivoting into products that serve one or two problems for that audience time after time. And so if you look at it from her perspective and it’s folks trying to grow a freelance business in early stage solopreneurs, for her digital products, there’s an endless amount of problems that those folks have. I’ve got 300 of them that I’m sure I’d gladly buy if I saw the right stuff come by that came from Laura from anyone else. And what it allows you to do is to just stick on that idea and to continually gain from the feedback that you get from the successes that you see in some small courses, it’ll give you amazing ideas for other products. And then in the same way that she approaches raising her prices for her clients and scaling the client side is it’s all very altruistic and ethical. That’s simply, “I’ve recognized another problem you have, and it seems like I’ve been a good person to solve it in the past, so I’d love to help you work through this too.”
Rob: Yeah. I like the phrase, the spoken wheel phrase, makes a lot of sense to me. And the way that it plays with what she was doing with building her authority, when she was just working, one-on-one, working with referrals, or connecting with people on job boards like Upwork, she didn’t need to have a big presence, but obviously as she moved into serving that audience that she was building, she needed to start building that authority and stepping out. So whether that was being on podcasts or writing and showing up on stage, she mentioned her TED Talk, which if anybody to check out is all about being a freelancer. All of those kinds of things, then feed back into that one idea. So these are more spokes that feedback to this idea around freelancing and is really what led her to become and to be known as the freelance coach.
Jacob: Yeah. 100%, I agree entirely. And I thought it was really funny to you that she mentioned her clients assume there was a rate increase coming when they heard about her TEDx Talk, or if someone saw her Business Insider article. And it just goes to show that there’s so much going on in the minds of your customers around the pricing that you have, or the products that you sell that we’re unaware of. And to be honest, most of the time we manufacturer a lot of those excuses that we have about raising prices, or launching a new product, or scaling something up in a different fashion. I think it’s super interesting. And I think Laura navigates through all of that pretty steadily, not without much wavering. There’s a lot of confidence in what she has going on, and it sounds like it’s served her really, really well.
Rob: Agreed. A couple other things I want touch base on before we wrap up here, the focus on overwork, she mentioned it a couple of times, this is something that I struggle with. I’m guessing it’s something that probably 90% of copywriters struggle with. Part of it is because we work at home, and so we’re always in the office. And so once dinner’s over or once you’ve stepped away, it’s so easy to get right back to the table or to think, “Oh, I’m just checking email.” Or maybe you’re just skimming through research while your partner is watching Netflix or all of that thing. And I don’t have a solution for this because I’m prone to it as well, but I love how she started tracking her time. I’ve used RescueTime as well, just to see how productive I am throughout the week. I need to get better at forcing myself away from the desk. And I guess I’m emphasizing this as inspiration for me and for all of the other copywriters out there. We work way too much and we should be using the benefits of freelancing to take a little bit more time for ourselves.
Jacob: Yeah, 100%. And we stand to benefit a lot from listening to how Laura sets her standards for working her 30 hours a week and how she wants to split her time as a way to prevent that from happening. There’s a lot that I can learn personally too from everything that she’s got set up. And so I’m really, really grateful for that that she was able to share everything.
Rob: You’ve gone one step farther and bought yourself the trailer so you can start traveling around the world as you step away from the work. So it’ll be interesting to see how you do it as you’re working from inside this space that you get to take everywhere with you.
Jacob: Yeah. It’s going to be weird. So work never leaves, and then also at the same point in time, like I’m never at work, it’s going to be a weird thing to navigate, but something that Laura mentioned that’s been super helpful for me too, is having an understanding of what my goals look like for the way that I want my business built. And when we say that we typically mean, what products do I want to do? Who do I want to work with? What services do I want to offer? What do they cost? And how much do I make. The big variable that we miss out on, and I think it stands to say that it’s a really big thing for her too, because it was something that she highlighted right off the bat is that she works 30 hours a week. And that 30 hours is essentially what she has to play with back and forth between whatever ratio is going to the freelance work and whatever ratio is going to her thought leadership and her personal branding business. And I think we can all do the same. I’m personally attached, just 30 hours a week is actually my number two, but I think that that’s a goal that we can all strive for to understand. And that means that there’s nothing wrong with 40 or 60 or 80 hours, if that’s what your goal is, that’s I guess quite all right, but I think that it’s a metric that we don’t pay enough attention to and it’s a goal in and of itself.
Rob: Yeah. I totally agree. I might disagree that 80 is probably not a helping number. If somebody is chasing 80-
Jacob: I disagree there too. I don’t know, but I’ve got a family and so do you too, so it’s different.
Rob: Yeah, for sure. I’m on board, if you want to do 50, maybe even 60 occasionally, but if you’re working 80, it’s time to maybe get outside a little bit. We’ll see. One or two more things that I just bulleted down, Laura mentioned following people that are a couple of steps ahead of you on the path. I’m curious, Jacob, who are those people for you?
Jacob: Laura’s a new one for me after hearing all of this, specifically with the time goal that she’s hit. But for me in a lot of cases, one to two steps is probably more where I should be looking. I tend to watch about five to 10 steps ahead, and that’s a great spot to look to. But a lot of other folks in the Think Tank, right, are doing amazing things with their own communities and their own digital products, and even some really cool web design based plugins and things along those lines that I would never think of. I would say that it’s mostly peers that are one to two steps ahead that serve to give a lot of amazing ideas, but outside of that, I follow any and everybody that you guys put on the show because they put out really great content and follow folks from other copywriting communities. I’ve obviously got my copywriting idols too. But I think that looking inside of the club and inside of the underground is probably the best way to find folks who are maybe a bit ahead of where you are in one area, but close enough to where you can get a lot of impact by implementing some small stuff to be able to get there too.
Rob: Yeah. When we think about who do we follow? Who do we get coached by? Obviously there’s peer coaching, there’s coaches that are a few steps ahead of us, and then there are those who are way ahead of us, and it doesn’t hurt to interact with all of those options. A couple of people that I follow and want to learn more from, I know I mentioned Todd Brown quite a bit. He spoke to one of our events, he’s a mentor to Kira and I. Jereshia Hawk is another one who just amazing business builder. She’s done some really smart things in her businesses and has given us some really good advice as what to do in our own businesses. Michael Michalowicz and Adrienne Dorison of the Clockwork and Profit First, also really smart thing. So if you’re looking for people who are a few steps ahead of you, the idea is that large share, Jacob, some of the people that you’re talking about and some of these others maybe somebody to check out. Okay, last thing I just want to mention, and I don’t really have a lot to say about this, but I just want to applaud Laura for what she’s doing with the military spouse cause, I think this is just such a smart thing to do. It’s a group of people who really need help figuring out something that’s a really big problem in their life and the impact that she can have there is just amazing. And I offered to whatever we can do to help with that cause, and the more I think about it, the more serious I am about that. I’d love to really put some time into helping that crowd because they can benefit so much from what we do as freelancers and the kinds of businesses that they can run successfully from wherever they are. It’s a genius cause. And if that’s cause isn’t a fit for you the listener, then find a cause that is that you can actually incorporate into your business, whether it’s donating time, whether it’s donating money, whether it’s donating services and helping them to grow. I just really like the idea of having a cause that our businesses are built to help.
Jacob: Yeah. I think it’s huge and it’s really honorable. And at the end of the day too, it makes it a lot easier to know that when you’re showing up for those 30, or 40, or 50 hours every week, that there’s also something further on down the line that’s a little bit more humanistic that your work is going towards too. I think and maybe, I don’t know if this has to get cut out or whatever, but it’d be really, really fun to try and put together some kind of workshop that line up with her cause with some folks from the think tank or with you and Kira as well, I think that it’d be a lot of fun, and we’ll also line up really, really well with what Laura is trying to do. That’s the end of this episode of the Copywriter Club Podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter, Addison Rice. The outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter David Muntner. And if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard so far and what Laura had to say and everything that Rob and Kira are sharing, please go check out Apple Podcasts and let us know what you think of the show.