Screw scaling, can I just relax?
A couple years back I went to a workshop with the incredible Dean Jackson and he asked me a simple question. (If you’ve worked with me in the past year, this will be familiar to you because it’s the first question that I ask everyone now before we start!).
He asked, “How do you know when you’re successful?”
Most freelancers (heck, most people!) never take time to think about what they are aiming for. So, I wrote “I know I’m successful when…” on the top of a piece of paper and spent 30 minutes or so making a list. The list is very personal to me, but I’ll share a few answers I came up with….
- I know I’m successful when I can take a day off of work for any reason without asking anyone’s permission
- I know I’m successful when I can travel internationally with my kids at least once a year
- I know I’m successful when I have the money and the bandwidth to travel to see my friends on short notice
- I know I’m successful when my basic living expenses are paid automatically, without me thinking or worrying about them
The list went on and a theme emerged… there were no answers around email list numbers, social media followers, team sizes, or even revenue. I realized that once my basic living expenses were covered, I just wanted enough profit to allow me to do fun things like travel and go out to eat.
Once I looked at the list, I started to question everything. If I didn’t list anything about my email list size, why was I using that metric to measure my “success.” If I didn’t care about doubling my revenue, why was I working so hard toward that goal?
A funny thing started to happen after that, I started to focus on what I actually wanted… and it started to become my reality.
And the more I talked to other freelancers, I realized that most of us actually don’t want a huge team or to manage MORE moving pieces. Most of us want a business that is fun and meaningful to work in and that supports the other, more important stuff in our lives.
So if you’re in that camp, I have a few things to share today.
First, I wrote new book on the topic called the “4-Day Freelancer Workweek.” It’s all about my journey to discovering what I wanted and making it happen and how you can do the same. Since you’re here, I’d love to give you access to a free copy. You can read and/or download the digital version for free, here, before I put it up for sale on Amazon. (Thanks for being here, it really means a lot.)
Next, I love “Company of One” by Paul Jarvis. This book really gave me pause to think about WHY scaling has become a goal and IF it’s right for me.
Like Dean, Paul Jarvis asks us to think about the end goal. Why did we start this business? Likely “growing big” was not the answer. For me, I wanted more time with my family and the means to do fun things with them in that time.
I think about my ideal day, which was in 2019 when my kids and I traveled together to Ireland. During one day on the coast, I looked out the window and saw my kids climbing an old abandoned house in the backyard and laughing together. That day, I had one email to write and one 15-minute meeting. We were able to spend the entire day exploring a small village with no set plans. We ate at places that looked good and even took a boat tour with a local guide. It sounds hokey, but it was truly magical.
Growing my business massively might mean more money in my pocket, but it also might mean that I don’t have the flexibility to have those experiences.
It reminds me of a story I heard somewhere about a fisherman. He was bringing a small basket of fish up the pier when a business consultant on vacation saw him. The consultant asked why the fisherman’s catch was so small. The fisherman explained that he only caught enough for his family and a little extra to sell to friends in the village. “It’s still early,” the consultant said, “what do you do for the rest of the day?” The fisherman said he loved his carefree life. He fished in the morning, spent the day with his wife and children, took naps in the afternoon and spent time with friends in the evening.
The consultant suggested that there was a huge business opportunity that the fisherman was missing. If he spent all day fishing, he could make enough money to buy a boat and a crew and expand his business further, eventually after 10 or 20 years, making enough money to retire. “What would I do after I retire?” the fisherman asked.
“Well,” the consultant said, “Anything you want. You could live a carefree life! Spend your days with your wife and children, take naps in the afternoon and spend time with friends in the evening!”
I love this story because it illustrates the danger in “scaling” without an end goal in mind. For me, the best way to reach my goals of travel, time with my family, and a flexible schedule might not be a huge mult-million dollar business with dozens of employees.
That doesn’t mean I’m not constantly looking for ways to maximize revenue while minimizing effort and time.
I attended a full-day workshop with Dan Kennedy where he shared the 5 proven ways to scale as a freelancer. I wrote them down furiously:
Be the go-to ____ for _____ . In the factory scaling model, you focus on one deliverable for one niche. For example, become the premier facebook ads expert for dry cleaners. You can scale by creating a repeatable process and becoming the most efficient and effective at one specific deliverable. This allow you to charge higher prices and gain market notoriety.
In the agency model, you hire junior people to do the work for/with you. An example of this is a “copy cub” program where a senior copywriter is ultimately responsible for client deliverables, but outsources some of the work to more junior writers. Junior staff can function as apprentices, learning the craft as they go, or simply be subcontractors.
One way to more deeply serve your clients and offer more comprehensive packages, you can partner with adjacent service providers. An example is a graphic designer partnering with a copywriter, ads manager, and video editor to offer a full-service ads package. This can look like an agency model or function as a partnership or joint venture.
If you have long-term clients where you’re deeply involved in their marketing, you can turn these clients into partners and grow with them by creating a partnership or royalty arrangement. Then, as revenues at that company grow, you get a piece of the growth. This is most common for marketing consultants and copywriters.
Group Use Scaling
In the group use model, you turn your processes into templates, checklists, group coaching or info products. This allows you to coach or work with multiple clients at one time rather than focusing solely on 1-on-1 work.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on scaling. What does your business look like next year? How do you know when you’re successful?
P.S. I’m putting together a new case study group this month where I’ll be working 1-on-1 with freelancers who want to simplify their business and transition to a 4-day workweek… without working 12-hour days.
If you’d like to join us, just send me a message with the words “case study” to and I’ll get you all the details.