ITT 029: How to Make $1 Million Freelancing with Liam Veitch

December 17, 2014

In today's broadcast of In The Trenches, I sit down with Liam Veitch, founder of Freelancelift.com and author of Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer – the Evolution of a One Million Dollar Web Designer. What you'll learn:

  • how to get paid what you're worth as a freelancer or consultant
  • how to improve your freelancing practice
  • how Liam made $1 million in 3 years from freelancing (and the techniques and strategies he used to do it)

At the end of this episode, you’ll have learned the importance of framing your work, positioning your business, the important of performance, and the best business practices for a freelancer.

THE SECRETS OF A MILLION DOLLAR WEB DESIGNER

Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer[/caption] Liam Veitch grew his freelance web design business into a 1 million dollar business about three years ago, in 2011. Liam started his freelance web design business while working a full time job after failing in a previous freelance business. In 2009, he shut down his first freelance business and joined a multi-national corporation, with 400 employees, “and something clicked as that kind of career started to develop.” Liam says things started to click, “things I realized that…freelancers, small businesses in general, suck at.” He says he also noticed the strengths of small businesses and freelancers - agility, love, care and passion. Once he learned the strengths and weaknesses of big and small business, Liam says he wanted to start the freelance, thinking, “what would happen if you mashed those two worlds together.” That’s when he started his next, successful, freelance business, three years ago, in 2011. His first freelance business started when Liam was 19 years old, followed by the one full-time position. That perspective was, as he calls it, “a unique point of view in so far as I was looking at the other zombie employees, as I call them, were just not looking at.” He says the zombie employees didn’t really care too much for the mission of the business, or it’s values, and vision. “As a result, they’re probably going to still be at that company. And that’s where I think Iv’e been able to steal some of that knowledge, steal some of those big business principles.” As he’s captured the wisdom, he’s been able to help freelancers to develop their freelancing into a true business. “So about a year ago, I established Freelancelift.com to just to tell that story,” he explains.

THE SECRETS OF A FREELANCE BUSINESS

Liam says the difficulty of a freelancer is that things like content, blogs and other creative products are all framed within that context of being a freelancer. Freelancers, he explains, “often feel that we’re often somehow exempt from that word ‘business.’ And, that’s really due to our status as a lone ranger, and that, in some ways, keeps us tied to this so-so freelance advice, chasing ambiguous words like growth.” That, he says, keeps freelancers feeling like they’re “treading water.” He challenges freelancers who describe themselves as treading water, “how do you really know how you’re doing if you’ve not got clear objectives and goals in place?” Liam explains to freelancers, “your client’s aren’t hiring you because you’re a designer, marketer, developer, writer or whatever. They’re hiring you because they have a business problem.” Businesses, he explains, are looking for people who are solving their problems already for others with similar problems. “So, if you can be the specialist, if you can serve that specific need, and if you can do that even for a small pool of clients, then, you’ve got this chance to build 10 times more.” Liam started solving web design problems for those in the music industry.

“A lot of freelancers… feel that they’re missing out by narrowing the pool of potential clients, but, quite the opposite is true. If you have only literally got a pool of 200-300 people around the world that you could go after, then, really, if you’re that go-to guy for that particular space, then, you’ve got pretty much a blank check that you can request from people.”

Liam says that when that realization came to him, “the path to that million dollars really started in understanding that it’s all about specificity.” He says understanding specificity and how that applies to others’ pains is truly the secret to making millions of dollars. Liam says that the freelancer must be able to articulate the pain, and a solution to someone’s pain better than the business owner can. That, he says, gives a freelancer instant position of authority, which then is used to the freelancer’s advantage when the time comes to determine price and cost..

“One of the things that I teach, is that everything is based on perception.” Referring to a short book he’s penned, Hourly Rates Don't Matter, Liam says, “ a client’s perception of what value you’re going to bring to the table is everything.”

Liam explains that a freelancer on Fiverr will deliver exactly that you tell them to do, “and everybody is kind of happy with that.” But, he says, “what a partner will do, in the outset, is not really even talk cost.” They’ll ask about the business owner’s problems, understanding that they are building a relationship - “it’s not a one-hit thing,” Liam explains, “This is a long-term mutual and beneficial partnership. So, when you’re starting down that path it’s vital st start to consider yourself as a partner and valuable.” Liam says that is where his journey to a million dollars as a freelancer began.

THE JOURNEY TO A MILLION DOLLARS

Liam says from the realization, he had to begin building an authority in the space he wanted to dominate. “Being the go-to company for that type of activity, then growing from there into other areas.” The agency that helped Liam create much of that million dollars, tone.uk. He says that agency prides itself in producing world-class web design. “We frame that in all of our customer facing literature,” he explains, “there’s not point in building a website unless it’s going to provide value to you as a business and establish you as a market leader.” Liam offers 4 steps in creating a freelance business that can command rates that creates a million dollar business:

  • Frame the business as an authority in solving one type of pain
  • Build relationships based on mutually beneficial partnerships
  • Be happy to increase rates as value increases
  • Build average transaction of value

“The latest project I’ve written about this was a 50 thousand dollar project for just a website,” Liam says, “and we never met face to face.” The company was one of the best in Southeast Asia, “and we only actually went to see them and meet them face to face after winning the deal.” Even online, the formula works, says Liam. Be a trusted authority in a space, provide value more than what they could get from just going to elance.com. “It’s that really of framing yourself such that you command value.”

THE VALUE OF A CUSTOMER

Liam says a freelancer must be willing to think of a customer in terms of their lifetiime value. “I ran some numbers a few weeks ago, and what we found was over the last 18 months, from initial order to lifetime spent, on average, about 60% are using us again.” He says that those repeat customers are spending over 100% more than what they did in the previous 18 months.

“When you’re able to almost relay upon that, then building a business that’s going generate a million dollars over the course of three years isn’t such a stretch.” That’s because, according to Liam, “if you known 60% are going to come again, and if, on average, they’re going to spend 100% more, then the objective becomes a little bit less.”

He says, that intelligence helps his company build that expectation into their business. He says his company builds a  contingency in their structure “which we allow for just over-delivering.” Providing an example, Liam says one company his business is building a website for “the client has some really specific ideas and vision about what they want. And, in particular, this is for a homepage slider. So, what we're having to do is almost put together a customer photo shoot to get that specific image.” Liam says he hasn’t billed the customer for that, it’s not even included in the proposal. “But, what we are doing at every point is doing it and then telling them that we're over delivering it.” Explaining his strategy, Liam says, “If you tell them look, this wasn't included in the proposal, here's what we're going to do, we're going to do this, because in the spirit of partnership we want to make this the best possible site it could be. We want a site we can all be proud of. And immediately when you frame it like that and tell them that you're over delivering, tell them that you're not going to bill them for it, then you build an element of reciprocity into everything that you're doing.” Liam suggests that all freelancers willingly over-deliver, but that it should be determined by the amount of time you have. He also stresses the importance of telling them that you’re over delivering, in the spirit of partnership. “When you go into it,” In the Trenches host, Tom Morkes stresses to the freelancer, “recognize… when you do the proposal for the client, you’re saying [to yourself] that there’s going to be extra things I’m going to do on top of this.’.. they might not be aware of it,” he says, but, you should know that it’s a regular price of doing business. Liam agrees saying the freelancer must look at the lifetime value of the client as a partner. “What gets you double end of spend over an 19 month period is the things you can’t really quantify… that feel-good factor that the client’s experiencing when they’re seeing that you’re over delivering.” When that happens, says Liam, “it gives you so much leverage… if you give them a little bit of an overspend and tell them that you’re doing it , and don’t bill them for it, then the next time that kind of thing comes around again,” you can point to the expenses and ask for reasonableness, “and they’re more than happy to kind of go along with that.” Liam says the successful freelancer understands, “it’s about over delivering, telling them that you’re over delivering and then baking that straight into your pricing from the outset… that’s the only way you can start to do that kind of stuff.” Liam also warns freelancers to be wary of those who have limited budgets and specific desires, “if you’re building a website for somebody that has a really specific idea of what they want to do and the cost and they’ve got a budget of 500 dollars, they’re going to give you a much harder time that somebody that’s going to spend 50KI, because they trust you to carry out that work on their behalf.” He acknowledges that getting to that 50K client isn’t something that happens overnight, “for us, it’s taken two years… to be able to stand in front of somebody and say ‘yeah, you can get it for a hundredth of the price, but, what you’re not going to get is all of this.’”

STOP THINKING LIKE A FREELANCER

Liam’s book, Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer – the Evolution of a One Million Dollar Web Designer, is written to help freelancers frame their own expectations of their business. Liam says he knows freelancers who often look around them, thinking they are doing OK, “but I need growth.” He responds, “but they don’t really pin down what growth is.” He explains that there are two threads of response. Repeating an earlier explanation, “as freelancers, we feel like we’re somehow exempt from that word, ‘business,’ when, if you look at it in terms of raw facts, we have customers, we have overheads, even as a on-person business.” That, he says gives freelancers “a need to go out there and pitch our services to people, and yeah, to make a profit. That’s exactly the same for a one-person freelancer as it is for Google and Amazon.” By ignoring those principles, a freelancer ignores their own potential for growth, says Veitch. He stresses that online businesses should be thinking more objectively about their burins, looking for real, quantifiable ways to grow, “based on fact, data, benchmarking goals, and aiming towards that.” Liam says freelancers should stop thinking like a freelancer and more like a big business. Secondly, he says, freelancers should have a clear idea of what growth is, “is it growth in revenue? if so,” he asks, “how much?” Continuing, he asks, “is it growth in happiness? Is it growth in client quality?” All of those things can be left in the air if a freelancer is chasing such an ambiguous word as growth without a clear understanding of what kind of growth they expect. Liam suggests a new word, rather than growth. “I propose a new word, and that word is ‘evolution.’” If a freelancer can chart their progress through an evolutionary cicl of continually getting better, “then you can say, ‘ok, look back at six months from now and say yeah, that’s different, that’s better,’ and looking back at specific benchmarks and specific debt.” Liam then describes the evolutionary growth cycle to help freelancers understand what they should be looking for in terms of business growth.

  1. Foundations for Growth, Strategy Vision, Benchmarking
  2. Replacing bad clients with dream clients (more about perception of being a partner)
  3. Multiplying Exposure and Building a Platform
  4. Building Predictability
  5. Loosen the Reigns (create processes into the business to take you out of the process)

More places you can find Liam and his work:

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