Last January, when we still had “proper” jobs, we spent a week’s worth of pre-work mornings writing about children’s party planning in Australia.
And carpet cleaning in Ohio.
And the role of states’ rights and federalism in the United States of America.
And a nail salon in Utah.
And dehumidification solutions in Canada.
In return we got paid $20, and it was probably the single most important step towards the location independent lifestyle we live today.
What a Utah nail salon taught me about making money online
I ran a PR company at the time and Mish did lots of copywriting and editing in her job, so through Fiverr.com we offered to write press releases for $5 – just as an experiment in making money online.
(I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the states’ rights “press release” was actually some kid’s homework, but hey, $5 is $5.)
Even back then we knew that people on Fiverr weren’t disciples of William Zinsser and wouldn’t be too fussy as long as their keyword was inserted keyword along with its variations keywording every keywords few keyword words.
But we couldn’t sacrifice our art at the altar of keyword density, so we ended up crafting away and earning an hourly rate that’d make a Sri Lankan schoolchild raise his eyebrows.
It didn’t matter. We could make an offer online, and people we’d never met would give us money to perform a service for them.
4 steps to change your mindset
When you’ve been indoctrinated into believing that having “a proper job” is the only way to make money, realising that you can locate and persuade buyers online is pretty powerful stuff.
So when people say they want to quit their job to be location independent – but don’t know how to earn money – this is what I advise:
- Find a platform where people who’re looking for your skills can find them
- Make an offer
- Do a few jobs, priced at whatever the market rate on that platform is
- Work out how to get off that platform ASAP, and build your own platform to find your ideal customers
The lemonade stand model
This doesn’t, I admit, scream “screw you and your paycheque, The Man – I’m off to build my own empire!”
But think of it like a lemonade stand.
Gary Vaynerchuk and Ray Croc didn’t build VaynerMedia and McDonald’s as their very first forays into business. They started with a lemonade stand. They were selling a product with a known demand, making a bit of money, and learning business skills that would enable their eventual success.
They probably had a “wow, strangers are giving me money in return for something I made” moment too.
Running a lemonade stand isn’t glamorous, and nor is doing freelance work. You’d rather be building a software startup, or an ecommerce store, or your own information product. And you can still do all those things.
It’s just that while you might have the skills to create that software, or ecommerce store, or information product, you don’t have the the right skills or mindset to quit your job and earn money on your own.
If you want to learn those skills, and get to a position where you’re making enough money to replace your employment income as quickly as possible, this is how to do it.
OK, enough (lemonade) stalling: let’s break this process down:
1. Pick a platform
If you’re a writer or a designer or a programmer, there are countless platforms where you can be found by people who want your skills: there’s Elance, there’s oDesk, there’s Rentacoder and there’s Sitepoint.
On most of these platforms, low-cost labour in other parts of the world will have driven down the market rate for your skills to a fraction of what you need to pay your bills / satisfy your ego. Don’t worry about that right now.
What if your skills are less clear cut? Many of us work in jobs that have allowed us to develop what we could charitably call “soft skills” – meaning we can kind of get through life without being good at anything you can pin a name on.
Or maybe your skills are specific but tied to the physical world, like being a carpenter or driving instructor.
In those cases, you can use a very broad platform like Fiverr or Craigslist, and make an offer that’s unrelated to anything you’ve been paid to do in the past. We’ll come to exactly what your offer is next…
2. Make an offer
All business starts with making a specific offer to a specific group of people.
The art is in making your offer communicate what makes you uniquely able to deliver the result that the buyer wants.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Highlight what makes you unique in a way that matters. If you’re unique because you’re albino, that’s not helpful. But if you’re unique because you’re bilingual and can translate your own work into Spanish, that could be hugely valuable.
Niche it down. Like, a lot. Say you’re a web developer on Elance. Yeah, you and 101,568 other people (I just checked). But say you only offer to build Shopify-based websites for people selling t-shirts. Suddenly, for anyone selling t-shirts who knows they want to use the Shopify platform, you’re the only choice.
Sell results, not qualifications. Sorry, your degree might have put you in debt for the rest of your working life, but no one cares. Buyers are buying a result, so talk about what results you can achieve for people like them.
If you’re not sure what your skills are, you’ll be going down the Fiverr or Craigslist route. On those platforms, don’t shy away from making weird offers that have nothing to do with anything you’ve been paid to do in the past.
Remember, this is just getting your mindset straight – you don’t have to do this silly stuff for long.
3. Do a few jobs at the platform’s market rate
I won’t go into how best to win jobs on your chosen platform – just Google “[platform name] getting hired tips” and you’ll find plenty of great advice.
So let’s say you’ve got your first couple of jobs, and you’re now slogging your evenings away earning a pittance. Enjoy: you’re building the foundations of your future success!
It might not feel like it when you’re trying to drag out an article about “Kindle Fire for seniors” to 800 words, but this is a hugely valuable experience (and not just in the way my dad used to insist that everything I hated doing was “character building”):
You’ll get used to the madness of clients. Because someone you’d love to sit next to at a dinner party will turn out to have some kind of infuriating quirk when they become your client. They’ll change their mind endlessly, or make ridiculous suggestions, or insist on going through text changes word-by-word over the phone. This will always happen, and cheapskate clients who use these platforms are worse than most. So learn how to handle it now, and you’ll have earned your “could-always-become-a-hostage-negotiator” and “patience-of-a-saint” badges for the rest of your career.
You’ll learn about real and perceived value. In an office job, showing up at the correct time and not doing anything stupid is normally enough to remain employed. Not so when you’re a freelancer. You need to over-deliver every time, and you need to offer perceived value as well as real value. In other words, what matters most to the client might seem utterly trivial to you, but you need to get used to selling people what they want to buy.
You’ll experience the joy of being paid. You’ve offered to do something, and a stranger has taken your offer seriously enough that they’re paying you to do it. Sure, they’re paying you $5 and you’re dressed as Harry Potter, but c’mon people – “a journey of a thousand miles” and all that.
4. Build your own platform
You’ve learnt about making an offer. You’ve experienced the madness of clients, the importance of perceived value and the joy of being paid. You’ve possibly delivered a Valentine’s Day message dressed as a clown.
Now you want to make some decent money, doing something that excites you rather than just whatever anyone’s willing to pay you for.
That means you’ve got to get yourself the heck away from everyone else and build your own platform – fast.
Because on other people’s platforms, you’re being held back by two things:
- Your services are being listed alongside everyone else’s. This makes it extremely difficult to break away from the platform’s pricing norms.
- Your relationship with the buyer starts at the moment they decide to buy. This makes it a hard to build the trust that makes for a great relationship. With your own platform, your buyers can get to know you way before they even know they want to buy from you.
So, build your own platform, and keep these things in mind:
Seriously, niche it down
You don’t want to be competing on price. It’s miserable. We say this all the time, and we’ll keep saying it until everyone listens: if you can convince a very particular type of buyer that you’re the only person in the world who can solve their very particular problem for them, that buyer has to pay whatever price you ask for.
Also, your #1 problem with your own platform will be getting people to find it. The more you niche down, the easier it becomes for the right people to find you.
Your platform doesn’t have to be a blog
This make-up artist has adopted YouTube videos as his platform, and his videos have been watched 68 million times.
This company specialising in marketing for lawyers gets their business from podcasts.
There are people using Pinterest, LinkedIn and good old-fashioned email as their platforms. A blog is a good choice, but not the only one.
(Yes, building an entire platform on top of someone else’s platform isn’t the greatest idea, but that’s not the issue right now – and as James Schramko will tell you, you can have the best of both worlds.)
Your platform doesn’t have to directly relate to your service
Take our blog. Directly or indirectly, it’s been responsible for about 60% of our business during the last six months.
Even though it’s only tangentially related to what we do, it’s a way for people to find us, like us and trust us. We never set out for it to be that way, but it’s a nice side-effect.
Your offer can (and will) change over time
As you get a better idea of what your buyer wants – and indeed, who your buyer is – your offer will change.
Again, take us: we started by offering copywriting, then shifted into copywriting + web design, and now we’re shifting again into consultancy + copywriting + web design.
You won’t nail your perfect offer first time. As you make more offers, you’ll get better at identifying what people want – and articulating it in a way that overcomes their natural hesitation about buying.
You’ll spend more time working on your platform than on client work to start with – and that’s OK
Building a platform is hard. Creating great content is hard. Earning attention is hard.
Sometimes it’ll feel like you’re wasting your time – no one knows you exist, and you should be spending your precious hours taking whatever work you can get. I admit it – not that long ago I panicked and scurried back to Elance to take horrible $75 jobs because I lost faith that what we were doing could earn us decent money.
But it’s OK to take the time. Create something worthy of attention, and it will come.
You must do this
Companies were created to deliver solutions to problems – or, if you’re cynical, create perceived problems then solve them.
For many reasons, companies are becoming obsolete. There’s a shortage of jobs, but there’s no shortage of problems.
Your new job is to find a problem you can solve for a particular group of people. That problem might ultimately be solved through software, or a video course, or a physical product.
But to identify the problem, and build the skills you need to solve it, my process is the best way I’ve found to get started.
- You’ll be earning money (albeit shitty money) from day one
- You’ll learn about your industry, your customer, and yourself
- You’ll have built a platform, so when you have your software/product/information solution, there’s an audience of people ready to buy it
OK, I’m throwing down the gauntlet now
Have you ever complained that you don’t know how to make money online?
Would you like to take your first step towards building an income to replace your job?
Are you just incapable of shying away from a challenge issued by some idiot on the internet?
OK, then here’s your challenge:
By 15 March 2013, I want you to earn $10 online – by any (legal) means necessary.
If you declare yourself “in” in the comments, you can ask questions about anything you get stuck on.