Don’t let the Zen masters fool you – making a decent living from freelancing is a seriously tough gig.
Despite its intoxicating allure of professional independence and moderate increase in the consumption of long macchiatos, as a freelancer you’ll soon discover that the nature of dealing with ambiguous clients, the constant mutual misunderstanding of expectations and occasional succumbing to horrifyingly unreasonable rates are enough to abandon the prospect of freedom entirely.
Fortunately, these can be mitigated. As a freelancer myself and often sometimes an employer of other freelancers, I’ve recognized that the freelancers who prosper the most are the ones who recognize tailor their entire marketing strategy and personal brand around a particular freelance ‘type’ – one that best encapsulates their personal characteristics and abilities. Sounds logical right? Like most things, it is easier said than done.
1. The Grinder
The grinder is your hardcore workhorse. The guy or gal or who likes ticking boxes and can churn out large quantities of output at a low margin or rate – it’s as if they live and breathe volume. Grinders excel at low-end administrative/management like-tasks, working to rigid structures and streamlining their operations so that the client gets exactly what they asked for at the rate specified.
If you’re the grinding type you should look for jobs where the expectations and task requirements are explicit and straight forward – the scope should not be something that requires much negotiation. Seek to set straightforward payment terms and establish rates where efficiencies can be rewarded. The beauty about grinders is that the funnel seems to always be full for them – there is always a demand for them in virtually any industry.
Beware: creative types will tend to lose their minds when stuck in a grinder-like role.
2. The Specialist
The Specialist is the master of his or her trade who has grinded long enough to know what they are good at, identified a professional niche and has taken the time to hone their craft. Specialists are Grinders with expertise and clout – professional fixers who can produce wizard-like solutions that their clients could only dream of doing.
With Specialists, it’s all about ‘the work’. They have the ability to set the bar for the quality of their output, dictate the terms of their involvement and charge a premium on their efforts.
If you’re the specialist type however, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In a world of self-proclaimed ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’ the only selling point you really have at the end of the day is your history of delivering results that supersede client expectations.
Depending on your networks and industry, specialists can have either a very narrow or deep pipeline of potential clients as work can either be too specialized or too infrequent in its requirement. You have to love what you do.
3. The Diagnostician
The Diagnostician is exactly how it sounds. Diagnosticians love to take control of the room, diagnose a situation and prescribe a creative solution that plays to their strengths and still satisfy the client’s objectives. Examples of diagnosticians are high level advisors, consultants and strategists. They are the ones people call when they fear something bad might happen.
The chilling factor about Diagnosticians is that they thrive on a customer’s pain. Whether a business is bleeding cash, a website completely stops generating traffic (thanks, Google Humminbird) or when customers simply disappear, the diagnostician should be ahead of the curve – to know the client’s pain before it hits, or to be front and center with a solution when the pin actually drops. This is particularly useful for industries or fields that evolve constantly.
Diagnosticians should be wary of over-diagnosing or over-analyzing a situation. Clients don’t really like hearing about every little thing that is wrong with their product or business and Diagnosticians should be wary of falling into the trap of seeing problems that aren’t really there.
4. The Professional Polymath
The Professional Polymath is your jack and occasionally master of all trades. Whenever a client has a project that requires neatly packaged service all rolled into one, the Professional Polymath is their answer.
Professional Polymaths often have the ability to see the wider context – the big picture – to every task or required job function which serves well in developing long-term client relationships and establishing alignment with them.
If you’re a Professional Polymath, chances are you’re naturally intuitive, creative and can help the client see a breadth of opportunities beyond what’s merely on the surface. You can present a myriad of creative options to a single problem thanks to your ability to see related project dependencies and draw on abstract ideas.
Professional Polymaths can get too caught up in the creative side of the relationship and avoid making decisions that require immediate action. Being good at many things results in not being ‘masterful’ at anything and hence lack the ability to specialize. They should work with clients who are entrepreneurial in nature and who are looking to establish a long-term relationship from the outset.
Determining which freelancer type you are is critical to both to your personal success and wellbeing. Once discovered, you’ll start translating this newfound self-awareness into literally everything you do. The skills you need to learn, the relationships you need to build, whom you need to target as a potential customer and those you need to simply say ‘no thanks’ to are all elements you can positively affect.
Image credit: Ashley Percival