Freelancers May 26, 2020

Freelancers who mix consulting, education and building their own products

Ben Issenmann @Ben

Summary: I'm proposing a model in which freelancers can thrive professionally by diversifying how they offer their unique expertise. This model is made of three activities: consulting, education and building products.

How it works

  1. As you work with clients as a freelance consultant, you'll naturally spot recurring pains.
  2. You share that knowledge in courses.
  3. With the community grown and further insights built, you build a product.

‍The consulting phase it is crucial to refine your positioning, grow a small professional network, build credentials and spot wider trends. Pros of this activity: you get to choose when to work and with whom. You just trade your time for a unique expertise. Cons: as Naval wisely tweeted, "you’re not going to get rich renting out your time. You must own equity" The inconsistent flow of new clients is also of anxiety for freelancers.

With experience and enough abstraction, you then share everything you know in the education phase. This phase creates multiple virtuous circles, notably letting you charge higher rates for your consulting activity and creating an audience for your first product.

Finally, with an audience, experience and cash, you can remove yourself out of services and sell a product that grows without you.

What does it take to make this model work?

This model can only work if one's value proposition is differentiated enough. To make we need to sell, to sell we need to be heard, to be heard we need to conquer a space that’s our own. When online: don't try to be the best, try to be unique. The knowledge economy, with universities as its foundation, rewards hyper specialization. To escape competition while remaining relevant, aim for the goldilocks of positioning: no less than 10 and no more than 200 other people who say they do the same thing as you.

Hyper freelancing requires a broad set of skills. So many, in fact, that you can’t possibly be good at all of them. But as entrepreneurs of ourselves, this is an exciting self-development ideal. If freelancing is hard, this model is god mode.
Making good product decisions is almost diagonally opposite to making good consulting decisions. You need the ability to switch on/off the right parts of the brain easily. It's hard! That's why it's hyper freelancing. It's eclectic and intensely demanding.

Successful examples

This model is fantastic in theory. In practice, it's extremely hard to work out. So I started a list of all the individuals that fit this model of hyper freelancer, combining consulting, education and having their own products. Studying what made them successful is a good time investment. Here's the link to the full table: https://www.notion.so/supercreativeclub/3ddc0f52df4745fda12116d8c788c37b?v=f3d40d1f500146a2b7eedd4996e0d4e4

To read further about this model

This model was inspired by articles by Patio11, Jules Ehrhardt and a twitter thread by Daniel Vassallo.

If you found this article useful, you might like my Supercreative newsletter. I write a weekly email full of tips and tools like this for the modern creatives.

Looking forward to hear if some of you are striving to reach this model!

  1. 3

    Awesome post! Makes a lot of sense. I have seen this idea in snippets around the internet, and this is an excellent concise version. Saved!

  2. 3

    Great framework here @Ben. The goldilocks of positioning is a new tip for me! And love the term "hyper freelancing".

    1. 1

      Goldilocks of positioning is a term I made up too. I thought it described the challenge well. Thanks for the support.

  3. 2

    Amazing post thanks Ben. So nice when you find a new term that helps explain what you do. I'm in the early stages and have just started creating education material. Consulting and education are very different but complimentary at the same time.

  4. 2

    This is a great playbook. It’s exactly what I did going from freelancing in 2014 to building a product out of it that got YC funded.

    Doing it again right now actually...

    1. 1

      Would love to talk to you about your experience. Email me? ben at supercreative dot io

  5. 2

    This is a great post, Ben. I've been freelancing a couple of years and to be honest I'm a little exhausted with exchanging my mental energy for time. It's not scalable on its own; I could upskill and increase revenue but that doesn't quite solve the problem.

    So, as well as your three lines, I see a fourth, which is what I'm aiming for - the agency model. The freelancer builds their work into processes which can be picked up by others; they then become the owner and head of sales, rather than the executor of work. Easier said than done, but in my world (content marketing), it's a valid business model.

    1. 2

      Thanks for your comment! Running an agency can be even more exhausting than freelancing because of hiring and managing the team. Independence is gold.

  6. 2

    Wow, great overview and thanks sharing your insights! How did you proceed with your research? Where and under which criteria have you been searching?

    1. 1

      as I mentioned above, it came to me as an obvious realization, not a planned research. Since I wrote this article, I found the same idea expressed in different ways by Tiago Forte and a bunch of other people. I'll be covering more in a book that I've started writing

  7. 2

    I consult and build products, not so much the education leg. I'm also pivoting away from consulting, but that's how I started. I used my downtime to make my first product, and built it up. While I still take clients, I'm racing to build my product's income up so I can put all my focus on my own products.

    1. 2

      Right, going out from consulting is a great feeling ✨

  8. 2

    This is an insightful perspective, Ben. I work as Conversion Optimization for consulting and direct response copywriter as service provider. To be honest, I wasn't moved to go in education path, it's a full-time job and needs another mindset of instructor more than a freelancer

  9. 2

    Thanks for posting this framework - love seeing the articles you drew on to put this together, super helpful!

    I'm doing the consulting and education pieces of this now (product on the horizon but still putting ideas through the meat grinder). Using the ISA model for education, through the sharpestminds.com network - in return for providing mentorship and job prep to new data scientists, I get 5-10% of their first-year salary after they land a job. I know they have plans to expand to SE in the future!

  10. 2

    This is great for developers. But we can expand on it further. Have an indie stack. A stack of indie incomes. Mix and match your skills and desires.

    1. 2

      I like the idea of stacks. You should talk to https://twitter.com/sandochee about this! He will be liking this very much

      1. 1

        Thank you for the info! I'll reach out to him. We have a podcast we're building on the subject of indie income stacks. Looks like he would be a great person to have on!

  11. 2

    This is exactly what I am doing right now! I have been consulting for years, but now building my own educational e-book as I see a gap in the market. Thanks for pointing out the next step in my journey - product 🙂

    1. 1

      Great to hear! Good luck with your product 🤙

  12. 2

    Hey @Ben.

    This is a nice article!
    Reminds me of a similar article I've read before. The article is written by Tiago Forte in 2017 and it's called "The Rise of the Full-Stack Freelancer". Here's a link: https://fortelabs.co/blog/the-rise-of-the-full-stack-freelancer/

    Hyperfreelancing also has a nice ring to it. 👍

    1. 1

      Ohhh Simon thanks for sharing this! This is indeed very similar. A lot of great new ideas to connect with. Thank you.

  13. 2

    Thanks for sharing this insight @Ben. I am in this process myself. Currently in the education phase as I begin to build community and refine my offerings. I like how you have recognized this trend across multiple consultants and picked out some of the key factors for success. It certainly isn't easy and is a constant process of refinement towards ones unique value proposition. Thanks for sharing!

    1. 2

      Thank you Gordon! Interested to learn more about Open Source Capital...

  14. 2

    Kia ora Ben

    Thanks for this!

    Can you link to the articles that inspired this?

    Cheers,
    Tyler

    1. 2

      Hey Tyler! For sure, I couldn't in the article because I didn't have enough IH karma, so here it goes:

  15. 2

    Hey Ben - thanks for this, a very interesting model.

    I was honestly a bit stunned reading it because this is how I'm going to market currently and I didn't think it was "called something", I thought I was just straight up doing freelancing/consulting :)

    The twist I have is that I offer training/education as a paid service also, which is slightly different (I think?) than what you're proposing here because I think you're proposing "education as a product". Which I'm definitely considering as a next step also (or at least now I am, thanks for the inspiration!)

    In any case, cheers, this is a superb framework, thanks for putting it together!

    1. 2

      I'd be very interested in learning more about how you approach this model... Would you mind moving to either Twitter DMs (@creative_ben) or email (ben at supercreative dot io)?

      1. 2

        Porting this chat to email, stay tuned...

    2. 1

      Hey Masha, thanks for reading and the nice words. You're right, by education I mean any activity where you're selling your knowledge independently of your time.
      It was very exciting writing this because I'm currently pursuing this model too.

  16. 1

    I think the less risky path is...freelancer > create agency > SaaS

    Freelance and keep raising prices until you max out pricing, have a dependable lead acquisition source, LTV > CAC, and retention.

    Start an agency to scale your productized service.

    Build the SaaS app that does the productized service.

    Start it all over.

  17. 1

    great post. thanks. you might want to add Jack Butcher to the list who's productizing parts of agency work with visualizevalue

    1. 1

      Hey, thanks for mentioning him! Just added him to the list ✅

  18. 1

    Great post Ben!

    I think it's a good concept to have in mind. Trying to do the same.

    Do think a real-life chart of this is a little more...volatile. Haha.

    1. 1

      have you tried plotting your income revenues like that? Would you be open to sharing it (without the figures) with me or the broader public? tis interesting

      1. 1

        Haven't plotted it like that. Currently not wanting to share either (more so because it's a mess). Also, I'm not really representative I think. I do my freelancing on and off.

  19. 1

    Wow I love this innovation! Multiple streams of income that all build on each other. This encompasses everything in the Indie Stack theory. Have multiple sources of indie income. Check out the community below 👇 it’s all about exactly this!
    https://indiestack.org/

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