How To Grow Your Freelance Business (Even If You Have Too Many Clients Already)

Aaron Hoos

For several years now I have had a problem…

With business growth.

The problem is: I have too many clients.

Why is this a problem? Because it actually makes me stuck. My clients book me for big projects, long-term work, and send a ton of referrals. I end up overwhelmed with work and stuck to my desk because I overcommit and want to help my clients and their friends.

(Yikes! That was totally a #humblebrag. Sorry about that. It wasn’t meant to be at first and I promise that this post will reveal my many imperfections very shortly.)

I know I’m not alone in this problem. I’ve met other freelancers, copywriters, coaches, and consultants who have faced this same problem. Usually it’s business owners who have a strong brand and a half-decent sales funnel in a tightly-defined niche.

Business growth often starts with those very things: improve your branding and your sales funnel and your target market so that you get more clients, but for me and many other freelancers and professionals, we want to grow our businesses but don’t actually want or need to start at those fundamentals.

Is it possible to get business growth without getting more clients?

I’ve spent some time trying to unlock this puzzle and I’ve found that there are 7 ways to grow like this.

#1. Raise Your Prices. This might seem might like a no-brainer to most people reading this but I’m mentioning it anyway in the interest of being thorough. I was really good at raising my prices years ago and I’ve improved in the last year or two, but there was a couple of years, just recently, when I didn’t do a great job of raising my prices and I saw my income plateau for a while.

#2. Streamline For Efficiency. Whatever kind of work you do (whether copywriting, marketing, consulting, etc.), it is ultimately dependent on you to market your services, find clients, deliver your service, and perform administrative work to keep your business operational. Each of these can be improved and dramatically sped up by creating efficiencies. Maybe you track your time to measure when you work best, or maybe you cut back on some of the non-essential projects that you once did, or maybe you focus in even more on one type of work.

#3. Work Harder, Faster, And Longer. Okay, this probably sounds crazy to do since you might be reading this now because you are working too hard or too long. However, I’m listing it anyway to be thorough but also to encourage you to take a look at your work and decide when you work best and how you can work more effectively. As I write this, I just recently (nearly) doubled my income without any other changes than simply making sure that I’m focused for specific periods of time during the day and thinking about other things at other times in the day. Simply by tweaking my focus I grew my income. I also mention this because there may be times in your business when you need to burn the candle at both ends, so it’s a viable option as long as you’re not using this as a 24/7/365 approach to business.

#4. Build/Implement Templates, Systems, and Automation. This has been really big for me lately, too: instead of reinventing the wheel each time you do something, start with a template. Build it once and modify it whenever you need to do that work again. Use checklists and flowcharts as simple systems for everything you do. (For example, I write a couple of magazine articles every month so I have a checklist of things I need to do with those articles to make sure the project gets completed efficiently. The checklist keeps me on track and speeds things up.) Consider using software in your business to save time.

#5. Productize Your Services. Instead of providing a la carte services that clients can pick-and-choose, create productized services and offer those. It will save you a ton of time (especially if you used to spend a lot of time creating custom proposals and bids in the past) plus you get a ton of credibility AND can raise your prices even more with these.

#6. Create Products. I know you’re busy so this will be challenging to complete but a powerful way to grow your business is to create products, such as infoproducts. Start with a small book of collected blog posts or podcast transcripts, just to get something out there and get a bit of money for it. Once you see that passive income starting to come in, you’ll make time for other products.

#7. Hire A Team. I put this one last on purpose. A team is a powerful way to leverage yourself and build your business, however it’s often a stumbling block to freelancers because they either don’t see how they can hire a team, or they can’t find someone to hire, or they struggle with justifying the financial investment needed before they get a return. All those are perfectly understandable and I’ve had the same challenges too. (I have a team now but it took years to get it dialed in correctly.) A good starting point is to outsource some of your non-essential work. Do this slowly. I started by outsourcing my bookkeeping. Then I outsourced some of my really low-level marketing. Then I outsourced some of my research and editing. Today, I have a team that includes a couple of writers who write stuff in niches that I don’t want to write about and I use my marketing infrastructure to give them work and take a cut of the proceeds. But a few years ago I struggled to hire even one person! So, just start small with a virtual assistant working a couple hours a week and grow from there.

SUMMARY

For many businesses, the answer to “how do I grow my business” usually starts with better marketing, a better sales funnel, a more narrowly-defined niche, and a strong brand. But for businesses that already have those (especially freelancers), the question is: how do you grow your business when you don’t need more clients? These 7 ways can help you do just that. You can implement some right away and slowly add others incrementally when you can. Slow but sure, day-by-day, put these pieces in place and you will grow!

The Manifesto of Hard

It’s too difficult… I don’t think I can.

Those are words frequently spoken moments before a breakthrough happens and a transformative event takes place. Those words are uttered just before the person saying them achieves a new level in life, business, or whatever.

Things Are Hard

Things are hard. Every time we turn around, we’re faced with some difficulty or challenge — a seemingly insurmountable conundrum that threatens to push us backwards.

I’m talking here of everything in life. From the moment we enter the world until the moment we leave it, we’re faced with difficulties:

As babies, life should be simple because they really only do a couple of things (eat, sleep, and other less-adorable things) but those are hard for babies because they don’t always get the things they want and can’t easily communicate the problem. So there’s lots of crying.

As toddlers, life continues to be difficult. We’re learning to walk and eat and share and don’t reach over and smack someone else. Each of these things is achieved with a great degree of difficulty. (Have you ever seen a kid learning to walk? Yes, they’re proud of themselves when they finally get it but I’ve seen drunk people with better balance).

As children, we continue to face hardship. Going to school was hard. Making friends was hard, and so was losing those friends. Being bullied was hard. Learning to ride a bike was hard. All of those things are hard.

As teens, life doesn’t get easier. The challenges of life get even more difficult when you mix in puberty, romance, learning to drive, going to high school, preparing for college.

As adults, life continues to be hard. We’ve got bills to pay, kids to feed, managers to appease, aging parents to think about, and our own retirement that constantly marches toward us.

… And these are just the hardships we face when things are going fine. Mix in health problems, emergencies, job changes, social and economic uncertainty, and suddenly the hard things just got harder.

Yes, we do find joy in these times but there are many difficult things we face in life. It’s like a pendulum, with each extreme side of the pendulum as some kind of hardship while the center point of the pendulum is the brief period of respite when we can exhale for a moment of peace before things turn chaotic again.

The Problem With Hard Things

As kids, we had little choice; we had to face those hardships because we wanted to grow up. So we suffered the incredible challenges of learning to walk or going to school or learning to ride a bike or learning to drive.

But as adults, when we finally gain control of our lives (as much as is possible), we try to keep that pendulum from swinging too far to either extreme. We do whatever we can to keep the pendulum close to the center — close to the easiness.

This sounds good, doesn’t it? At the end of a very long day, when the kids have finally gone to bed, there is nothing easier than flaking out in front of the TV for a few minutes with a bag of chips, just to lose yourself in the story of whatever happens to be on. You’ve got an hour or two of this before you have to get up again tomorrow and do it all over again.

I think this is a problem.

I assert that hard is good, and the more challenge we accept in life, the better we are because of it. I also assert that there is a grave danger in trying to keep the pendulum from swinging too far from the center.

Too often we try to keep ourselves in that comfort zone, trying to strike a delicate balance between daily hardships.

I’m not just talking about kicking back in front of the TV. I’m talking about taking fewer chances with anything in life.

I frequently meet people who are dissatisfied in their jobs and want to quit; however, their desire for the default “ease” of a predictable life far outweighs their desire to leave their job, so the end up accepting the small daily hardship of their job instead of the hardship that comes with leaving.

I see it in business, too: People want to take the fast-track; the easy route. They want the reward without the hard work.

The most successful people in any endeavor are the ones who learn to accept, anticipate, and embrace the hardship required.

Why Things Should Be Hard

Things should be hard.

  1. Hard things are a filter that keeps most people out and lets only a few people through.
  2. Hard things are our “tuition” to a priceless education.
  3. Hard things are the price we pay for the rewards.
  4. Hard things define us.

Hard things are a filter that keeps most people out and lets only a few people through.

Hard things are our “tuition” to a priceless education.

Hard things are the price we pay for the rewards.

Hard things define us.

One more reason why things should be hard …

Hard Things Are A Guide

Hard things are a guide for us showing us the road less traveled… the road that may lead to greater success simply because too many other people took the easier path.

For that reason, we should think about running toward hardship… toward the hard challenges… toward difficulty… and embrace the struggle of challenging effort to sharpen us.

Hard things are a beacon, beckoning us away from the path of least resistance and tempting the right people (not everyone, just a few) to reach for more and to grasp it.

How To Embrace The Hard Work

  1. Prepare… but don’t prepare everything
  2. Get curious and learn as you go
  3. Embrace change
  4. Get comfortable with calculated risks
  5. Break everything down into the simplest possible controllable actions
  6. Get inspired
  7. Work tirelessly
  8. Become the person who rises to the challenge
  9. Lean on others
  10. Accept the challenge
  11. Sacrifice
  12. Love finding problems (and solutions)
  13. Make it easier
  14. Make it harder
  15. Get creative
  16. Don’t ever stop
  17. Recognize difficulty
  18. Perseverance
  19. Take risks
  20. Find joy in chaos
  21. Find joy in prevailing
  22. Feel alive
  23. Contingencies
  24. Set big goals
  25. Stretch and break your assumptions
  26. Don’t hold back
  27. Push yourself
  28. Double down
  29. Celebrate and then move on
  30. Chase down hardship

What’s Hard For You?

I love the saying, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” As a business owner who works with other business owners, I see that saying proved true again and again and again.

Lately it’s made me rethink my work and leisure time, to redefine what I find enjoyable, and to intentionally choose hard things that challenge me.

A few examples from my life and business just in the past year:

  • Expanding my real estate portfolio outside of my comfort zone
  • Pushing my physical limits in various challenges (like when I rappelled down the side of a 22-storey building or learned to rock climb)
  • I expanded my one-person copywriting business into an almost full-blown agency
  • I raised my prices again… and again… and again
  • I cleared out my client list dramatically
  • I said yes to several opportunities that will stretch me even though I haven’t figured out how to make them happen yet

Chasing and embracing hardship has a decisive factor in pushing me to the next level.

What’s hard for you? Maybe that’s the key to your next level.

6 Business Lessons I’ve Learned From Climbing

Aaron Hoos

Recently I’ve started learning how to Top Rope Climb! That’s a picture of me (above) at the local climbing center after a couple hours of climbing. That’s my exhausted face! haha

Climbing has always been an interest. Even as a kid I would climb whatever I could; heights never really bothered me.

When I moved to a different city in 2016, I found myself with a ton of free time and looking for an active hobby to pursue… and especially after I rappelled down a 22 storey building (using the same “belaying” method that climbers use to climb)… I decided that I wanted to take up Top Rope Climbing.

As luck would have it, a new climbing center opened in town so I went for a course and have returned to the center to climb now and then. I love it! I love the challenge and the workout.

Basically, you are tied to a rope to protect you from falling and then you climb a vertical surface that has holds for your hands and your feet. The size of holds, and their distance, as well as the angle of the wall, will all determine the difficulty of the climb.

As I climb, I’ve realized that there are a few business lessons to be learned. These are reinforced every time I climb…

Lesson #1

Before you climb, you make the best guess of what your route will be and how you’ll move from one hold to another. But once you’re on that vertical face, you discover what it’s really like and you make changes on the fly based on your up-close inspection of each hold.

The business lesson: Too many entrepreneurs never get off the ground. Many are overwhelmed by all the things you need to do to run a business, and A LOT of aspiring entrepreneurs think they need to have a perfect fool-proof plan before starting. That’s not true. Just like in climbing, you pick a path and make a best guess about how you’ll proceed, and then you get started… with the realization that it’s just a best guess before you start; you need the willingness to make changes as you go.

Lesson #2

When climbing, you’re tied off carefully and you climb with the confidence that if you fall there’s a system of ropes (and someone you’re tied to) to help you have a safe, controlled descent.

The business lesson: Very few businesses succeed right out of the gate. The mark of a successful entrepreneur is not always income and profit from day one. Rather, the mark of a successful entrepreneur is consistent progress in the face of failure. We live in a world where it is SO SIMPLE to start a business. So if one business fails, you just dust yourself off and start another. It’s not always easy but it is often simple. I love the idea that business growth is about getting to failure (and through failure) as rapidly as possible.

Lesson #3

Climbing is problem-solving. When you move from one hold to the next, you’re basically problem solving on the fly. I think that’s what I find so exhausting about it: you’re not just working out your body but you’re constantly working your mind, too: you reach a hold and have to decide “how do I hold it?” and “if I grab this one, what’s the move after that?” You’re trying to think a couple of moves ahead.

The business lesson: Every moment in business is problem solving. They aren’t always catastrophic problems but every moment presents a problem and/or an opportunity that you have to assess and decide and take action on. Do you pursue this client or that one? How do you spend your time? Where do you reinvest your money? How can you refine your brand? Is there a better way of doing something? There are a million moments like this in every business and your job as a business owner is to ask the question and problem-solve the best answer you can as you go.

Lesson #4

Successful climbing involves other people. Yes, you are tied to a belayer and that ensures your safety if you fall. But there’s another person who is invaluable when climbing (especially for a newcomer to the sport, like I am) and it’s easy to overlook these people—other people who climb a climb before you do. Watching them can help you know how to make the same climb.

The business lesson: Ironically, it seems that many aspiring entrepreneurs think they have to have it all figured out ahead of time before they even take the first step in their business; yet, so few will look to mentors and other people who are climbing the same climb ahead of them to learn from them. If you want to build a successful business, choose the type of business you want to build and then find other people who are doing it already and learn from them. Entrepreneurship is not about TOTAL reinvention of the wheel. Rather, it’s about finding other people who are doing it right and modeling their success with your own twist.

Lesson #5

When climbing, there are many different climbs you can do. There are really simple ones where all the holds are straightforward and easy to grip… but the climbs increase in difficulty to more challenging climbs where the holds are quite small and you have pinch them rather than grip, or perhaps the surface isn’t vertical but it’s tilted backwards. You don’t start climbing at the hardest climbs; you start at the simple ones and you perfect your skill on those before moving to the advanced ones.

The business lesson: It’s the same as in business. Even companies that started in someone’s garage and grew into big multi-national corporations didn’t go from one to the other overnight. They started with one customer and a simple product… then a dozen customers and a slightly more complex product… then a hundred customers and a slightly more complex product… etc. Start your business simply and grow organically, working from simple to complex and not trying to skip any steps along the way.

Lesson #6

I’m in pretty good shape but I find climbing to be exhausting. It’s a full body workout using muscles I don’t normally use, and brainpower too! I’ve learned from experience that you can climb for fun but as soon as it starts to hurt, you should stop. But, just like any other exercise, that “pain point” that you hit when climbing can take longer and longer to get to because your muscles develop for the workload. It may have taken an hour for my body to hurt from the exertion the first time, then an hour and a half, then two hours, and so on.

The business lesson: This is a lesson I’m relearning right now in my business! When you build your business you need to stretch yourself (and your business) until there’s pain (maybe until you stretch your budget too much or you push yourself too far or you end up breaking your system or even pissing off a customer) and then you stop, reassess, fix things, take a break, and start over. Each time you stretch to the pain point and then fix it, that pain point becomes farther and farther out.

I’m enjoying my new hobby… and I love seeing the connections between climbing and business! I hope you’ve found these lessons to be useful reminders for you, too!

How To Copy The Celebrity Chef Business Model In Any Industry

Celebrity chefs. Years ago it was a term no one had ever heard of. Today, it’s a phrase that has come to mean a very specific type of chef… and I would argue that, even though it’s an annoying and increasingly-overused term, it’s a business model that other businesses can steal and use to grow your business to a higher level.

What Most People Do (Versus What Celebrity Chefs Do)

Most people get paid to do a thing, whether a real estate investor, a stockbroker, copywriter, an accountant, a dentist, a mechanic, a photographer, etc.

You name it.

Likewise, chefs are known for doing a thing.

They’re known for… well… their “cheffing”. They plan menus and oversee the kitchen staff and they cook. They’re the hardworking staff who make sure that your food comes to your table delicious and just the way you want.

But celebrity chefs? That’s an entirely different animal.

They don’t do as much cheffing (in the strict sense) as they once did.

Compare Gordon Ramsey, Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, or Anthony Bourdain to… the dude whose name you don’t know but he cooked your meal at Applebee’s yesterday evening.

What’s the difference between the first group mentioned and the poor loser running the Applebee’s grill at minimum wage?

Ultimately, it’s not about talent (the Applebee’s guy is just following company recipes; we don’t really know what he’s like when he cooks without those restrictions… he could be amazing)…

… Ultimately the celebrity chef has moved beyond being paid in dollars for what they do and instead they are being paid in attention for showing others how to do it or how to experience it.

Here’s What I Mean…

A “non-celebrity” chef gets paid to cook and do all the regular cheffery expected of them.

A celebrity chef doesn’t really need to cook anymore. Sure, we see Bobby Flay cooking on Iron Chef America (at least until he quit) but when was the last time you saw Gordon Ramsey, Guy Fieri, or Anthony Bourdain in a kitchen to cook something?

It’s rare.

What are they doing instead?

They’re building media empires that talk about the craft of cooking or even how to enjoy the experience of food.

  • They’re writing cookbooks… and other books
  • They’re starting chains of restaurants and multiple brands
  • They’re creating in and starring in their own shows
  • They’re driving around the country in muscle cars or even wandering around the world sampling food and raving about it

They’re still creating, they’re still presumably doing some cooking, but they’ve scaled beyond that to create a media empire that builds on them and their (often ridiculous) personalities doing something more.

For celebrity chefs, it’s no longer about presenting a plate of food to a customer like they once did when they worked at Applebee’s… rather, it’s about creating a “character” and building an experience for an audience to consume.

And frankly, food just happens to be the main point around which they build everything.

Food is something we all understand and enjoy. And everyone has opinions about what food they love and hate, so there’s a lot of room for people to create emotion around it and to be attracted to some celebrity chefs while being repulsed by others.

But Does It Have To Be About Food?

I don’t think so. I think this same concept can work in other areas and industries.

What if you could become the celebrity chef of your industry?

… of real estate investing?
… of HVAC services?
… of car sales?
… of accounting?
… of dentistry?
… of gym ownership?
… of photography?
… of copywriting?

What kind of personality would you have? What kind of experience would you create?

What would you talk about, to go from getting paid in money for what you DO to getting paid in attention for showing how to do something or how to experience it?

What kind of show(s) would you have? What kind of brands would you create? What kind of books would you write?

The Big Lessons

  1. Guy Fieri is a ridiculous caricature. But he’s a brilliant business person who has created a powerful brand. You don’t have to be yourself to create a brand; you can be a character. (Here’s an old-ish blog post I wrote about building a celebrity brand)
  2. At some point you’ll likely teach people something… either HOW to do what you do or HOW to enjoy or experience the central thing that you do.
  3. Celebrity chefs are not really about cooking; they’re about media empires What can you publish? What shows can you produce? We live in an age where this is so easy.
  4. If someone else is already doing this in your space, that’s okay. There isn’t just ONE celebrity chef. You just need to find your angle. Guy Fieri and Gordon Ramsay are both over-the-top… but in different ways.
  5. This higher level creates “scale” so you can grow bigger, charge more, and build an empire (not just a professional practice).
  6. Of course the benefits of this higher level of business growth brings its own challenges… you need a team; you’ll have haters; you’ll fail more often.
  7. There are also interesting opportunities out there that you might not see right now. Anthony Bourdain was a fry cook; now he basically travels the world and gets filmed eating. There was a point in his life when that was unthinkable.
  8. The secret is to build the “attention machine” and then to keep feeding that machine with new things that support what you talk about. You’re creating sub-brands and shows and content and public relations to elevate your brand.

Celebrity chefs. They give us a template to grow beyond the confines of getting paid for what we do, and they show us how to scale up to something bigger.

Dotcom Secrets: The Sales Funnel Book I Wish I’d Written

Every once in a while I encounter a book that I read from cover to cover and thing, “I wish I wrote that.”

It doesn’t happen a lot. But when it does happen, I usually read the book a second time and take a ton of notes.

Such was the case with this book, DotCom Secrets by Russell Brunson.

Aaron Hoos

When I wrote my book, The Sales Funnel Bible, not a lot of people had heard of sales funnels. I usually had to spend time answering questions like, “What is a sales funnel?” before I could dig into how to improve your business with your sales funnel.

But funnels are big now. Really big. And among those raising awareness of funnels is Russell Brunson. He has a piece of software called “ClickFunnels” that businesses can use to market and sell their products and services. It’s kind of a plug-and-play all-in-one software.

And, to help him promote ClickFunnels, he has heavily marketed this book to describe funnels (and get people to buy ClickFunnels).

And the book is excellent. It’s simple to understand, incredibly practical, versatile for many businesses, and includes templates and scripts. The templates and scripts are worth well more than the price of the book.

Now, I’m not going to rush out and trash all the copies of The Sales Funnel Bible. I take a different approach: a little higher level, a little broader (outside of the scope of online businesses), a bit more strategic in some ways, a bit more tactical in others.

But Brunson’s book is a solid start for someone who is learning about sales funnels and how the can improve a business. It’s simple, elegant, visually appealing, and highly actionable. I wish I’d written it.

You can buy it here on Amazon if you want…