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Home / Tips / Turn into a Pro Freelance Writer,with Ed Gandia…

Turn into a Pro Freelance Writer,with Ed Gandia…

Darrell had the opportunity to interview guest Ed Gandia — from High-Income Business Writing — on what it takes to go pro as a freelancer.

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In this conversation, Ed talks about the power of copywriting, clear goals, pain points and strategies for freelancers, and why he created a coaching business to “help writers … earn more in less time doing work they love for better clients.”

In this episode, Darrell and Ed talked about:

  • How Ed transitioned to a full-time freelance copywriter (with no writing background)
  • The moment he narrowed down his target market and the rapid change that followed
  • What your prospects really want to know about you
  • Short-term vs long-term mindset, and building a freelance career that you love
  • Why “hope” is not a professional strategy
  • Proven strategies for building recurring income and clients
  • Why luck is a myth, and why you should never trade your time for money
  • And much more …

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The Show Notes

Read the Transcript

Darrell:              

Hey, Ed. Thanks for being on the show today.

Ed:                     

Yeah. Thanks for having me on, it’s great to be here.

Darrell:              

The reason I’m so excited to have you on the show today, is that I think that so many people who listen to this podcast can resonate with your story. So give us a little bit of background as now you are teaching some pretty amazing things, teaching freelancers how to earn better money from their writing. Tell me the story about how you started getting into freelance writing first.

Ed:                     

Absolutely. I had no idea that freelance writing or copywriting was a thing. I was in corporate sales for a while, and at the time I thought that it was a curse, but looking back it was a real blessing. I worked for companies that either were not interested or didn’t have the budgets to provide me with the marketing and sales materials that I needed to do my job. And they were all environments where you had to produce. You were measured monthly and quarterly and there were quotas, they were very strict, people would lose their jobs if they didn’t meet them.

So I’ve always been pretty resourceful, but I had to be extra resourceful in several of the jobs that I had. And I realized that I had to put the stuff together myself, and I was not a writer, I don’t have a writing background, I was a finance major in college, and ended up in sales, which is not where I wanted to be. So I start putting this stuff together and I realize I need to do a better job, I’m sure I’m not doing it right. So I started reading and taking online classes and doing everything I could to get better at this work.

The cool thing, and this is extremely rewarding, is that it started to work. So I was able to generate more steady consistent and better leads by writing stuff, and to me that was fascinating, because to me it was like selling on paper. And at one point it hit me, “I wonder if I could do this for a living?” Like just the writing part. It’s still sales, but it’s selling on paper. And I investigated and I realized that yes, you can do this, it’s this thing called freelance copywriting, and you could work on your own and do this for separate outside clients.

So I did that. I started marketing myself, and I did this on the side for about two and a half years while I kept this full-time sales day job, right.

Darrell:              

So at that stage, you just mentioned that you were reading stuff and you’re diving deeper there, what were you reading? Or where were you going? How did you figure this out as even a concept in your job, as a concept, that copywriting could help there? Do you remember books or blogs or things that were helpful for you that time?

Ed:                     

Yeah. So this is like the late 90s, and I remember one of the… So I’ve always been a reader and I’ve always known that there are solutions out there. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. So I remember in the late 90s, in early 2000, I remember looking up books on how can I write a… I’d even call it a sales letter, some kind of letter that will help me get an appointment with a prospect. And there were a couple of books out there, one was called Selling to VITO, which stand for very important top officer, and they had a very specific format, and so I copied that.

Of course, I wanted to know why it works and, “Can I make this my own? How can I refine it?” And it worked. And there was another one, I can’t remember the book, but it was a similar approach, and you send the letter, the same letter, to like five people in an organization, and they all scramble because they don’t know who’s going to respond. So they’re communicating with each other and you create this energy within the prospect, and then somebody ends up responding. And it worked.

And I thought, “This is beautiful.” And then a couple years later I had a colleague in a different company who said, “Man, you know what I’ve been doing? I’ve been sending out faxes, like I scrape these lists and I put them together, and I get all these fax numbers and I sent these faxes overnight, and the next morning I get all these leads.” And I thought, “That’s fascinating.” So long story short, I copied that approach. I didn’t look at… but I wrote copy. I didn’t know I was writing copy, I didn’t know there’s such a thing, and-

Darrell:              

Like old school? I love that, the content marketing is happening through a fax machine. I love it, that’s old school.

Ed:                     

… Yeah. This is 2003, there was a new law that made this illegal. This is pre-2003. But, Darrell, it was like magic. I wrote this, it was a one pager, and it talked about the software tool that I was selling. And it says, “Look, if you want a free, no obligation 20 minute demonstration, just fill this out and fax it to this number.” I had this program called Windfax, that would basically just crank out these faxes overnight, all night long, out of my home office.

The next morning I would start getting these filled out forms, “Yeah, I want a demo. I want a demo.” That would fill up my week. And I had a process, about 25 to 30% of those demos turned into customers. It was beautiful. So you can imagine why I got hooked, right?

Darrell: 

Yeah. Like, massive success, instant success from the practice of writing. I love it. So then you started doing freelance stuff. From the success you saw individually, you really loved that process, you started doing freelance stuff. What was that process like of finding clients when you were doing this on the side? Because you’re selling, you didn’t even know that copywriting was a thing, now all of a sudden you’re copywriting and it’s becoming really successful, now you start thinking about freelancing. Where did the clients come from? Was it other sales people? Was it other similar people at different organizations? Where were you finding clients?

Ed:

Yeah. I wasn’t sure where to start. So I thought that if I just said, “Look, I’ll write anything for anyone, and this is my background and these are the results that I’ve been getting, that build it and they will come.” Well, that didn’t quite work. So then I started writing and mailing sales letters to companies that were in this direct mail handbook that I found in the reference section of the library. And back then I had to bring in a bunch of pocket change and make copies of these pages at the library, because you can’t check out the reference material.

And I would send out hundreds of letters, and nothing. I think I got one that responded. And it wasn’t… this was months of this, okay, but I was determined to make this work, because at the time, one thing I didn’t tell you, is my sales job was getting harder and harder, my employer was pushing me to travel more and more, and take over this other product that was going to require more travel, more stress. It would have set me on a great career path.

But we’d just had our first child, and I know me, I’m very driven, and I know where I would’ve ended up. I would’ve never been home, my kid would never know me, my wife would leave me. And-

Darrell:

Sounds like a country music song.

Ed:

… I was thinking the same thing. My dog died… So I didn’t want to end up there. And I knew that I would very quickly if I stayed on that path. So I needed to get out. Moving to another sales job wasn’t going to do it, because it’s always about ever increasing quotas. Even if I’m fine where I am, your employer’s not fine with that. So I had to leave. What ended up changing things for me, is once I narrowed my focus and focused on one target market. And I said, “I helped hi-tech companies write better marketing materials that are more effective, that generate leads and convert more leads into customers.”

And within a couple of weeks things started to change for me, because it wasn’t writing anything for anyone, it was, “Here’s who it might help, and here’s why I focus on this market, because of this background that I have.”

Darrell:

Talk to me about a timeline here. So you start trying to get freelance clients, you start freelancing on the side, but how long was this on a timeline? I’m trying to visualize it here.

Ed:

Yeah. So this was fall 2003, I started throwing spaghetti at the wall. Nothing happens until February 2004, that’s when I really focus. I spent two months or so really refocusing that target market and reworking my website and everything, and then start prospecting. Fall of 2004 I start landing clients. It took me six months, once I pivoted, it was a six month period, man. Looking back I have no idea, I must have been really motivated.

Darrell:

Yeah. I think a lot of people would have given up, and I think a lot of people probably have given up in, I mean that’s like basically a year, you’re saying fall 2003 to fall 2004 until it’s really working, you’re spending a year honing this, trying to make it work, trying to get the clients coming in. It’s a long time to keep going at it. I think sometimes family does that, when you kind of know that you want to shift things personally, and you have a different vision for your life. And shifting family, I know that personally, just having had a baby four months ago, it really shifts and gives motivation to make things happen differently.

You mentioned narrowing the focus, and I think this is a huge deal, and I think it’s a paradox or paradigm shift, because narrowing the focus feels like I’ll have less opportunities-

Ed:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Darrell:

… but I think it’s the missing step from a lot of people’s success. So talk to me a little bit about that a little bit more, of why you did that, how you knew to do it, and the results that came from that.

Ed:

Absolutely. So I realized that I had to leverage my background. And I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but I was really focusing on my results, the stuff that I was doing, but that’s not enough. What prospects really want to know is, “Is this guy or this gal get me? Do they understand my business? Do they understand the targets, my prospects, the markets we’re going after? Do they get it or am I going to have to start from the very beginning? I don’t have time to handhold the writer.”

So if I can come in with all of that, that’s huge, because they know I already get it, they don’t have to start from the beginning. And it did, it worked like crazy. And then I was able to… One of the things that I talk about these days, and I try to let writers and copywriters, whatever stage of the game they’re in, is when you start narrowing things down, don’t narrow down too much. So think of it as a pyramid, you don’t want to start at the very top, which is where I was, I’ll write anything for anyone, and you don’t want to start at the very bottom, which is like ultra, ultra niched.

You want to be somewhere in the middle. So I started with, “I write for hi-tech companies.” That’s still really broad, but it made a massive difference. Once I started getting results, started getting clients, and saw where I was getting traction, and what I liked and didn’t like, then I started narrowing things down. I said, “Enterprise software,” that was stage two, enterprise software clients. And then it was-

Darrell:

The down, down. I like that. Down, down is kind of how I talk about niching, is, “I want to write for everyone. Well no, I want to write for down, and then I want to write for down.” And just narrowing two steps down makes a huge difference when focusing on a niche, so I love that you mentioned that.

Ed:

It does, but a lot of people try to go down, down, down on the first step.

Darrell: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ed:

And that’s all theoretical. We don’t know. So down maybe one, maybe two at the most, and then let’s see. Let’s see what you get.

Darrell:

Yeah.

Ed:

Eventually, I narrowed it down to, “Enterprise software clients in these three sectors, and my specialty is these three types of projects.” I was able to… But that took years, right?

Darrell:

Yeah. So how long were you doing this on the side until you started doing it full-time?

Ed:

It was about 27 months, so a little over two years, because I quit my day job in May 2006. June 1st 2006 was my first day self-employed full-time.

Darrell:

Wow. Talk to me about those two years. That seems like a lot of work to be doing two jobs. What was that like? What was the process like while you were working a full-time job in sales, copywriting at that job, but then freelancing on the side? I’m assuming nights, weekends, long nights.

Ed:                     

It was. It was tough. I think too, so I mention, one, it was in my motivation, that I knew I needed to get on a different path. I had no choice. Another one in no particular order, I had a very… I still have her, but a very supportive wife. She believed in me from the very beginning, and she saw the results, which made it better. And she was behind me 100%. You really need to have supportive family, supportive partner. Another thing was that I was just busy. When you’re just busy, you don’t stop to think too much. Looking back, see now that I have time to reflect, I don’t know. How did I… Well, I was busy, so you do it.

And I think also becoming resourceful and just doing it, the Nike thing. You start finding time, you realize at first… I think I had an advantage, and this is pre-Netflix, so you just cut out things that are kind of unnecessary, and you become resourceful. So I would wake up about an hour earlier, you can get a little bit of work there, at least some planning, and get a hard start on some stuff. I would put my son to bed, and from eight to 10, Monday through Thursdays, that’s eight hours, right, two, four, six, eight. That’s amazing, that’s time that I would’ve just been laying around on the couch watching TV.

And then Saturday mornings I would start about 6:00 AM and work til about noon, one O clock. That’s another six, seven hours. And then by noon, then I would have the rest of my weekend back, but I didn’t miss out on my family. Now I will say, look, at the end, it was just nuts, like spring of 2006, I remember working many Sundays, just working seven days a week. It was rough, but you just find the time. People say, “Well, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the energy.” Man, I wish I had something better to tell you, but it’s just you got to make it, you got to care it out, it’s not going to appear on its own.

Darrell:              

I think it’s really interesting. I’ve had this conversation at least two times this week with people who say, “I want this result for my career. I want to have this kind of career path.” And the short term thinking versus the long term thinking, when those two get mixed up, I think people have a really hard time. So if I were to say to… If you would’ve said to yourself, the June 2006 Ed would’ve said to the mid-2004 Ed, “Hey, if you work two extra hours at night and Saturday mornings for the next two years, you’ll have a career that you really love. Is that worth it?”

2006 Ed is very happy that he made the decisions that he made, and it’s a very easy decision from that place, that forward thinking of 2006 Ed. And I think that there is no shortcuts. There is no shortcuts.

Ed:                     

There isn’t. And you know what? When you start seeing results, Darrell, I mean like somebody’s paying you for this stuff, and now you see your bank account grow, it is like, “Wow.” So that’s further motivation. I think if you go two years without getting anything, that’s tough.

Darrell:              

Yeah, for sure. Is there anything that you were doing in that time to keep yourself focused on the end goal? Or was it just that you were so busy and this was working for you, that you just weren’t thinking about it, then woke up one day? Or was there any type of practice of reminding yourself that you were moving towards a certain goal?

Ed:                     

There was something big. First of all the motivation of… So our CEO was becoming harder and harder to work with, and I started in… while I was doing this, I presented some ideas to him that would’ve made I think a significant difference in the business, especially in my product line. And he took the meeting, but he flat out said he didn’t believe it, or he didn’t agree. And I was so upset that… Anger is a big motivator for me, anger and… Well, yeah. I was just angry. And I remember that day, it was December, it must’ve been December 2005 or 2004, I said, “Oh, that is fuel right there. I’ve got to get out of here. This guy just doesn’t get it. I need to do this on my own for sure.”

The other thing was I was getting results and I had some targets. So this is something I highly recommend everybody do if you’re looking to transition, set some clear targets. I had basically three. One was I saved every penny pretty much that I earned from my side hustle, after taxes and after some expenses, because my goal there and the target was to have a year’s worth of living expenses. Now, that’s aggressive, you don’t have to have that, depends on your partner. My wife was a stay at home mom at the time, so I was a sole breadwinner.

It could be six months, whatever, you set it. So that gave me something to monitor, which is helpful. The second thing was to have what I call a trigger income goal. Trigger income goal is essentially the part-time equivalent of what you would need on a full-time basis to live, and when you hit it three times in a row, to me that’s, “Okay, you’re ready.” So in other words, I don’t have the capacity to work full-time, I’m doing this part-time. What number do I have to hit consistently part-time to let me know that if I had the full-time capability, I would be able to convert that to a full-time income that I need, right?

Darrell:              

So break that down for me. Let’s use some real numbers here. If I’m needing to make $7000 a month full-time for my expenses, break that down. Give me an example here, I want to visualize this with real numbers.

Ed:                     

Sure. So a good ratio, in that case, is to start with two to one. So if I need 7000, depending on how many hours you’re working part-time, I would say that $3500 consistently every month would translate into $7000 full-time, right, if I had that full-time capacity. So for me, it was like $8000, then I knew I needed to hit $4000 a month for at least three months in a row to show me that, “Look, I could consistently earn $8000.” Okay? So that’s the trigger income goal, and it’s just… you shouldn’t look at it on its own, it’s just another variable to consider.

So there’s a savings target, trigger income goal, and then the third one is kind of a simple one, but at the time I needed to be able to get health insurance for my family. So it was a different time and I wasn’t sure, “Can we qualify? What’s the deal? Can we get self-employed health insurance?” And I needed to get that taken care of. So if I could meet all those three, the third one was simple, then I knew that I was ready. So those were big drivers for me, those very specific objectives.

Darrell:              

Ed, I love that framework. And I know a lot of pain points for people who are going freelance are the up and down variables of income. When you have a full-time job, every two weeks or every month or whatever the schedule is, you get a paycheck and it shows up regardless, but then when you go freelance there’s a lot of variables, ups and downs, and that’s really hard for a lot of people to overcome, and it sounds like this idea is the beginning of that, to help stabilize some of that in the future. What else did you do to help stabilize the ups and downs, or client sends a payment late, or a check gets delayed in the mail or some of these other freelance pains that happen in your transition?

Ed:                     

So that’s a great question. I really believe there are three reasons. I’ve been working with freelancers for a long time, and consistently the three reasons that I see that people quit or can’t make it happen are, they can’t get clients or steady, or enough clients, number two, they can’t work out the cashflow thing, they just don’t know how to manage their cashflow effectively, and number three’s related to number two, which is they can’t create a business where a big chunk of what they’re making is recurring. And I knew that in order to make this work as a sole breadwinner, I needed a recurring income.

I couldn’t be wondering every month, “What’s next month going to look like? I have zero idea.” That wasn’t going to work. I had the savings, I was okay, but I needed that predictability. So very, very important, what I find, many freelancers just don’t think of it that way, they just kind of go month to month or week to week.

Darrell:              

And hope projects show up.

Ed:                     

And hope projects show up, yeah. But I love… there’s this title of a book, Hope Is Not A Strategy.

Darrell:              

Yeah. That is a great title by the way. So talk to me about that, because I think that’s a really interesting way of thinking about it. I think a lot of people think about it from project to project, I think a lot of people hope that clients show up, they hope they get an email, they hope one of their clients refers somebody else. Talk to me about more professional or pro strategies to do this, because I mean, even here, I’ve been doing freelance work for a long time, and even now I’ve been very successful at it, I’ve been very grateful to have great recurring projects coming up, but how do you think about going from a project to project mindset to a recurring mindset?

Ed:                     

There are a few things. One of them we won’t get into here, but I need to mention it, which is steady prospecting. Okay. A lot of people, they know they need to do it, but two things stop them, fear, fear of rejection, fear of, “I don’t know if I’m good enough,” imposter syndrome and all that, or they get too busy and then they stop the marketing machine. Both fear mistakes and both can be overcome. There are just strategies around that, but I have to mention it here, because that in and of itself, will take care of a lot of this problem, okay?

But then we get into, “Okay, how can I make my income, once I do generate income, more recurring?” The first one I’m going to mention is one that comes up a lot and might seem like common sense, but a lot of people don’t do it, think retainers, okay. Go after retainers. Now, with retainers, most of the time you won’t be able to get them as the first engagement with a client, okay? So I recommend… Retainers are kind of like living with someone, finding a roommate. You don’t want to come up to somebody and say, “Hey, do you want to be roommates and sign a 12 month lease on this apartment?” Right?

You want to hang out with them for a bit and then see how you get along. And then maybe at some point, two, three months down the road, say, “Hey, do you want to get an apartment together?” So retainers are a big one, because retainers are essentially… you’re working with a client on a set of deliverables that you both determine is going to work and are needed over a certain period of time for a steadily fixed sum every month of money. That’s kind of the classic approach, and that’s the one I recommend. I do not recommend selling a bank of hours, and that’s something we can talk about.

But retainers, they’re a big one. One of the things that helped me, especially early on, is I had a couple of retainers that basically took care of a big portion of my monthly income goal, and I knew that it was repeatable and predictable.

Darrell:              

So I want to dig into this a little bit deeper. It sounds like what you’re saying is, “Start out with a single project, but then move into a deeper relationship after that project is over,” am I hearing that right?

Ed:                     

Yeah, it depends. It could be one project, sometimes it’s a couple of projects. I purposely set things up so that I have a chance at retainers, and the way I do that, is I go after clients that I can tell are probably going to have a deeper need, not just a one-off project. The one-off might be, “Hey, this is our immediate need,” but it’s not a small mom and pop operation. I can tell like-

Darrell:              

How do you notice the difference? Are there like red flags or things to notice for in a client that might just be a one-time thing versus somebody who has the potential to be a longer-term engagement?

Ed:                     

Well, typically they’re going to be… you can tell they get content marketing, and based on what they have on their website, you could tell that they have a budget for this, so… as opposed to someone where this is going to be their first ever case study or white paper, that’s going to be a tougher one.

Darrell:              

Yeah. And then, do you have any strategies? Like, are there any strategies once you’re done with that initial engagement or you’ve identified this prospect as somebody who could potentially have a long term implications in a retainer way? What kind of strategies do you have to take a first project? Or how do you approach that first chunk of work that you do to kind of think long term, to more of a retainer?

Ed:                     

Well, the first thing I notice is how does this seem to be working out from a relationship standpoint? Many times I can tell, we just have conversations, they really love the work, they’re really happy, and then they start talking about other things they need help with. And then based on that conversation, what I’ll do is, “You got all the stuff that you’re looking to do, I definitely would love to do more with you.” And then I present the idea and see if it would make sense to discuss, and we’ll set up a separate call for that.

And the way I pitch it is, “Would it make sense to talk about a way we could work together where I basically put you in the front of the line?”

Darrell:              

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ed:                     

“Where you are basically going to be a top priority for me, and there’s no guessing as to what’s Ed’s availability, because my availability varies depending on the week, right, I got several other clients. Would that be interesting to you?” So notice I didn’t talk about, “Do you want to save money on this stuff?” Or make it all about me, where I say, “I really want some kind of commitment from you.” Right? So it’s all about how you frame it. And that’s worked the best for me, because that peaks their interest, and then we can have a conversation at that point.

Darrell:              

And you mentioned not structuring it as time or hours for money. Dive into that a little bit deeper for me, because I think that’s a lot of how I think about working, especially if you go from either an hourly job or a salary job, in the back of your mind you’re always like, “Well, I’ve worked this many hours, I’m getting paid this much,” and you’re breaking down your time that way. So if it’s not a time for money situation with retainers, how do you think about structuring terms on an agreement like that?

Ed:                     

Yeah. I’m really against the time for money thing, because it creates so many problems. Look, relationships will end that way, not right away, but you’re heading down the wrong path. The way that I get them focused, even if they start talking about hourly and all that, I get them focused away from that and into a discussion about, “Let’s try to come up with a list of things that over the next six months you would like to accomplish, right, actual deliverables.” And I know that we may have to guess on some of this stuff, but it does two things.

First of all, many clients, especially the more sophisticated ones, they will have an idea, a pretty good idea. And in the areas where they don’t, this is a really helpful exercise, because it will force them to think more about this and set some targets. It’s like, “We’ve talked about four white papers a year. I think this would be the time to… Let’s put that on here and commit to it.” So you essentially come up with like a whole basket of deliverables over the next six to 12 months, that we’d like to get out there, and you start with that.

And then what I do, I won’t get into too much detail here, but I’ll throw that on a spreadsheet, and this is my internally, I don’t show them this, and I put all the deliverables in different rows, quantity for each, a price, a fee for each then an extension, right, so what would be the total for that line item, and then I’ll add it up. I will automatically take a slight discount, which again, I don’t discuss with them, and then I’ll basically divide that by six or 12, depending on the number of months, so it’s really simple.

It’s what we want to accomplish, what’s the total for all that divided by the number of months, and just present that. And again, when I present it, the thing I lead with is the fact that, “You’re at the front of the line. You’re going to get priority, we’re going to get this done, faster turn around. And then as a secondary benefit, and you’re getting a break here on this stuff.” But I’m not presenting the itemized lists and how I came up with that, I’m just giving them the number and focusing on the value.

Darrell:              

Why don’t you give them the itemized list? What happens if you show them the itemized list?

Ed:                     

Well, I say itemized, I mean I will detail everything, but I don’t get into how much per each and what’s the extension amount for each, I don’t get into that, because what will happen is the focus will quickly shift back to per unit.

Darrell:              

Yeah.

Ed:                     

“Now that I see this, do we really need that many case studies? I don’t know. How can we bring this down?” You know?

Darrell:              

Yeah.

Ed:

And instead of, “Dude, let’s get the focus back on wouldn’t it be awesome to get all the stuff done, and then know that you can count on me to get it done?”

Darrell:

Yeah. I’ve learnt the same exact thing, like we stop putting price per action, especially because there’s a lot that goes into planning these projects that cost time, and we put a value of that on our time, that when a client might see, they’re like, “Oh well, we don’t need that much planning, we can just go and execute.” And it’s like, “No, that planning is a really important part of this process, and you’re always wanting to X out the planning side of what we do, or the discovery side of what we do, and that actually makes this a lot harder.” So we’ve learnt the same exact thing as that when pricing retainers. It’s super important to keep that behind the scenes a little bit so that you know, and they’re just seeing the end results versus some of those line items.

Ed:

Absolutely. It’s human nature, I think we all do. It’s some kind of cognitive trap, I forget what it’s called, but I learnt the hard way not to do it.

Darrell:

Okay. So June 2006 you start full-time as a writer, this is still 14 years ago, amazing. How long until you were doing other things? Because I know now, like I have the privilege of having spoken to you prior to this meeting, but I know that you’re doing a lot of other things, doing a lot of teaching freelancers and copywriters now. You’ve written books and you have your podcast, but how long were you just doing freelance writing and copywriting as a profession from June 2006?

Ed:

So a part of… in fact, it actually ties into this theme that we’re talking about, recurring revenue, so I wanted to add as much recurring revenue into my business as possible. There were other things. By that time, by 2008, I had two great retainers, some of them, oh man, they were so profitable, because then I brought other people in who could help me do the work, which by the way, if you’re looking to scale, recurring revenue is absolutely key, because then you know you can give that kind of commitment to whoever you’re bringing on board, right, as a contractor.

So things were working really well, but then once you do it, you’re like, “Okay, let’s figure out more ways, and maybe a higher percentage of my income needs to be recurring.” And I started dabbling with information products. Now, this is early 2008, okay, this is like 4700 years in internet years, right, this is pre-Kindle, and I wrote what I at the time was calling an ebook, it was as PDF ebook, this is before ebooks were a thing, before Kindle. And it was 160 pages on how I transitioned from being a full-time traditionally employed professionally to full-time freelancer when I was the sole breadwinner.

How do you make that transition? Because people were starting to ask me questions, “How did you do it?” So I put together… I basically documented everything I did, and I put it together in a PDF guide, and I started selling it for, I want to say it was like $29 or $39. And I didn’t have a mailing list, so I just went out to people who I knew did in the copywriting space, and they offered to sell it for me as an affiliate. And it worked. It started selling really, really well. So then that’s when I started thinking, “You know, I really like teaching, I really like doing this stuff.”

So I went… started going down this path. Well of course, I still had all my clients, but I started putting together information products that would help people with some of the things that I know I needed help with at the time, so kind of scratching my own itch if you will. This is 2008, so that was like two years later.

Darrell:

Yeah, wow. So you went from being a copywriter, then teaching copywriting and the career around copywriting in 2008. So fill in the gap, 2008 to now, there’s a lot that you do. Give us the… from there to now, dabbling in info products. Also, it sounds like scaling a copywriting team to maybe like a small agency, from then to now, tell me the story.

Ed:

Yeah. So one of the things that I started doing is, I mentioned this a minute ago with how profitable one of my retainers was, is I had a client that needed all kinds of things and they didn’t want to hire full-time people for it. So one of the examples was, “Look, Ed, you’re writing our lead generation materials. We need someone who can basically make appointments with these leads, so that our sales people don’t have to do that, they could just walk into these demos and appointments.”

I happen to know someone who did that kind of work as a freelancer, and my first reaction was like, “No, I don’t do that.” But then I started thinking about it, and I call them back and I said, “I know someone. Let me get back to you.” And I put him on retainer, because then I was able to offer that to the client. I wasn’t the one doing the work, but I’d basically doubled his rate, his fee, to my client. So it was ridiculous, it was $3500, $4000 a month for something I wasn’t even delivering.

I had to do a little bit of project management every week, and reporting, but that’s it. Then that expanded into, “We need someone who can stay in touch with our clients and just see how they’re doing. Do you have someone? Can you…” And I found someone, I knew someone who said, “I’m not interested, but my sister would. She did that for Hewlett Packard.” Brought her in, and again, doubled her rate. And so you get creative, but I think a big part of this is… I was talking to my son about this the other day, he’s like, “Oh, it’s all luck. All these people are…”

You know what? Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I was prepared, so when the opportunity came, I took advantage of it. I think we have so much of this opportunity coming to us, you could say I got lucky. Yeah, there’s some unearned luck for sure, no doubt about that, but many times you got to pay attention. I was attuned to these things at that moment, because of all this recurring revenue, that was like a big focus of mine, that when I saw them, I could smell them. It’s like, “Yeah, this might be an opportunity.”

So then that gave me… The reason I mention this is that gave me the bandwidth, the runway if you would, to start looking into other things that I could do, other side hustles. And one of them, it is I launched a blog with two colleagues of mine, and we eventually turned that blog into a book. And we pitched it, we got an agent, and we ended up with an imprint of Penguin, who took the book, The Wealthy Freelancer, which basically helped me launch my coaching business. So we knew the book was just going to be a platform, and we were able to use that platform to create a coaching business.

Long story, but ended up buying their share of the business from them in 2011, 2012. And these days since 2012, 2013, 90% of my income has been not from writing clients, but from coaching writers to help them launch or grow their business. The thing that I really focus on is earning more in less time. At the end of the day that’s what most of us want, right? To boost your earnings, but not to have to increase or time in a proportional way. This is what I do full-time.

Darrell:

Wow, that’s amazing. And I love that what’s you’re doing now, because it’s built on the back of you learning this and doing this for yourself. You’ve done this successfully, transitioning from a full-time sales career to a full-time and successful copywriter, and now teaching it. It’s pretty amazing to see the trajectory. And I guess I didn’t even realize how long the timeline was. You and I have talked several times in the past, and I didn’t realize how long the timeline was and how long the sustained success has been for you in this career, so congratulations on all that.

Ed:

Thank you.

Darrell:

So tell me a little bit about what you teach now, like do you have programs? What do you teach? And who are the people that you’re teaching? And what is the focus of what you’re doing?

Ed:

Yeah. So there are two different groups. One of them is, I would say, writers who know how to write, writers and copywriters who are good at what they do, but they’re looking to go freelance for the first time, and I help them launch their business, get it off the ground, and land their first paying client. The reason there’s such a very specific focus on that result is that I know that once you land your first paying client, you’re a different person, things change for you. So we work really hard on getting that result for clients.

So that’s one way I help writers. Then there’s like a big gap, and then I start helping writers again once they’re established, $5000 in income a month or higher. So $60, 000 a year all the way through… then I have another group that I coach where they’re all six figure very successful established writers, they got a different set of problems. People think, “Oh, I can’t wait. Once I make six figures everything’s going to be great.” And it will, but you still got problems, they’re just different.

So now it’s about, “Okay, how do I continue to scale without killing myself, without burnout?”

Darrell:

Yeah.

Ed:

So it’s really the ones who are starting out, then you’re mid career, mid level, and then six figures. And I need to figure out how do I scale this thing, or how I keep my hours or even drop my hours without impacting my income.

Darrell:

Yeah. That’s very true, the problems don’t go away, they’re just going to shift from different phases of your career. From talking to you, I know that mindset and thinking is a really big part of what you teach, what do you see as some of the biggest mind shift and thinking blocks that stop people from having success in a freelance writing career?

Ed:

Yeah, great question. We work a lot on the head game. One of the challenges, when you work alone, you don’t have someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of them, or when you’re down, you’re usually on your own, and that’s a dangerous place to be. So you have to constantly work on this stuff. Some of the biggest ones that I see are the imposter syndrome, some flavor of that. It’s like, “Who do I think I am to…” Fill in the blank, right? Something like 70% of America struggles with imposterism, I mean, it’s crazy.

But creative people, I would say it’s more like 90%. It’s really bad. So it’s like exercises and techniques to remind you that, “Look, it’s completely normal. Don’t try to suppress it, just let it be there in the room with you, and just, hey, welcome. I’m busy right now, so I can’t really talk to you.” And things like that. So it’s a lot of kind of like thought exercises and so, but imposterism is a huge one. Another one is the idea of selling your time, and there’s a whole thing there, because it’s not just about the way you quote it, it’s the way you think about yourself and your value, and in terms of my time as opposed to, “What can I help clients get or deliver?”

And by the way, it doesn’t have to be tangible results. I know a lot of listeners do content marketing. It’s not extremely measurable, but can I help a client? Can I help lighten their load? Can I help make their jobs better and easier? Can I help them look good to their bosses? Those are all results. And when you’re easy to work with, you come through on every deadline and every promise, and you bring ideas to the table, you start becoming more of a trusted advisor, like a key member of their team.

And the cool thing is, the longer you do this with a client, the more valuable you become, because why would they ever let you go? So thinking of yourself that way and then pricing accordingly and not feeling guilty. I have clients who come to me the problem they have there is, “I’ve had this relationship and I know I should charge X for this new thing they want me to help them on, which is big, but I don’t feel worthy, or I don’t think it’s fair.” And they really have all this conflict around that. And it’s, “Think of value, don’t think in terms of your time. It’s going to take you a lot less time, that’s okay, but that’s because you’ve been working with them for so long, you know their business so well, you shouldn’t now lower your fees because of that. That’s accumulated value, you already paid the price a long time ago. I bet when you started you were losing money.”

Ed:

So those are some of the biggest things, the mental blocks that we all have to work through every week.

Darrell:

I feel like you and I could talk for an hour just on the not trading your time for money thing. It’s a huge deal, and I see a lot of people who are freelancers who’ve maybe left a stable nine to five, probably similar to you and to my story, like frustrated with the situation they were in with their boss generally, then they go to freelancing and they’re just trading their time for the money, and instead of having one boss, they have five bosses, because they’re just trading their time for money, and instead of it being one boss, you have five bosses, and it’s actually worse than it was before, because you’re in the same scenario, just compounded by having multiple bosses at one time.

So I love this. I think it’s a super, super important thing. And I think I should have you back on in a few weeks or months, and we can talk specifically about the mindset around why you shouldn’t trade your time for money. I think it’s one of the most important conversations for sustained success in the freelance mindset.

Ed:

Yeah, especially when we bring it back to recurring revenue, right, because if you don’t get over that, the recurring revenue thing is never going to work, because you’re going to feel guilty. Because let me tell you, you know what your internal hourly rate will do? It will go from let’s just say, $80, $90 an hour to $250, $300 an hour. And that messes with a lot of people’s minds, like there’s a huge conflict there. So you have to be able to get over that and understand that it’s not about that. You should track your internal hourly rate, you should never publish that, but don’t let it impact you negatively and make you feel guilty or like an imposter.

Darrell:

That’s amazing. Yeah. We’re at 45 minutes into this conversation now, but this is another 60 or 90 minute conversation just on this topic alone. It’s really deep. And I do think it stems a lot from the fear of not being enough, or this insecurity of, “Is what I’m doing worth what they’re paying me?” I think it’s a really interesting mindset stuff, that really blocks us from getting this recurring revenue. So we’ve talked recurring revenue, I think this is the biggest take away from this conversation, is this idea of recurring revenue.

We’ve talked about thinking retainers. You mentioned briefly productized services. Tell me this a little bit more, because I think this is like what you’re talking about when you’re moving into information products, right?

Ed:

Yeah. So there are many different flavors of that. Productized services could be services you provide your clients, or a different audience all together. Productized services is just really a fancy name for saying fixe scope and fix fee. It’s like, look, I think that one of the problems that we have as freelancers is that everything is made to order. I always think of like a furniture… like a craftsman, a carpenter, every order that comes in is completely unique. And I mean, I’m not a woodworker, but that’s got to be exhausting. If you have to sketch everything out and everything is new and customized, that would be exhausting.

So productized services is, look, start thinking more in terms of, “Are there some things that I do a lot of, that I’ve done enough that I can basically create a very fix scope, and then offer that for a fix fee to a very specific audience?” And I bet that there are things in your business like that. And you don’t have to change your whole model, but I think a great first step is take something like that in your business, and start offering that. And it’s so much easier to market, because instead of being like, “Well, I don’t know. It depends.” “How much is this?” “Well, I don’t know, it all depends. Can you tell me more about what you’re looking for?”

That’s a customized product. But productized service is, “All right, here’s what I’ve got, and here’s what you get, and here’s the price. You want it or not?” So it becomes a yes or no thing as opposed to this long drawn out discussion. That can help with recurring revenue, because it’s easier to market, that’s one of the reasons. But and then, of course, with info products, those are productized services, but there’s all kinds of flavors with that, like you could create workshops for clients on the craft of copywriting.

I have a coaching client who does messaging and positioning workshops, “Fix scope, fix fee, this is exactly what you get, this is the outcome, this is how much I charge.” And you know what? These have been recurring, she’s done four or five of these recently, and they’re really good money, and she doesn’t have to redo them every time. They’re prepackaged, they’re good to go, so they’re systemized. So yeah, that’s definitely one that I would keep in mind that’s one of the many things you could do to add some recurring revenue to your business.

Darrell:

That’s amazing. Ed, tell me more about the programs that you have. And if somebody’s listening to this and saying like, “Man, everything Ed’s talking about, I’m struggling with. Right now I have five clients and I’m charging them by the hour, when those five clients are gone, I hope that more clients show up.” How do people engage with the courses that you teach and the coaching programs that you have? How can they get help that you have to offer as somebody who’s had such success over a long period of time?

Ed:

Sure. Well, thank you. I would say the easiest way is just to go to b2blauncher.com, so b, the number two, blauncher.com. I have all kinds of free resources there. I have a podcast, I’m coming up on seven years. Tons of great information, all free. And then if you think that you’d like to explore maybe having me help you get a specific results, just drop me a line. I communicate with everyone who joins my mailing list, and I welcome them. And let me know if it’s something you want to take a look at. But I would say three groups, those who have been out of corporate, you already write well and you’re looking about going freelance, even if it’s a side hustle, so that group.

And then if you’re already kind of mid level, or six figure, those are all three groups that I can help. And I think that’s the best way to start, is just to check out my website and the resources there.

Darrell:

Perfect. That’s amazing. And I’m very excited. I think you and I are talking about some ways that we can maybe do some individualized workshops for the copy blogger community. We’ll continue talking about that, and as we talk about that more, Ed, I’m positive you’re going to be back on this show again in the near future, and you’ll see more of Ed around. But, Ed, first of all, thank you so much. I’m so grateful for your generosity and sharing your story today, sharing some of the insight you’ve learnt over this I guess 20 plus years of sustained success since leaving your job, learning to copy write at that job, leaving the job, building a career, and then now teaching other freelancers who are similar positions.

I’m really grateful for your time today, your generosity with all the wisdom and all that. So thanks so much for being with us today.

Ed:

Oh, man. Thanks for the opportunity, Darrell. I love talking about this stuff, and hopefully some of what I said here resonated with a few of your listeners.

Darrell:

So if anything has resonated with you today, check out b2blauncher.com, check out Ed’s courses and coaching programs. And, Ed, we’ll talk to you again soon.

Ed:

Thanks, Darrell.


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