This post will help you with Phase 1 of the Black Freelance Foundations Workbook…if you haven’t started yours yet, download it now!
Whether your entrepreneurship is freelancing, selling jewelry, or building software, entrepreneurship isn’t easy.
Some people say that’s changed since the internet (which I learned today is no longer capitalized…just in case you care about those kinds of things), but if we’re being honest, the “easy” has been a trade off—it’s a lot easier to start an online business, but figuring out how to create a profitable, sustainable one? That’s possibly gotten harder.
Some coaches would have you thinking survival is all about blogging more, refining your brand, or launching a podcast…don’t get me wrong, those things are important, but they’re the icing on a cake a lot of people haven’t even started baking.
If you look at the businesses that have survived for 5, 10, 15 years online (which you really should be), they have something really important in common. That’s a deep and practical understanding of their audience and their market.
Whatever kind of online business you’re looking to build, there are a few ways you can develop that same understanding. You can…
- Have a traditional background and network in a profitable, established market (you’ll notice a lot of straight White guys who started niche businesses take this path through leveraging traditional, employed careers)
- Be a member of, and connected to a group of people who are willing to pay for what you sell (these are your lifestyle bloggers and YouTube gurus)
- Learn a market through trial and error
Most of us, if we’re being honest, have a tenuous connection at best to those first two. Me for instance…as much as I’d like to be a lifestyle blogger (I mean, I wouldn’t…I’m an introvert, but let’s just pretend), I don’t have a lot going on in my life that people would find too interesting. What I, and probably you do have though, is the ability to listen and learn.
This is why freelancing is so magical as an entry point into entrepreneurship. It gives an opportunity for those of us who might not fit more popular (“popular”, not necessarily “common”…remember that) models of online business.
When you really look at freelancing, it starts to look like a hybrid between employment and traditional entrepreneurship. I want you to read this post because that hybrid can be a great and incremental start into the world of entrepreneurship for those of us who might not fit other models. There are some very specific reasons for that.
It’s a cheap start.
I got scammed out of $400 in one of my first online businesses and dropped a couple thousand more down to get it going. I was running on pure entrepreneurial adrenaline, and an ignorant love of community. I learned a lot and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but that business was a financial loss.
My freelance business on the other hand, turned a profit after just 2 weeks. That’s because in general, starting off as a freelancer doesn’t require much overhead. Whatever you do as a freelancer (writing, accounting, design, etc.) you probably have enough to pull at least a few small clients. That means your biggest worry will be a web presence, which, if you get started on bidding sites, can be done completely free.
Later on you’ll want to look into paid education, custom web design, an LLC, logos and things like that, but most people should be able to kick off their freelance career for no more than a couple hundred dollars…max.
You learn an industry (or two).
I talk about niching a lot around here at BlackFreelance, and that’s intentional.
In a world where anybody and everybody can start a business overnight, distinguishing yourself isn’t an option. The best way to do that? Specialize. Specialization means that you’re investing in obtaining knowledge that will carry you throughout your career as an entrepreneur.
Where freelancing gives you a leg up, is that by getting involved in client projects, you get inside information. I regularly get pulled in to discuss strategy, issues with competitors, new product launches…I’ve arguably learned more about my industry as a freelancer than I did when I was employed.
It goes deeper than that though, because I’ve also learned about the needs of remote teams, tech businesses, freelancers, B2B companies, trade magazines…all kinds of things that can translate into a leg up if I decided to launch a traditional business in one of those areas.
You develop habits.
You ever look at an “entrepreneurship” hashtag?
If you haven’t, go visit Pinterest or Instagram and spend a couple minutes sorting through meme-sea I just dropped you in. While you’re there, you’ll probably notice that a lot have to do with habits and attitudes. Those are business skills that matter no matter what kind of business you have. They also take time to develop.
Doing that development as a freelancer in a safer, more secure environment (and basically on your clients’ dime) is a great deal.
You make connections.
Introverts and socially-awkward extroverts, pay attention.
Freelance networking is the easiest networking I’ve ever done.
When I was employed, and even in college, I went to networking events (for a while at the beginning of my career when I still believed that kind of thing worked for me) and I can’t think of one instance where it paid off.
The exact opposite is true in freelancing. People are much more concerned with what you can do than who you are (important for Black folk) and networking is an entirely different beast.
I’ve met people from all over my industry and who do the same work I do, and I’ve even made a little bit of change for making connections. If you want to start networking (even just as a new graduate or someone looking to change employed careers) try freelancing as a form of paid networking.
You get ideas.
All those connections and industry insights start to add up, and eventually, you start to see potential ways other business problems can be answered (which is what entrepreneurship essentially is).
This is why you’ll see a lot of the freelance resources for more advanced freelancers discuss topics like turning your freelance work into launching software products, services, and educational platforms for other freelancers (like this site…I’d love to see all our members do something similar)…entrepreneurship involves a special form of creativity, and spending time in an industry as a freelancer nurtures that in amazing ways.
Quality feedback comes at you fast.
That business I said I dumped a couple thousand into? Before I started, I asked a bunch of people if they’d be willing to sign up and almost all were on board!
They loved my ideas and I was elated. Once I launched my business though, those same people went quiet. I leaned an important entrepreneurial lesson real quick.
There’s a big difference between what people say they’ll buy, and what they’ll actually put down cash for.
This is where freelancing wins out again. You put yourself out there, and if nobody’s interested, you know right off the bat. What’s even better, is that in an age of bidding sites, companies are literally out there telling you what they want to pay for. If things get bumpy, you change, you pivot, you try a new target customer or a new niche and you start again with very little loss (effort and time aside.)
That’s business agility, and if you’re an entrepreneur with minimal resources, it’s invaluable to you. Use it to the fullest extent.
You learn about yourself as an entrepreneur.
The journey of entrepreneurship is a journey. If you’re just constantly launching new businesses and not learning and improving anything about yourself or your market, you’re spending your journey walking in circles.
A lot of folks who call themselves entrepreneurs do this—that’s fine, they can call themselves whatever they like—but if you want to progress, you have to be honest with yourself. This is how you keep from ending up that business-owner who’s owned by their business, or just as miserable in your entrepreneurial life as you were in that corporate job you ran away from (just without the vacations and retirement plan.)
Watch yourself, check your happiness, check your friends and family. Evaluate. Improve. Take advantage of the fact that freelancing allows you to do this with minimal risk possible.
So if you’ve read all this and are ready to try freelancing to see what kind of entrepreneur you can be, I’m going to ask you to do one of two things…either jump right in and come try a free month in BlackFreelance Academy (it’s only $7 a month and you’ll get great benefits including a community to keep you going even when you don’t feel motivated)
You can also sign up for our free newsletter if you just want to test the waters.
Either way, we’re happy to have you as a part of the growing community of Black freelance workers and hope you’ll join in this thriving, global career path.
P.S. And if you’ve got that cousin or friend who’s been an “entrepreneur” for 10 years and you still have no idea what they do, send them a link to this post or to my site on digital entrepreneurship here…I’m betting they can find a place for themselves over here in the world of freelance.
Clark Alford says
Great article as always. I guess the internet is important anymore, if it only uses a lower case ‘i’ (smile).
Great article. I agree – freelancing is kind of the ‘go-between’ between employment and entrepreneurship and I do think that freelancing is a great way to start when entering the route of self-employment.
As a freelancer, I’ve not spent a lot when starting out, I’ve learned so much and I’ve tried different things. A big part of freelancing is trial and error, so I’ve been able to test the waters and figure out what I want and don’t want to do, and that’s helping me to niche down and transition into the next phase of my self-employment journey.
This is SO true and why it’s so important to just get out there and try things.