Years ago, when I finally fulfilled my childhood desire to learn electric guitar, I got a question I never expected.
“Who do you want to emulate?”
I was nowhere near new to musical instruments, so I was surprised to find it was a pretty common question for new guitar students. Apparently, it helps students find their footing in the sea of options they have as guitarists.
I think something similar applies to freelancers…people who need to avoid the temptation to try to “reinvent the wheel” while navigating the onslaught of responsibilities as one-person businesses.
If you’re confused and don’t know where to start, emulation can be incredibly powerful.
It works, because as freelancers, we’re playing in the same waters as every other business out there. The answers that bigger businesses and other freelancers have already done the work of digging up? They work for us too.
That can be hard to process, especially for those of us on the more creative side of things who might be used to working from the inside out, but business tends to be outside-in or top down. For the most part, markets are what they are and they don’t tend to bend to the wills of individuals…at least not those of us just getting started as one-person freelance businesses.
This means your best bet to get started is to just emulate what’s already out there…not in what you create as a freelancer (that’s unethical and likely illegal), but in how you structure your business. Here’s a few examples.
Copying to find your niche
Frustrated because you can’t find somewhere to land on a niche? Choose one that already exists or build from a combination of established niche dimensions. Don’t let this make you feel boxed in, because there’s unlimited ways to put things together.
For beginners though, it’s usually best to start where you see other freelancers with similar skill sets having long-term, sustainable success…or even better…where you’ve had success as an employee.
Searching for website inspiration
Again, I’m not talking content here, but structure? Copy away.
Think about how most restaurants, doctors, and lawyers websites aren’t all that different. It’s because you want people to feel comfortable and not have to break their brains to find something basic.
It might feel dull or odd, but if you see a structure or page that every freelancer has (like services), then there’s like a time-tested reason it’s there and you should probably be doing the same thing.
Using a guide to refine your skill set
This isn’t so much about offering the same skill set as other freelancers. It’s more about combining them in ways that work.
So if you look at established freelancers (I mean 7+ years in the game making a solid living) and don’t see anyone combining web design and content creation and SEO…there’s a good chance you probably shouldn’t either. Why?
Because higher quality clients usually look for focused freelance partners whose knowledge is based on how to best apply a specific skill…not who can do everything as a “one-stop-shop”.
Duplicating a marketing strategy
Not getting enough clients to keep your business going? It might be time to look at what other freelancers are doing.
Yes, some of us get by on word of mouth, but most of us have to put in some effort to find clients. That means a freelance marketing strategy that involves letters of introduction, cold emails, a LinkedIn presence, and maybe even paid ads.
If you’re reading this and are thinking that you don’t know anyone to emulate, that’s a sign you don’t spend enough time around other freelancers. This list of working freelancers is a good start. I figured out my emulation by listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and being in communities for years before I launched…and you can do something similar by joining the BlackFreelance Mastermind group where you can connect with people with deep insights into the realities of sustainable freelancing. Come try out a free month today!