Since I started branding myself as an authority on content marketing last year, I've experienced a rapid increase in clients for one of my side businesses: freelance content marketing.
In the last year alone, I've gone from zero clients to writing for the world's top business publications, working with high-growth startups, and NY Times Bestselling authors, helping them grow their online audiences.
Even more impressive is that I’ve never been in a position where I had to negotiate for the premium fees I command for my services.
It definitely didn't happen overnight, though. My quick rise to becoming an expert within my industry, while only working on my freelance business part-time, is the result of careful planning, hours of hard work, and meaningful relationship building. If you're still looking for the right business to get into, check out these fifteen side business ideas that you can launch this weekend.
Here are my eight steps to becoming a highly paid expert, while you still keep your day job.
1. Start in a Small Niche.
If you hope to become a sought-after expert within your industry, you need to start small, be specific, and be thoughtful about how you go about choosing your first set of clients.
Instead of being a marketing consultant for small business owners, take your approach to a much more hyper-targeted level. Aim to become the absolute best social media marketing expert for dentists. If you specialize to this degree, you'll be able to build a portfolio that shows your impressive experience helping other dentists acquire more customers for their business. This will serve as valuable ammo in your pursuit to bring on new clients.
After you've created some credibility for yourself within the community of dentists, you'll be able to leverage your positive customer experiences to move without as much friction into the broader healthcare industry.
2. Constrain Your Service Offerings.
Decide right now what you do, and what you don't do.
Being ultra-specific about the exact types of services you offer (and to whom) will help you brand yourself, better control the way you're perceived by potential clients and will afford you the opportunity to continue adding more helpful relevant client work to your portfolio.
3. Know Your Target Clients.
Naturally, before you become an "expert," within your field, you need to start by working with a very specific set of clients. As we covered in the example above, making big distinctions between what you do and who you do it for is essential to pitching your services and winning high-value clients.
Ask yourself these two questions, in order to define which types of clients you should be going after:
- Which problems do my services solve? (Be specific).
- What types of businesses have the problems I'm best at solving?
Defining a very clear target customer and positioning yourself to stand out from the crowd to them, is covered extensively in CreativeLive’s Essential Guide to Launching a Freelance Career.
4. Build a Website.
There's no clearer way to say it. If you don't have a website that tells prospective clients about you, how you can help them, and shows examples of how you've helped similar clients in the past, you do not stand a chance of being perceived as an expert in your field - even if you already are.
If you don't share your expertise with the world, how can you expect people to otherwise acknowledge your work? Having a high quality portfolio site is a must. With your website, be sure to communicate:
- What you do and who you do it for.
- Past (relevant) work for the type of clients you want to work with more.
- Your personality and brand image.
- Your contact information.
One more thing: Please have a quality head shot of yourself. Clients want to know who they're reaching out to, before they strike up a conversation. They'll want to know if you're going to be a good fit for their brand.
5. Improve Upon Your Most Valuable Skills.
Becoming an expert means doing one thing and doing it very well (at least as a starting point). You'll need to stay very close to what's trending in your industry, push yourself to learn new skills, techniques, strategies, and forego opportunities that won't help you continue building your core skills.
Don't confuse this with having to go back to school. Depending upon your field of interest, there will be a multitude of online learning opportunities like a Skillcrush Blueprint or CreativeLive business classes that can accelerate your skills on your own time - for a significantly smaller financial investment than traditional higher education.
6. Set Your Prices.
Making the call on how much you're going to charge for your time and services is a big decision. It tells potential clients what your perceived value is, so you never want to price yourself toward the bottom (or middle) of the market if you're branding yourself as an expert.
In my experience, the type of high-value clients that recognize the benefit of hiring skilled experts, will not hesitate to pay higher rates, if it means having that much better quality of an end result. Experts don't compete on price, they compete on value. In the situation that a potential client tries to negotiate lower prices, flip the conversation around and instead focus on adding more value - and further explaining the value you'll be delivering.
7. Use Your Relationships.
From pitching friends at your target companies to leveraging former co-worker relationships to get your name in front of the decision-makers at the businesses you're going after, using connections to make warm introductions is a great alternative to a cold email.
Whenever I discover freelance content marketing opportunities, I'll first check on LinkedIn to see if I have a contact at the company, or if there's a mutual connection that'd be willing to make an introduction. When your first impression is endorsed by reputable source already within the company, you're all but guaranteed to at least be considered.
8. Perfect Your Pitching.
Until you've established a huge brand name for yourself, the reality is that you're going to need to sell yourself. Becoming a pro at pitching your services and effectively landing contracts is a major part of being a freelancer. I actually built an online course about winning freelance clients, and I even give away my freelance proposal template completely free.