One year ago, I bought a $3,000 course on email copywriting.
I didn’t have $3,000 at the time. Heck, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even have $300.
But I had a credit card. And I was tired of being broke. So I bought it.
As a direct result of my investment in the course, I was introduced to an online business coach named Craig Ballantyne, the CEO of Early To Rise (maybe you’ve heard of him 😉
Craig was looking for an Editor and I was looking for an extra stream of income.
We hopped on a 45-minute call and within a few minutes realized that we were perfect for each other.
He hired me on the spot and just like that… My income doubled overnight.
At the age of 21, I managed to create a 6-figure income as a freelancer doing work I love.
And I did it as a college dropout without:
- Any formal training
- A large network
- Or any “startup” capital
Believe me when I tell you that I’m not special.
I don’t have a genius-level IQ. I’m not a writing prodigy. And I’m not a particularly hard worker (just don’t tell Craig I said that!).
But I exposed myself to the right ideas, surrounded myself with the right people, and followed the right systems.
And today, I’m going to show you how I did it and how you can replicate my results in any industry to increase your income, work less, and get paid to do work you love as an online freelancer.
Laying the Foundation: Find, Develop, and Master a Marketable Skill
Let me get something out of the way…
Unless you have an existing high-income skill that can be easily monetized…
…You aren’t going to make a single penny during your first 2-3 months.
This isn’t an easy pill to swallow but it’s the truth.
This formula requires modest sacrifices on the front end so that you can enjoy massive benefits on the back.
Instead of diving in and trying to make bukus of cash on day one, you’re going to invest all of your time and energy into developing and mastering a marketable skill.
Ostensibly, you could pick from thousands of skills. And there is no one answer that will work for everyone.
But there are a few guidelines that you can follow to make the best decision.
1. Don’t Try to Compete with Robots…They’ll Win Every Time
As a general rule of thumb, I encourage you to focus your search on “Right-brained” skills.
In 2019, humanity has begun to outsource logical “left-brained” tasks to machines—who can execute these tasks faster and easier than we can.
In the same way that the Industrial Revolution shifted humanity into an era of employment driven by logic and reasoning (think software engineers, code analysts, financial planners)…
…The modern “AI Revolution” is shifting the job market away from hard left-brained skills and towards softer right-brained skills.
- CPA’s are being replaced by apps on our phones
- The brunt of the programming industry is being outsourced to countries in Asia (who can do better work faster and cheaper)
- The medical field is being disrupted by various health monitoring technologies
Everywhere we look, we are seeing the decline of logic-first skills in favor of emotion-first skills.
Specifically, skills like:
- Sound engineering
- Even “play”
I would encourage you to pursue a track that machines can’t (yet) do.
This will offer some modicum of protection against obsolescence (however, you should always seek to evolve and diversify your skill sets as society and technology evolve).
A few of the best industries/niches are:
- Copywriting (specifically story-centric copy)
- Ghostwriting (books/blogs/SEO)
- Sales page design
- Sales (over the phone or face-to-face)
- Social media advertising
- (Creative) video editing
- Interior design
The knowledge needed to develop these skills is freely available and the barrier to entry is incredibly low (almost anyone—regardless of experience—can find someone who is willing to pay them a modest fee for any of the aforementioned services).
AND…Unless Elon Musk pulls a rabbit out of a hat, robots won’t be competing for your job for at least another 2-3 decades.
2. Find a Skill that You Actually ENJOY
After making a list of “right-brained” skills to pursue, you’ll want to narrow down your options based on your personality and disposition.
For me, writing was always the obvious choice.
I’m horrible at math (seriously, you do not want me doing your taxes).
I’m highly introverted and I don’t like people (don’t worry, I like you…but everyone else gets on my nerves).
And since I’ve never been much of a coder, app development, web design, and UI optimization were out of the question.
Ideally, you’ll also want to find a skill in which you have some degree of competence. Growing up, I was always at the top of my writing classes and spent hours of my free time writing short stories and pretentious essays so I began my writing career with a slight advantage.
If, for some reason, you draw a blank and can’t think of anything that fits your goals and personality, ask your friends and family for their input.
Specifically, call up the three people who know you the best and ask them:
- What do you think my strongest skills are?
- What career could you see me excelling in?
- What comes easily to me that does not come easily to other people?
This should help you figure out a few skills you can pursue.
Once you have decided on your chosen skill, the next step is to…
Get To Work!
Begin developing your skill by:
- Reading all of the best books on the subject
- Signing up for SkillShare and taking every class they have
- Watching YouTube videos from relevant experts
- Listening to podcasts
- Soliciting real-time feedback from friends, co-workers, and family (e.g. sending article and design projects to people in your network and asking for ruthless criticism)
Work your butt off to become an expert in your given field.
With a month of consistent effort, you can easily invest 100–200 hours in your chosen skill and begin the process of mastery.
For example, Craig and I recently hired a new copywriter, Tim, to help out with overflow projects.
But here’s the crazy part.
A few months ago, Tim didn’t even know what copywriting was! But he put his head down, devoured every book he could find, practiced his craft everyday…and landed a job with us as a result in only 2 months.
And once you’ve done the same thing, it’s time to begin the money-making phase of your journey.
Outreach and Acquisition: Step-by-Step How to Find Your First Client
Now that you’ve developed your skillset to a marketable extent, it’s time to begin monetizing it.
Or rather, begin the process of monetization.
Here’s how it’s going to work.
1. Pick a Niche and List Out Your “Dream 100”
To get started, you’ll want to take some time to consider the niche you want to work in.
Personally, I specialize in writing content for people in the personal development/business consulting industries.
I know these industries like the back of my hand and spent time reading and engaging with this type of content long before I ever started writing it.
For you, it might be different.
Pick a niche that you’re already interested in. Something you’re familiar with where you know of all the big players (bloggers, YouTubers, influencers).
For example, some common niches are:
- Men’s/Women’s Health and Fitness
- Digital Marketing (SEO, email marketing, copywriting)
- Relationship and dating advice
- Education (e.g. college admissions/study hacks)
And the list goes on.
Whether you’re interested in doggie clothes, fringe nootropics and supplements, or pimped-out muscle cars, I promise there’s someone in those industries who will pay you.
Once you’ve decided on a niche, you’re going to open up an Excel sheet and begin filling it out with a list of your dream clients.
It’s important that you ONLY list clients who 1) You’re familiar with (e.g. you already know who they are and have engaged with their content before reading this article), 2) You like and 3) Fit your target niche.
Also, since there’s been some confusion about this in the past, allow me to clarify something…
DO NOT pay for email lists, reach out to major corporations, or use directories of random companies.
Seriously, these tactics never (and I do mean never) work. It’s better to find 10 high-quality prospects in a niche you’re familiar with than 1,000 random prospects from some shady online database.
So how do you actually find these clients and start making money online?
The best way to do this is to use a “best of” roundup post related to your specific niche.
- The 100 best personal development blogs
- The Top 50 Business Podcasts
- The Best Fashion Blogs for Men
- The Best Blogs for Homeschool Moms
- The Best Resources for People with ADHD
- The 100 Best Fitness Channels on YouTube
Alternatively, you can use Instagram to find prospects by looking at the people who follow major influencers in your niche.
For example, if you want to be in the personal development niche, look at the IG accounts of Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard, Craig Ballantyne, and Tim Ferriss and go through their followers until you find a lower-level player who fits your ideal prospect avatar.
Fill out the sheet with at least 100 names, email addresses, and website and then, begin reaching out to at least 10 prospects a week.
2. How to Effectively Reach Out to New Prospects (And Get a Response)
Now that you know who you want to work for, the question still remains:
How do you get in front of them and convince them to work with you?
Although you could send out hundreds of blase “Let me help you” emails or spend hours trying to acquire clients through cold calling them, there’s a much more effective way to land your dream clients.
And it all comes down to three simple words:
Results in ADVANCE.
Let me break it down for you.
Before you reach out to a single prospect, you’re going to spend 10-15 minutes going over their website and business.
Specifically, you’re going to look for two things:
- Do they already have someone providing the services I have to offer at the level I’m able to offer them? (e.g. If you’re a content writer, do they already have killer content being written on a weekly basis)
- Are there specific needs they have (even if they aren’t aware of those needs) that I can meet?
The outreach method I’m going to teach you works. And, if you do it right, it works startlingly well.
It’s time-intensive and can be a bit of a pain so you don’t want to waste your time on prospects who will never buy from you.
If they don’t need your help, don’t offer it.
But if they do, here’s how you can convince them to work with you…
Once you have identified a need your prospect has, you’re going to go above and beyond and provide results for them before they agree to pay you and before you even reach out to them.
- If you’re an email copywriter, then write a few killer sales emails.
- If you’re a graphic designer, create a mockup of a page they have that could use improvement.
- If you’re a branding expert, share a few simple ways they could instantly boost their status and gain more social proof.
Then, once you have created something valuable for them, record a 30-second video that follows the script below and send it to them via direct message (ideally Instagram or Facebook, but email works too)
“Hey THEIR NAME, I’m NAME a [insert profession] and I wanted to reach out today for two reasons. I’ve been following your work for a while and I LOVE what you are doing. [Insert specific thing about their company that resonates with you]. I noticed that [something relating to your services] could be improved and I wanted to offer my help. I took the liberty of creating [sample of work] and I’d love to give it to you for free if you think it would help. Just fire back a quick DM and I’ll send you over [work]. Thanks for your time! Talk soon.”
So, using writing—specifically email copywriting—as an example, this script would go something like this:
“Hey Craig, I’m Austin Gillis, a professional copy and ghost writer and I wanted to reach out today for two reasons. First, I’ve been following you for a few months now and I LOVE the work that you’re doing. Your content on time management has been incredible and it’s already helped me double my productivity while working less. I’ve been subscribed to your email list for a while and after receiving your recent promotion for the upcoming Perfect Life Retreat, I noticed that there’s some room for improvement in your email copy and I wanted to offer my help. I took the liberty of creating two story-driven sales emails for your event to help you fill more seats and I’d love to give them to you for free. I’m not asking for anything in return, I just thought I’d offer my help. If you’re interested, just fire back a quick DM and I’ll send over those emails for you to check out! If not, then Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you!”
Now, I can already hear your cries of dissent.
“But Austin!” you say, “That’s a LOT of work when I don’t even know if they’re going to work with me!”
Yes, it is. I told you…this ain’t easy. But I promise you, this is bar none the most effective way to get your first client (and once you have your first client, it will get a lot easier).
Some people will use your services and then refuse to pay you.
You will “waste” some effort on people who don’t respond.
It might take you a month before any of your prospects so much as entertain the idea of working with you.
But this is the system. If you put in the work, it will work.
If you send this RIA message out to ten people a week, you can expect at least half of them to respond and likely 1–2 to discuss working with you further.
Once someone has responded to you and seen firsthand the quality of work you’re able to deliver, they will likely ask to learn more about your services and see what sort of value you can provide.
When they do, you’re going to offer them a 7-day free trial of your services. Not more, no less. And once the trial period has concluded, you are now in a position to ask for compensation.
At this point in your journey, I encourage you to low ball and offer your services at a deep discount. Pick a number that is lower than you’d like but still enough to make a difference in your life.
Then, once you have your first paying client, go above and beyond at every turn to build trust, respect, and credibility.
Again, this is hard work. It will not be easy, but if you will follow this system, you will make 6-figures online.
And remember, this is only the beginning.
Expansion: Word-for-Word Scripts to Help You Scale Your Service Business, Increase Your Income, and Make a Full-Time Living Doing What You Love
Getting your first client is the hardest part. Once you’ve done this and provided next level value for 60-90 days, you can leverage your new relationship to get a stream of high-paying prospects for free using the power of referrals.
To do this, you’ll want to make sure that you’re recording the work and results you’re doing for your new client throughout the first few months.
After working with them for 60-90 days, you’re going to send them an email that goes like this.
We’ve been working together for almost three months now and during that time I’ve helped you achieve [specific results].
In the coming months, I’m sure that we’ll be able to create even BIGGER results in your life/business and I can’t wait to be a part of that.
I’m reaching out today because I’m looking to grow MY business and I would greatly appreciate your help.
Do you know of anyone in your network who could benefit from the services I provide? If so, could you please copy and paste the email below and introduce us?
The “email below” that I refer to is a simple script that makes getting referrals easy.
Here’s the deal.
Your clients are busy. And no matter how amazing you are at your job, they aren’t going to give you new clients unless you actively ask for them and make it EASY for them to say yes.
So in your email, be sure to include the following script that THEY can use to refer clients to YOU.
I wanted to introduce you to my [copywriter, designer, sales person] YOUR NAME.
Over the past few months, they’ve helped me [insert specific result].
YOUR NAME, meet REFERRALS Name, one of my friends/business associates, etc.
Referrals name, I remember you mentioning that you needed help with [something related to your skill set] and I think YOUR NAME would be a great fit for the job.
I’ll let you two take it from here.
So in the real world this would look something like this.
I wanted to introduce you to my Editor and copywriter, Austin. Over the past few months, Austin has helped me 5X our email revenue and increase our organic traffic by nearly 50%.
Austin, please meet Jamie, one of my close friends and clients.
Jamie, I remember that you mentioned you needed help with your new lead indoctrination sequence and I think Austin would be a great fit for the job.
I’ll let you two take it from here.
If you will send this to all of your new clients (you will likely acquire 2-3 clients using the steps detailed in the last section), you can quickly acquire 2–3 more clients in under a week.
Because you are entering into this new relationship from a place of strength and credibility, the free trial is no longer necessary and you can easily charge 50–200% more than you’re charging your current clients.
Simply rinse and repeat this for a few months and you’ll be well on your way to a 6-figure laptop income.
Replication, Automation, and Growth: Simple Tips to Help You Work Less and Earn More
After you have your first few clients and are starting to reach capacity on the amount of work you can do (e.g. You feel too “busy” and don’t have the time to take on any new clients), it’s time to begin replicating, automating, and growing your service business through strategic outsourcing and technology.
For example, in my career, I have a personal assistant who does everything that is not essential for me to do.
I’m a writer. I need to write.
I don’t need to upload emails, format blog posts, or respond to calendar invites.
She does all of that for me at a modest rate of $700/month.
This is an important step that many freelancers and entrepreneurs miss. Listen, you’re not superman (or superwoman). You can’t do it all by yourself and you don’t need to.
The point of this is to create a career and income that allows you to have freedom and actually enjoy your life. Trust me when I say there is no glory in workaholism or burnout.
Start by hiring a virtual assistant and work your way up from there.
During this time, you’ll also want to begin creating SOPs or “Standard Operating Procedures” for how you do business.
Write down the exact steps and systems you follow for each project so you can easily share them with and teach them to any new team members you decide to bring on.
There’s plenty of great content available on this topic so I won’t dive into this too deeply (especially considering that hiring/delegating is my biggest weakness).
But suffice it to say that once you cap out, it’s time to bring on new help.
Realize that the money you are “spending” by hiring new people is money that will come back to you in the future.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, be sure to check out some of our other resources on this topic:
- The Four Secrets to Time Ownership
- How to Hire and Fire the Right Way
- 9 Proven Ways to Scale Your Business as a Solopreneur
- The 5 Immutable Laws of Authentic Leadership
How to Increase Your Income Without Woking More Hours and Breakthrough to Your First 5-Figure Month
After you’ve been working for about a year, this is when things start to get exciting.
Now, you are in a position to demand higher premiums and create extra streams of income.
Here’s how you’re going to do it.
1 Word-for-Word How to Raise Your Rates and Get Paid More
As a freelancer, your skills will continue to grow with every month you work. The value you are able to provide after 12 months in the game will be much higher than the value you initially brought to your new clients.
And your rates need to reflect this.
You don’t want to scare away loyal clients by hitting them upside the head with a 50% increase in your rate overnight.
Instead, you’re going to send this email:
Hey [Client Name],
As per our contract, I’d appreciate it if we could discuss reassessing the current rate for my services. Next month I’ll be increasing my rates from $0.10/word to $0.15 for all new clients. However, since you’ve been a long-time client and provide such a high volume of work, I’m willing to reduce this new rate to only $0.125/word for our projects moving forward. This change will take place on December 1st, 2019 and I hope this will give you ample time to consider the change.
I encourage you to send an email like this every 6 months, increasing your rates by smaller percentages more frequently instead of bigger percentages all at once.
It’s a lot easier for your client to stomach two 10% rate increases throughout the year than one increase of 25%.
And while you can and should change your rate to reflect the value you are providing, there’s an even better way to start making more money without working more.
With strategic commission, you can make an extra $1,000-$5,000 a month without doing any extra work.
For example, I have a client who pays me 10% of all email sales that are generated.
A few months back, I helped with a $25,000 product launch and, as a result, I earned an extra $2,500 for NO extra work.
I simply negotiated my relationship so that I was paid in direct proportion to the amount of money I generated for my client (which happened to be quite a bit).
If you can implement this with ALL of your clients (a 5–10% commission is typically where you will start), you can easily add 20–30% to your bottom line without doing any extra work.
And yes, you CAN ask for commission from the beginning, but in my experience, it’s an easier sell once you already have a track record of generating proven results.
If you’ve followed the system up until this point, you WILL be making $100,000+/year in the next 6-18 months.
And at this point, you will have freedom. You will have options.
You can create an agency and have other people do the work for you, shifting your role from freelancer to leader and strategist.
You can wrap everything you’ve learned up into an information product and sell it.
You can start consulting or coaching.
You can do whatever you darn well please.
I hope that you’ll implement what I’ve shared with you today and get REAL results in your life and business.
The system I just taught you works.
It’s worked for me and hundreds of other people.
And if you’re willing to put in the effort, it will work for you too.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below.