Erin Flynn: Earlier in my business, I did not have the freedom to do that, and I think that’s normal, and you shouldn’t necessarily feel bad about having to say “Yes” to something that maybe is not your favorite type of work or your type of product. Because when you’ve got bills to pay, guess what? Sometimes you’ve just got to pay your bills.
Intro: Erin Flynn is one of my favorite people to talk to. We are in a mastermind group together, and her insight and approach is always helpful and appreciated. Today, we’re talking about how she’s managed to build a business around literally working 2-4 hours a day. Recently, she tweeted that she worked 1/4 of the normal job hours and still hit her income goal. We’re going to talk about how she does that and how you can do it too, then we’ll chat a bit about a big change we’re both getting ready for this summer.
Break: Before we get started, I want to tell you about my online membership and community, Creator Courses. I know that when you want to learn something new, the natural thing you probably do is go to Google or YouTube. I do the same thing, and that’s great for one-off projects. I used a YouTube video to learn how to change a light switch in my house, but I am not a big fan of YouTube for learning new skills. Because there are lots of videos on every topic, but “Which one is best and who do you trust? What order do you even watch the videos in, and will you get the support you need?” These are all things that YouTube or other potentially free videos can’t do for you. So, I started Creator Courses a few years ago with the idea of just putting online courses out there, and I decided to morph it into a membership last year. So stop wasting your time hunting and pecking for the right learning resources and tools, over at Creator Courses. You can become a member and take all of the courses that we have to offer included in that membership, and those courses focus on everything from just basic WordPress up to learning how to build websites without code, something you don’t necessarily need to do in this day and age. All of the courses are developed by me, and if you listen regularly that I’ve been a developer for decades at this point, and I have lots of experience building websites. I’m a teacher at heart, and I’ve created courses for LinkedIn Learning and things that. On top of the courses, we’re also a community, and members get access to forums and Slack and office hours with me, so I just wanted to let about that and encourage you to join if you haven’t already. Listeners of this show, exclusively for listeners of the show, you can save 15% on all memberships, including the lifetime membership. All you have to do is visit CreatorCourses.com/build. Thanks so much, now let’s get on with the show.
Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is a repeat offender. She’s a good friend of mine, her name is Erin Flynn, and she is a small business owner and educator. Erin, how are you today?
Erin: I’m good. Thanks for having me back.
Joe: Thanks for coming back. You were one of my favorite guests from the early days, so I’m glad to have you back. Since then we joined a mastermind group together, I think I found you via Jackie D’Elia’s podcast, and now I talk to you much more regularly than I talk to Jackie.
Erin: Yeah, you can’t get rid of me now.
Joe: I know, right? It’s just like, all the time. I saw Jackie at WordCamp US 2019. But Jackie, if you’re listening, I hope you’re doing well.
Erin: I’m so jealous, because Jackie if you’re listening, I still want to meet you in person.
Joe: Oh, snap. See, it’s got to happen. I don’t know if either of us will be making it to WordCamp US this year, for reasons we’ll probably get to later in the show, but today we are talking about how you can work less as a freelancer. Or, not overwork yourself through working smarter, not harder. This is something that I believe Erin does very well. So Erin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Erin: I am probably best known in the WordPress-y type of community for being a recommended Genesis developer and making websites for other small business owners, but from that, I’ve also transitioned into educating both web designers and general freelancers in how to run their businesses. But doing that without working all of the time, which is a problem that so many of us have early on in our businesses and cannot seem to break away from, because we get in this constant cycle of client work and then hunting for clients and trying to juggle everything all at once. So I’m trying to help everybody I possibly can to not do that anymore.
Joe: It sounds like a grind because you’re working on freelance work. I know early on, I would never really think about my pipeline until it was dried up, and even sometimes, I fall into that. I think it’ll just keep coming because I set up some good systems. But that’s a problem, and we’re either working on work or trying to get work. Maybe we can just like dive right into it, what is your workflow like for working with clients as well as keeping the pipeline full?
Erin: One of the things I’m trying to do now is work with clients less and focus more on my students, but it seems the more you try to step away from client work, the more clients I get. So, maybe that’s a quick tip. If you don’t have clients lined up, pretend you’re not going to take any more on, and they’ll just be pounding on your door. But generally, what I try and do is I try to only work with 1-2 clients at a time so that I’m able to give them great attention, and I do charge premium prices for that. But that also gives me enough free time to look for future clients, to go to networking events, to do email outreach, to just have conversations with people and get clients booked out several months in advance. When you’re able to do only a few client projects at a time, you have that ability to do a little bit of marketing, even if it’s only a couple hours per week, without feeling this huge stress of “Oh no. Where’s my next client coming from?” It just becomes part of your routine. So every Monday you send a couple emails or feelers out, or you have a coffee chat with somebody, and you make a connection that then leads to future client work.
Joe: I think that’s a really good piece of advice. Because it’s– I always used to do Field of Dreams marketing. Like, “If you build it, they will come.” But you’re not in a cornfield in Iowa, and you need to put yourself out there. You can’t just put up a website and hope people will come. So, I like that. The main tip here is you are managing your time in such a way that you box out time to work with clients, but you also carve out a few hours a week to do specifically outreach.
Erin: Exactly. That’s one of the things that I think is so important as someone like a freelancer or someone who’s doing a service-based business, is if you don’t have that time in your weekly schedule to do marketing– Not just to do marketing, not just randomly peruse Facebook and call it marketing, but to do marketing and do that outreach, then you’re always going to be finishing client work and having that panic of having nothing else lined up. Which is where you get those big dips and that roller coaster ride of the feast and famine cycle, which is what we want to try to avoid.
Joe: Absolutely. We kicked off this year and this season talking to Jason Resnick specifically about that, so if you haven’t listened to his episode, definitely do that when you’re done with this episode, of course. But I think that what you said, “Avoid the feast and the famine,” farmers don’t say when they run out of food “Oh, man. We’ve run out of food. Now we need to grow more food,” because that’s going to take time. They know that they need to start growing and cultivating more food before they run out. It’s the same way, right? Because it’s not like on Monday, you say, “I need a new client,” and then on Tuesday, you have that new client. It’s going to take some time.
Erin: Yeah, unfortunately, it does take some time. Especially to build up some of those relationships, because initially you can tap into basically anybody that you know and get client work, and you can get it pretty quickly if you’re directly asking your friends or family for referrals. However, they are likely not your ideal clients that are being sent to you that way. No matter how specific you are, you’re going to get your great aunt wanting a website or something like that. Which is totally fine when you’re new because you need the experience, but as you progress through your business and as you niche down and know who you want to target, it’s much more important to make useful connections and ask those connections for referrals as well as expand that network. So when you put out that you have availability, people are like, “OK. Erin’s available in two months, I need to get on her schedule now. I need to contact her now.” And that only happens, unfortunately, over time.
Joe: For sure. Like you said, useful connections. How important is it to niche down? Because you said your friends and family, they probably aren’t your ideal clients, but they’re kind of how you figure out who your ideal clients are. Right?
Erin: They’re mostly how you figure out who you don’t want to work with, “No more websites for friends or family.”
Joe: For sure.
Erin: But as true as that is, it is useful to get those “Bad projects” early on so that you understand the type of person that you love working with. That again is just totally part of the process, and as soon as you can niche down, that’s great. But a lot of us don’t know at the very beginning who we want to work with, who our actual ideal client is. Even if we have in our head or on paper who we think that is, it may not be that person in reality. However, as soon as we figure out who we don’t want to work with and then use that to shape who we do want to work with, that niching is so important because it makes all of your marketing so much clearer. It’s so much easier to say, “I make websites for course creators,” for example, and then you know exactly what their problems are, and you can solve those problems, all of your marketing can talk about solving those problems. That makes it so much easier not only for yourself but for people to refer you. Where if you have a friend named Bob, and he meets a course creator who needs a new website, somebody can be like “Joe’s the person to go to for websites for course creators.” That is the best way you can do your marketing, because if you’re just like “General websites,” that means nothing. It absolutely solves no problems, and it’s going to only attract those low budget clients who “Need a website,” which is not a good target market at all.
Joe: For sure. Because low budget is one thing, but usually the “I just need a website” clients are also the ones who need the most hand-holding. If you’re not prepared to do that, now you’re working for less money and working more hours. That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid here.
Erin: Completely. That is, unless you want to be a business coach for $500 dollars for a four-month project, you don’t want those clients who only want a website. Everybody starts somewhere, but that is not where you’re going to be making a good amount of money while working those fewer hours at all.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned solving problems, which is essentially what you’re doing. Because again, if you’re just saying, “I make websites, I’ll make websites for whoever wants a website.” Great. Squarespace can also do that, and you’re not adding value there. But solving problems is exactly where you add that value.
Erin: Exactly. When you can solve someone’s problem, when they say, for example, “I need more clients in my business, I need more clients buying my courses, I need more students.” A website can solve those problems if you design it strategically if you know what that niche needs and you can design a website that funnels people into becoming a student, then that is what people want to pay for, and they’re willing to pay a whole lot more for that. But not only that, when you have niched down that way, when you understand those problems, you also come up with a process that allows you to not spend all of this time trying to reinvent the wheel with every single website you’re making with every single project. That allows you to have a set structure, which means you know how much it’s going to cost, how long it’s going to take, about how much work is involved. Of course, there are always small variations, but that’s going to allow you to schedule your projects correctly, it’s going to allow you to deliver a better product to your clients, and it’s going to mean you don’t have to work nearly as much because everything is running like clockwork.
Joe: I love that. Putting the right systems in place, right? Shannon Schaefer talked about that earlier in the season, too, so you’re totally reinforcing everything that hopefully, dear listener, you’ve learned up until this point. Which is fantastic, because it is important to put a system in place to make sure you have people coming in to not spin your wheels on problems that you either don’t need to solve or somebody else can solve, and then you can find the right clients. Next week I’ll be talking to Nathan Ingram specifically about vetting clients, but maybe you can talk a little about how you do that. Do you have a form that you have people fill out, or is it an initial conversation? What’s that process look like when somebody says, “Erin, I want you to build a website for me?”
Erin: When you’ve gotten to the point where you are niched, and you know who you want to work with, you know what problem you’re solving, and you are able to put together a signature service, also known as a “Productized service” or just a specific website package that answers those problems. That does a ton of work in vetting the clients for you. They go to your website if you can get in front of them. They go to your website, they see the sales page for that service, and they go “Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I need. This is answering all of my problems. This price sounds totally reasonable because I’ve been struggling with this problem.” So they’re already ready to say “Yes” when they fill out the inquiry form, and you’re not even really having to sell them on it at this point, they’re already saying “Yes.” Now they’re jumping through a couple hoops to work with you because they understand you’re the best person. This is when you get to be selective about who you work with, which is always the most fun place to be. Because you get to work with clients that you enjoy working with and that you can deliver the best results for because you pre-screened them. Now that said, I do have an inquiry forum, I have an intro packet, and I have a whole onboarding type deal that people go through. But they’re already saying “Yes,” because I’ve already niched down and given them that signature service outline that they already want.
Joe: I love that. Whenever I think about this specifically, I always think of those infomercials where it’s like, “Do you have trouble opening cans or whatever?” And the person who is watching should be like, “Yeah. I can’t open a can to save my life,” or whatever.
Erin: I can’t.
Joe: So, on your landing page or your website, you are teeing them up. You’re saying, “I understand you have this problem. Let me tell you, I can solve this problem for you,” and they’re there ready to go. Then you have the onboarding process where you probably talk about what exactly they need, can you offer them the solution at the price you’re looking for. So, do you publish your pricing on your website?
Erin: Yeah. I do my pricing on my website, as well as a reminder of it on the inquiry form of what the projects start at. I think this is important because what it will do is you might have the solution to somebody’s problem, but they may not be able to afford you. That’s totally okay. In a course that I have, we do the entire structure of your main signature service, and you’d have a step down while you would also have a step up for people who are not able to maybe get the actual signature service. But this gives them an idea of if they can afford the service, if they need to save a little bit, or if they maybe need to do the step-down and then upgrade later. So, I definitely recommend publishing “Starting at” prices. Maybe not the entire it’s 100% going to be this price because there are always slight variations. Sometimes some clients need more hand-holding, in which case you should factor that into the price. Like, a couple of extra phone calls or almost coaching sessions with them to make them understand what’s going on. That’s totally okay to do, just as long as you are paid for that and you’re able to work it into your schedule in a way that works for you so that you’re not spending 80 hours a week on one client who is not paying you enough to afford your mortgage payment.
Joe: At this point, as we record this, I don’t advertise the fact that I make websites. It’s not my main thing anymore, but I’m open to opportunities, and I love making websites. But I always say, “I start at this price.” That is always a great filter because I know at least how much I need to make on the most basic of web projects for it to be profitable for me. That’s important because if it’s not profitable, you’re working all the time.
Erin: Exactly. That’s one of the things, so many freelancers fail to do, is figure out how much money they actually need to make per month or per year and then figure out how many projects they need to do, so they underprice themselves and then they have to work with something like 50 or 100 clients per year, which is just absolutely not realistic. If you are a freelancer, you would be spending all of your time marketing and have no time to do any of the actual work.
Joe: That’s another really interesting thing to me, is that if you’re going to strike out on your own and start your own business, you need to know how much you can make. You don’t go into a job interview and just be like, “I don’t know. Whatever you want to pay me.” Or maybe people do, but you shouldn’t do that either though. You should know how much your salary should be, and the same thing goes for when you are freelancing. You need to know how much money you need to make ends meet, and a little bit more because you have business expenses. Do you have any recommended resources for people who might want to figure that out? If not, I have one in mind.
Erin: If you have one in mind, that’s great. I teach this in my program, but I don’t have a free resource.
Joe: OK. There’s an hourly rate calculator. I’m pretty sure, but maybe it’s gone. If it’s not gone, I’ll put it in the show notes, which you can find over at HowIBuilt.it. I’m sure, Erin, we’ll talk about exactly what you offer in a little bit. But I’m sure you will get a much better service from Erin because she’ll understand you more. She’s not just a spreadsheet. Awesome. Once you know how much you need to make and who your ideal client is, what happens if someone comes to you and they’re like, “I know you don’t do this, but I need this from you, and I want to hire you.” Do you say “No” a lot? How hard is it to say, “No?” How important is it to say, “No?”
Erin: Currently, I say, “No,” a lot. But earlier in my business, I did not have the freedom to do that, and I think that’s normal, and you shouldn’t necessarily feel bad about having to say “Yes” to something that maybe is not your favorite type of work or your type of product. Because when you’ve got bills to pay, guess what? Sometimes you’ve just got to pay your bills. Now that said if someone is a huge red flag or it’s totally out of your depth, like if somebody came to me and said, “Erin. Can you do SEO for me?” I would be like, “Absolutely not.” Like, “It’s not in my wheelhouse. It would be a terrible end result for you.” I would spend so much time researching and trying to figure out how to do it correctly that it would probably end up not being a good expenditure of my time because it would be more worthwhile for me to instead try to get a client in what I’m good at. So it depends on the issue and what they’re asking for, and I think saying “No” is a privilege too at some point that you get to in your business. We don’t always, you know, you don’t just magically start out with the ability to say “No” every time you want to, unfortunately. But when you start getting enough regular clients that you can start saying “No” to projects that are not something that you particularly are excited about, that’s when you should practice saying “No” and start saying “No” as much as possible so that you get into those projects that you love doing, where you deliver the best results, and you enjoy working with that person. It’s a balance, and unfortunately, there’s not a clear black and white answer in my opinion of when you can say “No” and when you have to say “Yes.”
Joe: I think the whole thing that we’re talking about here, everything we’re talking about is based on getting you to a place where you could say “No.” But if you have only your freelance business as your form of income and you have only one lead in the past two months, maybe you do have to say “Yes” to that. But like you said, if it’s something that’s going to cost you more in time than it’s worth, then it’s time to say “No.” Or if you could just tell, like I’ve said “No” to clients who definitely seemed overly litigious. I’m like, “Yeah. I’m not going to work with you because you’re going to ruin me.” Or the ones who are like, “I’ve worked with ten different freelancers, and they all disappeared on me.” That sounds like a compliment, but it’s probably a red flag.
Erin: It’s probably a huge red flag. If you have a gut feeling where somebody is going to make you miserable or hurt you or your business in some way, I guess that is one where I would say “No.” 100% even if they’re offering you a lot of money, because it will end up costing you more in the long run. If, on the other hand, you’re just like, “I don’t like making websites for veterinarians” or something like that, you could maybe suck it up. Just make sure that you deliver the best possible result to your client as you can. You not being excited is not an excuse to do poor work.
Joe: I love that. That might be the pull quote for the episode, even though I just marked one about how saying “No” is a privilege. But yeah, that’s great. Even if you’re not excited, you should still do your best. You know why? Because that veterinarian might know who your ideal client is, and word of mouth is still a really– Personal referrals are still a really good way to get business, at least in my experience. Would you agree?
Erin: I get almost entirely personal referrals. I’ve never put that much into other marketing avenues. I reach out to people individually and email them and say, “Here’s what I’m looking for.” But again, that’s a personal referral in terms of social media. I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually gotten a client directly off of social media. I know people do it, but for me, the referrals are so much better. Because if someone says– For example, “If Joe recommends something, I already trust Joe’s opinion. So if he recommends a person or a product, then I’m already like ‘All right, that’s what I want. I’m going to buy it. Joe says it’s great.’ The same thing happens with someone referring a web designer or a copywriter or whatever. If you have that personal referral, it’s going to make people ready to buy because they trust the person that referred you.” So the selling is so much easier as opposed to posting on Instagram every single day begging for clients.
Joe: Agreed. I always thought that Twitter would be a good lead generator for me, especially for selling my courses. It’s not. Twitter, shocker, is not a great place to establish trust. It’s a place for people to just tell you what they think regardless of whether they read your initial tweet or not. That thought brought to you by a real-life thing that happened to me recently.
Erin: Twitter is– I don’t know if– If anybody does Twitter marketing well, I would want to know how they do it. Because I honestly thought it would be great too, and all I get from Twitter is also just other criticism and comments that I did not ask for.
Joe: Maybe I should see if Justin Wise– Justin, if you’re listening, maybe you can come on the show and talk about this. Because at CaboPress this past year, he basically experimented with tweeting that he was offering a good deal and did close a deal via Twitter DMs.
Erin: It’s possible.
Joe: Yeah, it’s possible. I saw it happen in real life, so maybe he can come on and talk about that. Either way, I will link to him in the show notes. So we’ve talked about, up until this point, finding your ideal client and how you can schedule yourself so that you’re always doing some sort of outreach each week. I know that I have a goal of reaching out to five potential podcast sponsors every week, and now five potential done-for-you podcasting service people every week. We have that down, what does your day look like? I’m asking you specifically because I know on certain days you work half days, and how do you make sure you can do that? Because that’s the big benefit of working for yourself, is that you have that freedom to knock out of work early if you can, and you want to.
Erin: I’d say most days I work half days.
Joe: I didn’t want to oversell that point.
Erin: I have typically a 2-4 hour workday. That, of course, changes during launches, or if there are big deadlines and things to catch up on. You and I were chatting before we started recording how swamped I am because I ended up taking all of January off, not on purpose. Now I’m playing catch up with things, so I am working 6 hour days now, which to me, feels like a lot. But typically, my workday consists of starting the morning without checking in on client stuff. That’s when I have my most creative time, so I typically spend an hour trying to be creative. Whether that’s blog posts or other content, courses, whatever. Because that’s just when my brain works the best for that kind of stuff, and then I typically check my emails and do my scheduling. If I have a client that I’m working with actively, that will typically take about two hours out of my day. I’ll make sure I get that done, and then I have about another hour of admin stuff. If I’m not working with clients actively, I’m working with my students, and that typically is only about 30 minutes to an hour per day. It’s a nice little break when I don’t have the client work, in which case that’s where my two hour days come in.
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Joe: You use those 2-4 hours more effectively than most people. I know I would love to tell you that I’m super intentional with my time, my creative hours are in the morning too. That’s when I write my book and then I have my meetings in the afternoon. But the truth of the matter is, first of all, I only have meetings one or two days a week, and I try hard to keep to that. It’s not like I’m not going to say “No” if the only time they meet is a Tuesday, but there’s a two-hour slump in the middle of my day where I am super useless, and I’m not using my time very effectively. You might be working two to four hours a day, but so am I, I’m just cooped up in my office for those two hours where I’m trying to will myself to work because I didn’t write my book in the morning. I did whatever, and now I need to finish a chapter, or whatever.
Erin: I think one of the things that I have going for me, and again this is a privileged stage. With the client work that I’m doing, I’m excited to work on it. I’m looking forward to putting together a website for a client, so I don’t have the same kind of slump like thing. If I do, I do try to leave my office and then come back later, because I feel like that just gives my brain a break. I maybe go for a walk or go read a book or something, just get away from the work so I may have a break in there. Currently, I take naps typically between like 12 and 2. I think that it can all work based on your schedule, but trying to force things– You should just get out of the office for a little bit, even if it’s 15 minutes because it’s just going to refresh your brain.
Joe: I love that. It’s easier for me to do that in the summer. You’re a winter sports person, though, right? You like skiing and stuff like that, and you live in Aspen or near Aspen, or whatever. I hope that’s not secret information, but you tend to post a lot on Instagram.
Erin: No, it’s all over everything.
Joe: I think that’s great advice. There’s a podcast called Cortex, and CGP Grey talks about going on think walks. He sets a 20-minute timer, and he goes for a walk for 20 minutes and then comes back refreshed. I definitely need to do more of that, because writer’s block is a super real thing. For those who don’t know, I announced this somewhere, but I am writing a book. Hopefully, by the time you hear this, I will be done writing the book, but writer’s block is a real thing when you’re trying to force something. So I think that’s really good advice.
Erin: It’s totally a thing, especially when I have maybe course content or a blog post that I know I need to write, and that can be definitely a struggle. But for you, in your case, you’ve got a deadline. That’s a little bit different, and that’s a little bit harder to force. I always say, any advice for listeners who have those deadlines, who are trying to force it, is to just take a break and get out there for fifteen minutes. Do something else, take a shower, and your brain will start working again. It’s amazing. You just have to force yourself to get up from the computer and take that break, which is the hardest part for some reason.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I agree 100%, my wife showers at night and I have to shower in the morning. I don’t feel fully awake. A shower might be just great if you’re slumping. Now, there’s another thing that I wanted to ask you about because we are both coming up to a point where we will be out of commission for a little while. So, maybe you could talk about that and how you’re preparing for that.
Erin: Although this is a tough one, and probably I will change how I am preparing 50 times between now and then because I’m still trying to figure it out. But we are expecting our first child in early July, maybe late June depending on when he decides to show up. I know Joe, you’re expecting a baby around the same time too, and since this one’s my first, I don’t know fully what to expect, except that everyone’s telling me don’t expect anything just go with it. What I’m trying to do is finish all client work by the beginning of June at the latest, so that way, if he decides to show up early, I will not have any client work that I’m trying to wrap up. I’m fully intending to take all of July completely off. No checking emails, or anything. I will have a developer friend check emails and cover my retainer clients for me, and then I’m thinking I will just check in a couple hours a week after July, and step in if anything needs to be done. But I’m going to still have support for probably through September at least, just to make sure that things run smoothly with my clients. So if their websites all go down and get hacked or burn up in a fiery inferno, whatever is likely to happen when you’re on maternity leave, that’s only when it would happen. I’m sure that someone else will be there to handle it even if I have to check-in and say, “This is broken, can you take care of this for me?” I just don’t want to have any of that stress in terms of courses. I’m still working all of that out because I do offer support to my students, so I’m looking at maybe bringing in some guests who will cover things for me while I’m gone, but that’s still something that I’m trying to work out. Because I’m also trying to launch a new course before the baby gets here, and I think that’s probably the worst idea I’ve ever had.
Joe: If it is, then we’re both in the bad idea area. Because first of all, congrats. I know I’ve said this to you off the air, but congratulations. Very exciting. Like you said, we’re both expecting in July. My wife is expecting, and I’m expecting to become a parent of two. I think the advice to not expect or assume anything is probably good. I found that everybody was willing to give me whatever advice, even if it didn’t apply. So my advice is to just don’t take anybody’s advice, just go with it until you figure things– Like if someone’s like, “My kid did this, and this is what helped.” Totally. But if it’s like, “Make sure to sleep when the baby sleeps.” That’s the worst advice I ever got. Sorry to whoever gave that to me, but if it’s like–
Erin: Probably, everybody.
Joe: Yeah, right. I couldn’t do that. You’re just going to be sleep deprived for a little while, but it’s fine. But congratulations, that’s great. I also plan on taking a month off. I’m preparing similarly, I have a little bit more leeway because I can’t feed my baby more or less, so I might sneak away if mom and baby are both sleeping to do whatever. But for the most part, I plan on being away from the computer. No client work, I’ll communicate with my clients before that. Hopefully, all of my courses will be launched by then, though I will say I recorded one of my courses in the month after my daughter was born because I had off from my full-time job. They gave me a month off paid, so I worked on my course that whole time, and it was great. Maybe only being able to work a couple of hours a day was super focusing for me. So, awesome. We might be over time, we’re coming up on time either way, and we talked about a lot of things. Maybe we can wrap up with, before I ask you if you have any trade secrets for us, maybe you can give 2-3 pieces of advice for the freelancer who likes everything we just said but isn’t sure where to start. How can they start being more intentional about the clients they get, and stuff like that?
Erin: I think for that freelancer, I think it’s really important to look at any past clients that you’ve had and make notes about what you’ve enjoyed about those projects and the people and what you have. Now, if you’re totally brand new, my advice is just go start working. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s not going to be your ideal client, but you’ve got to get some experience so that you can form those opinions and that experience and have that understanding. But if you’ve worked with some people before and you’re trying to figure out who your ideal client is, analyze your past clients and see what you liked and what you didn’t like, and that’s going to help you narrow down. Also, in terms of choosing a niche, don’t think of it necessarily as an industry. Think of it as a problem that you’re solving, and that’s going to clarify so many more things for you. Because let’s say if you choose a general niche, like “I want to work with doctors.” Lots of different doctors are going to have lots of different problems, but if you choose a niche like course creators, that’s a much more clear problem. They want to sell courses, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re doctors or artists or whatever, they still want to sell courses. They need a good course platform, and they need to make sales. So, that’s going to clarify so much in terms of what you’re offering and how you’re helping your clients moving forward.
Joe: That is fantastic advice. That makes me think of a book I often recommend on the show, Start with Why by Simon’s Sinek, because when you’re solving the problem, it’s “Why are you building the website?” Not “What are you building, or who are you building it for?” Which is the case if you just say “Doctors,” or whatever. I love that. Definitely think about the problem you’re trying to solve because most people don’t want a thing, they want a solution to a thing. I’ve noticed even in my courses, and I used to say, “Building a podcast website with WordPress,” once I changed that to “Launching your podcast,” way more people were interested in that because that’s the problem I am trying to solve.
Erin: Because actually, that clarity just makes it so much easier.
Joe: For sure. Then the other thing that you said was to build your network, and you said that you try to go to certain events. How can somebody who’s maybe new to an industry find events to go to, or build that network? I’m going to have an entire episode about this, but we’re talking about it now, and I’d love to get your advice.
Erin: Personally, I do love conferences, and I do feel like there’s value in those pay-to-play type experiences. Because people who go to a conference that maybe costs $200 dollars are obviously willing to invest in their business, which then means that they’re more likely to be a client who would invest in their website, or whatever service it is that you’re selling, however, there is a lot of money that goes involved with traveling and hotels and paying for the conference itself. Not everybody has that ability to start there, so meetups are fantastic. WordPress meetups, I run one up here in Aspen. It’s great for connections, and we have all sorts of small business owners there because we are a very small community, and it’s the only place to talk about business, which is totally fine. But meetup.com, tons of free meetups. You don’t have to pay a thing except maybe some gas or some transportation to go to it. Most of them are free, and you can meet so many amazing people. If you’re in a small town where there aren’t many meetups, you can obviously start one, which is what I had to do. Or reach out to people online and have virtual coffee, so you don’t have to necessarily go somewhere. You don’t have to necessarily leave your house. If you say “My town is too small,” or “I’ve got little kids, and this makes it impossible,” or “My schedule is just crazy.” Have virtual coffee. Find people on social media who you think would be good connections. For a web designer, find some copywriters or some brand designers, other people who would be serving a similar audience to you, and schedule a Zoom call. Hop on there, meet them. You don’t have to have this ulterior motive of “We have to refer people to each other,” just start making those connections and get to know people. Some will be great people that you’ll never be able to get rid of, like Joe and I are now. Stuck together forever. Others you’ll be like, “It was OK. We didn’t click.” That’s totally fine. There’s really if you have access to an internet connection, which you probably do because you’re listening to this, you can meet other people and start building your network. It doesn’t have to be a huge cost investment at all.
Joe: That’s all fantastic advice. I have nothing to add. So now I’m going to ask you my favorite question, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Erin: I’m not sure if this counts as a trade secret, but this is something that I think is a good wrap up to the episode that a lot of people don’t do, especially when they’re starting their freelance business. And that’s looking realistically at what they want out of their life, and how their business can support it. They get this idea of, “I want to sell websites.” Or “I want to be a copywriter,” or “I want to be a photographer,” whatever. But what they don’t do is look at how that impacts their life. How many hours that’s going to take, how much money they’re going to need. Which we’ve talked about it a little bit, they don’t plan out how that’s going to work in their life. So they can end up building a business that they don’t enjoy. This is something that I did very early on in my business, and I had a different business I ended up selling because it just did not fit the life that I wanted. It was a great business idea, theoretically, but it was just– quickly, it was a subscription box service for handmade goods, which at the time in 2013-ish was a still fairly new novel idea. It took over my entire apartment, and it had all sorts of shipping. It was ridiculous the amount of work that it was. Again, not a bad business idea, but to have it be successful, I would have had to do a whole bunch of things I did not want to do. It did not fit my lifestyle. So you have to be conscious of the business you’re building and always put your life and what you want out of your life first, and then build the business to support that.
Joe: That’s absolutely fantastic, and I think you’re right. People are like, “I want to start a business to have freedom,” and then they’re slaves to their business instead. When I left–
Erin: Sometimes, working more than a normal job.
Joe: Right, exactly. Somebody said to me before I was an adult running a business, but I got out of college, and I was like, “I can start my own business.” Someone’s like, “Why don’t you get a real job?” And I’m like, “What do you do at your job? The one thing that you were hired to do? I do everything.” It’s very mean to say, “Why don’t you get a real job?” But it’s true, and you end up working a lot. When I left my agency job, I said to myself, “I’m leaving because my daughter was just born, and I want to spend time with her. If I’m leaving an agency job to then just run an agency myself and live the agency life, I’ve done something wrong because now I’ve gotten rid of job security, and I’m working more.” So, it’s absolutely– That is fantastic advice and something that everybody should think about if they’re starting their own business. As a side note, for subscription box services, I own the domain MonthlyTacoBox.com. My brother and I were talking about how fun of an idea this would be, but logistically it’s ridiculous. If anybody wants to start a taco box subscription service and wants a good domain, let me know. I’ll sell it to you at a fair price. That’s neither here nor there, though. Erin, thank you so much for joining me. Where can people find you?
Erin: The best place to find me is just at ErinFlynn.com. I link to basically every single thing that I do from that domain.
Joe: Nice. That is different from the 100 or so episodes ago that you were on, and I think you still had the “E” in your domain.
Erin: I did. I finally shelled out a lot of money to get ErinFlynn.com.
Joe: Nice. I am still– Casabona.com is not available for sale. It’s my grail domain, but the person who owns it does not want to get rid of it. So, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll try again in a year. Anyway, Erin, I will link to all of those things and everything we talked about over at HowIBuilt.it. Erin, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Erin: Thanks so much, Joe.
Outro: Thanks so much to Erin for joining me today. As always, it is a true pleasure talking to her. I love what she said about finding clients and solving problems, the fact that she makes her pricing public because it’s a great way to weed out tire kickers or just people who might not be a good fit, and saying “No” a lot if you are privileged to do that. It’s fantastic. Again, I think her insight is great. Congratulations to her on expecting in July, I think we’ll both probably have a lot to talk about for that too as I’m also expecting my second in July. So, that’s it for this episode. Thanks to Yith, Text Expander, and FreshBooks for sponsoring. They are some of my favorite tools, not only for myself but for small business owners. I always recommend them, and I am happy to have them on board. If you’d like to learn more about them or any of the things we talked about in today’s show, you can head over to the show notes at HowIBuilt.it/159. Now, if you want to learn some more tools about my own courses or anything like that, you can head over to HowIBuilt.it/tools and get a free guide on five tools to help you build websites faster. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe or leave a rating and review over on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Until next time, get out there and build something.