Every freelancer has a unique story. As we learned in the latest episode of the Hectic Podcast, sisters Carly DeFilippo and Lauren DeFelippo Jackson moved from employment to entrepreneurship in increments. They each used experiences in various jobs to prepare for what they do now, offering marketing through Cognoscenti Creative.
When I started freelancing, on the other hand, I was fresh out of college and had no other plans. My dad, an entrepreneur himself, suggested freelancing. So I jumped in feet-first and (mostly successfully) doggie-paddled my way through my first few years of independent work.
Like Lauren and Carly, I learned a lot along the way. Each job brought new knowledge, either through research or experience. As I grew in my copywriting ability, I also got better at managing the business stuff. I often joke that my dad is my business advisor, but the truth is I may not have succeeded without his help in those early years.
As I was listening to the podcast this week, there was one particular topic that made me think about the advice my dad has given me during my freelance career. Carly was sharing how they make sure clients are the right fit and emphasized how important transparency is to their business. Rather than marketing themselves as a full-service agency, Carly and Lauren focus on their strengths and outsource their weaknesses. More importantly, they are upfront with their clients about the things they can’t do themselves.
“I don’t understand what the inclination is to hide from the client who is actually doing some of the work. That has never served us, or I think anyone, well,” Carly says. “I think if we could all move towards just having confidence in what we do well, everyone thrives.”
It’s not quite the “fake it till you make it” attitude that most recommend to freelancers.
It’s also not the advice I received. You see, my dad is a big-picture kinda guy. When he started his business over 20 years ago, he was a small newcomer battling giants. He had to be full-service to compete, so he learned how to be everything his business, industry, and customers required — until he was able to hire people to do it better than he could.
For many freelancers, including myself, this is where the road splits from the conventional business roadmap. I don’t necessarily want to expand into an agency or hire employees. If I want to offer more for my clients, I have to either learn how to do it myself or work with someone who does. And since freelancer collaboration was something I hadn’t thought much about until listening to The Hectic Podcast throughout the year, I’ve always gone with the former.
To be clear, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, unless you’re intentionally swindling clients or producing poor results. Even when I’m not the best at a certain skill, I’m honest and competent enough to evaluate whether I can give clients what they need. It just usually requires a lot of unnecessary time and stress to do so.
It also potentially limits the results clients could get if I partnered with someone who is the best at that skill.
Carly touched on one of the biggest problems and obstacles in the freelancing field: namely, focusing too much on the “independent” part of independent creator.
If we could stop seeing other freelancers as competitors and focus more on giving clients outstanding results, how much easier would our lives be? If we taught clients that copywriter doesn’t equal SEO expert and graphic designers aren’t necessarily brand builders — but we can find people who are — what kind of magic could we create?
Our world is different than it was 20 years ago, so it’s time to evaluate the ways we do business as well. I’m still going to call my business advisor when I need a new perspective, but I’m also making room for new approaches to the way I work. I think Carly put it best:
“I want everyone to really own what they’re amazing at and stop pretending to do the things they’re not amazing at,” she says. “Because I think if we are all more transparent in how we work with each other and with our clients, everybody wins. There’s plenty of work to go around.”
Hear more of Lauren and Carly’s story and insights in this week’s episode of the Hectic Podcast.