One of the most common questions up-and-coming freelancers ask is: where can I take my career once I’m a successful freelancer?
In the corporate world, career-building is a predictable pursuit. Do great at your job, climb up the ladder, do great at that job, climb further up the ladder, and so on. For freelancers, it’s a different story.
Being a one-person business, there is no company infrastructure for you to climb. This can be a scary prospect for the ambitious, but it doesn’t mean that you are bound to a life of stagnation. Having no infrastructure makes it more difficult to see the path you should take, but it also means that you can move in any direction you like.
Here are some career paths freelancers have taken when (and if) they get tired of the freelance life.
Leverage your clients’ knowledge
One of the great things about freelancing is that you get to work for clients in all sorts of different industries, and a lot of them are experts in their fields.
Consider a freelance content writer who’s writing a series of pieces about the stock market this month. They might be writing about entrepreneurship next month and about marketing after that. Or consider a software developer who’s building a crypto trading platform this month and a dozen landing pages next month.
If you’re industrious and curious (as freelancers tend to be), you will gather knowledge from all corners of the world in the first couple of years of your career. With this knowledge, you can often identify problem areas in any given industry. Furthermore, you can validate your assumptions because you already have contacts within the industry through your clients.
That means that you are likely to have an opportunity to launch your own product, website, or startup that solves one of those problems. And you are more likely to succeed than the average founder because you’ve got a potent mix of insider knowledge, drive, and independence.
Leverage your clients’ resources
Knowledge isn’t the only thing your clients have to offer. They can also make great investors or partners for your personal projects. The fact that they hired you, a (we hope) highly paid freelancer, tells us two things:
- They have money.
- They like you.
Sounds like an investor to me.
If you decide to build your own company (whether it expands on the service you currently offer or sells a new product as discussed above), your freelance clients will likely be interested in investing. Since they know you and respect your work, they are likely to give you free rein over your new company and not meddle too much. This is something you will value if you’ve ever had to deal with nosey investors.
Expand, then incorporate
Otherwise known as ‘outsource, then hire’.
Good freelancers usually (eventually) find a client that has more work than they can handle alone. If the freelancer is so inclined, this is a great moment to start building an agency. This involves several steps:
- Test the waters: find another freelancer that you can afford to pay and outsource a part of the work to them.
- If all goes well, start a company and employ someone full-time.
- Be transparent with your client — make sure they understand what’s going on and that you’re still in control of the project.
- Find additional clients for your new agency — you don’t want to depend on a single client.
- Hire new staff as needed.
- Be a great boss.
And just like that, you’re an agency owner, and you can grow and expand that business as you please.
Build your own community
Community-as-a-Service is a business model for the 21st century. As a successful freelancer, you can share your experience online, help others thrive, and create a community.
With this community, you can start your own content creation business (or, to put it more bluntly, create what you want and sell it through the community).
You can do this through your personal website, blog, social media, or from a cardboard box in your town square — use the medium that suits you best.
The safe, boring way
Don’t feel like managing people or becoming a community leader? It’s ok; nobody can force you to do anything you don’t want to do. That’s what being a freelancer is all about in the first place.
Once you’ve got a strong cash flow from your freelance work, it’s easy to diversify your freelance business and start building some wealth. Simply begin investing a portion of your income every month and let the compound effect do its magic over the long term.
Note that when I say “invest,” I don’t mean “buy into the latest craze”. Instead, I’d suggest sticking to the basics for at least a few years before you start getting adventurous with your money. And if you can’t help but get adventurous sooner, only get adventurous with amounts that you can afford to lose.
Putting it all together
Why not do more than one of these things?
Having a community helps with every other endeavor on this list.
Converting a client into both an investor and an industry mentor makes them have skin in the game in your new endeavor. Investing surplus cash creates a financial buffer that allows you to dedicate yourself to growing your business.
Freelancing is a great starting point for all the above because it puts you in control of your time and your finances — and, make no mistake, those are the two things that people most lack control of.
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