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The freelancer's guide to good jobs and great pay (thecreativeclass.io)
191 points by 3stripe on Feb 24, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments

I have seen Paul Jarvis' site before, and coupled with the teaser for this course, have come away feeling I've missed something.

Great writing, good work, and obviously talented. But...

"bringing in more than $20K a month for over a decade"

"I started freelancing in the ‘90s and [...] had a full client roster and a multi-month waiting list since I started freelancing."

What - not even one month without work set up for the following month/month-after-next? Or one month in 120+ months where income has dropped below $20k? [A decade ago, $20k was worth even more than now]

Now I've freelanced for over a decade, and my best months have been ~$18K - but my average is a lot lower than that. Short of Mr Jarvis having some advantage -- contacts and a foot in the door, ninja networking skills, or a magnetic personality: how are the above two true?

I'm especially curious as his website doesn't show him as an expert in one topic (per @bdunn et al's advice), but more of a generalist like myself. And generalists aren't supposed to make such money.

[Edit: Redid the currency conversion and upped my best months]

At $100-$150/hour $20k/month ranges from doable to dependable. If you are good and experienced I don't see why you couldn't bill that as a generalist.

Also, generalist-vs-specialist depends on your perspective. To your clients, you are a specialist. :-)

Personality-wise I'm really a generalist, but I've started thinking of myself as a specialist in full-stack Rails development. I don't think that's as oxymoronic as it sounds. I've done web applications for 15 years, and Rails for a long time. Besides Rails I can go deep on Postgres, Chef, and AWS, which I think all hangs together very nicely, and I can go broad on Javascript, machine learning, and Java/Python/C/iOS. You don't want me in charge of buying your routers or architecting your Django app, but it's not like all I do is Postgres performance tuning. HN folk would call me a generalist, I'm sure, but for a lot of clients, I'm specialized enough. Anyway, a generalist with 15 years experience might know more about x than a specialist with 2. :-)

> At $100-$150/hour $20k/month ranges from doable to dependable.

Err... math is off.

100 (rate) * 7 (full work day, don't get paid for lunch) * 5 (number of days in a week) * 4.3 (number of weeks in a month) = 15,050

That's 15K. And that's assuming you have a 100% full schedule and spend 0 time on invoicing/marketing/non-billable activities. Realistically, you're probably looking at a 10K rate per month with a 100/hour rate.

The only way you'll see 20K is if you're the middle man hiring the help or you're not billing hourly/daily/whatever. Assuming you're not in the business of managing other engineers, not billing on time increments means fixed price jobs.

Unfortunately, there is only a sliver of work that will fit well into that model. Where the job is very well defined, simple enough to do in a few hours, but complex enough that it can't just be handed off to any random joe. Not too many clients with that kind of work on a consistent basis.

So the OP is right, the only way you'll see that kind of money is once in a blue moon, if you specialize in something niche and can charge 250/hour, or if you're managing other people.

150/hr * 2080 hours is an annual gross of 312k. Divide by two to estimate an equivalent annual salary of 156k. A good salary, yes, but not out of reach for someone who builds websites front to back. 150/hr is probably too low to account for downtime and the added risks of going on your own.

It's entirely unreasonable to assume a completely full book. Also remember that the tax burden as a 1099 is higher and more complicated. Also you have to pay all of your own benefits, if you can get them (for example, disability insurance is difficult to get and expensive when you do).

You're wrong. It's not only reasonable, it's common.

My point was that making the assumption that you'll be able to book 2080 hours in a year is bad for business. I've had full months, sure, but I've also had months with about four days of work total. The numbers have to work in either case or you're running a hobby, not a business.

Also, I can't speak to how common it is, but in my (albeit limited) experience, a full book is just a bad idea in general. When I have a full book I end up working on the business (invoicing, lead gen, client relationships, bookkeeping, taxes, etc) in the slices of time that I would rather be spending time with my family.

Well maybe I am working too hard. :-)

But really, how many startup founders on HN are putting in 35 hour weeks? At $100/hr I don't think $20/mo is easy, but I'd say you could hit it once or twice a year. That's what I mean by "doable."

Your whole argument has collapsed, so :( The original quote was that it was more than $20k a month. For a decade. You're missing $5k a month and again, that's without having any time to market, bill, do your taxes, etc.

I was replying to this: "my best months have been ~$18K". Sorry for trying to encourage someone. You're right that $20k minimum is a lot harder, at $100/hr probably impossible. But as a peak?

Last year January, July, October, and December all had 23 weekdays. $100/hr * 9 hr/day * 23 days/mo = $20700/mo. If you have no commute and maybe do a Saturday or two that's pretty doable. I wouldn't make it routine, but I've occasionally had months that busy.

Yes, not all hours are billable, but the non-billable stuff isn't that time consuming:

Marketing: Aren't most freelancers turning away work right now?

Billing: I push the "invoice" button and it's done. 1-2 hours a month.

Taxes: If you're working for yourself you shouldn't do your own taxes.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful to someone. Best of luck to you all.

> $100/hr * 9 hr/day * 23 days/mo = $20700/mo.

I know you mention a Saturday, but if you can bill 9 productive hours a day, I take my hat off to you. I could in my early-mid 20's, I can't any longer.

> Marketing: Aren't most freelancers turning away work right now?

Not here in the UK, not the ones I know of (that is, the ones who don't have part-time speaking careers or get featured in magazines).

Do the maths at $150 (a rate he nominated) and then tell him again that his whole argument has collapsed.

..perhaps he isn't at $100/hour?

Right, but there are more fixed price jobs than there seem - it's just a matter of marketing & structuring the gig. An example from my industry: the top recruiters won't touch a job if it resulted in less than $500 - $750/hour net.

Doesn't it also depend whether you bill by the hour or by the day/week?

There was a discussion on freelancing a year or two back on HN where it came out that at a certain level of experience, you're better off bidding by the week, e.g. $5K/week or $10K/week because clients often prefer to think in terms of total project costs rather than hourly contractor costs.

I have definitely noticed happier clients after offering a day rate. Not just for budget, but it can help some clients feel better about knowing "when".

"And generalists aren't supposed to make such money."

I think the general modus operandi for the freelance economy is the generalists are supposed to find capital and customers, and hire the freelancers. If they do their job right, the generalists (owners) can make a lot of money. They just don't fit as easily into niche jobs.

I think you need to revisit your rates. I've seen this a few times, but one of the issues with sticking with freelancing is you don't realise what the going rates are anymore. Sure you can compare it amongst friends and acquaintances you've known for a while, but they are blind too. $20k today isn't what it was 10 years ago.

Sure it depends on where you are, but if you stick with local clients you are always going to be limited (unless you live somewhere like London).

(I'm a generalist, mainly Ruby, and have been freelancing for 18 months. Last month was my best month and I was just short of the $20k mark, before tax)

"And generalists aren't supposed to make such money."

If generalist don't make much money, and the best you've done isn't to your liking (because more is always better)... Why would you keep labeling yourself a generalist?

Your best month isn't that great. And if you've been at it for over 10 years, you probably have a lot of experience to share. Ever thought about re-assessing yourself, giving yourself the credit you deserve and creating a better pitch for your services?

> Why would you keep labeling yourself a generalist?

Because variety and new challenges are the spice of life? All jesting aside, if I had deep passion/believed deeply in something, I would be the specialist for that ("Appointment reminder systems for equine vets") -- but I don't.

This is the best quote I've seen on the subject. Haven't made the transition, and still trying to see what to define myself a specialist as:

"The generalist is drawn to the problem he has not yet solved. His curiosity trumps all else. He feels no discomfort in operating outside of his area of expertise because such an area is broad, shallow and loosely defined. He pursues with passion the new and the different. When the transition is made however, and he becomes used to the benefits of deep expertise—when the client ceding control to someone deserving of such control becomes the norm—he will not be easily enticed back to operating from the powerless position of the generalist. "

I'll save you other curious people the search: The quote is from 'The Win Without Pitching Manifesto' by Blair Enns.


I forgot to reply to this bit:

> Your best month isn't that great. And if you've been at it for over 10 years, you probably have a lot of experience to share. Ever thought about re-assessing yourself, giving yourself the credit you deserve and creating a better pitch for your services?

Oh yes. Been trying to work out where to reposition myself for 18 months now. I've written out my case studies, talked to clients, but can't find a single thread running through the work that ties it all together :)

I think there is a difference labeling yourself a generalist here on HN, and with a respective client.

Hey, I'm working on a new site to make it easier to find freelancing work. I'd love to get feedback from experienced freelancers like yourself, and see if it can make your life much easier :). If you have some time to spare, please reach out: contact at taskrapp.io, or marcell.ortutay at gmail.com. Thanks!

This has a horrible vibe of all of these guides on how to get rich quickly, that a company would mail you for $19.99. Everything, beginning from having to supply an email address to be sent the first lesson,to cheesy "testimonials" like "now I can pay my bills 3 months in advance!" reeks of some sort of scam.





I fail to see anything wrong with that. They are giving away something for free in hopes they can sell something else. Nothing wrong with that at all. They are even disclosing that before you join the list, which most people don't. I guess you may not see that before joining but I see no harm.

The free course cannot work.

There is a particularly good reason why the free course in how to be a successful freelancer won't teach you how to be a successful freelancer: If it did then there'd be no reason to buy the paid course.

They ought to be more clear that you're about to spend time on something that they know won't do what it says it does.

Paid training classes _cannot_ work. If free courses on Excel were available, then people wouldn't buy the paid ones.

Paid yoga classes _cannot_ work. If free yoga lessons were available on YouTube, then people wouldn't buy the paid ones.

Paid water _cannot_ work. If free water was available in your faucet, then people wouldn't buy the bottled kind.

Paying for print versions of Shakespeare _cannot_ work. If free versions are available on project Gutenberg, then people wouldn't pay for it.

Ever think there may be varying levels of success, and the free week-long version gets you the basics (I can touch my toes, Yoga success!), but not yet an expert? Just like every other field of human activity?

Not necessarily true. I offer a free email course (also for freelancers), and I position the free course as the strategy - how should a freelancer think about sales? The premium course is the tactics - an actionable deep dive into the content covered in the free course, along with templates, scripts, video interviews, accountability, and more.

It's worked really well. People love the free course, and those who want a more tactics and accountability buy the full course.

People may love the free course, but does it actually make previously unsuccessful people successful? I think the implication here is that the free course is essentially just there to get you pumped up for the paid course, and is not actually useful.

It does. My business goal with my email course is to generate qualified leads for my course. My personal goal is to make people better off than they were before they started the course.

If the free course is nothing but the "sizzle" and a giant pitch for something paid, that's a problem. You're probably not going to get many sales for your paid course, and no one's going to refer others to the free course.

But if it's valuable independently of the premium course, and allows the reader to determine if it makes sense to go pro, then it's a win-win for all involved. At the end of my course, I ask people to reply back with what they got out of the free course and what they plan on changing as a result of it — I get a fair amount of awesome responses (which turn out to be great testimonials) from this last email: http://i.glui.me/1A3VNtx

I can vouch for this. Not with the emails, but came across bdunn's free blog and podcast 2 months ago. They earned me an extra $8,000 last month, and a better end product for my client. Spending a fraction of this to get more advice (the paid course) was a no brainer.

(Brennan, feel free to use as testimonial / ask me to elaborate.)

That's great! We're actually running weekly profiles on people who have used my advice to help grow their business, and I'd love to feature you. Here's the link: http://doubleyourfreelancing.com/student-success-spotlight-a...

If you learn what you need to on the free course, I'm fine with you not buying the paid course (I've told many people not to buy the course if I don't think it's right for them). The free version still has a ton of great information that's already helped the beta testers.

Forget what HN is telling you. They are complaining about your list yet they are the first ones to sign up for the next ruby/angular/whatever JS thingy is popular this week ebook mailing list.

Your logic assumes the measure of success is strictly binary, i.e., it either works or it doesn't. Another way to look at it : becoming good at something is a continuum and we're all at different points along the way. This is applicable to a lot more than freelancing.

How well the course works is not a boolean. The free course could be helpful. The paid course could also be helpful.

Yes, its way better than Linkedin's "free" premium trial, which despite being free wanted my credit card details.

The footer also says "BROUGHT TO YOU BUY" Not sure it was intentional or not, but surely reduces the trustworthiness by a lot and then some

It's not a scam, it's the freemium model.

Freemium is scam.

Yeah, it's like all those famous chefs who give their recipes away for free, and then charge money for a printed and bound collection of them... SCANDALOUS

No one is giving you free recipes saying that they will make you a successful and rich chef. He is giving a free course saying it will make you a good freelancer...but if the free course achieves that, what more can a paid version teach you?

Guess what. People who are really going to be successful are out there working their asses off instead of reading "programmer's self-help" ebooks.

Interesting claim. Do you mind elaborating on your thought process?

Horrible might be overstating it, but I did get the feeling you're referring to. "This person is purporting to want to help me, but is probably actually buttering me up to sell me something."

Like it or not, this approach is popular and effective, b/c email is the killer app.

There are plenty of businesses using the same model. No one complains too much about them.

How would you go about selling an online course? Specifics would be great.

Well, I would start by telling my customers that I have this great course and it's going to cost X dollars. I would also say what this paid course entails, what the chapters are, what I am going to learn etc. Instead, he is offering a "free email course" and only at the very bottom of the page, in gray font, he does say that there will be an option to buy a paid version at the end. No price, no details, absolutely nothing. That's something that I wouldn't do.

Those who might consider your paid course would only have the persuasiveness of your sales site to go off of. By offering a free email course, you're able to figure out whether Paul's capable of providing you value. If he is, he'll have a call-to-action that upsells you on his paid course which provides even more value.

There's nothing at all wrong with this formula, and IMO it's much "safer" for the buyer.

There's a big ol' "Brought To You By" link at the bottom of the page that links to exactly the type of page you're describing, complete with a very well done explainer video.

It's almost as if this course isn't for you, and you've self-selected your way out of wanting it. Fancy that.

The hostility towards the freemium model with content is ridiculous.

If you don't get something out of the email course, then don't buy the paid course.

If you do buy the paid course, there's a money-back guarantee (http://thecreativeclass.io/).

It's zero-risk, free information that can likely help you level up your freelancing. It's the same thing as a blog or other free resource, just packaged in an email course.

"34% of North American workers now consider themselves freelancers"

That is a very surprising claim. I'd have appreciated if they told us where they got the information.

I've been expecting freelancing to become the dominant means of finding work for a long time now. It just seems inevitable. Think about it. What does an employer offer you? Security? Nope. Pension? Nope. Predictable income? Nope. Companies have abandoned absolutely every single thing they ever offered to employees. They stagger along now just because people go to them out of habit.

Companies first came around because someone has to solve the distribution problem. That was such a valuable problem to solve that it shaped commerce and society for well over 100 years. It still shapes society. And it shouldn't. The Internet solves the distribution problem. It makes it so any 12 year old with a net connection can run circles around any mega-corporation when it comes to distributing product from point A to point B. The only place the 12 year old CAN'T beat the corporation is the place that large corporations never really managed to penetrate much in the first place - goods and service which are actually intrinsically bound to geography. You need your hair stylist to be physically near you. You need the plumber to be near you. And those people do not work for a mega-multinational.

And I expect when the change happens, it will only take a matter of weeks or months. There will be a sudden realization on all sides. Companies will realize they can't get ridiculously profitable workers for dirt cheap any more. Workers will realize their company has been playing them like a game - and realize that if they play the company at the same game instead of listening to myths their parents told them - they will kick ass any time.

Zero overhead, zero debt and obligations going up against a large organization who relies COMPLETELY on the ability to hire workers who will accept pay less than 5% of the value they actually earn for the company? It's not even a competition.

I'm a freelancer and too have wondered why every one else isn't.

I think part of the reason is that freelancers actually do the work; they write a proposal, and then three months later people check what they produced.

So called "white collar" employees, for the most part and in my experience, pretty much sit around doing, well, nothing. They go to meetings, talk on the phone and check out the work produced by various contractors, consultants and trainees, drink gallons of coffee, and that's pretty much it.

This is of course a generalization; people who have physical jobs (moving things or making them) are in a different category, as well as people whose output is somehow monitored, etc.

But in many many big companies there are swathes of people who would be hard pressed to account for any of their day.

And they still get paid, and they still have a job, and they still have colleagues. That's something.

It's very true. Companies pretty much provide healthcare that may be a better deal than a freelancer can get, paid vacation, and stable income during periods of time when it might for one reason or another be difficult to find work.

In exchange for that, you take on the high risk of only having 1 business paying you at any given time, and only learning about the world via 1 business. If something goes wrong with that business, or they end up doing things in a way that is not relevant to the wider world, you can get screwed.

Regular employment still has one thing going for it - the unbounded term. Contract employees have to renegotiate every so often. Employment - no issue. Also your insurance keeps renewing, which is convenient.

Well, in the wrong place (i.e., downsizing org or stacked ranking), you do end up "renegotiating" just that its' mostly on employers terms, and quite an unbalanced contract.

I never thought of it that way. However, I think companies would be fine (for a while) with all their government contracts and lawyers. I get the impression the "free market" doesn't really apply to big corporations.

One advantage corps have is teamwork. (Maybe I need to get in on some kind of mastermind group.)

There was an article a week or so back talking about the most common jobs by state. Overwhelmingly it was truck driving, where I would guess it is common to technically be "freelance". I would imagine blue collar stuff like that is the majority of the 34%.

That's a very good point, I'll update with sources (as they are via studies done in the last few years), that was my bad for not including.

Actually the number does not surprise me, but the source would be great. My informal observations show that great number of knowledge workers freelance on the side of their day jobs, so I suspect that the number of full-time freelancers and part-time freelancers is different.

Also, the studies might indicated breakdown by profession and how it changed over time... Programmers, graphic designers, writers, etc.

that caught me be surprise too, I came in here specifically to see if I could find out where that number came from.

Here's the definition the stated source used:

“individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, or project- or contract-based work in the past 12 months.”

That's very vague and broad. I mean even restricting yourself to "real/full-time" self-employed, you'll find out that many truck drivers, most mechanics, most hair dressers, they're all 1099s...

And many of those truck drivers are misclassified.



I believe you don't want to/would not send any more emails, ads, any of your product spams etc (since you make clear by saying "that's it") then why not give whole thing at once and without asking for emails?

At the end of content, you could include an extra chapter explaining about paid course. By giving at once, without requirement of email, a lot of people would download the course.

I think there's a better chance of people reading it if delivered in small chunks. He also gets to deliver 8 ads (or whatever marketing opp) instead of just one.

Because drip email content like this works as a marketing tool.

> then why not give whole thing at once and without asking for emails?

Well it makes for easy ad revenue, but makes it sound SO scammy.

Paul -- I'm sorry there's so much hate in the comments. Thanks for posting this and thanks for sharing what you've learned :)

Seems like great content but I wish they offered a preview (the first lesson) before requiring an email address.

On a related note, a Thinkful alum and I just launched on a guide together highlighting the same process but direct towards the client. As the intro paragraph states, we're hoping to help the client understand the hiring process without any frustration and uncertainty. All feedback welcome.


This is probably just me, but the fact that the page does not even load with Ghostery running is kinda a red flag, and makes me infer that the author is much more worried about his experience than mine.

To be honest, I hadn't heard of Ghostery - I've tweaked the code to work with it (just installed and tested it).


FYI Paul: I get a black page when using Ghostery on Mac Chrome 40.0.2214.115 (64-bit)

The problem is caused by Typekit, that appears to be blocked by default. Providing an alternative font could be a partial "fix" for those using ghostery (many).

I've changed the way typekit serves fonts (no longer async, but at least it loads the fallback).

I can confirm it works :)

Anybody here successful with the strategy of hiring somebody to find good jobs for you?

Yeah, but bosses at jobs don't like it when I think about our situation like that.

There's a word for that: Sales.

In particular, view your freelancing as a service organization and partner/contract/hire a salesperson to generate and/or convert leads. Offer a commission on your revenue. We've done that before with a few jobs, and have gotten opportunities we likely couldn't score on our own.

There's a book which offers an alternative to freelancing as a serious career choice: http://www.amazon.com/Stop-Thinking-Like-Freelancer-Evolutio... I wrote an article recently which concerns this, called Stop thinking like a freelancer http://blog.higg.im/2014/12/06/freelancing-financial-freedom... Basically I was sick of all the drama that came with freelancing. I exclusively do agency work now...

Thanks for the book recommendation.

The site owner may want to put a timeout on the font loading. I had to manually remove the `wf-loading` class from the `html` tag to get the page to appear.

There are many sites from where you can offer consultant services quoting hourly rate. For instance www.fiverr.com and http://hourlyconsultant.com. The key is fixing the right rate taking into consideration all the factors that define your work profile.

I'd love to read a blow-by-blow on how you put together the site, course and explainer video. How much did you do yourself, how much did you contract out, did you use any firms as opposed to individual freelancers, how did you decide, and where did you find your team?

I wrote the course myself, I hired a local freelancer that I know to film the video. I also programmed the site and design it myself. I hired a freelance editor too (who I've worked with for 10+ years).

So the videographer was a recommendation from a freelance friend. My editor I've worked with in collaboration on many client projects, so I know her work is amazing.

The site runs on WordPress, payment through memberful.com, emails go out through MailChimp.

Are the courses suitable for the professionals who want to become freelancers?

Thank you for sharing, I have signed in.

It would give you a framework for starting to work on gigs with clients, yes.

Damn, that was a good pitch video. Nice work, Mr. Jarvis.

Definitely one of the best I've seen. Clear, concise, relatable, human, and funny.

I wonder if the classes are like the pitch video?

Thank you!

The classes/lessons are slideshows - as I've found people retain more of what I'm talking about if there are words on the screen.

It's all the same stunning personality though, haha...

I bought this out of desperation. Quit my job a few days ago and I only have runway for at MOST 3 months. Going to try the freelance thing again.

I mostly got inspired by this site + http://ivomynttinen.com/blog/freelance-business-report-2014/. Ivo is a fucking beast freelancer.

Wow that whole site doesn't render with Ghostery blocking Typekit by Adobe.

Seriously, this is the kind of garbage that makes me long for a downvote button.

$20K/month is not an impressive claim for something that has "great pay" in the title. You can make that much on a W2.

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