On Twitter these days, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a creator who claims to be making six figures with digital products.
That siren song can be enticing. It can look like they just wake up every morning and sort their newly-received money into “cute” piles and “ugly” piles. (Almost to a person, they use the phrase “Make money while you sleep.”)
Of course, digital products are just one way to go. There are many ways to diversify, and many reasons to do so.
There are also many reasons NOT to do so.
Here at Winning Solo, we’re not believers in blanket advice – only situational decision-making and first principles. So today, I want to discuss with you the Why, the Why Not, and the How of diversifying your freelance business.
Reasons for Freelancers to Diversify
Some typical reasons to diversify:
What you’re doing isn’t working. If you’re having trouble gaining traction or uptake, it might be time to think about new offerings. (Though the problem may also be the marketing of your existing offerings.)
You want to reduce income variance. Freelancing can involve “feast or famine” cycles, and diversifying can smooth these out.
You want to reduce risk. This is a function of “placing more bets” and taking a portfolio approach.
You seek greater potential upside. This applies most obviously to digital products – you build something once and, theoretically, can sell an unlimited amount. But it also applies to career upside. Diversifying can get you closer to what you’d like to be known for.
You crave variety. Sometimes we just need a change.
You crave personal growth. I find this to be the most underrated reason, as diversifying will inevitably teach you something new.
Reasons for Freelancers Not to Diversify
To be clear, the purpose of this post is not to say you must diversify. Here are reasons you may decide that diversifying is not for you:
What you’re doing is working just fine. For example, many top-dollar, in-demand consultants have a very narrow range of offerings. There’s no need for them to shift their focus.
Income variance is not a concern. I’ve had years where I sent fewer than 10 invoices and still made good money – but that also means I got paid less than 10 times. If you typically do projects of a certain size, income variance is a feature, not a bug; it just requires a little planning.
You’re not ready to commit. Diversifying isn’t as easy as saying “Now I do this other thing too.” That other thing will require bandwidth, often over months, to get off the ground.
Confusion is not a selling point. The more broadly diversified you are, the more difficult it is for people to associate you with a specific area of expertise.
The upside is a long shot. Let’s return to digital products. Gumroad is perhaps the largest e-commerce platform for digital creators. In 2020, about 89% of Gumroad’s 75,000 creators earned less than $1,000. About 39% made nothing at all.
So the most probable outcome for digital products is that you will sell very few – though there’s a small chance you hit a home run.
If you’re still warm to the idea of diversifying, there are two ways to go about it: Within your services and beyond your services.
Diversifying Within Your Freelance Services
Diversifying within your freelance services is usually about (a) offering new things or (b) finding new ways to package things you already do.
Some starting points:
Look adjacently. Look both horizontally (complementary services) and/or vertically (upstream or downstream services). For example, my good pal Corrie Oberdin started out offering social media management. Over time, she began specializing in non-profits, and added communication and social media strategy to her roster of services. Now, she happily reports, she does much more strategy than execution.
Clusters of services make the most sense. Clients will trust that you do A, B & C, but not that you do A, G, & T.
For example, in my consultancy, I do strategy, positioning & messaging. I don’t do team-building retreats or magic tricks.
And I often do some “selling of the service that follows the service.” For instance, I sometimes manage projects after I’ve built the strategy. It’s not a service I promote on my website, but it has value and drives income.
But don’t get too crazy with your list of services. Clients won’t believe that you can do 40 things well (and I have seen soloist websites with 40 services). But they’ll believe you can do a few things well.
Consider other ways to deliver change. In addition to project work, which is most of my income, I do training, workshops & speaking gigs. And I often partner with other soloists to meet client challenges that any one of us could not meet on our own.
The base of knowledge is about the same. What changes is the delivery vehicle.
But the core question is this: How else you can transfer your knowledge & expertise to those who need it?
Consider different work structures. For instance, a blend of retainers and projects can make sense to some soloists; the former allows for income predictability while the latter is often the preferred method of partnering.
Other freelancers serve as subcontractors for agencies. The pay is usually lower than you’d earn on your own, but they catch the fish for you. And it can be a way to “get some reps in” as you’re building your biz.
Diversifying Beyond Your Freelance Services
The list of ways you can diversify beyond services is nearly endless. Here are some of the biggies:
- Speaking gigs
- Digital products
- Paid newsletters
- Physical products
- Affiliate marketing
A dive into each of these would further violate the “5-minute reading time” rule of Soloist Sundays. And each requires a different go-to-market approach.
But broadly speaking, some starting points for non-service diversification are:
Market need. Have your clients or colleagues repeatedly asked you to build something new? Does proof of concept already exist?
Time to market. A disastrous scenario is spending months building something nobody wants. So don’t spend months. With your current skill set and knowledge base, what could you build and ship in a month or less?
Excitement. What would you like to bring to the world? What gets you jazzed? What can you easily visualize as a reality?
To reiterate: There’s no law that says you must diversify. And, in fact, splitting your focus could be net-negative.
But if you’re going to move ahead with diversifying, four final reminders:
- Make sure you have strategic reasons to do so.
- Default to small bets, not big bets.
- Plan the necessary bandwidth to build, launch and market.
- Never, ever launch something you wouldn’t be proud to sign your name to.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to spread the gospel to as many freelancers as possible.
Curious about diversifying within or beyond your current services? I have a limited number of slots available for 1-1 coaching. Click here to find out more about how my customized coaching can help you level up.
Copyright 2022 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the footer section.