Join us for an enlightening chat with Matt Dowling, the innovative architect behind the thriving Freelancer Club.
Nigel Rawlins: Welcome to the Wisepreneurs podcast. Can you tell us where you are talking from today?
Matt Dowling: Yeah, great to be here, Nigel. Thanks for the invite. I'm calling you from London, England at the moment where we are just starting to see break in the clouds and finally getting a little bit of weather for the summer. We're in winter here and it's been pouring all day, so hopefully I'll stay warm as we're talking. Now Matt, how did you get started on the freelancer club?
When I came out of university many years ago, I accidentally fell into freelancing. It was based on a few opportunities that fell into my lap as I was unable to land the full-time job that I was trying to get at the time.
So really had no clue what freelancing was or what it meant. And a friend asked me to take photos at his cousin's wedding. And the only criteria there for getting that job was that I owned a camera and off the back of that, stumbled through it. Somebody at that wedding then asked me to come and do another shoot that led to an estate agent asking me to shoot some things for their front window.
And bit by bit it just really started to gather pace. It was almost reverse engineered that I had to understand what freelancing was that I had to register as a business, pay tax, set up a website, market myself. All of that came later. So it was very much a sort of happenstance the whole freelancing career trajectory.
And then I started to kinda run into some trouble. The moment I think that has somewhat defined the Freelancer Club, both in spirit and in origin, was a company that I had a great relationship with for about a year. I was shooting their content for fashion retail online. So a bit like Assos, if Assos has permeated into Australia, a big online retailer.
But they would've been one of the first and all was hunky dory for a long period of time. And then the invoice didn't get paid one month and that led onto a second month. And the excuses I heard were just an accountancy error or technical error. They were shifting programs. And so it all felt fine.
We, we had a good relationship until up until then. So there was no concern. But that then snowballed month three, four. And all the while I'm borrowing money from friends at this point to pay rent. I had pushed aside all of my other clients because I was so enamored with this one client and they'd given me a lot of opportunity.
And by month five or six it was dire straits. It was Really hit rock bottom, in a lot of debt, barely enough money to get down to the studio to work for the, to the company who were still asking me to work for them. And it transpired that they had gone bankrupt. And I had an 11 grand invoice that was overdue and never got paid.
And with the last few quid I did have, I hired a lawyer to see what we could do, but unfortunately we just got added to a list of folks they owed money to. And that was a real turning point, certainly. And then quite soon after that, a journalist got wind of the story and they published it in a national press here in the UK.
And a lot of other freelancers reached out to say something similar had happened to them, not with the same company, but very similar outcome. And It became a very peculiar time. I was thinking, that's it. I'm in debt. I'll need to pack up my bags, go back to Dublin where I'm originally from, get a nine to five and start paying everybody back.
Whilst at the same time I was offering advice to other people who were going through the same process and we had formed this sort of unofficial Facebook group of folks who had been through the mill. So I was doing a lot of research around how to protect oneself legally and what rights we have and going through those usual bits and pieces that you look for when scrambling to get paid.
And that's, I guess when the first seeds were planted for Freelancer Club, which was, there's not a lot of information out there, there wasn't at the time. And a lot of people are going through the same challenges. And that a ton of freelancers felt very unprepared. So I had never I didn't have a contract with this particular client, for example, and that was naivety on my part and exploitation on their part.
So that was probably first time I started to really get the wheels turning around the concept of Freelancer Club and what it would become a few years later.
Nigel Rawlins: That must have been pretty terrifying when you were in that much debt and wondering whether you should go out and get a job or not.
How did you cope, mentally?
Matt Dowling: Yeah it's a funny one. Look, when I went freelance, even in those first early years, a lot of friends used to say, you're either brave or stupid. They were the two things I tended to get back and I never fully got that. I come from an entrepreneurial family.
Everybody in the family works for themselves. So there, there was never that mental barrier for me to approach freelancing. So that idea of feast or famine, good weeks and bad weeks, fluctuating income, constant rejection and pitching yourself and hustling, that, that was all second nature. And very fortunately, I had the resilience in built to, to deal with a lot of that.
Now, although this was a more extreme case and I had a great support network around me, a lot of great friends and family who were able to support by really just being there and listening to me rant about the issues more than anything made a big difference. But I got very fortunate even from a financial perspective, following that newspaper article when A couple of companies reached out and asked me to come in and tell that story and help their students, and started to form a new arm of my freelancing, which is a consultancy I guess consultancy.
Probably more coaching, but an informal way to come in and support aspiring freelancers. And I think that helped with my mental wellbeing at the time. I felt, okay, I'm able to stay here in the UK. I can rebuild this, a little money coming in. Which helped with the financial anxiety and incredibly patient and and supportive friends and family around me.
So that brought me time. So it was tricky and a difficult period, but ultimately a great learning opportunity and a great time to be able to reflect on who you are, how you deal with these challenges and hopefully set you up for the future.
Nigel Rawlins: Do you think it's you've gotta have a sort of a personality or certain type of personality to be able to cope with that uncertainty of money?
Cause I would assume that's probably one of the biggest issues for somebody who's thinking, I've had enough of my job, got some skills, I'm gonna go out and start my own business. And then they go out and we'll talk about some of the issues they might be facing, but certainly have to be pretty tough or resilient to go out and say I'm gonna earn my own income, everything from scratch.
What are you reckon for that?
Matt Dowling: Yeah, I put a lot of thought into this. We focus quite heavily on mindset. When when we're coaching and when we're teaching the next generation. But I don't think you need a specific set of skills. I don't think you need to, let me rephrase that. I don't think you need to be have one type of personality or one set of characteristics.
I think whether you are introvert or extrovert, whether you're a shy individual, outgoing, highly resilient or not, I think there are ways you can use whatever set of characteristics you've got to run a business and to freelance. But that said, I do think there are certain tools that are useful. We looked at a lot of the core triggering points as a freelancer.
So I mentioned rejection. There, there's a hustle culture that I think can be pretty hard on, on a lot of individuals if you're not used to it. You think about someone who goes out and gets a job, a nine to five job, you might interview 10 times, and if you get lucky you'll get a job.
And that could be it for a couple of years. Even longer. For freelancers you might be pitching for work on a daily basis. It could be that extreme multiple times a day. And 95% of your proposals and pitches will be rejected, particularly in the early stages. And so to keep getting off the mat and going back out there and putting yourself out there just to land those first few early jobs in particular, that takes a lot of grit and I think it takes a huge amount of resilience.
Financial anxiety is another one we see a lot of in terms of fluctuating income particularly for individuals that have come from a full-time role and would be very used to getting that paycheck in. There's a routine there, there's a security and element of knowing what your money situation's gonna look like month on month to transition from that into the unknown can be very daunting.
Certainly in my case, it took a couple of years before I was comfortable even taking a break. My, my friends would be off doing a holiday in the summer and you'd have to turn it down because it's, you'd have a fear of missing out on a client or a fear that an existing client might use somebody else while you're away and not take you back.
And it's funny these fears and insecurities are quite tricky to teach. There, there's very little you can say to somebody, they almost have to experience it and. And see that it does work itself out over time. But yeah, there are a few of these triggers that we've noticed.
And we've done a lot of work around them as to how we can provide freelancers with a bit of a framework to deal with them when they pop up. So yeah, I don't think it's necessarily one type of individual that will thrive as a freelancer, but simply knowing where the pitfalls are, I think can have a big impact for sure.
Nigel Rawlins: So I get the feeling though, that somebody who's jumped out for me goes, oh shit, what am I doing? And a support group like yours can at least say, Hey, reality is you've gotta do these things. So are you finding with your membership, I think you've got about 50,000 members at the moment or?
Matt Dowling: Yeah, just shy.
Nigel Rawlins: 60,000. That's fantastic. So they're very supportive of each other. And do they try and capture the new ones and get them in and help them?
Matt Dowling: Yeah. That's something we we've tried to foster since, since launch. And we've done that really by a couple of traditional methods of really just chatting to people who we found to be active on the platform, getting to know them.
There's no trickery to it. It's just an, a genuine and authentic curiosity about their journey, their goals, and seeing how we can help them. And we found that by doing that it's nurtured a really organic culture within the community of members that do wanna help and reach out.
I remember freelancing myself many years ago and. There definitely was a sense and a culture of keeping your information to yourself for fear of giving away secrets or a client or helping your competition. And thankfully that seems to have dissipated quite a lot. Certainly in our community we see a lot of established freelancers supporting the newer folks and it has nothing to do with age.
It's more just to do with experience. We've got a discussions board whereby members post questions that Google can't give them the answer to very specific questions around a freelance topic. And it's great. Other freelancers will chime in and give their opinion. And equally we have collaborative tools that enable our members to meet up in person and collaborate and create together, but also form groups and tribes and lean on each other and chat about freelancing. So yeah, I think it's all come together with this new way of being able to talk about mental health and challenges and wellbeing. That certainly wasn't the case growing up in, in Ireland in the eighties.
But now it's wonderful that everybody feels a lot more confident and comfortable getting into the weeds around specific challenges that they're facing and that's reciprocated and met with a really supportive community. So although we've done a bit to nurture it I think the times has helped as well.
Nigel Rawlins: Remember when I used to be a teacher many years ago, more than 20 years ago, and I quit to start a business, and I'll be really honest, had no idea what I was gonna do, but I quit. And it's taken me some 20 years to get on top of it. But in my, in those days, there was no one there to help us. N no advice, no idea, what should I do, how do I do it?
How much do I charge? There was none of that. And I was very lucky. I managed to find a mentor who really knew what he was doing and worked with me for 20 years until he passed away. The sort of organization you're talking about now is just brilliant for somebody who doesn't know where to look, doesn't know where to get help.
And it's there. And I did look at your site today and you've got a whole range of training and a whole lot of stuff there, just to get him on the right track. I generally work with older adults, often 60 and older, believe it or not. What sort of age groups are you finding or demographic groups are you finding on your site?
Matt Dowling: It's a real mix and in preparation for this conversation I wanted to look into those demographics and see where we're at. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that we have a healthy percentage of our members that fall into the category of 50 plus. And yeah it, freelancing is such a fascinating area for this because it the stereotype I think when you think of a freelancer is probably someone relatively young with a laptop flying around the world with a mojito in their hand.
And the reality is really not that up until recently. So only in the last few years has there been a big spike in the number of 16 to 24 year olds, entering the market, it's become an aspirational career option and a viable one at that. At university level, we're starting to see a complete sea change in the number of students that are freelancing whilst they study.
And a growing number of students that go on to freelance as a career straight out of uni that was not happening a few years ago. And then we also have individuals that are keen to readdress their lifestyle. I think particularly post pandemic, there's a huge amount of self-reflection around what's important in life.
And we've seen a big group of individuals make the decision to get outta the rat race and prioritize, a better work-life balance, spend more time with their family and flexibility. Even the hybridized work model that we, a lot of us are now living in and working from home and the office or just purely working remotely, that has a huge correlation with freelancing.
That's how freelancers have been doing it for years. And then we see folks 50 plus who are who are keen to again, try and shift that way of of working and living and striking a balance, utilizing years of experience and and skill to potentially generate the same or more income or the income they require whilst also taking more control of their life, getting more time back to do the things that they like to do outside of work. And I think that culture change whereby it's now a very accessible model, be it as a side hustle, something you do part-time or as a full-time freelance career those pathways have really now become accessible to everybody, both practically through technology but also culturally where we now see it to be something that's accepted not in every country.
That's another fascinating conversation. I think that those cultural differences around freelancing and the stigmas that are very much embedded in certain areas of the world. But for the UK certainly I can speak on and it sounds like Australia as well. We've done a little work there.
We have a, we launched in New York about eight months ago. So we know the US is obviously a very thriving space for entrepreneurialism. We're seeing just a really broad range of individuals that you wouldn't expect find freelancing and really take advantage of this moment.
Nigel Rawlins: So looking at your platform, videographers, photographers, graphic designers what sort of range of skills are your freelancers offering?
Matt Dowling: So when we first launched it was predominantly within the creative space and you've listed a few of the professions there. And that was mainly due to our jobs board providing those opportunities in sectors like tv, film fashion, music, beauty these areas. So naturally you will attract that type of that type of industry. But in the past few years we've doubled down on our educational and support features. We've launched a freelance business school. Right now is only, an option for university partners, but within the next couple of weeks we'll be going public with that and that'll be open to everybody.
We also have about 250 hours of on demand short courses whereby members can drop in and enroll in very quick bite-sized chunks of information when they need it, which is the key part of that sentence. We've noticed that if you try and bombard a freelancer who needs to know 101 things if you bombard them too soon, it'll overwhelm and they become disengaged.
So we've made sure that the courses are there when you need them. They are plentiful, they're short, they're jargon free. And all of our educational and support features are completely accessible to everybody and universal. And what that's done is it's seen a really great opening up of diverse professions and individuals joining the club.
And everybody from lawyers to nurses, pilots and architects are coming on board to join our creative community. And it's wonderful. It brings a really fantastic sense of diverse thinking and interesting collaborations. For the first time with our educational tools, we've been able to open it up to countries outside of the US and the uk.
That's also brought a wonderful cultural diversity. And we're getting to learn and understand some of the challenges that individuals have in, in different countries, but also open up opportunities for our members to fly around the world and connect with another member when they're when they land in a new city.
Nigel Rawlins: People from all over the world can join or you've got little branches in each country or something?
Matt Dowling: Yeah, so anybody can join. Anybody can tap into what's called our academy features. Any of the educational or support features that are on the website, they can join and take full advantage of those.
And we have a specific membership that they can take to, to do that. And then as a point of connecting with other members the site is really useful to source and find other freelancers in your area. And so what we've noticed a lot of members are doing is they'll use the site to, to find other freelancers, not necessarily for work, just as part of the membership and as a means of a conversation.
And then often they'll meet up for a coffee and go and have a chat, and they'll build out a, an actual support network of other freelancers as they may not have friends or family working in that same place. And they might feel quite isolated. Equally, we've heard stories of members who will fly to another country for work or for vacation and seek out another member who's located in that city.
And because there's that commonality of both being members of the freelancer club it breaks down that initial awkwardness and they'll meet for a pint or a coffee and have a chinwag about all things freelance. And that's been cool hearing about those stories and how we're able to facilitate some of those connections.
Nigel Rawlins: That sounds wonderful. I'd highly recommend anyone to join just purely for the educational part of it. So you've got a job board in there, but that's mostly for England, is it?
Matt Dowling: Yeah, so right now it's focused in, on the UK and New York specifically. Okay. The reasoning behind that is the majority of our members would offer a face-to-face service.
For instance, if you're a photographer, the job has to be within your radius that you're willing to travel. So it's not like a tech site or a, a membership that's dedicated to web developers, for example, where you can just flick a button, you can apply for any job anywhere in the world and off you go.
I'd say only around 20% of our jobs are remote and accessible to anybody, whereas the remainder would require you to be in that area. So with that in mind we decided to hone in on a few key areas in the uk London, Manchester, and Birmingham. And then of course we get a lot of organic jobs pop up outside of those areas, but they were our three main focuses.
And then we launched a New York as well. As our kind of first non uk territory whereby we're posting a lot of work there as well. And we're a bootstrap company so we've never had investments and we don't have the luxury of being able to pump millions into advertising and marketing, which is what's needed if you really want to scale up your jobs board with you'll see that on other marketplace websites. And I guess for us, we're, yes, there's a jobs board and we know a lot of our members do quite well out of the jobs board, but primarily that's not what we are.
Primarily, we're a community, we're a resource particularly with our learning and support features. We are we're here to try and develop and nurture talent so that they can apply for jobs with us and anywhere else. I would never recommend somebody rely solely on one or two websites to, to try and feed their business.
And that diversity of job opportunities and ways to find work, I think I is essential to try and stay afloat and thrive. So that's really our major ambition is to arm everybody, every member that joins with the skills, with the confidence, with the contacts, to be able to go out there and and land the gigs that they want in a multitude of areas. Let's do a little bit on that. Some of the skills that, for example, somebody's working at the moment, they've had enough of their work, they've got some skills. What would you suggest they start before they quit their jobs? What sort of skills do you think they need to accumulate so that they can actually do a successful launch?
Yeah. I think the first thing I would always recommend is to grab a pen and paper and start jotting down some of your goals before diving into to what's needed. I think too often folks are quick to just jump straight in and start hammering different marketing channels or speaking to friends and family and finding jobs and that can work if we think back to my story, there was zero preparation and it was just a bull in a china shop.
You're trying to figure it out as you go along. I definitely wouldn't recommend that approach. So just jotting down what those personal goals and objectives are for your particular situation. And the reason why I think it's essential is because freelancing is so unique and individual.
We've already touched on some of the different individuals that might choose to go freelancing, but equally it lends itself to that flexibility. And when you look at the top five reasons to go freelancing, they're often things like wanting to be your own boss or spend more time with the family, or have that flexibility or work on projects that creatively satisfy you.
They're not always, and in fact, very rarely are they financially motivated. So once you have the goals in place, that'll help you frame what skills and steps you need to achieve them. Because it's not a one size fits all with freelancing, but once you have established them I think definitely a strong understanding of business essentials is a good starting place. I don't think there's a need to go too deep into this, but just a, some general concepts like return on investments the idea of some form of marketing for sure, just an understanding of where you're, you might go and find your clients. I think it's good to know what your pricing might look like, even just ballpark.
A lot of people get hung up on pricing when in reality it really fluctuates and changes. Sometimes daily for a lot of freelancers they price based on project. But that's that's certainly something that you don't wanna be stumbling around when it comes to a negotiation or when it comes time to have a meeting with a potential client.
And then really just understanding your value. What is it that you're gonna bring to the, to your clients? Who are they? A bit of client analysis or audience profile just an understanding ,where do they hang out? Are you gonna have to set up a range of social media channels?
Is that where you're gonna pick up work? Do you already have existing contacts from your nine to five job? Can you leverage them? All of these little step stones, I think are good starting places for new freelancers. Thinking about getting into it. And then probably around three months savings, I would say, just to give you that buffer to be able to figure it out while still not feeling under pressure to pay rent and mortgages and bills and whatever else.
But yeah I do think it it's just important not to try and put a template out there for everybody. It really is horses for courses. Certainly when I consult and when I coach freelancers on a one-to-one basis, that's always where we start it. It's important to understand not just their goals, but their motivations.
Because when it's lashing with rain outside, you know it's dark and you haven't gotten work in ages, you still need that drive to be able to get you outta bed and go find the clients again.
Nigel Rawlins: That's one of the toughest things I used to find when I didn't have work. You'd almost get desperate.
I only work on a retainer now, and I've had some, oh, nearly 10 years now, still going. But that's my old work let's just talk about marketing for a bit. I found that if you're going to work for yourself, you virtually have to focus on your marketing every day, even when you've got work.
And it doesn't mean you've gotta publish something, but you've gotta be working on it. Are you finding, say that once you're more experienced, you're beginning to realize that? And mind, mind you, I run a marketing services company, and I'm only really getting into it now in my 20th year, so really get stuck into this.
But I'm realizing, boy, you've gotta do this. But when I had started out, I don't think I would've known how to do any of this. Yeah. Certainly the lack of know-how around marketing is a barrier for a lot of people. We very consciously put together freelance business school with a dedicated marketing course baked into that for those reasons.
Matt Dowling: But it's a big subject if you think about, a university student will probably take four years to get a degree in marketing. It's also a very volatile space. It's ever changing. New platforms come into the arena all the time. Algorithms change, rules change even for the most seasoned marketeer, I think it's actually quite a challenging space.
So if you're a freelancer with no experience coming into it, I think it can feel very daunting. Really daunting. And I don't think it has to be I think if we zoom out a little bit and ask the question what is marketing, what's its purpose? And you just really break it down to the lowest common denominator.
It's essentially a tool to help us land clients and that can be done in a hundred ways. And actually the more sort of creative and less popular are probably a lot more efficient. With so many people. Let me speak quickly on, say the younger generation for a second, just to make this point.
But their instinct if you're 18 to 25 will be to jump onto social media almost always with no plan or strategy and post content there that'll be typically promoting your service. So it'll be a very direct approach. And what will happen there is you'll invest a huge amount of time on a weekly basis on say, Instagram or TikTok.
And you might pick up the odd client here and there who sees your work and drops you a message and you start that conversation. It's very reactive. I think it's it can work for someone who has a side hustle and doesn't have that need for regular income. I don't think it's a sustainable strategy unless you have a, an incredibly engaged audience.
But there, there's just so many issues with that approach. We don't have time to go into them. But rather if you look at your own coming back to the bespoke idea, if you look at your own situation and say, okay where is my market hanging out? Where are my clients hanging out?
What if I start knocking on some shops in my local area? Is that a starting point? Because I know 99% of individuals won't do that. I'm gonna step outta my comfort zone and do something far more traditional to try and drum up some business. And I think typically what we see in the marketing space, with early stage freelancers is just a blanket approach to try a little bit of everything.
And the one advice we always one piece of advice we always give is make sure you're measuring that because the blanket approach isn't bad at all. It gives you a sense of what's gonna work and what doesn't. But if you're not measuring it, it's just a scatter gun approach and you'll never know what works and what doesn't.
So long as you're trying, measuring, tweaking, and then either axing it, if it's definitely not working or persevering with it, if you think it has a chance, then that's a very progressive marketing strategy. And that can comprise anything from social media to email mailers to just telling your mates that you've become a freelancer or knocking on doors in your local area.
There's definitely not one system that's gonna work for everybody. And often it's those sort of cracks in the market and those little nuanced areas that you might not think of that tend to end up being the funnel to find work. And and you only discover those through experimentation and trial and error.
Nigel Rawlins: That's the perfect way of doing it's try stuff. See what works? Otherwise it won't. The only problem is I think they've gotta understand it's, it, it has to be ongoing just, and it doesn't always work straight away. And the danger is if they're impatient to earn money. They're gonna be very frustrated.
And I think you're right about the three months of work. It could even be better just have a little part-time job. So bring some money in that you can pay your rent with and eat with, and then have enough time to focus on your business. You talked about the business side of it a lot of them think they've gotta go and see an accountant and they've gotta do this, and they've gotta do that.
Revenue is obviously the big thing, but often people say how much should I spend on marketing? I know we've just spoken about marketing, but if you haven't got a lot of money, it's time, isn't it really? But you've gotta spend on it.
Matt Dowling: Yeah. Let's break it down, right?
Every freelancer needs to know a little bit about a lot. You're the head marketing manager, you're the negotiator, the salesperson, the accountant. And that's before you do the actual work. That's before you do the thing that you're selling. And in each of these cases, for every task that you have if you were to write down a list of the things you need to do to launch your business, and then after that, the things you need to do to hit your goals and generate the money you need to survive and thrive, then each of those challenges, you've got three choices, right?
You do it yourself, you get someone else to do it, or you automate. And that's a really nice sort of mantra to have when you start going through the checklist and say I need to build a website. I can do it myself. No experience of doing that, but I could probably, buy a template from Wix or one of these off the shelf sites.
And I could figure it out and I might butcher it, but I'll learn a new skill and that could take me three weeks. And and how important is a website? And it's probably pretty important that's the thing that might make or break whether somebody decides to go with you or not. It shows your professionalism.
It's pretty critical. And let's say you are, you're a plumber. That's not gonna be your area of expertise. So maybe a better shout would be to get someone else to do it. So you're gonna have to pay a professional, but if you don't have the money to do that, the third option is, okay can we automate it?
Is there an online tool that exists? Be it AI or an automated system that can ease the burden of that process? That's the thought process I think that, Freelancers should go through on each of these key tasks as you set up your business. And one trick is once you figure out what your hourly rate is anything under that, or let's say 50% under that.
So if your hourly rate is a hundred quid, a hundred dollars an hour let's say any task that you deem to be $50 or below an hour, you should outsource, because suddenly you're spending an hour which is worth a hundred dollars on a task that you're no good at, and it's killing and eating up your day.
So that's a good example of a business principle or business concept that I think is quite tricky to wrap your head around to say it's gonna be, i's gonna be better off for me to spend money, on an expert than it is to tackle this myself over the next, say, two to three months. So it might not feel like it, it might feel like a waste of money right now.
We're talking about it as, as you and I know about this, but I can tell you the vast majority of newer freelancers, they just don't have that concept in their head of return on investment or spending to accumulate it. It's just not there. So that's certainly something that I think all freelancers should consider when going through that checklist and try and farm out is as much of that stuff as you can and that you can afford and that makes sense to free up the time for you to be more valuable.
Nigel Rawlins: Oh, I totally agree with that. I think I use about, I then, I've been on Upwork now for 14 years. I regularly spend two or $300 a week. And it's great because I just don't have to sweat on it. But after all that time, I know who I employ. So I think when you first start out with outsourcing, you're just gonna have to lose a bit of money cuz you're gonna think, oh, that's a cheap job.
But no, it can be a very expensive job if you think it's gonna be cheap cuz you get the wrong person. But I love it cuz I often think I'd rather read my book and do my writing than do that job. That's just gonna drive me nuts. I guess one of the other issues there too is in briefing I know that your people are are freelancers, so they're gonna have a briefing given to them, but they've also gotta learn to do a brief to bring in other freelancers to help them.
So do you do stuff on that as well?
Matt Dowling: Yeah, we've got a short course on on that and it's such a good point. Freelancers, hire freelancers. I don't think we talk about that as much as we should, but we've seen that a lot. A lot of our members use our jobs board to find other freelancers to do work for their freelance business.
And it's awesome that really is the, kinda the power of the community and shows how we can all support each other and come together and if we think about somebody who wants to set up a startup business you've had an idea, it's unique to the world. You wanna change the world in some way you'll probably need to raise investment and that, let's say you need a couple of million dollars to get started just in terms of putting together a whole team of people and building the platform and an app and all the technology that goes under the hood there and.
So that's a kind of typical journey of a startup. A freelancer tends to not need much at all to get started in terms of capital. You may need to purchase some equipment, but most freelancers will already have that in play. Often it's a phone or maybe a computer and a bit of kit.
But after that point it's ongoing costs or you're, as we've been discussing your farming stuff out to other people. And then I think once it comes to writing a brief, the theoretically freelancers should be fairly well versed on that, because they've been on the other side of it.
They typically, if you've applied for a few jobs, you can recognize a good and a bad brief. And there are a few things to, to be cognizant of when doing that, and Being as detailed orientated as possible helps making sure you're managing expectations getting your rates and the value of the project I think is essential.
That's something we see all the time. There's a lot of naivety when it comes to hiring freelancers in terms of their worth. So we have jobs on our board posted by businesses and people from the general public. So for instance, if someone, I dunno, needs a photographer for a wedding they probably have never had to put a brief together before for a photographer.
And so this is often fairly challenging and certainly when it comes to knowing how much they should be spending on a photographer in that space. You might do a bit of research online, but you might not know. And that's what we found is quite common. It's both a fairly weak brief, and by weak I mean it, it lacks detail and it requires the freelancer to ask many more questions before they can properly quote, and then a normally undervalued rate where they may not fully appreciate the amount of work that has to go on even before and after the actual process and the actual project itself.
And that's something that we do a lot of work on here in terms of educating and coaching the client side as well to make sure that there's a little more understanding as to what a, a fair rate looks like. So yeah I think that's a skill in itself and I think it's something that when you get good at, you can often use parts of it again and again.
You might mention a few bits and pieces about yourself or your freelance business in terms of values or culture those things won't change. And then outside of that you'll pad it with the actual project brief and description of what you want to achieve. The other tip I would give on this is try and use, if it's a visual project, use examples as frequently as possible.
And if you can visually show the freelancer what you're trying to accomplish it really gives the freelancer a much better understanding of the client expectation so that they can either meet those expectations or have a discussion to say I'm not Martin Scorsese, we're gonna have to, gonna have to think about how this looks at the end.
Certainly it's a skill. Yeah, it's a great point you bring up, but I think it's something More freelancers would benefit from understanding.
Nigel Rawlins: I learned it the hard way. We've almost gotta do number one, do this, number two, otherwise you'd never get it. But the other interesting one there that I was thinking in terms of value setting a minimum price and say, look, I'm not gonna go anywhere near a job.
I guess once you know what you're doing and what your value is, say, look, my minimum charge is a thousand dollars, or it's $10,000. And that's the danger you'll attract people who are not willing to pay that sort of money. So I guess that's positioning again, in terms of marketing.
But I work in this range of prices. If you can't pay that, I'm not even gonna consider it. I'd rather sleep in that morning or something like that, or it won't get you outta bed. That's the sort of th value. And I think one of the big issues you are finding is these people who expect people to do stuff for nothing, and then they might give you some work, which would never occur anyway.
So how do you think about the setting a value and saying I don't work under that.
Matt Dowling: Yeah, I think most freelancers who have been around for a while, they get there eventually. That takes quite a lot of confidence and a bit of a bit of knowhow in your own self and the value that you provide a client.
But it definitely weeds out the bad clients. And make no mistake, there are bad clients out there. So if there's a market for your service, And you're confident that enough individuals or companies are gonna pay for that. It makes perfect sense to position yourself with a with a threshold and one that you won't go below.
I think that is, that, that's smart business sense. What where we see some of the mistakes are would be freelancers who are going in with that attitude but have really overvalued themselves and are struggling to find any work. You're always looking for the sweet spot.
Is there a market for your service? And how much are people willing to pay? The more common the more common pricing model we see is freelancers undervaluing themselves in the first couple of years typically, cuz there's a fear that they're not gonna get any work. We end up with a race to the bottom because you have a bunch of folks out there all undercutting each other for the same job.
Outta fear because they think that price is the most important component and consideration that a client thinks about when choosing who to hire, which it isn't. Quality of work statistically is always number one, price is the second. So I think there's it's easier said than done.
If I was speaking to a freelancer five years into the game and we could start to talk about how to position yourself to ensure you're not attracting bad clients and you are getting paid what you're worth, it's a lot easier than having that conversation with somebody in their first year, still very worried about landing clients, creating that experience building up their know-how and their network. But there's an interesting there's an interesting option out there when it comes to pricing, which is called value-based pricing. And it moves away from a set hourly or day rate concept.
And what in effect you're trying to do is discover how valuable your service is to a company or to a client, so if we think of an example you might have a graphic designer and someone in their family asks them to design a, I dunno some sort of email signature that's gonna sit at the bottom of their, each of their emails and it'll take this designer, I dunno, a day or two to put that together.
But it's very low value for the client for the friend in that instance. It might make their emails look more professional, but it's probably not gonna make or break anything. And that same graphic designer might get asked to design a billboard for a 20 million pound marketing campaign that will be seen all over the world, and it's gonna be used on across the board on a big company's push to generate more sales and brand awareness.
Then that design, which might take the same amount of time as the email signature, has far greater value to the client and so when having these discussions with clients and talking about the project, if you can ask some questions as a freelancer to determine how is my work going to impact your business?
And what sort of value is my work gonna bring to your company? Another way to put it is what problem am I solving? So you're not a photographer taking photos of a fashion collection. You are producing professional images that are going to increase sales. So the problem you're solving is we have a lack of sales and you, the photographer, you're gonna increase and solve that problem.
You're gonna increase the sales and solve the problem. So how we position ourselves and how we pitch and brand ourselves whilst also better understanding where our value lies amongst our clients can have a transformative impact on how much you earn, how much you charge and how much you have to work as a freelancer.
Nigel Rawlins: I read a chap called Blair Enns' book on value pricing and stuff like that, and he's quite brilliant on that. The issue there is yeah, having that conversation and then finding out really what it's worth. So if you're gonna bring in a million dollars revenue for them or more you don't do that at for a couple hundred dollars or several hundred pounds it's probably worth a hundred thousand dollars even.
But not many people are gonna be brave enough to ask that unless they're one of the big agencies. And I guess that's the issue of being a freelancer. And that pricing issue it was always an issue for me. I was wondering how much do you charge that? I've built websites and I've been told if it was a, the public service when they did that last time they did it, they paid $80,000 and you've just done a $2,000 website and you go you just don't know.
Do you really? So I, I pity beginner freelancers. But I think you've mentioned that some of those freelancers are starting in the universities and they're young and they're able to find out what they can get. So some of those ones who've been freelancing from 16 might have a better idea how to do this than some of the older ones.
When I was 30 or 40 going out to freelancing.
Matt Dowling: Yeah, potentially. I think it's more about we talked about skillset and we talked about what freelancers need before they get going. This is a really interesting one so it's not really, it's not sales it's not necessarily negotiation.
It's a, it's communication. I think it's effective communication. So if you and I are having a conversation and you wanna hire me, Know, my approach would be much more of a collaborative tone. I'd wanna get to know your business. I'd wanna understand why you wanna hire me. I wouldn't be that direct that, that kind of why question is get, it helps me get a better understanding of the problem you need solving the value of that, and where I could potentially add even more value because I'm the expert and you don't know.
Th their questions that I think are incredibly progressive when it comes to value-based pricing and also a more collaborative and fulfilling experience. You'll be more invested in the brand that you're working for and the project, as opposed to just hard selling yourself doing a job and walking away.
There, there's a huge amount of merit in getting to look under the hood of a particular project and better understanding the mechanics of a business and how it all pieces together. So you could say this website I'm gonna build, what's it gonna do? And it's gonna, it's gonna help market the rest of the company and what does that company look like?
And I think from a client's perspective, they really appreciate that type of conversation. It's almost a hybrid consultancy, marketing, sales conversation. You are swimming around these worlds where you're asking more questions to get to know not only a bit more about the project so that you can quote accurately, but also get a buy-in for yourself.
Freelancers often have multiple clients. You gotta switch hats quite a lot. And something we're seeing a lot more of is freelancers gravitating towards projects that align with their values. It's not all about money. It's often to do with job satisfaction or working for a company that's doing good.
These are high priority considerations when it comes to choosing the clients. And I think only through meaningful conversation and smart questions can you ultimately discover if it's a good fit.
Nigel Rawlins: Yeah, no, totally agree there. And I think you hit that, hit on the nail when you said the client doesn't always know what they want They're hiring the freelancer because the freelancer is the expert and the freelancer's gotta realize, yes, I am the expert in the sense that they are the prize and yeah, do the diagnosis.
And often it's worth charging for that because if you don't do it and you end up doing what they think that they want, it's, they're not gonna be satisfied either. But yeah, you need the gift of the gab to be able to do that. What about some of the things that are coming up, do you think? I know that one thing I've become very much aware of in the last couple of months is AI ChatGpt.
I'll be honest, I have lots of subscriptions to AI programs. One I use for the podcasting that will a, after I've edited this podcast using. An editor called Descript. I send that off to one of my freelancers. He sends it back and I put it on to SwellAI, which will give me a whole lot of broken up show notes and everything like that.
I use ChatGPT multiple times during the day to help me write a conclusion to something or make a distinction between things. Are you seeing much in the AI now affecting freelancing or your freelancers? What do you see happening there?
Matt Dowling: Yeah we've seen a fair bit of movement. I'll just speak anecdotally on I guess around November, December when ChatGPT started to come more into focus from a consumer perspective.
And we saw it having a big impact on our writing community. Marketing experts folks that would typically have content at the heart of their service. Written content that is and it's a hundred percent impacted their client base. And I've read a lot around AI.
I'm really curious about this field. I use it like you, I use it every day and have been involved in various aspects of AI for many months. And so would welcome any new tech. But a lot of what I'm reading, it talks about adaptation and the need for freelancers to adapt and you can switch gears quite easily and adapt your service and move forward.
That, that may have been true with older technology that takes a little bit of while to permeate through into general use, but just the speed and the rapid rise of ChatGPT in particular, and I guess all of its other kind of all of the other apps and tools that are out there that do something similar, unfortunately, have resulted in a lot of individuals losing clients overnight.
And it's not that easy to adapt and switch your services with very little preparation time and at that speed. So unfortunately, we've seen quite a large percentage of those particular sectors take a heavy hit. Certainly within the writing space. Anybody who is producing what we'd call evergreen content so content that can, is not necessarily trending or news-based but can sit there indefinitely.
That's almost completely wiped out. ChatGPT does such a good job at that. And then on the, on a more positive note, we've seen a lot of freelancers use it as a co-pilot. They'll bring in various AI tools to automate a lot of the bits and pieces that they do for their business and sometimes within their service as well.
We spoke about it before about do it yourself, outsource it or automate it. And now with ChatGPT you can have that open and it can really expedite a lot of those repetitive tasks that a freelancer has to do on a daily basis. So even job proposals or replies to email and that's just scraping the surface.
We have image and video generation AI, which is getting rapidly more advanced and impressive. That'll start to, to impact individuals who operate in that space. And Yeah I think there's, there, there's an equal measure excitement and fear amongst the community when it comes to ai.
And I guess just the sheer speed in which it's all coming to play is quite tricky to keep up with.
Nigel Rawlins: Oh yeah. I think it's fascinating though. I've gotta be honest, I have to heavily edit anything ChatGPT produces for me and I'm pretty good with the prompts now and I do feed it with a lot of research cuz I, I have you come across Rome research?
It's relational database where you put all your notes in and tag 'em and all that. I can pull lots of notes out, feed it in and get ChatGPT to help me write something. But then I've just gotta work it so hard to make it say what I want and personalize it. So I don't think ChatGPT is really going to replace a good copywriter.
Yeah, on the cheap maybe, but certainly not for good copy anyway. But that's the issue there is if you are good at what you're doing and you are going to augment yourself with ChatGPT, you're gonna be even better.
Matt Dowling: Yeah I'd echo that. I think we're gonna see folks stacking up now.
That seems to be the trend. I think anybody who was coming in at a at a low level producing work that was very much in that kind of lower echelon will, will be out of a game, which does put more pressure on aspiring and new freelancers. I think it really emphasizes the importance of supporting freelancers and providing them with the necessary skills to be able to speed up that learning process so that they go from being good to great. A lot quicker than they used to in the past. There, there just isn't that time anymore to be mediocre. The entire kinda stack has gone up a level. The we did some research recently and we found out that the average time it takes for a freelancer to become sustainable is around 18 months.
And one of our big ambitions at the club and a campaign we launched this year called Rise Freelancer really aims to try and shorten that runway so yeah, w we think 18 months is, it's a hell of a long time. And typically the reason why it takes so long is cuz you're figuring all this stuff out that we're talking about.
You're figuring out how to run a business, how to pay tax, cash flow, everything. There, there is a list as long as our arm. How do we provide freelancers with the with the skills and the know-how to be able to get there quicker. And I think AI has further put pressure on us shortening that runway.
Because I think when you were a freelancer a few years ago, you could probably get away with picking up some low hanging fruit. There's a few jobs that experienced freelancers wouldn't be interested in. So newer, less experienced folks would take those jobs they would, wouldn't charge a lot for them.
But it gives you a few things it gives you a little income but it also gives you confidence, experience puts it another name on your CV. And it also gives you that sense of validation that really cannot be underestimated. How important that is to think, wow, somebody's paid me for my service for the first time and they're not a friend or a family.
And that's an amazing moment. That's now in jeopardy for some, not all, but AI is certainly stepping in and taking a lot of that work away. And yeah we, we really now need to emphasize the importance of getting up to speed as quickly as possible as a freelancer to bypass the, those kind of early stages grab some early money.
Nigel Rawlins: I know it's very scary going out, but it's also pretty well fantastic when you do get some good work. That's the main thing. I think when I was talking Jon Younger, he was saying, look, it can be patchy. And I guess that's where a lot of the freelance platforms comes in, so that hopefully people will get work.
But I think what he was saying is 10 to 20% of people on the freelance platforms get work. The rest have to seek it outside as well, or both. But the freelance program I use, which is Upwork I make sure I pay everybody a reasonable rate. And then I will tell 'em, you're not allowed to do a 15 minute job and charge me 15 minutes. You've gotta charge me up for the full hour cuz it's ridiculous to charge me for 15 minutes, like $5. I refuse to pay that. I'll make sure I pay the next hourly rate up, or I'll come to an agreement with them about a reasonable cost.
But it's gotta be sustainable and I don't care where they're in the world. Even if that's a high rate for where they live I have a chap who's fabulous, who works in Vietnam. And I generally have an issue and I want it fixed. It might take him 10 minutes, but I'll put $30 US in his account and that's a lot of money in Vietnam.
But I'm happy because I know he's an expert and he knows I'm gonna give him $30, even if it's one minute and it can take him a couple of minutes to fix cuz he's that good. I value that's probably the most important thing in the world to me cuz I do not want to be stressed about stuff. And that's the value of a freelancer who knows what they're doing.
Our issue is to find them. And and that's where marketing comes in because they've gotta be able to tell us it's, I'm the one who can do that. So it's all very circular there. Alright, we're coming probably close to the end there. Is there something you've got coming up? You've got a a project coming up that you're running, or was it the RISE freelancers you were gonna talk about?
Matt Dowling: Rise Freelancers, this is a big passion project of mine and the company's we decided to launch this as a response to the number of freelancers that were failing, particularly in their first year. It's about 20% are dropping off in the first year. And that percentage skyrockets up.
If you look at the first five years, it, it gets booked to about 60%. More freelancers are failing than making it over a few year period, and that's just heartbreaking. So if we couple that with the knowledge that so many individuals want to get into freelancing, it's. It's been a growing trend for years.
Pandemic aside where the graph has just shot up. And all of the future of work conversations surround this concept of flexibility and mobility and the idea of being able to do something you love and not be caught up in, in this nine to five grind and an in an industrial era model that seems incredibly antiquated in 2023.
And so we wanted to put this campaign together to try and combat that. So the mission we set ourselves is to provide one million individuals with free business training and support by 2026. We've recently hit 300,000, so we're ahead of schedule. And that's testament to the appetite out there of individuals wanting to get into this market.
And what that does is it helps us reduce the failure rate, which is great, but it also creates pathways for individuals in marginalized communities individuals who may have felt freelancing as untenable or unrealistic. We wanna break then those barriers for those individuals. And it also addresses the stigma and helps change the culture around freelancing to be much more aligned with its true value.
When I started freelancing, it was a seen as a stop gap. It's just something you did until you got a real job in, in, in air quotes, and now it's a very aspirational, viable career choice or a way of life. So the Rise Freelancer campaign is there to ensure that everybody, regardless of your financial situation regardless of your background, has access to business.
So we're working a lot with universities, with charities, social enterprises, and with companies. We're very fortunate. We've had corporate companies come in and support and back different cohorts of individuals to get free access. And from a
Freelancer Club's perspective we waive all of our costs and we ensure that that access is free to everybody who needs it.
What we're seeing as a result, even in these early stages, is like an amazing transformative process from an individual that really comes in, highly talented, but with very little knowledge about running a business to be independent and confident in going out there and achieving their freelance goals.
And as we've been discussing, shortening that runway, shortening the runway from moment of launch into becoming sustainable and ensuring that freelancing can be a part of their working lives. So we're very excited about this and and we welcome any of your listeners to, to reach out and get in touch whether a freelancer looking for more information and support a charity that would like to come on board and they have individuals that require help or a company that wants to align their brand with this campaign and help support the next generation of freelancers.
We're we're having some really wonderful conversations at the moment and would welcome mothers to join.
Nigel Rawlins: I'd recommend that to anyone I can. So where do they find out about that, program?
Matt Dowling: The easiest way is to get onto freelancer club.net. We have a dedicated page under our resources section called Rise Freelancer, or you can Google Rise Freelancer and I think will pop up.
Freelancer Club will pop up in one of the first in one of the first two listings. And then from there all the information will help guide them through depending on and who you are and what role you'll play in the campaign. And yeah very much keen to, to open this up internationally as well.
So great to have the opportunity to speak to you and hopefully some folks based in Australia who are interested in developing this whole space. We think this this really has a huge amount of merit globally and for us to achieve this goal and to help bring this movement to as many people as possible it's essential that we do open it up and have conversations with folks from all over the world.
Nigel Rawlins: Oh, that's fantastic. And the other thing about that is that if there is a place or several places in Australia who want to do that, it's better that they don't try and reinvent the wheel. If you've got the experience and the knowledge and the skills that you guys have got, that's gonna help a lot of other people.
You've done the hard yards there. Is there anything else that we need to talk about? I think we've covered a lot about freelancing and the fabulous work that your club's doing. I just wish something like that was around 20 years ago when I was out there just flailing around. So thank you very much.
It's been a wonderful conversation. So thank you very much for talking. We've got freelancer club.net so we'll put that in the show notes and everything. So thank you very much.
Matt Dowling: Thanks a lot, Nigel. Cheers.