Why Mature Expertise Holds the Key to Freelance Success

In the knowledge economy, freelancing can offer some exciting new possibilities compared to the limited path of a conventional 9-to-5 job. My two decades of providing marketing services to over fifty clients have shown me how expertise is becoming increasingly valuable as a freelancer.

As a business owner and a client engagement expert, I aim to connect the dots, ensuring collaboration across domains and projects. On my part, one of my graphic designer's hourly rates didn't capture the value of her expertise. No joking; I was being charged a few dollars for her work because she was so efficient. I now pay her a value-based price instead of her hourly fee, reflecting her work's strategic impact on me.

Wage Pressure and Freelancing

As economist and business journalist Neil Irwin notes in his book below, automation and outsourcing pressure wages, but freelancing in high-value roles can thrive. Communicating your skills and achievements enables you to stand out from the gig economy crowd.

This article explores how to determine, articulate, and evolve your value over time as a consultant or freelancer. Discovering your strengths, optimising your pricing, and continuously expanding your capabilities will help you navigate the self-employment/freelancer possibilities. Becoming a versatile "glue person" who can bridge specialty areas allows you to establish an indispensable and rewarding freelance career.

Understanding Value

Your expertise is more than a service; it has the potential to impact your client's business, and that's where you find the value. Defining that value combines the functional, emotional, and social benefits you bring, the same way my freelancers provide me with the quality of their work, delivered on time with the peace of mind I feel.

For yourself, it's vital to understand the intrinsic and perceived value of your services. While cost and price are quantitative, value is qualitative. Recognising your importance helps you set fair prices and develop more honest and satisfying professional relationships.

The Glue Person

Neil Irwin describes that the value of becoming a "glue person" who can bridge different domains is a valuable career bet in today's complex global economy.

In his book, 'How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World: The Definitive Guide to Adapting and Succeeding in High-Performance Careers' he describes a 'pareto optimal glue person' as someone with a combination of rare and valuable complementary skills.

David Epstein, in his book "Range," emphasizes the value of being a generalist, arguing that broad experiences and diverse skill sets are critical for innovation, problem-solving, and adaptability in a rapidly changing world.

Companies need workers who can connect the dots and ensure collaboration across vast bureaucracies. You can do this throughout your career by focusing on developing a rare and valuable skill set that makes you indispensable.

Discovering Your Unique Value Proposition (UVP)

You can determine your value by researching market rates to ground your pricing, identifying the unique expertise distinguishing you from competitors, highlighting client testimonials validating your impact, and cultivating a consistent brand identity conveying your niche skills and successes.

Specialist Freelancer Platforms

Leveraging specialist freelancer platforms can provide additional insight into potential fee structures aligned with your value. A professional reputation built on your proven experience helps you to stand out while adhering to industry pricing norms. The value equation helps communicate your distinctive value.

As Irwin advises, continuously evolve your value proposition by reviewing job descriptions from innovative companies to identify emerging high-value skill combinations. The intelligence you gain will provide insight into your industry's future needs.

Rare and Valuable Skills

Cal Newport suggests seeking rare and valuable skills to become the best in your field at a particular expertise. In contrast, Irwin promotes acquiring a rare and valuable skillset mix. This "Pareto optimal glue person" approach is often preferable—they have a rare and valuable combination of complementary skills, with deep expertise in their domain and the ability to integrate innovations, tools, and perspectives from other fields as an indispensable connector across teams and functions.

The glue person sees the big picture, connects dots between silos, and ensures collaboration. You comprehend your expertise fully but know its limits, working fluently with programmers or data scientists without duplicating their niche skills. The glue person facilitates communication across teams.

The Pareto optimal balance makes you uniquely valuable: focused on your specialty yet able to bridge domains and incorporate innovations. Companies need integrators who can grasp the broader landscape and opportunities.

Pricing Strategies

Understanding the balance between what you charge and the value you provide would be very helpful but a difficult concept to work through. Overcoming self-doubt is the first step towards fair pricing and the most challenging barrier to break through, especially when you start. Explore different models to find what aligns with your values. Negotiation is a crucial skill that impacts your earnings and client relationships.

As Irwin notes, the twin trends of automation and outsourcing have put downward pressure on wages for many. However, strategic freelancing in high-value roles can be lucrative. Consider contract work that leverages your niche expertise rather than being viewed as a cost centre.

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Evolving Your Value Over Time

The knowledge economy rapidly evolves, so continuously update your skills and value proposition. View freelancing as a business requiring lifelong learning across diverse areas—from understanding how to run your business along with all aspects to staying competitive.

Justify price increases to clients as you expand your expertise, framing growth as an investment in your partnership. Lifelong learning, business acumen and communicating your evolving value are imperative for freelancing success.

Embrace Uncertainty

Self-employment in a knowledge economy involves self-discovery, resilience, and continuous improvement. Understanding and articulating your value, adopting a client-centric pricing strategy, and committing to lifelong learning will help you navigate the freelance landscape even as industries consolidate and technology evolves.

As Irwin advises, embrace uncertainty, make lateral moves to gain new skills, and become invaluable as a "glue person" bridging domains. Your expertise, enriched over time, will be your compass in the expansive possibilities of freelancing.

Notes

  • Cedric Chin, How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World, Commoncog
  • David Epstein, Range, How Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World
  • Neil Irwin, How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World: The Definitive Guide to Adapting and Succeeding in High-Performance Careers
  • Cal Newport, So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

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