Twelve brief books for a material design team. Data wrangling for a datacentre. Articles for a mobile tech giant. Last quarter’s trip to Google NYC. This quarter’s trip to Google NYC. Squeezing in some Siamese SCUBA between Duolingo’ing two languages and getting out a new edition of a textbook on freelancing.
I’m not London’s best copywriter. But I’m arguably the busiest.
So Gapingvoid asked, “How?”
Because I’m pushing 50. Not many working copywriters with that shirt number. And I’m based in London, advertising centre that sucs dry and spits out creatives like cardamon seeds, competing with awards-laden superstars and the $5-a-day global south on AssWork and Loserr. Yet the calendar stays stacked.
So what’s the secret?
Here it is – the success plan for a sustainable freelance career, the searing insight behind all economic activity that’ll bring you health, wealth, and happiness:
People buy stuff they like, from people they like.
That’s all. It’s that simple. But: to be that person people like buying from, you have to like yourself. At the risk of sounding like some kaftan-clad mystic – or worse, a TED speaker – it means not finding clients, but finding you.
There’s a right way to do that. Seen that four-circle Venn sketch with four questions on it? (I probably saw it sixty times before realising it was the solution I needed for 100 Days, 100 Grand.) There are other methods for exploring yourself. But this one works.
If Hugh redraws, suggested caption/headline: After 25 years at work, what I needed was a Venn diagram.
You need four sheets. (Paper. Not screen.) On one, list what you like, from differential calculus to gazing at rainbows. On another: what you’re good at. Everything, including your skill at flicking rubber bands. Two more: what annoys you (stuff the market needs) and what fixing it would do: improve quality, cut costs, drive sales. (Stuff companies pay for).
Now look across those lists side by side … and ask yourself: what connects? (James Altucher calls this “Idea Sex”.) In the end, you’ll have a simple statement: “I achieve outcome X for person Y by doing Z.” Not a job description: a you description, “that thing you do” that makes your inner world vibrate with joy.
If you’re a copywriter, you’ll realise that it’s not about advertising anymore. Advertising is a small business packed with people thinking about the wrong things. (Accenture’s purchase of Drogha5 made shocked ad agencies realise that for years they’d been surviving on leftovers from the banquet going on next door.)
So find your thing first. Because in this superabundant world, there are thousands of customers for anything that creates value. And you only need a few to thrive as a freelancer. (Specifically: between 3 and 8. The ninth is nirvana.)
And that’s why I’m not one of those washed-up over-40 creatives moaning on LinkedIn about how hard it is to find work.
People buy stuff they like, from people they like. So find what makes you likable.
Oh, and do pullups. The ability to lift your body weight against gravity is the best metric for staying in shape there is.