PODCAST S3/E3: A Three-Pronged Approach to Freelancing and Self-Employment

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In this brand new episode – after a long break – Ben discusses his “three pronged” approach to self-employment. He recommendis consecutively working on slow-burn passive income projects, “bread and butter” client work, and side gigs and “money taps.”

This approach to working freelance delivers variety, flexibility and a diversification of income that can help through periods of recession and uncertainty.

Supplementary Information

Full Transcription

We have edited some repeat words and unclear passages to enhance readability.

Welcome to the HomeWorkingClub podcast. I’m Ben, and this is the first episode that I’ve recorded since back in July 2021. So thank you for tuning in.

If you’ve listened to the HomeWorkingClub podcast before, I’m just going to tell you that it’s only me here today. I’m not with Alex today, but I’ve been in contact with him and we hope to record some more episodes together in the near future.

So I’ve not recorded a podcast episode for a while now, and I’m going to explain why that was in a minute. I have also not been doing an awful lot with the HomeWorkingClub website for the last few months.

Essentially, I’ve been fully committed with “walking the walk” rather than “talking the talk.” I’ve been very, very busy with client work, and involved with a big digital transformation project for one of my clients.

I’ve really enjoyed it actually – just having a bit of time away from from the website – from HomeWorkingClub. I was getting a bit burned out with it, to be quite honest.

And now I’m back in business again, adding content to the site and recording this podcast episode. And so, yeah, it’s really nice to be back – and I hope you’ve not missed us too much.

So what I’ve been doing recently is what’s given me inspiration for this podcast, which I’m calling a “three pronged approach” to making a freelance living. It’s essentially what I’ve been doing myself for well over 10 years now, and it served me well. I have a huge degree of freedom and variety in my working life. I can afford to live and to buy stuff and have a good standard of living. So it’s an approach that I think quite a lot of HomeWorkingClub readers and listeners to this podcast would do well to adopt, especially in the times of likely recession and uncertainty that we seem almost certain to be heading towards right now.

So what do I mean by a three pronged approach to making a freelance living?

What it involves is working on three different things at once, but in whatever ratio works for you at the time, works with the kind of work that you are getting in from clients, and the work that you’re available to do and the work that you want to do.

So what are the three prongs? Well, the first is what I call long term slow burn projects. They are projects that bring you passive income, that holy grail of money that you make while you are asleep or while you’re on holiday. And I do have a number of different things that bring me passive income, so earning passive income is a reality.

But as I’ve said many times before in articles and podcasts, in order to build that passive income, you have to do a lot of work and put in a lot of active effort up front – before that money just starts appearing in your bank account – because if it was that easy, everybody would be doing it.

The second prong is the client work, the bread and butter stuff that actually brings you guaranteed income week on week, month or month to pay the bills. And the third prong is side gigs and what I like to call money taps, which is the kind of work that you can delve in and out of as and when you want to or need to, just to top up your income a little bit and keep things interesting and give you even more variety in your freelance life.

What I’m gonna do in this podcast is go through each of those things in turn and talk a little about what’s involved and what you need to do to get started with them. So let’s start with the first prong, which is your long term slow burn income.

Slow Burn income is more about building a business than actually doing active work, and it can also mean your true passion projects. The idea of this long-term, slow burn income is eventually that you may be able to build that passive income. You build up a business that will continue to make money when you’re asleep when you’re on holiday, and believe me, it’s a very nice kind of income to make. In some cases these are businesses that you could one day flip or sell on.

For example, a profitable blog is a very marketable thing to own and something that you can sell for a considerable amount of money.

So what do I do for my long term slow burn projects?

Well, you’re listening to one of them right now. HomeWorkingClub is a slow burn project that earns passive income. It makes money when people click on adverts and when people buy products that I’ve recommended.

But I also have others. I have other websites, including one that I started recently called TinyLittleChanges.com. I’ve got a couple of books out, one that I wrote a long time ago about moving to Portugal from when I lived abroad, which continues to earn passive income every time somebody buys the book. I also launched a children’s book, along with my wife and my eldest son during the Covid lockdown, which hasn’t made very much money yet. But it’s always there, waiting in the wings for when I’ve got the time and the inclination to promote it more.

I’ve got my Freelance Kickstarter course, which isn’t entirely passive income, because I provide a lot of support to the people studying the course. But it is another slow burn project, something that is building a business, something that is just there in the background.

Now they’re the things I do for my slow burns, but there are lots and lots of others. You can have a drop shipping business, or become a brand or an influencer – not that that’s something that remotely appeals to me! You can run a YouTube channel, a Twhich channel, or sell designs and merchandise. There are lots and lots of things that you can do for long term, slow burn income.

So there’s a question here that you may already be asking. Why not just do that? Why not just work on long-term slow burn projects? Because surely that’s the dream? Work on all the things that are exactly what you want to do and just wait for the money to roll in?

Well, arguably, you can, and at times I have. But it takes time to ramp up these long-term slow burn projects. You don’t just launch a blog and suddenly make a living from it, and the reality is that for most of us we have bills to pay. We have rent, we have mortgages. We have utility bills that are getting bigger and bigger all the time.

So say, for example, you’re a writer. You can write 10 articles for a blog of your own, which may one day make some revenue. But you could also write five for a client where you know you’re going to be paid a certain amount of money for writing each of them. And the reality is that a lot of the time, especially in the early days of setting up as a freelancer, that’s what you’ve got to be doing because you’ve got to earn enough money.

You’ve got to have enough guaranteed money coming in to actually pay your bills.

Also, from my perspective, the reason that I don’t focus entirely on my slow-burn projects is that I like to keep my hand in in the freelance world. If I didn’t freelance and work from home myself and I ran a freelancing and home working site like HomeWorkingClub.com, I would feel like a fraud – and I would kind of be a fraud as well.

And there’s a lot of that about.

There are people earning money by saying how to do things that they’re not actually doing themselves – and at worst they’ve never done the stuff themselves at all. Or maybe they did used to do those things, and they use techniques that no longer actually work. You see this a huge amount in the world of blogging and, to a lesser extent, in course creation.

It’s like, are the only people making money from blogging the people who are teaching other people about blogging? Well, no, that’s not the case at all. There are a lot of people who are who make a good living or are getting very, very rich from running their own blogs. But there are also a lot of people who are making almost all of their money from blogging courses and selling web hosting, and getting commission for things like that.

I would not feel like I was being authentic if I ran a freelancing blog but wasn’t still working as a freelancer. A lot of the reason why I’ve been absent over the last few months is that at the beginning of this year, 2022, I did very much feel that I was missing actually being at the coalface – working with several different clients at once. Working on projects. Working with teams.

And I did very strongly feel that I wanted to be back in the game a bit more – just to give me more inspiration for what to write about, about freelancing and home working. The last six months of this year have given me so many more ideas, and I’m absolutely itching to get back to creating content for HomeWorkingClub.

I wasn’t in that place at the start of this year. I was getting tired of it, frankly, and also having to fight against the whims of Google and Google’s algorithm. It felt like I was doing a lot of the same stuff again and again and again – updating the same articles, looking at where rankings were, looking at drops in traffic and why they were happening.

And I think this is something that’s important to know about slow burn projects. Just because something’s a success one day, it won’t necessarily mean that it’s a success the next. I was very lucky with HomeWorkingClub in that within two years of launching it, it was earning far more than an average full time income, and it could have been all that I did.

I always had a few clients in the background, and I was always doing some client work, but for a considerable period of time, the site was the main thing that I was working on. It kind of became my job.

But then from Covid onwards, everybody started writing about home working. Forbes, all the national newspapers and the international websites started writing about home working. I found it a lot harder to compete. So if I had relied on HomeWorkingClub as my sole source of income, I would have come quite badly unstuck.

And that is where this kind of three pronged approach comes from. It’s something that I’ve always done. It’s lovely to build up background projects that you may one day be able to sell – that might even continue to pay you some ongoing passive income in your retirement, or if you want to take a long sabbatical or go on a long holiday. But this three pronged approach of having those projects going on, but also doing bread and butter work for clients and having some extra little side gigs on the go that you can ramp up and ramp down as and when you need to or want to gives you loads of variety and also loads of diversification.

That means that that if one client goes quiet, which can happen for all manner of reasons, you have other clients who you might be able to ramp up. Or you can say, “okay, this project just ended, I’m going to throw some more time into my blogs” or “I’m going to develop another course,” or “I’m gonna upgrade the course that I’ve already created and do some more work on it and promote it again.”

You always have these options, and at any one time over the past six months or so, I’ve probably been 80-90% of my time on client work, with a tiny amount of time left over for my slow burn projects. One of the projects that I’ve been working on has just finished, and as such, I’m now throwing myself back into HomeWorkingClub for a while, getting up to date with writing new content, and recording this podcast episode.

But I know that in a couple of months I’ve got another project ramping up and the ratio will change again. I’ll suddenly be more in the bread and butter stuff and less on the slow burn. And what I think is so fantastic about that is that it’s never boring. You’re doing one type of work and really looking forward to doing the next type of work. And what could be better than that?

I can’t imagine at this stage in my career ever just working for one company doing one job – because I think it would be so frightfully boring. And I really do recommend this lifestyle because I get up on the vast majority of days thoroughly looking forward to what I’m going to be doing.

So, yeah, those are your slow burn projects, and they can be anything. You want a T-shirt line? You can design your first few T-shirts, start to advertise them on Facebook, maybe sell one or two a week. No, it’s not going to pay your living, but over time it could build up. And then, in the meantime, you think about what you’re going to do to pay the bills.

And that brings us on to the client work – the bread and butter stuff.

So, as I’ve said already, this is what I’ve been focused on over over the past six months or so. There are a few things that led to that. Firstly, I had clients contact me and ask me to do things, and I had a couple of projects that genuinely interested me. I really wanted to get involved with them.

As I also said, I was quite burned out by my sites. I just wasn’t as inspired to work on them. Thankfully, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’m now absolutely chomping at the bit to be working on the site again.

And there was another thing, which was our life circumstances. My family…my wife and I have been saving for a new house – and client work brings guaranteed money. And when you’re doing mortgage applications and things like that, you want to be able to show guaranteed money!

There’s a time in a place for more speculative stuff, and when I first started HomeWorkingClub, we were fortunate enough that my wife was bringing in plenty of money. We had a bit of savings and I was able to – at that point – flip the ratio far more towards the long term, slow burn stuff.

But at times, no, I want to bring in a certain amount. So I’d better get get cracking on the client work! So, yeah, client work brings you guaranteed money.

Now, these ratios that I keep talking about, they will change all the time. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer and you think, “oh, I’d really like a blog or a course, one day.” Well, it might take you two or three years to build up enough of an audience to make any meaningful money from something like that.

So in the meantime, obviously, you’ve got to flip that ratio far more towards actually doing bread and butter work that you’re going to earn money for. That can be client work that you’ve got through your existing contacts. It can be stuff that you pick up on Upwork or Freelancer.com or sites like that, or it can be work that you get through agencies.

I’ve worked for content writing agencies in the past. You may do translation or transcription and be able to say, “do you know what I’m gonna do? A certain amount of hours each week is going to earn me X, but then I can maybe spend every Friday working on my blog or working on my course or designing my T shirts.”

So the client work will often be the thing you’re spending more time on it, especially if you’re going through a period of your life when you need guaranteed income. So, yeah, client work. That’s your bread and butter money. That’s the money you know it is going to hit your bank every month.

Then you’ve got the third prong, which is your side gigs and your money taps.

These are primarily the things that you do to top up your income, and it’s another place where you could potentially find a space for passion projects. For example, you could have a small craft business that’s probably never going to pay the bills, but it’s something that you really enjoy doing, creating crafts and taking them off to sell at craft fairs every other Saturday morning.

It could be an eBay business. I’m really into retro computers, old-school machines like Ataris and Amigas and things like that. I have quite a stock of them in my office. It’s not something that I’m focused on at the moment, but at some point I will be going through what I’ve got, seeing what I want to keep for my own collection, and seeing what I want to stick on eBay. It’s a really fun little side gig.

This is great, and it’s what I call a money tap. At a point where, say, the bread and butter work dried up or the long term slow burn projects weren’t doing well, I know that I can go to my retro computer stock and bring in some money from that. It’s not money that’s gonna make me rich. It’s not money that’s going to change my life, but it is an extra way to just top my income up.

And gigs could go on to become your slow burn projects. Perhaps your craft business could really explode and get really popular, and it could become one of the main things that you do. But the great thing about side gigs is that they enable you the fun and the freedom to dabble in little extra types of work that you wouldn’t have the freedom to do if you weren’t self employment and didn’t work for yourself. You’re not going to find a boss in a full-time job saying, “Yeah, off you go. You go home on Friday and work on your eBay business or build your upcycled glass craft items.”

That’s not going to happen.

But when you work for yourself – when you’re freelance – you’re free to do that kind of stuff. Whatever you want, which is great. So all these little streams of income can add up.

There are a few things I’m doing at the moment in terms of side gigs and money taps. One of them is UserTesting, which is where you go on to a new website or a new app. You speak out loud into your microphone and say what you like about it and what doesn’t make sense to you. It takes five minutes at a time. You get paid 10 bucks for each test. It’s quite fun. It’s very, very easy and the money adds up.

There’s a decent flow of tests, especially from what I was hearing yesterday. People using UserTesting.com in the US are getting really decent, consistent amounts of income from it.

I enjoy user testing. And when I’ve got a quiet a week like I have this week – when I’m not on a lot of client calls and I can break away from what I’m doing for five minutes here and there to do a test – I have UserTesting running in the background and jump on and do the odd test.

They also have quite a lot of focus groups and what they call 1 to 1 interviews, where you’re sometimes shown a prototype of a website or a new product, and you just have a very easy-going one on one discussion for an hour or more. They typically pay $60 or so for about 45 minutes to an hour on a Zoom call.

There are lots of lots of sites that do focus groups and consumer research projects. It’s a great way to just top up your income, doing something that is really quite interesting and quite fun.

I also do still use some survey sites. But I can understand people wanting to ask the question of why I waste my time on survey sites when I’ve got blogs that earn good money and high paying freelance clients.

Well, it is mainly for HomeWorkingClub, because I review survey sites for HomeWorkingClub. I’ve always had a policy that I will get them to the point that I’ve actually cashed out. Otherwise, I don’t really feel that I can give them an honest seal of approval.

So I’m generally playing around with quite a few survey sites at one time. But I do also tend to keep a few of my favourite ones on the go. So, for example, here in the UK I use Y-Live, which was formerly Populus Live. I use YouGov, and recently I’ve been trying one out, which is looking fairly good, that’s called Norstat.

Yes, the hourly rate is a fraction of what I am earning doing consultancy work or anything like that. But if I’m sitting eating my lunch, I tend to still be staring at my laptop. Well, I might as well sit there and do a survey for a couple of pounds or a couple of dollars, and then I just save the money. I cash out at Christmas, so I’ll be getting a few hundred in my hands over the next few weeks, and I’ll buy Christmas presents with it.

I call it a money tap because you don’t have to do it. But if times are hard, you can do more of it. And these are things that add a little bit of variety to your day. And the more sites that you get established on, the more you can play the game – when one site is suddenly going through a bit of a drought, and it’s impossible to earn much money on it, you’ll find another site is doing well.

There are always user tests or focus groups or surveys. There are plenty of other things you can do in terms of side gigs and money taps, and there’s a huge list on HomeWorkingClub: Content mills, micro working sites, casual transcription sites. There’s loads of different places where you can just bring in a few bucks or 20 bucks here and there, and it really does all add up.

So how does this all come together?

Just to recap, you’ve got your three things: You’ve got your long-term slow burn projects, which hopefully in time will build you passive income. They’re your passions, your businesses. Then you’ve got the client work bread and butter stuff, which is going to bring you decent money and probably, as a freelancer, be the lion’s share of your income.

And then, on the side, you’ve got your side gigs and your money taps that, ideally, you can turn on and off at will just to boost your income, keep things interesting and allow you to dabble in different different types of work.

You don’t only have to do this yourself either. Depending on how your household is made up. My wife and I both freelancers and we can adjust what we’re doing based on how busy the other one is. So if, for example, my wife is absolutely overloaded with writing and PR work and bringing plenty of money in, I will sometimes say, “well, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to spend the next three months on my slow burn projects.” I’ll build another course or build another website.

And then if we’re saving up for something, or if my wife’s level of work drops off, once again you adjust that ratio. You say, “well, don’t worry, I’ll take on another couple of clients myself,” and then it takes the pressure off overall.

So depending on how your household is made up, you can adjust this ratio between the three things you do – not just yourself, but along with your partner or anyone else you’re in partnership with.

Doing this gives you endless variety. I absolutely love it. I never bored with my work. But I would say that it’s not for everyone. Freelancing is not for everyone. If you can’t deal with the idea of not having a pay slip every month and a fixed amount of income, freelancing is probably not a good fit for you anyway.

It suits a very specific personality type. I wouldn’t say necessarily “risk taking,” because I wouldn’t describe myself as a risk taker. I think the fact that my income is so diversified across my different slow-burn projects, my websites, my course, my books, my clients, my side gigs…I actually feel that I am more protected from recession and from job loss than somebody in a single job.

So many people, when covid hit, suddenly found themselves made redundant, suddenly found themselves jobless. At least if you’re diversified across all kinds of different freelance and business activities, they don’t tend to all go wrong at once.

But obviously, the problem is that you have to start somewhere, so you need a way to get through that initial point where you don’t have any work coming in or any money coming in. You need to get to the point where you actually begin to feel comfortable and secure in what you have.

And I can’t pretend there’s an easy way around that. At some point, everybody has to take that leap. Depending on the income that you need to have coming in just to live your life, it’s easier for some people than it is for others. And there’s no getting around that. But just to reiterate, I would really say it’s well worth giving some thought to these three different prongs.

What could you do as a long term business that you can build?

What clients can you work for?

And then what side gigs can you work on just to keep your income level and topped up?

I hope you found that interesting and hopefully quite inspirational, because I’m really not exaggerating to say how much I enjoy and love this type of variety. In the nearly 20 years that I’ve been freelancing, there have been no two years or two months have ever been identical. And I really do recommend that type of variety because it’s never boring.

So many people are in jobs that are boring and leave them living for the weekend and not wanting to wake up on Monday morning. You spend an awfully big proportion of your life doing the work – doing the career bit. So you might as well enjoy it, and not only enjoy the Saturdays and Sundays.

There is a lot more on this whole concept of having money taps and side gigs in my Freelance Kickstarter course. And given that I have not been around for a while and that we are facing a recession, a cost of living crisis, I am going to launch a quick promotion.

I’m going to offer 40% off the course with the promo code “LIFESTYLE.” But this offer will only be valid until November 21st 2022. So if you’re listening to this podcast episode after November 21st 2022 this voucher code will not work anymore.

You will find the course here, and if you use the code “LIFESTYLE” you will be given 40% off the normal price when you check out. And that is valid only for the one off payment option on the course.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. It’s been really nice to be back. Hopefully, I’ll get a little bit more into the flow and stop sounding quite so nervous in the next one. But, yeah, thank you for listening.

If you’ve got any questions at all, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will be back in due course with another episode back with my co host, Alex. So thanks again for tuning in.

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