Do you consider yourself to be an entrepreneur?
It can be a loaded title with connotations of high-powered men making global deals worth millions.
Or an ambitious innovator starting a new business from a kitchen table or garage.
But entrepreneurship is not always so black and white.
Being an entrepreneur can simply mean starting and running a business in a way that suits you – from freelance copywriting to graphic design and everything else in between.
That’s the approach that Canadian writer Stefan Palios has taken in his freelance journey, and it seems to be working for him.
In this Q&A, Stefan explains why he embraced being an entrepreneur, how to adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur and how the pandemic has impacted his approach to running a business.
How long have you been a freelancer and what made you pursue self-employment?
I wanted to be an entrepreneur for most of my life. I loved the idea of owning a business (and my young self very much wanted to be rich).
I came to freelancing by way of an accident. I’d started a company in 2015 that ultimately failed, and I had shut it down by 2017. The only good thing to come out of the experience was that I wrote all my own content marketing, and a couple blogs were still live on my LinkedIn.
I was in debt, generally broke, and had just found a new job that would help me get back on my feet. At a networking event, someone cornered me and said, “I love your writing… can I pay you to write for me?” I immediately said yes, and that’s how I started part-time freelancing. I wasn’t in a position to quit my job to freelance full-time, so I kept it part-time.
I almost went full-time in 2018, but my biggest client at the time offered me a full-time job. I took it and worked there for a year. The company had two massive rounds of layoffs, and I was impacted in the second one. I was laid off on the morning of 31 January 2019. That afternoon, I closed a freelance client for $500. I decided to take that as a sign from the universe and went full-time freelance. I’ve been full-time ever since.
You’ve embraced the title ‘entrepreneur’ and use it consistently in your marketing. When did you first feel like an entrepreneur and why?
In 2017 in Toronto (where I lived), “freelancing” was the thing you did either between jobs or until you built up enough clients to start an agency. I didn’t want either of those paths. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, brought new products and services to market to solve problems. That really resonated with me after experiencing the constant barrage of “so, when are you going to get a real job?” or “so when are you starting your agency?” questions from people.
There’s also an element of protection to the term. Some companies really think they can take advantage of freelancers. But they wouldn’t dare try to take advantage of a SaaS company or a management consultancy. In my view, we’re all doing the same thing: providing a solution for our clients. So, if calling myself an entrepreneur reminds people of that fact, then I’m a happy camper.
Freelancing for me was a way to detach my earning potential from my physical location. But I still ultimately see myself as a business owner – an entrepreneur – that uses business as a tool to provide solutions and provide a financial base for my life.
How can freelancers adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur to further their business?
Two things: go back to first principles and understand you have three identities to manage.
First principles: Your business is providing a solution or outcome for your clients. I don’t care if you are the one who actually executes 100 per cent of it. The thing that matters is that a client is getting a solution. Further, whether registered as self-employed or a corporation, the government views you as a business owner for tax purposes, so you should view yourself that way. There are so many benefits.
Three identities: Freelancers are unique in that they are their own employee, their own boss and an individual. The employee in you has to manage day-to-day operations and serve clients. The boss in you has to invest in growth, both “employee growth” (like courses and professional development) and business growth (like sales and building new offerings). But the third identity – the individual – is just you as a human that has to balance your day-to-day employment and your “boss” endeavours. Get comfortable with all three.
What’s your best sales tip for freelancers?
Make it easy to say yes to working with you. Set up the infrastructure on the backend so every step of the journey – from getting in touch with you, to booking a sales call, to being on a sales call, to proposals, to contracts, to delivery, and finally to invoices – is simple and enjoyable for your client.
We can’t ignore the elephant in the room (ahem, the pandemic). How has it impacted your business and what have you learnt from the past 18 months?
The biggest change for me as an entrepreneur was how I use my time. I used to attend multiple in-person networking events per week, if only to see some friends I’d made in the tech ecosystem.
Not going to events gave me hours of time back per week. I used that time in 2020 to write my first book – The 50 Laws of Freelancing. In 2021, I used that time to build my first course – Freelance Sales Blueprint.
Finally, are you a five-year-plan kinda guy? Or do you prefer to go with the flow?
I used to get scared of both, to be honest! I didn’t like long term planning, but I was afraid to go with the flow and used to be quite rigid.
I’m now coming down into five-to-ten-year plan territory and learning to go with the day-to-day flow. I want to help 1,000 freelancers double their revenue with the Freelance Sales Blueprint, so that’s my guiding principle for the next little bit.
But I also try to be more relaxed with the day-to-day, knowing that one day could mean awesome things but it could also just be one day of many, so I need to keep making little dents every day that I can. Eventually, those dents cause a break in the dam and everything I’ve been working toward comes rushing to me.
Stefan Palios is based in Canada and is a firm believer in remote work. You can find him on Twitter where he tweets about sales and freelance life.
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