Summary: I'm proposing a model in which freelancers can thrive professionally by diversifying how they offer their unique expertise. This model is made of three activities: freelancing, teaching and building products.
Hyper freelancing : a model to thrive with your ideas
How it works: 1. As you work with clients as a freelance consultant, you'll naturally spot recurring pains. 2. You share that knowledge in courses. 3. With the community grown and further insights validated, you build a product.
The freelancing phase it is crucial to refine your positioning, grow a small professional network, build credentials and spot wider trends. Pros of this activity: you get to choose when to work and with whom. You just trade your time for a unique expertise. Cons: as Naval wisely tweeted, "you’re not going to get rich renting out your time. You must own equity." The inconsistent flow of new clients is a source of anxiety for freelancers.
With experience and enough abstraction, you then share everything you know in the teaching phase. This phase creates multiple virtuous circles, notably letting you charge higher rates for your consulting activity and creating an audience for your first product.
Finally, with an audience, experience and cash, you can remove yourself out of services and sell a product that grows without you. It doesn't have to be massive.
What does it take to make this model work?
This model can only work if one's value proposition is differentiated enough. Don't try to be the best, try to be unique.
To make we need to sell, to sell we need to be heard, to be heard we need to conquer a space that’s our own. The knowledge economy, with universities as its foundation, rewards hyper specialization. To escape competition while remaining relevant, aim for the goldilocks of positioning: no less than 10 and no more than 200 other people who say they do the same thing as you.
These three activities are just different ways to sell that specialization: for the masses (product), for the rest of the knowledge economy (courses) and for individuals (freelancing). As you keep mixing, explore or exploit a unique positioning.
Hyper freelancing requires a broad set of skills. So many, in fact, that you can’t possibly be good at all of them. But as entrepreneurs of ourselves, this is an exciting self-development ideal. If freelancing is hard, this model is god-mode.
Making good product decisions is almost diagonally opposite to making good consulting decisions. You need the ability to switch on/off the right parts of the brain easily. It's hard! That's why it's *hyper* freelancing. It's eclectic and intensely demanding. You have to say no a lot more.
In the zeitgeist
The hyper specialization and individualization of modern capitalism is a breeding ground for creating new types of jobs. We just work more jobs, with different identities, leading multiple lives simultaneously. In fact, we can give ourselves the job names we want, it's as easy as changing your Twitter bio. Today this model might seem extreme. Tomorrow it will be obvious.
One of the dangers of this model is being unfocused and scattered. You'd probably be better off just choosing one activity that you enjoy and doubling down on that.
This model is fantastic in theory. In practice, it's extremely hard to work out. So I started a list of all the individuals that fit this model of hyper freelancer - combining consulting, education and having their own products. Studying what made them successful is a good time investment. Here's the link to the full table ↓
What's their unique expertise? When did they switch from doing one activity to doing another? Where did they start? How did they reinvest profits from one activity to another?
I think individuals on the quest to reach this model (the grail!), can also learn from companies who have been following a similar hybrid. I love the examples of 37Signals (Basecamp), Fog Creek (StackOverflow, Trello) or Metalab (Flow).
This model was inspired by an article by Patio11. This article by Jules Ehrhardt also had an important impact on me. Finally, this tweet by Daniel Vassallo made me realize this could be applied to individuals too. If you found this article useful, you might like my Supercreative newsletter. I write a weekly email full of tips and tools like this for the modern creatives.