I always dread the conversation. I steady my patience for those all-too-common reactions when people find out what I do for a living.
“Oh so you’re a freelancer… I couldn’t sleep at night not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from!” Or my personal favorite: “So what do you do all day?” — as if the term “freelancer” is code for “unemployed.”
Just a few weeks ago in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, I received the comment, “Oh, weird I assumed you were out of work right now,” from an old friend after telling him how busy my week had been.
I’m not quite sure why our society seems to view freelancing as some sort of unstable, last-resort proposition. But the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Do I perform “gig work”? Sure, but there’s so much more to it than that. I run a business. I work 6 days a week consulting clients, prospecting work, managing employees, running a blog, creating proposals and managing a sizable revenue stream of nearly $300,000 per year — and growing.
My small business story
I began my self-employment journey three and a half years ago after quitting a job that I had grown to hate. I was overworked, underpaid and suffering the effects of an extremely toxic work environment. It was my husband who initially encouraged me to pursue freelance as a career.
At the time, I was already picking up odd graphic design jobs here and there to produce supplemental income and had been doing so for years. In fact, by the time I left my salaried job I already had a small, yet steady, stream of freelance income trickling in to the tune of about $1,000 per month.
But scaling that $1,000 income into a full-blown business that now brings in almost $25,000 per month would require so much more than simply performing gigs and collecting a paycheck.
Below are three reasons that I personally relate more to the term “business owner” than the term “freelancer” and how that business-centric mindset catapulted my career into the stratosphere.
1. Business owners focus on investment
As a business owner, I’ve always made return on investment a priority. Sometimes these investments are financial. Sometimes they involve our most precious commodity: Time.
In the early days, I spent every waking hour working on my website, revamping my portfolio, studying the psychology of sales, sending out proposals and identifying potential streams of income.
I focused on bigger clients with long-term needs and online freelancer platforms with bigger payouts. Many freelancers who are struggling to get into the business mindset shy away from platforms that require too much time and effort. Mention the word “fee” and they run for the hills.
For instance, one of my biggest sources of income is currently Upwork. Yet every time I talk about my success on Upwork, someone always cries out: “But what about those fees?!”
I currently make about $100,000 per year on just that platform alone, and yes, I do pay fees – an average of about 7%. But guess what, after trying a ton of other marketplace platforms – no other freelancer site was able to produce anywhere near the same return on investment that Upwork did.
Why would I give up the $93,000 annual profit for the sake of avoiding a 7% fee? That’s a 93% profit margin. Most other businesses would kill for a 93% margin. I never focus on what I’m giving up. I focus on my long-term return on investment, the big picture, and what I have to gain.
2. Business owners know how to adapt
This one has never been more evident, or relevant, than it is right now. For years, I’ve tried to debunk the myth that freelancing is full of uncertainty and instability. I’ve always said that my income is much more stable than that of the traditional “9-5” worker.
People lose their jobs every day due to circumstances beyond their control – recessions, layoffs or simply being on the wrong end of bad office politics. When you work a “regular job,” as many people learned first hand during the coronavirus furloughs, your entire fate rests in the hands of your employer. It’s like having all of your eggs in one basket. And while I can’t speak for everyone else, I can certainly speak for myself in that a large part of the reason my business was able to survive was due to the fact that I continued to think and pivot like a business owner.
I am constantly looking for new revenue streams, challenging myself to learn new trades and refining my business model. My backup plans have backup plans.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, I told my team it didn’t matter how bad things were going to get. If we all had to pivot and start sewing masks and selling them on Etsy to stay afloat – that’s just what we were going to do. Business owners adapt.
3. Business owners know how to scale
As time goes on, I focus less and less on hourly services and more on how I can make my money work for me. There’s only so much time in a day. Which means that most solo freelancers, who only work for hourly wages, will eventually hit an income wall and max out their earning potential.
While I still spend 80% of my day working directly with clients and performing graphic design duties, I’ve also discovered ways to re-invest my money so that the business continues to earn income, even when I’m not at my desk.
One of the biggest game changers was hiring a second full time graphic designer and a couple of as-needed contractors last year. All of a sudden, I was no longer capped at 40 hours of billable time. I now have 80-90 at my disposal.
Another way I’ve put my profits back to work is by investing in new sectors of the business. Last year, I purchased a small co-lab with three private offices and about 800 square feet of space. I work out of one and rent the other two out, which brings in about $1500 per month of passive income.
My most recent endeavor is a regional travel blog site, TheSmokies.com – a site that my husband, sister and myself partnered on and built from scratch during our time in quarantine. Each of us are originally from East Tennessee and thought it sounded like a fun project to undertake. This month marked our first full month of monetization and we were able to rake in almost $4,000 in ad revenue.
Additionally, my husband and I are also currently in the process pooling our business profits for an investment property – located in the same area in East Tennessee – and renting it out on VRBO.
Finally, based on the recent success of our travel blog, I plan on using what I’ve learned to revamp, relaunch and monetize my freelancer blog later this year.
And to give you an idea of what that scale looks like from from a business perspective, not including my freelance blog, it looks a little something like this:
2017 Annual Revenue: $32,000
2018 Annual Revenue: $157,000
2019 Annual Revenue: $278,000
2020 Annual Revenue: $310,000 (projected)
2021 Annual Revenue: $494,000 (projected)
While some of these things might not seem related to my freelance income, I can assure you without that initial freelance business, my mini empire would have never been possible.
About Morgan Overholt
Tennessee native Morgan Overholt is the owner of Morgan Media LLC and co-founder of TheSmokies.com. Morgan and her team have worked with nationally recognized clientele from all over the world, including the Centers for Disease Control Foundation (CDCF), Kimberly-Clark, and IBM.
Morgan transitioned into the role of small business owner after spending nearly a decade in the traditional corporate world left her feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Today, Morgan is passionate about sharing her story with other hopeful entrepreneurs who hope to follow in her footsteps. She has been featured on Upwork.com, Refinery29, and Business Insider.