I recently found myself explaining a lot the difference between a freelancer and a content creator.
It happened when I started researching my new startup idea — a bank for creators — having 30-minute Zoom conversations with other entrepreneurs, potential investors, so on.
I found that many people confuse the two, and some even use the words ‘blogger’ and ‘freelancer’ almost interchangeably.
I’ve been both — and I can assure you – there is a difference, and it’s big.
It lies not only in the field of work — i.e., content creators typically do the ‘content-type’ of work: texts, videos, audio — but in the very nature of it.
This post is about that.
Why Bloggers Are *Not* Freelancers
The main difference — which is how I explain it to people — is scalability.
When you’re a freelancer, you are mainly selling time.
Your only asset is your ‘hour,’ and the amount of money you make is a function of how much time you’ve got to spare, and how much it’s worth. (e.g., someone making $50/hr on a 15-hour project makes more than someone who charges $20/hr on a 5-hour gig).
The more experienced — or arrogant — you are, the higher your income, given you can charge more per hour.
But there’s a cap to your earnings. After all, you’ve only got so many hours in a day.
One way to scale your freelance business is to ‘multiply yourself’ — i.e., hire clones, more people like you, form an agency. It’s one of the easiest businesses to start, and it requires 0 startup costs (called a “cash-flow positive business”). This is what I did with my first video production company back in Russia.
With blogging and content creation, it’s entirely different.
One reason I say that content creators are legitimate businesses is that like a business; bloggers have an asset. And it’s scalable.
That asset (apart from the content itself) is their audience — and their audience’s trust.
The bigger it is, the more money you can make, reinvest back into your “business,” and so on.
This works equally well in 2 models:
• The old advertising model: where you get paid by ‘mille’ (1,000 impressions) if you sell ads. This is typically referred to as CPM (as in, Cost Per Mille).
• The new, subscription-based, community-driven model of media publishing: where you set up a Patreon membership or a paywall and charge a monthly fee for the access to your content.
Personally, I prefer more the new model, because it allows me — the creator — to forget about ‘views,’ the advertiser’s approval, and to focus on what I do best: communicate to build a direct, genuine relationship with my audience. It also gives you a sense of freedom, since you can have a stable income that only grows if you’re doing everything right.
In both models, the audience is the key asset.
You can invest in it — by buying ads, and creating better content — and make more money. Just like in business, you have a cash flow cycle, which can expand.
But there’s a caveat.
Not All Audience Is The Same
Just because you have 1,000 or 10,000 email subscribers, you can’t call them an “audience” if you don’t send any emails. Most content creators are so obsessed with the “Number” — the number of followers — they forget about a more important metric: engagement.
Or, plain-old “trust.”
Jack Conte, CEO of Patreon, once said that no matter how much time they’ve spent building Excel and AI models inside their company, the only metric that correlated with the creator’s success is a qualitative one: how much their audience loves them, and how much they love their audience.
That’s it. Think about it.
In Russia, there’s a proverb which they made me memorize when I went to elementary school:
It goes something like:
“Having 100 friends is better than 100 rubles. Every friend will give you 2, and you’ll have 200.”
It actually rhymes in Russian, but writing it in English just makes it look weird.
This is how the new world works — and why I think that having an audience is the best asset of this century.
Not money. Not business. Not investments. Not savings. Not even a network. But an audience that trusts you. Kevin Kelly would have called that ‘1000 true fans’, and it’s roughly the same idea.
Once you have that audience — you can do anything you want. Write books, build businesses, create content, launch podcasts, even get hired.
A blog can be the ultimate platform for your life.
How To Build Trust
Going back to last week’s post, if you’re just starting out, adopt a long-term mindset. Tell yourself you’re in it for the long haul, not for a few months, but five years. That’s right. That way, you won’t care how many followers you have today or next month — you have a larger zoom to play with. You also avoid comparing yourself with others. Trust me: 90% of people you see writing daily posts on Medium will burn out after a year. It’s like a marathon: the important thing is to keep running, no matter how slow.
Spend the first 2 years building your audience, one more year figuring out how to make money, and the remaining two years scaling it all.
There you go, in just five years, you can potentially build a full-time income of $100k/yr.
Sounds impossible? Please try it.
Why don’t others do the same, if it’s so easy?
Because people give up before they even have a chance to build anything, it’s hard, devastating, even, to keep writing/recording/shooting into the void, not seeing any ROI on your efforts, and not knowing what will succeed.
How To Succeed as a Freelancer
As you see now, freelancers are an entirely different species. They have their clients and their hourly rate. Their goals are different.
Freelancers start making a sustainable income by having clients with a long LTV (lifetime value) and by doing a good enough job that people start recommending you to each other.
As Charlie Munger – who was a lawyer before joining Warren Buffet – said,
“For a lawyer, the best source of work is the work right in front of them.”
This works equally well for all freelancers.
By the way – if you’re starting out as a content creator, freelance work is the best way to support yourself while you’re in the “audience-building” phase. You won’t (and shouldn’t) make any money in the first few years – and even if you do (on platforms like Medium, where it’s almost inevitable), it’s good not to rely on it financially.
It’s also the easiest way to make quick money online. You need a decent following on Medium or elsewhere to make $1,000 in a month, whereas it’s possible to make that with a handful of freelance gigs in your first month.
I hope you’re crushing it.
My best writing on Medium you might have skipped:
5 Mindsets Of Unsuccessful Writers: “Compare yourself to others and hustle.” [I think you’ll really enjoy this one]
Your 20s Is a Perfect Time To Take Risks – “The ‘window of opportunity’ won’t last forever.”
You Always Have The Option To Do What You Love – It starts with giving yourself permission.
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In case you didn’t know, I also have a book out – Blog Is a Platform: What Blogging Can Do For You and Your Career. A lot of my readers found it valuable.
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