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The Freelancer’s Growth Challenge

Setting yourself up as an independent consultant can be daunting. Finding the right business model to achieve a profit is vital, but hard to pin down when there’s just one of you. Paul Sutton, Digital Media Consultant talks about his solution.

“Are you still consulting, Paul?”

I was asked this a couple of weeks ago on Twitter in response to publishing the latest episode of my podcast. On the face of it, it’s an odd question considering I’m known as a Digital Marketing Consultant. But it’s indicative of the challenge that many freelancers have to ask themselves as their businesses grow: do I focus on one, strong revenue stream or do I diversify into different areas with varying incomes?

Early last year I made a couple of decisions that led me down a new path to what is now a much more diverse business model that has multiple revenue streams. It’s something that I believe most, if not all, independent practitioners/freelancers can achieve.

The first of those decisions was to stop working with what to that point was by some distance my largest client. I’d been working with them for two years on a retained three day-per-week contract, but I had been increasingly finding that the agreement limited me with regard to what I could achieve with the rest of my time.

The second decision, related to that, was to devise, organise and run a digital marketing conference. For 60 people. On my own.

OK, so it was a bit of a gamble. But I’d been toying with a concept for a few months and believed in it, so decided to give it a shot.

It was that combination of decisions that kick-started a chain of realisations on my part that ultimately led me to where I am now. With the additional time I had to invest in growing my consultancy business, I was able to at least partly plug the revenue gap in a more balanced way AND devote time and effort into making the conference a success.

Digital Download took place in April last year and it was a massive success. It’s running again this year on 26th April in London. Following the conference I was inundated for requests for more: more guidance on this topic, more depth on that topic. And so I started to treat ‘events’ as a separate revenue stream of my business.

By the end of 2017 I’d run seven more workshop-style training events in everywhere from Bournemouth to Manchester for a total of around 70 people. On top of that, people who had attended one or more of my events started to want to hire me.

In response to other requests for an easy way to keep updated with all of the changes going on in digital, what they mean and what the implications are, I devised a Membership scheme to sit alongside the various training events I run, whereby for a small monthly fee people get access to members-only video training and downloads, a weekly video conference to ask questions and discuss developments, and a members Slack group to share news and get opinions.

I launched the Digital Download Membership scheme early in January and though it’s early days, it’s proving to be highly valuable as collaborative learning in its truest sense.

And then there’s the aforementioned podcast, also sitting under the Digital Download banner. It’s free to listen to and always will be, but there’s every chance that once it’s more established I’ll be able to attract advertisers, forming yet another revenue stream. In Season One I’m covering topics as varied as the impact of artificial intelligence on PR, the GDPR regulations, the impact of voice recognition, dealing with online trolls and influencer marketing.

So inside of 12 months I’ve gone from having one revenue stream (consultancy) to having five:
Consultancy
The Digital Download conference
Workshops and masterclasses
The Digital Download Membership scheme
The Digital Download podcast (in future)

If I can do it, you can definitely do it! I’d love to hear of ways that you’re thinking of expanding what you offer or things you’ve already done. Contact me at @thepaulsutton or email me at paul@paulsutton.co

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