There I was. Thirty years old, and sharing a room with my mom.
She didn’t sleep in “my” room obviously, but the house was so small that she had all her clothes, makeup center, jewelry, and perfumes in one half of the room. It’s where she got ready in the morning.
Technically, the rest of the room had a bed and desk and TV. And was basically a combination of her office and relaxing space, and a guest bedroom when they needed it. Until now. Now it was my room. Or mostly my room. Well, at least the bed and desk felt like mine.
It wasn’t the space I was used to. But it was all that I needed. And I was so thankful they let me back in to figure out, fix, and restructure my life.
This was back in 2013. I just got clean off some pretty hardcore stuff, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just knew I needed some support, and needed to make some huge changes to make sure I didn’t find my way back to all the troubles of my past.
I was broke, no money, no assets, no income. Now granted, I was not always “just a substance abuser.” For many periods of my life I was extremely productive and launched some very successful businesses. So I think I had a higher than usual confidence level, but right now, this only made it more hard on me as I sat there with nothing but a bed and desk, and a faint small of perfume lingering in the background.
I decided at this time to go back to school. It was partially for me as I always wanted to go to College. But it was also to buy me time, since I knew my parents would let me stay there if I was working on something they approved of.
Still though, I was broke. I looked around for jobs and the only thing I could find was K-Mart, Smoke Shops, and a sales gig at a cell phone store. I decided the sales gig was the only one that wouldn’t feel like a 150% stab to my ego, so I applied, interviewed… and got passed over.
I couldn’t believe it. I had a history with sales, I was a top performer, why did they not hire me? I’m sure there were a ton of factors, first and foremost was likely my arrogance as I walked in looking 25% homeless but still trying to act 125% confident. #mismatch #redflags
This was a defining moment for me. And it left me with two options: A smoke shop, or K-Mart. I just couldn’t muster the courage to work at K-Mart as I felt I would never be able to forgive myself. I did seriously consider the smoke shop, but then came to the realization….
I should just go back to what I did best…
I should just go back to the only way I knew how to make real money…
Selling something slightly illegal online. This is how I made the “fortunes” that I blew through in my first 17 years of focused work life. I started art age 13, and didn’t stop until 30. Sure there were breaks here and there when I got sued, or my friends got sued, or hundreds of thousands of dollars was stolen from us by shady offshore banks…. MULTIPLE TIMES. #truestory
(‘Slightly Illegal’ Definition: A crime that is justified – at the time – as victimless. I was selling products that violated a large corporations trademark. I knew it was wrong, but I also believed my customers were happy (they knew they were replicas) — and, nobody that is buying a replica has the money to afford the real thing. And if they do, they wouldn’t be happy with the quality of the replica anyway… and they will end up buying the real thing soon after)
I knew I could make BIG BUCKS doing it, yet again. I had done it at least 10 times over the the last 17 years — launching dozens upon dozens of websites.
So I sat there, at my parents kitchen table. I got my trusted yellow notebook, and made the to-do list that had made me fortunes so many times before. And I started making progress.
But then, I had a realization. A breakthrough you might say. I’m not sure exactly where it came from, but I do remember the impact it had. It changed my life direction forever.
The breakthrough was that I was 30 years old, and I had been doing the same thing since I was 13. That was more than half my life. And I knew, if I didn’t make a HUGE change now, I would be doing this forever. Sure the money was good, but I was living in a constant cycle of paranoia. And I would blow through all the profits on “performance enhancing” substances, hotels, gambling, clothes, travel, girls, and just about anything sparkly that I could get my hands on.
I thought was “the best” at everything, which really just meant I did the most of everything. And when it comes to drugs, gambling, and women… that was not something that worked well for me… or any human for that matter.
So I scrapped the business, ditched the drugs (I was still smoking marijuana and cigarettes, and drinking alcohol even at my parents house), and even decided I would not enter a relationship (physical or emotional) until I figured out more about myself, who I was, what I was going to do with my life, and how come I always found myself going back to the same problems.
When I scrapped the business… I wiped my hard drive clean to remove the evidence, and started diving into the depths of my inner self. But I still had a big problem: I hated being so financially dependent on my parents. Living at their house was one thing, but asking for money for taco bell was another. I just couldn’t take it.
I needed to make some sort of cash so I could at least have money in my pocket. And that’s when I thought about freelancing. It was perfect for me.
It could provide the same type of money that I needed: spending money, or shoot, maybe this was the answer to how I would make FT income in the future as well. I mean, sure, I was going back to school… but I knew I didn’t really want to go back and work a J_O_B! It was against my M-O.
So this freelancing thing, everything about it sounded right. And my past life experiences pieced together so well that I knew I could make a killing at it, and I could really help people improve their businesses as well.
Over my years running my businesses, I outsourced EVERYTHING! My entire workforce was overseas, before “offshoring” was the cool thing to do. This is back when eLance was the gigantic freelancing platform on the internet. And guess what? I was a daily user.
I’d literally hired hundreds of freelancers. I knew how hard it was to find good talent, I knew every scam possible from both the client and freelancer side, and I knew how to pick out crappy clients like clockwork. How come? Because I was the crappiest client ever back then. Lol. Well, not the worst, but I was pretty bad.
Also, I had skills. I had done a little bit of everything when it came to internet marketing, so I figured it would be easy for me to land contracts and get to work.
So I applied to tons of different jobs, basically anything that fit any skill I had ever done. From sales, to customer service, to social media marketing, email marketing, article writing, you name it… if they were paying, I was applying!
And guess what happened?
I barely got any work. I forgot how long it took me, or how many jobs I got or didn’t get. But I remember being REALLY discouraged. I didn’t know why people were not hiring me. I did seriously have such a vast array of skills. What was wrong with THEM? I tricked myself into believing it was a ‘client-problem’. Obviously, I was worth the measly $10-14 I was asking for at the time.
This one client really got to me though. So much, she made me quit freelancing for a year. She may have been the only client I got too. It’s not because of her, honestly, she was awesome! My problem was, I didn’t believe in the project she brought to me. And I didn’t know how to tell her she was wasting her money on me, and the entire MLM “business” she was trying to start.
So I spent some time with her, and helped out as best as I could. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking she was wasting her money. And it made me feel real uncomfortable, as even though I blew through millions of dollars in my life… I always operated my businesses on a pick-pocket budget. Basically whatever was in my business bank account was all that I had…. and trust me, money didn’t stay in my account for long.
I just couldn’t stand seeing her waste money. So I got out of the contract politely enough to get an awesome 5-Star review, and quit freelancing! Maybe it wasn’t for me.
Sure, I coached her along the way. And I found out years later she ended up stopping that business. Problem is, it sounded to me like she never found what she was looking for in terms of building her own empire. And for that, I feel like I didn’t give her the best service. But I was new, so I’m forgiven! lol
For about a year, I was out of the game entirely. I found some old inventory from one of my ancient e-commerce sites that I sent to a fulfillment center and never shipped out (not replica watches, but another product that, even though it’s legal… I hate it) But I didn’t really care, I had about $30k of inventory. It cost me about $5,000 in fees to get it back, but now I had something to sell for pocket change.
This gave me some time to think. And then one day it hit me….
I finally figured out why freelancing wasn’t working for me. Remember I said I had all those skills? Remember I applied for all those random jobs? That helped me find one of my biggest mistakes: I was not an expert at anything.
Clients hiring freelancers are not looking for someone who can do a little bit of everything. They want someone hyper-focused on the problem they have to solve in their business.
They want a “PERFECT PROBLEM SOLVER”. And that, I was not. I mean think about it, they are usually outsourcing one specific component of their business they don’t want to do. Do you think they want to hire the person who does that, and also 25 other things? Or do you think they will hire the person who ONLY does the 1 thing they want done?
They are going to hire the expert (a.k.a. the Perfect Problem Solver). That’s the beauty of freelancing from the clients side, they can get professionals for less than it costs to hire a full-time employee, all things considered.
That was the missing link. That was the key to success. So now all I had to do was find that one skill I would enjoy enough to want to do it all the time, and that I would be excited enough to always want to improve my skills until I was seriously the Perfect Problem Solver in my chosen field.
So I made an inventory of my entire skill set. I had all the usual hard and soft skills, but none of them really jumped out screaming pick me! Instead of settling, I did something crazy. I picked something not even on my list:
Why did I pick copywriting? I remembered when I hired freelancers that is was always the hardest position to hire for. The talent was either nonexistent, or too expensive. So I knew I could make a killing doing it…. if I only I knew how to do it.
Now, this next part is NOT recommended. But there is where my impulsivity kicks in hardcore. I technically didn’t know how to write yet. I didn’t know what there was there, and when I should use the other one: their. My grammar was piss poor, and at best would have been at about a 7th grade level. But my intent was clear.
I wanted to be a copywriter.
Sure I didn’t yet know how to write, or know english grammar at all. But my skills from my entire life painted a path to copywriting, for sure. In my past I’d done inbound sales (mattresses) , retail sales training, internet marketing, website project management, and I’d worked with freelancers in almost every area of digital expertise.
I had described my website vision to many copywriters before, but they were the ones to always create the words. And to me, copywriters worked like magic. How did they do it? I needed to find out.
But I also needed to find work.
And remember that impulsivity I talked about above?
I decided I could learn to write WHILE GETTING PAID!
Now, this was a little high stress, and not recommended for everyone. But it sure did work for me.
But first, I needed examples of my work. So I went through all the writing I had ever done and found a recent college essay or two, a short thing I wrote for my uncles website a year or two earlier, and… wait for it… (AND PLEASE, DON’T DO WHAT I’M ABOUT TO SAY I DID)…
I took two pieces of writing that were not even mine and included them in my portfolio. They were words written by a freelancer I hired many years back. Sure I thought of the overall concept for the website, but I did not in any way write those words.
And then what? I rewrote my profile and started focusing only on bidding for copywriting work. I hacked my price down so that I was VERY competitive and looked like a super-deal!
Here’s what happened….
I started getting jobs.
So now, I had to turn my intent to action. I had to learn how to write, or risk getting a bad review. The stress was high, so I enrolled in a copywriting course and worked on my contract alongside learning how to write. It actually worked great as I could apply everything I learned immediately, and I was getting paid to do it!
Sure, I only billed part of my time. Because I was really slow. At first it would take me about 5 hours to write a blog post. And I figured this was way too long, so I only billed 2-3 hours and just figured I would speed up over time so I didn’t have to give so much time away for free. And this worked, my clients liked my writing, so I kept improving my skills, raising my rates (on new contracts), and kept learning new skills as I got paid to do it.
Now, I call this the “PAID TO LEARN” model, and depending on you and your market may be something you want to consider for yourself. Only thing I wouldn’t do again was the fraudulent portfolio… I felt a little sleazy for doing that. And it was also obviously against policy, and totally misrepresenting myself. #LessonLearned
So that’s about it! Over the next few years I built my skills even further. I was able to get new work anytime I wanted it, and I was able to NOT work anytime I felt like it was taking me away from my number one priority at the time: school!
And guess what?
I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Boise State, and I still don’t even know what Summa Cum Laude means! Haha. I got a 3.96 gpa, and you want to know what’s even better than that?
I paid ALL my student loans back before I finished school. Yep, I graduated debt free. And if you don’t know, that’s a hard feat here in the states.
So don’t worry…. you can freelance too!
I promise! I promise! I promise!
If a 30-year old ex-drug-addict who just stopped actively using and was sharing a room with his momma, AND didn’t even yet know his freelance skill could do it….
SO CAN YOU!
The only real advantage I had was that I knew freelancing from both sides of the hiring equation. Meaning, I knew what it was like to be a client, and a freelancer. This really helped me frame my messaging and positioning in a way that spoke directly to the clients I wanted to acquire.
I’m going to be showing you how to do that right here.
There I was. Thirty years old, and sharing a room with my mom.