The Skills Economy

The truth about the gig economy

I became a freelancer on June 17, 2016. I put together a website, and reached out to the founder of one of LinkedIn’s largest, most influential, groups, Step Into The Spotlight. Tsufit agreed to allow me to solicit feedback about my website, and about my new venture. I told the group’s members—largely entrepreneurs, business coaches, other subject matter experts—that I just had a baby, but I didn’t know if the baby was ugly, and I needed honest feedback.

Under normal circumstances, no one ever tells you that your kid is ugly. You find out long after you could have done something about it. My baby was my freelance website. When you’re serious about selling your product or services you get a website. I needed to know if mine worked.

Before 2016, I was self-employed. An independent paralegal. I offered my services wherever they were in demand, to whoever would pay for them. I had found that freelancing was not a scam. That it was possible to earn an honest living by doing things people either didn’t know how to do themselves, or were too busy to devote attention to.

The difference between a freelancer, and someone self-employed, is communicated easiest by etymological means. A freelancer is someone who is self-employed but makes his or her living primarily from the creation or manipulation of either digital, or abstract, objects. If I make a living manipulating bytes or ideas, I am a freelancer. If I buy and sell stuff you sell in a hardware store—if I grow and sell corn—I’m self-employed.

Where there is chum there is sharks. Where there is sharks there are remora. Ecosystems and economies form. There is trade, there is symbiosis, and inevitably parasites. So it is to be expected that a support industry purporting to teach freelancers how to be successful soon sprang up. Lots of the same people were teaching people to buy and flip properties before the financial market crash. They never did the actual buying and flipping themselves. They had graduated that. I never understand how if it’s so lucrative to do a task, the people who know how to do that task well tend to be so altruistic they want to share their good fortune. But for a fee. Always for a fee. Why don’t they just do the thing, since the thing is so lucrative? Why are they wasting time, and losing money, creating their competition?

I didn’t do anything any of these guys said.

I broke every single rule and still ended up better off than when I started. Freelancing is a hot hand, and comped antes, at the world’s most generous casino.

Warren Buffett says there is a difference between price and value and I have thus far been unable to prove him wrong. I take Charlie Munger seriously.

I was advised to buy an expensive office chair. I wish now I could have afforded it at the outset. Buy an expensive chair is one of the best pieces of advice about freelancing that I’ve ever come across.

I did DUI web design.

I did not use WordPress or InfusionSoft. Still don’t.

I did exactly zero advertising.

I did zero social media.

I still do not have an Instagram page.

I don’t even know the url for Snapchat.

I did not blog, or comment on other entrepreneur’s blogs. In two years I published a grand total of 7 articles, only one of which could conceivably be said to appeal to a general audience. Two of the seven, I am pleased to say, are actually about my subject matter area.

One person told me my perspective on race changed his own. Then he told me the article I wrote laying out my perspective was like the Mona Lisa. People shouldn't do that to writers. I didn't sleep for two days afterwards. Another client compared me to Ta Nehisi Coates. That's a major reason I quit my job. People really shouldn't do that to writers.

Altogether the articles got 1429 hits. I am confident a significant portion of those hits are from my PC.

I did not network. I attended exactly zero conferences, and rubbed zero elbows, with zero influencers.

I tried all of the CRM tools that are freely available, and signed up for too many free trials, and dumped each one with less ceremony than tipping a barista. I am probably still logged in to some of these sites. I did not even bother to log out.

I do not own any Apple products.

I am in one of the few careers where not owning an Apple device is an actual liability. Most people are lying when they say not having an iPhone is detrimental to their career. They just want to justify an unnecessary expenditure in the pursuit of looking cool.

The majority of my financial transactions were not handled by Amazon, or PayPal, or Payoneer.

I hired no coaches.

Michelle Dillard, Elayne Wells-Harmer, and Sew Heidi were incredibly, unconscionably, generous to me. They’ve all told me that my rates are too low. To this day I have only thanked them imperfectly.

I hosted my website, a freelancer’s most important anchoring tool, on an internet 1.0 platform.

I avoid monthly subscription services like the plague.

I run my entire business via Google. That is I entrust every single vital business component to one company. I pay Google a subscription every month.

The first add-on I install after downloading a browser on any platform is an ad blocker.

My domain was not purchased from 1&1 or ENom or NameCheap.

I have done no business with GoDaddy. All their ad campaigns have failed spectacularly. I wonder how many dollars they wasted on me.

As an aside, I have crushes on Danica Patrick, Serena Williams, and Ronda Rousey.

Because they are better at “manly” things than I am, not in spite of.

I do not pay for antivirus, or PC cleaning.

I lost all of my files because I was too cheap to pay for offsite backup and a hard drive failed. So I sent an email to every client, past and present, and informed them of the data loss, what I was doing to address it, and when they could expect books I owed them. I had to redo eleven books I had already done. From scratch—since I’d lost all my work processes. I missed only one deadline. Everyone was very understanding. I am still so grateful for that.

I learnt thereafter that one of the best offsite backup platforms is free.

That service is also owned and operated by Google.

I use it now.

I deliberately niched into areas that should have disqualified me from income. I inadvertently mocked supply and demand.

I read, I write, I learn to solve problems.

I spend a lot of time thinking, rather than doing. I am serious about taking Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett seriously.

My two areas of expertise are “paralegal” and book design. If you are like 98% of Americans, you have not thought about either of these two vocations in the past 3 years. That’s right. There is a good chance that each person reading this article goes at least 3 years at a clip without ever thinking about professions involving the only two things I am qualified to do to make money. That is 294000000 of you. You are all in good company. I need to make you guys my customers. Like GoDaddy.

I think Microsoft made a mistake not adding a back button to its calculator app. When you are inputting unfamiliar, large, numbers, a back button is useful for when you get overwhelmed.

Using the specialized knowledge a paralegal accrues over the course of a career is frowned upon. I am forbidden by law from monetizing that specialized knowledge in the way it is intended to be monetized. Doing so would open me up to prosecution for “practicing law without a license,” a felony in almost every state. Prison time is generally expected when you’re dealing with a felony.

Or a $15,000 Ostrich jacket. What was he thinking?

I know I am not the only one still trying to figure out which part of the ostrich they use to make ostrich jackets. Ostrich don’t have fur.

Ostrich don’t have wings, or much of a body. One assumes it is hard to make jackets out of legs. Is that why the jackets cost so much?

Facebook will probably start showing me ads for PETA now.

I was not on FaceBook during the #AbandonFaceBook thing.

I first put up images on my FaceBook business page some time after Cambridge-Analytica, hoping to make the page attractive to potential clients.

Yes. FaceBook business pages are still a thing.

Here is the link to mine. Please leave a like.

I do not understand SEO.

I am not good at sales.

I deliberately gave each client more value than they paid for. This makes some clients uncomfortable.

I do not know what Tony Robbin’s voice sounds like. I’ve never read a word he’s written. I have read copious amounts of words written by James Altucher. I still intend to offer him the proofread manuscript of I Was Blind but Now I See I did back when I first started and I was filled with possibility and purpose. When I bought into the notion that the internet democratizes communication. When I thought I would be connected to anyone. When I was trying to brainstorm awesome guerilla marketing campaigns. I still intend to give it to him for free. Good books deserve to be proofread, to be edited.

I tell potential clients this. That poorly proofread books don’t sell. I Was Blind but Now I See sold at least 2577 copies. Altucher admits he didn’t get it proofread before publishing. It shows.

Most people are lucky to sell 1000 copies of their first book.

I think I have a good idea for a Michael Moore documentary.

I intend to write an open letter to Michael Moore about this and post it on the internet. I don’t believe any of the email addresses I can find on the internet purporting to be his will actually allow me to communicate with him.

I do not have anything people can subscribe to. No newsletter, no e-letter, no MailChimp, no ConstantContact. I do not offer a free eBook.

I did actually believe that Google would take the Don’t be Evil thing seriously, despite that it is a corporation, ostensibly dedicated solely to the pursuit of profit.

Bad things.

It’s a lot of bad things that they wishing, and wishing, and wishing, and wishing on me.

And still.

And still…

I managed to do more than $40,901.72 in sales in the past 10 months.

That is more than the Federal minimum wage.

That is more than minimum wage if minimum wage was $15 an hour.

54% of white people oppose raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Good job Amazon.

I have never met a client in person or spoke to one over an actual phone line.

I do all my business over the internet.

My payment processor, Wave, automatically does my accounting.

I drink an indefensible amount of pink champagne. I never get drunk.

I made 211 clients very happy.

One Wall Street Banker lectured me after I formatted his eBook for Kindle. He said, “For your future projects, I would recommend over- communicating as well as under-promising and over-delivering.”

His book still has the worst cover design of every book I’ve ever done. He had the cover done before he came to me. He inspired me to write an article explaining how eBooks work since some people find them so difficult.

That article is here.

He wrote the words “I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Thank you,” to me in an email. I suspect he did not mean them.

I have the personal email of more than one titan of industry.

I do not have either certification or college degree.

Thinking about it, they must really take that maximize profit thing seriously in corporations since they come to me. My competitors’ lowest invoice-able amount is $4000. That is 6% of my annual salary every time they make a sale.

Microsoft really needs to work on the calculator app. It’s on every Windows device. This is why they lost so much ground to Google. Google pays attention to design. Even if Google is not so good at giving users access to settings users actually want to change.

I think Conor McGregor beats Khabib tonight.

I did not believe the McGregor-Mayweather fight was going to happen. I was irritated when it did. I still watched it.

I want to position my company as a luxury brand with affordable pricing.

I guarantee my work and will fix it. Gratis.

I sign a contract to that effect before every project.

The world’s most trusted charitable foundation trusted me with their book design.

I do not have a dissatisfied client.

That is not true.

One client actually left me a horrible review on UpWork because I declined to continue to work with him. I dropped him because he was a liar, a cheat, and abusive. I worked with him for 18 months. I learnt both the term and the definition “borderline personality disorder.”

My only other abusive client came from Los Angeles, California, the same place the first one is from.

Both my abusive clients found me on UpWork.

I still find clients on UpWork.

I am part of UpWork’s exclusive Top Rated program, and have maintained that standing for so long UpWork sent me an email congratulating me.

The second abusive client called his credit card company and cancelled a payment triggering a chargeback that cost me $20. That $20 triggered an overdraft fee of $50. That means it cost me a not insubstantial amount of money to work for a client who attempted to belittle me. He told me to sing the Jamaican national anthem to him, because I told him I was in Jamaica.

I hung up on him. After I told him what a lowlife he was, and made him apologize.

I won the challenge I had to file with my payment processor as a result of the overdraft fee triggered by the chargeback that he triggered by calling his credit card company to cheat me out of the money I earned.

That $70 would not have bankrupted me. It would have been a very close shave though.

I knew from the outset my abusive clients were going to be nightmares. I saw the signs. But I needed the money.

Abusive client #1 emailed me to ask if I would consider working with him after he finished writing book #2. This is approximately five months after I screamed at him until he apologized.

Freelancing is a hot hand, and comped antes, at the world’s most generous casino. The world has become the skills economy. If you have skills you can sell them. It’s not the gigs that define this ecosystem. It’s never about the marketplace. There is always a market.

It’s about the skills.

I wonder what happens if I start doing all the things I did wrong, the right way. What happens if I acquire other skills? More skills?

Do Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates need to worry about me?

Photo by theformfitness from Pexels