Vandaag het gesprek met Joel Klettke.
Joel is a conversion-focused copywriter and strategist who’s worked and delivered results for clients like HubSpot, WP Engine, Safelite and Ion Interactive.
He runs his company like a business – not a creative divahood. He loves deadlines, strategy documents, and clear communication.
Joel is a digital marketer with 5+ years of experience agency-side. He helps you to figure out what content you actually need to reach, nurture and convert your audience.
In this conversation with Joel we are not talking about copywriting techniques. We are talking business. This conversation was sparked by an article of how sad the freelancers life is because of the low income.
Joel knows lots of freelancers and solopreneurs that earn more than 100k or 200k.
He shares how he earned in his first year almost six figures. The revenue in the years after that just kept increasing.
We dive into things that any freelancer or solopreneur can do to earn more money. Use the actions that Joel used to improve your business even when your business is more people than just you.
Enjoy the insights with Joel.
Links uit de podcast
Hello and welcome
Today I’m having a chat with Joel and and we came in contact about this conversation because you said not a tweet. Joe welcome to the podcast by the way. Yeah thanks for having me.
You sent out a tweet about a research or an article about how little freelancers or earning or how much they were suffering on suffering on how much they were earning and you mentioned that you know plenty of freelancers.
That a great paycheck.
Yeah. No it was this article on NPR that my friend Emma had shared and it really painted this grim and sad and pathetic picture of freelancing. And when I saw it really hit a chord with me because as you mentioned you know I know lots of freelancers who are doing more money than they ever made in-house set you know fully employed quote unquote positions. And so I felt like the author just really missed the real story really missed you know a side of freelancing and entrepreneurship and chose to focus on the negative.
That bothered me and I I’m not sure how this is in Canada on us because you’ve also connected with some other freelancers or printers that also have a great business and I’m going to talk to them in other episodes as well.
But when I look at the Netherlands there’s a lot of freelancers or solo printers that are living really at a low level with their income so they don’t make a lot of money from the business so they sometimes under the welfare level. So.
So there is of course a site of entrepreneurship when you don’t do well. It really doesn’t do well for you as a person and earning money. So I think the story is of course a vision of a part of the freelance world but you bring a lot of vision
Yeah. And you know I agree.
I interact with lots and lots of people who don’t do well and as you mentioned you know even in Canada and the U.S. they really struggle and you know a lot of my interaction like I’m part of a group called the corporate or club and there’s some people in there who do very well. There’s loads of people who do very very poorly. But I think the bigger thing is the realisation that hey it doesn’t have to be that way the whole trope the whole you know cliche of the starving artist or the starving copywriter the starving freelancer that doesn’t have to be the way that it goes. And it’s not some you know woo woo magical thinking nonsense that changes that. It’s just picking up the business skills and changing the way you approach it and changing the way you have conversations. And I think you’ll find as you talked more and more of these people who are doing well you start to see patterns in the way that they go about this. And those are patterns other freelancers can pick up learn a plot of their own business so if they are in that tier who are really having problems they can get out of that. For those people who are doing well they can continue to learn from others who have found ways forward. There’s no one single way to succeed at this and you’ll probably get something different from each person you talk to.
But it doesn’t have to be the case that you’re just struggling all the time not in a good time when you say something I’m ready new questions and ideas. I have two things that you just mentioned because you talk about copyright a co-op.
Do you have any idea what the how it is divided how and how many people how many freelancers do well compared to people who don’t know.
No reliable statistics. I think part of the tricky thing in that space in particular is every time they do income surveys and they use a whole bunch of different people have tried to do income surveys for copywriting freelancers. The problem is that they hardly ever differentiate between full time freelancers and part time. So you get this really mixed bag of data where it says some people are making you know under ten thousand a year and you’re thinking well there’s no way you can even survive on that. But I mean part of the reason for that is a whole bunch of the people that they’ve now surveyed are people who are overseas where 10000 dollars is a different standard of living or their hobby writers who just do something in the evening. So I don’t have you know a great split. I don’t have a really reliable metric. I would say that you know it’s not 50/50 but I would say that you know there is a pretty large contingent that does pay themselves and survive and sustain themselves at a higher than you know poverty level. I’d say you know that’s that’s a pretty sizable group. And then of those who are kind of doing let’s say really phenomenal let’s let’s define that as 100000 plus a year just as an arbitrary benchmark. But I would say that you know there is a fairly large contingent and at least in the circles that I run in if I was just estimating I would say at least 10 percent are kind of you know at least one in 10 has found a way forward with that. So it is a smaller fraction but below that there’s loads of people who are still making a good living. You know a sustainable living. And then out to the people who you know I meet who are really struggling to the point that they’re flaming out. You know while that is a large group. While that might be considered I guess the single largest majority it’s not the not the only group but I wish I had really solid data for you.
I think the impression is what I was looking for. And you mentioned before also I think a part which is really important and I want to go back to how you came to power and how you made sure that you came to the six figures isn’t you mentioned and you hang around you learn from people that are there where you are so that you surround yourself with people that earn you know are on the good side. And I think that also when you look at these freelancers that are at the bottom side they hang out with the same people and they don’t grow totally.
I think that’s part of the thing and I recently was chatting to some folks about this what happens often is instead of applying themselves or instead of trying something new or trying something different they pulled together in these groups and just commiserate. And so they get so used to sympathy and so used to people saying oh I feel bad for you. Oh it’s so sad that happened to you that they get complacent and they they never change anything they just kind of except for themselves and they know that this is their reality. And then they you know they thrive off of this sympathy from other people. And just to your note on hanging out with people that are doing well I mean that’s something that I think for me. You know I didn’t originally do that on purpose but over time found myself gravitating not just other freelancers not just other copywriters but other people who are out on their own and have found a way to make things work who work in my space. Because if even if I’m you know hanging out with a graphic designer or somebody who runs you know a home based business and it’s done really well. Simon who runs the e-commerce shop. Whatever it may be I do try to seek out these people who have found a way forward who aren’t necessarily just like me because if you only go even when you’re doing well even if you only talk to people hang out who are just like you are in the same space as you are offering the same products and services. There’s a lot to learn but there’s a ton you miss. And so whether it’s in your own space or owning your own offering or outside of that getting to know people who have found a way forward who have come through adversity you know forge their path.
There’s tons to learn from those people to agree. There is once some on a clicking going on is there are you taking something on the microphone or something.
Oh you know it really is still this headset kind of just how easy that headset OK. OK yeah. But I’ll sit very still in the hands.
I know that when I listen to podcasts and something like that is going on it. It just gets you away from that from from the message in that I don’t want to get that people that they don’t listen to you because you know they just hear this clicking OK I’m just didn’t I just say it was for the editor. So you’ve started. You’ve been to the University of Calgary. Am I pronouncing it right. Yes you are. Yes that’s correct. And you did a long bachelor of commerce. Right yeah. Business degree yes. Yes. And and. And if I’m correct you didn’t. Specialization entrepreneurship.
Yeah I chose entrepreneurship because I didn’t really seem to fit anywhere else so I knew more about what I didn’t want to do than what I did. You know for example I knew like finance was not going to be for me and I knew I never wanted to be an accountant. But at that time I didn’t really know where I fit. I knew I wanted to wear a lot of hats I knew I wanted to be able to contribute but I didn’t know exactly how I was going to be able to do that just yet.
Dee do you for example have a project in the study somewhere that when you start your own business there are a few classes that were eye opening.
I think you know one of the most eye opening ones is there’s you know the University of Calgary Zuch inertia Promus gone through weird cycles like it used to be the prominent one of the biggest places to do it and then that is just all through his cycle.
So you have to just repeat it sorry.
Sure sure. And I’ll just I’ve just adjusted my headset to over the clicks less you know but do let me know if it’s if it’s doing that again. OK so so I’ll just start from the top of. You know I went into entrepreneurship because I knew more about what I didn’t want to do than what I did. I knew I didn’t want to be in finance I knew I didn’t want to be an accounting. I knew H.R. wasn’t really for me but I wasn’t totally sure and so I think what I was saying is the program at the U of C has gone through cycles. And so at one point it was like the preeminent place to do it. It was really really popular. Then when I was there it was like the black sheep. And so hardly any attention hardly any funding the university didn’t really you know it was almost like they pretended it wasn’t there. But the great thing about that is you had these professors who could really do what they wanted and there was no you know there was no like heavy handed oversight from the faculty.
And one of the guys that I learned from was this guy named Ed MacMullan and we did a whole course on putting together a business plan and the big takeaway though that kind of shocked everybody was his whole research found that having a business plan made no difference made no difference to the success rate or failure rate of business launch. And so we were kind of simultaneously like putting this together and going through the process of you know what it would look like the pitch for funding or to you know to come up with a business plan and at the end of it it was yeah that’s all you know. It’s not a bad practice but it’s not going to guarantee success. And I think that was eye opening for me because the whole idea of just having a plan is like a plan is good but execution is everything and that was one of the big things I took out of that. So even though I got some that Hands-On stuff and even though I definitely would say that as I started building my business I was grateful to have done a business degree and to have a chance to put that theory and practice.
Once you’re actually out in the world it’s kind of you know no holds barred. All of a sudden all that theory you have to turn into reality and apply and interpret as you do. So I was grateful for that time. I definitely picked up skills from that time. But the hard lesson of a plan is not good enough was probably the biggest thing for me.
And then you are into membership. You study that and and you and you know what you don’t want to do but you don’t get what you want to do. And you still stay at a company in a job.
Yeah. So I knew about the type of place. You know I wanted to be. I knew that I wanted to be somewhere I could have an impact that I could you know try different things and I like the idea because I worked for a big oil company is kind of just this junior you know accounting go for fetching files and that sort of thing to help pay for university. I knew I didn’t want to be in a big business. I didn’t want to just do you know punch a clock and do mundane things but it was far from kind of the rah rah like start your own thing straight out the gate. So I wound up working at an agency and just fell into a job that I didn’t even know existed before I was doing it. In doing so. And so I got a chance to learn that and apply myself there and try different elements of digital marketing get a sense for that. And when I applied to that company I told them that I loved to write. But at the time even telling them that you know I think well maybe they’ll have me write a blog post here or there. But I still don’t see the business case for it. I was still kind of oblivious to the whole world of copywriting as it were. So you know eventually at the agency I got to pick up a few website writing jobs and I thought oh this is really interesting. Over time as I worked there I saw the whole industry the whole digital marketing world turning their attention towards content and copying the reports of that. And that’s when it finally clicked in my brain like hey what I loved to do what I’m feel like I’m naturally good that that’s valuable that’s needed. That’s something that not everybody can do. And once that switch kind of flicked in my head that’s when I started kind of quietly laying the groundwork to eventually go out on my own.
And then you started really learning about SEO and you move to copywriting. But the SEO part I guess because I do it still every day I guess you still use that in your day to day work in a minor way.
Yeah I mean for me SEO is a consideration. Like what I do for clients now is different than what I started doing. No one on my own to like when I first started. Maybe this is you know one of the first actionable takeaways for people listening but when you’re just getting going. I was doing blog work in. And what I liked about that and why I gravitated to that the beginning was a because it was what I knew and where my community was so having worked for an agency I had spent time deliberate time while working for someone else cultivating my network and talking on Twitter and going to events and shaking hands and you know making friends and I wasn’t out there just trying to sell things. And I think that’s a big difference is a lot of freelancers the only contact they have with the outside world is just constant cold pitching. And so it’s a lot of rejection because they’ve never given themselves the time or the space or the ability to just be a person and just connect with people on a human level and take an interest in their business without having to instantly be trying to sell. So I started out doing you know the blog or the ebooks and the stuff really did apply then because I was writing for agencies and I was considering you know as a factor when I was putting that content together.
But the big thing that doing that type of work did for me is blog work in eBooks and those sorts of things they’re really repeatable. They’re really package Gibble they’re really easy sell. So rather than you know constantly looking for a new project every month I could pitch to clients hey why don’t we do for blog posts a month at this rate and we’ll just recur monthly every month you’ll have four posts for two grand and my men tell you as well if I can sell you know four packages of four posts a month that two thousand dollars that’s you know eight thousand dollars a month and that puts me pretty close to that hundred thousand dollars a year category. And so finding you know for me it was well let’s start off by finding something in my wheelhouse that’s repeatable where I’m not going to have to constantly chase clients and that’s how I got my start you know drawing on my network drawing on what I knew and looking for those repeatable opportunities that I wasn’t constantly having to chase someone.
And I think what I’ve came back to lately is just what you just mentioned is not just just talk to people not just pitched in but just talk to them as humans and be interested in Dan and talk to you and ask questions and learn what they are busy with and how they’re doing and what is the issues that they’re working on without thinking and something you could sell them just just listen. And it brings so much more relationship and value. And in the end when they love talking talking to you that they’ll be happy to have something to you when they know what you’re doing.
Right. I mean you know we’ve probably heard before the whole idea of to get the clients you want they have to know you first so they have to know you exist. They have to like you. You know they have to like you as a person and want to do business with you. And then they have to trust you and a lot of freelancers I think they don’t pay any attention to that. And so it’s just this constant like when they’re pitching or when they’re trying to get work. You know the pitch comes across very much like hi I’m a stranger. You’ve never talked to hoping you have a need. Can I help you right now. And if that’s your pitch if that’s the approach then yeah it’s no wonder so many people do poorly because they’re not building relationships or not cultivating a network. They’re nobodies go to guy or gal for anything they’re just this kind of stranger coming at it from the outside. And so one of the smartest things I think Freelancers can do is look for ways to know as you just mentioned listen more than you speak especially in person when you have conversations to ask questions and ask and listen and you know if something comes up where it’s a problem you solve. Now you’ve got a natural conversation to say oh hey you know what actually you know that’s an area that I know a little bit about and now that you’ve shown an interest in them they’re more likely to listen back. But the other thing is look for a way to position yourself as authority so all of the freelancers 100 percent of the freelancers I know that do very very well at some point in their career.
They’re not all as active on it now because it’s a bit like a snowball you push it for a while and then eventually it gains momentum and rolls under its own steam. But all of them were teaching at some point whether that was writing How To Blog Post whether that was sharing their insights on LinkedIn whether that was speaking whether they ran a group as an administrator where they were helping connect and solve problems for people. But most of if not all of the most successful freelancers I know position themselves as authorities by teaching and showing they could solve a specific problem for a specific group of people so that when people thought of them they could finish the sentence. Oh Joel he’s the go to guy for blank who need blink rate. So instead of just being businesses who need copy people got to know me as well he’s the go to guy for software companies who need conversion copywriting and the more specific I make that sentence. Easier it was for me to start closing deals. So building authority teaching sharing even if you feel like you don’t know you know like you’re not an expert yet just teach the things you do know and as you learn new things teach those too but people will trust you more when they see that hey this person is talking about how to solve the problems I have. In a way that I relate to.
Yeah. Really good points. Is that new teaching and it can be as you mentioned in all kinds of forms and you can be managed on a forum you could you could vote on Linked In. You could do video there’s all kinds of ways to do it. Life training sessions whatever you do at positions of as somebody who knows something about a specific topic and then also you mentioned is really important is that you have like a focus a really laser sharp focus on what you do specifically for whom so that it is easy for people to refer you because they know that you work like you said for a software companies and you do copywriting for that conversion for them right.
And you know someone who knows a lot about this whole nourishing thing is a guy named Josh Garofalo and you know he talks a lot about this and the whole idea that the more specific you are the more specifically you define who you serve and what you do for them exactly like you say that the easier it is for people to say oh you know he’s the go to guy for this or she’s the go to gal for that. So for example you know people wouldn’t think if I floated it out there and casual conversations hey do you think you can make a hundred thousand dollars a year. Reading quizzes for companies most feel good. No no there’s no way. Never. But Shanti Zakk she does because that’s her whole focus.
She is so laser focused not just on writing the quiz but helping companies implement it and sending it out and no one else had planted a flag saying hey this is what I specialize in. No one else was tracking the impact. So Shanti could come in and say I’m the go to woman for helping clients generate qualified leads with quizzes. And so she was able to do those types of numbers because she owns that space she owns 100 percent of the conversation. She is the predominant expert there.
So whether it’s Josh and I you know targeting software and being very deliberate there what they’re Chanty and quizzes velt Geisler and email series all of these people found a Neish found an offering found an area of you know the zone of excellence or their zone of whatever you know expertise and stayed there and said I’m going to own this space because when you’re deep and not wide so you’re really deep in an area you’re a deep expert Neria you know what inside and out and you’re the go to person that’s better than when you’re white and you know just a tiny little bit about everything and you take whatever comes your way.
Okay sure. I guess I can do a press release so I guess I can do you know a video script and you’re just taking whatever comes your way. The best freelancers that I know take control and say this is what I’m going to do. This is what I’m going to be next.
But it is so easy for you to say I’m just being a cynic here for you to be clear because what I what I listen to and when I talk to rumors about this topic about choosing what you want to do for whom you want to do it. And I always try to do what I call and it’s a phrase that I’ve used from Verne Harnish is hyper specialization. So you focus on one client focus on one of the largest problem that this client has and you have one solution for that problem so that it’s crystal clear like you mentioned quizzes and you copywriting for software businesses. It is crystal clear what you do for whom. But it’s very difficult for for most of the freelancers most of the intrapreneurs to do this to make this decision to choose because D.C. I will be missing so much. I will if I if I choose just this. I cannot do that. And I love that too or I if I choose this. And if that is going to bring me enough money and of fat chooses they have all these reasons why we can choose. So how did you choose.
I think that’s a really valid point and I think you know it’s fair to say what what a lot of people get paralyzed on is the idea of well if I’m exclusive to that then I can’t do anything else and I think it’s you know for me it was a gradual process when the very beginning I was you know as I mentioned I was doing blog work I was doing the books and you know if someone came across said hey I need a case study or whatever I would try it out. And through doing that in the early days that’s how I figured out OK here’s something I really like and really enjoy.
But once you found an area once you when you think back to your most successful projects to your projects you most enjoyed working on whereas the intersection of what you most enjoyed working on with what you feel you could charge the fairest rate for for me it was as simple as that. I looked at. I’ve really enjoyed working on this website and these landing pages. I really enjoyed working for these software companies. Yes there is. You know there naturally is going to be the if you will if I only go there then I miss out on these other things. But it’s a bit of a false fear because when you’re not known for anything when you’re just another you know writer just another designer you have a harder time because you’re competing against the millions of other people who are doing this exact same thing they’re they’re just another design they do a little bit of everything a little bit all the time. But by putting yourself in a category by doing this hyper specialization you’re not only eliminating opportunities yes you’re eliminating some ways to make money but you’re eliminating a ton of your competition. You go from competing with this huge pool of people to now this smaller pool of people.
Yeah. But but but. But the pool of potential clients is also huge. When you do between brackets everything. If I can just do 1 percent of everything I still have a great life when I earn a lot of money that’s that’s fine. That’s it. So I think if I if I focus on one thing I can never do that. So I have I just be as white as possible. I can attract as many clients as possible and have a great living.
I mean it’s possible but you’re also extremely replaceable. There’s nothing you know like why would somebody choose you over somebody else. You know you’re going to wind up competing on price really because there’s no other differentiator so that’s how people wind up on for example like the upward cycle of hell where they’re just constantly taking whatever comes their way because there’s no fleg for them to plant. There’s no way for them to say well you know I’m different here’s why it’s not enough just to be really good at what you do. You can make a living that way. Like I said there’s there’s no like just one path to success. But I think when you look at you know yes there’s tons of jobs tons of opportunity that the pool is huge. But again you’re going to be just constantly chasing you know and having to adapt. The other thing too that we’re not really talking about is when you do a little bit of everything you need to have a process for a little bit of everything.