Why Freelancers Can’t Make Money

November 6, 2012
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As freelancers, we have a love/hate relationship with money.

Unlike our salaried counterparts, we have no promise of a regular pay check in our bank account every Thursday.

But when our phone just keeps ringing and those jobs keep rolling in, the pay checks can come more often and be bigger in size than most people on salaries can dream of.

So, how much money are you making? And is it enough? More importantly – how often do you think about it?

I’m asking this question because I think it highlights one of the biggest traps a creative freelancer can fall into. And the trap is.. Ready?

You can’t make money.

That is, unless you run one of those underground fake currency printing shops – which would, strictly speaking, also be both a freelancing and a creative enterprise.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about the phenomenon of “making money” as it’s commonly talked about – a measure of how well you’re doing in your business.

The idea of making money is a big lie which we got sold once upon a time. It doesn’t serve us, yet it’s one we keep living.


Well, money that is coming into your freelance business is not an end in itself. It’s a by-product of something.

Steven McConnell

Just like a car doesn’t intrinsically “make” carbon dioxide, but emits it as a by-product of burning fuel, your business – be it graphic design, photography or dance – doesn’t make money. It generates money as a by-product of creating value.

The sole purpose of your business is to create value. And you have to have an intimate understanding of what value you create.

So what is value?

Well, value is relative to the crowd. And you exist to provide value to your crowd – your market. And things that are valuable are typically things that are uncommon, that have an ability to move people and that can help solve someone’s problem.

So, for example, if you’re one of 20 graphic designers in town who are all generalists, are you creating much value?

And is it time, then, to perhaps reposition yourself and begin to specialize in a niche?

Let’s have a look at your day today. Let’s say you’ve already been at work for 4 hours. How many of those hours did you spend doing something which only you in this world could do, something that added to the world, that made a difference to someone else, that caused a stir, that made people stop and think?

To really reiterate this point, I’m going to make this argument completely black and white: at any point in time you (and, by extension, your business) are either being a value drain or a generator of value.

If you’re not “making enough money” you’re probably spending too much time being a value drain and not enough time generating enough value.

And that’s why thinking about making money is a complete waste of your time; the act in itself doesn’t produce any value to your crowd.

And look – I get it, this world is not as black and white as I just made it look. There are shades of grey and you do need to take care of menial work as well.

But my point stands. Your head space is the source of your business. Where your mental energy is directed and what issues you think about will determine the future of your business.

Thinking about making money is not valuable. Thinking about how you can use your skills to solve some problem in the world is.

So, how are you going to spend the other 4 hours of today’s workday?

This is a guest post by Steven McConnell. He is a professional family photographer based in Sydney, Australia and you an see his work here.
Title Photo Credit to JMR_Photography
Body Photo Credit to Steven McConnell

is a professional family photographer based in Sydney, Australia. You can find his work at www.familyphotographysydney.com