Ep.3: The 20-Hour Work Week (For The Self-Employed)

This morning, I'm going to tell you exactly how I have been able to structure my career and my business so that I'm only working 20 hours a week while earning over six figures. Meanwhile, my wife doesn't work, and I have true work-life balance.

It is 3:19 A.M. as I’m recording this, and first I need to make this very clear. If you have to build a business, you have to take the self-employment route to make this possible. Maybe someday that won’t be true, but for now, self-employment has to be part of your plan. In today’s episode, we’re going to cover how to get your work schedule down to 20 hours per week. We won’t cover EVERY little thing that it takes to make this happen, but we will talk about some of the main, key aspects that you’ll need to understand.

We’ll always come back to things time and time again in future conversations to really dive deeper and hit on things from different angles. But today’s episode should give you a pretty good start on the main things that contribute to me being able to keep my schedule at 20 hours a week.

The first thing I want to talk about is how you need to figure out your skillset and your knowledge. You need to have a skill that is under demand. It needs to be a skill that provides you with a service that either business or individuals are willing to pay you for. Today, I’m teaching you how to have a service-based business where you have a talent or skill set, and you’re offering that talent or skill set in exchange for money.

You’ll want to make a list of your skills. Are you great at video production, graphic design, or music writing? Do you know about marketing or engineering? Do you have a more specific skill that is specific to one of these categories? You may already have an idea of a skillset you want to develop and the knowledge that you need to gain in order to grow your business. But you have to figure out where you’re at now so that you can see what skill and what talent you can instantly start selling.

For me, that skill is editing. I’ve been editing videos since I was a kid. So, I had a skill that was on demand. Businesses are always looking for video editors. As a result, I decided to pick that skill even though it wasn’t the one I wanted to use forever. Years later, I have my own video editor that I subcontract who edits videos for my clients.

I don’t do the video editing thing myself anymore. I decided instead to focus on video strategy and marketing, which was a skillset that I had developed over the course of a few years. I didn’t always have these skills, but I wanted to develop skills that paid more. Any time you can move out of being a technician into more of a strategist and a consultant, you’ll increase your income. It’s about developing the lesser common skill sets.

For example, you can earn more with 3D animation styles of graphic design than you can with still image. Supply and demand become a huge factor in what you can earn with each skill set. You’ll also want to gage what you can charge over time. As time goes on, your high-demand skill may become more popular, so you’ll want to consider learning other high-demand skills in preparation for that price drop.

Once you go through your skill set list and figure out which skill is right for you, that’s the core of your business. You’ll be able to go from there and grow over time, developing more skillsets that offer more demand than your core skill. The key to this is being able to get down to 20 hours per week of work. In order to do this, you’ll need a skill that allows you to charge more for your time.

The next thing you have to do is get VERY fast at tasks. This way, you can charge higher hourly rates and ultimately higher flat rates which will help you get paid more per working hour. As a freelancer or self-employed individual, one of the biggest things you can use to pitch that higher rate is your speed. One of my selling points with video editing was how much quicker I could do it than my competitors. I can create and edit the same video three times faster than someone else, which allows me to charge a higher rate because I’m offering something that my competitor is not offering.

So, let's say it takes me one hour to complete the project. That's $50 that they spent, or it takes the other person three hours. That's 20, 40, $60 that they spent. In the end, the client actually saves money working with me, even though I charge more per hour. The key to scaling up what you’re charging is to be better at your craft. Remember that you’ll want to be quick, but you also want to offer higher quality. Speedy yet sloppy work will cause you to struggle getting clients. There’s a balance. Like anything else, through practice, you can get faster and faster at your craft. This is the way to learn speed without sacrificing quality.

I have systems in place by which I can develop a strategy and I can, and I can solve a client's problem with their video marketing much quicker than I used to be able to. Then, once you’re charging flat rates for your projects, you’ll walk away with much more per hour while delivering the service that the client needs.
Send a lot of time practicing what you're doing to get really quick at it. You will be surprised at how quick you can do something when you're focused. And part of being focused is being able to have work life balance. If you're working too much, you're going to struggle to have the focus and to do things faster, which is the whole point of the 20-hour workweek.

You’ll want to start out working less than everyone else. I started off working 30 hours per week, which is 10 less than the average 40-hour work week. Even though it’s only 10 hours less, I still felt guilty, feeling like I was working a part-time job. However, it was a nice balance that put a time constraint on me without as much guilt. That said, I recommend you at least trying to start out with a 20-hour work week from the get-go.

Depending on where you're at in your career and what experience you have, you may have to charge less to start because you simply don't have the skillset or the knowledge on the particular subject that you're focusing on for you to charge more. If you’re young and you only have yourself to provide for, this can be easier to manage. When I started my business, I was a child who was just a few months old, so the pressure to provide was already on me. I had to scale very quickly, yet I still had to start lower with my pricing.

That said, don’t go TOO low. I was undercharging at the very beginning of what I could charge based on my skill with video editing. And I came to find my value with it. And then I started to charge what I was worth. It is important that you're charging what you're worth from the get-go. You don't have to start low just because you're new. Just because you haven't had clients before does not mean that you need to charge 15 an hour.

Now I will say that if you already really have the skillset, you can charge more from the get-go, but you need to have samples. You have to be able to still sell yourself without having the resume of clients that you've worked with and what you've achieved for them. Samples will help prove that your skill matches the amount you’re charging. You can’t simply be “really good” at your craft. Something that delayed me a while with learning was that I was earning very little money. I only earned 20 to 30,000 a year, which isn’t much to support my entire family off of. It’s not necessary to go into debt like I did.

Another thing that held me back was my resistance to learning sales. I was resistant to being a salesman because I had this judgement towards salesmen. I didn't want to have to “sell myself.” For me, it was about undergoing a perspective change. I hired a mentor who taught me all about sales and how to enroll people in my services. That is something we will talk more about on this show, and that I talk exclusively about in my videos and on my blog.

But you have to learn sales so that you can communicate your value to potential clients. It’s not about “tricking” people or manipulating them. Some salesmen do not sell ethically, and that’s where the bad image and stereotype of salespeople comes from. You don’t have to be one of them. You can be a good one, an honest one.

You have to be able to convince the potential client why you're worth what you're charging. In order to do that, you have to get out of the typical employee thinking that you're just getting paid for your time. The key to being able to sell at a high enough price point to work 20 hours a week is you are NOT selling your time. You are selling the deliverable, the benefit that your client gets from your services. When I would make a video for a client, I'm not selling the video, I'm selling what the video will bring their business, because if their video is going to help increase their sales, then it's very easy to charge $500 for a video that brings them $800 back. Even if it only took two hours to edit it, the value of what I created for them brought them a return on their investment.

You have to start getting into that way of thinking regarding what you’re providing your client with. Clients will ask you WHY they should choose you over others. So, you have to start researching and learning about business in general and how sales works because you have to do it for your own business, and you have to understand how it works for the client’s business, too. Even if you’re a graphic designer, you have to learn marketing and sales because you’ll need it for your own business.

But you also need to understand where your client is coming from so that when they are probing you about what your service is going to get them, you’ll know what to say, and you’ll know how to talk shop when it comes to sales and marketing. If you do this, they’ll like you a lot more, and they’ll be much more willing to work with you. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if you’re the best graphic designer out there. What really makes you competitive is your knowledge of sales and marketing because very few freelancers have that knowledge. They may be good at what they do, but their growth is limited because they don’t fully understand how to make something that will help their client make money.

Learning other skills is worth the investment. Find books on sales, tune into “Go Back to Bed,” YouTube and Google information, and do your research. Learn how to enroll people into your services. Now that I’m okay with sales, it’s just natural to me and it is part of what I do every single week.

If you’re an artist, know that learning sales does NOT mean you’re compromising your art. You’re providing a service. You’re not less of an artist because you have to double as a salesperson. I had that in my head, too, but you need to get it out of your head.

Now, let’s talk about flat rates versus hourly rates. I want to touch on this because this is a key part of being able to work 20 hours per week. At one point, I hit a ceiling where I could not raise my hourly rate beyond where it was. That’s when I started to charge flat rates. The trick is that flat rates can be risky if you don’t for sure know how long a project is going to take you. It takes experience with your initial clients to get to the point where you have enough data to know when to charge a flat rate, and when to charge hourly.

It’s typically best to start out charging an hourly rate, and then move into flat rates later on. If you really want to see how you perform when charging a flat rate, you need to time track. I personally use an app called “Harvest Time Tracking App” which can subdivide my time into several various tasks. I then use that data to determine how long a project takes me. This is a great way to build your flat rate.

You’ll want to collect data based on all the clients you have. If you base your flat rate on one specific client, your data won’t be accurate. The thing about hourly rates is that it's very difficult for a client, especially a client that owns a business that has employees. And it's very difficult for them to get out of that. Hourly thinking, they're paying all their employees hourly, or they're paying them a salary based on a certain number of hours. These employers literally are paying for their employee’s time.

YOU have to get out of that mindset. You’re getting paid for your delivery, not your time. This perspective shift is extremely important for you to be able to accomplish a 20-hour work week. I'm operating more as an agency where I have other freelancers that contract with me to get work done for clients. And so then at some point, if you want to break another ceiling, you have to start hiring people. You have to start either contracting or hiring employees. I think subcontracting is far less risky when you're smaller, because you can always just pause the relationship at any time that you need to, rather than firing the person.

You can definitely earn more as you start building in profit and you start to turn into more of an agency and you are getting paid for more than just your time. You are building an actual profit you're multiplying what you're charging by two or three, so that you have a profit there. We can get into the math of that in a future episode. The main point is that you have to start charging flat rates for your work eventually, which helps you start thinking about the value of your work. Rather than pitching your hourly rate which cannot be changed, you can charge what is essential for the client’s particular project.

There’s a term called “productizing your services.” This means that you’re essentially turning your services into a product. In your case, this will likely be a specific deliverable, whether that be a video you created, a web page you designed, or a blog post that you wrote. As a strategist, I have specific deliverables that I give clients, with an outline of key points that I cover. There’s always a way to convert your services into a product which you can then sell at a price point.
Remember that you’re getting data from your clients as well. You're asking your clients what effect your service is having on their business. You’ll start to collect data on that, and then you can improve over time. You're able to pitch your services easier and easier. You're able to sell your services easier because you have more data to do so. Nevertheless, when you’re giving a client an estimate, start out with a wider range when estimating time periods. It’s good to avoid under-delivering, but it’s equally important to avoid over promising.

For example, I have a strategy that I create for my clients. It’s a video marketing strategy and a YouTube strategy. When I first offered it, I charged $500.00. Now, I charge $1,800.00, and I can actually do it quicker than I did when I only charged $500.00. That is because I created systems to make me faster yet more efficient. As I got feedback from super picky clients which has actually helped me upgrade my product in the long run. In short, don’t be too grumpy about those clients. The truth is that pickier clients actually help you upgrade your products and services.

I increased my value over time. This was a process, and it WILL be a process for you, so be patient with it. You can only earn as much as you are offering as a skill. While it takes time, it doesn’t have to take years. Going from $20.00 an hour to $80.00 an hour can be a matter of months rather than years. You just have to stay focused and get to know business in general, which you can do by listening to podcasts and learning from mentors. Don’t be so focused on your craft and what you’re offering as a service. Instead, know that you have to know business and get in on the conversation about business if you want to truly increase your value.
Let’s start closing here. Overall, I discussed some of the main aspects of being able to get your workweek down to 20 hours per week, where you’re earning enough within those 20 hours. In the next episode, we’re going to dive more into the economics of a 20-hour workweek. I do want to mention my own schedule because it’s important that you set a schedule from the get-go. You need to communicate your ideal work schedule with your clients so that you have the life/work balance that you desire.

On Fridays, I’ll usually put an hour in first thing in the morning just to wrap things up on those weeks that I really need to, but my goal every week is that I work Monday through Thursday, five hours a day. If something important comes up with my family, or we decide to take a personal day for hiking and whatnot, I simply move my schedule around and I end up working a few hours on Friday. This way, I have that flex day to put in time if I need to.

And as my business keeps growing and I have more and more clients coming in, I don't intend to work more. I intend to just keep hiring more people. Hiring more workers is the inevitable aspect of entrepreneurship. If you get maxed out and you don’t want to grow your business further, you can instead simply tell clients when you’re not available, but for me, accepting new work and building my clientele is ideal.

In a future episode, I can talk to you more about how I’m hiring people and working with a team of contractors, and what that looks like. We’ll even discuss the mathematical side of things, talking about what I’m charging them and what they’re charging me.

I’m going to close by telling you that overall, you HAVE to get out of that freelancer mindset. You’re not just a freelancer or a gig worker. You’re a business owner, you’re an entrepreneur. You’re someone who gets business, and if you label yourself as a freelancer, you’ll struggle to earn more money from your clients because they will see you as an employee rather than a contractor. They’ll see you as working FOR them as opposed to partnering WITH them as a collaborator. Most of your clients will be other business owners and they will be more willing to pay you a higher rate because you’re seen as an expert.
That’s it for today! I’m going to get back to sleep for a bit, now. If you’re listening or watching, be sure to subscribe, and I look forward to talking to you in the next early morning conversation.

Leave a Reply