Preston Lee is the founder of Millo.co, a leading interest blog to help designers and creatives build successful businesses that make them more money. Preston is a web designer, content marketer and entrepreneur by trade. Prior to founding Millo, Preston worked in lots of different niches in the freelance creative industry.
Preston Lee is the founder of Millo.co, a leading interest blog to help designers and creatives build successful businesses that make them more money. Preston is a web designer, content marketer and entrepreneur by trade. Prior to founding Millo, Preston worked in lots of different niches in the freelance creative industry.
In this episode, Preston teaches us:
And how this will bring you consistent revenue over the long-term.
Don’t get stuck constantly chasing the next project as soon as you finish up with one.
How to find and approach the right prospects.
How you can scale by automating or delegating anything that isn’t mission critical.
You're listening to the Six-Figure Freelancer audio course, brought to you by And Co from Fiverr. We interviewed top professionals who share their exact formulas for success in starting, growing, and maintaining a six-figure freelance career. And I'm your host, Juan Felipe Campos. Okay, freelance masterminds, remember: on every episode of the Audio Course, there's a giveaway of digital goods or resources from our partners that other people don't have access to. To get your audio course resources, subscribe to the audio course on iTunes and then visit and.co/resources. Again, that's a n, d dot c o slash resources to access your digital goods.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the six figure freelancer audio course. Today we have a very special guest. Preston Lee is the founder of Millo.co, a leading interest blog to help designers and creatives build successful businesses that make them more money. Preston is a web designer, content marketer and entrepreneur by trade. Prior to founding Millo, Preston worked in lots of different niches in the freelance creative industry. Let's hear more from him on this episode of the Six Figure Freelancer Audio Course.
Preston, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Thank you so much for having me, man. I really appreciate it.
Thank you. So Preston, you definitely know something that most of us don't know about building a sustainable business and living life on our own terms. You have a lot of thoughts about how we can actually find clients, pitch to them and getting over the fear of sending out cold emails. Walk us a little bit through your framework and how we can actually start implementing this in our own lives.
Yeah, you know, I'm not sure it's fair to say that I know a lot, that a lot of people don't know, but what I have learned, you know, I've been working with freelancers since 2009. I've been either freelancing myself or working with freelancers since even before then. And there's one thing, there's one theme that keeps coming up over and over and over again. And that is that freelancers are working, uh, it's a bit cliche, but they're working in their business, not on their business and what, and what that essentially causes is that problem of rollercoaster revenue of not being able to predict where my next paycheck's going to come from if I'm going to even have a paycheck next month. And, a lot of times what happens is people will start freelancing, maybe they lost their job, maybe they quit their job, maybe they haven't, you know, got a job out of school yet. And they want to try their hand at freelancing. And because they don't set up an actual business for success, processes and systems, they end up being really great designers or writers or developers or marketers or consultants. They're really great at their craft. But what they can't figure out is how to build a business that will bring them consistent revenue over the long haul.
Totally. I found that especially with freelancing, we get a lot of accidental entrepreneurs where someone's, like you said, a great designer, a great coder, but that doesn't mean that they're able to pull off a sustainable business because we're not being intentional enough about spending time on working on the business. We're more working in the business just doing fulfillment, day in and day out. When it's good, it's great if you have a client, if you have awesome results and when it's not, it's absolutely not. We have a lot of months where it's like peaks, peaks and valleys. Sometimes we have a lot of money, sometimes we don't. So what is it that you've discovered in terms of building out these processes? Can you walk us a little bit through what that looks like? You know, on a practical level?
Yeah, absolutely. So the first thing is to think of your service that you offer as a business. You know, if you're, let's, let's just take, we work with a ton of designers. I think it's a pretty common, you know, area of expertise for freelancers. We have a lot of designers in our community. We have a lot of other as well, but there are a lot of designers and I think design is a really easy one to sort of flesh out this idea that you might be a really great designer, but, but what you, what you aren't doing, so you know, if you get a client, first of all, if you even get a client - which we'll to come back to in a minute - then you're great at, at doing the actual work. They love your style, they love your communication. They love working with you.
You're actually really even great probably at people skills. Uh, but, but what you aren't great at is, is, you know, managing the actual project itself inside of your business. You're great at the work, you're not great at, at, the business side of actually doing the work. So on a practical level, what someone like a designer or a writer can do is to think, what systems can I incorporate into my business that will, that will move my business as a whole forward? Instead of thinking, which a lot of freelancers do, what can I do to get my next client? Like that's always the question, right? As a freelancer, what can I do to not starve next month. To get a paycheck in some form or another next month? And the question instead should be, what can I do to build a business that brings me consistent revenue every month for the next five years? And you might not get there next month, but you can build systems in place.
So let me give you an example. Um, instead of, you know, emailing, or instead of... Let me try this. Instead of going to a networking event at your, in your city or something, and finding, you know, rubbing shoulders with a few different people, and potentially finding one or two new clients from there and then doing that work. And then after you're done with that work, you go back to another networking and try to find... Or maybe you ask for a referral that's, that's sort of hunting and pecking your way through finding clients. Instead, what if you set up systems, for example, an email marketing campaign, to where your finding... There are literally, there are multiple ways to do this. There's software out there that can help you scale this a little bit better, but for example, you could use tools to find the decision makers at companies who regularly hire freelancers and then craft an email pitch to them on a regular basis, so instead of 'meet someone at a networking event, do the project, then go to a new networking event'. Instead it's, while I'm working on this project, I'm also emailing 10 people a week, 20 people a week, a hundred people a week, whatever your business needs, you know, you. You have to figure out your conversion rates and all that. We won't get deep into the weeds on that, but if you had a system where on a regular basis, even when you're working, you also were hunting trying to find new business and then you have processes set up on the end of those projects instead of just, okay, see you later. I'm going to head to my next networking event. Instead it's 'How do I turn this one time client into a recurring client? How do I get more clients out of this one client? How do I get recommendations and referrals out of this one job?' And if you can start to think that way and set up those kinds of systems, then it becomes a business rather than a one off service that you happen to offer.
There's a great book on this by John Warrillow called Built to Sell: Creating a Business that can Thrive Without You. And it basically walks you through a lot of the principles that you're sharing with us here on this, on this recording, Preston, of basically addressing your business as a whole other product. Like you have, you know, especially those of us that really deeply care about our code or our design. We're very product people. You need to start carrying just as much about your company as a product, like being passionate about what's a predictable source of leads? What's a predictable way to close on them? What's a predictable way to then fulfill a predictable a service for them? And then how do I, how can I be intentional about making sure that each client turns into more clients instead of just hoping that there's good enough word of mouth, so it's being very intentional about all of these steps and that's something that you've really cracked the code on.
Yeah. So what, what's terrible is like every successful freelance you talk to, you ask them where they get their clients and they say word of mouth, and while that may be true, what happens is all of these new freelancers coming into the marketplace, they're going, how do I, how do I turn no clients into word of mouth clients and what they don't realize is there's all these processes that you have to set up and test to figure out how to get your first clients. You know, cold emailing, going to networking events. There are lots of different ways. Obviously we've only mentioned those two so far, but there are a million ways, as many ways as there are different freelancers in the world to get new potential clients, so I think it's just important to keep in mind like word of mouth is this really elusive thing that everyone talks about, but no one really has a concrete way to get you your first word of mouth clients necessarily.
Definitely. Do you have maybe one, one of these, like success machines that you can unpack it for us here, like how one of these examples looks like, top to bottom?
Um, top to bottom. So let me, let me give you a personal example for me. Now the situation is a little bit different because what I'm trying to do is book sponsors for my website, right? But it's a very, very similar process. I have to find someone who's a good partner match for my company. We have to then work on a project together and, and we have to, you know, I have to close the deal, we have to work on the project. It has to be successful, you have to be happy. I'm hoping that they return, that they give me more business later. But um, so, so primarily our business model at Millo is around sponsorship. So what I'll do is I'll go out and I'll find or I'll maybe I'll see in my feed, you know, um, you know, AND CO actually is a great example because in the past you've been a sponsor of some of the projects we've done at Millo podcast and other things and, and so, AND CO might come through my feed. Maybe there's a great article I see in my feed or something and I, I realize that there's this great resource out there for freelancers. Well then I go and I use a few different tools. Like, uh, there's one called hunter that's a Chrome extension. I think it's a hunter.io.
Yeah Hunter.io right.
Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. So you can use that, install that in Chrome and you can visit any website. It'll tell you important email addresses of people who work at that company. So it might say like the, the VP of marketing or the partnership director or something, someone who you assume is going to make a decision on a sponsorship in my case. Or in your case, someone who's hiring freelancers, um, and, and, and making those kinds of decisions. So, you know, I use a combination of LinkedIn, other web searching. You sort of have to be a sleuth, but you can find contact information for the right people and then you write a very friendly, non-spammy, non-salesy email, saying something like, 'Hey, I noticed that you also serve this audience. I thought there might be a potential to work together.'
In a freelancer sense, if you're, let's say you're a designer, you email someone and instead of saying right away, like some people will go the route, like, 'Hey, your logo really sucks. I'd like to fix it for you.' Well, that turns people off pretty quickly. Um, instead of pointing out all their flaws, you say, hey, I don't know if you're, I've noticed you're doing x, y, z. I wondered if you needed help scaling that a little bit more. Maybe you know, I've noticed, I got your mailer in my mailbox and I noticed that you're trying to get new customers through direct mail. How's that working for you? And by the way, do you need help designing your direct mailers from now on, I have some ideas on how this might convert better or some things I've seen in the past with other clients that helps to convert and you'll always come back to that idea of helping them grow their business.
Keep in mind when someone hires a freelancer, they hire you as an extension of their business to help their business grow, right? And so you always want to focus on what value you're bringing to them and to their business goals. And you use that email conversation. You don't pitch right away. It's not a hard sell right away, but you use that conversation to eventually get to an actual pitch where you would say, here's what I offer, here's what I think I can offer you. Here's how much it might cost. Um, you know, on a recurring basis or a one off basis or whatever, and then you go from there, you set milestones, you complete the project hopefully, and that's kind of what it would look like top to bottom, going from no clients at all, no available word of mouth to actually landing and working with a client.
Right. And I love how simple you, you're explaining this Preston, because I think it's easy to get caught up too much in the specific tools. Actually, by the way it is hunter.io not gethunter.io. Okay. You know when, when you're getting started and you hear about all these freelancers that are doing the right thing except for you, or at least that's what it can feel like. Everyone's looking around like, okay, well what's the tool? What specifically, what are the eight or nine or 10 tools and in what order and what's the email sequence? And I love that even as you demystify it, it's like you basically have to find people that are currently doing things that you can help them out with. And then you need to reach out to them and say, Hey, I can help you do this and, you know, I can help you scale this.
And it means everything you think it means, like where do you find them? Go on LinkedIn. How do you get their email address? Well, you can either message them on Linkedin or you can use a tool like hunter.io, figure out what their email address is, and then send them a personal email that's non-spammy, that says, I see what you're doing, I, you know, these are the services that I offer and I can scale what you're currently doing with my skillset. So it's very, very simple and it's not about the tools as much as it is about the principal. Now, there are a lot of tools that can help you do it. You can use Mixmax, you can customize everyone's first name and last name and the company name. And you can do this at scale. But, you know, that can be kind of a phase two, but to get started it's literally just about how much hustle you're willing to put in in terms of finding the decision makers at these companies.
I've used software like that, like reply.io. I've used to, um, to try to scale that kind of outreach. And the truth of the matter is I, yes, I've found a lot of new clients that way, but uh, it started to feel like I was, disingenuous a little bit. And I think that affected my, my ultimate close rate. It's a lot more work to email manually people, but I can tailor that message so much better. And there are other ways to scale too, right? I could, I know, I know a fellow freelancer who hires someone to basically manage all of his pitch emails, so together they figure out who they're going to pitch, or they get incoming leads as well. And then they figured out together what those conversations are gonna look like. But he doesn't do the day-to-day emailing back and forth. He does the actual design work that the clients are wanting because that's what he's really good at. So there are lots of ways, and once you get down the road to sort of build processes people into you know, use software into what you're already doing to scale bit by bit and eventually get to that six figure mark.
Right. And something that's interesting about wanting to scale that quickly. If you, okay, if right now you don't have any clients that you have very few clients and you're looking for that secret step-by-step guide on how to have 100,000 emails go out and then have 10,000 leads come in, you're probably not going to be able to fulfill all of them anyways. So if you have 100 people that want to jump on, if you have 100 people that want to jump on sales calls so that then you can do 50 projects and you don't actually have the manpower to fulfill those orders, it's going to ultimately be worse for your business. Then if you take the approach that you're saying, which is it's actually better off to send out personalized messages, um, you know, two times a week, three times a week actually be able to nurture the relationship with all 20 of those people and then have a higher close rate where you can actually impact them at a higher level. Then you take those success stories and then you start carving out little by little more and more time to work on the processes and do it at a bigger scale. But it's not going from zero to how do I send out 10,000 emails by the end of this week? That's probably not even good for your business to begin with.
Yeah, I will say there is one advantage to the scale side, which is you can quickly figure out what kinds of businesses you want to work with and want to work with you. Right? I agree. I think I'd much rather go the more human route, less spammy route, less scale, at least for sure in the beginning and I still continue mostly that way. But there isn't the advantage of if you send a thousand emails through a service like Reply, you quickly see like okay, of the 20 people who responded to my thousand messages, they are all medium-sized companies, you know, maybe in this country or that country there's certain defining features. So I think there is an advantage to the scale just from a learning point of view, but then you can take those learnings and really dive deep and try to find more companies that you want to work with and they want to work with you.
Okay. So reply.io. I had never heard of that tool. I have used before tools like Yesware or Send Later. You can get that at, I think it's thetopinbox.com, which it sounds like it's in the same breed of tools, which is essentially being able to set automatic follow up emails, so you can set rules. So that if they don't follow up to the first email, then I can send a second email that says, 'hey, did you get my message checking in with you?' And uh, another thing that I've heard a lot of people do is put a Calendly link where it says, 'this is what I offer. This is how I think I can be beneficial to your service. If you want to schedule a call, it's very simple. Here's my Calendly.' And then people can book themselves on your calendar. And that way all you're doing is closing on these calls. You don't have to be doing any more of the prospecting. You just pick up the phone whenever it's time for your call and then you, you nurture the relationship and trying to close on them. So that's a very, very scalable way to do it. But I like that we're bringing it back to the basics of if it works by hand, then get that to work for as long as you can. And even at your level, you're still doing things by hand, which I love that example.
Yeah, absolutely. I will say, you know, I'm the Calendly point, like I think that that may even be almost too salesy for, for my style at least. Obviously you have to find your own style. Like I would send the Calendly maybe two or three emails in, um, but, but also the thing we glossed over, which is incredibly, insanely important, is the follow up. Like whether you're doing it through a service like reply.io or whether you're doing it manually or whether you're scheduling through Boomerang on your Gmail or whatever it is, which, which is a little extension for gmail that a lot of people are familiar with. However you're doing it, the follow up is insanely important. If you're not following up, you're missing out on, on probably half or more of the leads that you could be getting, I think. I think almost no one, I don't have the numbers in front of me, but like very few people respond to my first email, usually most people respond to my second and my third email, so I, I know a lot of people try cold emailing and cold pitching and they get really frustrated because no one ever gets back.
And then I ask, well how often are you following up? And they're like, 'well I followed up once, but you know, I didn't hear anything so I didn't want to bother them'. Well, people are busy, right? You're not actually bothering them necessarily. If you're not doing it in a spammy way, you're, you're helping them and reminding them. I love it when people pushed off to the top of my inbox because I forgotten about and I'm like, 'Oh, I meant to get back to you on that little thing, but I just ran out of time the other day. Thanks for reminding me. Here's my answer.' And that happens all the time in cold emailing.
It's a patience game. We're getting to a point where people aren't just having busy days but busy weeks like you know, you had sent out an email on Monday and then bump it on Thursday. Well guess what, that person was away from the office for that whole week or they were running an event or they were doing, you know, who knows what, so if you're just patient enough to follow up the Thursday of the following week, they might actually be much more appreciative and you know, everyone's inbox is full right now. You'd be surprised how grateful people are that you are bumping those messages in a lot of cases.
Okay, so now we've talked about finding a client. You understand how to pitch potential clients and, we're getting over the fear of cold emailing. Walk us a little bit through Preston building a business instead of building a job. What kind of processes, methods, teams can you share with us? Is it just starting in Evernote? Is it a Google Doc? What does it mean to have these processes and how? How can we dive in?
That's a really, really great next step and here's what I would recommend, so a lot of people will recommend if you're a freelancer, you're most likely working for yourself by yourself. In the beginning. What you'll start to notice is there are tons of repeatable tasks that have to get done. We call this non-differentiating work, like it has to get done, but it doesn't actually make a huge difference in your business. Those kinds of things can be outsourced very inexpensively so you can find someone on Fiverr or somewhere else that can actually do these kinds of services for you on a routine basis. Responding to emails. Doing your bookkeeping. Like there's things that on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis have to happen for your business, but they're not actually improving your bottom line. Those can be outsourced very inexpensively and as you start to outsource those, you'll notice that the time that you're saving, you can then spend that time on things that bring in more money.
So if you have an average, you know, hourly rate, whether you charge by the hour or whether you charge by the project or whether you do value-based pricing, you still have an average for every hour that I work, I on average, I'll make x amount of money, right? So if you can figure out more or less what that number looks like, then any task that you might spend, not doing your highest paying task, you should probably outsource it to someone who you can pay less than what you get paid to do your work. That was a really maybe convoluted way of saying that, but, but hire people who can do things less expensively than what you should be getting paid to do what you're the best at. So that would be the first step. The second step is, is like much, I think, much further down the road where you actually start to hire out the work that you do best, but that there's too much of it or that you don't want to take all of your available time.
The reason you don't want to take all your available time even to do some of the best work, for example, from our previous example, all of the design work, is because you still are the owner of the business. You don't want the business to start running you as you get more successful and so you have to do is carve out a little bit of time to consistently be working on your business and your systems. You can start to hire out even the design work in this instance. Now it's up to you. You know how much of that you want to still be involved in because what can also happen is you can accidentally build a business to where now you're the CEO and you don't get to do any of the fun work. You don't get to do any of the work that you started freelancing for in the beginning, so there's a fine balance there, but I'd say the next step is then to start hiring maybe for runoff work.
Maybe there's clients who aren't, aren't willing to pay your rates or who you just don't want to work with for one reason or another. You could potentially hire subcontractors, sub freelancers who could take on those for you, and then you just take a small percentage as a finding fee or as a contractor fee. There's lots of, there's lots of different ways you can set that up, but I think the first step is to identify what are the low, what's the non-differentiating work, what doesn't make a difference to my customers or my clients, whether I do it or not. They don't care if you keep your books or not. They don't care if, if you know, there's, there's lots of, they don't care if you respond to someone else's email necessarily or if you're constantly pitching other clients, they care that their project is getting done and that you're adding value to their business. That's differentiating work and that's the stuff you should be working on most. Or hiring super talented people to do that work as well.
And I just love that you're bringing it back to these principles because I think people are expecting a lot of like the specific template or a specific platform that helps you put up the systems and you tackled it from like different points of view. Like, well, you could run your business in this way. Like you could be a general contractor or you can do all of the work yourself or you can be slowly moving to the point where you're just the CEO running the business and then there are other people that are actually doing fulfillment and whatever way you want to do it is fine, as long as you are actually being intentional about doing it. Otherwise, if you're not intentional about it, you're just going to get caught up in working in your business. And again, just having these problems that a lot of freelancers struggle with as a rollercoaster revenue.
So as long as you're just putting yourself in a position where you're operating in your genius zone and focusing on mission critical tasks, everything else can either be automated - there's tons of tools now to do it. Or you can surround yourself with freelancers that can do it at a lower rate, then your billing, so you're still able to make money in those hours. By the way, we have put together a resource of over 150 top ranked Fiverr providers. So if you're at home and you're like, that sounds great, but I've been on Fiverr and I can't find anyone that can help me. This list will be in the show notes. It's over 150 top ranked Fiverr providers to help you grow your business. So we'll have that in the show notes. Preston, let's move onto the later part of the show. We will do a summary of all the content we've covered so that people at home can take notes and make sure that this is very, very practical and not just fluff content.
So basically in this, in this episode we talked about how most freelancers are focused on landing the next client and it's really easy to get stuck on just fulfillment if you do this and your revenue stream won't actually be predictable. So you have to create systems that work for you to create sustainable revenue. That's a really big pillar from this episode. This looks like having processes for prospecting, fulfilling and turning each client into more clients. So let's, let's start unpacking that for prospecting. There's a lot of tools we talked about using LinkedIn and hunter.io, sending friendly non spammy email that says, I see what you're doing. I can help you grow your business, your content initiatives, I can help you scale what you're already doing. Here's what I offer, here's what I can offer you and here's how much it might cost. If you start nurturing these relationships, even if you're doing it manually, you're going to find a higher close rate than you're doing by just waiting for inbound opportunities. So this is going on the office and actually prospecting and creating your own luck. So that's on prospecting.
Fulfilling - you can find people that are willing to fulfill in the work for you and you can make a margin. So this is more of like a general contractor business model and that's up to your discretion based on whether or not you want to be doing the work or you want to be operating a business. And then finally, to turn each client into more clients, you have to have a process for word of mouth and also having how a process for how you even get your first clients so that you can have word of mouth from then on. And again that's using the tools that we covered and more than anything, the principle of going on the outbound, going on the offense, getting those first clients and then giving them an incentive to actually refer your work if they love it. So one final thing we talked about is focusing on your genius zone. Making sure that the work that you're doing is mission critical and then anything that's non-differentiating you can outsource it or automate it. So anything like responding to emails or doing bookkeeping or anything like that that isn't directly related to the, you know, delivering rockstar work is a very easy for you to scale. And we have a resource with 150 top ranked Fiverr providers so that you can outsource your work very inexpensively on fiverr.com.
Okay, freelance masterminds. Do not forget to pick up your digital resources from this episode. It's very simple. You just subscribe to the show on iTunes and then once you've done that, visit and.co/resources. Subscribe on iTunes and then visit a n, d dot c dot o slash resources to get your digital goods. See on the next one.
Preston as you continue to grow and take your business forward, where's the best place for people to stay in touch with you and learn more about what you're doing?
You know what, particularly for people who are who love the audio experience more than anything, which I assume you know people listening to this, just love audio. We have actually three different podcasts at Millo right now and they actually sort of cover the whole gamut of what we talked about today. And you can find those at millo.co/podcasts. We have one called My Freelance Life, that's, that's literally a week-to-week documentation journey of Andy who quit his job, started freelancing and every week we check in to see what it's really like to just quit your job and start freelancing full time.
It's like a reality show. That's awesome.
Yeah, it is. Yeah, and every week he and I chat about what it's really like to freelance and um, and even before I guess, I guess if I'm putting them in order, before quitting your job and you might have a side hustle, we do have a podcast called Side Gig, which if you're just trying to do this on the side, which I know millions of people are trying to freelance on the side while they're working their nine to five job. That's a talk show all about side hustle and then perhaps ah, definitely our top listened to podcast is called Freelance to Founder and it covers a lot of what we've talked about today, which is I'm already freelancing, how do I then get to the founder stage? And these are actually narrative stories, about people who have done it. People who have gone from being a solopreneur or a freelancer, to then growing a team and a business. We've had amazing guests and stories on that. You know, people you might be familiar with like Brennan Dunn or Sean McCabe or Cynthia Johnson. Lots of really great people on that show. We're five seasons into it now and it's, it's fantastic. So I'd recommend people go to Millo.co/podcasts, and just listen to as much as you can there. It'll be super helpful.
Excellent. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all of this with us.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. It was great.
Juan Felipe Campos serves as VP of Technology at Manos Accelerator in partnership with Google Launchpad. As a freelancer, Juan has worked on growth and customer acquisition for VC-funded startups including Ease, Admix, Timeular, and AND CO from Fiverr. He hosts the Six Figure Freelancer audio course/YouTube channel, leads the Freelance Masterminds Facebook Group, and is passionate about helping remote workers make more money and live life on their own terms. His companies have been featured in major publications including Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Inc. Magazine, and Forbes.