Are you a freelancer?
We bet you have seen other people marketing and selling products they have designed themselves and yearned to do so yourself.
How long have you been helping people create their businesses instead of doing something for yourself? Nevermore!
Any joy you get out of successfully completing a task for a client can never match the happiness of creating something on your own. But you are always waiting for the right time, with a million queries in mind.
This is why we have with us Laura Elizabeth, bringing answers to all your queries about the journey from a freelancer to a creator. Elizabeth, who used to be a freelance designer, is now the founder-creator of Client Portal and Project Pack, and runs DesignAcademy.io. Here begins your journey.
00:10 – Introduction.
01:33 – Mindset Shifts Needed To Go From A Freelancer To A Creator
10:33 – When Stop thinking and start creating an MVP
14:43 – Important questions to ask during a user discovery
17:56 – Finding the time to create when you’re drowning with client work
22:56 – How to reach out to Laura
24:17 – Summary
Special thanks to Laura Elizabeth for joining this amazing episode. This is incredibly advantageous if you have your own podcast to promote, since the audience is already listening to podcasts, meaning they’re much more likely to subscribe to your own podcast.
Laura ElizabethFounder, Design Academy
Laura Elizabeth is an independent designer with a hankering for cross stitch and rockets. She runs Design Academy which aims to help developers conquer their fear of design. She's also launched her first product called Client Portal—a client-friendly way to keep your projects organized.
RK: Welcome to today’s special episode with Laura Elizabeth. She is the founder and creator of the client portal and the project pack. She also runs design academy.io, which has developers conquer the fear of design.
RK: I was introduced to her through the members of the psycho tactics community, and through people such as Curtis now and Brandon Dunn, who are promoting Laura’s product client portal to their mailing list and that is how I actually bumped into her and it’s a truly an honour to feature Laura and today’s episode,
RK: and talk about her journey of she going from a freelancer evolving into a consultant and now the creator of various products that makes designers dreams come true. Thank you so much, Laura, for being a part of this and I look forward to hearing from you today.
Laura: Thank you, I’m excited to be here.
RK: Absolutely. So the topic that you know, like a lot of my audience would like to get listen to was about mindset shifts that were needed to go from being a freelancer to a creator. So if you can talk about that, that’d be amazing.
Laura: Yeah, absolutely. So I, as you just said, I, started out as a freelancer. I started out as a freelance designer and I did that for many, many years. And I think like a lot of your listeners could probably relate. I started getting a little bit tired of trading time for money.
Laura: I felt like as a freelancer I was helping build other people’s businesses, but I wasn’t necessarily doing anything for me and you know, I do things like I’d go on holidays or take vacations, and if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning and that was a bit of a problem because it didn’t seem awfully sustainable.
Laura: So I knew I wanted to get into products. I knew I wanted to. I saw Other people selling things. And it just looks so much fun because you can really have this product and you can sell it and you can do all the marketing and you can do all the product development, you can talk to customers, you can build something, and it just felt really exciting. And I, I really, really wanted to do that. But I didn’t exactly know-how.
Laura: And so what I did is that since I was a designer, I decided to target people who wanted to learn design. So most of my clients were developers, who are most of the people that got in contact with me for design work with developers who had their side projects that they really wanted to make look good or maybe make a website for that looks really great.
Laura: And it turns out, they couldn’t necessarily afford what I was charging because this was just a side project. They had a full-time job and they were in the same boat as me and that they wanted to create a product and get out of that hamster wheel of time for money. So I decided to target them, I thought, well, if I can teach these developers how to design not to make anything, you know not to win any Design Awards not to become a designer, but if I can just teach them just about enough to get over this hump or this roadblock that they have and launch their product. And then when their product does really well, they can then come back and hire a designer to really polish up that seems like a really good niche.
Laura: So I created a landing page with it was just a one-pager with you know, sign up and I’m going to give you articles and stuff on how to design and I, you know, I wrote it basically saying what I just said to you now about this is who I’m targeting, and all that. And I started getting signups and how I got signups was I do guest posts on other blogs like Smashing Magazine, which is quite a big one. And I’d put a link to my landing page at the bottom. I’d speak it I’d asked to speak at conferences, and I tried to go on podcasts and I linked this landing page. And that’s how I got my, my first signups.
Laura: But in terms of mindset, I still wasn’t there because I didn’t actually have anything to sell. And I was sitting on this for years. I think it was literally about two or three years that I was doing this and I was writing to my list and I wasn’t selling anything. I didn’t make a single penny from that list. And I was just stuck. I was I didn’t know what it was. I think I was a bit scared. I think I didn’t, I wanted to create a design course and I was still working full time as a freelancer and I just didn’t really feel like I had the time to put into it. I maybe could grab an hour here and there.
Laura: But it wasn’t enough to really focus on creating a course, so I didn’t have the time. I think a lot of it was just I was really worried it wouldn’t work. And so I was really stuck, and something happened. And that was kind of by accident. But I think this is a really good lesson in it.
Laura: I spoke at a conference called w freelancing conference, which is Brandon DUNS, and I was talking about how to freelance and how-to, you know, how to be better at freelancing basically.
Laura: And I showed this little tool that I made, it was just an HTML template, it wasn’t anything special at all. And I said, you know if you don’t want to use project management tools, because a lot of clients don’t like them, and they don’t use them. Just create a little portal on your website, where you can use all the fantastic tools like Google Docs, or UZ for proposals, or hello sign. And all these fantastic tools that you probably use, just create a portal on your website. It could look like this. And I had a picture of mine that I made up, and it just links out to all of that.
Laura: And throughout the conference, the rest of the conference, people were coming up to me saying Where can I buy this? This is genius! I need and Brendan actually went round the conference at the end and said, you know, what was the most valuable thing he got out of it. And more than 50% of people said Laura’s client portal idea. It’s genius!
Laura: So, Brendan said, hey, we’ve got a lot of people who seem to want this, do you want to make it into a product? If you do, I’ll properly promote it to my list because they clearly want it. But you have to do this by Monday, because it’s Black Friday, and I’m sending out a big, black Friday deal to my list. And you have to do it by then because that’s basically when I’m all included in that and that’s when I’ll send it out. This was Friday that he told me this. So I had the weekend to basically make this into a product and so I realised I couldn’t make it anything more than an HTML template. That’s what it had to be.
Laura: But I said, you know, I’m going to use the money that I make from this hopefully, and create a WordPress plugin, so you can use it easier. Right now you’re buying the HTML template, you can use it if you want to, or you can wait for the WordPress plugin, and I’m going to give a fantastic discount. It’s never going to be cheaper than it is right now for this essentially pre-order.
Laura: But I made a bunch of tutorials, PDFs, and I packaged it up and I tried to make it look nice. I made a bunch of welcome emails and sequences and all that. And I worked so hard, and on Monday, it was just about ready. And he launched it. And it did really well. I think it made like $10,000 or something just for that in that from that one email that Brenden send and so a lot of people that might not sound awfully life-changing, but to me that was crazy. $10,000 was insane for that one email that went out for this product that I didn’t even know was a product.
RK: Yeah, this is for validation. This is like amazing, you know, just with one email, without any promotion, you know, like getting your idea validated is great. And I also received that email I remember very, very clearly, I was on that list as well.
Laura: Oh, nice.
RK: This is great.
Laura: Yeah, it was, it was fantastic. And, it was honestly, it was so lucky, a lot of it was pure luck. But, I think there’s a really good lesson to learn to make it not lucky for the people who are listening. And that’s, you know, don’t sit on an idea for years like I did and not do anything because you’re scared or you don’t feel like you have the time.
Laura: You really just need a couple of days and you can launch something you really can and you know, I would say in terms of mindset. The longer you put something off, the more scary it becomes. So that design course that I was thinking of doing became more scary in my mind over the years because, you know, I was thinking it’s gonna be the best course ever It’s got to be so different from all these other courses.
Laura: Anytime a design course came out, I’ve studied it and say, How can I make mine better? And that would just drive me into this horrible just cycle of just not doing anything, just treading water. And with a client portal, I wasn’t scared at all, because I didn’t even know this was going to be a product. I just went in and did it.
Laura: And to be honest, if I did that, and I spent the weekend creating a client portal, and I didn’t get those sales, and it didn’t work out. Well, it was only a weekend. It wasn’t years of work in the making. So, you know, I would really say in terms of mindset, I would really recommend people just create something that you can hopefully sell as quickly as possible.
Laura: It doesn’t need to be polished as long as you’re honest with people about how unpolished it is. And you say, you know, this is where it is right now. Do you want to buy it in exchange for this, you know, support me exchange for this incredibly cheap price. And, you know, like you said, you’ll get the validation and you’ll have done something and you’ll have a, an actual product out there.
RK: That is brilliant. So you brought up a very interesting point here, you know because it actually took someone to actually introduce you to the list and kind of promote your product list to actually get you to start really working towards building your MVP.
RK: So my question is this, when should an entrepreneur or when should a creator, stop thinking and start creating an MVP? Because not everyone is going to get an opportunity like someone’s going to introduce you? So when do you think people should stop thinking and start taking action?
Laura: So that’s a really good question. You’re right. Many people most people won’t get an opportunity as I got. And so what I would say is the most important thing is you start building a list of people as early as possible.
Laura: So like I did with the landing page, you know, the first thing you really need to know is who you want to target, even if you don’t have a product idea in mind. And to be honest, a lot of the time, it’s better if you don’t have a product idea in mind.
Laura: Unless you’ve unless you have an idea that is just getting, you know, you’re talking to people and people are saying, Oh, my gosh, I really need this and you can, you can kind of feel what people are really thinking, like, How excited are they? Are they I need this immediately? Shut up and take my money, or are they like, Yeah, that’s a good idea. Yeah. So right, you can kind of tell what they’re thinking.
Laura: So, for most people, I would say, maybe don’t start with the product unless you have that and you’ve just you just feel like it’s gonna go really well. And a good feeling is, I think, perfectly valid, to be honest. So if you don’t start building your list as early as possible, but you need to know who you’re building it for.
Laura: So everyone has Some group of people that they feel like they can help. For me it was developers. And luckily for me, a lot of developers were also freelancers. So with client portal, there was a lot of overlap. So even though I was building my list of developers, I could still sell client portal to that list and actually got a really good response from that, as well.
Laura: So build your list as early as possible, and try and talk to them as much as you can. So I unfortunately can’t do this as much as I did when I first started. But one thing I did that I think was really valuable, was anyone who signed up to my list, I had a question that goes out that it tries to encourage your response. Anyone who reply to that I send a super personal reply to them. So not automated, just completely raw, like you could tell it was actually me behind the keyboard talking to you.
Laura: I’d listen to what you said and I was talking to you and I would have these long conversations with people on my list. And I would just find out about them and what they did, what they struggled with what they enjoy doing and it was just more like a conversation. And you can do this over email like I did, or even better, do it on a call if they’re willing, they’re willing to just chat to you for a few minutes. And a lot of people actually surprisingly.
Laura: And you’ll get an idea from them as to what problem they need solving. And you’ll start to see these themes. And especially if you collect all that information, if you notice something cropping up, just take that snippet of what they’ve said put it into a spreadsheet, and just keep it all together and try and find your product out of that and, and once you find your product.
Laura: Honestly, the quicker you can get something that someone can buy, the better because getting that first payment is by far the hottest thing and say you have this massive idea for this massive SAS and it’s going to be huge and you’re going to need to spend a ton of time creating So before you do that, can you just create like a one-hour video webinar thing that people pay $5 to go to that teaches something that’s relevant to the SAS, right? Because then you’re finding out, okay, yes, okay, people want things for free.
Laura: We all know that. But if people are willing to pay, even if it’s just $5, then that is incredible validation. And you can just go from there. And you’ll find that once you’ve done that, once you’ve got your first payment from your first subscribers, you can then just follow that path and you can create something and you’re off.
RK: This is brilliant.
RK: So what are the kinds of questions that you asked during, you know, your nurturing, when when you send out an email to your list? What was the questions that you asked them some examples?
Laura: So the email that went out, which is a really common email that most people do, you might need to reword this a little bit now because I think everyone does it now, I think I learned it from, you know, probably Brennan or Don or someone like that.
Laura: The first question that I said is, what are you struggling with? A lot of people ask that question. So, you know, you can ask it if you don’t get a ton of responses, maybe ask something a bit more niche, but just try and ask something that you think people are going to reply to? And it doesn’t so much, it’s not so much matter what the question is, and how valuable those answers are going to be for you. What matters is getting that reply. So you just want to get a reply, any reply. Because then you can start the conversation and hopefully pick up on what some people have said.
Laura: So for example, I would say what are you struggling with? And, you know, people would say, Oh, you know, I had this product project and the colours just looked awful or something like that. And I could ask them, you know, what was the project? And why do you think the colours were awful? Can I see the project maybe I can help you, you know, and And it’s, instead of, I suppose what I’m trying to get at is instead of asking specific survey type questions, just try and engage as much as possible.
Laura: And try to just pull out what you think they’re struggling with without it feeling like an interview. Because the problem when it feels like an interview, is people tend to answer things based on what either they think you want to hear, or maybe that makes them look good. Or do you know something like that you want, like this conversation with you, you know, it’s like a heart to heart as you call it. That’s what you want with your audience. You want a heart to heart and you want to really get in there and find out what’s going on. So I think at the start, that’s really important.
Laura: As you go along, you can definitely ask, you know, create actual surveys and I do use surveys frequently, to find out maybe what features people want to see next or just more of a general as my list gets bigger. It’s hard have me to have those conversations.
Laura: You can ask questions like, I don’t know, I’m trying to think of a survey that I sent out. I think I tend to ask things like, you know, what was? What was it like before you used client portal, for example? How are you using it today? What would you love to see in the future? Where would you what would make client portal absolutely perfect for you or something like that? And I asked things like that. And that just helps with but that’s more R&D. To be honest. I’m not sure if that’s really relevant to what you were asking. But yeah, basically just Converse.
RK: Absolutely! Great. So which brings me to the most important question, you know, that I think a lot of my ecosystem would want to find an answer to is, how to find the time to create when you’re already drowning with a lot of client work.
Laura: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I actually think about this All the time. Because I think back to when I was starting design Academy, and I had all the client work, and I was just treading water. And I think, okay, if that thing was client portal didn’t happen and knowing what I know now, what would I have done to get that off the ground.
Laura: And I think it’s a really hard situation to be in, it’s really hard because, you know, you need your client work because you need to pay your bills, you need to pay the mortgage, or put food on the table and do all that kind of stuff. So that really is always going to be the most important thing. It’s hard to justify spending a lot of time on something that isn’t helping with that.
Laura: So what I would say is, and this is going to work differently for everyone, but what I would do if I was back in that situation, is I would say, okay, every Wednesday or something, I’d probably do it the middle of the week. end of the week, you’re to kind of excited for the weekend. And start off the week, it’s too crazy, but maybe like a Wednesday or something would be my product day, right. And that would be the day where I don’t do any client work. My clients know that. And I focus on the product.
Laura: Now, the most important thing here is one day to work on your product is not a lot of time. And it’s still going to be really hard. Just carving out a day is not going to make your product launch. So what’s really important is that this Wednesday becomes so incredibly important that you achieve and ships something, it doesn’t matter what it is, but you don’t want to be treading water.
Laura: You don’t want to say Oh, Wednesday, maybe I’ll write a bit of a blog post and maybe I’ll do some email, you know, email my list or something like that. And maybe I’ll do this and you want to say okay, at the start of Wednesday, almost think of it like a hackathon right at the start of Wednesday. This is what I’m going to do by the end of Wednesday. This is What I need to have done, and even if it’s not as polished as I would like it, even if I really want to go back and just change a bunch of it, this is what I have to do.
Laura: And maybe that’s creating a landing page, for example, because everyone needs a landing page. So you start the day, you write your landing page, you build it, and you absolutely have to launch it that day. And the reason that’s really important is because one day a week is, you know, you get that’s four days a month. So you have to be able to achieve a lot in that day. And I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but I think that’s To be honest, the best way and the reason I’m not also saying spend your weekends or evenings doing that is because personally for me, I don’t feel like that’s sustainable.
Laura: For you or your listeners, maybe that is maybe at the weekend. You are so excited about this product, and you just want to jump in and do all weekend. And if that’s you go for it because when you’re in those moods, where You’re so excited. And all you can think about is doing this project. And you’re going to make the best headway and you’re going to do so well. So if that’s you don’t listen to anything I said, just go for it.
Laura: If you’re anything like me, and you like relaxing at the weekend, or maybe doing something, or you just feel burnt out from all the client work, you’re not going to do your best work, and you’re just gonna, you need time off, basically.
Laura: So that’s why I’m saying don’t do a weekend, do a middle of the week day. But like I said, everyone’s different. And if that doesn’t work for you, try and figure out why and what works with your personality type. But the most important thing is, everything you do should be moving the needle, and I still think this today.
Laura: So sometimes I get stuck in a trap where you know, I have my product, it’s all clicking along nicely, and I’ll spend weeks sometimes not really achieving anything except an empty inbox. And so I’ll get into these phases and I’ll say okay, no matter what I do today, something needs to move the needle. Need to achieve something really decent? And those times when I, when my business really goes, Well,
RK: This is great insight. Like you said, you know, sustainability is the most important part of it, because, you know, these surges of energy to put on a project is doesn’t last long, you know, like the energy is very finite source, you know, so having dedicated like a month, I mean, the entire day of the week in the middle, or even reserving a few hours of your time every day to move the needle, also is a great step towards creating a product, isn’t it?
Laura: Or even a week, a month? You know, it could be anything as long as it’s dedicated time.
RK: Right? Absolutely. This is very interesting. Yeah. And how can people find you like, are you active on LinkedIn, or should we email you?
Laura: Yeah. So the best way, so the only thing I’m really active on and I’m not even that on Instagram and Twitter. But you can find me at Laurium, which is L A U R I U M, but you’re most likely to get a response from me there. Otherwise, you can check out design Academy if you’re interested. It’s just designacademy.io and there’s an email course in there, which teaches six principles on learning design. So you can go through that if you want to.
Laura: If you’re someone who wants to actually improve their design, you can see how I create that course. There’s also client portal, which is client-portal.io. Again, there’s a free email course there. And this one’s interesting. Both of you are freelance so you can go through it and find out how to, you know, be better at freelancing and give your clients a really good experience. But you can also see how I pitch client portal at the end of that.
Laura: So if you’re getting into products that might be useful from a standpoint of Okay, how does she go from an email course to a pitch. You could check me out there, there’s contact forms on there, which just basically goes to my personal inbox if you want to email me Feel free to use those.
RK: So that is great. So I want to, you know, end this podcast with saying this client portal is one of the tools that like really transform the way that we set expectations with our clients, and showing them the entire journey of what they’re going to receive and things like that.
RK: My clients are huge fans of the client portal and you know that tool is something which kind of completely transformed the way that we do business. And even now, today, I was on a team call with my customer relations manager on how to take it to the next level, you know, to use start using it in a productized services.
RK: So, I know for a fact that I’m a huge ambassador for Client Portals. So I would love if you can give a special deal to my listeners and audience, you know, to sign up for client portal and I can link it on the show notes as well.
Laura: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’d love to Yeah. Yeah, we’ll set that up straight after so yeah.
RK: Okay. Awesome! Great. Thank you so much, Laura for being on the podcast and I look forward to be in touch, you know more often. And I look forward once all these madness ends probably in a conference that you’re speaking at.
Laura: Definitely. Yeah. I’m excited. Thank you so much.
RK: Thank you very much.
Laura is available to answer your queries on her website, Laurium Design, DesignAcademy.io or Client Portal, on Twitter or LinkedIn.