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I've been doing some form of freelance consulting for over a decade now, and in that time I've noticed something that would have surprised me back when I was just getting started. It's this:
Talent is less important than your willingness to keep asking for things.
Some of the most successful consultants and copywriters I've seen were actually pretty bad at the skill they were selling, but they kept right on pitching and selling. Meanwhile, some of the most talented people I've known eventually went back to day jobs because they didn't get enough work. They either didn't pitch enough, or they didn't ask for enough money.
If You Can Only Have One Thing, Have Guts
Don't get me wrong, talent is wonderful. Talent helps with client retention, and it helps you get those big results we all like to brag about. Unfortunately, there are a lot of talented people – and even more not-so-talented people loudly declaring how talented they are. While we like to think our potential clients will see through that and just instinctively know how great we are, it almost never works like that. Often, clients are hiring us because they don't know much about what needs to be done, so all they see is a crowd of people who are mostly indistinguishable. It's only natural for them to move in the direction of the ones loudly calling out to them.
Consulting is Complicated…and Dead Simple
While it's true that there are all kinds of things to learn about consulting, it's all secondary to the fact that the number one most important thing for your success is just learning to ask people for stuff, and to keep doing it even if a lot of people tell you no. Yes, you can greatly improve your success rate by learning about sales and psychology. Yes, you can improve retention and avoid the need to pitch as often if you focus on retainers and do a really good job. BUT – no matter how bad you are at that stuff, you'll be okay if you just keep asking.
To give you an example, I know a guy who is, by all accounts, pretty terrible at search engine optimization. In the year 2017, his contracts actually included a line about submitting client sites to search engines (and how it could take up to 6 weeks for them to add their sites). It's certainly possible to submit your site to search engines in this day and age, and a good sitemap is never a bad thing – but this guy was working with major multi-national companies. The sites he worked with were the type to have been in search engines for literal decades. To highlight search engine submission as a key part of working with him is just madness.
Still, this guy was making tens of thousands of dollars a month and running another successful business on the side. He had no qualms about calling up investors and asking for money. Meanwhile, many of the most capable people I know are afraid to ask for anything unless they know they're in the top 1% of their field, or that they've eliminated all possibility of failure from their business proposal (in other words, they're not asking).
It's Not Just Consulting…
It's not just a consulting thing, either. If you're in a day job, it's almost certain there's someone in your midst who has aggressively asked for raises or position changes every year, leading them to earn far more than their more passive co-workers over time. It applies to almost any field imaginable. People who know what they want and routinely ask for it will eventually get it. Some people will say no, and some will think you're an idiot. Let that go. What matters is that if you ask enough, somebody will say yes. In the meantime, you'll just keep getting better at asking.
I could go on and on about this, but it really is quite simple. Ask for what you want. Do it early, do it often, and learn the rest along the way.