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What to know if you want to grow from a sole trader to a full-scale business

IMAGE VIA @NORTHBROOKAGENCY/INSTAGRAM

WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

The lowdown on upscaling.

There is a crossroads most freelancers reach after the initial period of figuring shit out and garnering a following. It goes a bit like this: you’ve established yourself as a reputable and credible source in a creative trade (writing, photographing, illustrating, etc).

But now your business is expanding exponentially, it’s no longer viable to operate exclusively as an individual or ‘sole trader’. Do you plateau, or do you scale up? If opting for the latter, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind and there’s a bunch of strategic steps you can take to make the trajectory smooth.


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This is the second phase of our three-part series with freelance services marketplace Fiverr, where we get to the marrow of ‘making it’ as a creative and the platforms, people and pursuits that can get you there. While many of us remain confined by stay-at-home orders, crafting a profile on Fiverr in the name of sole-trader expansion could be something better to make than another focaccia bread.

To get the lowdown on leveraging the platform to enhance business growth, I decided to speak to a Fiverr freelancer. Meet Neva Read, a senior brand and marketing consultant with over 15 years of experience in brand development, digital marketing, advertising and social media and content creation.

“I have a background working for some of Australia’s leading and award-winning digital agencies,” says Neva, who goes on to list clients including Google, Shiseido, Clinique, Toyota, Lexus, Commonwealth Bank, Nestle AU, Nikon, McDonald’s, The Sydney Opera House and Alex Perry. It’s an undeniably impressive list and one that prompted me to ask, “How exactly do you make an impactful profile on a platform such as Fiverr?”

If growing your client base is step one to upscaling your business, I figured it’s an important question for potential up-scalers to know. “The first step is finding the confidence to get started. However, sometimes it’s a chicken-and-egg effect. In my case, I didn’t necessarily have the confidence until I put myself out there and started booking work,” she explains.

Neva emphasises that it’s essential to prioritise excellence anywhere you can. “On Fiverr, booking work from blue-chip clients, startups and small and medium-sized enterprises – even in the fashion world – simply comes down to excellence. Excellence in client services, in expertise, in pricing, in value add. It’s my mantra and so far it’s paying off handsomely,” she reveals.

Talking yourself and your skills up might not feel comfortable at first, but the reality is modesty won’t get you far. “You have to create a great profile even if you have zero sales. And you have to reach out to client requests and convince them of your credentials,” Neva explains.

Two creatives who know all about prioritising excellence are Eugene Canty and Ben Jones, two disturbingly young photography aficionados I share a lofty Northside office with. Once freelancers flitting between festivals and food shoots, the intrepid twosome has made their multidisciplinary offering official with the launch of Northbrook Agency in January of this year.

They now work with the likes of Chadstone, Zonzo, Grill’d and some big names in the Melbourne sartorial circuit. Albeit a new frontier for the duo, Northbrook is just a scaled production of what they’ve been doing since day dot – ideating, conceptualising, styling, shooting, filming, editing, toys buying and good-times-having.

They’re doing it all as two twenty-somethings who wanted to scale their business opportunities without the feeling of going stale in a sole trader or conventional commercial business format. They realised the traditional (big and rulebook-following) agency structure could get stifling. And so, the demise of full-time roles in digital marketing made way for Northbrook’s rapid rise.

“We’re still quite young as an agency, so we’re taking our time to really figure out the steps we take,” says Eugene. “People have warned us to be wary of growing too quickly (smart), so we’ve employed a few contractors to help us out along the way and manage moving workloads. We’ve built a great network of shoot assistants, copywriters and video editors that constantly help us out.”

It’s a common strategy within creative circles. Rather than upscaling your business too quickly, it’s often smarter to build a network of like-minded creators who can help execute your vision on a project-by-project basis. While these creators can be hard to find initially, platforms like Fiverr make it easier to source contractors who align with your vision and values, as well as the specific demands of the project.

With a variety of skilled contractors on board, the calibre of jobs that are coming Northbrook’s way is now starting to differ dramatically from when they were both freelancers. Brands now approach the team for more than just a video. They’re now requesting an entire end-to-end creative direction, and Northbrook can leverage its creative network to make it happen.

When asked for the advice they’d give to fellow freelancers and creatives gunning to forge a real-deal business, Eugene is adamant that analysis is everything. “Discern who you are as a freelancer and what you want your brand or business to be. Look at what you love to do. It’s such a big industry and while it’s good to be diverse and be able to capture so many different things, find out what you love to shoot/write about/make and always have that in mind when taking things to the next step.”

Once you’ve refined your offering, you’ll need to get onto that self-promotion. Flaunting your portfolio on Instagram is one thing, and new jobs can swiftly begin to accrue through word-of-mouth recommendations. But when you shift from part-time freelancing to full-time business operating, Eugene’s case-making for ‘showing off’ becomes paramount. And sometimes social media is not enough. After all, not everyone on these platforms is a potential client.

On the flipside, platforms like Fiverr allow freelancers to share their folio, contact details and case studies directly to clients looking to hire across all facets of the gig economy. There’s fashion sketching, catalogue design and merchandising, to name just a few.

Echoing Eugene’s advice, Neva reminds me that it’s not enough to create good work – you need to put it out there and let the world know, and this is where Fiverr has your back.

“The pedigree of my agency world clients and my seniority has helped a lot, but I still have to have a great profile story, sound pricing and fees, offer special promotions, as well as consistency and excellence in my delivery to get people’s attention.”

Client loyalty takes time, but with a little patience, the right amount of self-promotion and utilising the ample resources that a platform like Fiverr can provide, you’ll be well on your way to transitioning from a sole trader to a fully-fledged business.

“If done well, you’ll start seeing engagement in due time, which will turn into loyal and returning customers,” confirms Neva, but not without a caveat. “Remember though, it all takes time. Don’t expect overnight success, but expect success overnight, after a season of real sacrifice, effort and hard work!”

If Fiverr sounds like your next step in growing a freelance gig into a real-deal business, learn more here.

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