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Get paid to grow
Intentionally creating a business where you get paid to get better — and can then charge more
Ideally, your solo or small business is going to give you the same opportunity that your 9-5 should (but didn’t, since you left it): getting paid to learn, grow, and gain new skills that you can then use to make more money.
That’s it. That’s the secret.
Before you get excited, though, let’s be clear that there’s an ethical and sustainable way to do this — and there’s a shitty, awful, terrible-human-who-deserves-the-impending-karma way to do this. Please don’t be the second person.
Don’t sell clients on something you truly have no idea about. Don’t try to be *that guy* who promises the moon and delivers something approximating a handful of dried weeds. Don’t sell anything you don’t confidently believe you can learn well enough to be proud of.
When I got started in this almost 20 years ago, I was smart…and that’s pretty much it. I didn’t know how to wax my eyebrows or dry my hair before a client meeting. I didn’t know which fork to use at fancy conference meals. I didn’t know how to wear heels (actually, I still don’t).
What I did know was that I could learn anything I wanted.
So before I sold websites, I built my own. Before I sold graphic design, I made my own marketing campaigns. Before I sold business advice, I ran one and fucked it up and made a bunch of mistakes.
Don’t sell something you don’t know how to do — but sell everything you know a little about and want to learn to do better.
Hell, I’ve been doing web design for over ten years now, and damn near every client asks me for something I would never have thought of myself. Sometimes I can build what they want, and sometimes I can’t, but I always learn something new along the way.
When you do it right, the things your clients want to build help you learn about things you’d never have encountered otherwise.
If you spend six more hours on a project than you are able to bill for, but 95% of your learning was paid, youo’re in great shape. If you learned something new, that minimal investment of extra “free” time will pay off in a million ways down the road.
When I left the public sector to explore roles in tech a few years ago, I was terrified that none of my skills would transfer. I felt like everyone spoke a different language and I was constantly studying to catch up.
While it was a terrible time to join tech (three layoffs later!), I did learn a lot. I learned Airtable, Zapier, and Webflow. I spent so much time learning no-code that I dreamed in “if this then that” statements…and it excited me. I got to completely geek out with something I’d never have really explored on my own.
Then, when everything in tech crashed and burned, when everyone except the developers got laid off, I took those skills back to consulting.
I looked at the clients on my books and realized, hey, this would work here, too! I built automated Airtable inventory systems for farmers to track production. I built automated interfaces for all the program evaluation I’d been doing manually for years. I built content plans in Canva and Mailchimp that saved a nonprofit from having to hire someone new, so they could spend that money on refugee farmers instead.
I looked at my own business and realized, hey, this will work here, too. I upgraded my client intake and feedback processes, my Notion management, the automation of lots of little things that used to take valuable time from my life.
These are the kinds of benefits I’m talking about, when I say you should always be getting paid to grow.
Make sure you are learning all the time.
Remember to apply what you do for one client to another, to yourself.
Remember to charge more when you increase your value like this.
That’s it. That’s the secret to sustainable growth. Get paid to learn, and you’re getting paid to grow.