About forty years ago, I worked at an institution for the mentally disabled. There were over 1,200 patients in the facility. Some had severe physical and mental impairments, others appeared nearly normal.
Some patients spent most of their time on their ward or outside their building in the yard areas while others had free run of the grounds and even went into the nearby town. One such individual was Bob.
Bob’s IQ was in the low 50s. Bob spent his days in the workshop where he earned a small salary doing piece-rate work. But Bob dreamed of something more.
Bob heard the staff complaining about the prices of cigarettes and soda that were sold at the on-grounds canteen and out of the vending machines. Bob used to visit the local grocery store in town. Something seemed off to Bob. He just knew he wasn’t spending that much for his soda and cigarettes.
Bob found an old shopping cart and went to the store and bought a carton of cigarettes and a case of soda. He then set up shop on the raised walkway that connected the buildings, selling sodas and a pack of cigarettes for less than the price at the canteen or the machines. He sold out quickly and discovered he had made a profit. Bob liked profit.
He went back to the store the next day and bought two cases of soda and two cartons of cigarettes. By the end of the day, Bob was a happy man.
Some staff members asked Bob if he had any candy bars to sell. Bob headed to the store and found the candy that sold in bulk packages. The next day his shopping cart offered soda, cigarettes, and candy bars, and once again Bob sold all his products.
The staff at the workshop reported that Bob was missing work. His social worker talked to Bob about this. Bob said he didn’t want to work at the workshop because he was making more money selling soda and cigarettes.
Some staff members told Bob they preferred a different brand of soda or cigarettes, so he expanded his offerings. That worked out well. Another person asked if Bob had fresh fruit like apples or bananas. He did not but went to the store that evening to get some.
The next day he searched for the staff member who had requested the fruit but the person was now on a week’s vacation. A cloud of fruit flies in Bob’s room alerted the staff about his business failure.
Bob’s business prospered until someone got upset and reported the happenings to the State Department of Revenue (taxes). They visited Bob and asked to see his sales tax records. Oops!
The team quickly convened a meeting, and staffers were assigned to make sure all the paperwork and payments were in place. Bob was upset at first but he understood that he either did this or he was out of business.
So, what can a freelance writer learn from Bob?
1) Find a problem that others have and then fix it for them at a price where everyone wins. Bob heard the staff’s complaints about prices and saw an opportunity. As a freelance writer, you can write engaging articles that someone else needs, you can edit books and content for websites, you can format e-books or design covers, all very common problems for authors.
2) Do not put limits on your success. Bob listened to what people were telling him — “I prefer a different brand” — and gave them what they wanted. As a freelancer, if you work in only one area, say edit books, you are saying no to other opportunities.
3) Entrepreneurs are not afraid to make mistakes. They learn from them and move on. Bob lost money on the apples and bananas. As a freelancer, you will run into a difficult editor or author whose complaints are not worth any amount of money. Learn from these bad experiences so you can avoid them in the future. You may bid a job too low because it turned into a rewrite instead of a proofread. Modify your bidding in the future.
4) Entrepreneurs are aware of the best use of their time. Bob saw he was making more money selling soda and cigarettes than he could make at the workshop. Some freelancers spend the majority of their time doing work that does not put money in their pocket. Watch how you use your time and learn what is most profitable.
5) Know the laws. Bob ran afoul of the tax laws. There are laws that you must be concerned with as a freelancer. Tax laws. Copyright laws. Employee vs. independent contractor. Others?
Bob’s IQ was in the low 50s, but even so, he was able to figure out ways he could make life better for himself. We should take a lesson from Bob.