The S-Curve—and Why Doubling Your Freelance Writing Income Is Not as Hard as You Think

Try this little experiment. Tap your desk using this alternating pattern:

  • Right, left, right, right
  • Left, right, left, left

Got it?

OK, now repeat the pattern. But this time I want you to accentuate the first beat (which I’ve bolded below) … and go as fast as you can:

  • Right, left, right, right
  • Left, right, left, left
  • Right, left, right, right
  • Left, right, left, left

It’s hard to do quickly, isn’t it?

In drumming, this pattern is called a “paradiddle.”

It’s one of the first of about 40 patterns (what drummers call “rudiments”) you learn as a young drummer.

These rudiments are designed to build new neural pathways that enable you to eventually play complex rhythmic patterns without having to think about them.

Here’s what it looks like when you’ve practiced your paradiddles for years:

If you play a musical instrument, you’re already familiar with these types of rote exercises. If you want to learn the drums, piano, guitar, trombone or violin … there’s just no way around them.

Unfortunately, they’re also boring. They’re tedious and uninspiring. And that’s why so many students quit their instruments early in the game.

Because it’s frustrating to put forth that kind of effort and not sound like Buddy Rich after a couple of weeks of practice:

Blood, Sweat and Tears

OK, so what in the world does this have to do with growing your income as a freelance writer?

It has everything to do with it.

When you’re starting out on your freelance journey, things are hard. You may get one small success. But that’s quickly followed by 34 rejections, obstacles or setbacks.

That’s why going from zero to, say, $40,000 a year in income (and staying there) is so challenging. Because as you can see in the graph below, the effort required to get to this level is often monumental.

Graph1

This is when you learn the tough lessons. It’s when everything is awkward and different. When fear, doubt and anxiety rear their ugly heads, day and night—and when you wonder whether you’ll actually make it.

So when you finally get to $25,000, $30,000 or $40,000 in annual income, you’re tired. You’ve put in an incredible amount of mental and emotional energy to get to this point. And the thought of doing it all over again to reach, say, $80,000 a year (doubling your current results) seems daunting.

But is it really that difficult to create massive improvement in your writing business?

Fortunately, it’s not. Or at least it doesn’t have to be.

Riding the Wave

Think back to those piano lessons. Or the first year of your martial arts training. Or when you first learned tennis, baseball, snowboarding or Spanish.

Those first few months were tough. They were boring, repetitive and seemingly unproductive.

But then things began to change, didn’t they?

You reached a basic level of competence. You could now play a few songs. Snowboard without wiping out every three seconds. Have a basic conversation in Spanish.

And once you were at that point, improving on that level of competence—and specifically doubling your skill—was NOT that hard. Or at least nowhere near as difficult as it was to develop the basic level of competence.

You were able to play more complex tunes, easily snowboard down steeper slopes and spend a month in Spain with no communication problems.

I’ve found that the same pattern holds true when growing your freelance income. Once you get to the $30,000-$40,000 level—and you sustain this level for a few months—you’ve done most of the heavy lifting.

Graph2

By this point, most people have quit. They’ve given up. Because, again, it’s darn hard to get to this point!

You, on the other hand, have pushed past what Seth Godin refers to as the “dip.” You have a viable business. And there’s a good chance you’ll sustain what you’ve already built.

But therein lies the problem.

You’ve worked so hard to get to this point that you can’t imagine putting in the same amount of effort to get to the next level—to reach, say, the $80,000 income level.

Your natural assumption is that it would take the same amount of mental and emotional effort to go from $40k to $80k as it did to go from zero to $40k.

So you stay put. Which feels like the safe thing to do. But you also don’t grow. Which is unfortunate, because doubling your business once you’re at this point in your journey is NOT as hard as you think.

Take another look at that graph. Just as with any other skill or worthwhile endeavor, growing your freelance writing business follows an S-curve pattern.

It takes an enormous amount of work to get to a basic level of success. But once you’re there, doubling your results is not nearly as challenging as it appears.

Going from $40k to $80k does not require twice the energy. Neither does going from $80k to $160k.

Graph3

Don’t get me wrong. It still takes hard work and dedication. But you’re now in a different place. You’re no longer starting from zero. You have a foundation to build on.

What it does take, however, is a different set of strategies. A different mindset. A different approach to your business.

And fortunately, these are things you can control. These are strategies and approaches you can learn and apply to get the same result

It’s About More Than Working Harder

This is the reason I was able to quickly grow my freelance income to the high $100ks within a few short years. It’s also why many of my established coaching clients have been able to double their income or free time in a short period of time.

We essentially stopped focusing on working harder all the time. Instead, we placed our focus and energy on applying new systems, frameworks, strategies and approaches.

Of course, there comes a point where doubling your results once again becomes much more challenging. That’s because as a solo practitioner you have limited work capacity. And eventually you’ll reach a limit to what you can charge for your work. Which means that to grow further you have to restructure your business model.

That’s certainly doable, although it has its own set of challenges. Which is why you’ll see yet another inflection point in that effort/income curve once you approach $200,000 in annual income.

But the good news is that if you’re consistently earning $25,000, $30,000 or $40,000 a year as a freelance writer or copywriter, you have a great opportunity ahead of you.

Because doubling your performance is not as difficult as it may appear. Once you’re “making it,” it’s not just about effort. It’s about other factors.

Need Some Help?

Want me to help you get there? That’s what The 2X Project is about. In this coaching program, I work with established writers and copywriters to help them double their income in 12 to 18 months.

Enrollment for my next 2X group is currently open. You can learn more about it here.

 

 

  • Mattducz

    Thanks for this, Ed! I’ve felt stuck lately as a freelancer, but I have to keep reminding myself I’ve been at it for less than a year. Hopefully I’ll start seeing some better results as I press forward.

    • edgandia

      There you go! It’s hard to be patient. We all want it now. So these reminders are important. I know I need a lot of reminding myself! 🙂

  • Bo Page

    Good article. In NLP we were taught the 4 Stages of Learning. When you know it’s not YOU having a problem, but that learning involves growing pains, it can motivate you and give you faith to keep moving toward your goal. And once something becomes second nature, which it will when you follow this model, running your business becomes less daunting. This is how we learn everything.

    What are the Four Stages of Learning?

    Essentially, here’s a summary:

    Unconscious Incompetence
    Conscious Incompetence
    Conscious Competence
    Unconscious Competence

    Unconscious incompetence

    The individual does not understand or know how to do something and
    does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness
    of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and
    the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The
    length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the
    strength of the stimulus to learn.

    Conscious incompetence

    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do
    something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of
    a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be
    integral to the learning process at this stage.

    Conscious competence

    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However,
    demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be
    broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in
    executing the new skill.

    Unconscious competence

    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has
    become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the
    skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may
    be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was
    learned

    • edgandia

      This is so on target. Thanks for sharing it here, Bo!