Today’s student success spotlight is with Brandon Michals. It’s our hope that we’re able to share a different story each week of how a past student has been able to significantly grow their freelance business by applying the concepts they learned from Double Your Freelancing (check out last week’s with Shai Schechter).
If you feel your story would be a good fit, share why. We’re looking for more features for April, so apply today!
Brandon Michals is the mastermind behind Infinext, a web development company. He’s been a freelancer for almost 15 years, ever since he was awaiting his bar exam results to officially become a lawyer. Why do those things take so darn long anyhow? Good thing for Brandon they did, as he found himself a whole new career path!
What got you into freelancing? Was it what you expected?
I graduated from law school and was awaiting my bar exam results when I stumbled across web development. Around that same time, a specialty retail store where I had worked part-time during school needed a website. The timing was perfect – I had my first freelance project!
That client eventually offered me a full-time contract to build an e-commerce site. After completing the project, I had to decide whether to continue as a freelance developer or look for a job practicing law. A tennis buddy introduced me to the owner of a company who needed someone to handle their web development work, and I’ve been freelancing ever since.
The first few years brought a steady but slow stream of work. I spent a lot of unbillable hours building my skill-set, hoping that a deeper knowledge of languages and technologies would automatically make me more in demand and lead to more money. It didn’t.
I came to the conclusion that I’d just need to work harder and do a higher volume of work in order to grow my freelance business. I chased every lead that came to me and sent out proposal after proposal.
“Unfortunately, I hardly won any of the projects I quoted.”
I was personable, I did good work, and my quotes were reasonable. Still, almost all of the projects went to other companies. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting the work. Frustration set in. I had hit a ceiling, and I didn’t know what else to do.
What’s been most challenging thus far?
Dealing with issues across the wide array of languages, frameworks and technologies that make up the internet. Having to scale the learning curve again and again for each new area. Doing that has allowed me to accumulate a broad base of knowledge, but it’s also caused me to spread myself too thin at times.
“I realize now that having all of that technical knowledge doesn’t automatically equate to more clients and higher rates.”
Did you ever want to quit or give up?
I never wanted to give up, but there were many times – especially during my first few years – when I ran into development problems that I didn’t know how to solve, and sometimes the answer didn’t come for days.
“On those occasions, I often thought that I might not be cut out for freelancing.”
What were you struggling the most with when you ran into Double Your Freelancing Rate?
I knew that I wasn’t getting paid what I was worth, but I had no idea what to do about it. I had approached a client previously about raising my rate, and the client just said no. I couldn’t afford to lose that client, and I had no way to justify that I was actually worth more, so I just accepted their answer.
What are some big successes you’ve had recently?
Fast forward a decade. Since taking DYFR a few months ago, I’ve landed two new website projects.
“Each project was two to three times the price that I would have quoted before DYFR.”
Not only was I able to charge more, but I designed the projects to solve specific business problems the clients faced. Once completed, both projects should result in significant returns on the clients’ investments. A win-win for me and my clients!
“DYFR taught me how to put together a proposal the right way.”
I used to start by asking how the client wanted the new website to look and function. We talked mostly about colors, pictures, and the layout. Now, I ask questions with the goal of uncovering problems in the client’s business.
For example, in one of the projects above, the client approached me about redesigning their aging website. I started asking them questions about their business and found out that they recently experienced drastic funding cuts, resulting in a large budget gap.
I dug deeper to learn about their existing sources of revenue, their overall operating budget and the potential for new sources of revenue, which enabled me to come up with a solution designed to help the client make up a portion of the lost funding.
They knew they needed to spend money this year to redesign their aging website. Now they have the reassurance that they’ll be getting a return on their investment.
What are some specific strategies that have helped you grow?
One of my biggest takeaways from DYFR is that clients rarely approach you with their real business problems. However, the method of questioning that Brennan teaches uncovers those problems and has enabled me to put together projects focused on solving them.
I’m no longer just offering commoditized web development services – I’m addressing real issues and positively impacting my client’s bottom line. That accomplishes two things:
- It allows me to charge more.
- It gives my client a much better outcome.
I also learned how to price projects the right way. In the past, I came up with a price by starting with what I thought the market would bear, then I discounted that amount – because I didn’t want to risk losing the project to a lower bidder!
Now, I understand the importance of asking questions to determine the financial benefit the client will receive from the project. I can then anchor my price against the project upside, which helps the client to see the value they’re getting.
It also shows whether a particular design or feature choice will yield a return on investment. If something isn’t going to give the client an ROI, I want my client to know that so they can decide if they still want to pursue that part of the project.
What are you most excited about for your business in 2015?
I’ve already won two projects by putting into practice lessons I learned from DYFR, and I’m excited to see how continuing to apply those lessons will transform my business. I’m also currently taking DYFC, and I’m learning a ton!
Brandon runs Infinext, a solo web development consultancy based in Buffalo, New York. He creates web applications designed to help small businesses cut operational costs and maximize revenues.
For the past decade and a half, he’s deftly avoided putting his law degree to use, and he plans on keeping things that way. He believes that competition is the spice of life, that the word “February” is impossible to pronounce, and that fun size candy bars are a lie. When not working, he can be found making new friends around Buffalo’s open mic scene.