When you first begin thinking about becoming a freelance web designer or developer you don’t naturally think of finding a freelancer community as the highest of priorities.
But, the reality is finding a community that you can walk with through your journey as a freelancer is one of THE most important things if not THE core component to you actually being successful as a freelancer.
The Importance of Finding a Freelancer Community
This week on the Self-Made Web Designer podcast I talk to Tom Ross about finding a community to belong to as a freelancer or web designer or WHATEVER REALLY.
In fact, the whole reason I’m a web designer is because of the community that surrounded me in those early days of learning, and that community still supports me to this day.
It’s in community that you find:
- Motivation to keep going when things get hard
- Opportunities that you would have never found on your own
- Wisdom that you would never get from going at it DIY style
How to Look for a Freelancer Community
In the podcast, Tom mentions that it’s important to first figure out “who” you’re looking for.
You need to ask questions like
- “What type of people do I like being around?”
- “What things am I hoping to get out of the community?”
- AND maybe most importantly, “How can I contribute to that community?”
After you’ve got those things settled it’s time to go on the hunt.
Thankfully, there are more groups of people out there now who are looking create a community as freelancers or web designers than ever before. BUT, that also means you’ve potentially got to sift through a lot of groups that might not be a good fit.
How to Know You’ve Found the Right Freelancer Community
Knowing when you really fit in as a freelancer in a community can be somewhat tough to define. It’s not a mathematical equation as much as it is a feeling.
Tom likens it to advice his dad gave him about picking a pub to frequent in England.
You’ll walk in and pretty quickly know whether or not you’ll feel comfortable and if you click with the community as a whole.
Another thing to consider is that different communities might serve you better in different seasons of your freelancing career.
For instance, there might be certain communities that are more suited for beginners and some that are more suited for those who have been developing their career as a freelancer for a long time.
There is no right or wrong community out there BUT there might be a right or wrong community for YOU, specifically.
Don’t Give Up on Finding a Freelancer Community
Wherever you’re at in finding a good freelancer community don’t give up!
It can take a little bit of time to find a right mix of people BUT they’re out there. And, if for some reason you can’t find a group of people that has been made already Tom has a great resource to help you build your own.
- How to find a community that will support you
- What to look for in a community of freelancers
- The downfall of chasing vanity metrics
- How to add value to relationships no matter what level of expertise you have
Hey want to know a secret weapon to finding success as a freelancer. It is plain and simple finding a good community to be a part of. And that's what we're talking about this week. Are you ready? Let's go.
What is up self-Maders and welcome to another episode of this self-made web designer podcast. I hope you had a good week, but I have a feeling it's about to get even better because this week's guest is an awesome web designer, developer entrepreneur at all. He does everything folks and his name is Mr. Tom Ross.
Tom, I founded a little known website called design cuts and has recently begun devoting his. It's time to help people create and maintain meaningful communities, to be a part of, you know, finding a community to be a part of is essential to you, making it as a freelancer in any field, whether it's web design development, copywriting, heck.
It could even be freelance horseshoe making. Is that a thing? I don't know. When you have a community, you have a group of people that can help encourage you when you're frustrated or when you feel like giving up. When you have a community, finding the answers to tough questions comes much more quickly and more than anything, when you have a community, it makes the journey of being a freelancer a lot more.
Fun. So we're going to talk about it this week with Tom Ross. But before we do, I want to take a second and encourage you to hit that subscribe button, wherever you're listening or watching this podcast, and then go one step further and leave us a comment and a rating. So other people know what they're getting into when they become a self mater as well.
All right. Are you ready to hear from Tom Ross about how to find success as a freelancer, through finding a good community? Okay, let's do it. Well, Tom Ross, thank you so much for being on the self-made web designer podcast. So good to have you. Thank you so much, Chris. It's an honor to be here. Yeah. So I wonder if you can just take a second and give us some of your background and how you got to where you are today.
Sure. I started young, so I was 12 years old. I was sat with my best and oldest friend at the time. And we sat around on his computer. He right. Clicked on a webpage hit view source, and it spat out a bunch of HTML and it literally blew my mind. I remember it was like the first time I saw the matrix. I was like, you mean, people build these website things.
They don't just exist. And from there, um, Taught myself, basically chemo demo on a couple of weeks. He taught himself basic age tomorrow in a couple of days because he's a genius and he's now like a super established developer out in New York. And we started building websites together. And I love that.
And you know, from there I could kind of scratch their creative and entrepreneurial itch. Uh, we had all kinds of fun ventures and websites we built over the years and some of them made a bit of money while we're at school. And that kind of thing. After that I became a freelance web designer for a lot of years.
And I was typically known as the guy who was pretty good with conversions. So I would make attractive websites, but literally people will come to me and it would be like 50 to a hundred percent increase in their revenue, like overnight when they put the redesign live. And I remember thinking it felt like a a superpower or a magic wand that you could wave. Cause most websites are horrible. I mean, you slapped like an incredible high-performing design on it can just transform businesses. And you know, when there were clients who were earning like 10, 20 grand upwards a month, um, you know, it was really satisfying to see that immediate return for them.
So I did that for a bunch of years. I had all kinds of ventures along the way I was starting online communities. That's something I always been passionate about, started a big design blog, which did well in terms of like a ton of visitors. It was like 15 million visitors, but then that ended up, uh, actually being quite hollow.
I was chasing the vanity metric of traffic because that's what all the internet marketers told you to do. And so all of these random things kind of led me to then starting my company design cuts about eight years ago, and we are the highest rated marketplace in the world for creatives and designers.
We sell like fonts and graphics and templates and things. That's basically saved designers time, but actually allowed them to be more creative. Um, and. When I started the company, truthfully, this is probably like horrendous business advice, but we had no business plan. We had no revenue goals. We didn't even have member goals.
The one goal I had was I want to build the most engaged online community I've ever seen. And so we found great product market fit from day one. I basically made friends with our first two to 300 customers. I was like, On phone calls with them. We knew about each other's families. I was just chatting all the time with them.
And I learned so much from those people and they enjoyed that kind of hands-on care so much that they started telling their friends who told their friends. So the company really kind of took off like a rocket in year one. It's highly bootstrapped, no funding, no money put into either. It was literally just hard work, blood, sweat, and tears to get it off the ground.
Ridiculous, uh, hustle. Work from my side, I was like binge listening to Gary V back then. And so I was working 18 hour days, seven days a week. Uh, that ended very badly. I hospitalized myself. Uh, I developed chronic health for years on the back of it. And that's been like a slog, like trying to manage the company.
And grow the culture and everything. And, you know, I love what I do, but like I ruined myself and the person, and now I'm very thankful. We have an incredible team. We've built an incredible platform, our community, our, the best community I've seen online. And I feel very privileged. And lucky to do what I do, but it's, it's been a thyroid rollercoaster to get here.
Yeah. It's such a, it's such a cool story. And I think the really interesting thing for me is what would seem to be a really successful first attempt that had, you know, millions of visitors onto the original website that you built. But, but you said it felt hollow and I know kind of some of the back. Uh, side of the story is that you're now focusing more on community and building community.
So, so tell me about that transition. What has drawn you towards community more in this season of your life? Oh, that she, so I just released my free book, but I'd been writing a book on community in my head. For like the last 10 years. So it's not a recent, um, revelation for me, that community matters. It's kind of always been something I've been really passionate about.
And really my wake up was, you know, eight to 10 years ago in the run-up to starting my current company where I just realized what a load of am I allowed to curse nothing to you that sure. Go ahead. Okay. What a load of crap vanity metrics are. And back in the day, my blog, this was pre-social media. So the vanity metric was like blog traffic.
But now of course it's how many followers you have on social media. And whilst it has some importance, it's way less important than most people believe everyone's chasing the next 10 K followers, or they think they're going to hit some milestone and they will find success. And those numbers are just very empty.
Uh, in most cases and there's, uh, a case study. I say it in my book, which I always refer to. And my company, we did a partnership with a, another business and other community, which had a million people on that email list. And I was like, damn million people email us saying this is going to be a, you know, really mutually beneficial liquids partnership.
And it all went out. And actually it fell flat like the returns with terrible, you know, the click rate and open way on the email list was horrendous. And we did another partnership with a community that had 5,000 people in it. So relatively tiny, and that outperformed the community of a million by 20 times.
Which means that on average, the members in that second community are worth 4,000 times more from a business perspective. And this is not some like random esoteric example. This is what I see play out day in, day out. There are gigantic bloated communities where people are either not engaged or not relevant, or they bought their followers or whatever it might be to chase that top line vanity metric number.
Okay. And underneath it's completely hollow as a shell. You know, there's no sustainable business, there's no rural community people aren't engaged and they don't care. And actually more often than not, you know, you find these incredible micro-communities where that orders of magnitude smaller, but they're gold.
You know, people feel part of this tribe, they feel super connected. They're hyper engaged and you know, you've got true fans and things of that nature. And obviously you can get that with bigger communities too, but I feel like everyone's chasing the wrong thing. And the Cardinal sin of community building is chasing the top line number of members.
It is not how many members you have. It's how much they care. And more people need to wake up to that truth because otherwise like me, you chase the big number you achiever, and then you look around the night. Oh, There's a big number of people and no one gives a crap. And that feels really terrible.
That's a really bad feeling. A lot of the listeners that listen to this podcast are, are probably looking for the community to be a part of, you know, they're, they're looking for that, that sense of belonging. They're looking for help. They're looking for engagement. So, so I guess my question would be, how do you know when a community.
Isn't hollow. And, and how do you know, what are the signs that, what I'm about to get into is actually going to be helpful for what I'm doing as a web designer, what I'm doing as a freelancer entrepreneur or, or whatever, what are those, what are those key takeaways that you're looking for to make sure that what you're investing in is going to be worth it?
I think you need to have a degree of self-awareness because. It's not that there's a right or wrong type of community or vibe within a community as is it right or wrong for you? And for example, like in the, it's not web design, but in the lettering space, uh, there's two examples that I say in my book, there's Becca who runs the happy ever crafter, which is just the best name ever for business.
And she very much targets beginners. So she's like super lovely and holds their hand and walks them through it and kind of spoonfeeding them in a very helpful, you know, fantastic teacher way. And then there's another example, which is Paul, who runs past scribe. And again, incredibly lovely guy, but he's known as like the seriously, like meticulous professional letterer.
And so there's an expectation that when you joined his private communities, um, you know, it's not spoon feeding. It's not for beginners. It's for like serious calligraphers who want to elevate their skills and, you know, they, they take it very seriously. And so there's a completely different vibe between the two communities, but both communities are awesome.
And so you need to have the self-awareness to tune in, like, why. What kinds of people do I resonate with? What kind of people do I want to surround myself with? What do I want to get out of the community? And we're very thankful and blessed, but at design cards we hear all the time. People, like, I feel like I've found my home.
Everyone's so positive and supportive and, you know, full, full credit to my team. But I do think, uh, often as the founder, a lot of. That kind of culture kind of has to at least initially come from me and then the team take ownership of it. I am a sole professed people-pleaser. And that's a blessing and a curse, right?
Some people think that's a bad thing for me. It's like, well, I just want to make everyone happy, which results in us having the greatest customer service in the world, because I can't bear to think of anyone who walks away disappointed. And so that's the kind of community which we focused on, but I remember growing up trying to join like Photoshop forums and stuff like that as a designer and people would be really snarky and judgmental.
And shooting down people and it wouldn't feel very welcoming. And so that's partly why I love community building, because it's like, if you don't feel at home in certain places, go create the home yourself and attract your tribe. But if your listeners, you know, some of them might not want to create a community, but they want to be part of one.
I would take the advice of my dad, which was in reference to pubs here in England, where he's like, you're pretty quickly, you're walking somewhere and you'll just get a feeling of like, this is my kind of place, or this feels uncomfortable. And if you feel uncomfortable and like, it's not for you, you should walk out and find a different pub.
That's good advice from, from, from your dad, man. That's awesome. So I wonder why, you know, cause this show's called self-made web designer and I've got a free course that I offer to everybody. Um, when I talk about how to get started as a web designer and the very first lesson is all about finding a community to help support you.
Because what I've found for myself is I wouldn't be where I am today. If it weren't for the people around me who helped me, who encouraged me, who gave me insight on what I was doing right or wrong. But I feel like that is something that is, is so downplayed in the kind of the DIY self-learning.
Communities. W why do you think that is? Why do you think people who are, you know, teaching other folks how to do something online? Don't really talk about that as much as they really should be. I think possibly to an extent when enough time elapses, you genuinely forget your roots, um, And it's often referred to as like the curse of knowledge.
Right. So when you've been doing something for 10 years, it's hard to put yourself back in the shoes of you 10 years ago, and you can't remember all of the details. So I'll always try and cite like my mentors and influences and people early on. But I do forget some of the nuances and the details because it was so long ago.
So maybe there's an element of that. Um, I don't want to say that anyone's like posturing and trying to make how they did it all alone. Cause I do know a lot of awesome people that, you know, very. Great four and vocally, um, so about, about the people that helped them on the way up. And I know even more people that are, you know, grateful for that.
And therefore they put a hand down and try and help the next generation up to be honest, I love the creative community. I think most people are pretty, pretty good and pretty positive on that side of things, but it's worth noting that it doesn't have to be a public forum community can exist in a WhatsApp group with 20 friends.
It could exist in a mastermind before people like that can be very humble beginnings. And actually sometimes they're the most valuable they're close knit. You find a really good group of people. Um, you know, I've just been invited to a mastermind yesterday with some people that I really love and respect that we'll be our own little private community.
And I think what's important is that you go in wanting to bring value as well as extract it. It should be a mutual thing. You don't just want to be a taker. You should to enter into that community and try and help every way you can, because when all the members are of that collection, it becomes a really, really special place.
Want to take a second and tell you a bout a free course that I have available at self-made web designer. Dot com over 1000 people have been through this course. And I am talking about the web designer starter kit course. I map out in four videos that you get through email, all the steps that I took to get.
To where I am as a web designer. And I went from knowing absolutely nothing. I was clueless to in two years, doubling my income with a freelance web design side hustle. I made this because I know you can be successful. Doing the same thing. And the web designer starter kit course is the first step for you on your journey to being a successful thriving, freelance web designer or having a full-time career.
So I can't wait for you to check it out, go to self-made web designer.com and sign up. Today. I love something. And in the free book that you have, I read there, it said community is not transactional. And, and I think a lot of times it's, it's kind of easy to get into that mindset that, well, first of all, it's difficult when you feel like our relationship is transactional.
When the person is approaching you from a transactional perspective, but then it's also somewhat difficult to not. Allow yourself to creep into that mindset of, oh, great. A new friend. W what, how is this going to benefit from me, for me in the midst of, in the midst of my life. So how do you, how do you work to keep that transactional mindset out of the mind of the people inside of a community and, and keep that from happening in yourself as well?
So speaking personally, I know you said quest, you listened to, or you do. You just discovered the podcast. I do with Mike Chanda, who was on your show recently, best buds. And we do a whole episode on value. And we talk about both of us acted in this way, where there's like a Seesaw of value. And I only feel comfortable with the person on the other side is getting more value than I am.
This is just how I operate. I'm not saying everyone operates that way. If anything, I think it's a competitive advantage when you do, because most people don't, but it's so powerful. Like every time someone helps me out, I almost feel uncomfortable because I'm like, I, this doesn't sit right with me. I now have to help you out more than you helped me out.
So the CSUN one goes back. And when you meet someone that's, like-minded like Mike and I, we get into this almost wrestling match of trying to. And try to one-up each other with helping the other one more. And I truly believe in the kind of calm that comes with that because when you do that day in, day out at scale, touching thousands of people with that philosophy, you become known as a person that is attractive and value giving and a good member of the wider community.
And that's how you build reputation and doing that consistently over years. And so I studied, um, Uh, minded in philosophy, uh, university, pretty sure it was Hume argued that there is no truly selfless action. Um, and it gets pretty dark. It's like if a mum, um, you know, jumps in, in front of like her daughter to save her daughter's life, then she's still partly selfish because she doesn't want to see her daughter die and enjoy the pain.
And so it's an alleviation of pain. Anyway, without getting too into that, the point is, I think, I think you can do both. I enjoy being a person that gives value and helps others because it feels good. I enjoy it because it benefits the other person. But I also recognize that there's good business sense and it has allowed me to carve out a good brand and reputation personally am with my company.
And I don't think there's anything wrong with that because everyone wins. I win. The other person wins. Everyone wins the world's a better place. And you know, that's kind of my whole philosophy. Really. Yeah, that's great. I wonder because a lot of, a lot of the listeners for this show are kind of in the earlier stages of their, their freelancing career in web design and development.
And, and I wonder if some of the folks listening, feel like, well, what, what do I have to offer? If I'm just getting started, like I know nothing about this. So, so what do you say to folks like that who feel like I don't really have a valuable contribution? So how could I ask for it?
All right. Great question.
Um, all kinds of ways work. The angle is like figure out we all have skillsets, right? We will have stuff that we do better than the average person in the case of your listenership. It may well be web design. I literally see nothing wrong with giving your time or your services for free. When it's on your terms, then you're doing it strategically.
Totally different than a client coming to you. Hey, like do some free work for me and pushing you around when it's on your terms. It's part of a wider play. And I'll give you an idea. I do this to this day, right? Typically I will, with my time it might be marketing, no business consultancy or frequently do that as a value add on, you know, the sprinkles on top of a partnership or opening the door to a partnership.
I will give my time. Yeah. But I will do it equally with skillsets that I've had since my more junior days, like my design work. So recently I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts that was a guest on that podcast. And I thought, Hmm, I really like what this guy is saying and what he's all about.
I'm going to reach out. So I reached out to him and I say, Hey, um, Um, just reaching out. I loved you on that podcast. Here's what I loved about what you said. And I promise I'm not like some random person looking to get anything from you. I legit have my own business. It's going well. Um, but I'd love to like thank you for such a great episode.
Could I take one of your quotes from that episode and turn it into like a quote graphic on Instagram. He told me that he got hundreds of messages following that podcast because it's very popular. And I was the only one that led to anything. And that really stood out. And he responded. He was like, sure. I designed the graphic.
Uh, he posts it on his page. We chat a little bit more. I help him with some of his marketing before I know I'm that consulting for free for his team. So I'm like coaching his team on their marketing, like his marketing department and email person. And so on. Then I've done all of this without any expectation, by the way, just because it's how I like to operate.
Suddenly he invites me to be part of this private group of top UK entrepreneurs. Which are like massively talented, successful people, orders of magnitude more successful than I am. So I'm like very honored. Of course I say yes. Now I've got this incredible network of friends flourishing, and they're trying to teach me stuff about angel investing in new areas.
I wanted to get into. And we keep in touch now I'd like, you know, formed a bit of a friendship. And now he's someone in my life who I really like and value and respect. And all of that came from the fact that I did a dumb Instagram graphic to get the wheels rolling. And what annoys me is most people who have zero leverage, uh, not willing to do that because they're too fancy for it.
Right. It's beneath them. Like I'm running a decent size company. We've got over 20 staff at this point. I'm busy as hell. I'm about to get married, got personal brand. I'm flat out with my company. And yet I still make time to do graphics as if I were a junior with zero leverage, just trying to break into the industry.
I still act in that way and it frustrates me when. People that have no experience or leverage, aren't willing to do the same thing. It sounds like there's this real, so pervasive level of humility that, that you have to maintain. And, um, there's a, um, a book I just read by a guy named Adam Grant that, uh, it's called think again.
And he talks about how there's, there's this range, right. When you're learning, where, when you first start, you feel like, you know, Absolutely nothing. And then at the end of that, when you become an expert, you feel like, you know, absolutely nothing but somewhere in the middle of there is where we start to feel really good about ourselves.
And we start to think, oh man, I'm awesome. Look at all this stuff that I can do. And so how, how do you keep that? Like, cause you know, in my mind you you'd be an expert in the field. You'd be somebody who's been doing this for quite a lot longer than most of the folks that I talked to. So how do you keep that level of humility where you're just able to go, Hey, like here's, here's some stuff like I did it for free.
I want nothing from you. I would say by recognizing that in every single respect is the smart and right thing to do. To be honest, because here's what baffles me, right? Like if you get a bad experience from a company and the obvious thing they should do is I apologize and give you a refund, but they try and fight it tooth and nail now, and then you never buy from them again.
And you go and complain about them online to everyone, you know? And I always look at it and I think, well, even if you're a complete asshole as the founder, Just bite your lip and give them the refund and give, give the good service. Even if you fundamentally disagree with that and you hate yourself for it, still do it because it's going to make you more money.
And it's a better business move. If you're a nice person, even better, because then you get to act like a nice person and do the work and be humble and provide value. And like I said, before, you went on all fronts. Everyone wins, you win in business, you win in life. It feels great when you do nice stuff, you get positivity back.
And that's literally just how I'm trying to run my career. It's like people are being super nice and supportive back to me because I'm trying to give upfront to them first. I'm making friends it's so, and because no one generally, or most people don't seem to operate in this way. Right. All of us on LinkedIn.
We're getting like spam to death. Every single day. Everyone is so pushy and like sleazy in the business world that it's a differentiator. And so when you do this stuff, for me, it's the most obvious strategy way to act, whatever you want to call it in the world. Yeah. No one else is really doing it. So when you do it, it stops people in their tracks and they're like, oh wow.
Like you genuinely I'll try to help me. And th those people I help where I don't get anything back. Fine. Just put more good, calmer out into the world. I'm not there. Like, you know, cough up like six months later. It's fine. Cool. Yeah. Worst case scenario. And that thing is like, my name comes up in a room with that person and they go, oh yeah.
Yeah. He's a good guy. He helped me. That's good enough for me. Yeah. Yeah, that's awesome. It's such a great perspective. I wonder if we could just wrap up our, our time together and have just absolutely loved having you on the show and appreciate your insights so much. Um, I have a feeling that there are some folks out there who are as the beginning stages of what they're doing.
Um, It feels like they're having a hard time finding that community. They don't even, they don't even know where to look. So talk a little bit about the discovery process. If somebody is looking to find the, there people, they're the folks that they just click with, like when they walk in the pub and feel like they fit, you know, H how does somebody go about seeking that place out?
Great question. Um, I do think there has to be a time of research. So that's not going to fall in your lap. You do need to go out and look, obviously social media, asking for recommendations, getting really embedded in your, your industry or your space is vital. But I think step one has to actually be defining it.
Like I said before, so often we think we know something, but when someone's like, can you explain that? In words, the words don't really come. It's like trying to remember a dream. Right. You're sure you know, all the details and then you're like, oh wait, I can't define it. So I think start by asking those fundamental questions of what do you want out of the community?
What kind of atmosphere should the community have? What kind of people should be in there? Do you want to be part of something that's massive and buzzing and busy or something that's small and intimate. You need to really be quite introspective. Right? All of this downs, you almost end up like a profile of your dream community.
And then, like I say, just go out there and put in the legwork. To discover something. So I'll ask around and there will be a community generally for everyone. But if there isn't, you don't need to be like some crazy entrepreneur to start your own. It could literally be like, you make friends with 20 people on social media and you're like, that's get off Instagram and start a slack group together.
And let's chat there or let's have like a weekly call or whatever it might be. Um, don't be afraid to start your own thing. Well, Tom, I really appreciate being on. So thankful that you share some of your time with us, if somebody's trying to find you online, where would they go?
Well, thank you, Chris. Really fun chat.
Yeah, I appreciate it. Uh, my website is Tom Ross dot coats. So that's Tom ross.com where you can find a bunch of podcast, episodes and articles, et cetera. And I also just released my new book, which is [email protected] It's 175 pages packed with actionable case studies to anyone who wants to either be part of the community or start their own one.
It's all there. It's completely free. Um, and very, very grateful that thousands of people have been downloading and enjoying it. Since launch and that's been very humbling, man. I love to hear about Tom's journey from building really engaged community. And it makes me excited about what is possible with the self-made web designer community.
And hopefully you feel like you're a part of something by listening to this podcast. And just FYI, if you ever want to jump on a 15 minute phone call, if you need help in something specific, or just want to say, Hey, There is a link to my calendar that you can sign up for a call, go to self-made web designer.com.
Scroll down on that homepage. And you will find a link, a button that says, sign up for a phone call. This isn't a sales pitch. It's not me trying to get. Something from you. I just genuinely love being able to help. And why is that? You may ask because that is what people did for me and are still doing even now.
And I love being able to return the favor somehow. Well, next week we've got another awesome episode. I always wonder if the episodes are going to stop outdoing one another, but they don't. It just keeps going and going and getting better and better. And next week is no. Different. So stay up with me next Wednesday night at midnight when the next episode drops.
And don't forget if you don't quit, you .
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