Andrew Nelsen Marketing Consultant
Andrew wasn't professionally satisfied working in the insurance industry. Learn how he started moonlighting as a marketing consultant and now runs his own business.
What’s your background and what type of services do you offer to clients?
My name’s Andrew Nelsen. I’m a freelance copywriter and web designer based out of Springfield, MO. I focus on marketing that makes money. Marketing that is empirically successful. I leverage professional experience, personal empathy, and my academic background (Bachelors of Science in Economics) to help clients reach their customers.
I’m proud of what I do. I’m not selling snake oil. I’m not writing puffed up claims for clients who sell terrible products. I develop marketing strategies to eliminate competition and provide extreme value to consumers. I deliver marketing consultation, website design and copywriting, content strategy with social media marketing, and economic development.
In my spare time I love cycling, tennis, golf, weight training, volunteering, and being out on the water. I think it’s the responsibility of every professional to provide pro bono services, and I’m deeply involved with my community here in Springfield.
What motivated you to start your freelance career?
I was 16. I had worked one summer at Sonic’s Drive In. I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life skating around with burgers and frosties. I had a computer, the Internet, and hustle. I started writing for Helium, Associated Content, Constant Content, and made some pocket change. But then I took a break for college, and bought into dreams that weren’t my own.
When I went to college, I had big dreams of “making it big” as a software engineer. The median income for software engineers (according the Bureau of Labor Statistics) is impressive. Think of all the cars. Think of the mansion. Think of the philanthropy and charity. I could fix everything if I was rich. I was always talented, but I hated the work. Eventually I took a general economics class, and I fell absolutely in love. As I studied economic development, labor economics, and industrial organization, I realized that the power of money is infinitely less powerful than one shining ray of compassion during a tough week.
In college, I worked full-time. It was hard work. But it was good for me. In the hospitality industry, at the front desk of a nice hotel, I would get to talk with hundreds of successful C-suite executives and mid level managers. They were paid handsomely, but there was a theme. Missed baseball games. Missed recitals. Missed birthdays. Missed weddings. Missed family. Missed friends. They were missing out in life.
Not only were they missing out on activities… they were missing out on people. They had no autonomy. They worked with and for people they often openly disliked. And whatever good they could have done towards feeding the homeless, decreasing pollution, or whatever their original passion was… was now replaced with making money by selling luxury items or producing stuff nobody needs.
If you look at the people throughout history who are remembered today, they probably achieved great things. They were willing to sacrifice, persevere, and focus their lives to some cause or event. I find that a life without purpose is trivial and difficult to endure, but when you know you’re fighting for someone (or something) that matters, you’ll give everything — even your life — to make sure it works.
I graduated, devoted time to missions work, and then came back to my alma mater and landed a job in the insurance field (not a stretch for an economist). I didn’t find the work intrinsically satisfying. Every day, heading into work was a little less rewarding than the last. I didn’t feel like I was helping people. I was living comfortably, but I knew I had to do something bigger. I was giving the lion’s share of my waking life (50+ hours a week) to providing very little to others. And I hated it.
I remembered freelancing as a teenager, so I started in my spare time. I learned how to use Webflow to build completely customizable, responsive websites. I read voraciously and listened to podcasts to find the best practices from dozens of freelancers over the last century. I landed a small website copywriting job from a referral and jumped on Upwork as an additional source of income. I found clients I loved, who loved my work and appreciated my help.
I had a supportive team of friends who encouraged me, and I kept moonlighting to grow my client list. Eventually, I told my manager I’d like to work less. They agreed. As my freelance income grew, I attempted to quit. They sweetened the golden handcuffs to keep me longer. I nearly caved, but I knew that running my own business was the type of freedom I desired. I wanted to work with people I liked, supporting causes I believe in, with the unique talents and experiences I’ve been given in my life.
This last year has been a learning experience with hiring and subcontracting new talent. Growing an agency with professional writers and designers is challenging, but I can’t imagine a more fulfilling lifestyle full of friendship, fellowship, and community engagement.
Who’s your ideal client? How do you find and attract clients?
My ideal client makes the world a better place. We need to be able to communicate well and have a clear chain of command (as well as process for work and payment). We set clear expectations and boundaries, I help them provide real value to humanity, and I provide real value to them. Some of my clients are small to medium sized businesses. Many of them are agencies that need freelancers with specific backgrounds or credentials.
I attract clients with my winning smile and charm. Just kidding. I’m not particularly amusing. But I do reach out to clients where they are. That’s right. Don’t put up a website and profile and expect clients to magically find you and hire you.
YOU have to reach THEM.
If your deliverables are great, your referrals will eventually crush you with more work. That’s a Good Thing. Even still, always be marketing. Attract clients with an honest slice of humble pie, but don’t be afraid to show some of your best work and explain how you can provide a valuable service.
Also: write amazing proposals (see below).
What recommendations can you share about succeeding on Upwork? Would you recommend Upwork to other freelancers as a way to find high quality and high paying clients?
Yep. Your proposals, not your profile, will seal the deal. You can even create a client account and try hiring someone to really get in the mindset of a client. Here’s what they’re often thinking:
- “I need to do this, but I’m terrible at it.”
- “I need to get this done, but I don’t have the time.”
- “I want to pay someone peanuts to do this because I don’t like it.” (Avoid!!!!)
Some clients are looking for an expert. They’re willing to pay handsomely, because they know their own talents and want to hire the best for their project. You may be great at freelancing. But you’re not a doctor. You pay someone else to do your checkups. Likewise, you have to separate yourself from the millions of other freelancers by creating an outstanding proposal and a trust-garnering profile. Take a professional headshot, write an awesome headline, and create a stellar profile with a call to action.
Remember, you can only make an offer proportionate to the amount of trust you have built.
Read that sentence over and over again. You wouldn’t buy a house after seeing it once online. The more expensive a product or service is, the more information you need before making a decision. Your proposal isn’t necessarily about building the trust to close the deal right away. Sometimes it can be. It isn’t always. But if you build enough trust to start the conversation, you’ll immediately be able to build a working relationship that is mutually beneficial.
Make every proposal personal, concise, and actionable. Find out their name, relate your background to their project, and create a call to action where they continue the conversation. Don’t try and land the contract or negotiate price in the first proposal. Keep track of your proposal stats to see what’s most effective for you and your clients (Upwork does this automatically).
Here’s an example of a proposal that worked:
As you can see, I did my homework. I found the name of the decision maker, researched their company extensively, and didn’t come off as “salesy”. Instead, I invited her into a conversation to learn more about the project, where I was upfront and honest about my experience and what we could expect if we decided to move forward with the project.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while growing your business?
Besides proofreading, editing, and creating polished, inspired, result-producing copy?
It’s challenging to systematically search for new clients and build an inbound marketing machine. Just like people try (and fail) to stick a fitness routine, developing any disciplined habit takes fortitude and time. Before freelancing full-time, you’ll want to know yourself well. Measure your strengths and weaknesses.
David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising, said it best,
“Running an agency requires midnight oil, salesmanship of the highest order, a deep keel, guts, thrust, and a genius for sustaining the morale of men and women who work in a continuous state of anxiety.”
If you’re considering freelancing full-time, it’s pretty sweet. But make sure you have plenty of money saved up for rainy days. And make sure you don’t have one client that can shut off the lights if they leave. Freelancing can provide very stable, diversified income that a traditional job can never replicate. Use it to your advantage.
Recently, I entered a mid-career crisis. Many of my peers at agencies (I did used to work at a marketing firm), felt like they weren’t empowered by their leadership to provide value to their clients. They sold services, packages, and websites, but their clients never saw the bottom line move.
Here’s my reflection, my manifesto, and a core pillar of my brand:
If you are going to provide marketing services, you have a professional responsibility to your clients. I can’t stress this enough. I’m serious. Poor marketing can HURT businesses. As a marketer, business owners will trust you and depend on you because they’re out of their element. They need your help. Let no harm come to them.
Advertising and marketing are infinitely interesting, because you have the chance to practice empathy, conduct statistical research, examine the psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and maybe even make the world a better place. Marketing tools and deliverables may change, but human nature is the same. People want to be happy. Can you deliver?
“Consumers still buy products whose advertising promises them value for money, beauty, nutrition, relief from suffering, social status and so on. There have always been noisy lunatics on the fringes of the advertising business. Their stock-in-trade includes ethnic humor, eccentric art direction, contempt for research, and their self-proclaimed genius. They are seldom found out, because they gravitate to the kind of clients who, bamboozled by their rhetoric, do not hold them responsible for sales results.” - David Ogilvy
What advice would you offer other freelancers that are just starting out? Any online resources/services/apps/tools, books, or courses you would recommend?
Yep. Stop reading all of this advice and start freelancing. Find the service or product that you can provide that others are willing and able to pay for. Start small, be upfront and honest about your experience, and don’t be surprised if a friend of a friend is willing to take a chance on hiring you. I highly suggest freelance writing or web design to start freelancing without an initial investment. Most people can learn the technical skills to succeed, and each person’s unique voice and artistic eye will separate them from the competition.
Always provide value to clients. Seriously. If you aren’t, then start. If you’re a client reading this, and your marketing department can’t clearly correlate your expenses to additional income, fire them. If they’re unwilling to put themselves against any standard or test for success, fire them. If you have a client that can be better served by someone else, give up the account.
There are always more accounts. But you only have one reputation.
Learn from freelancers and entrepreneurs who have come before you. Avoid their mistakes and practice their wisdom. Always turn in your best work, and make sure you go above and beyond for every client, every time. Communicate well. Chase better results for your clients relentlessly.
And reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. You can also find me on Quora (see below).
Other Must-Read Resources:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
- The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey
- Starting Strength - by Mark Rippetoe
- Make a Living Writing Blog by Carol Tice
- High Income Business Writing Blog/Podcast by Ed Gandia
- Freelance to Win by Danny Marguilles
Where can we go to find out more about you and your business?
If you want to hire me, learn from me, or keep up with me professionally, I suggest visiting my website and LinkedIn profiles. If you’re interested in learning more about freelancing, you can also follow me on Quora! If you just think I’m a swell guy, you can follow me on Instagram to keep up with my life and see how I live! I try to gain the maximum amount of freedom from freelancing, so Instagram is the place to see how I spend most of my time (hint: it’s not working).
- Website: http://www.andrewnelsen.com
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-nelsen-2057a953/
- Quora: https://www.quora.com/profile/Andrew-Nelsen-2
- Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/andrewknelsen
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yep. If you’re looking to freelancing because you hate your job, it might be a way out. It might be.
What’s going to determine your long-term success as a freelancer is your passion for meeting new people, helping them with your talents, and running your business like an obsessive accountant. There’s no shortage of so-called experts on freelancing, most of whom promise you a six figure salary. It’s enticing, but unrealistic.
The median wage for writers and authors in the United States was $61,240 in 2016. You’re starting out. If you buy a course or membership, make sure you’re paying for real, actionable value. Not just paying for dreams. Everything you need to learn about freelance writing (especially) is already out there, for free. Check your library. Read online. Listen to awesome podcasts.
If you’re trying to escape a rut in your career, the time constraints of your job that you hate, or people at your job that you don’t like to be around… consider getting a different job. Freelancing isn’t the magic cure-all career for everyone. Most people benefit from structure and authority and lack the self-discipline to succeed.
If you’ve been lukewarm and on the fence for years without starting, it’s unlikely that you have the initiative or ambition to succeed as a freelancer. If you’re unhappy and searching for a way out, talk with friends and family about it. Maybe you don’t need to be a freelancer. Maybe you just need a job in a career field where you’re helping others. Maybe you just need a different work environment. Maybe you need the same type of job with a different boss.
And finally, remember that your career doesn’t define who you are. People switch their careers. Financial freedom and success are great ideas to strive for, but if your employment status and job title are the foundation of your self-worth, you might be in for a catastrophe down the road. I choose to freelance because I want to spend the maximum amount of time possible helping, teaching, reducing suffering, and experiencing the wonders and joys of life.