A freelancer’s guide to making a difference and making a living

What if I could spend my days ‘doing good’? What if ‘doing good’ could actually be good for my creativity and freelance business?

I used to think that ‘doing good’ was something I should do on the side – with my spare time and spare money. But although my newsfeed got grimmer and the big social challenges in front of me got bigger, my spare time and spare money never seemed to expand. 

One day I sat down to try and quantify the positive impact of my ‘good doing’ (ie. donating to charity, recycling, reusing etc) versus the negative impact of the rest of my life (ie. working in advertising, commuting, flying, consuming etc) and was dismayed to realise that I was kidding myself to think that my net contribution was positive. 

It got me wondering if there was a more effective way to make a difference. 

What if I could spend my days ‘doing good’? What if ‘doing good’ could actually be good for my creativity and freelance business?

These are big questions, which I still ask myself every day. 

But before we get all altruistic, let’s get real…

Being a freelancer can be crazy tough.

We wear all the hats, and shoulder all the responsibility. And when we’re not busting our arse to get client projects out the door, we’re stressing about where our next client is going to come from. Surviving sometimes means we forget to dream about ‘making a profit,’ let alone ‘making an impact.’

Which is why I wanted to share my story of how a small shift towards ‘using my skills for good’, helped me evolve from being a struggling freelancer to Founder & Creative Director of The Good Alliance – a profitable ‘for purpose’ business – in the space of a couple of years.

But while we’re being real, let’s talk about why this is important…

Being a human can be tough as well.

No matter how much time or energy we pump into our careers, we’re not immune to all the chaos and conflict going on around us. We live in an anxiety-filled world!

Whether your anxiety centres around paying the bills, raising your kids or wondering how we’re going to solve global conflict, climate change or end systemic racism….

… the important thing to remember is that you’re human. And humans care.

We care about our families. We care about our communities. We care about the world. And when those things aren’t doing well, it’s hard to do well ourselves.

Rather than fight those feelings or let them distract us from the important work we need to do in our businesses, let’s talk about how we can use those feelings to do work that is more meaningful, profitable and enjoyable.

So how can we make a difference and make a living through our work?

What I’m suggesting is not rocket science. It just requires a moment to stop and reflect upon the ripples of our everyday actions.

Starting with….

1. You

Our founding principle at The Good Alliance is that….

“We do the most good when we focus on what we’re good at.”

Which becomes exceedingly obvious when you try and make an impact through something you’re not so good at.

(Ever tried knitting tea-cosies or running across a country to raise money for charity?)

But there are other reasons to start here too!

For instance, do you ever notice how much more enjoyable it is to do work that you’re good at? How you tend to get paid more for that work? And shut down at the end of the day feeling good about yourself?

These things don’t just affect you. When you spend more time focused on what you’re good at, it’s likely you’ll spend more time showing up as a better partner, parent, friend, family member too.

So give yourself and those you care about, the gift of taking some time today to think about the positive impact your business can make for you.

  • What are you good at and what do you enjoy?
  • How much time would you like to spend each week in this sweet spot?
  • How much money do you need to make?
  • How much time do you need to take off?
  • What should your business allow you to do?

2. Your Team

If you’ve got people who work with you or for you, rest assured that you’ve made a positive impact in the world, just by keeping them employed.

Whether you are toying with the idea of hiring a Virtual Assistant or have a team who work at your premises each day – your business is already making an impact in their life, so why not make sure it’s a positive one.

This isn’t just about making sure that they receive fair compensation. Though this is obviously important!

It’s about getting to know them and finding out:

  • What they are good at and enjoy spending their time doing?
  • How much money do they need to make in order to stay focused?
  • How much time do they need off, in order to be their best?
  • What their job could allow them to do outside of work?
  • To be clear, this isn’t about turning your business into a charity to support your team. It’s about building a place where people want to show up and give their all.

3. Your Clients

Have you ever noticed that good people typically suck at selling themselves?

It’s sad, but for people like us – working in web, creative services, digital marketing etc – it’s an amazing opportunity.

Sure, we can use our skills to sell anything. But what if we could actually….

Do what we’re good at, for people who are doing good.

That’s when we can really start to scale our impact.

So take a moment to think about your clients…

  • What impact (small or large) are they already making in the world?
  • How can your work help them scale that impact?
  • Could you make a bigger impact either by serving a slightly different type of client or by offering a slightly different type of service?
  • This doesn’t mean you need to ditch all your clients and work exclusively for non-profits. But what if you added an extra item on your client criteria checklist, that simply measures what sort of impact they are making in the world.

There are two projects that really defined the year 2016 for me.

One where I was consulting for a multinational cable TV company and I grew exceedingly depressed that my work wasn’t just ‘not making a difference’, that I was actively contributing to the world being a worse place.

Another where I helped solopreneur, Emily Jacob, launch a coaching business to support survivors of rape and sexual abuse. Within a month Emily had established herself as a regular commentator on British TV, newspapers and magazines.

In her own words… “Having a strong and clear brand behind me has given me the confidence to share my story and voice with the world.” You can guess which type of work I decided to do more of.

4. Your Community

Being in business requires vision, drive and self-discipline.

These characteristics are also associated with leadership.

So it’s no surprise that when things go wrong in our communities – whether it’s due to bushfires, earthquakes, typhoons, terrorism or global pandemic – it’s business owners that stand up and help out.

But we don’t have to wait until things implode to serve our community. It can start with:

  • Offering internships or teaching at a local college
  • Sponsoring a local sports team
  • Doing pro-bono work for a local charity
  • Supporting or promoting local business
  • Or even pursuing your own ‘for purpose’ creative projects!

5. The World

We live in a hyper-connected world. Which actually provides us with the opportunity to make an impact in places far removed from our own backyard.

You could take it to the extreme and actually shut down shop to go and volunteer for a couple of weeks each year in a developing country.

Or you could make a difference from the comfort of your ergonomic desk chair, and simply channel a small percentage of your profits to charities on-the-ground who are better placed to make an impact.

Organisations like B1G1 or 1% for the planet provide simple ways to build giving into your business, from the start.

Whether you’re able to donate $1 for every Google review you receive or donate $50 for every website project you sell, it’s less about how much you give and more about the fact you’re giving at all.

But it’s not just about the feelgood factor…

Doing good is good for business too.

When you align yourself with a trusted charity partner (or a cause your clients care about) you set yourself apart from your competition.

Contribution builds trust. Trust builds relationships. And ultimately makes it easier for you to turn followers into clients, and clients into champions.

It’s a win-win.

Final Thoughts

It’s all well and good to read an article like this and think:

“I’ll worry about impact when I have more time or money.”

But the truth is…

How we do anything, is how we do everything.

If we don’t make impact a priority now, it’s unlikely that we’ll make it a priority later.

Which is why contribution must become a habit.

It needs to become part of our routine, like getting up every morning, working our butts off and helping our clients – otherwise, it’ll never happen.

So how will you make a difference through your work?

Cat Townsend

I spent the first half of my career helping big brands sell more stuff, to people that didn’t need it. And the second attempting to do work that made a positive difference in the world. Now I’m here to share everything I’ve learnt (and am learning) in the hopes that others might do it more profitably, more easily and more impactfully!


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