Growing a freelance business is not easy. Let’s just get that out there from the start. It is for hardworking, driven and determined individuals who aren’t willing to settle for an underwhelming job. For the people who want to control their own schedule, set their own rules, and choose who they work for and with.
I started picking up freelance gigs in 2011 when I found that my first job out of college was just not going to cut it financially. I was making just $30,000 a year and there was little to no room for growth. If I ever got a raise, it was so insignificant that I hardly noticed a difference in my paychecks. So small that it felt like a joke when my boss acted like she was doing me a favor. It seemed imperative that I find another way to earn money.
I started offering writing and editing services on outsourcing websites and was eventually able to land and retain enough clients that I quit my 9 to 5 to focus full-time on my freelance business. I decided to make this move because Sam, who was just my boyfriend at the time, had a job opportunity that would take him abroad.
This was my chance to quit a job that I didn’t love and focus all my attention on work that I actually liked – and work that paid me more.
When I first started freelancing part-time, I never imagined that I would ever have an option like this.
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If you’ve ever worked for yourself, you know that self-employment can be an uphill battle. Fulfilling and exciting, but difficult, right? Clients come and go, work varies, income can fluctuate, and you will question your decision to work for yourself countless times. But even when I face the most challenging of times, I find myself ignoring that nagging feeling of “Oh my God, what have I done?!” and reminding myself just how much I don’t EVER want to go back to working for someone else.
To grow a freelance business is to live and breathe your freelance business.
This is regardless of whether you are working it full-time or part-time. This does not mean that every waking hour needs to be put toward it; it simply means that the time you do have to dedicate toward it should be maximized.
Here are some strategies I used to grow my part-time work into a freelance business when I was still working a full-time job. I still implement all of these today as a full-time freelancer. Ready to turn your side gig into the real deal?
Choose Your Clients Wisely
It’s OK to be picky when it comes to choosing your clients. In fact, I would recommend picking through them with a fine-tooth comb.
Let me be the first to tell you that not every client is a good client. In fact, you’ll probably land more crappy ones than awesome ones – at least in the beginning. There are many characteristics that make a client good, and even more that make a client not-so-good.
|Qualities to Look For In A Client||Qualities to Avoid In A Client|
|Excellent Communication (responds to questions, deliverables and other forms of communication within 24 hours)||Poor communication (needs to be chased, doesn’t respond to emails in a timely manner/48 hours +)|
|Clear About Expectations (transparent about goals, budget, deadlines and scope of work)||Expectations Exceed Agreed Terms (ie., expects you to be available 24/7, asks for more than they’re willing to pay for)|
|Pays Within Agreed Time Period (your payment terms should be clear BEFORE you begin working)||Late or Missing Payments|
|Understanding of Freelancer Hours Based on Work (ie., if additional requests are made, they accept that it may not be immediate due to your existing schedule, and will require more billable hours)||Difficult/Not Understanding of Freelancer Schedule and Cost of Additional Work (ie, expects you to drop everything to accommodate their needs regardless of your commitments, wants new requests factored into existing budget)|
The beauty of having a freelance business is that you get to choose who you want to work for (and perhaps, more importantly, who NOT to work for).
If you find that you get matched with a client that you just don’t vibe with, it’s OK to cut ties after you meet the terms of your contract or agreement. Over time, you will get an idea of what you are and are not willing to deal with, and the more work you are able to secure, the stricter you will be able to be.
Build your business around clients that you enjoy working for, doing work that you thoroughly love doing. Don’t settle for anything less. It is your business, after all.
Learn to Work Quickly and Efficiently
…but don’t let your quality of work suffer.
It goes without saying that the more you work, the more you will earn.
As freelancers, if the work doesn’t get done, we don’t get paid. In most cases, we aren’t salaried. Unlike our 9 to 5 cohorts, it is in our best interest to be as fast and efficient as possible so that we can maximize our time and ultimately earn more.
This is particularly important on fixed price items, because the faster you get a task done, the larger your bottom line will be (the sum divided by the number of hours it took to complete it).
So, if your fixed price task will pay you $300, and it takes you 11 hours to complete because you weren’t efficient, your rate breaks down to just about $27/hour. But, if you work well and manage to get it done in 8.5 hours, you end up earning about $35/hour. Which would you prefer?
Working efficiently can be applied to all aspects of your business and even life. The more productive you are in any given period of time, the more time you will have to dedicate to other tasks.
Create Your Brand
If you’re ready to go full-fledged business, you need to create a brand. No longer should you only market your services with your name and resume; it’s time to stop relying on clients only finding you through your Upwork or other outsourcing profile. No, it’s time to develop a brand to take your business to the next level.
You may be wondering what you’ll need to create your brand. Some essentials include: a company name (if you don’t plan to go by your first and last name), a domain and email address, a website, a comprehensive list of your services and pricing, a logo, and testimonials from previous clients. This is for a variety of reasons:
- Easier for clients to refer you to other potential clients
- Brand recognition
- You’ll seem more legitimate and trustworthy
- You’ll stand apart from your competition
If you are new to creating a website or blog, you can start with this simple step-by-step guide for set up (the steps for setting up a “blog” and a “website” are the same). You can have a logo designed on Fiverr, which is one of my favorite websites for finding graphic designers. If you need website design, marketing or branding services, feel free to drop us a line and we would be happy to talk!
Keep Meticulous Track of Your Time
As freelancers, our time is money. What better way to grow a freelance business than to master the art of time management?
Time management is impossible if you don’t know where you’re spending those precious moments. Time is limited, and to be successful in whatever you do, you must spend it wisely.
Tracking your time is one of the best (if not THE best) ways to be as productive with your work as possible. Time tracking allows you to log what you are working on and when, which is an excellent way to stay organized and plan your freelancing schedule. Arming yourself with the knowledge of where your time is going will enable you to allocate your minutes and hours appropriately. This is especially important for people that work in a variety of capacities. If you are reading this, chances are you do.
We have created an advanced excel time tracking tool for this very purpose. Together, we are bloggers, freelancers/contractors and small business owners. This means that our attention is pulled in what feels like one hundred directions a day! It can be incredibly easy to lose track of time when you have multiple clients, a side hustle, and/or your own business. I get extremely confused and my productivity suffers when I am trying to figure out what to work on and when. I am willing to bet that you can relate.
This tool is perfect for bloggers, freelancers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, stay-at-home parents, or simply anyone who needs help managing their time.
Find Recurring, Long-Term Work
Freelancing is unpredictable. There will be months when your schedule is filled with assignments and months when you are scrambling to fill in the rapidly widening gaps. It can be frustrating and scary to find yourself in a position where you simply don’t have enough clients to pass your time and pay the bills.
The best way to avoid that situation is to land long-term, recurring work that you can count on each month or billing period. These types of projects/clients are ideal for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, for stability.
Find recurring work and then build the rest of your project and client-base around that. It will ease the burden of having to search for new work each month!
How can you get long-term work?
Go above and beyond. I love clients that are open to new ideas and flexible; that can take constructive criticism and really trust the process and YOU as the freelancer. This is because often, clients don’t really know what they want or need. Regardless of the type of service you offer, always exceed your clients’ expectations so they want more. Prove to them that they need you in order to succeed in their business. Once you have impressed them, show them what other services you may offer and see how they may fit into a much larger scope of work!
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
For the same reason that you should find recurring, long-term work, you should never put all your eggs in one basket as a freelancer.
While I obviously encourage you to land long-term clients, it is important that you don’t bank on that client carrying the weight of your salary. Diversification is crazy important in any freelance business because there is literally NO predicting when a contract is going to end – even if they are totally happy with your work. You may think you are safe and secure, only to be slapped in the face out of nowhere with a big “sorry, but our business no longer requires your services.”
I had a client that I worked with for over three years. For much of that time, I was working on a monthly stipend basis which made up a good percentage of my annual salary, about $45,000/year. I worked on-call; some months I would only work 40 hours for them, others I would work 80-100+. But I always earned the same amount. I didn’t love the work I did for them, but it was a pretty sweet deal.
Then, one day, the team asked if I would be willing to switch to hourly. I was OK with this because their unpredictable expectations were getting a little difficult to navigate and I needed to free up some of my on-call time for new work. Literally the DAY after we agreed to switch to hourly, they cut my services cold turkey with no explanation. I waited it out since they had done something similar in the past – their project requirements changed as frequently as I changed my underwear. After about 4-5 weeks of no work, I followed up and my point of contact confirmed that there was no work to be had going forward.
Ummm, come again?
Did you not just change the method at which you would be paying me? What was the point of that?
Moral of the story: I should have secured more stable work than just this one client because it left me in a really challenging position financially for quite a bit of time. I had some other work here and there, but not nearly enough to make up for the incredibly sudden $45,000 loss.
Don’t count on your clients to look out for you because at the end of the day, what works for them matters most to them – not what works for you.
Earn Your Worth, But Charge Accordingly
Do NOT be afraid to aim high when you are setting your freelancing rates. But be prepared to take lower paying jobs when you’re first starting in order to lay out the ground work. As you grow your work portfolio and gain valuable work history and client feedback, scale your rates accordingly.
It is easy to get discouraged when you find that there are thousands of freelancers out there willing to do your job for a mere fraction of the price. You WILL meet clients that are unwilling to pay your rate. And you WILL lose jobs to people that probably have way less experience and skills than you but are willing to do the work for an obscenely low amount of money. That’s OK. It comes with the territory.
But when it’s time to adjust your rates to fully reflect your skills and experience… you’ve got to keep one important thing in mind…
What is your time worth? That’s one of the biggest questions you must ask yourself as a freelancer, especially as your business develops and you take on more, high-value clients. What is the absolute minimum you are willing to be paid for your time? What is your highest (fair) price, based on your education, experience and skills? Do you charge the same price across the board or does your rate change for different services?
When I first started freelancing, I charged a mere $10/hour just to get the jobs and build my portfolio on Upwork. As I received high ratings and feedback from my clients, I increased my rate along with it. Now, I wouldn’t dream of low-balling myself to that extent. I know my value and I seek clients that understand what they are getting for their money.
The bottom line?
Growing a thriving freelance business takes a lot of effort and time. There isn’t a secret recipe to be successful, but there are certainly critical steps that will help take you from a person who dabbles in freelancing, to a person who operates an in-demand business.
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