“How do you stay in business?”
“I thought this freelancing thing was just temporary.”
“Wow, you’re doing really well!”
Welcome to the life of a freelancer: where, like Ron often tells Hermione in Harry Potter, “always the tone of surprise” greets you, when you slightly exceed expectations. Hey, we don’t just keep jars of pennies y’all! (And Harry doesn’t get by on his own.)
I’ve been freelancing for almost four years now, but 2017 was my first go at it full time, and guess what? It rocked. But I know it’s not that way for everyone, and I was lucky enough to have amazing mentors, freelancer friends and took a lot of time to research how to make my business model sustainable.
Here are some easy lessons I’ve learned over the last year that can help you increase your income, and establish yourself to make sure you have a steady flow of work.
1. Consider new pricing models — like retainers.
My least favourite pricing method ever is by the hour, and many freelancers will agree to an hourly rate for several months in their contract without considering an alternative model. I work quickly but don’t compromise on quality, but that means if someone less qualified doesn’t do the same and doesn’t produce the same result… They get paid more? 🤔 Unless you’re charging a high hourly rate with a client you’re working with consistently, this can be so frustrating.
When you have the power to decide what the value of your work on a monthly basis is, the benefits to you and your client are unparalleled.
You: Will know exactly how much you’ll be making (and that peace of mind is sometimes worth everything).
Your client: Won’t be hit with sticker shock when they receive an invoice at the end of the month. Plus, a retainer means they receive unlimited support from you (within reason)!
What’s not to love?
Keep in mind: this model tends to work better when you deliver the same services consistently every month, such as writing blogs, managing social media channels and email campaigns. Best of all, if you get a retainer signed for a fixed amount of time (and not just month-to-month), that helps you predict your cash flow and plan for future projects.
Speaking of projects…
If a retainer doesn’t seem like the best fit for what you do, try charging by project (versus by the hour) instead. Again, you have the ability to decide what the project is worth, and how you would prefer to be paid for it.
- 50% up front, and 50% upon completion in your contract
- 100% up front, if your client is on board
- Equal payments per month, spread throughout the duration of the project
Charging hourly instead means you will have to: a) spend time tracking your hours! and b) tie yourself to an hourly rate that might not reflect the scope of your services. Project needs tend to change along the way, and setting a fixed amount for a fixed scope then gives you the opportunity to add another layer of protection — I recommend adding a high hourly rate for any work completed beyond your project scope to protect yourself from scope creep.
2. Make yourself memorable to clients, even after your project wraps up.
“How do you find clients?” It surprises many to know that 95% of my business is generated through referrals, and I believe that establishing trust, authentic connection and paying attention to the little things will keep people coming back. For example, I like to check in with clients who couldn’t afford me before six months after we chatted, or send personal, handwritten thank you notes and a gift to every single person I’ve worked with on a project once it’s complete — even if someone edited a web page for me just once. It shows an extra level of thought and really humanizes your relationship, so it’s not just transactional.
Becoming your client’s partner is also a great way to bring more value to the table. I may be providing copywriting services, but I’m also a graphic designer with a strong background in marketing — by offering additional advice in these areas to take a client’s business to the next level, they begin to view you as a real partner of value who can offer so much more than just one skill. Over the last month, I’ve helped copywriting clients realize they can start a podcast, launch a course and expand their storytelling — simply through taking the time to understand their business and not being afraid to point out a missed opportunity, even if it has nothing to do with the work we’re doing together.
Bring your whole heart to the table. It will truly strengthen your relationship during your time working together, and make you a contractor to remember.
It’s unfortunate that clients tend to find those personal touches surprising, because people just don’t do it enough! Care and appreciation, y’all. Do it more.
In your business and personal life as well, do your best to lift others up and let them know you value them: it can be by remembering an important date, sending a birthday card by snail mail or sending an old client an article they might find useful.
By being thoughtful and maintaining relationships, you’ll grow your client and collaborative community — and always be at the top of mind when your uncle’s friend or your client’s cousin starts looking for someone in your field!
3. Stalk Facebook groups and contribute your expertise.
If you didn’t know this already — the amount of business people generate from Facebook groups is amazing! While I’ve managed multiple Facebook business pages in the past, my personal use of the platform was admittedly declining — until I joined Facebook groups dedicated to freelancing, writing and opportunities in my industry.
Over the last year, I managed to find and work with countless new and amazing clients that were absolutely lovely and would have never discovered otherwise. Even better, constantly putting myself forward when people asked for contractors or advice might not have always led to an opportunity with the person posting, but it definitely generated a ton of referrals to new clients if they liked what I was offering. And by offering advice here and there, it starts establishing you as a credible person in your field, and you’ll want to be the go-to person for the industry you’re representing.
What they say about 85% of jobs never being public is true: for many, posting those opportunities within trusted circles first and looking for recommendations — within spaces like Facebook groups — will always happen first.
And there’s where maintaining relationships is important. If you’re in a Facebook group where you’ve worked with other members before (and stayed in touch), you can be sure they’ll be the ones tagging you when relevant opportunities come up!
So, scroll through Facebook groups relevant to your industry obsessively, lurk in the history of posts from the last month, and follow up! If Facebook isn’t your thing, check out LinkedIn’s 30 Days of Social or learn more about marketing and establish yourself on Instagram here. As a freelancer, at least 20% of your week should be spent sourcing new business, responding to proposal requests, and putting yourself out there — even if that means commenting on a post. The amount of time it takes to pursue and generate a real lead takes a long time from that first comment, so even if you’re busy for the next three months, putting yourself out there now could land you the perfect opportunity in a few months when work might be drying up.
There you have it: three little things you can do that can have a huge impact on how you progress through the world sans employer. Take ownership of your time, don’t leave client relationships in the dust, and always try show up trying to help others learn something — whether it’s in person, or online.
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