One of the main advantages to being a freelancer is the ability to set your own schedule. For example, if you are a night owl, you might prefer to work into the wee hours of the morning and sleep later than mainstream corporate culture permits. Or you might work on a given project intermittently over the course of a day, depending on your other hats and responsibilities, both personal and professional.
Similarly, you might work intensively on a project for several months, and then you can take time off – finances permitting – to travel, take care of your family, whatever the case may be. Freelancers often work remotely – we are providers of what amounts to outsourced work, after all. Companies do not necessarily have a seat for them in the office. For those who are literally homebound – for physical ailment, let’s say – this option for work can mean salvation.
Those who live geographically too far from the clients and prospects who need us also benefit from being able to work on projects from home or whatever other location we may favor. And sometimes, working parents and those who care for other relatives are pleased to rely on the ability to work from home.
The potential of drawing on the work-from-home flexibility has been enhanced in manifold ways by the development of useful digital tools, which now allow for easy and inexpensive hiring, billing, virtual meetings and online transfer of documents. But the truth is, even back in the days of phone calls, snail mail and overnight couriers, many people opted to work for themselves as what amounts fundamentally to a lifestyle choice.
All kinds of people put their talents up for hire in the open marketplace, working on distinct projects for clients who need specific talents.
Let’s look at graphic designers, for example. While some firms need graphic designers on their staff because they produce materials that require design expertise on an ongoing basis, other businesses need things designed on an ad hoc basis – to work on a new business card, a brochure, a logo and whatever other projects come up now and again but hardly with the regularity to justify hiring someone in-house. A freelance graphic designer will be able to fill that company’s needs easily.
Other professional services that are often the purview of freelancers are content writing and editing, photography, digital marketing, computer programming and website design. Those who have these types of skills often work as consultants and are thereby hired at a higher hourly wage that we might earn in a day job.
Moreover, in an economy that is functioning “on-demand,” where a project that you may not have known about yesterday may be due in the immediate future, freelancers can cut through much of the red tape that a new employee might require.
Ed Gandia’s 2012 Freelance Industry Report may be a few years old, but it’s one of the most comprehensive research studies on independent working to have ever been commissioned.
The specific dollar values below may shift with the times, and new professions arise as technology advances (there was no such thing as an app developer, for example, more recently than many even realize), these figures provide a reasonable perspective of opportunities-at-a-glance.
- Over half of all freelance designers earn $40 to $79 per hour
- Over half of all freelance writers earn $40 to $79 per hour
- Over half of all freelance editors earn $20 to $49 per hour
- Over half of all freelance copywriters earn $50 to $79 per hour
- Over half of all freelance translators earn $20 to $39 per hour
- Over half of all freelance web developers earn $30 to $59 per
- Over half of all freelance marketers earn $60 to $89 per hour
- Over half of all freelance business consultants earn $50 to $150 per hour
- Over half of all freelance illustrators earn $20 to $59 per
- Over half of all freelance virtual assistants earn $20 to $49 per
Of course, some of these professions (though not all) require specialized training, and those with more experience and more educational credits under their belt can bill at rates commensurate to their credentials.
Freelancing offers some significant advantages over salary-based work. Greater earning potential? More flexibility to do what you want when you want? With perks like those, who wouldn’t opt for the indie life?
If you’re already reading this, then you’ve probably given serious thought to the possibility of making your living working for yourself, and if you haven’t, perhaps the following considerations will inspire you to jump on the bandwagon.
However, despite what you might have gleaned from all the inspirational posts floating around the blogosphere, the freelance life isn’t all sunshine and lollypops. There’s a lot of grinding it out, and the income involved is a lot more erratic than many of us can deal with.
Still on the fence? Let’s dive right in, then, to an overview of the disadvantages of freelancing, so you can get familiar with the risks involved. Then we’ll return to the advantages, so you can remember why you liked the idea to begin with.
The biggest downsides involved with going freelance are about the need to have regular work in order to have regular wages. Working for yourself means that everything people love about their day jobs – steady income, limited bookkeeping needs, no overhead expenditures – falls on solely your shoulders.
- Limited Job Security Instead of counting on a regular, steady, reliable paycheck, when you freelance, you are dependent on clients choosing you over all other possibilities. When you don’t have a dependable flow of clients and projects, you simply don’t earn what you need to live.Being aware of this challenge – and it’s a real one – may motivate you to line up some regulars, whose work may not be thrilling, but who cover your “bread and butter” expenses and free you up to take on additional, more exciting clients.
- Lack of Ownership Being a freelancer means leveraging skills and talents that you have developed over the years to provide valuable services to your clients. But contributing to the projects of others means that you don’t have any ownership stake in the finished product. Sometimes you may have the rights to reuse what you’ve produced, but that rarely translates into profits. For example, if you are a ghostwriter for a book on marketing that becomes a best-seller, you are unlikely to receive any royalties, while your client makes money from your words.If, like nearly all freelancers, you aren’t investing in anything designed to provide increasingly passive income over time, you are fundamentally earning “hand-to-mouth,” even when you have a surplus. That’s why many indie workers are staring to include ongoing revenue sharing as a stipulation in work order contracts. You may also want to develop your own work in your own name on the side. And lastly, you may eventually opt to incorporate and make yourself an “entrepreneur” in place of working as a consultant.
- The Need for Self-Motivation Those who work in companies with managerial hierarchies often rely on that structure to stay motivated and productive. Can you make things happen even when there’s no boss leaning over your shoulder and no buzzing energy of a wider team sharing in progress? Some are up for it, and some aren’t.When you freelance, self-discipline becomes an essential commodity, and there’s little leeway for taking steps back to sulk if, for example, you get a bad review from a client or are frustrated about not being paid on time. Pay attention to your own internal motivation, and either push yourself when your energy lags, or work out your schedule to cut yourself some slack during the less productive hours of the day.
- Risk of Not Getting Paid Because freelancers are usually hired for specific projects, we’re always at risk of falling between the cracks when it comes to getting paid. In contrast to a weekly or monthly payroll, freelancers are paid as independent contractors, which can mean a deprioritized one-time expense from the perspective of a client’s finance department – even when you are hired for months on end.
It is incumbent on you to provide an invoice and whatever other billing procedures are in place, and not every business responds to invoices in a timely way. Some clients may pay late, while others may pay never. To overcome this challenge, many freelancers set firm terms about payment, but there’s always that lingering risk. Getting paid is something that you must take responsibility for – nearly always – if you want to see your money.
- Inconsistent Work As a freelancer, sometimes you will be utterly swamped. Clients will be flooding your inbox with requests for your services in the same month that you are already commissioned to work on a gargantuan ongoing project, and so on. It’s hard work, it’s hectic, and yes, it’s wonderful, but you never know when it’s going to dry up.
The next month (or three down the road) may have far less happening than you expect and need. Not knowing what your billings will bring in can be daunting, but if you can set up enough regular clients to provide a predictable baseline, then anything else that comes in is simply welcome gravy. If “regulars” aren’t in the offing, then build up a buffer for yourself to absorb the lean months by saving your surplus during times of plenty.
- No Social Benefits When you are a salaried employee, you are by law entitled to certain benefits. These include pension, health care, overtime compensation and paid leave. As a freelancer, you are on your own, but don’t let your health insurance lapse just because it’s now on your shoulders.Look into the possibility of group health insurance, and make sure to regularly put at least a little bit of money away into retirement investments, even if you won’t be seeing any matched deposits from an employer.
- Operational Considerations If you are a regular employee with a salary, the odds are high that your employer takes care of all aspects of your work life that are only indirectly related to the work itself – we’re talking about bookkeeping, equipment, taxes, utilities, an office and even solutions for marketing and sales that keep the project pipeline flowing. If you are a freelancer, however, you take on all of those responsibilities yourself.You need to keep track of your own books for tax purposes. You are responsible for paying your own bills. You get to pick the design of your choice for your business cards, but you are faced with the decision if having them printed is worth the investment. You may choose to get help for much of this operational workload, or you may opt to rely on software that is designed to enable freelance business management. Make sure you’re on top of your finances and other business incidentals from the very beginning.
The biggest upsides to freelancing are grounded in lifestyle perks like independence and flexibility. Here’s a brief run-down of what people love most about working for themselves.
- You Are the BossYou choose what you do, when you do it, how you do it, and where you do it. We’re referring to your schedule, of course, but also which projects you decide to take on. You can choose variety, if that’s the spice of your life, or streamline your work with projects that are similar to each other for a smooth-moving pipeline.
- Work-Life BalanceBy determining your own schedule, you can often accommodate all kinds of non-work aspects to your life that are less accessible to those bound to cubicles, whether that means hobbies, family or personal wellness. According to one survey, about 46% of full-time freelancers work fewer than 30 hours per week, and if we widen the sample to include part-timers, we get to about two-thirds.
- Potential for Higher IncomeAlthough freelancing may not be a sure thing, it has the potential to take off in a way that the old grind at the office cannot. According to one study, some 77% of freelancers are earning the same or more than they did back in their traditional employment days, and 43% report that their income is on the rise.
- Potential for Tax DeductionsTravel, meals, utilities, gadgets, health insurance premiums and internet expenses that are essential to your business may be tax deductible, as may the rent you pay for an office, should you have one. In fact, when you’re self-employed, there’s a whole slew of things you can include in your books to offset revenues. Just make sure to pay the IRS regularly, since your clients are not going to deduct any income tax from your invoices.
It Isn’t for Everybody
Deciding to become a freelancer is tricky. It has real financial implications, and also personal ones that may make or break the prospect of being your own boss. Consider the many advantages and disadvantages as you move forward, making sure to listen to what your gut says is the right fit for your lifestyle considerations and productivity style.
As a freelancer, you are your own commodity. Your product is you – warts and all. Whereas for large companies, the specifics of their products can be distinct from their branding, for solopreneurs, it’s all wrapped up into one.
The experience of your product, your company, your positioning, your value proposition and your voice – that’s your brand, and it’s critical to cultivate and craft it. It’s about the way you present yourself in person and with marketing assets, the service you provide, the distinct flair you bring to it, the way you interact with clients and everything else that gives people an emotional association with your business.
In fact, taking control of your brand and its reputation might even be more critical to the future of your business than it is to multinational corporations that are already known around the world. Those guys are “too big to fail,” whereas if you don’t manage to make an impression, your prospects will quickly move on.
Your brand is established with all of the formal elements of presentation that identify you, like your logo, any names or taglines associated with your business and the visual appearance of your website.
But branding encompasses much more than this, extending into the less concrete aspects of how you present yourself. For example, who is your target audience? What do you do, in the broad scheme of things, and, more specifically, what is your specialty? What kind of vibe do you convey professionally, and how do you differ from everyone else? What do you believe in and stand for?
The combination of the bigger picture issues together with the design and décor of everything you handle professionally yields your brand.
Consider that behind all of the parts of your business that the public can see, you want to have a carefully devised brand strategy. You want to be sure that this strategy encompasses your business goals, your value proposition, and the like. As you formulate that strategy, keep the following principles for your brand in mind.
You may, in fact, be an excellent generalist. It may be that you can turn your talent at graphic design (or content writing, or coding, or any other expertise that you may be bringing to the freelancing table) to any request that comes your way. Just remember – your challenge is making sure that those requests come your way.
One of the best ways to ensure that demand stays strong and steady is to establish your expertise beyond the general field of (again, for example) graphic design and instead present yourself as a non-profit brochure designer, or a restaurant logo designer. Of course you don’t want to get so specific that you repel otherwise relevant prospects, but think of the power of specific expertise. If you were opening a restaurant and needed a logo, would you be more likely to give your project to a general designer, or to a designer who is a master of restaurant logos? The latter, right?
Keep in mind that establishing a specific area of expertise means that you don’t only seek out a particular kind or niche of work, but that you also turn down work that does not fall into the category you are establishing as your own. It can be very hard to turn down work, especially while you are getting your feet wet in the field. But in the long run, narrowing your offerings is likely to serve you well, as you gain a reputation for being the go-to person in town for your chosen proficiency.
When you present yourself professionally – via your website, your online persona, your logo and so on – make sure to represent yourself as you indeed want to be perceived. If you do otherwise, you risk not attracting the clientele that you want, for the tasks that you want to be doing. Essentially, you risk using what should be your most powerful magnet for relevant gigs as a repellant.
So again, make sure that every which way you present yourself stays “on message,” both in terms of your focused area of expertise and the style with which you intend to appeal to your target audience. Don’t take your brand lightly.
Start with your overall game plan, sorting out in as much detail possible who your target audience is and how you’ll define your niche field of expertise.
Next, figure out what kind of design vibe best represents your orientation. Do you want formal? Casual? Colorful? Monochromatic? Streamlined? Busy? All of these design elements should be conceived to work together to attract the types of clients you want. Keep them in mind, as well as your personal preferences, as you figure out how to capture their attention.
Find a slogan that encapsulates your business, and append it to your logo, your letterhead, your website, your social profiles, any pamphlets or brochures that you have had printed and so on. You may choose to use a full-service agency to help you create the image you want to convey, but don’t forget that in this day and age, there are other options, including using online tools to do everything yourself, as well as inexpensive branding consultants – yes, these people are generally freelancers themselves – who can help you with any aspect of the process.
Nowadays, we’re bombarded with so many marketing messages and so many business sourcing options that it’s easy to blend in to the noise. Make sure you have an identity that stands out.
If you fail to make your business identity memorable to the people you want to work with, then you’ll lose them. By branding yourself, and presenting a clear vision, message, voice and visuals, you improve your chances with your target market, and you establish yourself as a professional in a competitive world.
As a critical component to our ongoing client acquisition efforts, freelancers of the 21st century need websites that display our work.
It doesn’t matter if you’re planning to close deals with and work for clients online or in “the real world” – your digital portfolio is likely the most pivotal game-changer when it comes to attracting, selling services to and ultimately pleasing customers. Your portfolio needs to succinctly and effectively showcase your very best work, making the case that you’re primed to crush the types of projects that your ideal clients want you to take care of.
This is where you show off how well you do whatever it is that you do. Even when it comes to prospects who first come into contact you and your work in person, the odds are pretty freaking high that they will turn to the world-wide web to learn more about you or to figure out how to get back in touch with you. Make sure that they can find you and that when they do, you have showcased the full range of what you do – whatever different styles, service levels and client niches you specialize in.
Ultimately, what you are doing with your portfolio is demonstrating your expertise.
Before you get started setting up your online portfolio, consider what type of work you will be presenting and in what format. What’s the best way to show off what you did on these projects – with pdf files, video clips, photo slideshows, bar charts, or descriptive blurbs perhaps?
Make these decisions first and let them guide your process as to which platform will make your work accomplishments the most accessible and alluring. Although you have plenty of options for building your own web presence (more on these below), there are certainly some key benefits to using an existing portfolio platform that’s been built by professional communities specifically for the purposes you seek.
Here are three examples of specialty industries that are hot in the freelance space and have their own talent showcase platforms.
- GitHub for Code Portfolios
Are you a software engineer? Known as a thriving destination for some nine million programmers, GitHub is designed to be a powerful tool for collaboration. It also makes it easy for other engineers to review your code, and it supports dev management processes for both open-source and private projects alike. GitHub users can set up profile presences that display their contributions to projects, the projects that they manage, the code libraries that they prefer and so forth. It isn’t made specifically for portfolios, but especially if you’re involved in the open source world, GitHub us an awesome solution.
- Behance for Visual Creatives
If you specialize in generating visuals for clients – as a designer, illustrator, photographer or anything else, really – then Adobe-owned Behance might be a good platform to consider for hosting your portfolio. Once you’re listed on Behance, your creations will also aggregate to a network of niche satellite properties known as “served sites.” There’s also a job board, which is integrated into talent discovery functionality.
- Contently for Writers
As its name suggests, Contently is a strong platform to showcase the written word. Primarily a hybrid marketplace-agency that connects writers with brands and publications, this platform also empowers anyone to create an account and publish clips, via pdf uploads or URLs, which are presented in a lovely masonry layout. Titles, thumbnail images and descriptions aggregate automatically, but you can also manually customize them as you like.
These are by no means the only vertical-specific platforms that offer portfolio-like functionality. No matter what your specialty is, there’s likely a platform that’s built to showcase those types of talents. Furthermore, because people looking to source services in your field know about these platforms as well, they are often extremely powerful for purposes of networking, ratings and discoverability.
Using a fixed and ready platform to showcase your work has its advantages – even a site like Pinterest might serve you well. Then again, don’t forget about the possibility of creating your own website.
Drag-and-drop website builders like Wix and Weebly are also excellent options for designing your own online portfolio presence, and they even offer site design templates that are optimized for showcasing your work, promoting your services and capturing leads. Of course, if you want to get a bit more ambitious about creating your own custom presence, WordPress is capable of working with thousands of custom themes made for displaying all kinds of projects.
And other platforms, including those not specifically designed for portfolios, may prove your best bet. Any solution that allows you to collect what you would like to present to your potential clients can work well, and many sharing platforms – SlideShare, YouTube, SoundCloud, Flickr and, of course, the aforementioned Pinterest – support embeds, so you can easily include your collections in web pages.
In the world of freelancing, you want to be as noticeable as possible, which significantly helps to rustle up new business. Your digital footprint – how visible you are online – not only helps to craft an impression of mastery but also to put control over your professional reputation in your hands. The larger your digital footprint, the more likely that someone will find you and hire you.
Freelancing can feel like salvation, but constantly feeding your pipeline with projects can be rough going. With some careful planning and a lot of sticking your neck out via networking and asking for referrals, you should be able to find the projects you want – and establish yourself as the go-to freelancer for the kind of clients you want.
Then there are the repositories that are made for and maintained specifically as hubs of freelance opportunities.
Check out the sites below to see which will work best for you, depending on the kind of work you do and the nature of the clientele you seek. Note that there are myriad of specialty sites for freelancers who focus their talents in specific areas. In fact, if you have a specialty, you are nearly guaranteed to find a freelance gig aggregator dedicated to it.
More of a gig economy social network than a directory, Freelanced publishes available projects and freelancers’ profiles, so that those who seek work and those who need the work done can connect with each other. The site is free to use, but there are also premium plans on offer that allow workers to appear in promoted search results and the like.
This site aims to be a clearinghouse for what it calls “micro jobs,” often small projects that can be completed quickly. Most of the gigs on Zeerk involve low rates, but many indie workers love it for the steady flow of quick projects.
As the site’s name suggests, FlexJobs promotes work-from-home projects and non-virtual jobs that can be worked on flexible schedules. The site features an extremely high volume of listings, aggregating from many third-party sources, and its reputation is solid. There’s a membership fee but no scams.
This site claims to function like a dating service, offering interested freelancers and clients to match up with one another. Developed and managed by a Canadian company, Workhoppers publishes plenty of listings for temporary office and office-less jobs in locales around the world. And it’s free for freelancers to use.
This site allows potential employers to post their projects for free, and offers a subscription service to freelancers who then post their profiles and compete for the available projects. iFreelance involves no commissions, and you can communicate with clients in any way you see fit.
Back when you sold Girl Scout cookies or chocolate bars for the school fundraiser, you always knew you had a backup plan as a guaranteed means of selling your quota: mom and dad. On the one hand, this safety net was key, because you were sure of a last minute client if you needed one; on the other hand, it taught you to believe that you’d always have clients at the ready.
As it turns out, according to a recent poll of indie workers in the United States, 36% of freelancers turn to their family members, if not for work directly, certainly for referrals to others who might need your services. A comparable proportion, some 35%, get referrals via professional contacts – but nearly as many freelancers are now finding new clients via social media (29%), online job boards (29%), gig marketplace sites (25%) and other digital classified listings and ads (25%). Technology has proven itself to be a dependable companion, as it were, in the search for freelance work.
Of course, the most fruitful social networks for finding gig opportunities will differ, depending on your area of business. Marketers may find a lot of relevant activity on Inbound.org, coders might do best on Angel List, designers on Behance and so forth.
As the most mainstream social platform dedicated to professional networking, LinkedIn is the natural and obvious source of potential jobs for all sectors. Here, a profile can include examples of a candidate’s past projects, and groups provide springboards for lively communities united by industries, geo locations, methodology affinities and more. With its virtually endless flow of real-time, bite-sized posts, Twitter can be extremely effective as well.
Bursts of new client intake may take place on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, depending on the types and scopes of projects you do. That’s an awful lot of time spent bringing in new gigs!
Indeed, the chief problem facing freelancers is the perpetual need to rustle up still more business. One recent study found that 34% of freelancers say securing enough work is their number one challenge, making it the most common chief pain among respondents.
The big (and possibly never fully resolved) question, then, is how do you maintain the flow of incoming work so that you can turn your fledgling freelance business into something sustainable and dependable?
It’s rarely on a whim that people leave traditional, salaried positions, in favor of becoming freelancers. More often than not, we start freelancing on the side, moonlighting gigs while still maintaining employment at the day job, and then, as the demand for our freelance services increases, we become enticed by the freedoms inherent in freelancing.
With business booming, why not give it a try? And for several months, this kind of entrepreneur makes ends meet easily through the freelance projects that find their way to us.
After that first big wave of projects is completed, however, the life of the freelancer can become more precarious. The vast majority of freelancers find themselves grinding it out, scouting for new business on a regular basis.
All of this boils down to one main concern – how to charge for your work so that you are earning a decent wage. Your rates need to be high enough so you feel like the rewards are handsome but low enough so that you won’t turn away otherwise lucrative gigs. Your clients, of course, have a similar challenge – they want to pay the least money for the best work in the shortest amount of time.
Your rate and model of payment needs to be acceptable to both you and your clients, and you are likely to use different models for different projects, or with different clients.
As a freelancer, you have several possible ways to charge for your work. Below is a list of the main approaches in contention, with a brief explanation of each one’s advantages and disadvantages.
- By the HourWhen you bill according to an hourly rate, it means you get paid for the time it takes you to complete your work for the client. You must keep track of your time carefully and precisely (there are online tools that help with this, should you so desire), and you must establish an hourly fee that’s viable.The problem with hourly billing, however, is that if you are a particularly efficient worker, completing tasks in less time than others, you may be literally selling yourself short with this approach. Then again, if the project takes more time to complete than anticipated, you can be confident that you’ll be compensated for that additional time.
- By the ProjectIf you charge a fixed rate to cover all of your efforts associated with a given gig, both you and your client know from the very beginning what you’re going to earn. You’re also driven by the incentive to work quickly, but you may risk compromising work quality in the effort to complete your deliverables efficiently.Of course, if the work turns out to be substantially different in scope than the client initially articulated, or if the assignment changes, then you’ll need to revisit the initial fixed rate. And this does happen. For some, that kind of moving target undermines all of the value of having a fixed rate. For others, the ongoing negotiations are key to client relations, as they can maximize transparency and therefore trust.
- Value BasisCharging for the value that your work brings to your client’s organization – or, alternatively, modulating your rates according to a client’s budgetary leeway – is in many regards the fairest approach of all. As a variation on per-project billing, value-based billing essentially allows you to avoid charging your clients more than they can afford.With value-based billing, you can charge far more if your project is for a major corporation than you might if you did the same project for a local mom-and-pop shop. Of course, this approach lays a tremendous amount of responsibility on you, as you’ll need to have a lot of information about your clients’ operations in order to bill fairly. But there’s something to be said for putting your client’s needs at the center of your formulas.
- Monthly Subscription or RetainerThis approach is tantamount to being “on call” for your client, within the confines of certain service level stipulations. Essentially, with this model, the client pays the freelance service provider a sum that covers a set number of hours, or deliverables, per month, and in exchange, the client has the right to call upon the freelancer as needed.On the one hand, that kind of reliable income is a boon for most freelancers. On the other hand, you never know whether you’re risking being worked to the bone, in which case your monthly rate may prove insufficient. Even if the framework you set up involves favorable limits, you may get accustomed to months with lower workloads from some clients and then get blindsided by a sudden spike.
- Conversion or Results BasisThis model means that the freelancer is fundamentally paid on commission, according to business benchmarks or performance metrics that correlate with the work performed. Sometimes results-based billing is sprinkled into the mix as an added incentive on top of a standard flat rate or hourly rate. Other times, the payment for results is all the freelancer gets.Being incentivized to deliver service that performs well for your clients makes a lot of sense, but as a contractor, you aren’t an investor in your client’s company, so make sure to protect your income from factors beyond your control. Results-based billing is the norm for certain industries, but in general, most freelancers prefer to avoid it.
You know your line of work and the way tackle projects, so when you choose your model for payment, make sure that it serves you well.
Experiment with mixing and matching approaches, if that will serve your needs best, and monitor your hours to make sure you are both charging and earning in a way that’s commensurate with your efforts.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a freelancer is staying afloat financially, and how much you bill for your work is arguably the factor that influences solvency most.
Pricing models can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’re a “left-brained” creative who isn’t used to considering economic theory. There are seemingly endless ways to think about pricing your services. After all, how much is your time really worth? How much do you deserve to make for the hard work and effort you invest in your clients’ projects? What is the competition billing?
But regardless of your assessment of the going rates in the open market, how much must you bring home in order to pay your bills? How should that number factor into your fee structure? Would you do better to bill according to a timesheet, or on a per-project basis?
Embarking on a marketing program – and for yourself, no less – can make the boldest people turn shy. But the tools available to you as a freelancer today are powerful, and they involve few barriers to entry and relatively quick learning curves.
Sticking your neck out to make your services known is easier than it’s ever been before – do all you can to make the most of it, and you’re likely to see your business grow accordingly.
What can you do to market yourself? Well, for starters, don’t brag about yourself – no one cares. Make a name by being the one out there taking action, driving impact for clients, giving generous and useful advice to strangers and so forth.
When these are the talking points that make up your marketing narrative, you are putting your audience at the center of your content, which makes it far more likely people will pay attention. Everything you put out there should offer a clear value to the audience. When it’s about them, they’ll pay more attention.
Where should this narrative manifest itself? Here are some top-performing marketing channels that freelance service providers would do well to emphasize.
- Content Marketing
Establish a healthy mix of owned, paid and earned media coverage. Start by publishing your own blog, and branch out from there, syndicating your own posts to platforms like Medium and LinkedIn, while using paid content amplification to help jump start your audience growth. Offer guest posts to relevant publications, and make sure to diversify your content formats – articles, ebooks, slide decks, webinars and even quizzes can all be extremely effective.
- Social Media
Mainstream social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn are great for establishing authority, building an audience and distributing your own content. They also give you the perfect platform to to slowly build relationships with relevant journalists and thought leaders, so that they’ll eventually mention and quote you, and maybe even share your content with their audiences too. Other great ways to get your name out on social media include writing answers to Quora questions, chiming in on blog comment discussions that are salient to your work, and getting involved in the LinkedIn Groups and other niche communities where your ideal customers congregate.
- Word of Mouth
People tend to trust referrals more than unknowns and cold pitches. Ask your most reliable and delighted clients to give you referrals and testimonials that you can publish in their names to leverage “social proof.” You may even want to experiment with a referral incentive program, whereby those who bring you business earn discounts on your services themselves. The more you do for more people, the more they’ll spread the word.
- Local SEO
Although search isn’t the customer acquisition juggernaut that it once was, Google is still a powerful marketing tool. If you can manage to appear towards the top of search results relevant to your field – even if it’s just the super specific “long tail” keywords – then your digital discoverability will expand enormously. Make sure you are listed in high-quality niche directories that are organized according to location or industry. Local search, whereby searchers are shown results relating to geographic proximity, can also be an important aspect of your SEO program.
- Proactive Surgical Outreach
It can be hard to do this with the right touch, but targeted one-on-one outreach can go a long way too. Draw up a list of specific potential clients, and go after them – with cold calling and cold emailing, if need be. Make sure not to stalk or annoy anyone, and never use hard sell tactics until the time is right. Instead, introduce yourself, explain what you do, and start sharing wisdom and building trust over time, so that when they wake up and realize that they need your services, turning to you will be a no-brainer.
As you approach your marketing program, it’s important to keep in mind the way people source services and business solutions nowadays. In general, we don’t necessarily look for what we need at the moment we need it and make an impulse purchase. Rather, we are constantly dabbling in social feeds and content spheres, checking out who’s got the wisdom that resonates with us, gradually building relationships of trust with people and companies, so that when the time comes to place an order, we know who to turn to.
That’s the difference between contemporary “inbound marketing” and traditional advertising. It’s not about closing deals – it’s about establishing your name as synonymous with great solutions in your field. When the time comes for someone in your marketing audience to commission some work from a service provider, you want to make sure that it’s your number, or Twitter handle, that they reach for.
To constantly remain at the forefront of the right audience’s minds, building brand equity, there are several marketing tactics you can employ. These range from local search optimization to targeted social media activity to even in-person networking events.
Let’s take a look at some of the top marketing approaches you can leverage to associate your name with what you do.
For the vast majority of us, being a freelancer involves the excitement of undertaking new projects and working with new clients on a regular basis.
It means learning new things and meeting new people, but on the flip side, it’s one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of the freelance life. You need to keep that pipeline flowing, to make sure that you always have that next project waiting for you when you complete the one currently underway. To bring new gigs your way, the odds are very high that you’re going to have to engage in some marketing.
When it comes to marketing, your goal, first and foremost, is to establish a strong link between your name and your expertise in people’s minds. They need to be the right people, no less – the ones who are most likely to eventually come knocking at your door with requests for proposals (RFPs).
Because freelancing means never knowing when the projects will dry up, many of us have been known to line up more gigs at once than we’re capable of turning around. What’s worse than living in fear of not having enough work? The task of conquering the gargantuan workload you’ve undertaken in order to stave off the fear of not having enough work.
It makes sense, of course. You line up project upon project upon project, and push yourself to plug through until they are all completed, only to find that they’ll seemingly never be completed, because instead of actually fulfilling orders, you’re lining up yet another project upon project upon project.
On the one hand, making sure you always have enough work is necessary for the functioning of your business – and likely for your life outside of your business as well. On the other hand, if you are always in go-go-go mode, you become a serious burnout risk. That’s why it’s critical to regularly force yourself to pause, reflect and consider where your business is going and how you as a person are doing. It’s called maintaining presence and balance, and it’s invaluable. Here’s how you get there.
Here are some tips how to take on enough projects but still protect yourself from letting them weigh you down.
- First and foremost, keep scope creep at bay. The last thing you need is for projects to grow beyond the confines of what you proposed, especially when there’s a danger you won’t get paid for your extra work, and especially when it means delays with your next gigs on queue.
- As soon as you land a project, break it down into bite-sized sub-tasks and schedule these in your calendar. The same way that the overarching schedule helps you manage your entire workload, breaking down each project into sub-tasks makes the entire project feel that much more feasible.
- Force yourself to pause and reflect. Each day, before you punch out for the evening, reflect on what you’ve accomplished that day. Prepare yourself well for the following day by listing your top three priority action items for the morning. When you punch in the next day, tackle those tasks before you even look at anything new.
- Give yourself permission to say no. That is, you obviously are not going to say no to most of your offers for gigs – you want them to pay the bills and to build your business. And even if they aren’t all your absolute favorite tasks or ideal client relationships, you can overcome most of that level of displeasure and get on with the work. But when you have too much on your plate, and someone comes your way with work that just isn’t in your wheelhouse, remember that you probably owe it to yourself – and to your clients – to politely decline.
- There’s also the option to accept projects with caveats about delays. Be transparent with your clients – if you have too much on your plate but don’t want to decline fully, broach the topic of when you’re available. Perhaps they’ll wait, especially if they now think you’re a hot commodity. If not, at least you were open with them, which should preserve the relationship for future projects.
- Take care of yourself – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Eat healthily, get enough sleep (okay, get as much sleep as you can, at least), and exercise to keep your body balanced and your mind and emotions grounded. Build time for professional development into your routine, whether for networking, skill building, or volunteering for trade organizations and the like, so that you are able to keep the big picture of your profession close at hand. As you take care of yourself, and you ground yourself both personally and professionally, you will be well equipped to tackle your workload with balance and aplomb.
Freelancing can be all-consuming, but it does not need to be overwhelming. Take charge of your schedule, your workload and your clients’ expectations, and you will find that you are juggling your responsibilities well – and with sufficient peace of mind to relax into the work.
The best part of being a freelancer is that you can work in your pajamas all day long, right? Not necessarily.
Certainly, some freelancers spend the bulk of their time working from home – and whether they find that they are more productive when they get themselves up and ready for the day is a different discussion altogether – but it is important to note that many freelancers make a point of not working from home.
For some, having a place to work outside the house is a matter of personal productivity patterns and creating a psychological differentiation between work time and leisure time. For others, it is a matter of necessary logistics and convenience. And still others choose where they work simply to match the nature of the work that they are doing, which may vary from day to day or hour to hour, depending on different requirements coming from different clients, or different tasks from the same client.
Ultimately, it’s pretty rare for clients to provide space for freelancers to perform services, leaving each of us to figure out what makes the most sense venue-wise.
Your main goal in finding a place to work is being the most productive worker that you can be. If routine is what facilitates your productivity, make sure that you have a consistent physical base where you can work. For many, simply sitting on the same chair, at the same desk, with the same lamp is a major source of comfort that helps them to get into “the zone.” On the other hand, if you thrive from variety, then by all means, vary your settings, whether regularly or spontaneously –whatever brings out your best work.
Depending on the work you do, the formal setting of an office may be the right move, especially if you need a business setting for meeting clients, if your profession involves a lot of large equipment, or if you need silence to focus. Depending on the economics of your hometown’s real estate scene, the costs involved with renting your own space may be negligible, or they may be a major burden.
All the rage nowadays, co-working facilities are less costly than renting your own private office and are generally abuzz with the energy of innovative startups and independent talent. Monthly fees or pay-as-you-go membership plans usually buy you access to desks, wireless internet, a conference room and self-service hot drinks. Additional options include printing services, administrative support, snail mail and reserved private rooms.
Not every Starbucks or non-chain equivalent is conducive to working. But if you like to kick back in a plush chair and your laptop, or sit at a small table and work, then the background noise of steaming milk and people greeting each other can provide you with just the right amount of white noise to keep you focused – at least that’s what science claims, anyway. As long as the bathrooms are clean, the prices reasonable, the staff welcoming, the internet fast and the power outlets plentiful, why not?
Sometimes, however, you just prefer to set yourself up at home. Sometimes, the stability of your home base is the most productive setting of all, especially if you are a natural homebody. Occasionally, you may need to work from home while you care for a sick family member or await a repairperson’s arrival.
By contrast, if you are the kind of free spirit who makes your very business out of being in no fixed place and thrives on traveling the world, then you indeed can set up shop anywhere, with a laptop and an internet connection. Of course, choosing the “digital nomad” lifestyle goes beyond a love for it, as it requires the types of freelance work that are not hampered, and may well be helped, by wanderlust.
Take advantage of the “free” in “freelancer,” and choose the setting that is most conducive to your best work. And if that changes on any given day, or every one of them, then count your blessings that you have the flexibility to change venues on the fly.
One of the biggest challenges for freelancers is getting paid. In fact, some 44% of independent workers say they’ve run into this challenge, with the average freelancer being owed $10,000 in outstanding invoices.
Online billing tools have lightened the load, thanks to integrated credit card payments and automated reminders to clients, but the problem has yet to disappear altogether, and it might never. With so many awesome financial apps and other tools now available with reasonable or even no fees, though, freelancers have it easier than ever.
Issuing proposals, invoicing, time tracking, receiving funds and the like can now quickly and painlessly be taken care of via software that works on any number of devices and integrates with other business management tools. As a result, the whole experience of getting paid for freelance project has become optimized and streamlined for all concerned.
Using an app that allows you to easily invoice clients online is a no-brainer. Consider these ways that online billing automation helps your ability to get paid promptly.
- Minimize Errors
When the cloud takes care of the calculations, pulling the different invoice elements from their respective database fields, you don’t have to worry about spelling your client’s name wrong or screwing up the correct tax rates. As long as the data you enter is accurate, your invoices always will be too. Similarly, repeat invoices are as simple as a click.
- Present Yourself Like a Pro
Good invoicing apps allow you to present your brand in a polished, professional manner that matches the way you approach the work itself. Forget about hacking a Word doc or Excel sheet to look like an invoice, Personalized, app-generated invoices with your logo, color scheme and custom fields can go a long way, and directing clients to view and pay your invoices on a branded subdomain makes a difference too. This way, your clients will see you as efficient and professional, increasing the likelihood that they will respond promptly to your invoice, pay you on time and commission more work from you in the future.
- Streamline Payments
By offering credit card billing that is integrated with your invoicing software, you cut out so many steps that you’ll marvel at how long it used to take you to wait for snail mailed checks to arrive and then deposit them in person. It’s all about minimizing friction points.
- Lighten Your Books
Never mind sorting through pads of carbon copies and faded stubs, and good riddance to the tribulations of data entry catch-up marathons. An integrated billing system keeps everything in one virtual place – that you can access from any connected computer, tablet or smartphone, of course – for easy record keeping, searching and retrieval.
While a good invoicing app will smooth your billing process remarkably, make sure to set yourself up to take full advantage of supported functions.
To that end, make sure that you have chosen the best payment gateway for the way you process your billing. Review several, and see which one has enough bells and whistles to cover all the billing you do, but doesn’t have so many that you are overwhelmed by the options available. Consider also the merchant account options – you might want to try an aggregated account to start, and then see what your business needs are as you grow. And, finally, in selecting your invoicing app, make sure it offers everything you need without weighing you down with features you do not need.
Your software and banking infrastructure will only get you so far. Getting paid with maximum efficiency also depends on your ability to align your expectations with your clients’.
Be sure to articulate your accepted payment methods and your expectations for being paid (weekly, monthly, part up front) in writing before you accept the job, and then stick with your rules. Doing so ensures a professional standard, but it also minimizes the potential for conflict, because you can always refer back to your initial terms.
And always be mindful about the relationships involved with these arrangements. For example, if the person from your client’s team who works with you in general is not the same person who issues payments, be sure to develop a relationship with the latter person as well. After all, that person is your address in the event of any complication, and it is always easier to make yourself heard when you approach someone you know as compared to someone who only knows you as a provider ID number.
Take advantage of the technology available today, and choose free invoicing and billing apps that will streamline your billing process exactly as you need things done. Among your choices, of course, is the powerful Invoice Ninja, which gives you the option of automated payment reminders and subscription auto billing, among all the other features you could possibly want.
Remember that using the tools at your disposal to your advantage leaves you free to do your actual job that much better, which will please your client base, and enable you to bill even more.
As a freelancer, you are fundamentally running your own business, so you’re going to need the right tools. Not just the tools of your specific trade, but also the tools that make running any small business venture as easy as possible.
For a moment, let’s set aside the fact that you probably have no “incorporated” designation. That’s important for tax purposes but irrelevant when it comes to the day-to-day administration of your work. You might not be a company technically, but when it comes to managing things like work flow, cash flow and correspondence flow, even solopreneurs need to think about business operations like companies do.
When you work for yourself, you have many more aspects of business management to consider than the tasks that clients hire you to perform. In addition to the skills that you bring to the field in which you freelance, you are also your own billing department, your own supply closet, your own project manager, your own bookkeeper, your own sales department, your own janitor, your own receptionist, secretary, publicity rep, legal liaison, marketer, project manager and more.
In fact, you are every type of manager and every type of worker bee rolled into one – and if it’s up to you, you’d probably even prefer to do all of the above with a smile.
Depending on the number of projects on your desk, keeping track of everything can be a real challenge, especially as your client base grows, and especially if you provide different services for different clients. To help you present your expertise on each project in a professional manner, and also to ensure that you don’t fall down on the external business side of things – like collecting and paying the bills – turn to technology. In this day and age, you are not alone, even when you are the only one running the show. Tech tools and apps abound – including quality programs for free – to make sure that you have taken charge of your business, and not vice versa.
Let’s break down your potential business needs into three general categories: communication, project management and financials. These over-generalized category buckets will hardly provide everything you need. There are other types of tools that can be a major help, and depending on the type of work you do, various subcategories might or might not be relevant for you. What’s more, these general categories have a lot of overlap with each other.
But overall, this is what you need to keep things operating smoothly, and for those who are just getting started, these are the basic principles you need to wrap your head around when it comes to finding the best apps for your business operational needs.
Everyone knows how essential email is, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that a solution for a branded email address and web hosting (Google for Work, Bluehost, Media Temple) is pivotal as the means by which you communicate with your clients, make the push for new clients and publicize your craft.
Depending on how much marketing you’re doing online, you may also want to find a solid social media dashboard (Buffer, Hootsuite, Oktopost), to help you build an audience and distribute your branded content.
Another important means of communication remains, of course, the telephone – but in this day and age, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is often the savvier service type (Skype, Ooma, Convoi, Google Voice), with far more features, and often lower costs, than traditional phone plans.
Depending on what the deliverables are in your line of work, you may want to use a solution for large file transfers or shared drives via the cloud (DropBox, Google Drive, and more to compare with Cloudware). And if you need to coordinate with other team members or subcontracted suppliers on a regular basis, team chat tools (HipChat, Glip, Slack) can be major time savers.
Project management didn’t become a thing with the advent of the app – many swear by their trusty notebooks and bulletin boards for keeping track of collaborations and progress. But the digital tools that are available make keeping track of things electronically, both online and off, so streamlined and easy that even if your freelance operation is small, you’d do well to at least check them our.
The number of programs and platforms that allow for project management – staging, collaboration and keeping track of the work itself – are too many to drill down into within the confines of this overview. Suffice it to say that there are enough options for every freelancer to find the system that is most pleasing and effective to keep track of business (Basecamp, Evernote, Asana and Trello are great places to start).
A corollary type of product that bears mention, however, is the CRM (customer relationship management), whereby correspondence, timely alerts, transaction logs and files exchanged all aggregate to one system organized by contact. These tools (Zoho, HubSpot, Salesforce) keep track of your leads and clients, as well as any complaint or compliment that comes your way. They also often integrate with other tools for collaboration, billing, tracking, so that you can keep track of everything relevant for each of your business contacts at a glance.
Money flow and tracking systems generally address incoming and outgoing cash. You want a system that allows for easy invoicing and billing (Invoice Ninja all the way – duh!), so you can make sure you get paid easily and quickly, and so you can keep track of all of your billings from one place. The best invoicing apps support document customization, client logins, secure payments with multiple gateways and even time tracking.
You’ll also need a great tool for making sure your expenses make their way to your books painlessly. There’s no need to schlep receipts around and empty them into unusably disorganized physical repositories any more. With a solid expense tracker (Shoeboxed, Abacus, Expensify), you can scan documents via your phone’s camera, upload them to the cloud, and tag them to associate them with projects, accounts, expense categories and more. With this data so easily available, expense reporting in any number of formats becomes a breeze.
As a freelancer today, you are vastly aided by the technology available to keep things running smoothly, so leverage your opportunities at every angle, and watch your practice soar.
As with many aspects of managing your freelance business, issuing quotes to prospects and getting paid by clients are tasks with great potential to become horrible time-sucks. It’s all too easy to find yourself getting swept away by the need to reconcile records manually, create new ways of describing scopes of work, follow up with people who owe you money, wait in line to deposit checks at the bank and so forth.
When it comes to proposals for prospective clients, the tendency is to overthink the content and format. We start to feel like the more time and effort we invest in a price quote, the more likely it will be accepted. As long as your proposals include the basics of the value you’ll be delivering, the timetable involved, the scope of work and your payment terms, you’re in great shape – anything beyond that is arguably a distraction.
Moreover, converting work order sales from your pitches is, of course, contingent on any number of factors, the majority of which are out of control. It’s somewhat of a volume game, so your ability to scale quoting processes is what’s likely to bring you the most business. At least inefficient collection processes can usually be explained by lack of awareness – there are still many freelancers who just don’t know how easy, free and streamlined it can be to use an online invoicing app.
Keep in mind that it’s mutual – both you and your clients would rather your time went towards projects instead of pesky logistics. Here’s the best way to handle quoting and billing.
For smaller gigs with limited scope, “pro forma invoices” are plenty good to use as price quotes. If you’re using a solid invoicing app like Invoice Ninja, then it’s extremely easy to prepare a document that comes pre-formatted with dedicated fields for much of the information you want to include. What’s more, the template of your choice will automatically aggregate all of your contact information and package it with your logo and brand colors.
But here’s the best part about using pro forma invoices as quotes. You submit your quote to your potential client online, and if he or she then accepts it with a click, you can automatically convert the accepted quote into an invoice. Not only does this streamline your work flows, it also helps to prepare your new client to pay you, as he or she will already be familiar with your templates and comfortable with your billing interface.
Some opportunities, however, call for more rich proposals – multi-page affairs with explanations of services provided, the benefits of working with you over others, detailed drill-downs into project specifics and souped-up designs to make a dramatic impression.
There are some great apps available that make this easy, allowing you to build libraries of common proposal elements and sections that you can drop in to drafts for maximum efficiency and scalability. Some proposal apps will even integrate with your other business management tools, allowing you to import data from and export data to your CRM, ERP, project management platform, billing system and so forth. Many also support analytics reporting, so you can optimize your templates over time for maximum sales conversions. For creating rich proposals, many freelancers swear by apps like TinderBox and Bidsketch.
It’s nobody’s favorite task to chase after owed payments. Conveniently, billing software can help you with that too, by automating late payment alerts to clients and charging credit cards automatically when there’s a subscription billing plan at play.
Here are some additional tips for using a good invoicing app to get paid more easily.
- Offer your clients different options for paying: credit card, bank transfer, PayPal, a good old-fashioned check and so forth. When clients can pay you in accord with their own preferences, they are more likely to do so with aplomb – and promptly. Better invoicing apps allow your clients to pay you with a few clicks online, or for you to manually log payments that arrive offline.
- Be consistent in your billing practices. If you want to ask for a deposit before you start working, make sure to always do so. Decide if you’re going to invoice when you begin working on projects, when they’re completed, or on the same day of the month, and stick to it. This way, you’ll be able to keep track of all billing statuses, and your clients will also know when to expect to hear from you. It shows that you take your own terms seriously, which increases the likelihood that they will too.
- Rely on the cloud, and do so with transparency. Using a cloud-based app means that you have a record that is preserved in cyberspace, which protects against the foibles of hard drive failure and snail mail, for example. And when your client knows that everything is recorded, so to speak, that encourages good behavior – as in prompt bill payment – on their part.
These aspects of being a freelancer are not only challenging because the tasks themselves have the potential to be unpleasant – negotiating your fees and arranging to receive them can sometimes be awkward – but also because of the inordinate amount of time that all of the above has the potential to take out of your day. All of the time you devote to paperwork and bookkeeping is time that you are not earning, or other such creative endeavors.
Using the latest, greatest software available for issuing quotes and invoices is the clear choice for today’s freelancers. Peruse your options carefully, and chose the software that provides you with the best value for your money.
Distrust is probably the biggest impediment to a functional dynamic between freelancer and client. After all, why would you continue to do work for people who don’t have faith in your vision and ability to deliver? When a client doesn’t have much trust in a service provider, the manifestation will often take the form of micromanagement.
What you’re looking to achieve is that perfect convergence of professionalism, mutual respect and friendliness. Presumably, when you have those elements in place, provided that you do your work well, then your client will recognize your efforts, will appreciate the business outcome of your work and come back to you time and time again.
Mastering the art of client relationships is a discipline that can take several years, and there’s always more that to learn about the principles and tactics at play. Here are some solid tips to introduce you to the basics and set you in the right direction.
- Act Like the Insider You Are
Yes, you’ve been hired to fulfill a service for your client, but remember that this makes you part of the client’s team and therefore a type of peer involved in an exchange designed for mutual benefit. You are not a hired hand, you are not a servant, and you are not a slave. This is one of the hardest things for freelancers to internalize, but when you succeed at it, your relationships will likely improve noticeably. You and your client are engaged in a type of partnership, whereby you’re collaborating to produce the best final product possible, and it’s important to remember this.
- Embrace Feedback
It is not always fun to receive feedback, but it’s always important. You are, after all, executing a project that someone else has conceptualized. The requirements for whatever it is you’re working on, how it will be used and its final destination all lie with your client. Therefore, be receptive to what he or she has to say – even when you know your different vision is better.
- Get Over Your Insecurities
All too often, freelancers experience “imposter syndrome,” whereby we start to wonder if we aren’t the experts we claim to be. Ever convince yourself that you’ve duped your clients into thinking you know what you’re doing, and sooner or later they’ll catch on to you? When you fall prey to imposter syndrome, you end up being excessively grateful for every crumb that comes your way. Do whatever you need to do so you can feel like the expert you truly are and regain your confidence in your work. Almost instantly, your tone will be strong and positive, and your client relationships will gain strength in tandem.
- Expect and Conquer Scope Creep
Rare is the project that in actuality involves the exact scope of work that was originally quoted and commissioned. Indeed, the specter of “scope creep” is always present, because there is always more that can be done – and because freelancers tend to take pride in their work, striving to deliver the perfect product. But when it comes to your client relationships, scope creep can be a demon. It can breed resentment, as well as imbalance, if or when the client thinks you’ll always be open to working more without asking for more compensation. Better to establish your terms clearly, before you start working, and bring up scope revision conversations as soon as they start to become relevant.
- Unearth Latent Motivations
Every project that comes your way has a back story – a history that evolves and develops long before you’re even aware that the project exists. Your client might say he or she needs an article, but why? Does the business need more web traffic? A more engaging user experience? A lead magnet? If you can gain an understanding of these latent factors, you are likely to differentiate yourself from other freelancers. What’s more, it’s that deeper grasp of your client’s motivations that enables you to work on gigs in a manner that truly positions the client for success.
Freelancer-client relationships are more of an art than a science, and cultivating them well requires some discipline on your part. Make the investment – the more you put into your client relationships, the more that dynamic will serve you well, in your project work, your retention rates and referrals of more clients.
When you hang out your proverbial shingle as a freelancer, it means you are inviting people and businesses to be your clients, with the goal that they remain so for many years to come. Keeping existing customers happy is, of course, far lighter on resources than finding new ones, which makes renewal and retention rates the gold standard for service performance. The question of the hour, then, is how you can develop and maintain those relationships with clients to ensure that they last into the future.
Freelancers, of course, are not the only ones facing this. Indeed, just about any small business will have the same concern. A recent study of independent SMBs found that as many of 40% of them identified retaining clientele as a chief challenge. By taking control of your relationships with clients, you are reinvesting in their loyalty to you, as opposed to taking their business to a competitor. And by virtue of a strong relationship between you, your clients trust that you will take even greater care with their projects, providing better value, than anyone else would.
If you do a particularly good job, then you’ll get also paid more promptly, and you may even start to see referrals heading your way. Some 28% of SMBs say word-of-mouth the most effective marketing channel for acquiring new clients, according to a recent study by BrightLocal. As a driver of new business, referrals are like gifts for freelancers, who do not necessarily have the budget or availability to invest heavily in constantly drumming up new gigs proactively.