The barrier to entry for becoming a freelancer is quite low. The formula is straight-forward, making it an accessible path for a lot of people. The biggest challenges to consider are what work you'll do and landing the first clients.
That's not to discount the role. It goes to show how tough freelancing is.
There are a ton of people that could enter your space. Each new freelancer brings a wave of undercutting in a race to the bottom. It's maddening staying afloat when so many are a fly-by-night operation.
The hardest challenge isn't getting started but how you'll grow as a freelancer.
The topic of growth is what we're getting at in this post.
Grow as a Freelancer: Strategies for a Thriving Freelance Business
What if the first few clients were a fluke? What if the content marketplace you use goes under? These are a few things that set successful freelancers apart.
Every workday should include some form of growth activity. Do at least one and you'll build a solid foundation for sustainability in your industry. You'll also make more money as your expertise and brand grow.
What could these activities include? Consider...
Always Learn Something New
Stagnation is a quick route to mediocrity and obscurity.
You need to learn something new each day:
- Follow and read industry blogs
- Listen to an industry podcast
- Do at least one part of a course
- Follow along with a video tutorial
- Talk with a peer or a business mentor
- Attend a business or networking event
Don't pick up new skills but put them to the test, too. Practice and find ways to incorporate them into your deliverable skillset. Look at competitors, too, and bring your skills up-to-speed with what they're offering.
Practice Soft Skills
It doesn't matter if you're a wiz at whatever you do. If you can't convey your value then you're lost among all the others trying to make it.
You need to practice your soft skills -- examples include:
Don't get comfortable with what you know. Don't dismiss potential clients because they don't understand your industry jargon either. Become a well-rounded business owner by balancing your hard and soft skills.
Communication (a major soft skill) is the bedrock of business.
You'll understand what clients want without jumbling the needs. This, in turn, means you'll deliver a better service. A quality service becomes a reason to retain your freelance services or refer it to peers.
Revamp Your Online Image
Worked with an important person or well-known business? It's time to leverage and name-drop your connections. It's time to build your brand through theirs.
For the portfolio:
- Add new content or update older stuff
- Include more examples and authority signals
- Give back to the community and industry
- Update your work experience and connections
- Publish an insight, whitepaper, or report to stand out
- Get more endorsements from influential people/brands
For everywhere else (like job boards):
- Update contact details
- Increase your prices
- Name-drop who you've worked with
This lets you do one of the biggest growth activities of...
Set Higher Rates and Say "No" More Often
There are two typical ways to go about getting paid more:
- Raise the rates across the board
- Raise the rates for anyone new coming on board
There's nothing wrong with keeping a few of the older clients at older rates. They did, after all, help get your foot in the door and establish your business. But, any good client can respect the value of your work and pay accordingly.
You could send an update to current clients saying rates are going up. If they agree then that's great! If they don't then renegotiate and find a middle ground.
- Learn to tell them "no"
- Get them to pay more
Get into the habit of telling people you won't work on their projects. You won't take on a project for "exposure". You won't work until you're paid at least half up-front before any work gets done.
Your time is precious -- doubly so as a freelancer!
Apply the 80/20 Rule
Apply the 80/20 rule to your freelance efforts:
- Find out what you're good at and make that the most valuable product
- Find what you're wasting time on and completely remove it/them
The 80/20 rule includes clients, too, as some aren't worth the effort.
It's better you spend time doing what you're good at and with whom will pay the rates. This lets you perfect your skills, refine your focus, and stand out. It's the idea behind finding a niche and becoming the go-to in it.
Once you focus on what you're good at you can:
- Make an industry-defining product that makes you a thought leader
- Command higher prices because you're a top player and influencer
You'll have higher quality clients coming to you vs you sourcing clients. You'll also have fewer problematic clients as your reputation grows.
Reinvest in the Business
Don't hoard your money as if it were a paycheck. Divide your freelance income as you would a small business -- with investments.
Investments could include:
- Advertising and marketing
- Research and development
- Tools and applications
- Outsourced services
- Building a product
Pick a budget you're comfortable with but at least commit some income. This lets you realize business goals without stretching too thin.
Smart business owners outsource tasks like:
- Search engine optimization
- Content creation and guest posting
- Design and development
- Scheduling and task management
...and really anything you don't want to be hands-on with. You'll have time to focus on the core operations while others handle the extras.
Work Together, Grow Together
Yes, you'll find many entering your space in whatever you choose to freelance as. This will cause some tension as it seems fewer leads are available.
Try to get this out of your head if you want to grow as a freelancer.
You'll have a good chunk of people in direct competition. A lot of them will bottom-out their prices, making it hard to compete. Let them fight for scraps while you attract premium clients that aren't problematic!
Do this not by seeing everyone as a competitor but as a resource.
Work together and find fellow freelancers your services compliment. And vice versa, sending leads to one another. Do so and everyone wins!
What can you do -- right now -- to get a business boost? Get on social and run through these several social promotion tactics. Then, put the strategies from this post into full effect as you gain more and more clients. Good luck!