Some people are just freelancers at heart. They enjoy the freedom of choosing what they'll work on, the variety of work, the opportunity to work with different people, often the chance to work at home, and many other benefits. But there's the good with the bad, and often that includes dry spells mixed in with being overworked.
Here are some tips for maximizing your freelance income, whether it's for blogging services, copywriting, design, SEO or something else. The bulk of these tips are gathered from my own experience as a long-time freelancer, but the references are skewed towards some of my favorite freelance and blogging-related blogs, as well as a few of my own posts on various blogs.
1. Don't accept all work.
If you're not going to enjoy it, or the project rate is high but the equivalent hourly rate is low, then think twice before accepting. Also, some clients just require too much of your time for too little return. (I.e., remember the Pareto Principle.)
2. Leverage your research time.
If you work in a certain niche, without conflict for multiple clients, you can often research for mutliple projects at once. For example, if you're writing feature articles on the same topic for two or more clients, you might be able to research online for them simultaneously. Assuming you are paid by the article/ project, they will hardly care that you got work done faster.
3. Recycle your efforts.
If you've collected enough notes sufficient for several articles on a topic, or sketched multiple designs for several logos, or whatever, recycle that effort. Can you produce several distinct works that could be sold to anyone besides the client in question? Or can you give these away on your blog? That in it itself would display your abilities and potentially draw future clients, for just a bit more effort.
4. Have multiple income streams.
Building multiple income streams can go hand in hand with recycling your efforts, or it could refer to having other means of revenue that do not take you away from your main business.
5. Learn proper multi-tasking.
A lot of bloggers are slamming multi-tasking, but it's worked for me for a long time. You just have to multitask properly and apply it where it can be applied (non-physical work). It's especially useful if you're juggling multiple projects. Multi-tasking is efficient handling of simultaneous tasks, not tasks done at the same time. There's a huge difference.
6. Get in the flow.
Multi-tasking is all well and good, but when you actually work on a client's project, be dedicated - get in the flow.
7. Use efficient bookkeeping.
Keep receipts for everything relating to your work, no matter how frivolous. It just may be tax-deductible. This is especially important if you have a clearly delinated home office area. You can write off some expense based on ratio of office space to home.
8. Don't undersell yourself.
Set rates based on a simple formula:
* Rate = $D/ B hrs.
* D is the desired salary per year that you want.
* B is the total number of billable hours that you think you can secure in a given year. Most consultants/ freelancers estimate B on the basis of 15 billable days per month, for an 8-hour day. So that's 15 d/mth x 8 hr/d x 12 mth/yr = 1440 hrs/yr. The rest of each month will usually be spent doing administrative work, seeking out new clients, improving skills, researching, or possibly vacationing. Don't forget to factor in vacation time, any professional costs such as subscriptions, your operating costs, etc.
Once you have that hourly rate, translate that in to flat project rates, when necessary. You'll eventually get a sense for how long a particular task takes, but you might take in less than you want when you first start out.
9. Track your time.
Keep track of your hours spent, even on a project for which you quoted a flat project rate. This will help ensure you are not charging too little or taking too long on some tasks. This will also help if you outsource any work. You'll learn how long a task should take, plus a buffer for someone with less experience. Consider time and task management tools, or a web-based spreadsheet such as Zoho Sheet or Google Spreadsheets so that you can share information with hires.
10. Consider work insurance.
This goes by different names but is essentially liability insurance for freelancers and contract consultants. Some clients in certain industries (e.g., software development) will not sign with you without liability insurance. While this doesn't technically save you money, in given industries it increases your chances of getting high paid work.
11. Value your time.
It's one thing to track your time, but if you're wasting part of your day's productive periods not working, then you're effectively reducing potential income. This applies whether you're working at home or in an office. Learn to get the most of your work day, and learn your productive times.
12. Catalog ideas.
Record any ideas for future work as you have them, even if you can't get to them immediately. I like to use mind mapping software if I need to show hierarchy of ideas and outlines. Other times, I just make a flat list. When I find a lull in my schedule, I explore these ideas. Often, I'll find that when someone asks me to do some work, knowing my areas of interest, I'll have something relevant already scoped out. Thus, some of my legwork is already done, and someone is offering to pay me to complete it.
if you're not already a blogger, no matter what service you freelance, establishing a blog and writing quality content (tutorials, resource lists, reviews, essays) will help promote and establish your authority and eventually bring work. That, of course, depends on what you're writing about. Your blog's topics should be closely related to the services you offer. Just make sure that you are drawing in potential clients, not just random readers. You can track general visitor behavior to your blog with Performancing's own PMetrics and the new plugin.
If you do good work, it's likely that you might start getting more work than you can handle. You can turn it down or pass it on to a colleague. No doubt they or another colleague will do the same for you. Or pay it forward. So network online and make sure you're networking on purpose.
Alternately, you can build your business. One drawback with freelancing is that there are only so many hours in the day and week. There's a limit to how many new clients you can take on. However, if you've learned some project management skills and can motivate and manage a small team, you can delegate tasks to people still learning the ropes. This of course changes you from being a lone freelancer to essentially being a consulting firm. You do the billing, allowing room for a reasonable wage/ rate for team members, and a management fee for yourself - since you have expenses and are ultimately responsible for the work.
16. Partner up.
Partnerships with other freelancer offering complementary services allows you to jointly offer packages. If you're working online, this might include a partnership amongst designers, writers, SEOs, SMMs, marketers, and analysts (web analytics). This allows you to work with Fortune 500 companies, who often prefer to work with a full-service firm. Make sure that someone interfaces with each partner to make the services cohesive.
17. Be professional.
While the way you look isn't as much of an issue if you're working online, generally being professional goes a long way to impressing clients. Meet deadlines, make clients happy.
18. Be timely with invoices.
If you don't send out invoices on a timely basis, it's unlikely you'll be paid for work on a timely basis. Do yourself a favor and try out a good web-based invoicing tool, some of which send auto reminders and even accept payment online. Either that or use PayPal and request a fraction (25-50%) of the fee upfront, before work begins.
If you do have great clients who pay up early, put some money into a safe investment, such as a federally-insured online savings account or a short-term government bond. Do this especially with money you've set aside for income taxes, if you are not required to make such payments on a quarterly basis.
20. Know your tools.
There are tons of web-based freelance tools out there, many of them available free of charge or for a small monthly fee. They might not only save you money but often increase work efficiency as well, leaving you more time for more billable work. Or relaxation. What's more, some of them allow real-time collaboration with partners, teammates, and/or clients.
21. Know your resources.
There are numerous sites popping up that list freelance gigs. You might not always need them, but it's good to know they're available. A lull in your work schedule might be filled with a short-term gig.
22. Get repeat business.
Repeat business from existing clients is more valuable and less stressful. They are a known parameter, and there is less effort on your part in securing even more work later on.
23. Get referral business.
Your current happy clients are often more than willing to give referrals, especially if you offer a referral bonus. Just watch out for the lies told to freelancers.
24. Draw positive attention.
There are positive ways to draw attention to yourself or your website that pay off in the long-run - either through establishing authority or straight out requests for your services. My favorite examples are Seth Godin with his free, oddly-named, informative ebooks, and Hugh MacLeod with his savagely funny Gaping Void cartoons, also available free through a blog widget.
25. Stay healthy.
It should go without saying, but many of us freelancers run ourselves ragged. We don't take breaks to recharge ourselves, to relieve ourselves of stress. And you already know that stress brings illness, which reduces billable time. Of course, you can do research or admin work when you're ill.