Freelancing is a wild ride – in this line of work, you have to wear a LOT of hats.
But at the end of the day, you chose to work this way for a reason. You want it ALL. The freedom, the flexibility, the income, the growth potential. You may have made your peace (to a certain extent) with the perpetual chaos that seems to be a part of the lifestyle.
But for freelancing to be sustainable, it has to be manageable.
If you’re feeling any of the classics – analysis paralysis, overwhelm, or imposter syndrome – it can help to revisit some of the basics of being damned good at what you do (and loving every minute of it).
Here are 10 ways to improve your freelance business, keep your clients happy, and make time for the things you love to do the most. Besides work, of course.
#1 – Manage Your Time and Stay FOCUSED
If you find at the end of every day you still have a long list of things you didn’t get to, you have one of two problems: a time management problem, or an outsourcing problem.
Things come up, and stuff happens, but there’s a saying you can never remember too often: If you don’t manage your time, someone else is going to do it for you.
Stay on top of projects by being a monotasker when you need to be, putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode when you’re in the zone, and keeping your mind focused on the task at hand so you can continue to deliver killer work for your clients.
If you’re finding that all of the block scheduling and focusing in the world is still leaving you overwhelmed at the end of each day, it might be time to start looking at making your first hire.
#2 – Create Replicable Processes (And Document Them)
One thing you can do to position yourself for the holy grail of freelancing, outsourcing, is to create processes and workflows for your business and document them.
This helps to create consistency in your business and when it finally comes time to hire somebody, you’ll be armed with documentation you can use to train your new hire.
The next time you start a new project, begin a document with a simple numbered list on it, and open it every time you work on the project to add steps that you take. You’ll begin to identify areas for optimization, and can ultimately fine tune this as you bring your first team member on board.
#3 – Always Keep Your Finger On the Pulse of Your Audience
Marketing and product development require one of the same core fundamentals: a thorough understanding of your intended audience.
Subscribe to magazines and newsletters that your clients probably read too. Join their Facebook and LinkedIn groups. Listen to the same podcasts that they do.
Not only will it improve your sales to be tuned in to what your audience is talking about, but it’ll give you clues into what their needs are, and how your service offerings can rise to fill the gaps in the market.
Being immersed in your ideal client’s universe is how you become the first one to put your flag in a new solution. Go ahead and lurk – it’s worth it, I swear.
#4 – Be Responsive AF
One of the worst things about hiring a freelancer – as any disgruntled client will tell you – is that they’re often really, really busy. And that’s a problem, because when you’re paying somebody, you expect them to respond to your emails.
Be responsive. Don’t be that guy that waits until three days before the project’s deadline to open an email and start asking questions. Get on top of it early, answer emails within 48 hours, and make sure your client feels seen, heard, and taken care of.
#5 – Enforce Your Own Boundaries
That being said, don’t feel like you have to pick up the phone at midnight either. Hire an assistant if you need to, but ultimately, make sure that your boundaries are clearly communicated and written down somewhere for you and your client to refer back to.
Don’t be afraid to ignore emails until the next morning, or to decline phone calls outside of normal business hours. If it’s not inside of your scope of work, say something. Most people genuinely don’t realize when they’re stepping on somebody else’s toes.
Enforcing boundaries won’t make you a jerk, but what it WILL do is preserve the relationship with your client, allowing you to generate lots of potential revenue with them in the future (without silently resenting them and developing an ulcer).
#6 – Get Payment Up Front
These days it’s pretty commonplace for most freelancers to require at least a 50% deposit up front to begin work. If that deposit is not in place, you DO not begin work.
What this does is ensure that your client not only has the means to pay you, but the motivation to be proactive in working with you to complete the project on time (and within scope).
Send a written agreement along with the first installment of your client’s project fee, or talk payment terms at the threshold of your own comfort. Remember, it’s perfectly fine to say, “No, that’s not how we do business,” and walk away from something that seems sketchy. In my experience, plenty of clients always follow in their wake.
#7 – Learn From People Who Are Where You Want to Be
The internet is rife with advice and self-described gurus touting business models with alluring outcomes and gut-wrenching price tags.
And here’s the thing: you need to ignore about 90% of them. There’s such a thing as information overwhelm, and after a certain point, you need to filter what’s coming in so you can start taking ACTION.
The one thing you need to see when you qualify somebody to teach you is this: Have they done something that you want to do, successfully?
If the answer’s yes, then you have something to learn from them. If the answer’s no, the answer is arguably, why couldn’t you just learn this on your own?
There’s something about your brain seeing something is possible as you try to attempt it yourself. Like the story of the four minute mile, things can happen a lot faster for you if there’s irrefutable proof that what you’re trying to do isn’t crazy or impossible.
#8 – Use Two to Three Methods to Get Clients
Getting a ton of referrals is great, but at the end of the day, you need to have at least TWO tried and true methods of getting clients. That way when one well dries up, another one is still gushing with leads.
Try to find two to three ways you really LIKE getting clients that work well for you. Sometimes a freelancer can’t lurk in Facebook groups AND cold email AND push themselves on Twitter and Instagram all at once. In that case, it makes sense to choose a method that’s maybe more passive, like paid ads or referrals, in tandem with a method that’s more hands on, like cold emailing.
#9 – Take GREAT Care of Yourself
Freelancing is hardcore, and it can take a TON of your time and energy – just don’t forget to spend some on yourself.
Literally pencil it into that $50 planner if you have to, but MAKE time to take care of yourself. Sleep debt is cumulative, meaning every night that you don’t get enough, you feel even MORE tired as the week drags on. Get at least seven hours, try to find time to exercise between conference calls, and always, ALWAYS make time to do something that lights you up outside of your work.
#10 – Go Above And Beyond For Your Clients
We didn’t get here at Nexcess by focusing on sales, we got here by focusing on our SERVICE. It sounds cliche, but it’s true: when you treat people well, they stick around.
Your business is going to flourish, your clients are going to sing your praises to their friends, and all of that is going to circle back around to help you grow your income.
But it only happens if you take care of them.
Send them Christmas cards. Help them find a new hire. Ask them how their cat’s doing.
Be that person they don’t just work with because they’re good at what they do, but because they’re a good human being, and they’ll do business with you for a really long time.