Forget reports of the low-paying gig economy, talented and hard-working freelancers have great earning potential. Operating as their own ‘mini-businesses’, independent professionals can dictate their fees and secure regular, retained clients, meaning that, if they manage things well, they can significantly out-earn their in-house and agency peers.
Yet, if you’re just starting out in the freelance world and trying to win your first few clients, reaching a point of financial security and high earnings can seem like a distant dream. So, if you’re working your way up the freelance ladder, what lessons can you take from the top performers?
- Focus on fit: It can be tempting to go for every project that comes up, but experienced freelancers know that it pays to be a bit pickier and learn to identify those opportunities where you have the greatest chance of success. For example, you might have industry experience in a particular area, expertise running certain types of projects, or a natural affinity with certain types of companies and people. Only going for those projects that align with these strengths enables you to take a more considered and personalised approach, making the client feel more confident and comfortable, and giving you a much greater chance of securing the win.
- Take the lead: One of the big advantages of working with freelancers from a client’s perspective is that they are solutions-focused, requiring minimal management and getting on with the job without any fuss. And the best freelancers really do make life easier for their clients, by taking a relaxed, yet professional and consultative approach, not being scared to take the lead, and always communicating next steps clearly. Similarly, they don’t worry about challenging the client, asking questions and guiding the process in the direction that will achieve optimal results.
- Be clear on deliverables: Investing in marketing and communications can sometimes seem risky to clients, often with no clear outline or guarantees of what they’ll get for their money. However, the best freelancers try to flip this on its head, by providing a solid idea of what they can and can’t deliver, so that clients don’t feel like they’re operating in the dark. This includes providing a detailed proposal and plan at the outset, targets of what the campaign will achieve, and a statement of work listing what is and isn’t included within the budget. This is then followed up with regular reviews, so that the client can stay on track with what has been delivered.
- Know your worth: Pricing can be one of the trickiest parts of being a freelancer. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market, yet at the same time, you don’t want to sell yourself short. It takes practice and experience to get it right, but the top-earning freelancers seem to have a knack of maximizing what they charge, by understanding the worth that they can deliver to clients. A big part of this is moving away from daily and hourly rates and instead costing based on an entire project or scope of work. Focusing on outputs can seem like good value to clients, whereas cost broken down by time can seem expensive. It’s all about reframing how you present things.
- Network: Maintaining a full new business pipeline is a big part of maximising your earning potential, ensuring that you avoid those dry periods as much as possible. And while building up your pipeline naturally takes time, the best freelancers seem to do it faster and more efficiently than most, by being proactive in their approach to networking. That doesn’t just mean physical networking, where you get out and about to events – although that can be important – but also nurturing contacts online, via social media and through one-to-one catch ups. It also requires being confident and asking for recommendations and referrals from your contacts. Most people will be more than happy to help by putting a word in with potential clients – although it helps if you can return the favour at some point!
- If it isn’t working, walk away: It might seem counterintuitive, but top freelancers know that sometimes the best thing for their career, and future earnings, is to say goodbye to those clients that are no longer working for them. This might be because they don’t value their work and time, that they aren’t being responsive to their needs, or that the client or type of project no longer sits well with their portfolio. Whatever the reason, if a client is holding you back from finding something better, then it’s in your best interests to say goodbye. It might be scary in the short-term, but it will free your time up for bigger and better opportunities in the future.
Freelancing has a reputation for being insecure and unpredictable, but if you keep at it, gradually building up your reputation and confidence, then it can be as secure and financially rewarding as a permanent role – if not more so. And with a few small tweaks to your approach you can get there faster than you think.
The Work Crowd is constantly updated with new projects, across a range of sectors and specialisms, so it’s easier than ever to find the right client fit. Simply keep an eye on our latest projects and be sure to keep your profile up to date, to maximise your chances of success.