Freelancers have a lot of things to worry about, but one issue is often dominant: earnings. Are you earning enough? Should you be taking on more clients? How can you earn more?
They’re difficult questions, and every freelancer has to answer them at some point or another. Maximizing your earnings without working an unsustainable number of hours each week is central to success as a freelancer.
In order to help you out, here are eight steps you can take to boost your earning power—without working more hours.
1. Know your worth
What is your work worth to potential employers? It’s a tough question to answer, but it’s crucial for setting your freelancing rates.
This is often a difficult balancing act between underpricing and overpricing. Underprice yourself and you won’t turn a profit. Overprice yourself and you’ll turn off potential clients—and lose bids.
It’s often a good idea to decide on a goal salary before you decide on an hourly or per-project rate. Beewits’ Hourly Rate Calculator is a great place to find out what you need to charge on an hourly basis to meet your salary goals.
As a freelancer, you have to be mindful of your net income like businesses are. Once you have a general idea of what you need to make, you can start seeking some outside opinions on whether your estimations are reasonable:
- Talk to colleagues. Ask friends or former co-workers what they pay freelancers within your industry.
- Attend networking events or join groups on social media. Ask peers what they charge for various services.
- Ask a recruiter. Recruiters have a lot of experience with negotiating pay rates, and they may have a good idea of what’s average in your field.
Another factor to keep in mind is how long you’ve been in the business. Hubstaff’s 2017 Freelancing Trends study found that marketers and developers started earning more after they had accrued five years of experience. That’s likely pretty standard across fields.
If, after doing some research, you find that you could be charging more, don’t be afraid to raise your rates. It’s easy to undercharge clients, and you might be sabotaging your earning power by doing so.
2. Establish a niche
When you’re looking to take on new clients, you might want to take on every job that comes your way. You might promote yourself on your résumé, website, and portfolio as being the go-to designer, copywriter, or programmer for everything.
While it’s great to have several skills, it’s not always the best strategy to call attention to each one of them. Creating a specialization, or niche, for yourself can be a great way to earn more from your freelance jobs. It also helps you develop skills related to the specific demands of clients looking for freelancers with your specialization.
So how do you find your niche? Here are five questions to ask yourself:
What makes you unique?
What sets you apart from your competitors? Maybe you’ve done a lot of work with SaaS companies, or you specialize in a particularly arcane programming language. Your skills and experience make you unique, and identifying what makes you different from the other freelancers out there will help you establish yourself as an expert.
And that’s what will get clients to really value your time.
What is your ideal project?
If you have a preference for short-term, long-term, or retained projects, this could have an effect on the way you choose to market yourself. A front-end programmer might have more short-term projects than someone who specializes in server maintenance, for example.
Think about the type of work you like to do, and keep it in mind when you’re answering the next question.
Who is your ideal client?
Some freelancers prefer working for large corporations, while others would rather work with small companies or startups. You might dislike the startup vibe, but enjoy working with family businesses. Clients who know exactly what they want might be preferable, or you could prefer helping people figure out what they need before you provide it.
The type of clients you take on will vary depending on your specialization, so think about who needs your specialized services.
What is your ideal target audience?
Creating industry-based content is different from the peer-focused content creation process. Designing for a mass-market audience will require different skills from appealing to a smaller, more select group.
Having an idea of the type of work you want to do will help you narrow down the clients you want to take on—which, again, will affect how you market yourself in a niche.
What are your business goals?
If you have earnings or business growth goals that might be affected by how you market yourself, keep them under consideration when you’re evaluating your potential niche. If you want to make a lot of contacts that you can potentially draw upon in the future, aiming for short-term projects will be beneficial. If financial stability is more important, a niche that has more long-term projects might be a better fit.
Your goals should always inform your freelancing activities, and specialization is no exception.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can decide on a niche. Make sure your website, portfolio, and freelance marketplace profiles reflect your chosen specialization.
When a potential employer clicks on your bio, they should immediately understand what you offer and why you’ll be successful in solving their business problems.
For more information on carving out a niche, check out Jake Jorgovan’s “How to choose (or not choose) your freelance niche.”
3. Find the right freelance marketplaces
To earn top dollar for your work, you need to find out which freelance marketplaces your potential clients use. There are many to choose from, and quite a few have specific specialties.
Scripted is specifically for finding writers, for example, while Crew is more focused on developers. Bigger sites like Hubstaff Talent, Upwork, and Guru are used by just about every type of freelancer out there. Recruiters often use LinkedIn. Startups look on AngelList.
Before you create a profile on every service, here are a couple things to think about:
- What is your area of expertise? This may affect where you should post a profile. If you’re not sure which services you’re going to offer, figure that out now.
- Who would hire you? Is it an HR person, recruiter, or small business owner? Maybe another freelancer looking to expand into an agency? Keep this in mind when surveying your options.
With this information in mind, check out some of the sites listed below. Each one has a different feel and may be more or less popular with your ideal client.
Also, keep in mind that some sites will be free, others require a membership fee, and others are very exclusive. While you may shy away from paying, sites with fees often have less competition for jobs. See if you can get a trial membership to test it out.
And if a site requires that you spend time to get approved, make sure it’s worth your time to do so. Qualified freelancers are highly valued by clients, but if it’s going to take many hours worth of work, it might not be worth it.
Every industry is different and will have job sites that work better for one type of freelancer than others. Here are a few that are worth a look for specific types of freelancers:
Freelance sites for writers:
Freelance sites for designers:
Freelance sites for developers:
General freelancing sites:
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4. Expand your search
Freelance job sites are a great way to find work, but there are other ways, too. Here are some other ideas to get you new business leads:
Reaching out to former co-workers
If you’ve been working for a while, chances are you have worked in-house at some point. Reach out to past employers or co-workers to see if they hire freelancers. Companies may be more willing to work with freelancers that they have experience with, and they’ll certainly appreciate that you’re familiar with the work they do and how they do it.
Networking online and in person
Join social media and industry groups. Contribute to discussions, make contacts, and generally be a part of the community. Don’t be overly salesy or aggressive in marketing yourself in these groups—just spend time helping people out. It might not sound effective, but it’s a crucial part of successful professional networking.
If there is a company you would like to work for, email them. This can be a surprisingly effective method of getting clients. Figure out which employee is most likely in charge of hiring a freelancer for your line of work and get in touch.
For a full guide on how to master cold emailing, check out the Hubstaff guide to getting clients with cold email.
Every industry has notable blogs. If there is a company you want to work for, ask if you can write a guest blog or if writing is not your forte, ask to be interviewed as the industry expert for an upcoming blog post. You may not get paid, but it will form a relationship and become easier to get paying jobs in the future.
5. Build a freelance portfolio
If you are in a creative field, you’ll want a professional portfolio. This acts as a visual résumé for potential employers. This is a place to showcase your best work and highlight your skill set.
Here are some simple steps to take to get started:
Choose a portfolio site
If you’re a web designer, create a website and start inputting your work. Freelancers in other fields should look for a great portfolio provider that specializes in your industry. They’ll have built-in templates and examples for you to follow.
Here are some recommendations for portfolio sites for writers and designers, as well as some great examples of developer portfolios. If you’re in a different field, there’s certainly a good option available for you out there!
Portfolio sites for writers:
Portfolio sites for designers:
Examples of developer portfolios:
Decide which work to include
You’ll want to include any relevant projects you have created. Just make sure they showcase your best work and highlight all areas of your skill set.
For example, if you have 50 articles for a single publication and all on the same topic, only include a few of the best. Use the other space on your portfolio to showcase the variety of work you’ve done.
Also, make sure not to include any company-sensitive information and if you are unsure, check with that company to make sure it is okay to include in your portfolio.
Don’t neglect the details
Besides showcasing your work, portfolios are a great snapshot of who you are. Make sure to include these components:
- Headshot. This doesn’t always need to be in a suit against a backdrop wall. Match your industry. If your industry is more casual, have a photo that represents that.
- Bio. Companies want to connect with you as a person. Including a simple introduction of who you are, an overview of what you can do, and even a few personal sentences, makes you human and more marketable.
- Résumé. Although a portfolio is like an online resume, have a link to your resume. Sometimes employers will print this off if they are considering several freelancers for a project.
- Testimonials. Just like references on a resume, testimonials let potential employers know you do great work and the results meet or exceed expectations.
6. Package your services
One way to maximize client income is to offer your services as a package deal. Often, clients don’t realize that one person can solve multiple problems. Streamline the process for your clients by offering packages.
Not sure how to package your offerings? Think about these questions:
- What are your skills? Market all your skills in a client pitch. Explain you can be the one-stop shop for all design, writing, development, or needs.
- What does your competition offer? Look at other freelancers within your industry and see what skills they list on their websites and what package deals they are offering.
- What case studies do you have? Look at your past projects. Was there a project where you performed multiple tasks for a client? Use this case study as an example of packaging for new clients.
For more ideas on packaging (and pricing) your services, check out Wanderful World’s “How to Package Your Freelance Work to Attract Quality Clients.”
7. Learn successful pitching
Great pitching skills can be the difference between earning just enough and earning a comfortable living. If clients don’t understand the value of your skills, they’re not going to pay you a reasonable sum for those skills. So you need to make sure that they know exactly what they’re getting.
Focus your pitches on the benefits to your potential client. Show them, with case studies and testimonials, how valuable your skills are. Make it clear that hiring you will save them time, money, and effort over hiring someone else.
Emphasize what sets you apart—think about the skills you bring to a job that others don’t. How can you solve the problem better than your competition? You might have more experience, a reputation for very fast work, or a unique combination of skills.
In other words, take the spotlight off yourself and focus on how you can help this company. Think of ways to add value to the contract that the client hadn’t thought of. For more pitching ideas, check out Creative Boom’s great blog post, “How to win a pitch when you’re a freelancer or small agency.”
8. Improve your marketing
The best freelancers don’t pursue clients: they make clients come to them. Sound like a dream? You can make it come true with effective marketing. Here are ideas to get your name out there:
- Blogs. Start a blog on your website and post it on relevant social media sites. Blogs draw traffic to your website and start discussions.
- Guest speaking. Is there an industry event in your area you can be a guest speaker for? Look for opportunities where you can lend your expertise on a panel or a Q&A session.
- Ebooks. Draft an ebook and share it in relevant groups online or create a website where visitors can download the book in return for their email address.
- Webinars. Create a weekly or monthly webinar and invite people from among your target client group.
These marketing tactics for freelancers will help you establish credibility, and that can give you a big boost in your industry. If someone has heard your name before they hear your pitch, you have a huge advantage.
And one of these marketing methods could even turn into an additional stream of income, which is great for boosting your earnings. For additional ideas, check out Freelancer’s Union’s blog on additional revenue for freelancers.
What are your strategies to earn more?
There are lots of ways you can boost your earning power as a freelancer—these are just a few of the tactics you can use to get started. Above all, remember that your work is worth getting paid for. You work hard, and you create something that’s very valuable. Don’t undervalue your work!
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This post is part of Hubstaff’s freelancing month 2017, where we feature insights by experienced freelancers about how they get clients, manage their workload, and more. Be sure to check out the rest of our freelancing month posts when you’re done with this one!
Do you use any of these strategies for your business? If so, which ones? Or are there other strategies that have worked well for you? Please comment below and share your thoughts.