Your freelance career is starting to gain traction. Sure, you get the occasional dry spell but you’re hitting your monthly earnings target at least 50% of the time.
But how do you amp things up? How do you go from a freelance career that’s doing “okay” to a freelance career that pays a consistent full-time income?
The answer is in the details. Some subtle, easy-to-implement changes in the way you present your services and interact with your clients can make all the difference.
Here are four simple adjustments to consider making right away.
1. Justify your fees (to your client AND yourself)
In Part 3 of this series, we discussed the importance of keeping your rates at a level where your business can thrive.
When you’re discussing your fees… notice…. Are you consistently gaining clients who pay something close to your top rate? Or are you a little too quick to apply a heavy discount out of fear of scaring away an attractive prospect?
If that’s the case, don’t worry. It’s a common problem. Unapologetically announcing your full rates without flinching takes practice.
An advantage of being a freelancer is that, when you negotiate via email, your prospect will not see you nervously biting your lip as you hit “send.” And yet you may still be wording your emails in such a way that it sounds like you don’t really believe anyone will ever pay you top dollar.
This perception will only be reinforced if your prospective client comes back with a comment that your rates seem a little steep and you respond by immediately offering to slash your rates by 50%.
It’s important you announce your fees with confidence. And that means convincing your client AND yourself that you’re not just a hobbyist – you’re a freelance professional who delivers a quality of service that is way above average. It can be difficult in the beginning, especially if you’ve yet to work on enough jobs to feel like you have solid experience. But if you don’t present yourself with conviction, no one else will do it for you.
Begin by writing a description of the services that you provide in as much detail as possible. Crucially, this should include not just WHAT you do but HOW you do it.
For example, a few years back I wrote an article for my blog describing how I perform ghostwriting work. When getting to know a prospective client, I send them a link to this article and encourage them to read it to learn how I operate.
Here’s a little excerpt…
- I study the material that will be used as a source for ghostwriting your content. It could be a few bullet-points, an article, or a 100,000-word transcript.
- I study your emails, articles, and videos to get a feel for your pattern of speech and choice of words.
- I create an outline and submit it for your suggestions and feedback.
- I write a first draft, taking time to ensure that I add life and color to the language and structure. No written work, regardless of the subject matter, should ever be dull to read.
- I send you the first draft so you can provide feedback.
- I edit the first draft, taking on board your comments, and send it back to you for your final approval.
- I carefully check the final document for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes, taking into account the proofing language and the correct capitalization of proper nouns (e.g. it’s not “Wordpress”, it’s “WordPress”).
- Any quotations or statistics are carefully checked to ensure there is an attributable source.
Presentation and Proofreading
- If requested, illustrations and photos are added. All images are purchased from a reputable provider to ensure that no copyright-protected material is used.
- The document is reviewed, at my expense, by an additional proof-reader to ensure maximum accuracy.
- The final document is formatted to remove awkward page and line breaks.
All I’m doing here is describing my process. But, by breaking it down slice by slice, I’m making it clear how involved and thorough I am in my working practices.
My prospect may be imagining that I just open my laptop, hammer the keys for a while and then hit “send” (because, sadly, there are freelance writers who seem to take this approach). But after reading the above, it should be clear that I take a committed, professional approach to my work.
Now, even before I announce my rates, my prospect is EXPECTING that I’ll be charging an above average rate.
Describing your work process in detail not only helps you justify your rates to your clients, it also has the effect of giving YOU confidence and conviction that you’re worth the extra fees.
But we’re not quite done.
You’re also going to make some other adjustments that will position you less like an amateur and more like a professional business owner.
- Design a classy email signature
Try a service, such as WiseStamp to create a nice-looking design. For example:
You can then copy the code straight into your Kartra account so it will be added to all your outgoing email.
- Invoice the client on company letterhead
This is such a simple step, yet so few bother. This is a crying shame because nothing screams “itty-bitty business” like an invoice hurriedly pasted into a WORD document. If you’re not the creative type, hire someone on Fiverr to design you a logo and a letterhead.
- Offer to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)
In my experience, most clients don’t mind signing such an agreement. But the mere act of offering it will make you look like a pro. On the occasions that the client agrees, you can get a free NDA template at http://www.seqlegal.com/free-legal-documents/non-disclosure-agreement.
- Create a contract
You might not feel this is necessary for small, one-off projects. However, if you’re working on something larger, a contract doesn’t just protect both parties, it also adds to the perception of your professional status.
- Offer an agreement
This is a trick I learned from Taki Moore. It’s more casual than a contract and its only real function is to make your client feel good about working with you and increase the likelihood of getting future referrals.
Below is the version I currently use. Note how it’s weighted so that the bulk of the commitments land on my side.
Ask clients for a retainer
There are so many beautiful perks of having a client keep you on a retainer that it’s hard to know where to begin.
Let’s start with the most important benefit…
It adds consistency to your income!
Even a small retainer of a few hundred dollars per month is money you can count on in your bank account, month after month.
It also affords you the opportunity to make yourself indispensable to your clients. Once you’ve been on a retainer for a few months and your client depends on you to keep their business running smoothly, it’s very hard for them to let you go.
There are also many different types of retainers. Play around with various formats to see what works best for your circumstances and what is most appealing to your clients.
For many years, I operated retainers based on a specific number of hours per month. For example, a client might choose to retain me for 30 hours per month during which time I would work on anything they needed.
It would be up to the client to provide me with work and unused hours (with occasional exceptions) couldn’t be rolled over.
The benefit to the client was a reduced hourly rate (I’m always happy to offer a discount in exchange for consistent, dependable work) and an assurance that I would be available when they needed me. I used to have one client that made no secret of the fact that he would invent work for me to perform each month simply to ensure that, when he needed me most, I would have time put aside for him.
More recently, my retainers have become broader. So, rather than committing to a set number of hours, I commit to being available for specific days of the week or month. And on those days, I’ll work whatever hours are required, within reason, to get the project(s) done.
Other times the retainer is based on a specific ongoing project, putting in whatever hours are needed.
However you decide to structure your retainer arrangements, they won’t happen accidentally. You need to seek them out. Offer them to new clients, offer them to existing clients and sweeten the offer with a discount on your usual rates.
You can also employ a little scarcity by making it clear you have a limited number of retainer slots available.
Ask for referrals
Eventually, if you’re building a history of very satisfied clients, referrals will happen automatically. But you can speed their acquisition by asking for them.
If you’re using the agreement document I suggested earlier, you’ve already greased the wheels. You may have noticed that, on the agreement, my burden is considerably greater than the clients. This isn’t an accident. It means that, when I come to ask a client for a referral, it’s much harder to refuse.
I also like to sweeten the request by offering a discount on my services. People, as a general rule, like to share special offers with their friends.
Here’s an example of the email I send to clients after a job has reached its conclusion:
Earn favors (and call them in)
Winning repeat business and referrals is the best way I know to keep business flowing. I firmly believe I can increase the likelihood of this occurring by leaving my clients feeling as if they owe me a favor.
That may sound odd, given that the relationship is one of services for money. Why should my clients, once the project has finished, feel in any way indebted to me?
The answer is that I exceed their expectations.
This starts by offering every client unlimited revisions. This may sound risky. I’ve seen plenty of freelance contracts that limit revisions to 3-4 rounds before extra costs kick in. But I view unlimited revisions in the same way that vendors view lifetime guarantees. It provides my clients peace of mind and, in practice, very few people abuse the offer.
Assuming you’re not terrible at your job, your first draft probably isn’t going to be far from what the client needs. Sometimes clients will be on the fussy side and need 2-3 revisions, but that isn’t a huge addition to your workload, and the end result is a satisfied client.
I’ve only once had a client require so many revisions that it became tiresome, but because I track my work carefully, the next time they hired me I adjusted my rates to allow for the extra time I assumed would be needed.
But here’s the real point of this stance…
Most people, when it comes down to it, feel a little uncomfortable asking for revisions. But because I foster an environment that encourages the client to tell me when they need some adjustments, I help them to feel relaxed in our working relationship. Not only does this score me points, it makes it more likely that they’ll be open to helping me out in the future.
Unlimited revisions is just one of the perks I offer to clients. Here are some more…
- Trimming prices to help them stay within budget.
- Completing urgent jobs with little notice.
- Giving a credit towards their next purchase if the project is completed much faster than expected.
- Throwing in free extras (such as print formatting, royalty-free images, sourcing a book cover through Fiverr, etc.)
All of these things add only a small amount to my expenditure of time and money, but they really help to demonstrate that I go that extra mile. The end result is that clients are often keen to return the favor when I ask something of them.
What do I ask for?
Nothing too onerous. Usually just a testimonial or a referral. They’re the lifeblood of my business and I’m always grateful to a client who takes the time to help me win more business.
But sometimes I spot an opportunity and ask for something a little more direct.
For instance, I once had a client who, for various reasons, was feeling particularly grateful for my services. So, I asked if he would be willing to send a promotional email to his list, advertising my services.
Incredibly, not only did he agree, but he sent the email to his most lucrative clients, along with a personal recommendation. This resulted in a huge influx of leads, which eventually led to a long-term retainer with a new client.
I wouldn’t presume to ask this of every client, but you know the old saying…
If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
If these articles have made it sound like my freelancing experience has been nothing but a string of successes, that’s only because I’m condensing what I’ve found to work through a great deal of trial and error.
Hopefully, what I’ve shared in this series will help you progress a little faster but your freelance experience will be unique and you will, no doubt, have to learn from your mistakes as well.
In that spirit, what better way to conclude this series than by sharing my biggest mistakes and the lessons I took from those errors.
Which you will see in the next article…
Do you have questions about working as a freelancer? Post them in the comments below and I’ll cover them in a future article.