A freelance business brings you the freedom to choose when, how, and where you work. But those billable hours don’t appear out of nowhere—building a freelance business takes dedication. So what are some smart steps you can take to grow your freelance business?
1. Research Your Next Gig
Every project eventually comes to an end—which is why you need to dedicate time to finding your next gig while you still have active work. Don’t assume new clients will find you or that your current contract will be renewed.
Keep adding potential clients to your sales funnel and take the steps necessary to move them along the process. Generate even more leads by keeping your profile up-to-date on freelance boards and allocate a regular block of time to apply for new opportunities.
2. Market Yourself
Market yourself and your services continuously—“if you build it, they will come” only works in the movies. Make networking and building relationships part of your daily routine.
Recognize what stage of the relationship you’re in with your potential client and adapt your marketing pitch appropriately. Don’t forget to spend time nurturing the bond with your existing and past clients—it’s easier to maintain a relationship than build a new one.
Use your business social media channels to build brand awareness. For example, you can use your LinkedIn posts to tell the world about your recent achievements and bump your business’s name into others’ feeds. An easy way to do that: comment on other users’ posts, or—better yet—become a curator by resharing other people’s posts with a sentence of praise. After a while, you’ll achieve name recognition—even with folks who aren’t yet your customers.
Professional invoices are another item in your marketing toolbox and should be part of your branding efforts. Make your customers glad to have worked with you even when you’re asking them for payment. Using invoicing software can save you time and will get you paid faster.
3. Maintain a Portfolio
Maintain an up-to-date online portfolio to show off your past work and your future capabilities. Any new client worth pursuing will ask to see your portfolio, and keeping it online makes it easy to access. If you are bidding on a gig that relies on the strength of a certain skill (web design, humor writing, autonomous tractor design), be sure your portfolio includes pieces that highlight that strength.
4. Choose the Right Client
Problem clients not only cause you undue stress—they also can impact your revenue and ruin your reputation. Spend time choosing the right clients who understand the quality you provide and are willing to pay for it. Avoid setting prices too low or providing work for free unless you have a plan for converting that customer to a paying client. Be prepared to educate potential customers on how to hire the right freelancer—a little coaching on the best way to choose a freelancer might give you an edge over a competitor.
Don’t be afraid to fire bad clients. Listen to your instincts on when to drop a client. Some of the warning signs can include client behaviors you’d normally avoid in a non-business relationship, like narcissistic personalities or poor communication skills.
5. Put Everything in Writing
That chore wheel on your fridge exists for a reason. It keeps the family accountable for whose turn it is to take out the trash. Your freelance business is no different: get everything in writing.
Perhaps it’s a no-brainer for you to have a written contract with a detailed project scope. But have you ever thought about what happens to your payment schedule and timelines if the clients don’t meet their side of the deadlines? Do you want to wait 2 months for the client to approve your first revision? Nope. So be sure to include client boundaries in your contracts, including how long clients have to complete their tasks and what fees you can charge if they delay the timeline.
6. Pay Attention to Your Finances
You freelance to earn money, so don’t neglect your finances. This includes mastering cash flow, tracking your invoices, and utilizing a bookkeeping system.
Having a realistic picture of your cash flow enables you to understand the health of your business and to make decisions quicker. Can you afford to sign a lease for storage space for your inventory? Is it time to increase your hourly contract rates? These are questions you can answer if you know your cash flow at a glance.
Your financial health includes keeping close track of your invoices. In the corporate world, you expected a routine paycheck for your working hours. Don’t treat your freelance hours any differently—knowing who owes you what and when is key to managing your accounts receivable.
Use a bookkeeping system to free up your time for other billable freelance tasks. Ensure your bookkeeping system tracks and categorizes business expenses so you aren’t scrambling to remember whether that purchase was personal or business. And use a program like Sunrise Tax Assist to ease your burden when you are ready to prepare for tax filing.
7. Scale Your Business
At the beginning of your freelance career, you’ll work when you have billable hours to complete, and you’ll do most of the work yourself. Freelancing forever is a valid option. But in the long term, you might want to grow your business beyond what you are capable of doing alone or farm out some of your many tasks to other people.
Scaling a business, according to SCORE, means “setting the stage to enable and support growth in your company.” Think of it almost like passive income—you aren’t doing ALL the work yourself, and you have systems or other people to do some of the work for you. Maybe you hire another person to handle sales and marketing. Perhaps you realize that you can get more business if you add a service outside your skillset, so you bring another person on board with the expertise you lack.
If you have visions of scaling up your business, start outlining steps to make that happen—like improving your management skills and identifying what you are willing to outsource. Like many other aspects of freelancing, scaling your business will require time and money.
Building a freelance business doesn’t have to be tedious or haphazard. If you approach it smartly, your business opportunities will increase by leaps and bounds.