How to work less (and not lose income)
It’s the dream of most freelancers: more time for personal projects, for family, and for going to the beach this summer instead of spending our Saturdays in front of a computer in the basement.
But can we have the lifestyle we want while still making the money we need?
Sometimes we don’t need more, we need better. We don’t need more gigs, we need better gigs, which in turn lets us lead more well-balanced lives.
Even though some of these require some serious self-evaluation and possibly business restructuring, they’ll be worth it when you spend your evenings with family and friends.
1. Charge more.
This is the most obvious way to work less and make the same amount of income. It’s also one of the fastest ways you can dramatically change your work/life balance.
Most freelancers assume that raising their rates will make their current clients leave. Even more assume that future clients will reject their proposals.
What these freelancers don’t understand is that, even more than most businesses, freelancing competes on both price and value. It is easy to get a low-cost freelancer who has the skillset you need, but not as easy to find one providing additional experience or professionalism. If you’re committed to providing value beyond your skillset (whether that’s in communication, in service, in marketing know-how, etc.), and you communicate that effectively, you will attract clients who are willing to pay your higher fee.
Good clients are smart: they recognize that a higher value freelancer might actually save them money in the end. It’s your job to explicitly communicate how this would happen.
We’ve talked extensively about the process of raising your rates on existing clients here.
2. Re-evaluate your skill set.
Are you understating your value? Are you not fulfilling your full market potential by working in a less-compensated capacity?
Let’s take the case of a copywriter. Chances are they’re not just a good writer; over the years, they’ve also learned how to market their content on social media, or how to write Facebook-friendly headlines, or even how to organize an editorial schedule and solicit content from other writers.
What skill set have you developed that you’re not communicating to clients?
It can be frightening to change a job title or re-market yourself in a new capacity. But you can make this less scary by trying to market your new job title (and accompanying rate increase) to new clients, while maintaining existing ones. Add that job title to your LinkedIn profile. Flesh out your portfolio and testimonials.
As you grow more confident, you can come back to existing clients and let them know that you have a new suite of services you can provide them for an additional charge.
While you’re re-evaluating your skill set and possibly pivoting to a new area, remember this one simple fact: Experts usually make more money per project than generalists.
Specializing can make it easier for you to charge more, but it can also save you many hours of marketing time.
If you’re a generalist, you’re pitching yourself to a variety of clients. You have 5 different resumes and work samples which have to be updated and maintained. You’re constantly having to learn new things in the variety of fields that you work in. Your social media marketing is grapeshot. This all takes a lot of time and energy.
Time to be the sniper. When you specialize, you’ll know exactly what you’re marketing -- and you’ll probably have a smaller list of clients to market to. You’ll probably pitch to fewer clients, but each of those pitches will be good fits.
Refine your marketing strategy, reach the clients you want to reach, and don’t waste your time being everything to everyone. Learn more about why you should specialize here.
4. Be choosy about your client list.
What if you could take on 2 great, high-paying clients instead of 10 so-so clients?
Many new freelancers get desperate. They take what comes. And this is perfectly reasonable: freelancing is tough and you never know when you’ll be facing a dry spell.
Over time, you’ll find that your time is much better spent trying to land the great clients than working with the little ones. Slowly, try to turn down stingy clients, even if it means a short-term money pinch. Spend that extra time looking for better clients, refining your marketing strategy, and dedicating yourself 110% to your other projects.
Turning down clients is tough. And it means that you have to be even more committed to finding the better ones.
5. Sign better contracts.
Save yourself some angst by negotiating contracts that respect your time.
The most important provision is either a revision fee or, if you charge hourly, carefully established guidelines for how revisions and feedback is shared.
Too many freelancers don’t train clients on what approval means. Does a client know how to communicate what they don’t like? Are you asking the right questions? It’s your responsibility to make your client think critically about the project in early stages by asking the right questions and actively soliciting any negative feedback, so that your project gets on the right track faster.
And remember, you may have to sign additional contracts if the scope of the work changes over time (as it almost always will). Be confident that this is both allowed and routine. Educating your client that project changes will mean a new contract up-front may save you time because the threat of spending additional money will motivate your client to figure out the scope of the project sooner!
Freelancers, are you interested in working less -- but smarter? What tips have you used to make your business leaner?