• Advice

3 ways to cope with freelance growing pains

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Over the past 6 years, my freelancing consulting business has seen steady growth. It has not always been easy but my taxes are in order, the mortgage is paid, Ramen Noodles are not the core of my diet, and I have health insurance.

I remember well the window of time when things blew up. I was taking on more clients by referral and I was very busy, making more money. At one point, I was juggling up to 8 clients!

That’s supposed to be a good thing -- right? Yet I was clearly over-extended. I was working crazy hours and doing the client deferral dance - I even saw the quality of my work drop. During that time I was miserable.

While I never lost a contract, I know I lost at least one client and created a couple of marginal references. From a business development standpoint, I took a step backwards even as my business was growing. I decided it was time to manage my growing pains.

Here are the steps I took:

Raised My Rates:

As scary as it was at first, I raised my hourly rate by 20%. I gave up my “competitive” rate advantage in my local market.

Like many new freelancers or consultants, I was using a lower hourly rate to attract clients. It did help me tap into the market and establish myself but as my practice grew, my low-cost rates became a serious disadvantage. By raising my rates, I now compete based on my experience and my skills.

Established A Minimum Scope of Work:

Along with raising my rates, I established a minimum scope of work for client service categories. Each client comes with administration and it is time consuming to manage multiple small contracts. It is often more profitable to pass on smaller contracts to create time to find a larger one.

Bid for Quality Assurance:

As the a solo entrepreneur, quality control rests entirely on me. There are times when I need a note-taker or a document editor.

In those early days, when I focused on being the low-cost provider I would, at times, skimp on a bid by not including a document editor even when my spider-sense was saying that I needed one.

Today, I am no longer afraid to ensure that every bid I submit includes additional time and expense for quality assurance.

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It scared me when I first conceived of this plan. I was writing off a segment of clients who would not be able to afford my new minimums and that meant referring lower revenue work to other colleagues.

Saying “no” to money when I am razor-thin on operating revenues and cash flow projections felt like I was cutting one of my safety ropes. It took several coffee shop conversations with more experienced colleagues to give me confidence to take the leap of faith.

And yet, raising the stakes on my billing rate, project size, and project requirements were essential steps in continuing to deliver quality services to clients and to grow my business. Far from a leap of faith, it was a leap of reason.

So far, this new approach has been effective. My revenues are up. My stress is starting to come down as I shift my client base. I have seen enough of a difference to give me confidence in my evolving business model.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to scaling your business, but we’re all likely to come to it at some point in our careers. Got tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

Want to connect with others moving out of the start-up phase? Join the Growing Pains Hive to trade tips on work flow management, quality, cashflow and finances, and customer relationships for growing businesses!

Mark manages a solo consulting practice, Facilitation & Process, LLC. His firm partners with nonprofit, government, and philanthropic organizations on strategy and organizational development projects. He can be found at