• Advice

The secret to building a steady income as a freelancer

Let me ask you a question… What’s the best thing about having a job?

Not the worst thing (this is a newsletter, not a 12-part miniseries). The best thing.

For me, the answer is easy: Steady income.

Week after week, month after month, as long as you don’t quit, get laid off, or accidentally drive over the CFO’s foot in the parking lot, the checks keep coming. Sure, there are many negatives, but for the 15+ years I had a job, I never gave a second thought to money.

When you run your own business, on the other hand, it’s the mirror opposite:

Your days can be exactly as you like – no boss, no commute, no cubicle, no fight to the top of the ever-narrowing pyramid. Your income, however, is extremely unpredictable.

It’s up, it’s down. It’s hot, it’s cold. It’s feast, it’s famine. One day you’re panicking about the mortgage, the next day you’re out pricing life-size, marble, penguin statues (or is that just me?).

Wouldn’t it be great, though, if you could have all the benefits that come with working for yourself AND … the steady income of a job? If there’s a Venn Diagram on Earth within which I would like to live (why am I talking like Yoda?), that’s the one.

But is it really possible to create this perfect, magical scenario? Well, when you put it that way, probably not. But you can get a lot closer to it than you may realize.

The key is in recognizing that all dollars are not created equal.

Let’s say, for example that you are presented with two client options: One pays you $15,000, once, up front. The other pays you $1,000 a month, out into the future. Which would you rather have?

There’s a lot of “it depends” in the answer, of course, but in general, I’ll take the repeat client every time.

Many reasons:

  • The upside potential is way higher. I’ve got two clients whose email newsletters I’ve been publishing for 10+ years and several others for more than five. That’s a lot of money over a lot of years.

  • Life is more predictable. When you do work on a repeat basis, you have work booked for the coming month before the month even begins. This smooths out the revenue and smooths out the workflow.

  • You flatten the learning curve. Those 10-year clients of mine? It’s like clockwork. No miscommunications, no loose ends, no rework. They are easy to service.
    The new clients, on the other hand, are where all the gear-grinding takes place. You have yet to uncover – much less eliminate – the process issues that inevitably occur. No matter how wonderful these clients are, you are still learning how to work with each other.

  • More cross-selling. People who know, trust and interact with you regularly are happy to buy more things from you. They don’t put it out to bid and they don’t haggle over price. As long as you have things of value to offer, you’re the first (often only) choice when new opportunities arise.

  • Less time chasing; more time doing. The more repeat clients you have, the fewer new ones you need. Hunters spend most of their time stalking their prey; farmers just step out the back door and get to work.

Like I said, many reasons.

And while you may believe that a repeat element to what you do doesn’t exist, I’m pretty sure it does. Probably not your entire business, but parts of it:

Maybe you could… offer monthly, ongoing coaching to people who want to learn what you do, rather than just have you do it for them.

Maybe you could… offer a flat fee option where you update and maintain somebody’s web site or blog, or spend one day onsite at the client a month, or just be available for phone call consults at any time.

Maybe you could… offer a segment of your clients “front of the line” service, in return for a fixed monthly fee on top of whatever you already charge.

The point is, ongoing, “subscription” relationships are good for you and they’re good for your clients. And while you may never get to the point where you’re living entirely inside that Venn Diagram, every step you take in that direction will make your life a whole lot easier.

Special thanks to John Warrillow, whose book, The Automatic Customer, Creating a Subscription Business in Any Industry, (affiliate link) inspired this article.

The book is filled with a ton of well-described examples and JW makes a strong case for why repeat client arrangements are so valuable.

Michael Katz Michael Katz is Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in developing email newsletters for professional service firms. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette.

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