I will be the first one to tell you that money isn’t the primary indicator of freelance success. But, it sure is nice to earn a good living doing what you love. Have you ever wondered why you don’t make the big bucks? I can probably tell you why. It seldom has to do with your talent and everything to do with your approach to a few key aspects of freelance life. Here are five reasons why some freelancers may have missed their income goals last year.
Sure, it’s nice to focus on one small niche and only do the type of work that you absolutely love. But, what happens when there are a lot of other freelancers doing the exact same thing? Competition for the available work goes up and wages go down. You may be the absolute best freelancer doing XYZ, but clients know who else is out there peddling their wares and what the going rate is.
Instead, look for assignments that add a level of responsibility. Instead of just writing blog posts, pitch yourself as someone who can craft complete editorial calendars. Instead of simply editing a catalog, promote yourself as a manager that can oversee a team of writers, edit content, liaison with designers, and turn in print-ready files.Sometimes, the real money lies in the management of a project and not in the execution of each separate detail. Think about ways to broaden and upgrade the services you provide.
Going the extra mile doesn’t just mean doing the best job you can on a task you’ve been hired to execute. Going the extra mile can also refer to going above and beyond to help a client in an area that is not usually within your purview. When a client is in a jam and needs help, you are in a position to become a miracle worker. This builds up your reputation in the client’s eye and allows you to charge a premium for being a problem-solver.
I work with a client several times a year to create responses to RFPs. I normally provide developmental and copy editing. A few months ago, the client called and they were in a bind. Their marketing assistant had quit unexpectedly during busy season and there was no one in-house that could format the proposals, create cover pages, and perform a final QC before submitting these RFPs. The client was understandably nervous. These proposals represent the possibility of new revenue and were too important to farm out to an unknown quantity. They asked if I could take on these extra tasks. I didn’t hesitate. I promised them that I could solve their issues and I could do it for X dollars. (I quoted a premium for the additional tasks.)
As soon as I got off the phone, I hired a designer to create an InDesign template that I could use to create the cover pages for all future RFP responses. I’m already fairly Microsoft Word savvy but I reached out to a colleague that’s a pro and determined her availability and fee in case I needed someone to step in and help me with the formatting of the documents.
In the end, the client was thankful to have someone they trust complete these projects and I was able to net a very favorable rate. It’s a win/win. When a client asks you if you do XYZ (and you haven’t in the past), don’t immediately turn the project down. Ask the client to give you a little time to do some research and then get back in touch with a proposed plan. If you can’t do the task at hand, give your client the contact information for someone else who may be able to help.
Referrals—both getting them and giving them—are one of the most powerful ways to get ahead as a freelancer. Why? Your stock goes up when you can connect a client with a problem-solver. That’s why it’s wise to have a list of go-to professionals in your field and those adjacent. For example, when I’m not able to take on a project, I have a list of several other editorial managers and editors that I trust. I refer them with no qualms. After all, I can’t take on the gig anyway. Why leave your client swinging in the wind? Keep the job in the “family” and refer a colleague. Likewise, your network will also refer you to their clients. It’s a terrific way to grow your business and formulate a really powerful network.
It can be very difficult to give up that bird (or client) in hand. But, let’s face it, we’re not always the right fit for a client. Maybe the two of you have very different work styles, or the project isn’t turning out to be exactly what was portrayed to you in the bidding process. Maybe there’s been creep in the scope of the project or you have decided to take your business in a different direction and this type of work is no longer on your rate card. When those things happen, there is no shame in parting ways with a client. It can be scary to give up guaranteed income, but you are better off severing the relationship so you can make room for a better situation that most closely fits your current goals. Saying goodbye to a client shouldn’t be painful. Give your contact plenty of notice, offer to refer your client to some other professionals that are a good fit for the project, and keep things light and friendly.
If you can’t say goodbye to a client that’s no longer a bit, it means you’re passing up opportunities to work with higher-paying clients.
Let’s end this list with one of my pet peeves: freelancers who don’t fulfil their basic obligations. Before going freelance and opening my own content management agency, I worked with hundreds of freelancers. I still manage dozens of independent writers, editors, artists, and web designers today. I am constantly amazed by the number of freelancers who can’t meet a basic bar of service—much less exceed it.
I’m talking about freelancers who…
If you’re not meeting the above benchmarks, it will be difficult to build repeat business. Editors need to count on their freelance team. If you’re not a sure-thing, they will dump you and go on to the next person that can fulfil their needs.
Want to earn six figures? Take advice from a freelancer who does. Andrea M. Rotondo is a project manager with expertise supervising remote editorial teams. She’s also an editor/writer with more than 25 years of experience working with top brands like Ancestry.com, Fodor’s, the National Education Association, and Cruise Critic.