Next month will be my 7th year of freelancing.
And while I have more freedom, flexibility, and income than I ever did at a “real” job, getting here wasn’t easy. Difficult clients and my own mistakes taught me some hard lessons.
So in today’s newsletter, I wanted to share 9 things that I wish I knew when I was starting out.
1. Build Relationships With Other Freelancers
Other freelancers are by far the best source of camaraderie, support, and referrals.
They’re the only ones who really understand what it’s like to struggle with a difficult client or go months without a gig, and they’re the first ones your ideal clients ask when they need somebody like you.
So build relationships with them. Go out of your way to help them out. And ask them for help when you need it.
2. Sell Retainers
Regular work is the key to avoiding peaks and valleys in your business.
Your primary goal when starting out should be to convert clients who bring you one-off projects into ongoing retainers.
I’ve written extensively about how to sell retainers, but the key is to use every first project to get the information you need to sell the retainer.
3. Trade up Clients; Raise Your Rates
Today, my effective hourly rate is well over $300. But when I started out I was only earning about $75 per hour.
How did I 4x my rates? By trading up clients.
It’s far easier to pitch a higher rate when you know you still have work to fall back on. So once you lock in those first few retainer agreements, keep pitching new clients but be prepared to walk away if they’re not willing to pay more than your current ones.
4. Record Your Wins
Having measurable wins is one of the keys to making more sales, but you won’t remember the stats from your latest project in 3 months.
So keep a swipe file with your wins and include any relevant stats or data. And when you finish projects, be sure to ask for testimonials.
5. Have a Detailed SoW for Every Project
The best time to set boundaries is in the sales process. Always get your clients to sign a detailed Statement of Work before starting a project.
Include the scope, payment terms, timelines, and deadlines for your clients to provide feedback and necessary assets. Also consider adding limits to any time-consuming tasks (number of revisions, number of calls, etc).
Always specifically state that anything not mentioned in the scope is not included and that any delays on the part of the client may result in further expenses.
6. Own Your Marketing
If you want to charge premium rates, you need to get good enough at finding potential clients that you’re comfortable saying no to the wrong ones. That means owning your marketing, not outsourcing it to a freelance site with arbitrarily low rates.
So build relationships (see #1!), join industry groups, and take responsibility for your marketing and sales process.
7. Take Care of Yourself
My biggest challenge as a freelancer has been working too much. It’s hard to prioritize yourself when every minute spent on work can mean more success or more money in your pocket.
But if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll burn out.
So take breaks.
This is an ongoing struggle for me, but I’m definitely improving. Here are a few things that have helped.
8. Never Stop Experimenting
Being your own boss may be the best part of freelancing, but it’s also the most challenging. If something isn’t working, there’s no one to blame but yourself.
The solution? Treat every part of your business as an experiment.
Your pricing, positioning, processes, and service offerings all contribute to your bottom line and your overall happiness. Test each one and iterate as needed.
9. Track Your Time
Your time is your most valuable asset, and what gets measured gets improved. So track your time and evaluate how you’re spending it regularly. This is the key to knowing your true hourly rate, which clients are most profitable, and which tasks are worth automating.