Most freelancers want to make more money. We’ve got mouths to feed, computers to replace, and—someday—vacations to take. Too often making more money means working more hours. But that’s not why you went into freelancing in the first place, is it? As a freelancer, you should work smarter, not harder (though you work plenty hard!).
We explore some simple ways freelancers might be leaving money on the table.
It comes down to three areas:
- How you do business.
- What you’re offering.
1. How You Do Business
Not all freelancers are MBAs with vast experience. Many of us have just figured out how to make this work through trial and error, happily learning on the go. And that’s awesome. DIY FTW.
But sometimes the way we do business leaves money on the table. Maybe you didn’t know better in the first place, you learned some bad habits or you’ve just been lazy (admit it: we’ve all been there). There are a lot of ways you could tweak how you do business to make more, but let’s look at some of the big ones.
Raise Your Rates
When was the last time you raised your rates? If it’s been more than a year, you can at least consider it. If it’s been three to five years, it’s perfectly reasonable. If it’s been more than five years, just raise your rates already.
“Life’s too short to be sitting in your chair feeling resentful because you’re doing way too much and getting paid way too little.” –Naomi C. Bush
Charge By the Project
Now that you’ve raised your hourly rate, stop charging by the hour. Start charging by the project.
“We tend to undervalue and undercharge for our own talents and expertise because we see it as easy or no big deal. But what we forget is that others don’t have our talents and knowledge, and so they are willing to pay to benefit from ours.” –Jennifer Bourne
(Switching from hourly to per-project pricing can be a big help, but don’t skip the ‘raise your rates’ step. Even if you switch to per-project pricing and aren’t using your hourly rate with clients, most of us still have a rate in our head we use to calculate a project price. Make sure you raise that rate, even if the rate is only in your head and used for behind-the-scenes calculations.)
How You Pitch
How do you pitch a project to a client? If you pitch a single price, you’re leaving money on the table. Give your clients some options.
Offer your base package, a slightly better version and then a deluxe option with all the crazy bells and whistles.
- How many options? Don’t go crazy—three is good.
- Highlight the best: Remember to highlight one of the options and help your client make their decision.
- This is about comparison: Even if you know your client will never go for the crazy deluxe version, it makes your base package seem cheap by comparison.
2. What You Offer
We love to talk about how WordPress is free, but it’s really not. As freelance WordPress pros, you know this better than most. If a client wants a site to be secure and functional as time goes on (yes, please), then somebody has to do that basic maintenance.
Nine times out of 10 your client isn’t going to do any updates. But they’ll happily pay you just to click the update button and be ready and able to fix anything that happens to go wonky. That’s why clients often don’t update their own WordPress sites. They’re afraid something will break and they won’t be able to fix it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—so they don’t upgrade.That’s a service you can offer, and if you’re not, you’re leaving money on the table.You might think you just build websites—what else is there? But there’s a lot more than just coding that you can deliver. You can offer updates, security, backups, hosting, speed, consistency, value, discovery, design, writing, training and more.
One of the best ways to have a sustainable business as a freelancer is to tap into recurring income. If you’re just building sites for clients and moving on, you’re missing a major opportunity for recurring income.
“It’s incredibly difficult to build a profitable freelance web design business if you don’t have a recurring revenue stream.” –Nathan Ingram
So when you pitch a client (and offer them three prices, as outlined above), you should also offer them more:
- Give them a quote for ongoing maintenance and security.
- If a client’s writing is terrible and they need some help, offer them a writer and sub-contract the work.
- If you’re working with a client and they don’t know what they want, offer a discovery package to help them figure it out (while you get paid).
You might roll some of these into your pitch, including ongoing maintenance and training, allowing you to charge more from the start. Or they’re add-ons, something additional a client can consider. However you handle it—ala carte or the whole enchilada—remember that a website is a lot more than code. Your clients need more than a coder and you can offer those services, whether you’re actually doing the work or not.
If you’re unsure about offering some of these services yourself, refer your clients to someone else. Even if you’re not going to sub-contract, you can still be super helpful to your clients. That makes you more valuable (and will result in more referrals).
“My very best clients are referrals from people who know me well.” –Carrie Dils
But the worst-case scenario? Not saying anything and watching your client find someone on their own. Not only did you leave money on the table, but you gave it away to some stranger who does sub-par work.
Finally, if you’re not doing your marketing work, you’re leaving money on the table.
Yeah, we get it: You’re too busy doing client work to focus on your marketing. But you need to remember that freelancing is a feast or famine business. You may be busy today, but if you’re not careful you’ll be bored tomorrow. And bored can quickly lead to broke.
Busy or not, you need to focus on filling your marketing funnel.
Here are a few ways your lack of marketing may be leaving money on the table:
Your website is your homebase online, the place that’s uniquely yours and a hub to connect all the various profiles and social media platforms. Most things you do online should point people to your site. Is it doing its job? Stop neglecting your website and make sure it’s current.
If people click away from your site because your last blog post was a year ago or your site doesn’t succinctly say what you offer, that’s money you’ve left on the table. Your website doesn’t have to be perfect, but don’t let it be a hindrance.
“I’m not a blogging mastermind or business guru, but I’ve been amazed at what a consistent online presence has accomplished for my business.” –Carrie Dils
Now social media isn’t exactly the promised land of free marketing. We’re not about to suggest that you need to tweet every hour or you’re losing money. Social media is going to be what you make of it.
But your profile is a simple opportunity. It should say what you do. It should invite inquiries. If potential clients like your posts and wonder if they could hire you, a vague bio is leaving money on the table.
Who Are You Talking To?
When you’re doing all this marketing, remember who you’re talking to. As a techie, it’s tempting to talk about techie topics. But guess what? Your clients probably don’t care. If your clients are small businesses, they care about their business. They care about how they can do their work better and faster. They care about how to make their website more effective, but they probably don’t care what goes under the hood.
“Most freelancers’ sites need to be less about you, less about the freelancer, and more about the customer. They really need to speak more to their ideal client and communicate the benefits that client is going to receive from choosing to work with the freelancer.” –Brian Casel
So your website, blog posts, social media, email—whatever marketing you’re doing, if it’s truly marketing, it needs to speak to your clients. Otherwise you’re preaching to the choir, and that leaves money on the table.
Find Your Niche
Networking is a crucial way to connect and bring in business. But only if people can remember what you do. That networking lunch failed if the other person walks away with only a vague idea of what you do. There are a lot of people out there who build websites. A lot. You have to stand out from the crowd.
“The number one way to bring in business is to focus on something.” –Justin Sainton
You do that by having a niche. Focus on something and become the best at it. Now you don’t just build websites, you build ecommerce sites for jewelers or portfolios for artists or blogs for authors.
Now you can be known for something, and it’s more likely someone will walk away from that networking lunch remembering exactly what you do. Networking fails if people can’t remember what you do—that’s money on the table. Make sure you’ve narrowed your focus, clearly defined your niche and explicitly stated that niche.
Whether it’s how you marketing yourself, how you do business or what you offer, make sure you’re not leaving money on the table.