There’s an old saying we have in Britain: “A change is as good as a rest.”
The moral is simple: changing what you do can often be as invigorating and beneficial as taking a break from it. And while I like a rest as much as the next person, change is often the long term solution to your issues — both personal and professional.
From a professional perspective, recognizing the need for change is essential in order to ensure you are adapting to trends within your industry. Although your business may be functioning well as it is, the opportunity always exists to expand and grow simply by initiating some basic changes.
That is exactly what I am going to discuss in this post. Below are eight ways you can easily instigate effective change in your freelance business.
1. Assess Your Ideal Client
Regardless of how many time-saving efficiency methods or social media strategies you put into place, your business’ success lies with the clients you have.
Working with the right clients who pay you the right amount of money and respect your work ethic will subconsciously push you to deliver an excellent service. Working for someone who pays you less or attempts to run the project their way may subconsciously make you care less, resulting in substandard work and ultimately the loss of clients.
In an industry that often relies on word-of-mouth and where reputation is everything, ensuring that you are functioning at the top of your game is essential, so therefore ensuring you secure the correct clients is of utmost importance.
When deciding on the type of clients you’d like to work with there are a few things to keep in mind.
Any client you work with should treat you with respect. It is an integral part of any working relationship and is vital to allow open, constructive communication. Any hint of a lack of respect at the outset will more than likely signify that a difficult, unpleasant project is to come.
Additionally, clarity from the client in terms of the project’s outcome is important to avoid confusion, the chance of scope creep or unhappiness with the final deliverable. A client who is clear and concise with instructions will make for an easier working relationship.
Finally, test out the client’s communication skills. If they are timely in responding to your emails or telephone calls during the negotiation process, this is a good indicator of how they will behave during your time together.
If the majority of your current client base falls outside your ideal criteria then it’s time to take action and find some more suitable prospects.
2. Assess Your Efficiency
As all freelancers know, the numbers of actual hours worked as opposed to actual hours billed are two very different things. An eight hour day at your old salaried job probably rarely involved being productive for 100% of that time. As a freelancer you are not afforded with that luxury as your earning potential is limited by the number of hours available to you each day. Therefore, ensuring you work as efficiently as possible is vital.
One tip is to use time tracking software which will allow you to assess your level of productivity by determining how much time you spend performing individual tasks. Working efficiently will allow you to complete the maximum number of tasks in the time available to you. Finishing a job before moving on to the next one is advisable as disorganization leads to stress and time lost worrying. Arranging your working day into manageable chunks will allow you to keep focused.
Working long hours may make you feel productive, but short burst of intense activity usually yield better results. As the 80/20 Principle teaches us, 20% of the input creates 80% of the output, or in simpler terms: targeted, effective work beats generalized, hard work every time.
3. Assess Your Unproductive Time
If you’re working from your inbox, you’re working on other people’s priorities. ~ Donald Rumsfeld
As well as ensuring you are performing as efficiently as possible when it comes to client work, it is also vitally important that you reduce the number of unbillable hours to an absolute minimum.
As I’ve suggested before, if your rate is $75 per hour and you spend five hours per month on bookkeeping you can hire a good bookkeeper for $25 per hour and spend five more hours on client work earning a net $250 more per month.
Implementing restrictions on the things that kill productivity, such as social media and email, can also save you hours sat at your desk. Set aside time at the end of each day to complete any administration tasks and plan your time for the following day. Being organized will reduce stress and panic and help you stay focused.
Probably most importantly, avoid becoming a victim of scope creep. You may think you are giving a great impression by doing ‘one-off’ extras as a favor to your client, but you are simply paving the way for them to take advantage of you time and again. Always clarify the scope of works before commencing any project and make it clear that extra tasks, revisions, or additions to work produced will be classed as billable extras. Remember, more time spent on a project than you anticipated puts you out of pocket.
4. Assess Your Existing Clients
Most freelancers will have at least one client who gives them constant headaches, stress and worry. They are also usually the ones who pay the least!
Any client who doesn’t value your time is useless to you. After all, this is your business and you are providing a top-quality service. It doesn’t matter that a client has been with you since day one; they are still your lowest payer and still taking up valuable time that could be spent securing a higher quality project. And don’t fall under the illusion that they are sticking with you out of loyalty; it’s simply because they are getting a great deal. There really is no room for sentimentality in business.
Many freelancers try to minimize risk and prefer to take on three or four lower paying clients rather than one or two higher paying ones. While this is a seemingly intelligent approach, it actually makes little sense when you track your equivalent hourly rate per client. It’s okay to be cautious, but in business you have to be daring too.
5. Resolve Any Ongoing Disputes
If you do have ongoing issues with a client you need to rectify them in order to move onward and upwards. If you have outstanding payments or disputes over work then contact the clients involved and attempt to resolve your differences amicably.
As discussed previously, a healthy working relationship with your client is going to be the key to your success. Background issues will only serve to cause you unnecessary stress and worry which will eventually impact on your wider performance. If a dispute situation has arisen then talk it out. Apologize if you are in the wrong and try to suggest solutions that lead to a positive, satisfactory outcome for both parties.
6. Consider Outsourcing
No man is an island ~ John Donne
There comes a time in the development of any business when the number of tasks to be completed outweighs the time available to do so. Freelancers are restricted by the number of workable hours in a day, and due to the need for family time, relaxation time, and sleep (!) no one is able to work constantly.
This is where outsourcing can help give your business a dramatic boost. There are plenty of extremely talented freelancers registered on platforms such as Elance and ODesk who are willing to work for reasonable rates and can take some of the more time-consuming jobs such as administrative tasks and research etc… off your hands.
If you are concerned about training them, then use videos. Creating your own video training manual makes sense as it can be referred to as needed by the freelancer, thus minimizing any need for you to micro-manage them, and can also be used to train future freelancers.
If you are worried about the standard to which work will be completed, then have an agreed trial period and take up references. Okay, so there will be an initial time investment at the beginning, but this will quickly pay off in terms of increased productivity and profitability.
7. Consider Rate Hikes Across Your Client Base
Any freelance business’ growth is determined by its ability to capitalize on the billable hourly rate. An extension of this is to ensure the goal is to achieve a maximum equivalent hourly rate per client. A simple calculation for this is:-
Total Net Income / Hours Worked = Equivalent Hourly Rate (Total) or
Total Net Income Per Client / Hours Worked Per Client = Equivalent Hourly Rate Per Client
The most obvious way to achieve this is to consider increasing your rates. Most freelancers have a minimum base rate for specific tasks however, when it comes to providing quotes final prices should be tailored to individual clients based on the complexity of the project and the time required to complete it.
Calculating your equivalent hourly rate per client will allow you to ascertain exactly who is paying you what and which clients are most financially valuable to you. You should propose your rate increases to all clients as the risk of losing one is offset by the acceptance of the new rates by others.
8. Consider Your Ultimate Goal
If you don’t determine a destination, you probably won’t arrive anywhere.
Regardless of the ultimate goal, I’d guess that most freelancers are united in the fact that they gave up regular employment to pursue a better work-life balance where there’s more free time for family, hobbies, or other interests.
Goal-setting as a freelancer is especially important as it keeps you focused and motivated to drive your business forward. Take time to sit down and think about your ultimate goal. Whether it’s to work a four-hour week, take on ten new clients, or to be able to free yourself up from the administrative side of your business, you need to plan how you are going to achieve it.
In order to accomplish what you’ve set out to do you should create a timescale for achieving your goals and allow yourself planned time each week to work on them. If you don’t allow time for something, then it won’t happen. Once you have determined a timescale for achieving your goal, schedule regular evaluation points where you can assess your progress, re-target elements of your plan if required, and also look back at how far you’ve already come.
So What Now?
Ultimately, change in any form is typically a good thing.
In freelancing, it is easy to fall into a comfortable pattern with regular clients. You don’t have to think too much and you turn over just enough to pay the bills. But as with anything, without change things stagnate and eventually become boring and unbearable. Keep in mind why you started out in freelancing in the first place.
In order to be successful you need to remain focused and driven, and change can be the exciting force that moves you forward. By implementing small but effective changes to your work ethic and methods you will see an increase in productivity and profit, and you will have gained the momentum necessary to take your business to the next level.