In a recent conversation I was having with someone, I mentioned how a 40 hour/week job can quickly morph into an 80 hour/week job, or even more, if one is not careful.
My friend’s comment was simple and to the point. “If you’re not tracking your hours, you could be working for less than minimum wage,” he noted. “All your experience and training…for a less than minimum wage job.”
This is true in the world of employment, and it’s certainly true in the world of freelancing.
For the ‘love’ of freelancing
Oftentimes as freelancers, we get caught up in the magic of creating content from scratch, or bringing marketing ideas to life, or learning about a software platform. We justify the time spent learning or researching as time devoted to becoming better at our craft. While this is a wonderful thing and oftentimes the reason why we became freelancers in the first place, it cannot justify earning less and less money.
Just because you’re a freelancer doesn’t mean your time is free, nor are you any less valuable because you’re a ‘vendor’ instead of an employee.
In light of this, here are some ways in which you can value yourself more, and consequently earn more money, in 2016.
Don’t quote by the hour
There’s something about hourly rates that makes me think of sleazy hotels. More to the point, hourly rates are not recommended for several reasons.
As a freelancer, you’ll naturally grow more adept at your craft with time and will complete tasks faster and better than when you first started in your profession. That means that projects will take shorter amounts of time to complete.
If you charge by the hour, that also means that you’ll get paid less and less for projects that are completed. Even though you’ll be at the top of your game and quite effective at solving your client’s challenges, you’ll actually make less than you did when you were a novice.
This is why charging by the project and not by the hour is of utmost importance. Doing so also helps you avoid the pitfalls of having your client micromanage your work time, or having a client balk when you quote an hourly rate of $100 or even $300/hour.
Become a master
If you want to earn more money as a freelancer, you need to go beyond the title of freelancer and become a master. Don’t just offer freelance writing or design work or programming. Instead, offer a complete service package that addresses the entire challenge your client is facing.
For example, if you are a freelance writer, don’t just offer to write a feature article for a business. Instead, offer a comprehensive package that includes the following:
- Recorded customer interviews and source quotes.
- Keyword-researched headline and content.
- Unlimited article revisions.
- A basic marketing strategy, including social media and email announcements.
- Plus…the article itself.
Don’t hesitate to promote your service in a package deal that is guaranteed to be the solution your client needs.
Stop that over-research
It’s understandable that you’re going to research some of your work topics in order to sound knowledgeable about them. However, you need to limit how much time you devote to research for the sake of the project.
Let’s say you are writing a 500-word article about a 10-year-old business. Many writers would approach this task by scheduling meetings with the business owner(s) (1-2 hours), driving to and from the business (1-2 hours), and reading about the business product line and history (3-4 hours).
That’s almost a full day of work, and the article has yet to be started or edited.
Alternately, you could look up a few online references that sum up your client’s business (1 hour) and speak with the business owner via phone (30 minutes). You could then spend the rest of the day writing up the article and asking for feedback/edits from the client.
If you’re earning $400 for this article, consider how over-research cuts your hourly pay by at least half. To stop the temptation of doing over-research, limit your fact-finding time to just an hour or two. Then, get to work on your task.
Sure, you might have to go back and fill in some knowledge gaps with another phone call or a second online search. But the chances of that happening are slim. Meanwhile, you’ve already worked through a good chunk of your article and are ready to collect feedback from your client.
Qualify your clients
Mom-and-pop businesses, “I-just-started-this-website” individuals, etc. are not going to pay you enough money to support your freelance career. What will happen is you’ll spend a good chunk of your time performing free research and helping to develop ideas. By the time you start your paid work, you will have spent tens of hours in unpaid time just to ramp up.
How do you avoid this problem? You qualify your clients before you even speak with them. This involves looking over the business and other credentials of your prospects and objectively determining if they can pay your desired rate. In most cases, this means that the client should be earning at least $5 million in yearly revenues. It also means that the client has a dedicated marketing team and/or has outsourced those functions to a third party.
By having a decent revenue stream of $5 million per year, your client can afford to pay you. By having a marketing department already in place (or outsourced), you can be assured that your client values such ‘extraneous’ services and realizes that there is a need for them.
In short, you should qualify those clients who can pay you your asking rate and who value your services enough to either have them going on in-house or outsourced.
Ask for a raise
If you’ve been working with a specific client for a while, don’t be shy about asking for a bump in your pay. Most clients would rather just pay you more money versus go out and find a new freelancer. If you’re doing good work and the client is happy with you, there’s no time like the present to ask for an easy 10% increase, for example.
How do you present a good case for a raise? Point to the success of your past work, how long you’ve worked with your client, and the chance that you might have to go elsewhere. The worst that can happen is that your client says no.
The Bottom Line
Freelance work, just like employed work, is a numbers game. You should be tracking how much time you’re putting into your work versus how much money you’re getting out of it. You should be predicting and achieving regular pay increases. Finally, you should be increasing your own mastery of your profession- and achieving higher pay as a result.