Complete freelancer guide: How to earn more money freelancing

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March 19, 2021
5 minute read

You are living the dream as a freelancer—but are you earning as much money as you could? Being a self-employed business owner gives you the amazing opportunity to make a living doing what you truly love. Besides having the freedom to decide when and where you work, and which projects you want to work on, you can also take action to maximize your earnings.

It’s a fact—you make more money as a freelancer

According to a 2020 survey by Upwork, the popular freelance jobs platform—75% of freelancers earn as much, or more, than they did when working full-time. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic and a global recession, freelancers contributed 1.2 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy. That’s a 22% increase since 2019.

At the same time, more people are discovering the great work-life balance of being a self-employed, independent contractor. Thirty-six percent of Americans earn their living by freelancing, and that number is steadily increasing, making it more important than ever to make sure you are doing the things you need to do to get your fair share of all the lucrative freelance work out there.

Whether you have only been a freelancer for a few years, or are one of the seasoned freelancing professionals ready to take their small business to a more rewarding level, there are some practical steps you can take to find work and make the best use of your time and effort for the maximum result. Some may require you to put in extra time and planning now, but that investment will pay off in greater future earnings for your business.

Take advantage of all opportunities

Even if you are currently overrun with freelance jobs, it’s a good idea to always be looking ahead to the next project if you want to increase your earnings. The reality is, client budgets change, loyal contacts can move, and as we all know, an unforeseen event like a world-wide pandemic can affect your small business in a flash. But most importantly, there could be better paying, more interesting projects out there.

So, make it a habit to never ignore a good lead for a job or a referral from a client or colleague. Always make contact to introduce yourself and learn more about all freelance jobs that come your way. You might find out that the project doesn’t start for another month, which could fit in perfectly with your freelance schedule. But even if the timing doesn’t work out, it gives the client the chance to learn about your background as a freelancer and keep you top of mind the next time a great project comes up.

Of course that is easier said than done. It’s difficult to switch gears and follow-up on leads when you are totally swamped with freelance work. But, by preparing ahead and having an up-to-date portfolio, resume, and a selection of case studies ready to go, you can make that important first impression on a promising and well-paying future freelance client.

There are about 1.1 billion freelancers around the world.
-DDIY

Quickly show off your work

Creating a portfolio of your best work takes careful consideration and planning, which you don’t have time to do if you’re busy juggling multiple freelance jobs. Instead of scrambling each time you come across a great opportunity, schedule a block of time to gather your best work together so it can be easily accessed by clients through an online link or PDF, or have a supply of pre-packaged hard copies ready to be sent out by courier or mail.

Also make sure your portfolio can be quickly updated with your latest jobs and customized to the needs of each individual client.

Portfolio basics:

· State your specialty or expertise: Instead of “Freelance Writer,” be more descriptive so you can attract the particular clients and the work you want to do. Use titles like “Speechwriter” or “Internal Communications Specialist”.

· Samples of relevant work: This is your chance to showcase your best work, along with the services you provide, and a brief explanation of how you achieve successful results for your clients.

· Short one-or-two sentence testimonials: The words of previous employers and clients show you are a trusted collaborator who delivers excellent work.

· Contact information: So clients can easily find you for all their upcoming jobs!

Update your resume constantly

If you have been freelancing for a while you may not think you need to bother with a resume anymore. After all, your reputation and experience as a freelancer speaks for itself. But some companies and clients need a resume for their business hiring practices. Or they might have posted the gig online and are inundated with replies and don’t have the time or resources to look at everyone’s portfolio. An up-to-date resume gives a quick snapshot of your freelance experience and qualifications so you can land on top of the pile.

If they need to, a quarter of freelancers could find work within 24 hours.
- SkillScouter

Keep a running collection of case studies

Sometimes a prospective client wants to know more than just what you did. They want to know how you did it—the strategic thinking, ideas, and expertise that went into creating your work. Get into the habit of writing up a quick case study when you finish working on a project. When new jobs come up, you’ll be able to choose from a list of great case studies to show prospective clients how you can meet their particular needs.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time on your case studies. In fact, it’s best to make them as brief and to-the-point as possible so clients can see at a glance you are the right person for the job.

· State the challenge, i.e. designing packaging for a new product geared to teenagers.

· State the services you provided and the solution you developed.

· Describe the process you went through.

· Share the successful result, i.e. historic product launch, happy client, etc.

Be more valuable to your existing clients

It’s always easier to start with what you have, so before you start looking for new clients to increase your income, take a look at your existing clients and see if there are more things you can do for them. After all, they already know how great you are, and you know their business inside and out.

Show them the added value you bring with your fresh new ideas and the services you can provide based on their business objectives and goals. For example, if you have been writing external business speeches, but know they want to ramp up their company messaging to employees, tell them you can bring your extensive communications background to their internal e-newsletter and intranet site. If you develop their website, discuss how you can add exciting new features and create microsites for special events or initiatives.

Ask for referrals

Referrals are gold for any freelancer and self-employed professional! Just ask any electrician or plumber who has built a successful small business on word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers. But it's a common freelance reaction to feel uncomfortable asking clients for referrals, especially in creative fields like graphic design or writing and editing.

The truth is, many clients feel flattered to be asked to give referrals. It shows you value their opinion and also believe their recommendation has the power to influence others. But make sure you ask the right person.

It might feel more prestigious to be referred by the CEO of a company you designed a marketing brochure for, but you worked with the company’s Communications Director, and that’s the person who actually knows how you defeated seemingly insurmountable obstacles to deliver incredible work on time and under budget. That’s also the person who’s most likely to have colleagues who are in charge of hiring freelancers.

61% of freelance writers making over $3,000/month said they mostly get clients from referrals and cold emailing.
-Writing Revolt

You also need to pick the right time to ask a client for a referral—ideally at the completion of a project where the client is over the moon about your work. And make sure the freelancing referral makes sense. Don’t ask your client to refer you for services you didn’t provide for them. Remember, their reputation is also on the line for the quality of referrals they give.

You can also ask colleagues for referrals. When another freelance writer is swamped with work and can’t take on a new job, they can still build trust and loyalty with their client and save the day by recommending another fantastic freelancer—namely you! It’s also a great idea to build an alliance with a freelance business owner in a related field. For instance, having a web developer as a contact who knows you write killer web copy can lead to some good clients.

Search out high-quality clients

It just makes sense that the best way to increase your earning potential as a freelancer is to work for clients who appreciate what you do for them and will pay a premium for your skill and expertise.

Although the three martini lunches of the Mad Men era are no longer—word-of-mouth referrals and face-to-face networking opportunities are still valuable ways to make contact with high-quality, better paying clients. But today most companies want a fast, easy, and cost-effective way to search for the freelance talent they need.

Technology to the rescue

You might think freelancer platforms are a great way to find work when you are first starting out on the road to self-employment, but they shouldn’t be ignored even when you are an experienced freelancer.

According to a 2018 Upwork survey, three out of four freelancers say technology has made it easier to find freelance work.

Some freelancer platforms are general and cater to a wide variety of freelancers from different industries and backgrounds, such as:

There are also many freelancer industry-specific job boards like

Design

Content/copywriting/editorial

Programming/web development

It’s a good rule of thumb to take a bit of time to research any companies you find on these freelancer platforms before reaching out to find work. Also check to see if you have a friend or colleague who works there full-time, or has done freelance work for the company before. It could be as easy as looking through your LinkedIn contacts. They can give you valuable info on whether it is a good company to freelance for—and maybe even help you get ahead of the pack with an introduction to the right people.

Search out clients you dream of working with

Is there a company you admire, that also values freelancers and pays well? Keep your eye out for them on freelancer platforms, and also take the plunge and contact them directly to offer your services. Cold calling like this is hard for any independent contractor, but you never know what you might achieve unless you try.

Do your research on who best to contact in the company for the type of work you do, then send them an email explaining why you want to work with them—and most importantly—what you can do for them. Keep your email short and try to set up a call or meeting by ending with a friendly statement like, “Let’s schedule a call in the next few weeks to discuss how I can help your company meet its goals."

The most wanted skills currently for freelance jobs are Instagram marketing, brand strategy and AI (development).
- SkillScouter

Position yourself as an expert in your field

Higher-value clients often search out the best of the best for their freelance projects, so start positioning yourself as an expert in your particular field. If you have a niche skill set like editing medical journals, or expert knowledge creating a unique user experience as a web developer, your special offering can be your ticket to charging higher rates. Like any specialized small business, people will pay more for expert work.

Several ways freelancers get the word out about their expertise

Teach or mentor: Community colleges, business schools, and adult education programs are keen to find instructors to give first-hand, practical instruction to students. Some colleges also have mentorship programs. You could share your business expertise with an up-and-coming graphic designer or freelance writer while cementing your reputation as an expert in your field.

Create an online course: Instead of in-person teaching, you could use your extensive experience to create an online course. Offer your course as a free service through your website or for a fee on an online learning platform like Udemy or Skillshare.com. Besides establishing yourself as a subject matter expert, you can also earn some extra revenue.

Start a side business as a speaker: Do you specialize in technical writing or building websites for a particular industry or sector? You have valuable insight and information to share with specific audiences. Freelancers have found that speaking at industry conferences is a great way to position themselves as an expert, as well as create networking opportunities to offer services and find new projects. It could also lead to becoming a subject matter expert for the press when they need someone to speak about a particular issue.

Be a blogger: You know about the challenges, trends, and hot topics in your field of work, so start writing about them! Creating unique and interesting content is a fantastic way for clients to find you. Use your blog to showcase your talent by writing about challenging or complicated projects you’ve worked on, and attract potential new clients by sharing best practices. Blogging on your website can also help increase your search engine optimization (SEO) rankings.

Don’t have a website yet? Hire a freelance web developer to create a website for you to house your portfolio. The investment will pay off in spades.

There are also some easy-to-use freelance tools and resources like Squarespace or WordPress that can help you create your own branded website, though it won’t be quite as stunning as what you could have with the services of a professional web developer, graphic designer, and writer. If you happen to be one of those professionals, use your website as a way to show off your designing, writing, editing, or web development talents.

Dive further into the right stuff: A blog is a great place to start, but it’s even better if you can get your work published in a trade magazine or other industry publication or website. And remember, if you need some help with the actual writing, you can always hire a freelance editor to whip your writing into shape.

Manage your time more efficiently

If you feel like you are not making as much money as you should be, it’s natural to feel that you aren’t working hard enough. But maybe you just aren’t using your freelance time in the best way possible.

Streamline how you work

Even a quick fix such as adding a second monitor so you can do research on one screen, while continuing to work on the other, can help you save valuable time. Imagine just moving your mouse between the monitors without having to minimize or close screens! Why isn't everyone already doing this?

Another great way to save time is to notice which tasks you repeat for your freelance jobs – and find out if there is a fast and easy way to replicate them instead of starting from scratch each time. This could include saving a variety of design templates that can be modified for new jobs, or keeping an open file of powerful quotations and current statistics you can refer to over the long term instead of doing new searches each time.

Cut down on administrative work

A common freelance issue is trying to cut down on those burdensome administrative tasks that take up too much of your time. For example, instead of spending your time and energy creating a new invoice for each client, use invoicing software like Wave Invoicing. It’s a free and easy way to create professional-looking invoices, manage your clients, and best of all, get paid fast!

Finally, you can go all in by investing in project management software like Trello, Monday, or Asana. By selecting software with a great user experience you can manage all areas of your business, from creating a work schedule, to drafting contracts and making sure you are taking advantage of tax deductions while you meet your tax obligations.

Focus on high-value jobs

Besides looking at how you manage your time, it also might be good to take a close look at the types of clients you have. You know which clients you enjoy working with and who compensate you well for the work you do. But there are also those other clients—the ones you spend a lot of time, resources, and mental energy on. All independent contractors have stories about feeling ripped off by certain clients at the end of the day.

If you want to earn more money at your freelance jobs, you need to focus on the clients who pay well. But before you begin cutting clients, start jotting down some quick notes when you work on a project with them. Notice how clearly they communicate what they want, and if they are indecisive, or don’t properly think through what they want you to do. This can help you spot patterns you may not have noticed before. Maybe you can take action to remedy some of these issues, but if not, it could be time to drop those people before they suck up any more of your time and effort.

Revisit how you get paid

Payment structure can often affect the amount of money professionals and small business owners earn. Some jobs are best charged for by the hour, while others make sense as a fixed rate. For example, if you design logos you might hit on the right design quickly—which is a testament to your skill and experience—so a flat rate is more appropriate than charging for only a few hours.

On the other hand, a speech might go through many unforeseen revisions due to a changing business plan or new information. A fixed rate wouldn’t take into consideration all the extra work you had to do. And who knows, those clients who constantly change their minds might be better organized and clearer in their instructions if you charge an hourly rate.

Consider increasing your rates

Electricity bills go up, car insurance goes up—in fact the cost of living regularly goes up—and so do full-time wages. So why are freelancers so hesitant to increase their rates?

As an independent contractor you need to keep up with rising costs too, and there are also other important reasons why you may need to raise your fee.

Do some research on what other freelancers in your field are charging and see how your rates compare. You might be surprised to find you are charging much less. While it is good to be competitive, you don’t want to be known for your bargain basement freelance jobs.

If you are constantly overloaded with work, your skills and expertise are obviously in demand, especially if you have a unique offering. That means your clients are not likely to be upset over a well-deserved rate increase.

Test it out first

If you are unsure about raising your rates, you can always test the waters by charging a higher rate for a new client. That’s also a good strategy for raising your rates overall. Charge the higher rate to new clients, and then gradually introduce the higher rate to the rest of your clients, giving them lots of notice before the new rates kick in.

Many of your clients raise their fees every year. If your increase is fair they will understand. Especially if you haven’t increased your rates for some time.

Another thing to keep in mind is you keep getting better at what you do. You are also probably working faster and more efficiently. You need to increase your hourly or fixed rate to be fairly compensated, otherwise, the better you get at what you do, the less you will be paid!

Live the dream while increasing your earnings

You already know the many great benefits of being a freelancer versus having a full-time job—such as a better work-life balance and the ability to make your living working on projects you love and are good at. But you aren’t really living the freelancing dream if you don’t feel you are earning what you should be.

Be prepared to take advantage of all freelance work opportunities that come your way. Attract clients that value what you do, are willing to compensate you well for your talent and experience, and offer interesting projects. And even if you don't need to find work, you can always find ways to manage your time more effectively.

By putting in the time now, you can join that special league of freelancers who have increased their earnings and have made their freelancing dream a reality.