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Isn’t it about time you got a raise?
As freelancers, it can be difficult to make that happen. Sure, we might be making a comfortable living today, but what about tomorrow? If you’re supporting a growing family or if you’re looking to upgrade your lifestyle, you’d better start thinking beyond just your next project. You must begin thinking about how to scale your freelance business.
So how do you do that? Most freelancer’s incomes are tied directly to their time. Since there are only so many hours in the day, how do we break through our income ceiling? The answer boils down to this: Stop working alone.
In this article, I will outline six steps you can take to scale up your freelance business, and grow your income, without sacrificing your leisure time.
1. Build your network
I don’t mean your clients and referrals network (you already rock in that department). I’m talking about your teammate network. Your list of subcontractors that will help carry your workload as your operation expands. And it’s not quite as easy as it sounds. Just making a list of names and email addresses won’t cut it.
You must truly network and get to know your people — and this takes time! Don’t wait until you’ve signed the contract on a huge new client project to start looking for subcontractors to hire. If you wait that long, you’ll end up getting burned because you didn’t take the time to get to know them and ensure they’re reliable.
Make a point of meeting and interviewing a handful of new people every month regardless of whether or not you have work for them. Once you find the rockstar in the crowd (and believe me, they’re harder to find than you think!), you’ll be more confident to go out there and close that big fish client you’ve been gunning for.
2. Communicate & Collaborate
It’s time to get passionate about communication and collaboration (C&C). Yesterday your job was being a designer or photographer or developer of whatever craft you specialize in. Today your job is to communicate effectively with both your clients and your subcontractors. Leverage your expertise in your craft to be constructive in your communications.
I view C&C skills as the single most important factor when considering candidates for a position in my network. Of course, I pre-screen candidates by evaluating portfolios and skillsets, but after that it all comes down to their ability to effectively communicate and collaborate.
When speaking to candidates for your network, look for the following traits:
- They write a well crafted, concise, and personalized cover letter (email).
- They have a regularly updated blog, with well-written and insightful content.
- They ask smart questions, indicating that they’re good listeners and collaborators.
- They speak clearly with a conversational rhythm that gets to the point constructively.
Find someone with a great portfolio coupled with these C&C skills and you found a rockstar.
But it’s not all about them! You must also hone your C&C skills because you’ll be the one listening and getting to know your team, writing project briefs and managing your project’s progress. It’s time for you to focus less on your technical skills (but always keep them sharp) and more on your C&C skills to be a great manager.
3. Develop systems
Once you get into the rhythm of things — constant recruiting, assembling teams, planning and executing projects — you begin to develop operational systems.
These don’t need to be overly complex or bloated. It’s just a matter of recognizing patterns and organizing them into simple processes.
Keep an eye out for things that cause friction. An example might be the way you craft your initial project briefs. Are they too wordy, causing your subcontractors to skim over them and miss the details? Try moving to screencasts to get your point across. Ideas like that can help you build efficiency into your systems.
4. Raise your rates
The economics of a distributed team model aren’t very complex. Typically, the client pays you and you pay your subcontractors. To turn a profit, you have two choices: Seek to lower your costs by finding low-wage subcontractors or raise your rates to afford hiring the best. I’ve experimented with both approaches over the years and I strongly believe the latter to be the way to go. Here’s why:
- Great clients know that premium work comes at a premium price. Charging based on value not only attracts larger budget projects, you’ll also find these clients are much easier to work with (for the most part).
- The best subcontractors make your life infinitely easier. Again, rockstar subcontractors are rockstar communicators and collaborators. They deliver on time, on budget, and with the self motivation to get the job done right the first time.
5. Be a great client to you subcontractors
The tables have turned!
Now you’re playing the role of client to your subcontractors. I can’t stress this enough: Be the client that every freelancer wishes they had. You know how it is dealing with clients, so use that to your advantage to go above and beyond, to make your subcontractor’s experience working with you a breeze.
That means providing clearly defined tasks that make it easy to achieve a win. It means respecting your subcontractor’s time and working hours. If they say they spend nights and weekends with their family, respect those boundaries! And yes, it means paying on time, every time — even if your client has delayed payment. Your cash-flow must be healthy enough to ensure your team gets paid on time, no exceptions.
Why is this so important? Think about it. What does every rockstar freelancer have in common? They’re always booked solid! If they love working with you, they’ll make time to fit your projects into their schedule. Plus, they’ll go above and beyond to knock it out of the park for you.
Growing and scaling your freelance business is a never-ending series of processes. You should constantly be recruiting, networking and building relationships with your teammate network. You should be constantly improving your own communication and collaboration skills and hone your operational processes.
Finally, you want to leverage everything in this article to sign bigger projects, better clients, and increase your bottom line. Now how about that raise?