Why did you decide to go freelance? Many of us look for the freedom of location, to choose our projects, or to escape the office lifestyle. For me, it was a combination of all of those things. But I don’t think many of us realize how hard freelancing will be when we decide to transition to full-time freelance.
We think if we understand our craft, we’ll do fine. And that is true for a short-time—but it’s not true for long-term freelance business growth. We have to learn multiple new skills that we didn’t realize was part of the equation like service positioning, contract negotiation, client satisfaction, new social media channels, and building a services website.
All of it can feel overwhelming and complicated after a while. What if we should use a basic framework to easily build our freelance business? So that we can reach consistent income? Because that’s the goal, right?
We want to do what we love—and we want to feed ourselves by doing it. In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn the basic principles to building a freelance business easily.
You’ll learn the following;
Defining your services to meet the needs of your clients,
Pricing your freelance services fairly,
Importance of defining an easy three-channel client generation strategy,
Building a referral network and program, and
Using cold email to find new clients.
Many of the principles outlined in this post are what brought me from meager monthly low income to consistent income that supports my personal lifestyle.
Establishing your services
Most likely, you defined your services on your past experiences. Your services are most likely similar to what you did in full-time employment, or you have some type of experience in the skill set.
I wouldn’t say that this is a terrible place to start. Because we have to start somewhere.
But as you move through your first year of freelance, I encourage you to continue to tweak your services so that they’re aligned with the needs of your clients (and ideal target client).
If you’re offering services that are low-value and clients aren’t buying—should you continue to offer them?
Maybe, you can offer more specific services that provide greater value to your clients—and that you can charge higher prices for them.
To start this process, you have to talk to your past, current, and future clients. By talking to them openly, you can start to define your services to meet the absolute needs of your clients.
You do this with open questions. At every opportunity, ask: How can I better support you in your business? What can I provide you with that will make your life easier?
If those conversations hint at a possible service that matches your skill set, you just defined a new service that is intertwined with the needs of your clients.
Pricing services fairly
Almost always, I see freelancers under price themselves. They start with a prior hourly rate and that rate is what they pitch to clients.
I can see the logic, but the rate is flawed. Because when you’re an employee, your hourly rate isn’t what the company pays when factoring in health insurance and taxes. It’s somewhere between 15-20% more in many cases. So, if you start with your freelance hourly rate in this way, you should automatically add 20% to the number that you just justified. Then, you’ll be in a better place.
Next, it’s time to move away from hourly wages in your freelance business. Hourly is an opportunity for clients to slice and dice your services, reduce your hours for budget, and almost always the hourly rate doesn’t reflect the amount of work you do.
It’s because the hourly rate you bill clients usually just involves the hours of work that you provide to the client. What about the twenty emails that you send them? Or the research that you had to conduct to do the project? In my experience, freelancers always forget these billable hours.
That is why we should move from hourly fees to project fees because we can better account for our services. And price them more fairly.
Finding consistent clients
We dream of consistent income. However, that is usually very hard for us to come by. And it’s not your fault. Many freelancers don’t realize that there is much more to running a freelance business than just client work. You have to do things like (and not limited to);
Consistently look for new clients,
Build quality client on boarding procedures,
Learn social media channels you never knew about,
Build a website,
And many more…
There is much more to business than just the services you provide. But how can we simplify this? You’ve heard the industry buzz terms: lead generation, client acquisition, sales generation…. All of it applies to you, but I’ll call it here: client generation strategy.
And I want to simplify this strategy for you. Based on your ideal target client, I want you to create three (and only three) methods to consistently generate new clients.
Making this decision comes from;
Reflecting on how you’ve already found clients in the past,
Where your ideal client is hanging out online, and
How much money do you have to find them?
Once you’ve brainstormed these three points, you can start to create a three-channel client generation strategy. Every freelancer will have a different mix—so you don’t want to 100% follow the crowd.
You want to find your own.
For me (and many of the freelancers I talk with), we find our clients by;
Our personal network,
Through referrals, or
Cold email outreach.
Because of that, I’m now going to deep-dive into each one of these client generation strategies.
Leveraging your network. Ask around to the freelancers in your community. Where did their first clients come from? For me, it was my mother. Yes, she was my first client. I wrote content for her company’s blog. Then, my second client was a friend of a friend. There is a lot of power in leveraging your network. To start this process, create a list of everyone that you know; family, friends, high-school friends, aunts, uncles, past colleagues, and people in your network. Create your list and draft a kind email talking up your services.
Power of referrals. Once you’ve established your first five to ten clients and you have a record, you can deep-dive into creating a referral pipeline. Referrals work! It’s because people would rather trust those that come referred, than those they just met online. Having someone else vouch for you is very powerful. Build out your referral program. Ask past clients to refer people your way—and you can even pay them a specific percentage or amount of the closed on project to incentivize them.
Up until this point, I’ve talked about personal relationship marketing and client acquisition. It’s truely the easy way and best way to acquire new clients. But sometimes, you have to go the cold approach. When you do, I recommend cold email outreach to be part of your framework.
Cold outreach. I was able to generate up to four new clients in my first year of business from cold email outreach. It works, but you have to be smart about it, warm, friendly, and have a strategy. Cold outreach can be done in multiple formats; Instagram DMs, emails, or LinkedIn DMs. I would suggest starting by crafting copy—make it short, relevant, and personalized—then start outreaching to a list of up to 200 contacts of your ideal target clients.
Building your freelance business easily
It really doesn’t have to be hard. Freelance business success comes from choosing the right strategies—and being super consistent and purposeful about it. It’s not doing everything, but it’s doing the few things that work well. It’s doing the few client generation strategies for your target client. It’s understanding your ideal client and creating services for them. And it’s taking the time to create value from your services and price them fairly. All these pieces are the beginning building blocks of a strong freelance business.
MEET MEGAN | Megan Thudium is a multi-passionate entrepreneur and marketing expert who coaches ambitious womxn on how to sell and market their freelance services with ease.