As an employee, it’s easy to make more money. You knock on the boss’s door, point out all of the wonderful things you’ve been doing for the company and ask him to add 10 percent to your salary. If he laughs, you either ask what you still need to do to get that raise or you start looking for another job. Either way, ambitious types should always know what’s coming next. For freelancers though, increasing earnings is a little tougher. The most obvious way – to charge more – can have the effect of reducing your income as you price yourself out of the market. There’s often a difference between what a freelancer thinks he’s worth and what the market says he’s worth. But there are a few things you can do to raise your income without raising your prices.
Perhaps the most obvious is to work harder. One of the biggest shocks for workers new to freelancing is the recognition that time is money. While it’s theoretically true that freelancers are free to take time off whenever they want, provided there’s no deadline looming (and when does that ever happen?), it’s certainly true that they’ll be counting the amount of money they didn’t earn during those hours at the beach. The more billable work you can pack into a day then, the more you’ll be able to earn.
Productivity systems like Getting Things Done might help – although their complexity could actually cost you time too – but really the most effective way to increase your productivity is to create short bursts of focused attention. Work in a café, for example, and you’ll know you’ve got a seat for about two hours, long enough to complete one task. That mini-deadline could be enough to keep you staring at the screen, instead of looking through the window. And if that doesn’t work, you could always choose a café without an Internet connection.
Aim to Upsell
Clients usually choose a freelancer who can complete a particular task. But it’s likely that there’s a whole bunch of other jobs you could be doing for the client as well, and some of them might just pay more. Each time you complete a job for a new client, look at other jobs you could be doing for her, and create a package deal.
Don’t pitch it right away though. If the client thought that project was good for her, she would have asked you to do it in the first place. Persuading her will take time, but most importantly, it will take trust. Wait until you’ve completed two or three jobs for the same client, proven that your knowledge as well as your skills have value, and then pitch your idea. You should find that you’re able to turn one job into two.
Increase Your Skills
Upselling will let you do more with the same set of skills. Increasing your skills though, will let you do more valuable kinds of work. For tech types, that’s relatively easy. Programmers can always add a new programming language to their resumes. Designers can learn new software or experiment with new techniques. But even freelance writers can sharpen their editing skills or take classes in technical or medical writing, niches with particularly high pay.
It might not be simple, fun or quick but it’s worth doing anyway, if only because it keeps your skills up to date, and lets you compete with new and better-skilled freelancers entering the marketplace.
Replace Your Old Clients
The first clients a talented freelancer picks up get a bargain. Demand is low so their negotiating power is strong. When the alternative is an empty book, a new freelancer will often be willing to accept a rate much lower rate than his work is worth. As his book fills though, time becomes rare and the freelancer starts to charge more. But that still leaves those old clients who were lucky enough to pick up an early deal.
Those are the people you can ask more money from. You know their work well enough that you’ll be hard to replace. Time will mean that you can at least ask for an inflation-linked rise. And if they prefer not to pay, then you’ll be able to replace them with a new client who’s willing to pay the full amount.
On the other hand though, familiarity with an old client can mean that you’re able to complete their work faster than you used to. Increasing productivity can mean shutting down the Web and turning off the radio but it can also mean working faster, something that happens naturally the more you do a particular job. Before you demand more cash from your old clients, it’s worth looking at whether you’re not already earning the same money in less time.
Outsource Your Work
And finally, the best way to increase your earnings is to hire freelancers yourself. It’s this approach that’s allowed Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, to lead a life of apparent idleness broken only by professional speaking, writing and promotional work. Some tasks you’ll always need to do. Your signature work, for example, particularly complex coding or writing that carries your name you’ll probably want to micromanage to the extent that you may as well do it yourself. (Although if Damien Hirst can hire people to do his paintings for him, then what can’t be outsourced?) But much of the day-to-day work that most freelancers do can often be passed on to other freelancers who charge less than you do for an hour of time. Simple coding, basic design and low-level editing can be trusted to hired help, freeing you up to earn a premium in that time.
It’s something that tends to happen only when the freelancer has enough work to pass around, is confident enough in his abilities to oversee the work of others and is ambitious enough to want to turn a one-freelancer enterprise into a growing business. It’s also the kind of thing that can remove all the limits to your freelance earnings.