Getting enough work as a freelancer

A recent poll on the Phoenix Designers Facebook group asked what was the biggest struggle of being a freelancer. The majority of freelancers and solo-prenuers voted they struggle finding enough business to be sustainable. 

I run a small studio focused on the web, specifically for recurring revenue clients. Business consultants say you should have a niche business. Well, that’s as deep of a niche as I can go. I learned early on the perils of the bank account roller coaster. One month you are maxed out with too many projects, saying yes to anyone willing to pay and working long hours. The next month: nothing. All your work is finished, and you are left with a few odds and ends that barely pay anything. 

Let’s address that. One major thing I learned over the years is mastering my calendar. I’m building the next week on a weekly basis. If it’s not on my calendar, it won’t happen. I review it to see what was productive and what was a bust. You have to learn to accept that time is the resource, and you only have so much of it. I schedule important to-do items such as workouts, eating, meetings, and production. I’m sure that seems like common sense, but something I have found is that few people schedule sales and marketing activity. When do you set aside time to work on that case study, go to networking events, follow up on past clients, research new industries? There is so much to do here that you could spend days in these activities. 

I know, I know. I just added 10 hours of work to your already full plate. But the reality is that if you want to smooth out your project load and cash flow, you must plan these activities. Booking new work always takes time. It could be a few weeks, or it could be a few months. I have seen many projects come in 6 to 18 months later. The magic is that I stay in touch, follow up, and nurture these leads as if they were friends. These are tasks to schedule as well. 

You may find in all this that you don’t have enough time for production work. This is the hard balance. Some weeks you may need to put in the hard work and pull some late hours. Ideally, if you can stay busy, you may find you need to raise your rates to support your ability for limited production hours. I find a 40-hour week only really supports 25-30 production hours max. I have checked around, and this seems to be a common ratio for productive freelancers and self-employed designers. 

So TL;DR. 

  • Your calendar is your guiding star. Follow it. 
  • Schedule 80% to 90% of your days. Sales, networking, accounting, travel, meetings, and production time.
  • Track your leads and follow up. Responses can take months. 
  • Check in with past clients. They already know your work. 
  • Raise your rates to support less production time once you are booking consistently. 

Hey, you made it this far. The last thing I will share is to only maintain one calendar. Sure, you have personal things, but you are only one person, so you should live out of one calendar. My calendar has all the work things, but also that car repair, dentist appointment, and mental health day blocked off, the same as a client meeting.


 

Matt Adams is AIGA Arizona’s Business of Design Director, President of Factor 1 Studios, a worry-free web studio specializing in businesses with recurring revenue, and founder of Trajectory Shift, as a fractional strategic executive. That’s too many things and you should just follow him on Linkedin or Instagram

By Matt Adams
Published October 17, 2019
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