11 Steps for a More Stable Freelance Income

by Steven Snell

July 21, 2008 in Business/Freelance

As a freelancer your income will obviously fluctuate from month-to-month and year-to-year. Ups and downs are normal, but ideally the down times will be minimized and more stability will be in place. Some things will be outside of your control, but your approach to your work is capable of having a significant impact in stabilizing your income. Let’s take a look at some things you can do to decrease or eliminate those really slow times.

1. Find Repeat/Ongoing Work

Some jobs you’ll take, you’ll finish them, get paid and move on. Others will provide an opportunity for work on an ongoing basis. Maybe the client needs you to provide frequent updates to their site, or they have a large site that just needs regular maintenance. Also, there’s a possibility that a client needs several websites developed, and all of those projects may keep you busy for a long time.

While one-time jobs will always be a part of freelancing, having one or more ongoing jobs can provide some stable income and save you some time to work on other things. Depending on your workload you may have to dedicate some time to finding clients, but if you have ongoing work you can use that time more productively.

2. Improve Your Time Management Skills

When trying to increase your income as a freelancer you have a few options: charge more, work longer hours, or work more productively. Most of us aren’t interested in working more hours than we’re already working, so improving productivity through better use of time is essential.

With improved time management skills you’ll have the option to take more work and you’ll have more flexibility with your scheduling and workload, which can serve to provide more stability. Those who have poor time management skills leave too much out of their own control, which leads to instability.

3. Set a Schedule for Yourself

One of he challenges from working from home is separating personal time from work time. You may find that you’re working more hours than you would like, but at the same time you may be experiencing a lack of focus during your work hours because of personal distractions.

You can help this situation by establishing a schedule of when you will be working and when you won’t. Of course, you can still have some flexibility with your schedule, but it can help you to separate you work from your personal life. This also goes back to improving your productivity and you’ll leave less that’s outside of your control. If you’re experience a down time in terms of income and you need to make more money, you’ll always have the option to adjust your schedule and allow more time for work and finding new clients. Likewise, if your income is high and you’d like to cut back your hours, it’s all within your control.

4. Line Up Work Ahead of Time

Depending on the complexity of your projects, you may only be able to work on a small number at any one time. In this case you probably get some inquiries for work at bad times when you can’t touch it for a few weeks. Rather than responding and saying that you can’t help the person at this time, why not try to set up a tentative date to start work in a few weeks? Maybe you have some initial work or an intake form with some questions that you need them to answer in the meantime.

5. Track Your Deadlines

Many projects are going to have deadlines, and some will have multiple deadlines. Use a calendar (online or off) for tracking all of your deadlines so you can quickly get a view of the big picture. Looking at and preparing for deadlines will keep you moving and decrease the chances that your income will experience drop offs. Missing deadlines can mean that part of your payment is delayed, so it’s obviously in your best interest to be on top of deadlines.

6. Set Your Own Deadlines

In addition to just tracking deadlines, take it a step further and set your own deadlines. Maybe you have a deadline in a month for finishing a website and you want to set deadlines for achieving certain stages of completion along the way.

Also, you could always set deadlines for yourself that occur earlier than the deadlines set by clients. That gives you a little bit of security incase something unexpected comes up, plus it keeps you on pace to finish the project ahead of time. Finishing early means that you’ll be able to move on to something else that can give your opportunity for more income.

7. Use a To-Do List Every Day and Every Week

Setting deadlines for yourself is helpful, but what’s even more helpful is knowing specifically what you need to do each day and each week to meet those deadlines. Personally, I’d be lost and horribly unproductive without a daily to-do list. My list keeps me on track and focused on work that needs to get done to help me earn a living. I can easily get distracted with email, my RSS reader, social media sites, and just surfing in general. Knowing specifically what needs to get done and how much time I have is the best thing that I can do to stay on task.

8. Ask Clients for Referrals

Most freelancers are in the habit of getting referrals from clients from time-to-time. However, when work is slow and your income is headed downward, referrals become even more important. Take a moment to connect with some former clients and see if the have any need for your services at this time or if they have any friends that might be in need.

Being successful at attracting referrals on a regular basis can help to improve the stability of your workload and avoid those down times in the first place. If you’ve done a good job for a client they’re likely to send you some referrals if they know other who could use your services.

9. Develop a Strong Professional Network

Another method for getting referral business is by being well-connected to other designers or those in related services. Maybe you’ve got a good connection with someone who provides SEO services but doesn’t focus on design. The two of you may have opportunities to work together and share clients. These opportunities are unlikely to find you without a little bit of effort on your part, but they are out there. Take some time consistently to get to know others and build relationships, not solely for the purpose of getting referrals. You may find some situations for mutual benefit that will improve the stability of your business.

10. Add Complementary Services

One method for improving the stability of your income is to be able to offer more services to your clients. In the above example I mentioned the possibility of working together with an SEO, but there’s also an option to provide these services yourself if you’re capable. SEO isn’t the only option here either. You could do logo design, other types of graphic design for printed publications, website copywriting, or you could even offer web hosting services. Instead of needing to find new clients during a slow time you could instead offer more services to those clients that you already have.

11. Explore Marketing Opportunities

Most freelancers don’t do much marketing or advertising for their services, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not an option. In terms of investment and ROI, Pay-Per-Click advertising is one of the best options. PPC ads will allow you to find you work on just about any budget, and you can turn the campaign on and off according to your needs at the time. So if you are expecting a slow down in work you can easily put a little bit of money into PPC ads and find some new potential clients just in time. In my opinion this is a very under-utilized method for fighting of instability of income.

What’s Your Approach?

How do you manage to achieve stability and is it something that you struggle with?

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About Steven Snell

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design.Connect with Stephen on google+

  • liam

    Jul 22nd

    Enjoyed reading that, nice one. I think #1 is the main one for me, I’d much rather get a Job that has repeat work rather than a one off project. The fact that you get to know the client and their needs/tastes really appeals to me on this point. Point #9 about building a network I’d say is a great one too, nothing I can add to this list :)

  • Alex

    Jul 22nd

    One thing a good freelancer should learn to do is outsource. You’re not the best at everything, so 9 times out of 10, you can give your client a far better final product by outsourcing to skilled people to make up for the areas you lack in. If done right, you can actually make more money by subbing work out to people.

    Just think, if I’m just ‘ok’ at web development, it might take me 40 hours to do a simple website and css, which essentially consumes an entire week of my time. I could sub that out to a skilled developer, and he’d be done in a day, costing me maybe $1000-$1200 for the work, but it’s freed up an entire week for me to work and make more money (since I would still charge the client for the work the developer did).

  • Moorthy

    Jul 22nd

    Strongly agree with Alex! :) Overall a nice article. Cheers!

  • Apt Design

    Jul 22nd

    Steven,
    Another great post (how do you keep coming up with so many?).
    I’ve tried a tiny bit of PPC advertising in the past, but didn’t let it run for too long and didn’t really pay attention to the results. Maybe its time to take a better look at that…

  • Quevin

    Jul 22nd

    Great article, and probably the most concise out of many like it. However, like most, I think the article could be summed up into one step: Find Your Own System.

    Find a system that works for you, and a good system is what makes your business grow steadily. What’s repeatable and measurable in your business? It helped me to evaluate what I was doing first, identify what was working, and then build on that systematically.

    We all probably have months of email interactions with clients. I noticed that with clients who were most interested in my services were given a few initial things to help seal the deal. But I wasn’t doing this consistently.

    That first impression is so important, and the only way you can measure improvement is to provide a similar message every time. Not to mention, clients are happy to let you know why they chose your service above others. That’s so valuable to know.

    Thanks!

  • Michelle

    Jul 22nd

    Thanks for the tips. These can be applied to my freelance writing/editing business as well. I’m still getting my name and services out there and I have found that the word of mouth tip is working wonders for me. Once I finish a project I casually slip in a “please feel free to pass my contact information along to someone needing this service.” I’ve gotten my name added to a couple of preferred contact lists because of this tactic.

    Great piece!

  • paresh

    Jul 22nd

    nice list, thanks for sharing.

  • Steven Snell

    Jul 22nd

    Alex,
    Good point. I agree with you.

    Apt Design,
    PPC can be a good supplemental source of leads. I don’t think it’s anything you should depend on too heavily, but it can get some cheap leads.

    Quevin,
    True. Everyone is different so no two approaches will, or should be, the same.

    Michelle,
    I’m glad you can apply this to writing as well. It’s definitely pretty interchangeable.

  • Ebay hot items

    Jul 23rd

    Very interesting blog, i have added it to my fovourites, greetings

  • Bet-at-home

    Jul 24th

    Nice blog, i have added it to my favourites, greetings

  • Joe Akers

    Jul 28th

    Nice article.

    I’m always thinking about marketing for our company. I think it’s important to do whenever you have downtime. It gives you the opportunity to stretch your creative legs while waiting for the next project to come along…serves two purposes in the end.

    We have 3 different campaigns right now for our site launch on the July 31st, once that happens, I’ll start all over preparing for the next campaign. I’ll try for small marketing projects every month and a large push every 3 months or so.

  • Graham

    Aug 2nd

    Great post and some clear thinking here.

    Personally I would emphasise providing excellent service to encourage referrals as these are the best source of winning new clients. Networking is also essential, you could even join a formal networking system like BNI to gain regular work.

    Finally don’t forget you are trading time for money. I feel its good to find ways of developing ‘products’ that can be sold to get a diversification of income. Submit photos/illustrations to photo libraries or sell your own illustrations on your own website – its a bit like the music industry: create once but earn repeat fees and income from sales. I am certainly looking at that approach

  • Toni Shrader

    Sep 10th

    Thanks for this post, I’m sure it will help many people who have questions about working from home and how to manage their time, etc. Writing as a career is difficult to say the least and when people have some sort of idea what to expect, I think it can help them decide whether to stay employed or venture out on their own.

  • referral marketing

    Dec 17th

    Appreciated your perspective on this. Your point on referrals is indeed very true I’ve found. One thing that has worked very well for me is to ask client and customers how much value they have found/are finding in the current relationship. This help gauge not only how well you’re doing, but also allows conversations about referrals to occur more freely. Thx again!

  • John Taylor

    Apr 23rd

    What a facinating article. I’m looking for a marketing expert to help with a project, could you help?

  • Credit Girl

    Jan 28th

    Great post! Something that helps me achieve stability when it comes to freelancing is learning how to properly handle and budget my income because as you said above, it may fluctuate a lot each month. Learning how to live below my means so that I come out on top with extra money is a strategy that I’ve used and it is successful because I’m able to save the extra earned money for months where my earnings aren’t sufficient. Here’s an article we wrote as well on the topic of budgeting on a freelance income: http://www.gobankingrates.com/budgeting-for-freelancers/

  • lv

    Aug 7th

    I’m looking for a marketing expert to help with a project, could you help?

  • Paul

    Sep 29th

    May be a basic ask I know, but after recently going freelance I wanted to ask…

    If you are hired to work for 10 days and complete the work to the desired, signed off finish ahead of time (eg. 6 days in) do you get paid for the pre agreed amount of days or do you need to stretch out the work to be there for all the days to get the money?

    Quick reply would be most welcome!

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    Oct 13th

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  • Reza rahman

    Jun 3rd

    Hi

  • sophie

    Jun 6th

    Great post, thank you for sharing the information and some tips. Getting referrals can be very hard. I recently found a product that help you stop begging and pleading for referrals and actually rewards your network at no cost to you. Check it out http://www.refericity.com

  • Illusiv

    Jul 12th

    Awesome and useful post! Thanks.

  • Infotainmenet Lounge

    Jul 17th

    I have recently started blogging. Before that I was working as a freelancer, although I have not applied all of the mentioned tips..Yet these tips are essential for freelancer to work towards progressively.

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