11 Steps for a More Stable Freelance Income

by Steven Snell

on July 21, 2008

in Business/Freelance

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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+