7 Tough Love Tips to Boost Your Freelance Income
Freelance writers receive a lot of happy-crappy “how to increase your income” advice.
There are thousands of blog posts online outlining tips like:
“Charge more money.”
“Find your niche.”
“Package your services.”
It’s not that the advice is wrong (heck, I’ve discussed those tips, too.) It’s that the advice only goes so far.
“Charging more money” doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know your numbers. And there are a lot of writers out there making six figures without a niche.
So, how do freelance copywriters boost their income?
Over the past 20+ years, I’ve learned a lot of hard business lessons the hard way. Sometimes, I was warned about a course of action, and I stupidly did it anyway. Why? Because I’m stubborn. Did it work out? No.
So please consider this my tough love writing advice to you. If you want to increase your income, you have to get your business process tight and wired.
Here’s what to do.
Fire the clients who no longer serve you.
It may be the client who pays you late every single month. Or the client who sends you work Friday at 4:30 and expects it to be finished by Monday. Or the client that likes to call and “check in.” A lot.
Or, sadly, this can be your very first client. You outgrew them years ago, and they pay you far below your normal rate – but you have a hard time letting them go.
Let them go. It’s time.
Your clients may not bring you joy every single day, but you should at least enjoy working with them and feel respected. If you keep clients on who drive you nuts and suck up your available bandwidth, you won’t have time to help future clients you’ll love.
Here’s some more information on how to fire a writing client.
Ruthlessly budget the time you’ll spend on a project.
How many times have you calculated your hourly wage after completing a project and realized you could have made more working at McDonalds?
Yeah. We’ve all been there.
Yes, it’s OK to spend a little extra time polishing a project. But if you find yourself spending hours more than you originally budgeted, you have one of two problems:
– Your client is demanding additional work than what was originally contracted for (and you’re not kicking back as you should.)
– You need to stop being a perfectionist and get work out the door faster.
Remember, you cost yourself money every time you spend too much time on a project. It could be a few dollars. Or a few hundred. Either way, this is something you’re doing to yourself.
If your client wants something that’s out of scope, tell them that it’s an additional charge and ask if they still want to proceed. Easy. Here’s the difference between “out of scope” and a revision.
If you’re taking too long to write something, it’s time to tighten down your process. Remember, your copy is never going to be perfect. No matter how many times you tweak it. Really.
Know your numbers and stick to them.
Quick: How much money do you need to make to cover your monthly bills, including your insurance costs, vacation time and taxes? How many pages do you need to write every month to make that happen?
If you can’t immediately answer that question, that’s a huge red flag.
A huge mistake freelancers make is pulling pricing numbers out of the air without thinking about their hard monetary needs. Sure, you can charge $15 a blog post. But if your monthly expenses are $1,000, you’ll have to write an average of 17 articles a week just to break even.
The purpose of owning a business is to make money. If you’re constantly stressed about cash flow, your life will be a very unhappy place.
Remember, as a freelancer, you are responsible for everything – your own retirement, your own vacation, your own salary and your own health care. If you set your hourly rate at what you used to earn as a full-time employee, you’ll come up short every month. Carol Tice outlined the expenses you’ll need to cover in her pricing-savvy blog post.
Think out of the box
You don’t have to offer the same services as every other writer. One competitive intelligence secret top writers use is to talk to people in their target market (yes, on the phone) and ask them what their main challenges are. A quick 15-minute conversation can provide you a wealth of insider information you can use to craft future service offerings.
Need other ideas? Here are four ways you can increase your freelance income – fast.
Focus on your business first.
How many hours a week do you spend on your business? Not just administrative stuff like paying bills – but profit-driving things like setting up your marketing plan, connecting with influencers, planning new services and making your website shine.
For many writers, the answer is, “I don’t market my business.”
And that’s a huge mistake.
Your most important client is you. Period. That means you need to set aside time every week to strategize and plan (you know, just like you do for your clients.) You can set aside a half day to make it happen (Fridays tend to be good days.) Or, you can spend 30 minutes a day on business planning.
Do this. Do this now. Even if you think”you don’t have the time.” If you go out of business because you didn’t plan correctly, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands. But that’s not really what you want, is it?
Are you so overwhelmed with must-do tasks that you can’t figure out how you’d even find 30 minutes a day for marketing? The next tip is for you…
Let go of your need to control.
As freelance writers, it’s easy to believe that we have to do it all. We write the content. We research the keyphrases. We handle the back end of our businesses, like marketing, bill paying and invoice-wrangling.
Is it any wonder that balls get dropped?
Give yourself permission to think about tasks you could delegate to someone else. For instance:
- You can bring on another writer and supervise their work. This strategy works to your advantage. You can make more money for much less work.
- You can outsource tasks you don’t enjoy (like bookkeeping or keyphrase research) to someone else.
- You can hire someone to post on social media for you (and yes, you can approve the posts first, you control freak you!)
- Do you hate sales? Consider bringing on a commissioned sales person.
- Is client communication driving you nuts and eating into your time? Bring on a part-time project manager.
- Is your day taken up by administrative tasks? Hire a VA for a few hours a week.
The most successful freelancers I know work with a team of smart, talented people. Bringing on team members is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the complete opposite – you are so laser-focused on your strengths, you recognize there are things you shouldn’t handle yourself. Yes, this is money that’s out the door. But you will make more money – and have more free time – if you bring on the right people to help. Trust me.
When I first started my SEO copywriting career, I’d look at the SEO cool kids like Danny Sullivan, Detlev Johnson and Shari Thurow and want to be just like them. They were speaking at conferences. They were working with major clients. They had some major SEO street cred.
My goal back then was to push myself out of my comfort level and speak on the national circuit. And yes, I made it happen!
Am I happy where I am today? Yes. Do I think I can do even more? You bet. I just set a big business goal for myself today – one that, yet again, pushes me squarely out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure how I’ll make it happen yet. And I have a feeling I’ll need to find help. But hey, that’s part of the fun!
Consider how you can take your business one step beyond. Maybe you want to make 50% more this year. Maybe you want to double your newsletter subscribers. Or maybe, you want to work your tail off ten months out of the year so you can vacation for the other two. Don’t let yourself think, “This sounds fun…but…” No excuses. Your mind (and your intentions) are much more powerful than you think.
Now get out there and start making some of that Internet money (thank you, South Park!).
Thanks for the great advice Heather!
-from a fellow control freak (it’s so comforting to be understood)
@Lee – ha! Your comment made me laugh. I’m sure there’s a support group for us control freaks somewhere. The problem is, we’d all want to run the group and nothing would get done… :)
Many guys getting started out in the business way undersell themselves … it’s sad to see them do that!
That was the kick in the pants I needed today!
You are very welcome! So glad I could help! :)
Thanks for the tips. I can identify with many of these issues. For me personally, budgeting time is a big one! I usually get the project done at or under the amount of time I thought, but I tend to be a perfectionist and often struggle actually getting things “out the door.”
I’ve got to do better!
I hear you, @Matt! I can be the exact same way…
Thanks for a great post, Heather. I’ve just added ‘Business planning / marketing’ to my weekly whiteboard! (Need for order? Me??)