Freelancing is a tough job. Sure, you’ve got the perks of being your own boss, setting your own schedule, and taking on jobs you love (well, most of the time, anyway), but you also own a lot of the responsibility for your business.
Things can get even tougher if you’re looking to move past the freelancer stage, too. Maybe you have your eye on creating a productized business by selling a certain product or solution, or start working with big name clients who pay you for more than just hourly services. But where do you start?
How do you move from grinding out one-off projects for a paycheck to making a steady income without breaking a sweat?
Well, the first step to upgrading your business is upgrading your mindset.
You’re Not Selling a Service…
What you need to remember when you’re leveling up your business is that you’re not just selling a service; you’re selling value.
In the world of business-to-business, you have to know that people aren’t just hiring you do to do something for them, like building a website or designing a plugin; they’re hiring you because they believe that what you’re building for them will make them more money or improve their business in some way. At the end of the day, your client’s main concern is his or her own interest.
So, if you’re looking to upgrade your business, you’ll need to stop thinking like a freelancer trying to make a quick buck and start thinking like a high-value consultant who can serve those interests.
Brennan Dunn of Double Your Freelancing recommends shifting your mindset to focus on the benefit of what you’re offering, not on the actual product or service itself. “It’s not about the website,” he says. “It’s about what they think the website will do for them.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what service you’re selling, it’s about how you present it to your clients. If you want to take your business to the next level, you need to think of yourself as an expert – as a value-giver. (Remember, you don’t have to know everything to position yourself as an expert… you just have to know more than your clients.)
But, if you want to be seen as a value-giver, you can’t think of what you have to offer in terms of dollars and cents alone…
Create Relationships, Not Invoices
Creating value is about building relationships, not just working on a few projects so you can pay your bills. Building relationships comes down to upselling. If you’re still stuck on “billable hours” – as in, charging by the project or hour – you’re not looking at the big picture. You need to be relating to your clients in ways that show you understand their needs more than they do and then offering services that meet those needs.
Take a look at their website, for example. Do they seriously need help in another area that you weren’t contracted to work on (but you could totally do)? Tell them how you can optimize their site.
Do they contract with other freelancers but you notice that the work isn’t as good as what you could do? Offer to be an editor for the work they already have coming in.
If they’ve mentioned to you that they need ongoing work, offer your services on retainer and make it clear that you’re in it for the long haul.
It doesn’t really matter what the upsell is, it only matters that they know you’re thinking about their best interest. If you make them feel like you really care about their business (you could never let them publish something with typos!) and that you’re someone who can truly help (how interesting, you also copy edit), you won’t have to go to them begging for projects; they’ll come to you.
Make Clients Come to You
When you start setting yourself apart as a valuable commodity by building relationships and upselling services, you may notice that clients start showing up at your proverbial doorstep. You may suddenly find yourself having to decide whether to say “yes” or “no” to offers sent directly to your email instead of wasting countless hours searching job boards or cold-emailing clients.
But how do you make sure that clients come to you so you don’t have to go back to begging for scraps? Well, it’s all about presentation. If you’re looking to take your business to the next level, you’ll have to “dress” for success.
This means you should be:
- Creating an online presence that showcases your value. If you have a website, make sure it’s not just a bland portfolio and a list of services. Make it about showing the benefit you offer clients. If you’re on social media, don’t just retweet what others are saying, post original thoughts and commentary and showcase your knowledge of your field. Whatever you do, let potential clients see that you’re active and engaged and that you’re not just another pretty face.
- Narrowing down your field of expertise. In this case, it’s true that a jack of all trades is master of none. If you want clients to come to you, it’s important to be known for doing a couple of things really, really well. If you’re a designer/writer/illustrator/social media guru/marketer extraordinaire, that’s great, but it may not get you the clients you actually want. Try focusing on a couple areas you’re proficient in to attract clients, and then upsell them on all the other wonderful things you do later on, after you’ve started building a relationship.
- Following-up on absolutely everything. If someone sends you an email, send them one back thanking them for the email and include information about who you are and what you do (and answer any questions, of course). If someone follows you on Twitter, send them a quick message thanking them for the follow and point them to your website (or better yet, ask them a question to start a dialogue). When people come to you, do your very best to build a relationship with them in some small way. Even if you don’t end up working with them directly, you never know what a good referral could do for your business.
Of course, all these strategies still rely on you being the sole owner and operator of your business. But what if you’re looking for a way to escape the hourly freelancing experience all together? Well, you may want to try turning your valuable service into an equally valuable product.
Productize Your Services
One of the best ways to upgrade your business is to eliminate the need for billable hours all together by turning your service into a product (or “productized service”). You’ll still technically be trading time for money, but you’ll no longer have to justify an hourly rate or negotiate semantics. You’ll be focused on results and benefits instead.
Almost any service can be productized; the trick is to clearly define what you offer.
If you’re a designer, you could set up a pre-made “logo package” instead of designing custom logos. Your package might include certain file types, colors, or sizes for a certain price. If you’re a web designer, you might set up an e-commerce store to integrate with an existing site. If you’re a WordPress developer, you could offer a plugin or a customized theme. If you’re a writer, you could offer an editing package. The possibilities are endless.
One of the great things about offering a productized service is that you’re in control of what you offer, you can set the price, and you don’t have to justify your rates or service. Clients and customers will automatically know that value that they’re getting without having to haggle over the details. You’ll still do the work, but you’ll significantly (and instantly) raise the value of your business.
Escaping the daily grind of the freelance life is tough, but by adjusting your mindset and productizing your services you’ll set yourself up for success (and way more freedom!) well into the future.