How to Grow Your Freelance Business (When you don’t have time for more clients)

canstockphoto8229025You’ve had some success getting your freelance business up and running.

In fact, you’ve had more than a little success, and you’re getting booked regularly and solidly for the great work you do.

But, something’s not right. What was once a great business is starting to feel like a job. What was once a business that let you work when you wanted, is now a business that lets you work every hour you’re awake.

Congratulations. You’ve reached the level of “booked-up-ness” which was a seemingly unreachable when you started the business. The problem is, it’s not so great when you get there.

It can feel like to grow your business, the week would have to grow another day. Or it has to me at times as a freelancer. I know what it’s like to find yourself so up to your neck in work that there isn’t time for anything else. I also know the evil and dangerous trap that this creates, but we’ll come to that later.

If you too are a booked solid freelancer, what you can do to grow your business and claw back you life? Here are 6 options:

1 – Charge more for what you already do

Obvious answer alert. If you’re booked solid, then you’re in demand. If there’s demand, then you should be able to increase your prices.

When you do, one of three things could happen.

All your customers accept the increase.

You’re making more money, but you’ve got no more time. This is a good sign that you could raise your prices further…

Some customers accept the raise, some leave

This might be better. As long as you increase your rates enough to cover the clients that leave, you’re good. Double your prices and half your clients leave? Suddenly you’re making the same money from half the time, freeing it up to either reclaim your life, or use the time in some other profitable way.

So far so good. But everyone’s scared of number 3:

All of your customers leave

They find someone else to do the job you used to do.

That would seriously suck, but it rarely happens. To explain why, hold on to your hats while we delve into a bit of microeconomic theory called “elasticity of demand”.

This theory is a boat-load of maths and equations which show that for some products / services, even small changes in price have a high impact on how much people buy, while for others, large changes in price have very little impact on demand for the product.

You can ignore the theory, but here’s the gold comes frome when economists study the reasons for goods and services where price doesnt impact demand. There are 2 overriding reasons:

Are there any good substitutes for the product – (can others do a similar job?)

It’s very likely that it’s quite hard to find a substitute freelancer, if you’ve got regular clients. They would have to go through the whole process of finding someone else, checking out their work and references, getting them up to speed with their business – you get the picture.

Is the product addictive or habit forming in some way?

And this is where we get to tactic number 2:

2 – Get your clients addicted to you 

I’m not suggesting that you start dealing drugs. I’m saying that if you become completely indispensible to your clients, then you’ll have a much easier time of raising your prices. This is another one of those no shit Sherlock, moments that happen in my posts on a regular basis, but it is easier to do than you might think.

First, what can you add to your service that others just can’t or won’t? Perhaps its because you’ve got skills that others haven’t, or perhaps you can do it because you understand your clients needs so much better than anyone else.  What could differentiate you enough to make them think seriously before switching for a cheaper price?

Second is the old chestnut of niching down your offer. Think of it this way: if you’re wanting to hire a copywriter, then there are a lot out there (many substitutes) but if you want to find a copywriter for healthcare professionals, then how many others of these are there? I suspect a whole lot fewer.

Working in a niche also probably means you sometimes end up doing the same things for a lot of clients. Whilst that might suck, it’s also another opportunity to grow:

3 – Automate and Use templates

If you’re always doing the same thing for clients, how much can you streamline that work? If you can do the work in less time, you get more time to do other things!

Software developers frequently use templates, frameworks and snippets of code to do parts of projects that are common. There’s n point in reinventing the wheel for every client, especially if it’s something they never even see.

My coach sent me a slide deck she’d created, because “all of my clients have this question” It speeded up our session, and she could reuse something shed created once.

Even if you can’t think of any space for automating the actual work you do, how about your client on-boarding process for clients. I love this post by Paul Jarvis where he goes through exactly how he automated this in his freelance business. How much time could you save by not repeating the same thing over and over?

Even if you can’t automate, then it’s worth making a step by step list or set of instructions for yourself. Not only will this save you some time and make sure you do a spot-on job every time, it will set you up for the next step…

4 – Hire people to work for you

If you’re like me, you can’t possibly imagine hiring anyone else to do your work, and your clients wouldn’t tolerate it.

And you’re right. If you’re a copywriter, clients want your copy. If you’re a designer, they want your designs.

But they don’t care whether you or your assistant sent them the invoice afterwards.

Every business of any size has tonnes of tasks that don’t have to be done by you. Every hour of those that you can get done elsewhere frees up another hour of your time, or perhaps even more, if you hire a specialist. (If I tried to do my own end of year accounts, what probably takes my accountant a couple of hours tops would probably take me a week.)

Opportunities to get other people to do work for you are everywhere.  When you’re struggling for revenue, it often doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, but if you have a booked out schedule, then it’s only sensible to grow your business.

Once you’ve freed up the time, you can use it to…

5 – Move higher up the value chain

If you concentrate on a specific niche, then you’ll also inevitably learn parts of that business that your clients operate in. Once you’re doing that, and they trust you to deliver, then instead of simply raising your prices, it’s quite possible to move into higher value work for those same clients.

So if you start out doing SEO writing, and your clients are happy, it’s not a great leap to move into writing blog posts, or web copy for them – both of which are likely to be higher paid gigs.

This has the added bonus of  selling to people who’ve already bought from you – always an easier proposition.

Another option could be to work with multiple clients together…

6 – Make your expertise go further by grouping clients

Could you do a group version of your services, and help multiple clients at the same time?

This doesn’t work for everyone, but it can have some added benefits for your clients – I know my coaching can be too expensive for some people who would like to work with me, so I’m launching a group programme which means I can work with more clients in the same time, and they get access to me for less cost than on a 1-1 basis.

What about that evil trap though, Rob?

Ok, 6 strategies that can work, but you might have noticed I still haven’t mentioned the evil and dangerous trap that being booked solid creates.

Well, if you’ve read the list above and started to think:

“That’s great, but when exactly am I going to do any of those things, I’m booked up remember?”

Then you’re in the evil trap.

The trap of being too busy to work on your business, because you’re too busy working in your business.

There’s no easy answer to get out of the trap. I have other post coming with some options, but there’s one thing you have to do for them to work:

Prioritise working on your business higher than your client work 

Most of us freelancers have an ability to get done what we have on our plate – so make sure your stuff is on the schedule and treat it as equally important as the client stuff.

If you’re serious about growing your business, you need to give it your attention, and make it your number one project.

If you’re interested in getting that project done in February, then make sure you’re in the THDC club, as I have a very cool programme coming this week which will help you do just that. Click to make sure you’re on the list to know about it straight away:

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