Habits to Create Steady Income Year-Round
Freelance life often means a roller coaster of income, which can be pretty frustrating. Especially if you're just coming off a full-time job. One month brings in a ton of work and you can barely keep up, while in the next you're twiddling your thumbs and can barely buy toilet paper.
It can make you doubt your decision and your skills as a freelancer. Budgeting is next to impossible, and your life becomes chaotic. Even when you have a windfall, you never treat yourself, just in case you hit a dry spell next month.
But, there's hope.
Sure, you'll still experience the roller coaster of freelance life, but you'll be less likely to run out of work (and income) with these three habits of successful freelancing.
Habit #1: Never stop marketing.
Keep up with all of your marketing routines AT ALL TIMES, even when you're overloaded with work. It's easier to schedule the work out for future dates than to scramble when you have none.
Unless your current schedule consists of a lot of retainer work, your projects will come to an end, so you'll need something else to work on when they do. If you're consistently marketing and selling your services, you'll never run out.
There's a bit of an art to figuring out how much to market yourself when you're jammed with work, and also to know what's most effective for your business. Tweak it as you go, seeing what's doable when you're busy, and what wins you the most work. Practice also makes perfect, so you won't have to market so much to win work.
Examples of ways you can make it easier during your busy times:
- Send a monthly newsletter offering industry insight and curated content, product updates, and tips your prospects find useful.
- Write a blog that combines thought leadership, domain expertise, and product updates. Set aside an afternoon to write a bunch of posts and then schedule them to be published in the future.
- Schedule social media updates to go out in the future. I spend the last 10-15 minutes of my day doing this, so my queue is always filled, and it doesn't take me a long time to do.
- Create upsell/upgrade opportunities with existing clients. It costs much less to upsell an existing client than to acquire a new one, so why not give it a shot? When delivering your final project, ask them about something related and if it's on their schedule. That continues the conversation and can potentially get you another sale.
- Add a call-to-action to your email signature.
- Repurpose some old content into something new. You'll save time, because you're not creating from scratch.
- Create partnerships with like-minded freelancers that can help you with your marketing, and vice versa. When you're busy, they may not be, so they can keep getting the word out for you. You'll do likewise for them.
Habit #2: Follow up on all proposals and prospects.
Ideally, you should already be at the "Yes" stage when you send a proposal, so it's already a done deal. But, if it's not, keep following up with your contact until they respond. You want to know precisely why they're not signing up with you right now. Did something change on their end? Were they suddenly out of the office due to an illness or something else? You won't know until you ask.
Here are the most common reasons why your proposal or email gets ignored:
- They have no need for your writing services.
- Your email is flagged as spam, so they never see it.
- They just had a bad experience with a freelancer and are hesitant to with another.
- They want to hire you, but their project is weeks or months away.
- They had a personal or technical issue, and they never see it.
By following up multiple times, you're contacting them at different times in their work cycle, so you’re ready when they are. Even a prospect that seemed like a hot lead can fall into one of those traps and go radio silent. Keep at it and you'll find out why.
A quick example: I had a prospect reach out for a website revision. We chatted on the phone, and he asked me to send a proposal to him via email. I did so later that day, but then he went silent for an entire week. I sent a couple of quick emails asking if he had any questions, but got no response. The following week, he replied to say they were still deciding on marketing strategies with their marketing consultants and would be changing the work he needed me to do. That was almost two months ago now, and I've still not started any work with him. But, we're still in contact, as they continue to shift priorities and work project ideas. When he's ready to finally start a project, I’ll be there for him.
To find your ideal follow-up schedule:
Ilise recommends identifying your needs for the work first. It helps you assign the same weight to every inquiry, but could possibly cut down on the number of follow-ups you do each month. E.g., if you know how much income you need to generate each month to cover your expenses, you'll know which prospects and proposals to follow up with and how much time to spend pursuing them.
Here are some follow-up email templates you can use.
Habit #3: Under promise and over deliver.
Of course, you should always deliver exactly what you promise in your work agreements. But, to really wow clients, deliver a bit more to them and watch what happens.
- If your client asks for a Monday deadline, send over the draft by the Friday before, if possible.
- If they ask for a website content revision, deliver that project, along with a few other ideas they could implement.
- If you're unsure about how to proceed on a project, ask them about it. It's always better to clarify than to overstep and deliver a work product that jeopardizes the relationship.
The freelancing world is very competitive, and there will always be someone waiting to take your place. Don't let them! Over delivering creates a very positive relationship with the client, so when the have future work, you're the first person they contact about it.
(Aside: Often they'll ask you to work on the suggestions you make to them, so don't be scared to do it. Even if they don't go with you, they'll still think of you positively, because you helped them grow their business, which is their ultimate goal.)
Develop better habits for a more stable freelancing business
Changing habits is hard, but if you're able to master these three habits, you'll grow your freelance business year-round. You'll reduce and even eliminate all the stress about your work schedule and the state of your bank account. This will leave you free to spread your freelancing wings and evolve your business into something more.
Perhaps it's to create an empire, or maybe you want to work less and spend more time with your family. Whatever it is, these habits will help even out your income, so you can plan for the future and enjoy life, whatever life is for you.