Monday, March 07, 2005

How to make freelancing a successful career -- not just a way of scratching out a living

If you want to succeed to the point where you make freelancing a successful career, not just a way of scratching out a living, sacrifices have to be made along the way.

This may mean a combination of turning down assignments, risk losing old clients and expanding your skill set – at least for a while. This is why freelancing should be a well-thought out career move, not a hastily made decision.

So, how do you increase your income year after year? Three tips:

1. At the end of every year, examine your fee structure. While it is notoriously difficult to raise fees yearly, you can change how you charge so that you maximize your time to bring in more dollars. For example, instead of charging by the hour, charge by the project.

If you’re a fast worker, you could increase your income on a project by 10, 15, 25 percent or more simply by implementing this method. This works particularly well for projects you are comfortable with (eg, an annual report you’ve written for the same client for the last three years).

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2. At the end of every year, examine your client list. Determine who is “worth it” to keep. Some clients cost you – in time, effort and sheer frustration. Ask yourself if the dollars you bring in from a pesky client is worth it in the time it takes away from other clients.

Even if other clients pay less, but are relatively easy to deal with, it may be worth it to cut loose a time-consuming client and spend the hours you free up to market for more low-maintenance, high-paying clients.

3. At the end of every year, examine your skill set. Sometimes, updating your skill set can position you to take on more lucrative projects.

For example, medical and technical editing and writing generally pays more than general editing and writing. So, taking a class on the dynamics of medical and/or technical editing can add a skill set to your professional profile.

NOTE: It takes a while to move into a new discipline. So, initially you will probably have to take on lower-paying projects to get some experience under your belt. But, if you’re freelancing for the long haul, it will pay off over time.

In order to get something (more money), you often have to sacrifice something (dry spells, returning to the classroom, letting go of old clients, etc.).

In my opinion, freelancers who work for a pittance not only cheat themselves, they lower the bar on the industry as a whole. While moving into the upper echelon of assignments may mean tough times in the short run, it will make you work that much harder to succeed over the long haul.

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