4 Unconventional Ways to Increase Your Productivity as a Freelancer

increase productivityThis post comes from writer Melanie, who recently quit her day job to start her own freelance business. She shares more of her journey on her blog, Dear Debt.

As a freelancer you likely already know how important it is to set up systems for yourself and your biz. You probably have a routine, know whether you work better at night or in the morning, and have a clear idea of your strengths and weaknesses. (And if you don’t, you should definitely experiment until you understand your best routine.)

After all, working for yourself is an incredible learning experience that’s ever evolving. The key to growing a business and your skill set is to evolve with your biz and try new things.

I have come to realize how easily comfort can seduce you into stagnation. Being comfortable is nice. It’s much better than being in constant crisis mode. However, I’ve learned that as a freelancer, I always need to be questioning what I do, how I do things, and the systems I have in place.

Just because something works doesn’t mean it’s efficient, nor does it mean it’s the best way. As we grow our businesses, we need to grow ourselves as well. If we don’t, we’re likely to get in a rut, feel uninspired, or even feel downright depressed. As a new freelance, I want to avoid those things at all cost.

So what should you do?

Challenge the approach to your biz and money mindset constantly. Evaluate the way you go about business and making money. Think about the big picture and try something new.

Recently, I started challenging the way I approach my business in hopes of learning new ideas, and not sticking to a status quo. I’ve tested and tweaked, and two amazing things happened: I got paid more and was more productive.

Below are some examples of ways that I was able to increase my scope of work and do things a bit differently — all from challenging the approach to my daily systems.

1. Don’t give potential clients your rates

A common belief that I held as I became a freelancer was that I needed set rates for client work. Of course, over time, I’ve been able to increase my rates and get better paying jobs, but the whole time I’ve been freelancing, I never loved the idea of sharing my rates with potential clients.

For example, I write for several personal finance blogs, and within the blog space there seems to be a general range of pay that’s acceptable. In this way, this paradigm of payment can inform your “rates”.

I’ve always felt a little limited by this. First of all, not all clients are equal. What I mean by this is that for some blogs, I can write about nearly anything and can finish a post in thirty minutes. On the other hand, some blogs and posts require much more research, communication, and editing.

Should I assess those two clients in the same way? I don’t think so.

I was recently able to get out of the rates race and try something new. I pitched a new contact and knew they worked with a team of writers who produced consistent content. They agreed to my idea, and instead of sending over my rates I said, “What’s your budget for this project?”

They came back with an astounding number that was six times the rate I would have given them. At first I thought it was a typo. It wasn’t. I realized in that moment that I could have seriously lost out on a lot of income by giving them my rates up-front.

This even worked for a new client contact of Carrie’s recently. Instead of sending them a copy of her rate sheet, she asked what their details and budget for the project were. They quoted her $100 MORE per project than she would have charged!

As a personal finance blogger — or any freelancer for that matter — it’s easy to have set rates and think you should work for that rate for all clients within that niche. But as I said, you can’t treat all clients the same — you have to consider the subject matter, the flexibility you have, and the time it takes to complete.

Additionally, you just never know what someone’s budget is. I find that asking about a client’s budget is a much better approach for me and my freelance biz. I don’t have to fear that I’m underselling myself — and if they give me a lower rate than my minimum, I’ll negotiate and say:

“Thanks for getting back to me. Actually, I was thinking more like $X? Let me know if that works!”

This makes negotiating much easier. In other scenarios, you could send people your rates, and then nothing but silence. Now you’re left wondering if your rates are too high. But with this method of withholding my rates, and asking clients what their budget is, has been proven effective for me in landing bigger clients and keeping the conversation about money fruitful and easy-going for both parties.

unconventional methods

2. Change up your methods for finding work

When I first started freelancing and was looking for more clients, a common piece of advice was to go to job boards or sites like Upwork. Ever so eager, I signed up right away, hoping I’d land some sweet jobs and pad my portfolio.

I didn’t last very long though. Actually, I didn’t even apply for one job. As soon as I logged in, I felt overwhelmed. It felt like a cattle call — with all the feelings I hated about looking for traditional work.

If I didn’t want a traditional job, then why did I have to apply the traditional way? More importantly, how could I compete with people who would do the same work for $5? It felt like a losing game and not a very great way to start my freelance career.

So I stopped looking for non-traditional work in a traditional way. It made no sense to me to do it that way — it felt like putting a square peg into a round hole, it didn’t fit!

Once I started to cultivate my relationships, hone my craft via my blog, find mentors that had careers I wanted, and be clear about exactly what I wanted (and verbalizing that to the world), things started to change. It didn’t happen over night. It was a slow and steady process that started to grow in an organic way.

Today, I’m so grateful to get clients through referrals and relationships — not job boards. I honestly believe it’s the best way. You already have a foot in the door. Think about how you find work — what’s one thing you can do today to get more work?

If you want a unconventional job, then you need to approach it with an unconventional method.

Look at social media for prospective clients, tap your existing network and ask for more work, create your own opportunities via a blog, etc. It’s hard to approach things differently after doing things in such a rigid way within the traditional economy. But in the freelance world, anything goes, so start creating your own dream job.

3. Find gaps in content & service

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received as a freelance writer is to find gaps in content on websites. When I’m looking at a prospective client’s website, I should seek out the gaps and how I could be of service and a benefit to them, while offering something different.

Typically I look at a client’s website and simply see if I can “mimic” the tone, style, and subject of their content. While I still think it’s something important to be able to do as a writer, I realize it’s much more lucrative to approach someone and let them know how you can add value to their site, instead of just echoing what everyone else is saying in your own voice.

Using this simple trick, you can open up your client pool immediately. Don’t just focus on what you know you can provide within your niche — start looking at other niches that could also benefit from your product or service.

Team member Kali is a great example of someone that has found a gap in content or service, and has been able to turn it into a lucrative and sustainable business model. She helps busy financial planners with their blog and content management.

4. Look outside your niche

Sometimes your best clients aren’t in the niche you think. Expand your mind and consider other niches and arenas that could benefit from the services you offer. Having a myopic view of the work you do can be limiting you from better paying clients.

Allow yourself to think and dream big and challenge the way you have done things in the past. How could you run your biz differently? Consider rotating out clients from time to time, in order to grow and attract new clients. Carrie has done this with great success in the past and I admire her willingness to challenge herself and leave something that may be comfortable.

Let’s face it, your clients are like any relationship. If you’re holding on to a mediocre one, you’re not making room for your dream clients to come in. Why continue banging your head on the wall with a $100 client, when a $1,000 client is knocking at your door?

As you start making plans for your business in 2015, consider what’s working and what’s not. Think about what you could do differently to get different results — even if it scares you.

Which of these 4 tips are you planning to implement? Why? What are you doing to challenge your approach to business and finding work?

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9 comments

  1. Kirsten says:

    Fantastic advice about the budget question!! I love that, because I have often wondered how I was going to go about increasing rates and managing different clients who have different perspectives on how work is to be done. Great information.

  2. Kayla says:

    Great post Melanie! I don’t get jobs via those job boards either. Typically people find me via my blog or I get jobs from recommendations. I have also got a few one-off jobs by emailing bloggers who mention in their posts that they are “too busy” or are “going to need to hire if they want to continue expanding”. I’ve recently gotten a couple jobs outside PF and it’s a nice change of pace.

  3. Briana says:

    Melanie, these are great tips and lessons! I’ll definitely switch to asking for budgets because who knows how much money I’m leaving on the table. I also like your idea of looking for gaps. I did a pitch for a client by seeing some of their gaps, and I hope to hear back from them this week. Here’s to a productive and lucrative 2015 as a freelancer!

  4. Go team Melanie! What an awesome increase in revenue, just from asking for a budget! Similar to you, I always assume that people are paying next to nothing, like I do, but there’s a lot of money out there, sloshing around on the internet!

  5. Karen says:

    What a fantastic article! Seriously, each suggestion is right on point. I pulled my rates from my site awhile ago because I HAVE found that no two clients are the same. I was constantly quoting different prices anyway so why lock myself in? I’m in love with asking what their budget is first. This post is getting bookmarked for constant reference and motivation 🙂

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