Recently, a conversation with freelance copy editor and proofreader Barbra Harper got me thinking about overcoming freelancing financial challenges in a new way. Harper specializes in thought leadership and content marketing work, and she edits a veritable who’s-who list in the content marketing world. She’s worked hard to get there, and was recently contacted by a previous client who was happy with her work. After some confident negotiations, she used what she’s learned to leverage a long-term contract at twice her past fee. As she said, “Always do the very best work you can do — good clients will remember you and will come back. And when they do, you’ll have gained even more experience and skills in the meantime, so you may be able to raise your rates without any question.”
I sat down with Harper to learn more about her freelancing financial challenges and hard-won tips for success.
It Is What It Is: Launching Your Business Can Be Hard
Success is built on hard work, and the early days of launching your business can be especially challenging. It’s important to view your early career as the foundation for long-term success. “The biggest surprise I had financially when I was starting out was how much work I would have to do for so little money. Seriously. I often completed projects for flat rates that ended up averaging to just a few dollars an hour for all of the work I put into them. But those low-price projects built my portfolio and experience, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” says Harper.
While everyone’s journey is different, and each freelancer needs to determine which rates and projects work for them, Harper’s strategy of upfront investment has paid off in a major way. “Today, four years into my freelancing venture, I’m making more money than I ever did in my 25-plus years working in the business world. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been willing to do a lot of work for a little compensation,” she says.
Expect your earnings to grow over time, and think strategically about the projects you can take on — or the clients you can connect with — that can lead to sustainable, long-term growth for your business.
Honing in on a Niche Puts You at a Premium
As a copy editor and proofreader, the different directions that Harper could have taken her career were almost unlimited. It was after she honed in on the business sector — and developed expertise in content marketing for brands like Adobe, IBM and Twitter — that her fees really increased.
“I think the best advice I could give to new freelancers is to find a solid niche for yourself, but allow for flexibility as well. That may be easier said than done, and it may also depend on the type of work you do. I started out trying to focus on business-related projects, but took on all sorts of projects until I found a niche where I really stood out from the crowd — and that’s when business started booming,” she notes.
Clients want to hire experts in their field, and having a specialty can help you quickly grow in visibility, which in turn opens up new clients and richer financial prospects.
Flexibility Is the Key to Growth
Freelancing is still exploding as a market, and there’s no playbook. Whether you’re building your client base, marketing your services or creating a financial game plan, flexibility is key to developing a strategy that works for you.
As Harper says, “If what you’re doing isn’t working, change it and keep going. Give yourself time to work out the bugs in your processes. Don’t be afraid to try different tactics, whether it’s how you schedule or price your projects, how you present yourself to potential customers or even how you perform your work.”
Never Stop Learning — for Your Customers and for Yourself
When you’re faced with navigating freelancing financial challenges, never stop learning. Whether it’s staying up-to-date with industry trends for clients, or learning about the latest freelance-focused tax solutions, keep investing your time and energy.
“Keep learning — always,” says Harper. “I don’t care what kind of background or education you have. You need to keep learning in order to stay relevant to your current and potential customers. Stay on top of the latest trends and advances in your field, and learn new tips and tricks from your competition and contemporaries. Read their blogs and their e-books, and hold on to whatever takeaways you can apply to your own situation.”
Freelancing can be a winding road fraught with freelancing financial challenges, as well as client issues. Knowing how others have paved the way and navigated these hurdles puts you in a better position to meet these issues head-on in your own business. From investing in the foundation of your business to having long-term plans for growth, developing the road map that’s right for you is an essential part of building a business you love — and helps you achieve your financial goals.