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- 15 Jul 2019
Only one in five start-ups pass the five-year mark. My copywriting agency, Making You Content, is about to become part of that statistic this year. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of, and I’m often asked how I evolved the business from its freelance roots.
There’s no silver bullet that will take you from freelancing to running a team. However, there are a few things you can do to build a sustainable business model that allows you to grow and evolve.
Here are five tricks I’ve learnt along the way.
1. Move away from hourly rates
If you only think ‘time is money’, you’ll soon hit a ceiling. Plus, working purely on a time-and-money basis rarely benefits you or your clients.
The less time you spend working, the less money the client pays. But this neglects value, and ultimately everyone wants the work you produce to be its very best.
Consider client management too – contacting you or requesting amendments comes at a cost. Some freelancers that are just starting out don’t include this in their rate, and those that do can find money becomes the sole focus.
This isn’t the way to build strong client relationships, so try to move away from hourly rates. Productise your offering so you have set prices for the different types of work you provide and take into account both the value to the client and the true cost of delivering it.
2. Develop a retained income
Securing and fulfilling projects is hungry work and makes the nature of freelancing feast and famine. To give yourself stability, and ensure you truly deliver value to clients in the long term, consider how you can build an ongoing relationship through retainers.
For the client, this benefits cash flow by allowing them to budget monthly, rather than forking out lump sums per project. For you, it gives you the freedom to focus on doing your best work, rather than constantly pitching for new work.
Retainers also allow you to reserve a set amount of time for the client, so you can plan your days and they aren’t left waiting around for your services. By establishing an ongoing dialogue, you’ll be in a better position to understand and assist them in achieving their goals and objectives.
3. Consider complementary services
Retainers are particularly beneficial because the client only needs to deal with one provider who already ‘gets’ their brand. This can often lead to them asking for other services. So, look into the ways you could deliver them.
For example, if you’re a designer of business cards, consider whether you could take additional burden away from your clients by arranging print for an extra fee. This way they have a sole supplier, and you can maximise the life cycle of your relationship with them – along with finding clever ways to add margin to your offering.
Just ensure the work is relevant to what you currently do. Offering services at completely different ends of the spectrum will confuse clients and take away from your niche positioning if you have one.
4. Begin to build a team
With complementary services and retainers, you can expect to have more work scheduled in the calendar. But, ultimately, you only have so many hours in a day. Rather than exhausting yourself or rejecting work, hold on to clients by incorporating other freelancers into your model or eventually hiring staff.
Make sure that the demand for work covers the cost of additional resources. Outsourcing or hiring needs may have to be put on the back burner until funds will allow for it, so do your research and develop a plan for safely onboarding extra hands.
5. Get savvy about finance
Building a team makes understanding your finances even more of a necessity. You need to be certain that you’re bringing in enough to comfortably cover overheads, such as invoices/salaries, software and rent every month. Cash flow can cripple a small business.
This isn’t the only financial matter to be aware of. It’s easy to lose track of how much you’re sinking into each project, so ensure you pay attention to your time and the cost of servicing a client. What do you need to earn a day, week or month to cover your outgoings? What margin would make this project worthwhile?
Especially in the beginning, you won’t quote every project right. However, understanding where you stand financially will help you make confident decisions around pricing.
Growing a business doesn’t happen overnight. But by keeping an eye on everything, from your finances to identifying additional revenue streams – it can be achieved sooner. Have patience, plan ahead and learn from any mistakes, and you’ll gradually evolve your freelance career into a business that takes care of your future.
Copywriter and Director of Making You Content
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