We’re in the middle of a freelance revolution. More unions are being formed, freelance platforms are popping up left and right, and new tech is constantly being developed to keep us on track and organized.
The opportunities are amazing, but that also means the competition can be intense. To go all A Tale of Two Cities, these can be the best of times or the worst of times for freelancers.
How do you stand out as a freelancer? How do you run your business in such a way that gives the freedom you crave instead of letting your business run you?
One study conducted by an independent research firm found that freelancers are all about the lifestyle: “51% of all freelancers say no amount of money would get them to take a traditional job.”
At the same time, that treasured freelance lifestyle can get away from you all too easily, leaving you forever chained to your laptop. Achieving and maintaining a work lifestyle of true freedom requires you to treat your freelance business like a business—with rigorous professionalism and shrewd strategy.
To help you today with some critical freelance business tips on productivity and time management, we’ve got Sabri Suby, who grew his marketing and consulting agency King Kong from zero to $10 million in four years.
First up, watch the video below for an overview of Sabri’s freelance business tips, and then we’ll dive into a breakdown.
In the video, Sabri suggests starting with figuring out what kind of lifestyle you want, because that is, after all, why so many of us start freelancing in the first place.
What Kind of Lifestyle Do You Want to Create?
Starting with the lifestyle you want to create is so important, because it gives you clarity on how to run your business. But as Sabri points out, creating your perfect lifestyle seems so overwhelming. So a great strategy is to dial it back to think about what your perfect day looks like.
Some questions to ask yourself when designing your perfect day:
- What do I want to be doing every day?
- What do I want my mornings to look like?
- Who do I want to spend time with?
- What are my top priorities?
Once you have an idea of what your ideal day looks like, you can then begin to reverse engineer to see what it is going to take to make that happen. How many hours a day will you need to work? How many days per week? Decide what you want your annual income to be and then break that down for your monthly and then weekly income goals.
Let’s say you want to make $60,000 per year freelancing. Working all 12 months in the year, you will need to make $5,000 per month. That’s $1,250 per week. If you want to take a few weeks off here and there, you will need to adjust and make more other weeks to make up the difference. Also, adjust for the time you won’t actually be doing billable work, like getting on client phone calls, invoicing and prospecting. A freelancer typically bills 20-30 hours every week and the rest is dedicated to non-billable tasks. Make sure to calculate your income goals based on billable hours only.
If you need help with these calculations, you can find a freelance rate/hourly calculator and more detail on how to figure this out, in chapter 4 of this in-depth freelancer guide.
You need to know how much money you need to be making to support yourself as a freelancer, and that will depend on whether you are freelancing for supplemental income or planning to take your freelance business full time. You will also need to evaluate the cost of running your freelance business and the time commitment.
Write all of this down!
Remember that you will not just be charging for your time, but ideally based on the value you offer. As you grow and become more skilled, you will have more value to offer and can charge more for your services.
Sabri suggests asking, “How much is this problem worth to solve for the client?” Solving a problem for a client may be worth a lot more than you are charging. Here’s some more information on how to know if you are charging what you are worth, and what the industry dictates.
Once you are clear on how you want your lifestyle to look, it is time to start diving into the details of how to run your day-to-day business.
Day-to-Day Freelance Business Tips
Build a Structure for Focus
One of the biggest obstacles to a successful freelance business is distraction. Sabri has some great tips on staying professional and fighting distractions, in order to keep your stress down and creativity up.
One interruption Sabri recommends eliminating entirely is phone calls. Instead of using your mobile phone, set up a business phone number and hire a virtual receptionist to answer it.
“If you are a creative artist you do not want to be constantly interrupted when you are doing your creative work to be fielding business calls,” Sabri says. “You want to really be getting into your craft and be focused at that because that’s what you’re going to be getting paid to do at the end result.”
You can find services to help you with this at a small cost per month, and it will not only help you stay focused, but also make you look more professional.
Some top picks according to Business.com:
Sabri also says that most companies that offer this service have a mobile app too, so you can adjust what you would like the assistant to say, such as, “I’m in a meeting, “On holiday,” “Out of the office,” etc.
Your other necessary business activities will depend on the lifestyle you are creating. Review what you wrote down and ask, “What business activities do I need to do every month to ensure I will have that amount of work. I will have that amount of money.”
In terms of clients, it could be, I need to get two new clients every month. What do you need to do daily, weekly, or on a monthly basis to get those two clients?
Daily and weekly tasks could be growing your online presence through social media posts, leaving valuable comments on blogs and forums, and sharing your expertise through a platform like Medium or LinkedIn Publishing.
Monthly tasks could be checking in with past clients to see how you can help or attending networking events.
Once you have your goal, you can figure out the networking opportunities or other business activities to do to get those clients. Over time you can evaluate what activities work the best and eliminate the ones that do not work.
This helps eliminate that feast-or-famine cycle that freelancers sometimes get stuck in. “Figure out exactly what level of activity that you need to exert in order to do that.”
Tame Your Calendar With Purpose
Besides the phone, other potential distractions and time sucks include email and meetings.
To help you book meetings with clients or partners you can use a service like Calendly, which allows others to schedule meetings with you at times you preset.
You can block out the times that you will be doing your creative work and set the times you want for meetings. Calendly also allows you to set up some questions to be answered when someone books, helping you obtain the information you need to prepare for the meeting. You can connect Zoom to Calendly for easy video conferencing, along with other calendars like your Google calendar.
This can save a lot of back and forth emails and again presents a greater level of professionalism.
“You want to streamline and create systems that support you and support your ideal day,” Sabri says.
Use Templates and Automation
The next way you can cut down time and stress is with templated proposals for potential clients making inquiries. Then you can customize them as needed. Make the experience as “frictionless” as possible for yourself, your clients, and your potential clients.
All these resources are about automation. Look at how you may be able to automate at every step of your business. Look for services to automate your invoicing, the way you charge, your marketing, prospecting, and more. Sabri says:
We’re in a day and age where every service that you can think about that you need as a freelancer, there is some tool, or plugin, or service out there that charges a very nominal fee for that, and it will just take all of the pain away of doing that manually. And you just want to automate as much of those processes as you can.
Some tools to consider:
- Trello – a free online project management system that allows you to work online or with a team. It allows you to use cards and lists to see what needs to get done and when.
- Slack – organize team conversations into channels. Public channels allow everyone on your team to see what is going on, while direct messages allow you to contact a specific team member privately. Keep everyone on task minus all the emails.
- IFTTT – stand for “If This Then That. Allows you to set up different apps to work together with formulas for automation. You can have your Instagram post automatically share to Twitter for instance.
- G Suite – Google’s tools of collaboration from document sharing to video hangouts to file storage updated through the cloud to access on all your devices.
Project management tools like Trello and Slack can also eliminate many headaches when it comes to working with others and keeping your projects on time and on track.
Maximize your time and the money you are making in that time.
If you do not make space for the creative work of your business, you may get too bogged down in the admin work and that will not make you successful. As Sabri puts it:
You’re selling your time for money, essentially. And you want to make sure you are making the best use of your time and the best way to do that is to automate, create those systems, and delegate all those things to third-party providers and external services so you can do the work you’re getting paid to do.
Building systems takes a little bit more time in the beginning, but saves so much time and frustration later on as you run your business day to day and month to month.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Whether you freelance part time or full time, you will have the tools and structure to set your days, weeks, and months up for success. Clarity, organization, and automation are the keys to unlocking that freedom you are longing for in your business and life.