You got into consulting or freelancing for the freedom it promised. You could make your own schedule, pick your own clients, and be your own boss—all beautiful things. But what happens when you’re out of hours to bill, and you’ve maxed out on the money you can earn?
What do you do when you’ve taken on all the clients you can possibly handle on your own, and you’re tired of trading your time for money? This is a wall so many freelancers and consultants, even highly successful ones, hit at some point.
If this is where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, or you feel like it’s fast-approaching, it’s time to scale your freelance or consulting business. Read on to find out how.
What Does It Mean to Scale Anyway?
“Scaling a business” is a term used so often that we’ve all developed our own interpretation of its meaning. For the purposes of this blog post, scaling a business refers to setting up infrastructure so your business can expand its reach and grow its profits without sacrificing quality or demanding more of your time.
In the case of a service-based business like freelancing or consulting, think of it this way: If you had an influx of 10 new clients this week, could you handle it? If the answer is no, your business is not scalable. This would be true for most freelancers. When there’s only one of you and 24 hours in a day, you can only take on a certain number of clients. Your income is limited.
This is perhaps the biggest criticism of service-based businesses, particularly freelance or solo consulting ones: “They’re not scalable.”
But, as you’ll see below, that’s not true.
3 Ways to Scale a Freelance Business
Option 1: Outsource Work
Outsourcing work refers to delegating tasks to someone other than yourself or outside of your team. This can be done in one of two ways: handing off administrative tasks to a virtual assistant or online business manager, or subcontracting your primary services to another freelancer.
Outsourcing Admin Tasks
If you’re considering outsourcing admin tasks and are wondering where to start, begin with the tasks you hate doing. This could be customer service, bookkeeping, or invoicing. Typically, these are the tasks that are not the bread and butter of your business. You should specialize in offering a particular service to your clients and outsource everything else.
A great example of this is Gretta van Riel, founder of SkinnyMe Tea. When she first launched her ecommerce business, she tried to control everything. “I wouldn’t even let anybody touch the customer service for the first six months,” she told Foundr. “I was on customer service, like, eight hours a day responding to every email because I thought that it made me a bad founder if I let anybody else do anything.”
Eventually, though, as she scaled her business, she had to learn to let go and delegate tasks to her team. Thanks in part to that decision, she was able to grow her business to earn millions in annual revenue.
The same goes for your business. While you may think you need to have your hand in every part of it, a crucial part of scaling any business is to learn which tasks you should not handle yourself.
Where to begin? Start by outsourcing one area of your business. To decide which one, spend a week tracking every minute of your time using a free tool like Toggl.
At the end of that week, pull a report to see where you’re spending your time.
Consider outsourcing the task that took the biggest chunk of your time that week and earned you the least amount of money (or none at all).
Once you see that you can trust others with certain tasks, you’ll learn to let go of all the little pieces of your business that are preventing you from focusing on what you do best.
Subcontracting Client Work
Another option for outsourcing is subcontracting client work instead of trying to do it all yourself. Many freelancers choose to subcontract with other freelancers. When you do this, you become more of a project manager—managing your subcontractors who do the work while you liaise with the client.
Tread carefully here, though. Subcontracting freelancers will eat into your own profits, which means you’ll either need to raise your rates or find cheap labor, or both. Additionally, you’ll need to ensure that when you outsource your work, the standard of quality remains the same. This means thoroughly vetting all subcontractors and meticulously reviewing their work before turning it in to the client.
Just ask Laura Pennington, who makes six figures a year as a freelance writer. While she tried outsourcing her writing work, ultimately, she decided it wasn’t worth the headache. “I found that without outsourcing my writing, I was still able to scale my business significantly while working part-time hours thanks to working only with VIP clients,” she tells Foundr. “So the good news is that you can choose what works for you with outsourcing and you do not have to outsource client work if you don’t want to.”
Now, Pennington only outsources things like research, pitching, and invoicing, which enables her to focus on writing for high-paying clients.
Option 2: Become an Agency
As you start outsourcing work, you might eventually find yourself building an agency, which is a team of employees or contractors you work with on a regular basis. In this scenario, each team member has a specialty, so you don’t have to do everything. Growing into an agency is perhaps the most common way independent consultants scale their businesses.
For example, you might begin as a freelance web designer providing custom websites for small businesses. In that case, you would do everything—from branding to design to development. But, if you become an agency, maybe you’ll have one teammate who works strictly on branding, another who designs the website, and yet another who does the development. By transitioning from freelance to agency, you’ll be able to free up your own time, raise your rates, and take on more clients, since there will be one specialist dedicated to each part of your business—rather than just you trying to juggle everything.
For example, Mike Tanner began as a freelancer building websites and writing content. But a couple of years into it, he realized that wasn’t sustainable. “The whole reason I was working for myself was that I didn’t want to work long hours for a small paycheck,” he writes on Millo.co, “and as time went on I realized that if I didn’t scale up, that was exactly what I’d be doing.”
So instead of remaining a freelancer, Tanner transitioned slowly to an agency. It all began with networking, subcontracting some of his work to freelancers, and then eventually, taking on a partner and hiring a remote team. Now, as the founder of OneRedCat Media, he and his team can offer so much more than just web design and content writing; they offer branding, social media management, and search engine optimization, among other services.
Option 3: Turn Your Service Into a Digital Product
As a service business owner, you may start to feel as though people are hiring you for your time—they’re not. They’re hiring you for your expertise. So why not turn that expertise into a digital product you can create one time and then sell over and over?
If you’re ready to move away from services entirely, option three is your best bet: Turn your service into a product. The boom in online courses is genius in this regard. You can’t personally consult for all 10,000 of your blog readers. But you can teach them what you know in an online course, thereby offering your expertise at scale.
Platforms for Hosting Your Online Course
Make a Digital Template or Downloadable Product
Just take a page out of Megan Minns’ book. As a productivity and systems strategist, she helps businesses get organized and streamline their operations. Now, she sells done-for-you tools that do all that for you, such as business statistic tracking spreadsheets and email templates.
Create a Membership Site
If you’re more interested in fostering an online community, look to Tara McMullin for inspiration. For years, she worked as an independent consultant for small business owners up until recently, when she launched CoCommercial, an online membership site for small business owners to find community and support.
Develop a Software Tool
And your options aren’t limited to online courses or membership sites. You could even create software based on your expertise, like serial entrepreneur Jonathan Siegel did. At first, Siegel ran a consultancy where he and his team built software and websites for clients. During some downtime, he challenged his team to create a software solution so they would never again have to build an ecommerce website. That’s when they came up with RightCart, software that turned any website into an ecommerce site with a shopping cart.
So step back and assess your business. Is there an aspect of your services that could be turned into a digital product?
Bonus: If You Want to Scale a Freelance/Consulting Business, Implement Systems
A system is a step-by-step process you follow in one aspect of your business, every time, to save time and energy. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel.
The most obvious way this shows up is in onboarding new clients. Let’s say, right now, when you get a new prospect, you create a custom proposal, attach the PDF to an email, type up a personalized message, send it to the client, and when they approve, you attach a contract PDF to another email, type a message, and send it.
While that may be fine if you get one new client a week, what about if that expanded to 10 new clients a week? That system would very quickly fall apart, because it’s not scalable.
Systemizing that might look like setting up automations with a project management tool like HoneyBook or Acuity, where you pop in the client information and it automatically sends an onboarding email, the proposal, and contract. You could even create templates for common emails that you send.
Having the ability to edit PDFs may also come in handy when you are making changes on the fly.
You could also consider creating a system for your service. This is also known as a signature service. It’s what copywriter Courtney Johnston uses in her Rainbow of Sales method of sales page writing. It’s what Braid Creative uses in their Braid Method to deliver the same awesome results each and every time for their branding clients. Beyond being efficient, a signature service ends up being a huge selling point, since it’s a system you become known for. It’s a repeatable formula for success with every client.
How Will You Scale Your Service-Based Business This Year?
Enough is enough. If you’re feeling burnt out by constant proposal writing, invoicing, and client work, it’s time to scale your freelance or consulting business. And don’t be discouraged by the naysayers. A service-based business is scalable in at least three ways:
- You can outsource certain tasks to free up your time to spend on client work.
- You can expand into an agency to be able to handle more clients with bigger budgets.
- You can turn your expertise into a digital product you can sell over and over.
By scaling your service business, you’ll be able to step away from the computer, say no to the endless late work nights, and enjoy the freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur.
Which method for scaling a service-based business interests you the most? Share in the comments below!