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How to Turn Small Projects Into Long-Term Work

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Read Time: 11 min

One of the most exhausting things about freelancing is that we’re often just racing from one client to the next.

Most of the time, freelancers are brought on just to work on a small project—a website redesign, a new logo, a mobile app—and the apparent need for them disappears once the project is over.

Small Projects Can Become Long-Term WorkSmall Projects Can Become Long-Term WorkSmall Projects Can Become Long-Term Work
Small projects can become long-term work if you take advantage of opportunities. Image source: Envato Elements

This tutorial will show how can you turn these small projects into several more projects, and maybe even long term commitments.

Benefits of Long-Term Freelance Work

There are many reasons why freelancers should find long term work as much as possible. Here are some of them:

1. Income Predictability

One thing that can make a freelancer’s life better, it’s stability and predictability of income. 

Having some predictability is more manageable than earning almost nothing for one month and then earning twice your living expenses the second month. With predictable income from recurring work, you can plan business decisions in advance, allowing you to invest in further training or additional tools. 

2. Less Time Spent on Sales and Pitching

As you make more money per client, you’re also spending less time and resources in the pursuit of new clients. Think of all the things you need to take care of just to acquire a single client: in-depth research, meetings, proposals, and contracts. Without having to do this every time you want a new project, you can actually focus on the  work you have to do.

Without stressing over the feast-or-famine cycle, you can spend your free time and energy expanding your specialty, marketing your business, and fine-tuning your brand.

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3. Better Client Relationships

It’s hard enough to find clients, and it’s even harder to find clients who are a great fit for you. 

When you do end up finding a client who treats you like a partner, trusts your expertise, and respects your workflow, why wouldn’t you do everything you can to keep working with them?

By finding a way to keep working with these types of clients in the long run, you can build stronger client relationships where there’s a deep understanding between both parties. You wouldn’t have to keep adjusting your communication style and approach for each project.

If you’ve already thought about getting more recurring income, and you’re excited about gaining these advantages, this tutorial will guide you step by step on how to leverage your existing projects and turn those into bigger, longer term projects.

Middle aged family couple discusses relationship problems with skilled psychotherapistMiddle aged family couple discusses relationship problems with skilled psychotherapistMiddle aged family couple discusses relationship problems with skilled psychotherapist
Find clients that treat you like a partner, trusts your expertise, and respects your workflow. Image source: Envato Elements

After you go through this, you’ll know how to use, reuse, and up-sell with the existing commitments you already have, as well as how to think about the long term with every new project that comes along.

Find Hidden Opportunities for Recurring Work

Sometimes when I talk to other freelancers, I’m surprised to learn that a common reason they’ve parted ways with the client was because the client no longer had any work to give them.

While this can be a valid reason in some cases, as the freelancer, it’s actually your job to think of recurring services to provide. It’s not up to the client. They often don’t have the time, energy, or know-how to come up with new things for you to help them with. Since you’re the expert, it’s all on you.

Here are some ways you can find recurring opportunities to help your clients in the long run:

1. Evaluate Your Most Recent Projects

First, look for recent opportunities you’ve missed. Evaluate the existing and recent projects you've had so you can find long term services you can provide right now. Start by listing the tasks and deliverables you’ve completed for your past one to five clients. As you look through this list, ask yourself the following:

  • Why were these tasks or deliverables important? Why did your client think these things were worth spending money on? Especially take note of tasks or deliverables that appear multiple times for different clients or projects.
  • What were the results expected of you for the entire project? Apart from just “doing a good job”, be more specific about what clients expected as a result of your contribution. If you’re a web designer, did they especially mention wanting a “more modern look that appeals to millennials”? If you’re a mobile app developer, did they want an “increase in in-app sales”? If you can, try to think about any quantitative results that they expected or hoped for, such as an increase in site visitors, more walk-in customers, or more leads filling up their online forms.
  • What are your clients’ overall goals? These are the larger goals that are important to your client, but may or may not have been related to your project. These goals could be leads, new customers, re-selling to current customers, or to increase revenue.

2. Spot Recurring Revenue Opportunities

Once you have a list of your most recent project tasks and goals, go through the list again to see if you can spot some long term revenue opportunities that you’ve missed. Here’s what to look out for:

Opportunity #1: Tasks or Deliverables That Need Maintenance

Are there any deliverables that would require daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly management and maintenance? For example:

  • Freelance app developers can set up a service where they track comments and feedback from users, and each month create a plan of action based on that feedback.
  • Writers can create and execute the strategy behind their clients’ blogs and social media accounts, which will need regular content and maintenance.

Look at your most recent projects as well as the overall services you provide. Is there an aspect of your services that would benefit from regular monitoring? Or are there recurring tasks associated with maintaining them that your client would rather delegate to you than handle themselves?

Opportunity #2: Regular Updates

Usually if you’re providing a tech-related service, your project has to be updated at some point. This is common for website designers and developers, who often have to update their design or code to comply with new standards or to keep it secure.

But even non-tech fields can find a way to pitch updated work. For example, a prenatal photographer can also propose to take newborn photos and then toddler photos for their clients as their child grows. 

Think about any future updating or upgrading that your existing clients will need in the long run, and schedule your update proposals accordingly. For incoming clients, you can include these regular updates as part of your packaged services or a retainer.

Opportunity #3: Upcoming Improvements

Most projects will benefit from receiving incremental improvements over time. Designers can track how visitors actually use the sites they’ve designed and make changes based on visitor behavior to help their clients reach business goals faster.

The best thing about improvements is that you can actually go back to your previous clients right now and ask them if they are interested in your improvement suggestions. There’s no need to wait for new incoming clients to start turning your projects into long term work.

Opportunity #4: Bundle Your Services With Products 

Are there products that you can bundle-in with your services? These can include site hosting, domain name renewals, software subscriptions, or hardware.

Many designers include hosting and domain name purchases for their small business clients who are building a web presence for the first time. For web developers, you can bundle in the installation and maintenance of e-commerce or customer support apps and software as part of your services. Some apps even allow white label branding of their products, which means you can rebrand them as your own. Doing this will help your clients associate the access and usage of these apps with your own brand.

By looking for products to add to your service package—especially those with recurring payments—you’re able to provide recurring value without having to think of novel tasks to pitch. Just include any relevant product fees to your package, along with a markup for your effort and the relevant services that come with maintaining those products.

Opportunity #5: Look for Consulting Opportunities

Think about your clients’ goals and business model. Are they primarily looking for new customers or recurring customers? Are they part of a lead-based industry, such as real estate? Is their business model ad-based, where their revenue is directly tied to their site traffic? Or are they mostly concerned with increasing profits?

A website designer, can offer conversion optimization as part of their consulting services. The designer won’t just get to create sites, they could also analyze their performance and see how they can convert more visitors into qualified leads or paying customers.  

Get to know how your clients’ businesses work and what their primary goals are and start looking for ways where you can be a consultant who helps them reach their goals. Looking into your clients’ painful problems helps, too. Programmer and consultant Patrick McKenzie of Kalzumeus Software advises freelancers to spot their clients’ expensive problems and find the ones they can “move the needle on with [their] expertise”.

Opportunity #6: Spot Some Trends

As you work long-term with your clients, over time you’ll start noticing some trends in terms of what their customers want and what their industry needs. Keeping an eye out for these trends will help you spot opportunities for additional products and services you can sell. 

Now that podcasts are getting more mainstream attention, many brands are attracted to the idea of creating their own podcasts. Designers can start providing show art and episode art as part of their services. Developers can create custom players that reflect their client’s brand. By working long term with clients, you’ll be able to spot their upcoming needs as these trends emerge and help them adapt accordingly.

Musician Recording PodcastMusician Recording PodcastMusician Recording Podcast
Many brands are attracted to creating their own podcasts. Think of related services you can provide for long term clients. Image source: Envato Elements

It’s possible that as you find long term revenue opportunities, you’ll end up with a list of options that you don’t know how to do or that you’re not confident enough to sell as a service. If that’s the case, focus on learning these new skills and mastering them. The time and effort you’ll invest learning at least some of these things are also an investment in recurring revenue. 

3. Pitch Long Term Work

It’s simple to set up your practice in such a way that getting long term work takes as little effort and planning as possible. The key is to start the process as early as possible. Don’t forget to do the following: 

  • Ask for their recurring targets and problems. Your client’s answers don’t have to be relevant to your services. It will be your job to find the relevance, if there is any. Just start by learning upfront what their recurring goals and pain points are, and you can figure out your role in these later. 
  • Use feedback strategically. Get feedback or quantifiable results at every stage of your project, if possible. Strategically gather all the positive feedback and the quantifiable results you’ve achieved so that, later on, you can easily pitch from the angle that their working experience with you has been positive and that you are able to bring in concrete results—possibly improve upon those results in the long run.
  • Tap into your client’s network. Turning a small project into long term work doesn’t necessarily mean extending a small project. Sometimes it means proposing to work with your client on their other projects. A lawyer you designed a website for might be an aspiring motivational speaker, and you can help them get a new speaking website up and running. An entrepreneur who hired you for some development work might also be working with some non-profits in their spare time. If your client works or participates in other brands or organizations, even the smallest project can compound your work if applied to your client’s other endeavors.

Long Term Work Leads to a Sustainable Freelance Business 

It might take a lot of initial planning and strategizing to know how you can turn small projects into long term work, but it’s always worth it. Once you find the right products and services that can bring in recurring revenue, you’ll bring in more income per client, and spend less time being tossed around by the feast-or-famine cycle.

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in October of 2015. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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