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There's never been a better time to freelance than in 2019. Fast internet connections, remote roles, and plenty of professional tools for freelancers have helped more people make the switch to working for themselves.
But, that doesn't mean there aren't challenges when it comes to freelancing. Keeping your data safe, growing your client list, and improving your profit margins are easy to forget when you're busy working on lots of client projects.
If you don't manage your growth carefully, the stress can overshadow the joys of freelancing and lead you to browse for a new day job. Yikes!
In this tutorial, I'm going to share tips in five key categories that can help you make your freelance business better in 2019. They’ll help you level up your success and keep you freelancing for years to come.
1. Protect Your Client Data (Important!)
If there's one part of freelancing that too many creatives overlook, it's data protection. A catastrophic event could leave your data (or your clients' data) exposed. It's the type of event that could effectively end your freelance practice.
Unfortunately, more security threats exist than ever. Here are a few essential tips to protect your data and keep your business safe in 2019:
Protect Your Connection With a Secure VPN
Maybe you've heard about a VPN, but you aren't quite clear on the details. More freelancers than ever are using a VPN (virtual private network) to ensure that their data stays safe.
Unfortunately, we can't always guarantee that the internet connections we use are totally safe. If you're a freelancer, you might be hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop and connecting to networks that you can't guarantee are secured.
I think of a VPN as a protected tunnel for your data. Instead of exposing data to the person who controls the network, you send it all through a trusted provider instead.
If you're ready to choose a VPN service, make sure to check out NordVPN. It's one of the easiest-to-use VPN services to make sure that your data is securely handled. As soon as you connect to any unfamiliar network, you should always use a professional VPN to ensure that your data is protected.
Here are just a few of the benefits of using NordVPN:
- Compatible with most operating systems, including Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android.
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- Unlimited bandwidth and up to 6 simultaneous connections
- 5,200+ servers in 62 countries (updated weekly)
- Double data encryption for increased anonymity
And so much more. Learn how to start using NordVPN to protect your data in this quick video screencast:
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Establish a Client File Policy
You owe it to your clients to protect their data. Picture this for a moment: a breach of your records leaves your clients sensitive information exposed. This puts you in an uncomfortable situation and ultimately reflects poorly on you.
This is something to plan against before it happens. A good client data policy can help answer the following key questions:
- How long will you retain client data, such as login and project details?
Where is client data stored, on your premises on the storage devices you own, or in the cloud?
- What will you do in case of a breach, such as notifying your clients and helping them take mitigating steps?
Putting this policy in place not only helps you address the chances of a breach happening but also helps you navigate the worst-case scenarios if one does happen.
Use a Password Manager
You've likely heard this tip before, but I can't stress enough the importance of using a password manager to generate and protect your logins. Data breaches seem to happen every day, and re-using the same passwords opens your business to catastrophe.
Make sure to use a password manager like Last Pass or 1Password. Not only will it help you use complex, highly secure passwords, but a password system also streamlines the process of logging into every site.
2. Scale Your Practice With Systems
Systems create a sense of order in your business. Basically, think of a system as a repeatable set of steps that you use in your business to improve your results. Good systems let you take on more work and grow your freelance business with a scalable and manageable approach.
Use a Project Management System
Managing a freelance business over chains of emails and haphazard notes is a recipe for disaster. It's an easy way to lose track of what you owe clients and when important deliverables are due.
Instead, use project management systems that keep everything in front of you. That could be a tool like Trello, Basecamp, or Asana. Systems like these let you set up tasks and projects and attach due dates that keep you on track.
Knowing that you have everything in one place brings organization to your freelance work and helps you serve your clients better in the process.
Create a Client Onboarding Checklist
One of the most helpful types of systems is to create a checklist that you put each and every new client through. It helps you grab all of the necessary details on the front-end of an engagement. That way, you can more easily focus on the creative work of your new client projects without any details missing.
Consider making a checklist that every client completes before you start your work together. That could include contact details, access to their systems, and completing a contract before the work begins. A checklist is really a system that standardizes that intake process so that you can start on the work at hand.
Standardize Your Processes
Above all, you have to standardize your processes so that you can repeat them. If a process isn't standard, it's just a random set of actions!
That's why we create standard operating procedures, or SOPs. They capture the steps that make up your key business processes. It also helps you to eventually outsource parts of your business, because you can simply hand off the work instructions and let someone else help you grow.
To learn more about creating SOPs, check out the article below:
- DocumentationWhat Are Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)? Definition + How to GuideAndrew Childress
3. Don't Forget to Network
If you work remotely as many freelancers do, there's a tendency to forget the importance of getting out and meeting others in your industry.
Networking is a buzzword that causes many freelancers to instantly cringe. Let's face it, part of the allure of freelancing is to leave the office environment that is so dominated by unnecessary small talk and politics.
But networking doesn't have to be uncomfortable. And in time, you can find partnerships that benefit everyone involved. Here are my top tips for networking the right way in 2019:
Find Those In Your Field
The beauty of freelance work is that there are so many people who do it. It's easy to find others who are doing similar types of work. Many freelancers also use their personal brand to talk about their approach to doing business, so it's easy to learn from others in the process.
Networking can be beneficial for everyone involved. When you connect with others who do similar work, it's entirely possible that they'll send clients your way. Therefore, you should try to do the same.
Do some Googling and searching for others who freelance and talk about their business in public. These are your ideal partners to network with.
Build Real, Meaningful Relationships While Networking
Sincerity means a lot when it comes to networking. The wrong way to go about it is to blast out a mass email asking to pick your peers' brains.
Instead, focus on what collaborating can bring to the table. Send emails that share your learnings with others, and look to build long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships.
4. Track, Analyze, and Optimize Your Business
Data is your friend. Specifically, data about your business can help you see where you're spending your time and how you can make better use of it.
Track Your Time
Here are some practical questions: How many hours are you working? What are you spending your time doing for each task?
For me, I thought I understood this until I began using a time tracking app that closed the gap.
Each time you work on a project, track it and record the relevant information. You might be surprised at how much time you're spending on administrative tasks and on each project.
Ultimately, tracking your time per task helps you understand how you spend your time. With that knowledge, you’ll quickly see where to use your time better.
Know Your Numbers
Freelancers, particularly creative professionals, sometimes shy away from thinking about finances. The truth is that we all rely on our cash flow and successful engagements to keep doing what we love.
That's why it helps to know your freelance business' financials. Consider these questions:
- What are your costs to deliver the work?
- How much are you making on each project?
Also, if you've been tracking your time, you can create an important metric that helps you understand your business: your hourly rates, including any admin time you're spending.
Particularly if you bill clients on flat rate amounts, it's crucial to periodically divide your income by the time spent to find out what you make per hour.
Optimize Based on Data
Collecting data is one thing but acting on it is the important part. After you've been collecting data on your clients and profitability for some time, it's time to make some decisions.
Here are a few ways that you can leverage your data to grow your freelance business:
- Consider raising your rates on certain types of work where your effective hourly rates are relatively lower.
- If you're already working too many hours, consider using the clients with the lowest hourly rates as your first "cut point," walking away from your least profitable work.
- Calculate the cost of hiring a freelancer to subcontract your work to, weighing the value of your time versus the cost of hiring another professional.
Again, having data about your business puts you in the driver's seat to optimize it. Consider these types of options as you start to understand your business financials better.
5. Branch Out and Grow Your Business
Not everyone wants to grow their business. If you're already happy with your workload, focus more on optimizing your existing client base.
But if you do want to grow your work, you have to be intentional. Here are my top tips to grow your freelance business in 2019:
Add New Lines of Business
What work are you interested in that you aren't currently doing?
If you're a wedding photographer, maybe you've been interested in album design, and want to start delivering beautiful, polished albums.
This is the perfect example of growing your business by considering new lines of business. It might feature a learning curve but ultimately leads to the long-term growth that makes you indispensable to clients.
These are new lines of business that complement what you're already doing. And they can also help you grow your business' bottom line.
Cross-selling your clients on adjacent services and products that you offer can help you grow your work and make you their "go-to" for more of their needs. It raises your value and will help you bring in more income.
Ask Your Best Clients for Additional Work
If you already have successful relationships with clients, consider asking them if they have other types of work that you could take on.
The challenge is that clients tend to put freelancers in "boxes." They tend to think of freelancers as providing very specific outputs; they have an "articles person" and a "screencast person," for example. The reality is that many freelancers have a wide variety of skills that they can offer to a client.
You have to let your clients know what you can bring to the table. They likely don't know the wide variety of talents you have, problems you can solve, or deliverables that you can create for them. Periodically discussing what other needs you might be able to fill is the key to growing your work with clients.
Just make sure that you don't stray too far outside of your core work. Sometimes, it can be easy to get too ambitious with clients and jeopardize the work that is already working really well.
Optimize Your Freelance Practice for 2019
Put these tips to grow your freelance business into practice here in 2019. Whether you're protecting your data, branching out, or just optimizing what you already do, these tips will help you keep freelancing and wowing your clients at every step.
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