How to Grow a Freelance Business in 2021

Whether you’re a writer, a designer, a programmer, a public speaker, or a photographer, you understand how difficult it is to run your business on a day-to-day basis and also dedicate some time to expanding and marketing in order to win further business and make more money.

It’s easy for freelancers to fall into, what I call, the ‘hand-to-mouth’ trap.

This means they’re too busy winning, and dealing with, day-to-day work to look beyond this and into the future.

They fear that taking their eye off the short-term supply of work, will cause gaps in their workflow, and thus a fall in their income.

So, the process ensues to work 9-5 most days fulfilling work for clients, and possibly stuff in half-a-day each week of marketing/promotion, to ensure next week’s schedule is fully booked (so you then have a similar week the following week, and the process continues).

It’s not a nice situation to be in – even if it’s something you enjoy doing. Because, ultimately, as entrepreneurs, we want to grow; we want to expand and develop our business further – and this is almost impossible to do whilst stuck in the above cycle.

I’ve been in this situation myself when I was a freelance advertising copywriter, and it’s a tough cycle to break out of. But it can be done.

The following steps are necessary in order for you to break out of this cycle and start working ‘on your business, not ‘in’ it.

There are only 3 steps, but each one will feel like a giant leap when breaking out of your established habits and ways of doing business.

How to Grow a Freelance Business in 2021
How to Grow a Freelance Business in 2021

1. Change your Mentality

Breaking out of the ‘hand-to-mouth’ trap was one of the toughest things I had to do whilst running that business. Not because it was difficult to put the necessary processes in place, but because of my natural instinct to maximize my income.

My natural thought, when taking on work, was to look at the hourly rate I was receiving. I would then subliminally compare this to the hourly rate I would receive working for someone else – and it felt great!

I was earning 2,3, sometimes 4 times as much per hour than people who were being employed by bigger companies to do the same thing I was doing. Plus, I was a freelancer, I could take on and turn down work whenever I pleased (well, to a very limited extent!).

I didn’t want to employ someone else to do the day-to-day work because of my perspective on the money I was getting paid. If I employed someone else, that means I would have to pay them an hourly wage slightly below what the client is paying, and only receive a fraction of the hourly rate I could have received if I did the work myself.

And the worry was that if I employed someone else, so I could focus on winning more work for the business and marketing/expanding, then there may not be enough work to disseminate amongst employees to make all of those ‘fractions’ amounts to the same, or more, money per hour than what I was receiving through doing the work myself.

This was, by far, the biggest barrier to me breaking out of the ‘hand-to-mouth’ cycle.

This way I could control my margins and only pay for staff when I needed them.

The scalability in using freelancers was also much more flexible than bringing on in-house employees.

Put proper support and supervisory processes in place. Without these, you will find your time being eaten up just as fast as you did when you were performing the work yourself.

The worry is that if you do not invest enough time in checking work over and ensuring it all meets your high standards in order to maintain your business reputation, then this reputation will soon start to slide.

And I’m not going to say this isn’t true. It could happen.

The thing you need to ensure though is that your supervisory processes are structured and highly efficient, so you minimize the time either you or a trusted employee, invests in this activity; because, after all, this activity isn’t a profit-making one (at least not in the short-term).

The way I did this was to completely open the line of contact up between each individual writer and the respective clients whose projects they were working on.

2. This was a big risk.

However, by improving transparency of each project, from the moment it began to the moment it ended, it ensured the client was more ‘involved’ and was able to provide their input and issue amendments from the moment pen was put to paper (or finger to keyboard, as it were).

We built a client login area on the website where clients could log in and view the progress of their project(s) in real-time as the writer working on it. This eliminated the need for mass re-works and ensured any issues were ironed out during the early stages of the project – ultimately leading to a reduction in turnaround times.

3. Focus on Growth

Now you’re at the stage where you have stepped back from day-to-day operations, and your confident work will be produced for clients to your exacting standards, you can focus on what really matters – long-term business growth and expansion.

You can address things that before, you would have never found time for (even if you worked 24/7).

Perhaps you might want to explore improving customer service or the conversion of traffic on your website (a great way to do this, by the way, is to introduce Live Chat software on your website – this boosted my conversions by around 50%!). Or you might want to develop some ‘packages’ to help break your service offerings down and provide ‘instant payment’ options on your site.

Overall, you will find that you have now got to the stage where you actually feel in control of the strategic direction of your business – and it sure beats the feeling of simply getting paid for your time.