Practical Advice on Managing Your Freelance Business

One big hurdle that new freelance professionals face is learning how to build a steady, livable income. Part of the process involves finding ways to minimize the amount of non-billable hours spent on necessary tasks such as marketing, sales, accounting, and administration.  These were some issues that speakers addressed at the International Freelancer’s Day (IFD) Conference on September 21.

“You have to be good at every aspect of your business when you’re starting your business up—especially if you’re a solopreneur,” said Danielle LaPorte, author of the book “The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide for Creating Success on Your Own Terms.” Even if you must handle everything yourself for the first 12 to 24 months in business, micromanaging every aspect of your business is not likely to make you happy in the long run.

“Your goal is to work yourself into a place where 80% of your time is spent doing things that are your true strengths–the things that are lighting you up, the things that make you feel almost guilty that you are getting paid to do them because they come so naturally and easily,” said LaPorte.  Practices implemented during your first years in business will determine how quickly you reach the point at which you can comfortably outsource some of the business-management tasks.

Two business skills that don’t always come naturally to freelancers are negotiating for reasonable pay and efficiently writing business proposals. During the International Freelancer Day Conference, these topics were addressed by Carol Tice and Ilse Benun.

Setting and Negotiating Prices

Carol Tice is an experienced freelance writer who publishes the “Make a Living as a Writer” blog.  She teaches e-courses, and offers an e-book entitled, “Make a Living Writing: A 21st Century Guide.” During the IFD conference, she talked about pricing your work and offered 13 negotiating strategies that can help you earn more.

“The issue of what to charge as a freelancer is a tough one, because there is no such thing as a going rate in freelancing,” says Tice. “Clients are different, situations are different, topics are different, deadlines are different, and rates a very customizable and variable.”

She said a lot of negotiations go wrong because freelancers fail to nail down the details of the job: “Freelancers tend to get really excited and jump on the offer before getting a lot of questions answered about what is going to be involved.” Find out more about parameters of the project, the goals, and how it will be executed. Get a sense of how many people you will need to interview to get the information, and how many people will review your work.

Then, just ask the client what they are considering spending for the freelance assignment.  If their budget is far too low for the amount of time involved, don’t be afraid to turn down the job.

“It’s key to your overall rate not to let low payers suck up a lot of your time,” said Tice. “And the quickest route to finding out whether this is a client that pays a professional rate is to just ask them.” If they won’t share that information with you, you can find a range of prices in publications such as Writer’s Market. You can also ask around in online freelancers groups.

She urged freelancers to stay alert for potential problem clients: “The woods are just full of dysfunctional companies who would like freelancers to be available 24/7 on instant messaging. These are really needy clients and often they also do not pay well.”

She acknowledges that it’s often difficult to tell a potential client that you don’t want their money, but she reminded attendees that, “Every time you take an assignment, you’re taking marketing time off the table. If the assignment doesn’t pay enough, you’ve sacrificed the chance to use that time to find a better client.”

Once you’ve come to agreement about what you will do and what you will be paid for it, put together a contract that puts it in writing. It doesn’t have to be formal, but it’s important to get something in writing that outlines the gist of your agreement and defines when you will get paid.  You can put the agreement in an e-mail and ask your client to respond with “I agree.”

You can find plenty of additional advice on Carol Tice’s “Make a Living Writing” blog. Subscribers to the blog get a free 20-week e-course entitled “Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers.”  Also check out the guest post she wrote for the Copyblogger blog. That post lists 40 questions you need to ask every potential copywriting client.


Make a Living Writing

Copyblogger: 40 Questions You Need to Ask Every Copywriting Client

Writing Proposals

In her presentation “Anatomy of Winning Proposals,” Ilse Benun of Marketing Mentor explained why proposals should be considered selling tools and must do the best possible job of persuading your prospect that you are the best person for their project.  Using project-winning proposals as examples, she highlighted some of the elements that make proposals stand out.

Benun described four types of proposals freelancers can use, keeping in mind that each proposal must be tailored to the type of project, the type of client, and how well you know the client.

  • A one-page agreement is essentially a confirmation letter that puts in writing what you have already discussed with the client.
  • A small proposal (1-3 pages) could be sent as a long e-mail. Use this type of proposal if the client is already sold on you, but just wants more details about how you will go about it.
  • A medium proposal (4-10 pages) is recommended for large projects, or projects in which your contact may need to persuade others in his organization that you are the right person to handle the project.
  • A long proposal (10-20 pages) can take a couple of days to write and should include lots of relevant examples that demonstrate your experience and knowledge. Use these proposals only for major projects with ideal clients and for higher-fee projects that you are fairly confident that you will win.

Each proposal needs five things:

  • a project description
  • deliverables
  • price ranges
  • a timetable
  • a sign-off sheet.

Optional elements include:

  • work samples
  • relevant work samples
  • images that represent your process
  • client references
  • information about your firm
  • details about the people who will be involved in the process.

“Keep in mind that the proposal document isn’t the only element in a winning proposal,” said Benun. “How you present it is important, too.”

To see some of the examples Benun described in her presentation, order her proposal bundles for Designers and Copywriters. Each bundle includes 11 samples of winning proposals, plus additional tips for writing and presenting proposals.

Marketing Mentor specializes in helping creative professionals learn how to get the type of work they want. On the site, you can find a variety of resources related to marketing, pricing, and closing the sale.


Designer’s Proposal Bundle: 25 Resources for Project-Winning Proposals

Copywriter’s Proposal Bundle: 25 Resources for Project-Winning Proposals

Marketing Mentor