Being a freelance web designer offers plenty of advantages. You get to work the way you want and for the type of clients you prefer. Whether you’re specializing in a niche or open to anything – it’s all for you to decide.
And, if you manage to hang around long enough, you’ll have found a certain level of success. That’s often a result of hard work coupled with outstanding skill. But at a certain point even the most talented and dedicated designers can find themselves in a period of stagnation.
Attaining growth can be difficult for any business. But it’s especially tough for someone who works solo. After all, there’s only so much work one person can do. So it seems somewhat natural that things eventually reach a plateau.
So, how do you grow when you’re faced with the limitations that come with a freelance design business? As they say, you find ways to work smarter – not harder.
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Your Experience Has Value
Experience is something that can’t be taught – it’s rightly earned. Every one of your successes, failures and mixed bags has brought you valuable knowledge to take along to the next stop on your journey.
While experience alone doesn’t make you immune from mistakes, it does provide you with a much better picture of what works and what doesn’t. Theoretically, it means a smoother site building process for you and your clients. At worst, it means knowing how to handle bumps in the road. That’s worth something.
Your fees should reflect the experience you bring to the table. So if you’re charging the same rates you were five years ago – you’re missing out.
In my own journey, I can tell you that my hourly rates have gone up substantially over the nearly two decades I’ve been in business. And, surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of clients have stuck with me despite rising rates.
This can be tricky, however. In general, it’s best to raise fees in reasonable amounts. In other words, you don’t want to double your prices overnight. More incremental increases are much easier for clients to swallow.
The other part of the equation is to communicate the reasoning behind the rate hike. People tend to be more understanding if you’re upfront with them. Simply sending an invoice with an increased rate without prior warning is more likely to be upsetting.
Part of the reason a freelance design business can stagnate is the difficulty in extracting more revenue out of existing clients. While raising prices can do some good regarding the work you’re already doing for them, it doesn’t do much to entice them to start new projects. It takes a little bit of creativity on your part to get them on board.
One way to boost business is to offer various package deals. For example, if you normally charge a specific hourly rate for maintenance, give clients who are willing to prepay for services a price break. Maybe that amounts to a free hour of labor or some other goodies.
This can provide you with some upfront revenue and encourages your clients to spend. Not everyone will fully utilize their benefits – so you’ll come out ahead in some situations. But even if they do exhaust every last drop, you may well have convinced them to spend more than they would have otherwise.
Another opportunity lies with clients who have older websites. Perhaps their site isn’t mobile-friendly or it’s using some outdated technology. Take a look at where they all stand and reach out to those who could benefit from x, y or z. Offer them an upfront quote for making the improvements.
All it takes is a couple of positive responses to bring in some fresh funds. And with the way web technologies go out of favor, you’re sure to have plenty of improvements to suggest.
Look for the Right Opportunities
When it comes to bringing in new clients, you should be picky. This is incredibly important if you have a mature business. If you already have a lot of clients, there’s no sense in just chasing the fast cash. Instead, look for those who will be a good fit for now and in the long term.
Ideally, you’ll want to choose to work with clients who will mesh well with the way you do business. If you’re looking for someone who will be with you for years, don’t settle for a client that has a tiny upfront budget with little need for changes down the road. This often ends up being more trouble than it’s worth.
When you’re just starting out, you often end up settling just because you need the business. But over time you may regret having done so. You can get stuck in situations that no longer fit with what you do.
Now that you’re older and (hopefully) wiser, you can look for opportunities that encourage growth.
Get Some Help
Flying solo is tough. There will be times when there simply isn’t enough of you to go around. To take that next step, it might make sense to look at bringing another freelancer aboard to help out.
This doesn’t necessarily mean hiring on an employee in the classic sense. It’s more like a trusted colleague who can pitch in occasionally. Perhaps they take care of some smaller tasks while you handle the bigger items on your agenda. Since it’s your business, you get to decide when and how to utilize the extra hand.
The challenge here is finding someone that is both trustworthy and affordable. On the first front, you want a person who does what you ask of them and isn’t afraid to ask questions. Second, you still want to make money on the tasks you assign to someone else. What you don’t need is a situation where you miss deadlines and run over budget.
Finding the right person can take some time – you may have to go through a few freelancers before you find “the one”. One way to minimize risk is to work with a candidate on a few small projects and see how things go. If all goes well, you’ll have a trusted source of help when you need it.
Growing for Good
Keeping your design business moving full-steam ahead requires a lot of creative thinking. It’s about finding effective ways to bring in revenue from both new and existing clients. Beyond that, you need to think about how your business has evolved over time and make decisions that help keep things pointed in that direction.
Ultimately, you get to decide your own path to growth. It’s not always easy, but it is one of the unique aspects of being a freelance designer.