Have you ever wondered how you can earn more while working less, without having to give up doing what you love?
As a solo freelancer, you only have so much time, energy and resources in a day to help a limited number of people. You can only work on one task at a time. But you have to do everything, from creating proposals (that may be rejected) to chasing clients for unpaid invoices.
I’ve been a solo graphic design freelancer for 10+ years. I could work from home and anywhere, that was great. But once I stopped working, incoming cash stops flowing. That wasn’t so good. At some point, I started to rethink what I could do to grow out of being a solo freelancer.
Surely, there’s more to this business relying all on me. I had to earn more to improve my lifestyle, support my family and pay the bills, but I was spreading myself too thin in the process. Burnout became a regular thing.
If you are in the same situation and wish to grow your freelance business or consulting work to thrive and do what you love at the same time, this is for you.
Why You Should Give Up Solo Freelancing
Series of events that led me to find a better way to run my business
What does it take to grow out of solo freelancing?
Growing out of solo freelancing isn’t just about earning more. It’s about earning more while not doing it all. It’s about helping more people solve their problems through collaboration and leverage.
What it takes is more than just putting a big price tag on your service, sell it and deliver the goods. I’ve done it before, charging a client of a bank more than $10,000 on a 100-page booklet. But the time taken to work on the booklet was fully mine.
The one who drew up the quote was me. The one who had to negotiate with the client was me. The one who did all 100 pages was me. Finally, the one who did the invoicing and chasing of payment was who? You guessed it, also me.
Managing and working with people is not for everyone. But in order to grow out of solo freelancing, you need to be willing to change the way you work. That includes things such as hiring, outsourcing, how you acquire clients, payment model, client fulfillment processes and more.
Growing and scaling is great and has been on my mind for a while. But, I took a long time to achieve that because I struggled to let go of what I have been comfortably doing for more than ten years.
As you know, your greatest competition is yourself. Likewise, what was stopping me was myself. Here were some self-restrictions that stopped me from taking the leap.
1. Risk losing quality and reputation
I used to think that I have to do all the client work on my own, because who could do all of it with the same quality as I do? My clients worked with me because of my talents, strengths, and creativity. If I were to hire someone else to take over my job, the quality may drop and I risked losing my reputation, job, and income.
2. I’m not a manager
Training someone else was also a chore for me. I’ve been hiring and firing a few designers since 2015. I used to take four hours a day to train designers to improve their work. It seemed easier for me to do the work myself! I thought. It’s tough managing people. I just wanted to be the best designer I could be.
3. I’m not a salesperson
In order to grow my business, I had to spread the word, sell my services and use my time to do more promotional work and marketing. But I hated doing sales. It just wasn’t me. I loved putting my head down to create things, not talking to people and try to persuade them to buy something.
4. I love doing creative work
There’s no way I can grow without outsourcing or hiring someone to take over my work. But I love doing the conceptualizing, research, sketching and brand strategy for clients. I couldn’t imagine someone else doing this part of the work in my place and showing clients the work that isn’t mine.
5. I don’t want to hire and charge my clients more
Maybe you are cool with hiring designers to help you out. But that would mean you have to charge your clients more to pay your designers what they are worth. I was in this place before and wanted to take home all that my clients were paying me for. They came to me for my affordable rates and great design work. I didn’t wish to risk the relationship by marking up my rates.
We all wish to make a living doing what we love. However, if you are looking for a change in your lifestyle, then you have to go out of your comfort zone to earn it. Here are some things you can do to get unstuck:
Step 1 — Time audit your process
This step is where you list down the tasks you do on a weekly basis for a month.
As a solo freelancer, I was an octopus, doing everything for in my business. Since I wanted to grow my business, I will have to cater more time doing the activities that can help my business grow.
Hence, I needed to know where my time is being spent on in the first place. Logging my time is the only way to get started.
My average weekly schedule included the following tasks:
- updating my website’s design and copy — 2 hours
- writing my own blog — 4 hours
- promoting my services — 5 hours
- answering prospects’ inquiries — 5 hours
- sending them proposals and quotes — 5 hours
- doing sales emails and calls — 2 hours
- following up — 1 hour
- sending invoices — 1 hour
- doing onboarding calls — 1 hour
- sketching out initial drafts — 5 hours
- carrying out research — 10 hours
- digitalizing designs including revisions— 20 hours
- sending drafts to clients — 2 hours
- responding to feedback — 2 hours
Average work time in a week — 65 hours
If you refer to #2 to #6, those are the ones that should help with business growth, yet I only spent 17 hours per week on them. That’s not even half of the time I spent a week on my business.
But everything in this list had to be done, otherwise, the business couldn’t carry on. That said, I didn’t have to be the only one doing all on the list. Hence, I decided to outsource some of them.
Tools you can use to log time:
Step 2 — Document repeatable tasks
After listing all the tasks I do on an average day, I selected the tasks that can be quickly documented and handed over to another person. Ideally, they should be technical tasks that do not require strategic and creative thinking. That’s because technical tasks are usually repeatable while strategic ones are more customized to individual customers.
In the beginning, there’s no need for you to let go of all the work at one go. For example, if you think you need to be the one to go on sales calls to convert prospects to customers, then you shall be the one to do that. If you think you have to be the one to come up with design concepts and ideas for your clients, then that shall be your main role.
Your short term plan is to hire people to fill in only the roles that others can easily take over and those that take up a big bulk of your time. In my case, that’s number 12: “digitalizing designs including revisions”. It’s something many designers can help me with and it’s been taking 20 hours of my time each week.
Before hiring someone to take up the above roles, I first put on paper what is expected of the next person taking over them. This includes checklists and steps for him or her to accomplish the tasks.
Here’s a sample daily checklist for our designers:
When a customer emails a request, our designer gets to work —
- Customer’s request is scheduled, first come first served
- A folder or file is set up for the customer’s request in Google Drive
- The first request in progress — designer reads, come up with the concept
- Three options are created
- Three file formats are created — namely: source file, .PNG and .PDF
- Drafts are emailed to the customer, usually within 3 days or less
If you prefer not to write them down, the best way is to do a screen recording or video of what you do to accomplish your tasks. You can store them in the cloud with Google Drive or Dropbox and share it with the new member of your work process.
Tools you can use for documenting processes:
Step 3— Package a fixed-fee service
In the past when any client came to me for brand strategy advice, they would also ask for help to design business cards, make some text and color changes to their marketing collaterals and more.
I’m very happy to help them accomplish these tasks. But my true love is in the strategic development of their brand, not the technical implementation side of the work. One way to help them and satisfy me is to simply outsource these technical tasks while I focus on creative work.
Hence, what I’ve done is to package a brand strategy session separately from the technical tasks. People can also come to me for only the technical tasks if they need help with that and I have a ready team to work on them.
Instead of coming up with services to suit my clients, I predefine, simplify and standardize what I have to offer, my pricing and time taken to deliver it. For example, you may provide only sales copy edit services, not full blog post content, or simple graphic design services and no art direction from your part.
Most importantly, you may be an expert in many areas of your industry but intentionally limit your scope when providing fixed-fee packages to your clients.
In such packages, there’s no back and forth with clients and haggling with quotes and pricing negotiations. Your clients get what they see and pay upfront on what you will deliver. Nothing more, nothing less.
Clients know what to expect and what to pay. You also know how much you are getting and know what to deliver, helping you set up standard templates to work on them.
When clients come to you for your services, you can box up what they need into two sets, one in the brand and creative box and the other in the technical tasks box. You don’t have to spend your time working on the technical side of things as your team will handle them.
In my case, this has successfully removed me from doing something that took up a bulk of my time in a week and freed my time up to strategically think for my business growth and client’s needs.
Stop doing it all
Fast forward to today, my life and business have been through a massive change and I never looked back since. My graphic design business is growing better than before, thanks to the mini team supporting the technical tasks.
There’s no need for you to squeeze as many clients’ projects in one day to increase your income. Knowing what you do with your time and outsourcing things that don’t need your expertise, you get to do what you love with more control over your time than before.
A shoutout to Benek Lisefski, thank you so much for inspiring me to write this story.