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The Creative Freelancer's Guide to Growing a Business and Scaling Independence

Posted by

Ana Wang

Published on

June 10th 2020

The future is freelance. Social, cultural and infrastructural change ushered us into this new era heralding the rise of the freelance workforce, the omnipresence of the internet an engine to level the playing field in ways both good and bad, but ultimately, bestowing us with wonderful new ways to reach people and work, build, make money, make art.

Now we're here and freelancing is as normal as a job is, and just like jobs are, they can be whatever we want them to be, whatever we see them as, whatever we put into them. They're also just as likely to be a fantasy or a nightmare as any job can be, and as loaded with the same kinds of challenges: getting paid what you're worth, finding the right jobs/clients, trying to do your best work amidst uncertainty, institution and change. If you've got the wheels on your dream turning and a healthy business in view, firstly, recognize just how lucky you are to be there. And don't stop. It's time to talk about what you want to build for your future, freelancing and beyond.

In parts one and two of this series, we covered how to get clients for your freelance business and then how to think about, plan for and manage all the money and legal stuff: what you should charge, how to write a proposal and contract and how to think about personal finance as a creative. But where do you go from there?

Do you rest your laurels and keep moving along, forever prospecting and intaking new clients, raising your rates when appropriate? Do it up like the boss that you are and check the tickbox on your dream, right?

No one gets into freelancing because they love not knowing when and where their next paycheque is coming from. They’re attracted to freelancing not because the new container of work they’ve now found themselves in, but because of the possibility to do work in a different way, a way that better suits them: with more freedom, flexibility, creativity, and variety. So of course, with that, we have to also explore the possibility that there’s a way even better than “freelancing” to do that work.

There are many ways to go beyond the traditional freelance model, using the internet to supercharge your business’s growth. So that’s what we’ll dive into in this guide: ways to look at workflow and scale, automation and alternate revenue streams and business models beyond trading money for time, aka how to scale your freelance business. We’ll also explore what growth really means and why it doesn’t have to be an arduous grind to the “top” and how it might even feel like a smooth sail in serene waters, if you have the right resources, systems and support - and most importantly, know where you want to go.

This guide covers:

How to Automate Your Business
Set up a client onboarding process
Learn the basics of effective project management
Identify ways to systemize and batch your tasks
Define your goals, capacity and services - and set expectations upfront
Set up a sales funnel
Systemize and cultivate referrals
How to Grow Your Business
Become a “full stack freelancer”
How to get started with product creation
Outsource areas that aren’t your core competency
Work with an agent
Land bigger clients and when to grow into a studio
Reflect on what it really means to grow
How to Grow Yourself
Watch for burnout and take care of your mental health
Join online and IRL communities
Conduct quarterly reviews
Set aside time and a budget for professional development
Consider alternate work models

How to Automate Your Business

Set up a client onboarding process

We’re big fans of iteration, which means that you don’t necessarily have to start with a fancy client onboarding process from the get-go (in fact, I recommend not doing so, because sometimes it actually takes more effort, headache and heartache to fix mistakes than to start from scratch).

But here’s what you can and should do: as you start to build your business and get a steady stream of clients, take note of things that are happening at each step in the process. Messy notes are okay, as long as you can read them to organize later on.

Here are some things you may want to think about as part of your client onboarding process:

  • An introduction to your process and workflow - why? You may be used to your processes but your clients won’t be
  • An outline of expectations - why? Everyone does things a different way, and you need to train your clients on what to expect to reduce effort and miscommunication
  • Frequently asked questions - why? Reduce effort on both ends and answer common sales objections
  • A general timeline you can duplicate for each project - why? So you always have a rough reference for timeframes and there are as few surprises as possible
  • The tools and processes you use at various stages in your projects - why? So you can create as smooth of a client experience as possible

It can be relatively lo-fi (for example, a Notion template that you re-use or a secret page on your website, even) or, if you prefer and have the client base to justify the cost, you can also consider using a CRM that ties some of these onboarding these together with other parts of running a streamlined freelance business:

It doesn’t need to be fancy, but like the unglamorous theme of this series, it does need to be clear.

If you do want to go the extra mile, doing so can be a great way to establish trust and make an amazing first impression. That could mean small details like great branding, clear timelines and a shared workspace, or the ability to seemingly read your clients’ minds (when really, you’re just pulling from past data to educate current clients). Just don’t get caught up trying to make everything perfect, especially if you don’t have any clients.

Learn the basics of effective project management

This isn’t really about automation but it is about efficiency and effectiveness. Just like the marketing and sales skills it takes to get clients, project management is the universal soft and hard skill combo that helps you work with them, getting you to the sweet spot of client referrals that compound over time. Both are skills that many underestimate but probably count for half of the battle in a world where many hard skills have become commoditized.

Project management is all about organizing operations, building systems, reducing client effort, and getting to the finish line as smoothly as possible. We have a SuperHi course on Digital Project Management, made for everyone who works on digital projects, from project managers to agency account managers to yes, you: freelancers working with clients.

Specifically, you should learn how to set up projects effectively (including choosing and customizing a project management methodology that works for you), how to hold effective client meetings, how to prioritize your work and client load, how to spot red flags and get your projects to the finish line, and how to do it all without burning you or your client out.

Identify ways to systemize and batch your tasks

Many of us have become masters of multitasking, but studies prove that our cognitive abilities greatly improve when we’re handling one task at a time. I read a study that claimed consistent multitasking actually lowers IQ by 10 points - it’s only one study but there are many others that claim similar findings (just none as starkly surprising as one calling me 10 points dumber!). So, I’ve been monotasking for years and that’s the only secret there is to getting things done and on time, and, very importantly, being able to shut work off at the end of my day.

This works in jobs too, and it can work even better for freelancers. Try to protect your deep work time for 2-4 hours at a time - in a regular 8 hour day, that still leaves at least half your day to multi-task and do the light, administrative work.

Figure out how you need to and want to be spending your time. What are all the tasks you need to do to run your business? Can you figure out what days and even times of day are the most optimal for you to do those tasks? Tracking your energy for a few weeks should lend itself to figuring out how you work best, if you aren’t already sure. But I suspect you might have an idea already.

Some general buckets include:

  • client work (this generally should be the first priority, but can sometimes take a backseat in your business if you’re taking a break from clients or need to catch up on other buckets)
  • emails and admin,
  • marketing and client prospecting,
  • meetings,
  • professional development time (more on this later)
Examples:

Freelancer #1 spends Tuesdays and Wednesdays all day on client work, Mondays for marketing and client prospecting, Thursday open to finish up anything left over from earlier in the week, Friday for professional development, and a 1 hour block each day for emails and admin.

Freelancer #2 spends 1pm-5pm every Monday-Thursday on client work, emails and admin tasks in the morning, then Fridays for marketing and professional development. They take meetings only on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Define your goals, capacity and services - and set expectations upfront

Since you’re already an independent freelancer, you probably know how much time can be wasted on the whole client prospecting process. Whatever your client conversion rate is, you’ll never get them all but will spend countless hours trying to.

One way to reduce the effort here is to set expectations upfront and as early in the sales cycle as possible. Sometimes that means putting that information on your website, at least some of it (ie a starting range for rates or a brief note about your current capacity). If you have a healthy client pipeline, you could even suggest other freelancers or studios to work with either directly on your site or as a saved reply for emails, for common inquiries that you can’t or don’t want to take. It’s the little things like this that add hours to your workweeks - so if you can create a system for paying it forward and helping your fellow freelancer, it’s a win-win.

It can also mean preparing some sort of document that you can send to prospective clients early on that outlines your goals as a company, your capacity, and your services.

Super-tip: If you do decide to include a note about your current capacity in a public spot, set a reminder to update that in your calendar. It’s confusing for a prospective client to see a date that’s in the past - and I’ve seen this a lot. Also, this is an ideal place for a newsletter signup form - even if you’re not ready to take on new clients at the moment, you can start building an automated list of prospective clients.

Set up a “sales” funnel

If you’re not a marketer, a sales funnel can sound kind of gross. But let’s break it down: what’s a sales funnel and how can it be highly effective way to automate the growth of your business?

Think about your own journey as a buyer or customer. From time to time, you’re probably victim of impulse. But, for high value products and services, you’re more likely often weighing the decision and mulling it over. So, one important thing to consider is that by the time most people have decided to contact you, most likely they’ve already spent a lot of time researching you and your “product” to decide if it’s right for them. You’re seeing them for the first time, but they’ve already had many impressions.

It’s the same with services.

In the information age or attention economy, whatever you want to call it, everyone is competing with everyone and everything else. There’s been plenty of times that I’ve wracked my brain trying to remember the name of a company I’d come across and forgotten. The Rule of 7 in marketing cites that consumers need on average 7 touchpoints before making a purchasing decision - believe it or not, this rule first originated in the film industry in the 1930s and should probably be a rule of 77 by now, if we’re keeping up with the times.

Email marketing is one of the easiest and most accessible sales funnels anyone can set up. The goal isn’t to get superhigh numbers: it’s to build a list of people who may not yet be all the way in (yet), but at some point in the future, could be - your goal is to give them what they want, when they’re ready for it.

Email marketing drives sales at a much higher conversion rate than social media because email is a much more private space for most people than their social media accounts are. When they let you into their inboxes (as long as it’s not their junk email inbox), it means they want to make sure they don’t forget about you. They want to hear from you.

You could get really strategic about your email newsletter, working backwards to reverse engineer your target client’s customer journey, and creating content that takes them through the process and ends with a call to action.

You can also use it more simply, to announce when you’re booking new clients. You could even just use it to send an actual newsletter, and in that sense, fulfill the goal of staying on top of your customers’ minds. I’ve seen it be done successfully both ways: as a newsletter about you and your work and also as a newsletter about your customer and what they like - the latter, of course, still needs to be tangentially related to your work to effectively be a sales funnel and not a waste of time.

Whatever you decide, building an email list is one of the most universally powerful things any business can do to build a healthy ongoing funnel of leads. Otherwise, you’re essentially starting from scratch every time you need to fill up your client roster. You’re helping all the people like me who’ve seen many interesting things and products, and have no space in my brain to hold them all. If only everyone knew the power of a great email newsletter!

Here are some email marketing providers:

If you’ve got some advanced marketing skills, I’d then suggest cultivating social media as part of this funnel. But start with email and you’ll typically get a much higher return on your investment.

Systemize and cultivate referrals

Tying in closely to part one of this series where we went over ways to get your first clients, this is about taking a look at that process and seeing if there’s an opportunity to systemize how your clients help you get more clients.

Have you noticed? A lot of successful freelancers tend to have a large ratio of their income come through via referrals. It’s because doing great work and being easy to work with has a compound effect. There’s a two way benefit at play: on both ends, there’s built-in trust. And even if you didn’t start freelancing through referrals, they have a way of naturally increasing over time, as you become more experienced and build your freelance capital. Going for warm leads over the cold leads you’d get from people who randomly come across you on the internet reduces effort, and depending on your business model and cost to acquire customer, saves you money too.

Freelancing’s an odd beast and unfortunately the feast or famine cycle is just a part of the game: when you’re doing well, you usually don’t have a lot of extra time to prospect - after all, you’re spending your time actually working with clients. When high season ends, you may be left with a dry spell. That’s why you should be thinking about and building for this before you need it.

It could be an email that you always send to clients x weeks after a project ends. It could be sending your previous clients little reminders in the mail (virtual or real) during the holidays. It could be setting up a referral bonus.

When you decide what’ll work best for you, is there a way you can repeat your process, monthly/quarterly/yearly, even if you don’t think you “need” it?

How to Grow Your Business

Become a “full stack freelancer”

Marketing guru Seth Godin articulated the difference between freelancing and entrepreneurship as follows: Freelancers can’t scale because they are doing the work. Entrepreneurs make money when they sleep.

This section is about moving beyond traditional notions of freelancing and starting to think about a model that can potentially afford you even more creative freedom. Warning: making this move isn’t for everyone, just like making the leap from employment to freelancing isn’t. Entrepreneurship takes upfront effort and there’s a way higher degree of risk involved - often money, always time. You’re doing a lot of work with the possibility of no return, whereas with client work, you have measures such as proposals and briefs to make sure the scope of work is agreed upon, and then contracts to protect you legally. Once you move into the realm of product creation, consulting and teaching, you take on a lot more risk but you also enter the possibility of no longer trading time for money. For you, that might be the ultimate goal.

But, as jobs have been evolving, so too, has the notion of freelancing. The term “full stack freelancer” blends elements of old freelancing (aka the contract worker) and entrepreneurship to embrace a model that expects diverse income streams, celebrates generalists and leverages the internet to democratize and scale creative skills and knowledge. As with basically everything ever, the term is just a made up way to label the evolution of one thing to the next.

If you’re interested in exploring the concept of entrepreneurship further, The E-Myth is a business classic that helps to clearly define the difference between working on a business vs working in it, a critical mental shift any freelancer wanting to make the leap needs to make.

How to get started with product creation

It’s so easy to get caught up in shiny object syndrome, none of us immune. So when you decide it’s time to grow your business beyond client work, don’t be surprised if you run into some major analysis paralysis. I’ve lived through (and still live through) this: when you come up with a brilliant plan for a product you want to create: a book or a website, whatever it may be, and never actually end up shipping it. Maybe you go back to the client work cycle.

Two questions that you should always ask above “What’s everyone else doing?”: What do you want your days to feel like? What gives you energy and makes you feel your best?

Answering these will help you move away from feeling like you have to try and do everything, and help you hone in on where to best start.

Yes, look at others for inspiration but don’t forget that there’s ways to make money in all kinds of strange ways. What’ll drive the most momentum and progress for you needs to account for the variable: you.

Define your ideal week (go on! draw it out!) and work backwards from that, then use that to help you decide what your first step into product creation should be:

  • Do you like to sit down and write? Do you have lots of ideas that you want to share? You might want to consider books and content creation.
  • Do you love designing and making products? Maybe it’s a Shopify store.
  • Are people always asking you to teach them? Maybe you should put out a course!
  • Is there a problem you’d like to solve? Maybe it’s time to solve it by creating a software product or website. (This is the path that took developer Daniel Howells took to creating SiteInspire, digital studio 37Signals took to create project management tool Basecamp, and in a way, the path that Rik, CEO of SuperHi, took to creating SuperHi.)

It’s less about jumping to conclusions prematurely just because you’ve become enamoured with a hot new thing, but working backwards from the life that’s the best for you as a person and as a creative.

Understanding your ideal week also works the opposite direction too: you have to consider the entirety of your needs and priorities, and give yourself permission and space to rearrange those things if you need to, or to move more slowly than you would like if you need to. It’s about meeting halfway between your ideal and your reality.

Eventually you may end up with an entire portfolio of products, but start one at a time and aim for momentum rather than breadth, to start.

So how exactly do you start? One of my favorite (free) ways is, once you’ve determined what you want to create, find other people and companies who are doing something similar (not that you’re making the same product, but that you’re making the same kind of thing). And put on your detective hat: listen to podcasts, read their books, check out their talks and interviews. The information is out there. Then, go back to the same skills you use to get clients: understanding their needs.

If you’ve got the grit for it, being a successful freelancer may just be one of the best training grounds for successful product creation, for the reason that you’ve clocked years working with people and walking them through, talking them through, listening to them. You probably have years worth of notes.

Super-tip: One “shortcut” to tease out that wisdom, is to ask this question as part of your client process: What’s your biggest challenge as a __? It’s a seemingly generic question that really gets to the heart of what your clients are struggling with, and what problems they have that they haven’t been able to address for whatever reason. Is there a pattern? If so, that’s a great place to start in terms of the specifics of what you want to create. For more on creating products people want, read about validating product ideas.

Bonus reading: In our Ask a Designer series, Meg Lewis covered different ways to get started with additional revenue streams beyond freelance client work.

Outsource areas that aren’t your core competency

You can’t do it all. Did I need to mention that? Maybe it’s obvious: if you want to grow your business, it’s incredibly challenging to try to do it all at the same time that you’re taking on clients. If you want to make a transition entirely away from client work, it can take years. The online community Indie Hackers gives a realistic look at the journeys and revenues of independent makers, many of whom you’ll see spend months and months (sometimes years) to land their first few customers. It takes time and effort.

Generally, honing in on your strengths and delegating your weaknesses is the most effective way to work, as long as you don’t let those weaknesses become crutches.

We can’t always afford to outsource when we’re scrappy and just starting up. At this point, you don’t need to be thinking about what to pass off. When you start to have a healthy flow of clients is the time to start thinking about what you shouldn’t be doing anymore. Because once you’ve gotten proof of concept for your freelance business, your time is now worth money.

Here are some things that you may want to consider delegating, no matter what your field is:

  • bookkeeping and accounting
  • virtual admin assistance
  • marketing and social media
  • copywriting or UX writing
  • web design and/or development
  • branding and visual identity
  • photography
  • etc, etc, etc.

Another way to think about this is if you’re operating a full service business, what are your clients coming to you most for? Is it time to trim your services? What kind of projects take the most effort and provide the least reward (monetarily, creatively, effort-vs-impact)?

Consider and analyze your customer’s journey: what other things are they asking for before, during and after working with you? Are some of the things you’re taking on taking you away from your best and most profitable work? What would it look like if you stopped doing, so that you could do more? In our second Ask a Project Manager column with PM trainer Rachel Gertz, Rachel provides some guidelines on when to say no and when to say yes.

Work with an agent

For certain creative services, it may be time to consider getting an agent who can take care of a lot of the business side of creative work. They’re more common in some fields vs others - for example, illustrators, artists, writers, actors, and photographers often have agents. (I don’t really know of any developers who have agents so if you’re one, let me know!)

What does an agent do? They focus on getting you work and negotiating rates, as well as being the ongoing buffer of communication between and your client. They typically work on commission: 10-35%. But, at a certain point in your freelance career, they help you get to the next level by allowing you to focus on what you’re good at while they’re out there getting you bigger clients.

How do you get an agent? There’s not really a hard and fast answer: it’s similar to getting clients, and come to think of it, getting jobs too. You need to get in front of them and you need to stand out as well as have a consistent, polished point of view that comes through in your work.

Agents get solicited, a lot. Research the agent/agency you’re approaching and get your portfolio in tip-top shape. Then? It varies from there: some agents will prefer the tried and true cold email approach (just remember that they probably get a lot of submissions daily), whereas others say the way to stand out is to snail mail them a marketing piece.

Land bigger clients and when to grow into a studio

The typical path for a growing and successful freelancer tends to look something like this: as outlined above, you either go for bigger clients, maybe start working with an agent, or you start to change the ratio of time you spend on the client cycle and instead, pursue the entrepreneurial approach.

There’s kind of an in-between too: turning a solo practice into a studio or agency is an option to consider if you love working with clients and want to keep that as your bread and butter but don’t necessarily need to do all the client work yourself. Scale can work in many ways: direct to end user or through brands and products customers use. I might not build the next x, but my work can be seen, used and loved by all the people who use x.

There are many examples of studio models, from large international firms to small indie boutiques: Pentagram, Accurat, Sanctuary Computer, just to name a few. Many SuperHi students run their own studios too!

A studio or agency is really just a group of people (even two) who come together to produce a usually comprehensive service to clients. That is to say, there’s no magic way to do it. But what a healthy studio usually needs is bigger clients - meaning, you’re probably going to be looking beyond working for small business who need a website and the client prospecting process does generally work a bit differently.

Here’s a list of things to consider if you want to start an agency:

  • will you have a cofounder? who will be the founding team?
  • what will you do? what will your specialty be? what are your values as a company?
  • who will be primarily responsible for sales and prospecting clients? This could be you in the beginning but as soon as more people are involved, there’s automatically more overhead - you need to make sure someone is accountable to getting clients
  • what will your process and systems look like?

Check out our guide on how to start an agency with Carly Ayres - HAWRAF also has a great archive of internal resources they used, still viewable in their public Google Drive here.

Reflect on what it means to grow

So here’s the thing: there’s only so many ways you can automate your business before you’ve optimized it enough where you’re left wondering, what else is there? There’s only so many clients you can work with until you feel like you’ve worked with all your dream clients and you’re left wondering, what else is there? What else is there?

You might’ve heard this before: after a certain salary level, people aren’t measurably happier. But when it comes to work, many of us measure growth and impact by numbers: for freelancers, that’s the number of clients we have and how much money we make. It’s easy to justify this: well, that only makes sense right? Money is a measure of a value exchange, so we’re just measuring our value back to the world.

Except we see so many examples of people and companies who are the most valuable people and companies on the planet, and they seem to be stuck in a cycle of growth for growth’s sake. What for? To add another 0 (a thousand, million, billion) to someone’s bank account? If you have a healthy company and the ability to choose your work, you’re in an especially privileged position to consider what you’re working for.

So what is it that you want to work on? What frustrates you about the world? What do you wish more people knew? Can you grow in that direction too, instead of constantly reaching for more clients and more work as your sole measure of success?

If numbers help you define your goals and give you something tangible to reach for, find a way to build numbers into a different way you’d like to measure success, beyond purely salary and number of clients. Maybe it’s how many dollars you can give back to causes you support, maybe it’s the number of books you write on that thing you really care about, maybe it’s the number of hours you spend mentoring people in your field. What do you care about? That should be factored into how you define and measure your business’ growth.

How to Grow Yourself

What does learning have to do with freelancing? Everything, but we’re biased, maybe: SuperHi is an education company, after all. In the absence of employer-sponsored professional development programs, you are the sole driver of not only your current success but your future success too. That means that you need to take the time to build professional development into your work routine and cadence. No one else is going to do it for you.

In a recent Learning & Development survey conducted by Gartner, 70% of employees report that they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs. So what happens when you make your own job? You get to define and plan for the mastery (or care) you need. Go, you!

Watch for burnout and take care of your mental health

Solo freelancing can be a recipe for burnout, even though it may not appear that way. You think it’s going to be easy because you no longer have to deal with your toxic boss or work on projects you hate. But nuh uh, you’re now working with toxic clients and no HR person to report them to, and there’s no guarantee of any work at all. There may come a day when you’ll wish you had a project you hate to even work on.

When freelancing is this big, wide unknown for a lot of us, it can be helpful and even critically important to separate self-worth from what you do for work. Otherwise, the ups and downs, the rejections and the ghosting — they can take a toll.

This means things like: going for breaks, having set workdays, giving yourself vacation and sick days, seeing a therapist. It could even be the small things like getting dressed for work, having a set routine, keeping a journal.

Check out software engineer Carolyn Yoo’s article on how to identify and manage burnout.

Join online and IRL communities

Make your own coworkers! Well, not imaginary coworkers but creating the environment of camaraderie it takes to raise all ships and grow together. The idea that you can curate your online communities, exactly to your interests and needs, is one we take so much for granted. But what an exciting concept, that no matter where you are and who you are, you can participate and be part of a group of like-minded folks.

We touched on this briefly in part one as part of the client research process, but we’re coming full circle here, because it’s also about growing, learning and having fun too.

Communities like Creative Mornings, Product Hunt and SuperHi’s own offer a chance for people to get together online or IRL (sometimes both). The Data Visualization Society is a community of all kinds of folks interested in data visualization. I’ve joined communities based on things that I was curious about but had no knowledge of, and have learned a lot about women in tech and venture capital, content and UX, and sustainability. And then of course, there are the broader “communities” that are made up of sub-communities: Reddit, Discord, Meetups.com. There’s an incredibly rich and diverse web out there.

Conduct quarterly reviews

Three months is a magic interval for reviews: anything can happen in a month and it may not be enough time to see progress, whereas you only get two reviews a year at an interval of every 6 months. It’s probably why there’s things such as the 12 week year, why companies have quarterly earnings calls, why seasons are three months. There’s magic in three!

This acts as a great restart and you get four chances to do so, to come back on the wagon if you’ve fallen off of it.

A quarterly review can be extremely simple. If you sit down and ask yourself these three questions when you look back at the past three months - what went well, what didn’t go well, and what you want to work on in the next quarter (I didn’t make these up, they come courtesy of the reviews we did at the last job I had, and they had to be short and valuable) - ask yourself just these 3 questions, and you’re ahead of the lot.

Set aside time and a budget for professional development

All kinds of companies have different policies on professional development: some will pay for courses and conferences only directly related to your current role, whereas other companies may have a different approach and perspective on the value of learning and employee retention and growth.

What’s your approach? Go back to your goals. Are you where you’d like to be? Then maybe you set aside just one day a month and leave it at that. If there’s a bigger gap between the work you want to do and the work you’re doing now, and your financial situation isn’t in the red zone, you may want to put more intentional effort, time and money into your development. A lot can be learned doing 1% a day, but a lot can be done in sprints too (kind of like going to a conference vs doing day-to-day on the job training).

Examples of professional development:

  • conferences
  • books
  • courses
  • non-client project work (aka things you want to take on just for fun)
  • last but definitely not least: feeding your creative spirit, process and soul

Check out our guide on using project management to learn new skills.

Consider alternate work models

This isn’t a directive any more than it is encouraging you to be open about the way you work - after all, you do have full control. Sometimes it’s by necessity; part-time freelancing often means working evenings and weekends. But when your clients could quite possibly be in a different time zone that you are, and if you set proper expectations, it matters less that you work the same hours and more that you’re able to reach goals and outcomes.

I knew a copywriter who only booked one client a week, and made it clear upfront what her packages, rates and services were. She was booked well in advance and took a deposit upfront as well as automated her business to request that everything she needed to start work for that week was done and ready in advance, working out the intake and flow of clients in a way that worked for her income goals and work preferences; she preferred to dedicate her time to one client at a time and felt that she did her best work in sprints rather than the long, drawn-out projects that tend to be typical.

At SuperHi, sometimes we require immediate turnaround on freelance work (nature of a startup!) - this means that this copywriter wouldn’t work for us if we needed someone right away. But she’d work great for lots of other people.

So keep that in mind: whatever model you choose, you’ll both attract and repel certain clients and types of businesses. That’s okay, and the more you lean into your strengths and needs, and make it clear, the more likely you’ll be able to attract clients that are a great fit.

Here are some other examples of other alternate models of work beyond the 9-to-5 (all inspired by actual companies):

  • 4 day work week
  • 6 hour work days
  • no-client work days
  • Summer Fridays
  • no meeting Wednesdays
  • and even straight up embracing the ebbs and flows of client work, sometimes even proactively carving out weeks or months for personal projects, if you’re financially healthy enough to do so

It’s worth saying that the good ole 9-to-5 is a perfectly fine work model as well. A lot of people associate it with boring office jobs, but I’ve worked all kinds of strange into-the-dead-of-night hours too and normal work hours are kind of nice.

Summary

What is growth? A lot of people associate it with a line that goes up and to the right. Some people want that exponential curve —“I came into this wanting freedom and flexibility, and I’m willing to do what it takes to get there” — and others want a steady, slow-inching barely visible kind of growth—“I just want to keep doing the same thing, maybe be a little bit less stressed.” Almost no one wants to go backwards - but that too, is sometimes necessary as a reset when you’ve gone down a path that no longer feels right.

How that growth happens, that’s entirely up to you. Whatever you do, I hope it’s exactly what you want. If there’s anything I know for sure (channeling Oprah right now), it’s that the more you lean into what makes you great and the closer you get to breaking down what’s blocking you from getting there, the faster you’ll get to that sweet spot of doing what you love, getting paid for it, and enjoying the ride— there’s too much amazing strangeness in the world to chalk it all up to luck.

There isn’t solely one path to growing your freelance business, and not everyone is well suited to the rocky road of entrepreneurship. But we hope this guide accurately depicted both the beauty and the beast that is the world of freelancing and how to grow your own way, whether it’s continuing with clients and getting an agent or building a studio and making jobs for other people, or creating your own products and becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur.

One last thing: we’ve used the descriptor “freelancer” throughout this series quite heavily, but remember that a) as with many things, it’s a made up word (this one’s courtesy of the 1880s to describe a medieval mercenary), and b) it’s just a way to describe the way you work, not who you are or what you do. As freelancers start to achieve success, many of them drop the descriptor altogether and present themselves simply as they are. You’re not a freelancer who designs, you’re a designer who freelances. You are whatever you decide you want to be.

Illustration by Adamastor

Did you miss the rest? Check out part one, our guide on how to get clients and kickstart your business, and then part two, our guide on all the money and legal things it takes to build a business.