Of course Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a well-known environmental slogan. It’s less well-known as good freelance business practice. While freelancing may not always be about saving the earth, some of the same things that make the eco-friendly slogan powerful apply equally as well to the freelance life.
Let’s take the three components individually. Freelancers should:
1) Reduce – the time you put into each project
As an individual freelancer, there are really only two ways to make more money: Work more hours, or get paid more for each hour that you work. Working more hours might be OK if you aren’t working that much to begin with, but it’s not a strategy with a ton of upside. As far as getting paid more goes, you can try simply raising your rates, but that usual doesn’t get you far.
Instead of raising your hourly rate, get rid of it. Bid projects as fixed fees, then get better and better at what you do. Fixed fees, while seemingly risky if a project gets out of control, actually offer you a great opportunity to make more money. Under fixed fees, if you get more efficient, and a project takes 20% less time than it used to, you can make 20% more money. Under hourly rates, the more efficient you get, the less money you make. That’s a bad trade for you and your customers.
2) Reuse – lessons from each project
OK, so you’ve started moving to fixed fees, and you know you need to get more efficient. How? Simple. Stop reinventing the wheel on each project. After you complete a project, review what you’ve done, and identify things you might be able to use again in future projects. Obviously, this won’t include things that make the project unique to that customer.
Instead, focus on common things you can reuse. If you’re an attorney, can you abstract some of your work to use as a starting point for future, similar clients? If you are a financial consultant, can you create templates from your analysis to make future work faster? Designers and writers, how can you make the way you propose, produce, and present your work reusable?
The point is to allow you to do work faster by standardizing pieces of the process. Naturally, this should be focused on areas in which standardization would not sacrifice the quality of your product. Proposals, invoices, presentations, and reports are areas in which nearly any business should be able to standardize. If you’re unsure whether your customizations add value, ask some customers. You may be surprised by the results.
3) Recycle – prior projects to win new projects
Once you complete a project, get approval from your client to list them as a customer on your web site, including a link to their site and samples or discussion of the work you did for them. Also ask for a quote from them you can use. Your portfolio will be much more effective with customer quotes alongside your great work.
When structuring your portfolio, keep potential clients in mind. Don’t just organize by the types of projects as you see them, organize by types of client. When a potential client starts clicking around, they’ll see all the services you offer, rather than just a lot of examples of the one category they clicked. Plus, if they see you have extensive experience in their industry, that tends to mean more than just experience in providing the service alone.
In terms of how you share your portfolio, I recommend getting familiar with the terms of service of any outside provider. Many freelancers use Facebook to share their portfolio, perhaps not realizing Facebook’s Terms of Service (as of this writing) grant Facebook “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”).” You may or may not find such terms acceptable, but it is important to understand what they are prior to using an outside service for your portfolio.
By reducing, reusing, and recycling, you will find you are making more money in less time (with better prospects) in your freelancing business. It’s good for the environment, and good for business.
About the author: Eric Ralph has dedicated his profession to helping freelancers succeed. He is a former freelancer, entrepreneur, and president of Milton, which offers the ability to manage contacts, projects, and finances together in one application. Follow him on Twitter @YourMilton and @EricRalph
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