Get a jump-start on getting ahead in the new year.
If you’re like most driven freelancers, you probably want to work on more lucrative, rewarding gigs in the coming year. But there’s no need to wait until January to start strategizing.
Now is the perfect time to evaluate your current client list and come up with a game plan to improve it. The sooner you dive into this exercise, the closer you’ll be to your ideal freelance career. Here’s how to get started.
Define “lucrative” and “rewarding.” Making as much money as possible isn’t the only definition of success. Neither is working for A-list clients. Some of us place a premium on hassle-free work that buys time, energy and flexibility to travel, take classes, make art or care for family. Others prioritize purpose-driven projects that put community, social justice or the environment first. Don’t just pinpoint your desired income and call it good. Also spend some time thinking about the kind of clients with whom you’d like to align yourself.
Rate your current clients. List the five to 10 qualities most important to you in a client. Paying well, paying on time and paying electronically are some of my favorite client qualities. I’m also quite keen on clients that offer repeat business and are easy to work with. You, however, may prioritize clients who support the arts, send you on out-of-town assignments or donate 10 percent of their revenue to noble causes. Once you’ve come up with your list of ideal client characteristics, use a scale of one to five stars to rate each client based on these criteria, with five being the highest ranking.
Assess what’s working — and what isn’t. You’ll obviously want to do all you can to hold onto your five-star clients. A modest holiday gift is a good place to start. So is a check-in message early in the new year to let them know you’re still available for new projects.
Consider how you might turn three- and four-star clients into five-star clients. Might a diplomatic conversation about their seemingly endless rounds of project revisions do the trick? Could charging them a rush free help to eliminate uncomfortably tight turnaround times? Have you tried telling them all your other clients pay electronically and seeing what it would take to get them to do the same?
As for the one- and two-star clients, if you have already addressed their shortcomings with them but have gotten nowhere, it’s time to replace them. Remember that the time you spend doing low-paying, onerous work is time you instead could use to find more lucrative, rewarding work.
Trade up. If your cup runneth over with one- and two-star clients, your primary task should be to follow up with contacts who’ve expressed interest in hiring you but have yet to do so. (A personalized holiday or new year’s card is a great way to remind these people you’re still interested.) If you don’t have any such contacts, don’t fret. There are a number of shortcuts you can take to hasten the freelance job hunt.
If, however, you’re mostly happy with your current client list, pat yourself on the back. Then dare to dream bigger. Revisit the list you made of prized client characteristics. Spend some time daydreaming about and researching the companies you’d most love to work with. Make contacting at least five of them a top priority in the new year. Rinse and repeat any time your career could use a bit of a boost.