Thursday, June 17, 2010

5 tips to earn more freelance money

Not making enough money as a freelancer? The CEO of that eco-friendly card company gives a few tricks he’s learnt along the way.

Wake up at 10.30am, have a leisurely lunch with a friend, then head to Starbucks to check emails on a caffeine high. Doesn’t sound like a bad life… does it? I should know. I’ve spent the last three years off the grid, and now run a site that allows designers from all around the world to do the same.

It’s an attractive proposition, to do what you love, at your own leisure, and to earn everything that’s due to you. However, the reality is that you’ll probably start with flies in your bank account and desperate for cash, thus taking any cruddy job that comes your way. Soon enough, you’ll realize that you’re working on crappy projects 18 hours a day, but you’re barely making rent, much less affording an overpriced blended coffee.

Sound familiar? Here are a few tips to avoid that situation.

1. Getting started – The introductory rate.

Okay. So you’re just starting out and you wanna get as much experience as possible, which means doing things on the cheap to get more jobs. That’s admirable, and absolutely essential to the beginning of any unknown freelancer. The problem is, when you want to raise your rate later on, all your clients start complaining, so you find yourself slogging away at low-paying jobs.

The trick here is the INTRODUCTORY OFFER. Give a time line, something like “MARK is ON THE MARKET! From now until 31 March 2010, Photo sessions at only 100 bucks! While stocks last!”. This works awesomely for two reasons. The first is that it encourages your clients to snap you up in a limited time. The second, is that once the period is over, clients will expect the price to go up, or at the very least, beg you to keep it at that price for just one more job.

2. Offer value, not price.

I am constantly appalled by the wages paid for creative talents in this country. The reason, is that everyone is fighting each other over price. As a consequence, people tend to settle on a low price, and thus submit sub-par work. This is bad for the talent, the client and the industry as a whole.

Price should never be the only deciding factor. Yes, don’t be exorbitant (unless you know you can), but don’t undersell yourself either. The trick here is to ensure your client is interested in your work first before bringing up the topic of price. If they ask up front, be wary, and deflect the question by saying things like “It depends on what you want” (which is actually true). Every creative talent is different – in terms of style, speed of work, accuracy and so forth. Set yourself apart (show them your work, and be professional), and you’re on good grounds for negotiations.

From my experience, the clients that pay top dollar for you are the ones that will treat you best. Reciprocate.

3. The three month buffer

Once you’re getting a few jobs in, you might wanna start out at the local kopitiam before graduating to Starbucks. Trust me on this, you want to build a three-month buffer – basically enough money in the bank to survive without any income for three months.

Imagine that freedom. For the next 3 months, if you don’t get any jobs, you’re fine. Why are you doing this? Because a desperate freelancer is one that will be doing shitty work for shitty pay and forever after be expected to do the same. What you want to do is get to the point where people are bidding top dollar for your time, and you have the flexibility to say no.

4. Never say no.

Well, not to the client’s face anyway. Always offer a solution, even if it’s not from you. Here are some common ones.

  1. Job is too cheap or too short a deadline – Ask for a longer timeline, or a bigger paycheck, or both. If the client says this is impossible, then recommend someone else, and don’t be bitchy about it (yes, designers… you know who you are).
  2. Job is not your specialty – If you’re willing to learn a new specialty, charge to make it worth your while. Or better yet, if you really want to learn this specialty, offer them a discount but tell the client that you might need more time to learn and perhaps make a few mistakes
  3. You don’t do that – Even if it’s totally unrelated, don’t just say no. Recommend the client someone else. If the client sees you as a problem solver, they will bring more business to you. Also, referring business to others will often come back to you.

5. Be Remembered

If you’ve followed the steps above, your clients should have no problem recommending you to their colleagues or friends. HOWEVER, this is only the case if they remember to do so. Certain freelancing jobs (such as programming or accountancy) don’t really get people talking cos they don’t come out much in regular conversation.

What you need to do is to give them reasons to remember you. A memorable business card is a simple way of doing this. These days, you can get some really nice ones from moo cards for as low as US$20 for a pack of 100. Of course, depending on where you are, your local printer might be even cheaper, but watch for ways of making your card stand out. You might want to look professional, but remember that the purpose of a freelancer’s business card is to be remembered. While odd sizes are great, try not to exceed the measurements of a standard business card (89 × 51 mm), since people won’t be able to put em in their wallets, and probably end up losing or damaging them.

Also, if you can… work on people skills. Bond with your clients… don’t just talk about work. If you can find something in common with your client, their memory of you will take a huge leap, leading to them more easily remembering, and thus recommending you to other people.


Why am I telling you all this? At the end of the day, alot of people are starting to come to the freelance side of things. If everyone undercuts each other, it’s bad for the industry as a whole (and good for those rich, godless, merciless corporations that we call clients). But if everyone starts differentiating, we get a bigger pool of talent that’s better paid, does better work and has a better overall reputation… so everyone wins :)

Before I end, I have to say that all this advice comes with two caveats. The first is that everyone works differently, so if you don’t agree with these tips, I’d love to hear how you do it at chak [@]

The second, is not to try looking for me at Starbucks at 1030am cos I usually get up at 11.

And I make better coffee at home.

This article first appeared in CUTOUT Magazine’ JULY 2010. Do check it out at newstands in Malaysia.


Frans said...

Nice one Chak. Wanna expand Foldees to Freelancees? ^^

chak said...

Hahaha... i think that's quite a mouthful man...

btw... lancee means something else in Chinese... HAHAHAH

You got any more tips to share?

amjadbutt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RoseH_Huls21365 said...


Frans said...

LOL! I didn't even think about that 'thing', my mind as pure as mineral water. But if you want to start the Freelancees, you'll need a tiger fur coat and a lot of cigars... Haha...

Ok, serious talk now, maybe you can host a freelance community (Foldees designer) for freelance work service related to vector and cartoon which are Foldess all about. If a designer get hired, he/she must pay some tax to Foldees Republic's president. How's that sound? Haha...

chak said...

It's actually something we've been toying about for a while, actually... Cos we do get requests for freelance work.

We are focusing on our long awaited Facebook application for now though

Frans said...

Wow, make sure to tag me in, Ok ?