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5 tips to be an indispensable freelancer (and earn more money)

If you’re a freelancer, independent contractor or consultant, scaling your business can be a challenge. After all, it’s just you.

Business development and finding new clients takes time and effort, and there’s no guarantee you’ll secure the rate, volume of work or long-term relationship you need to sustain your business.

For many freelancers, success and more income come from nurturing and deepening relationships they already have. Here are some ways you can do this.

by Caron Beesley, SBA.gov Community Moderator

1. Make yourself indispensable

woman-freelance-computerThere’s a fundamental difference between a freelancer hired for one-off jobs and a freelancer who builds deep and broad relationships with each client. The latter comes from making yourself an indispensable part of your client’s team and as invested in their success as they are.

Use your knowledge of your client’s business goals to pitch ideas and suggestions they may not have thought about for current or future projects. So, instead of simply receiving a brief and running with it, you’re demonstrating that you not only know your stuff but that you’re committed to their success.

From there, a stronger relationship will follow and there’s a good chance you will become their “go-to” person.

2. Step up your role

In addition to making yourself indispensible, think about ways you can take on additional tasks that involve more responsibility, such as managing virtual teams or taking the lead on a key project.

For example, if you are a blogger, there’s a good chance you have an in-depth knowledge of a certain topic that matters to your client. Are there ways you can grow your role? For example, could you take on web content development (since you are familiar with your subject and the language and messages that resonate with your client’s target audience)?

While you may not get an immediate rate hike for doing this type of work, you stand a good chance of being locked in to larger projects over longer periods of time while building your indispensability.

3. Be consultative

A good freelancer will keep an eye on industry and market trends and stay up-to-the-minute on new tools and best practices. However, a very good freelancer will bring these to the attention of the client and suggest ways to jump on them.

Being consultative is about knowing your client’s needs and pitching solutions that will solve their problems. If you’ve ever caught yourself thinking, “my client should be doing this,” then go for it. Bring it up on an informal call or the next time you meet.

4. Follow up like you mean it

Don’t become the freelancer who completes one project and leaves it at that. Even if you’ve wrapped up a project and been paid, there’s a pretty good chance your client will need you again. Be sure to follow up a month or so after you’ve completed a task. It sounds obvious, but in the rush and buzz of self-employment, it’s very easy to forget what happened last month and get buried in the now.

Be very specific in how you word your follow-up and demonstrate that you are invested and available. Did the client mention goals for the future? Were they waiting for their budget to get approved? Ask how the project you worked on panned out. All these questions imply that you have a good view of their business and care about helping them achieve their goals.

Be persistent. Just because there isn’t an immediate need, there may be one 3 to 6 months from now.

5. Propose a bonus structure

Now, don’t expect a bonus for delivering your work on time or exceeding expectations — this should come standard if you expect to succeed as a freelancer. But if your client asks you to get involved in work that directly impacts their bottom line, then proposing a profit-share or bonus tied to performance might be worth considering (although be sure to apply this on top of your standard rate).

For example, if you are a writer and are asked to assist with writing a large proposal that could mean big business for your client, could you ask for a 10 percent bonus on top of your agreed project rate? If you are a marketing consultant and are tasked with managing a lead-generation campaign or launching a new product, why not propose tying the performance of the campaign to your compensation?

This type of approach is really best reserved for clients to whom you have already proven your value and indispensability.

About the author: Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley. This article was first published on SBA.gov on September 4, 2012.

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