A More Natural Approach to Freelance Business Growth

Georgina Laidlaw

People like to give dramatic advice to build a freelance business.

“Conquer new markets!” they cry. “Confront your scalability demons!” “Expand, automate, and brand!”

But I don’t know that building your business—whatever that means (More income? More work? More clients? All of the above?)—necessarily has to be so dramatic all the time.

Your best month

Recently I had my best month, income-wise, ever. As in, in my life. The following month? Fine, but not as good.

Since I started freelancing I’ve accepted that income growth isn’t a smooth upward curve: I’ve found it to be more of a ratcheting, with a general upward trend. So the return to more normal income levels wasn’t a crushing blow.

But it did make me wonder what I could do to return to that level of income, and sustain it.

So I looked at my best month. What had happened? Where had that extra work originated? What kind of work was it? Had I done anything special to make those projects more profitable, more cost- and time-effective?

While few of us probably want to change our strategy on the basis of a month’s work, this kind of review is extremely helpful:

  • It can help identify what works to promote your services: One of my bigger jobs in that month came from an old colleague. This reminded me of the value of relationships in what I do, but also made me wonder if there were more opportunities to work with this vocal advocate of my services.
  • It lets you “profile” your work and identify opportunities: The month’s work involved projects types, with client types, that I don’t often team up with. Yet this is work I’ve always seemed to pick up periodically, and enjoyed doing. Perhaps, I thought, I should consider pursuing this king of work more diligently, either as an add-on for existing clients, or in different markets altogether.
  • It can give you benchmarks for easy comparison with other months: Let’s face it: this “analysis” is hardly intensive. But it does provide some rough benchmarks that I can use to assess the month’s work and income against other months. Having profiled one month, I can profile others and get an objective idea of where my business seems to be heading.
  • It can help you identify what you need to do to reach your goals: I started looking at my work for the month because it was particularly successful income-wise. So it seems I want to earn more. But is that the full story? I earned more, sure—but I also worked more hours. So did I want to simply try to replicate this month in future? Or could I take what I’ve learned and find a way to refine what I’m doing to, effectively, “work smarter”?

Tweaking your approach

By looking more closely at your best month, and comparing it to other, more typical months, you can get a feel for less dramatic, more natural and gradual ways to grow your freelance business.

As a result of my little analysis, I decided to try a few ideas to grow my business:

  • asking for feedback from the clients I rarely worked with, who had called on me that month
  • tweaking my positioning—which, in practice, meant telling—and working—a slightly different “story” with my current clients
  • proactively cultivating stronger relationships with certain clients, and client types.

I’ve already seen some results from these tweaks. They’re not big-deal, fancy-pants, expensive strategies. Perhaps you don’t find them particularly thrilling. But they’re working.

What can you learn from your best month freelancing? And what other techniques have you used to find room for growth within your freelance business? Tell us your ideas in the comments.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user ZoofyTheJi.