100 freelance tips and tricks from top freelancers
The following tips are brought to you by Webflow, a professional drag and drop tool built for designing websites using responsive web design best practices.
They cover tips to help you find work worthy of submitting proposal templates (1-20), improve your pricing and negotiation skills for upcoming contract templates (21-40), be professional with your clients (41-60), manage your time (61-80) and manage your invoice templates and paperwork (81-100).
1. Set up Google alerts for startup funding rounds
All levels of funding, from seed money to series C, allow a company to expand their operations. This may mean they are hiring for just the work you do! Make sure you're notified daily when a startup in your niche has made it easier to afford your work.
2. Share work samples with your clients annually
Even if it's been awhile since you've done work for a client, showing off your latest projects gives you a reason to keep in touch. It also has the benefit of letting them know what you're up to. Actors use show reels and graphic designers use demo reels in much the same manner.
3. List and get introduced to agencies near you
While many freelancers mistakenly assume that agencies are the competition, the truth is that they can be a lucrative source of work! Make relationships with larger service providers in your area so that you can possibly take on their overflow work during busy seasons.
4. Add your LinkedIn link to your personal website and Twitter profile
Use a free bit.ly link to customize a different link to LinkedIn from each site. This makes it easy to determine where people are finding you, and you can focus your efforts on the most effective platform.
5. Ask for testimonials
Nothing speaks to potential clients quite like a word-of-mouth recommendation. Use the LinkedIn recommendations tool to solicit words of praise from future and current clients. You can also ask for them through email. Display the testimonials on your website, portfolio, resume and social handles!
6. Become an expert on up-and-coming tools
As more and more freelancers seek to use the most updated resources, they will be looking for help in mastering them. By establishing yourself as a go-to authority, it will be easier to market yourself and find work requiring those tools.
7. Build case studies on your expertise
These reports don't have to be fancy, but they should show how your work has positively changed clients' lives for the better. Use stats, testimonials, and budget reporting to back up the ROI for your work.
8. Check your online reputation
Your digital footprint is very important in establishing a professional persona. Check in with Google regularly by setting search alerts to see what shows up for your name on the internet. Scan sites and google photos to be sure nothing negatives can make it hard for you to get work.
9. Find your niche
An important part of your branding is to determine what your specialty will be. Whether you focus on a particular skill, technology, industry (or all three), make sure your marketing reflects this decision. Potential clients should be able to easily identify your niche (restaurant logo designer, for example) without doing too much research.
10. Get listed in directories
Many lists of freelancers and marketplace sites allow for free submissions. Simply search for terms such as "freelance designer directory" or "Squarespace developers" and make sure the sites you submit to are up-to-date with their information.
11. Join a coworking space
Not a fan of working at home? Need the motivation of other productive people around you to be at your best? Joining a co-working space encourages you to stay on-task with your work goals, and the networking opportunities are endless.
12. Maintain a portfolio
Make it easy for prospective clients to see the amazing work you do with a public display of your best projects on a free site such as Dribbble or Contently. Set a reminder to update your portfolio each time you finish something new.
13. Offer 30-minute phone consultations
What can you get done in a half an hour? Quite a bit, actually. Use the free consulting time to offer basic strategy to potential clients and plant the seed that your skills can take the idea from brainstorm to quality, completed work.
14. Partner with people who complement your skills
Never try to take on work that is well outside your wheelhouse. Instead, join forces with a respected and talented service provider that complements your skills. Designers and developers, for example, can do great things together -- like share clients! Whether it's a matter of being overbook, or the partnership isn't a good fit, you'll come out as a hero to both the prospect and the freelance you send work to. Plus, you can maintain control of your projects.
15. Produce your own monthly newsletter
Providing a regular communication via email serves two useful purposes to the freelancer looking to get work. It helps build an email subscriber base that you can reach out to for future projects, and it helps establish you as a forward-thinking pro in your industry. It's not necessary to spend a fortune on mailing software; the basics will do just fine, what matters is building an email subscriber base.
16. Register for freelance gig newsletters
Many reputable freelance job sites send out regular hiring opportunities to their subscribers. Be sure you're getting all the daily and weekly digests for the sites that offer legitimate work postings.
17. Run ads targeting the decision maker at your ideal client
Spend some time figuring out just who will be making the buying decisions for your potential client, and refine your targeting on social media and adwords to reflect that. Remember that not all ad types will reach the same audience. Facebook, for example, might have a slightly different target than Google.
18. Send new year / birthday wishes to your clients
Whether you choose to go with a general greeting card, or customize it with a considerate gift, the thought really does count here. It's one very simple and affordable way to stand out in a crowded and often too-automated industry.
19. Share your take on existing products
Build a fan following by offering your spin on well-known and respected projects. Examples include redesigning existing companies' logos and explaining some of the theory behind other people's completed work. Some freelancers have also found success by creating a side project that "mods" other developer interface tools and icons. This side work can help to educate others and act as a unique portfolio of your skills.
20. Write guest posts
Guest posts take time, but they are well worth the investment. Find out which sites are open to guest contributions by searching for your special skill and "write for us". Example: "Design + write for us". Always be creating written word -- even if it's just to communicate in online discussions, such as a LinkedIn group or Quora. Blogging is also an excellent way to become known in industries important to your work. Aim for one long-form written piece per week.
Pricing & negotiation
21. Always ask for budget before giving a price
It's best to know if you and a prospect are even playing the same pricing game. Find out if they even have the money to pay you before you waste time on a proposal. No one likes surprises.
22. Always say "we"
There's a psychology to this word, and it works to create a team feeling between you and the client. Use it often to convey their best interests.
23. Always show bundled price
Once you display how your packages are priced, you should be prepared to ask for things to be taken off. If you don't plan on making any individual service optional, keep it part of a cloaked bundle to limit the message that anything is negotiable.
24. Bill by the day, not the hour
If you have to bill by a time period (instead of a project fee), choose to do it by the day. This sets some flexibility for you to decide how much time you spend working for the client. It can also prevent micromanagement of your services.
25. Call yourself a consultant
Terms such as "freelancer" can lead clients to believe that you're not professional. Use this name internally only, and project a polished image with the more respected "consultant" in client communications.
26. Don't lower your rates on the hope of future work
Never accept a lower fee in hopes of securing more lucrative work from the same client. "If this project works, we have so much more things to work on together" is a bad sign. Get the fee you deserve on the first project.
27. Don't work for free
Freebies should be as free to you as they are to the client. Giving a free booklet that you've already written, for example, won't cost you anything and can sweeten the deal.
28. Exclude revisions from your price and add a special budget for it
No client thinks they'll need revisions. Instead of offering rounds of edits as line-item services, include the cost of doing them in all packages by default.
29. Increase your hourly rate 5-10% every 6 months
If you know you deserve more but have a problem asking for a large rate increase, start small and be regular about your pay raises. You can implement this strategy for only new clients you take on, or you can approach existing clients for a raise, as needed. The beginning of the year is the best time to announce a rate increase.
30. Learn to say no
Even when starting out, you need to own your time. Don't take offers that aren't getting you to where you want to be (whether it be with money, skills, or experience.) Get comfortable turning people down and learn how to deal with difficult clients.
31. Listen more than you talk
While it's important to share your opinions with the client, a lot can be gained by taking an active listening approach. The more information you get, the fewer questions you'll have to ask down the road -- and the more you have to use for negotiation.
32. Make sure you're speaking with the decision maker
Not everyone is authorized to make deals. Don't waste time pitching services to someone who doesn't have the ability to say yes to the budget.
33. Offer 3 service packages
You'll need to know their budget in advance to make this work, but your smallest package should be in line with what they want to pay, minus the services that are most labor or cost intensive to you. Your mid-priced package can offer more perks, and your top package should give it all at the price you find most attractive.
34. Optimize for recurring revenue
Package regular service charges as a value-add. If you charge recurring webhosting services, for example, add a maintenance fee and bundle it.
35. Prefer shorter days at a higher rate over longer days at a lower rate
If a client insists that they know how many hours a day's work entails, aim for the formula that compensates you most per hour for the same budget. This sets an expectation standard that you're worth a better rate.
36. Schedule work with milestones
Always break up projects into manageable goals that you can communicate with the client. Celebrate each milestone with a communication, reminding them of next steps. Be sure to call out when milestones are done before the deadline.
37. Set an expiration date on your proposals
Don't allow your proposal to linger indefinitely in the "maybe" pile. If a prospective client is interested, they'll act in a timely matter by the time you designate.
Use Bonsai's freelance proposals component to keep track of all you send.
38. Tell your client you have another project competing for your time
This can always be the case, even if you don't have a another paying client pushing for your attention. Your own projects should have high priority, and the pressure that someone might steal you away will push to get the deal signed quickly.
39. Use Rates Explorer to know how much your competitors charge
Avoid being priced out of the competition by seeing where you stand for particular skills and technologies in your neck of the woods. Sort by years of experience to compare yourself to comparable service providers.
Check Bonsai's freelance rates tool and see how much you can charge.
40. Use value-based pricing
Stick with project-based billing when you can. This helps you derive more value and positions yourself as a premier service provider in a tight market.
41. Always have an opinion
Even if no one specifically asked for your thoughts on a project, it's good practice to offer your advice on work that is within your realm of influence. Remember, you are being paid for your background and expertise, in addition to your skills. Use them!
42. Always take notes
Assume that every moment is an opportunity to learn something for later. Jot down info for later and amazing ideas as they happen with a tablet, mobile device, or old-fashioned moleskin notebook with pencil!
43. Always think about expectations
It might be impossible to read a client's mind, but you can solve most problems by anticipating their needs. This involves you taking time in the very beginning to understand their expectations regarding timeliness, communication, and delivery. In a word, it's about "professionalism".
44. Ask for feedback a week after project's end
By sending a typeform to solicit feedback after the close of business, you can let the client know that you still value them. The information you receive can help you tailor your processes to be more client-focused, too!
Check out Typeform for free & beautifully human online forms.
45. Automate your onboarding and off-boarding
Have a template for every new client that includes all the to-do's for starting your relationship. End each project with a list of outgoing duties, too. Consistency with this documentation will ensure smooth transitions and make it so you don't miss anything important!
46. Build friendships, not just relationships
Working partnerships can be among the most fruitful! Take time to know your client, their pain points, and their aspirations. The extra attention you pay to getting to know them better will be beneficial for project work and future opportunities, too!
47. Call when you can
Most freelancers are fearful of hopping on a call, but it's just the sort of communication that can prevent miscommunications. Avoiding back and forth with emails is just one benefit of the occasional call; it's also the warm touch that keeps you seen as a personable professional.
48. Invest your time between clients based on actual and potential revenue
If 20% of your clients generate 80% of your revenue, make sure your time spent with them reflects it. While it's possible to nurture a lower-paying client to more work, it isn't usually a good return on your time investment.
49. Keep track of all your communications
Don't ever delete client emails, contracts, or paper communications. In fact, if you can save all of your discussions to a dedicated folder, you will be able to access them quickly when needed. Back them up to a secure cloud location to get to them on the road or when you're not at your desk.
50. Keep track of all your contacts
CRM (client relations management) doesn't have to be complicated, but it should be happening with all contacts, clients, and prospects. Bonsai's CRM is simplified to meet the needs of freelancers and easily integrates into your other Bonsai tools.
51. Keep up with the latest news about your clients
Clients love when you can rejoice in their victories and be understanding in their times of trial. One way to stay on top of these before they announce them is with tailored alerts. Set up news alerts about the company from GoogleAlert and MentionApp as soon as you start working with them.
52. Name your meetings clearly
Whether you are doing the inviting, or you are accepting a meeting request from the client, make sure you refer to each meeting by a name that communiates desired outcomes. Calling a last meeting "Closing Call", for example, sets clear expectations.
53. Never say "please"
Using the "p" word isn't professional and sets the tone that you may be begging for business or a desired outcome. "Thank you", on the other hand, is a respectable way to show appreciation and can almost never be used too often.
54. Prepare for key meetings with pre-meetings
You can't really over prepare for the important things, and meetings are no exception. For key meetings, do one-on-ones with key stakeholders before to prepare the message and avoid getting into troubled discussions during the final meeting. Think of it as dress rehearsal!
55. Propose an agenda for every meeting
Each of your projects should have a set of goals you wish to announce at every face-to-face. An onboarding meeting designed to create the project timeline, for example, should include a introduction of the players, a roundtable discussion of each of the stages, and a reasonable date set for each of the project phases.
56. Schedule late-night emails for early in the morning
Even though most of us are guilty of working late into the night, it's still best to appear to have business hours. To look professional, use tools like Boomerang to compose emails when you want and send when it's most appropriate.
57. Schedule periodic email updates in your calendar
Mark up regular appointments to check in with clients and use templates to make quick work of the task. Use labels such as Done, To Do, Schedule, and Questions to make them easy to differentiate. Send communications that come with timesheets through Bonsai.
58. Send a recap email after each meeting
This is a rare thing in the industry, but it goes a long way to showing your amazing communication skills. A very brief recap email after each meeting, along with your understanding of next steps, assure the client you are on top of things and allows misunderstandings to be addressed before they cause issues.
59. Track when your emails are opened so you know when to call your client
Tools such as Boomerang and mixmax alert you to when an email is being perused by the client. Use this info to be proactive in communications; you'll never have to wait for them to ask the status of a task.
60. Underpromise and overdeliver
It's best to set the expectations well within what you are comfortable doing, and raise them only after being asked. Do more than you say you will to keep client satisfaction at peak.
61. Close your email app
Don't fall into the trap of checking your email several times a day and don't even think about setting up notification for each new message received! Maintain focus on other tasks by scheduling time to visit email and reply to the most important ones first.
62. Create & commit to your own deadlines
There may be only one client deadline, but it will take several internal time commitments to get there on time. Write down and stick to due dates you set or yourself, even if you don't share them with anyone.
63. Create a digital environment
Let technology be your friend. Productivity apps such as Noisli help simulate a better working atmosphere with its background noise and color settings designed specifically for work and play!
64. Don't multitask
Doing more than one thing at a time is not really possible. Keep your mind sharp and performing at peak efficiency with tools that keep you on a single task track. Incorporate the use of time trackers, calendar tools, and one browsing tab to maintain focus.
65. Don't schedule meetings on the hour
Why is this important? Many people are coming out of meetings at the hour, and they need time to reset and refocus before going into a new one. Setting meetings at a quarter past also allows for previous meetings to run over a bit without causing problems.
66. Don't take catch-up coffees during work hours
We all need to socialize, but stick to keeping a "work hours" schedule. Plan on hanging out with your coffee dates early in the morning or later in the evening. It'll keep you looking professional and staying productive.
67. End your day with a self-review
How did you do today? If you're not sure, get in the habit of analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, putting them into part of a plan for the next day. You can only improve with time.
68. Get better at scheduling, split your project into micro-tasks
Even the simplest projects are the result of several tiny tasks. Get in the habit of recognizing the micro-tasks and charting them out for improved efficiency.
69. Group similar tasks together
Avoid time wasted when switching gears by grouping like-work. Sending emails, scheduling meetings, and running reports should all be done in clusters to maintain focus and speed.
70. Leave buffer time between each block
People are not machines, so don't schedule tasks back-to-back with no time to breathe in-between. Give yourself 5, 10, then 15 minutes of space after each completed task.
71. Save time for training
To be a reputable freelancer who is up-to-date on all the current tools and offerings available, it's important to spend adequate time in your week or month for learning new skills. While you should never charge the cost of learning a new skill to the client directly, you should always charge for time spent teaching a client that new skill and how it can be directly applied to their business.
72. Save your email templates
You work hard to create the perfect email, so save them! You won't ever need to type the entire thing out once saved as a template. Just be sure to leave room for personalization and take care to get this portion of it right.
73. Schedule your breaks
Some people are more prone to working long hours without interruption. But for the majority, finding time for breaks is the best way to make sure you stay productive.
In order to avoid taking breaks every time you lose a bit of focus, prefer scheduling your breaks to make sure you stay productive outside of those times.
74. Set up 2 to 3 priorities each day
Identify the most important tasks to do each morning and separate those out from the rest of your list. Build time blocks dedicated to just those items, and don't use that time for anything else!
75. Start your day by planning your day
Have you heard of the Pareto principle? This approach toward time management (also called the "80/20 rule") forces you to recognize that the bulk of your work -- about 80% -- doesn't offer much in money or value. Prioritize the 20% of very valuable tasks first, and you'll find you are doing more that matters.
76. Start your day with the hardest tasks
In other words, "eat the frog." Once something you hate doing is out of the way, the day can only get better and easier. Your mind will also be freshest for the most challenging jobs.
77. Turn off WiFi
Since you'll be working with some very confidential and sensitive data on behalf of your clients, you'll need to make sure that information is safe. Ditch a typical home wi-fi router for the benefits of a VPN (virtual private network).
78. Use a time-management framework
Any framework is better than none, but there is likely a method that fits your personality. You might choose Eisenhower (assigning work into one of four prioritization categories) or Pomodor (working in 35-minute chunks followed by short breaks) -- or a combination of both! The "Getting Things Done" methodology is also quite effective.
79. Use a time-tracker
Whether your client requires it or not, a simple stop watch-type app can be a huge efficiency saver. You'll stay more focused and feel accomplished seeing all that you've done in the day. A tool such as Toggl will do this while making client reporting a time-based billing a cinch!
Try Bonsai's freelance time tracking solution to optimize your workflow.
80. Use your calendar app as a todo list
You are already putting everything on a calendar, right? Fill it in with to-do items, as well, and you won't have to look two places to find out how to prioritize your day. It's also easier to find time between set appointments for the things that matter most
Finance & paperwork
81. Accept various forms of payment
Your invoice should clearly state how you prefer to be paid, but anticipate that some will want to pay with a credit card, cash, check or wire transfer. Third party payment processors (such as PayPal or Stripe) make it possible to accept most payment types.
82. Always get a down payment
Working on any project before payment is a no-no, and an initial deposit shows clients you mean business. Standard down payment is 30% for creative freelancers, although you are always welcome to require up to 50%.
83. Always send a contract
A contract protects you from more than just payment issues. Intellectual property rights, confidentiality, and non-compete clauses are all real contract considerations that even free projects should address.
84. Automate your invoice reminders
Don't let cash flow suffer because you forgot to send an invoice or didn't have time to collect. An automatic invoice system leaves accounts receivable issues off your plate.
Use Bonsai's freelance invoices to make sure you get paid on time.
85. Build your own financial forecast
It won't take long for you to figure out that there are highs and lows in any freelance business. Budget for the uncertainty by laying out a clear plan for expenses, and ensure your income goals more than cover it. Be sure to account for seasonal dips, a well.
86. Charge fees for late payments
Set the expectations up front, usually through your contract, that you will not tolerate tardy payments. Sometimes, a modest fee is all a client will need to prioritize your payment first!
87. Consider incorporating
Not all freelancers will need to move away from being a sole proprietor, but forming a corporation has its advantages. In addition to providing some liability protection, it may show potential clients that you truly do mean business!
88. Delegate your bookkeeping
Smart freelancers stick to what they know and leave others to handle the administrative work. Keep your money matters tidy with a tool like Bench and use your time for your freelance work.
89. Diversify your sources of income
You should never look to the same group of clients for your work. Change-up your networking and prospecting to include a good mix of large vs. small companies and online vs. off-line businesses. This is especially helpful when you start getting referrals from happy customers.
90. Don't forget about expenses and how much you could save
Receipts should always be kept, along with the date and time of the purchase and spending category. As you continue tracking your charges, you may find opportunities to cut costs or switch to more affordable service providers and tools.
91. Don't wait for year's end to send your W-9s
While many clients will ask for this before you ever get started (usually during contract phase), you will still likely have more than a few who need an updated version before the end of year. Don't wait until they ask. Proactively send one sometime mid-year to avoid Q4 crunch from other freelancers.
92. Invest in accounting software
Not only does paid billing tools provide a professional image to your collection attempts, they can tie easily into your tax calculations and payments to the IRS. Investing in a reliable tool can save you big money over time.
93. Keep a cash reserve
You never know when you'll need to infuse dollars into your business or when revenue might dwindle a bit. An ample supply of cash keeps you from dipping into savings or tapping those credit cards. What you'll need will vary, but start with a small fund and invest in it regularly.
94. Plan for late payments
Even with professional invoicing techniques and a late fee, delayed payments happen. Allow room for this in your budget, and plan for enough work that one late payment won't ruin your business.
95. Save money for taxes and savings
If you're earning as a freelancer, expect to have to reinvest in your business. Set money aside to upgrade your tools and equipment. Taxes will also come due at least one-time a year on earnings (and each quarter if you're doing very well.)
By making your milestone deadlines a bit flexible, you can make yourself available for service upgrades as the opportunity arises. Always systematically suggest new add-ons that make sense for a project, such as additional creative assets, reporting, or consulting. These can pad your income in a big way without creating additional onboarding work.
97. Use a contract for free work too
Even pro bono projects should be professional from the very start. Use a contract to avoid misunderstandings and keep your deliverables in line with your time and resources. Protection is key!
98. Use a separate bank account for your freelance business
Not only is it easier to track expenses, earnings, and profit when your business money is separate from your personal money, but it makes good legal sense, too. IRS Publication 538 says that you should also use your business account for business purposes only.
99. Use a solid and well-scoped contract
Don't tempt fate with a flawed or sloppy homemade contract. With all of the professional contract templates available (including those in the Bonsai platform), you have no excuse to risk your business with a weak legal document.
100. Use a system of record for your deliverables and paperwork
Use just one tool for delivering work to clients, and make sure it tracks changes while staying secure. Dropbox is a favorite among freelancers.