Creative Freelancers: Avoid Being A Starving Artist

December 7, 2015

7:00 pm

For many, the concept of a “starving artist” seems noble and even romantic, but most freelancers prefer to put food on the table and gas in their cars. If you count yourself among the latter group, you don’t have to suffer for the sake of your art. In fact, you can generate a livable income online while you stay true to your passion.

Whether you’re a freelance writer, graphic designer, programmer, musician, voice over artist, or translator, you can use the following strategies to increase your income potential—and to stay out of your parents’ basement.

Cast a Wide Net

Freelancers can’t rely on a single source of income even if that source seems lucrative for the moment. Gigs dry up all the time, leaving freelancers desperate and frustrated. However, if you have multiple revenue sources, you never have to worry about hustling.

Numerous freelance marketplaces exist to help you find paying clients. Upwork, Elance, and Guru represent some of the most popular options, but keep your eye out for new sites—particularly those that serve niche freelancers. For instance, Bunny Inc., Fiverr, and Scripted all offer great opportunities for the creative freelancer.

Create a Portfolio

You can attract more freelance jobs if potential customers can see your past work. They want to know that you can meet their needs and deliver high-quality results.

Start with your own website. Create an aesthetically pleasing design that exudes professionalism and competence. Add a page or section that shows off your portfolio, whether you’re a photographer who displays images from recent photo shoots or a writer who publishes clips of articles.

Only choose the best samples of your work. A few spectacular examples in a portfolio will always perform better than dozens of mediocre choices.

Consider Your Price List Carefully

Many freelancers mistakenly assume that low prices will result in more work. Often, the opposite proves true. Clients want to hire professionals who consistently submit high-quality, professional work. If you offer bargain-basement prices, clients will wonder why you feel that you can’t charge more for your services.

A better strategy is to increase the value you provide. Charge clients what you’re worth, but make sure you over-deliver on every promise. Research the market to determine what other freelancers charge, then decide where you fit based on your experience, education, and skill level.

If you gain a skill, certification, or another asset, increase your prices. Tell your clients the reason behind the rate hike, but stick to your guns. You can’t make a living if you constantly reduce your prices.

Allow Yourself to Turn Down Projects

When you first start out as a freelancer, you can’t imagine turning down a paying gig. However, you’ll quickly find that some projects aren’t worth the padding in your PayPal account. If you run into an unreasonable client or if you’re offered a project that makes you want to hide under the covers, feel free to decline.

While this might seem like a self-limiting strategy, think about the other side of the coin. When you turn down a project that doesn’t excite or interest you, your schedule suddenly gains room for a project that will better fulfill your needs.

Sell Your Services and Your Knowledge

According to the International Freelancers Academy, many freelancers can increase their incomes by leveraging their skills. You might sell your services directly to your clients, but you can also sell your knowledge. Create informational products—ebooks, videos, podcasts—that teach others your craft.

Once you create an informational product, you can sell it over and over again. Each time someone clicks the Buy button, you get money for the purchase. Over time, you can develop a large library of products that augment your freelancing income without any additional work on your part.

Look for Consistent Gigs

A freelancing gig that produces consistent work will always outperform a single or one-off assignment. Look for clients who need new designs, articles, voiceovers, coding, or other deliverables on a weekly or monthly basis.

If you can build a stable of consistent clients, you can devote less time to promotion. Marketing and advertising will always remain essential to your freelancing business, but you want to spend more of your time working than promoting.

Expand Your Range

Don’t get stuck in a metaphorical rut. Think about other ways businesses or consumers could use your services. For instance, if you’re a freelance writer who focuses on informational articles, you could expand into sales copy or technical writing.

The most successful freelancers constantly search for new markets. You can create a page on your website that targets a specific consumer. Maybe you’re a graphic designer and you’ve thus far targeted businesses in a specific industry. Look for ways in which you can serve other industries to increase your profit margin.

Get Active on Social Media

An eMarketer report revealed in 2013 that 2.55 billion people will be using social media by the year 2017. The ubiquitous nature of social media demands your attention. If you’re active on Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms, you will increase your visibility and your reach.

Don’t just use social media to promote. You’ll just annoy your audience. Instead, become a valuable source of information and news or cast yourself as a funny or inspiring person to follow. If people like you on social media, they’ll think of you first when they need a service that you provide on a freelance basis.

Request Referrals

If you don’t want to remain a modern-day starving artist, start tapping your existing and past clients for referrals. Invite them to suggest your services to a friend or colleague, then offer a small discount on future work, such as 10 to 15 percent.

People trust their friends’ and associates’ recommendations more than words on a computer screen. If you can encourage word-of-mouth advertising for your freelance business, you’ll benefit from increased income and a sterling reputation for high-quality deliverables.

Offer Additional Incentives

Every competent professional who freelances in your industry can do the work. You need a unique set of incentives that will convince clients to choose you over the competition.

Maybe you’ll specialize in rush delivery. You can use your fast project completion time as a way to set apart your business. Of course, you’ll charge slightly more for tight deadlines, but clients will appreciate your willingness to work after hours or on weekends to get their projects finished.

Other potential incentives include your knowledge of a particular industry or your willingness to partner with other professionals on a broad project.  Think creatively about what you do that others can’t.

Freelancers taking initiative

You can also increase your freelance income by taking the initiative. Suggest new or related projects to your clients. For instance, if you create a logo for a customer, you might suggest a professionally-designed business card or branding package.

You don’t always have to wait for clients to come to you. As a creative professional, you might have ideas or concepts for which your clients will later express gratitude.

Freelance work isn’t always consistent or lucrative, but neither must you tow the line as a starving artist. Put the above tips to work in your professional life so you earn what you deserve—and so you can eat a meal every once in a while that doesn’t involve Ramen noodles.

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Grant Lingel is a travel writer and tourism professional. A perpetual traveler and digital nomad, Grant has visited dozens of countries across five continents on assignment. He has been living in Brazil since 2011 where he owns a small hostel on the island of Vitoria. He also works as the Content Manager at Bunny Inc.

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