For me, December is the time of year for reflection and thinking things through. Am I heading in the right direction? How do I get closer to my goals? Is there a way for me to get better at what I do?

But just as I start discovering the answers, another pile of bills comes through the doors, and all I can ask is: “How am I going to pay for that?!”

Well, before the bills start rolling in, here are some answers I’ve discovered that I’d like to share.

1. Work with a partner


Clients often need a lot of different services to run their marketing operations… and I stress the word, a lot!

They need graphic designers, illustrators, printers, interior decorators, architects, marketing consultants, video producers… you name it! All of these professions offer specific services, but 1 service can rarely provide everything a client needs — unless they partner up.

It’s really a powerful idea: to join forces with another person in a different field, so you can both offer a wider range of services to your clients.

For example, if you’re good at web design then partner up with a good illustrator so both of you can offer web design and illustration services. The same goes for designers — developer partnerships, or illustrator and T-shirt printer partnerships. The possibilities are endless.

If you’re wondering how this works in practice, there is one simple method that keeps everyone happy: partners keep control of their clients and simply hire each other on a per project basis. There is always just one person leading the project and talking to the client, but he or she may work with a partner behind the scenes.

Money-wise, the partner who runs the project usually adds a small fee on top of total project costs, to cover for the time spent “handling” the other partner and coordinating things with the client.

2. Tell clients what makes you different


The world is a crowded place and that’s not changing anytime soon. Hundreds of designers are entering the market every day hoping to make a career in design. So, why should a client pick you?

Your answer to that question is essential. It can be as big or small as you’d like it to be, but you must have a point of difference.

So think about it — are you great at doing a particular type of work? Perhaps you can offer incredibly good customer service? Or, maybe you can promise design originality through a particular style?

Whatever the case, find your uniqueness and make sure you tell your clients about it. You’ll be able to charge more and enjoy a certain reputation, instead of just being another designer.

3. Create your elevator pitch


An elevator pitch is a presentation of your freelance business in three to five sentences. The reason it’s called this is because you should be able to do it by the time an elevator reaches its destination (typically 30 seconds to 2 minutes).

But why is this speedy approach important? It’s not because clients like to talk in elevators (although I know a few who do), but because they’re just too busy to listen to you longer than that — they have jobs, kids, family, a report to write and 75 other things on their to-do list.

An elevator pitch is designed to grab their attention and make a home for yourself right in their busy schedule. This is where your uniqueness and point of difference really shines through; usually, it’s the single most important thing you can say in an elevator pitch.

To understand how it all comes together, compare this elevator pitch:

“Hi, I’m Joe and I do websites for small businesses. I’m not the cheapest designer out there, but I like to invest a lot of time in my work and make websites that really help my clients sell more.”

To this one:

“Hi, I’m Joe and I do website for small businesses. They all look great and all of my clients are very happy. My prices are affordable too.”

Which designer would you hire?

The next time a potential client asks you, “What do you do?” make sure you have a good, quick answer.

Here’s a good video to watch on this subject:

Youtube | “Elevator Pitch Examples with Chris Westfall

4. Stay in touch


Photo via Flickr

“Out of sight, out mind” goes the saying, and as much as I don’t like folk wisdom, this one is truer than I care to admit.

Staying in touch with your previous clients can be the single, most important source of new business for you, for a purely practical reason — you serve as a living reminder for that new design project they’ve been putting off for some time.

Clients rarely put design projects at the top of their to-do list. Usually it’s something they put off until it becomes annoyingly obvious it has to be done, or until you pop-up and give them a reason to think about it earlier.

So don’t look at your clients as one-night stands. Jump in occasionally and ask “Hey, how are things going?” You’ll be surprised how many times the answer will be a request for a proposal.

5. Learn to upsell


Good waiters are the masters of upselling. The next time you visit a restaurant, notice the questions they ask:

  • Do you want some fries with that?
  • What would you like to drink?
  • Are you in the mood for dessert?

While these questions were designed to make waiters more helpful, they also serve another purpose: to sell more stuff.

Your clients often need to be reminded in the same helpful way. A website would be better with coding included. A T-shirt illustration would be better if it had three different variations so people can pick their favorite one. A logo is always better on a brand new business card design.

Notice how upselling is never a big project on its own, but a nice addition to the main project you’re working on. That’s how it becomes invisible that you’re actually “selling” at all — you’re just offering a helpful piece of information.

Become a master of upselling and you’ll make all of your projects more lucrative than they are.

6. Help someone


While I’m not advocating you should only help people for marketing purposes (you should do it anyway), being of service to others is probably one of the most potent ways to build your business.

There is a reason for that rooted in social psychology, and it’s called reciprocity: people will always try to repay you for the help you provide, usually substantially more than it would have cost them to buy your services in the first place.

If you help a charity get a website, they’ll probably refer clients to you. If you do an album cover design for a garage band, down the road they might hook you up with some interesting people in the town.

You get the idea — we all appreciate helpfulness and try to reciprocate in any way we can.

Start helping someone today and it will change both your business and your life.

7. Connect and share


Fact: the more connections you have in a certain industry, the more opportunities get presented to you.

People knew about this since the dawn of business, and that’s how trade associations like AIGA and many others came to be.

While such professional organizations still have a place in the world, there is another, much more powerful way to connect with other designers around the world, and do it for free — it’s called social networking.

So fire up your Facebook and Twitter account and make it a habit to share interesting and useful stuff — your designs, interesting articles you find, interesting contests on 99designs, etc.

As the design community recognizes you as an important member, a lot of people will reach out to you and open up doors you never knew existed.

8. Make use of your contest wins


Winning design contest is a sure-fire way to start an ongoing business relationship with a client, especially if they are very happy with your design. Many designers don’t recognize the opportunity that comes with winning a contest — a permission and willingness of the client to hear back from you again.

Use this wisely — connect with the client after the contest and make sure to stay in touch. Many designers have managed to start and build their own freelance businesses this way.

For inspiration, here are some designer interviews from top designers on 99designs.

Taking small steps towards a better freelance business

None of the tips I suggested above take a lot of your time — in fact, they are all very simple tasks which can be easily accomplished in a day or less.

Still, all of them will result in small, but almost immediate results, and that’s exactly the kind of motivation you need to keep moving forward.

So pick your favorites from the list above and accomplish some of them today.

Have a freelance business tip to share? Tell us in the comments.