3 Actionable steps to making your freelance dreams a success

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You started your business because you were hoping for a better life.

Life with more freedom.

Freedom to hang out with your kids, or go for a run in the middle of the day.

You were tired of putting in work and seeing someone else reap most of the profits.

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You dreamed of the financial freedom that would come when you saw those profits in your bank accounts.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happens for many business owners. Reality looks more like a desperate search to find that next client so you can scrape by for another week.

It looks more like long hours as you ‘invest’ in your business with your time because you don’t have money.

It looks like a big tax bill at the end of the year and an empty bank account.

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It’s a far cry from the dream you had when you started. But it doesn’t have to be.

That dream you had at the beginning is possible. It takes some planning and hard work, but it’s within reach.

To reach it, you need to begin doing the following three things.

Get a handle on your finances

In his book Profit First, Mike Michalowicz regularly calls your business a ‘cash eating monster’, and he’s right for 90% of us business owners. Profit is something our accountant shows us on a piece of paper at the end of the year.

We never have the money in our account to back up that fictitious number.

I’ve been there, with $10k owed on taxes and zero dollars in my bank account. I had $12k profit on paper and the highest revenue so far in my business and nothing to show for a year of effort.

If you want to avoid this problem, it’s time to get your finances under control. That starts by opening five bank accounts. We’ll talk about the percentages in a second.

  1. Profit (5%)
  2. Operating Expenses (25%)
  3. Owner’s Pay (60%)
  4. Taxes (15%)
  5. Income

All the money you earn goes in the income account. Then on the 10th and 25th, you divide up your money based on percentages in to the other accounts. The numbers above are your ideal percentages.

Your profit and tax accounts should be at a different bank, where you can’t easily access them so you can’t spend the money.

Every quarter take 50% of the profit, and that’s your money to spend on whatever you want. The rest of it stays as an emergency fund.

Taxes get paid every quarter.

You’re likely to hit some issues when you start. The percentages above are what I find works for most web professionals. You’re likely not there yet, so every quarter adjust the percentages to get closer to the ideals.

You’re also likely to find that you don’t have the money for the expenses you incur. That doesn’t mean you steal money from other accounts. When you don’t have the money to pay for an expense, it’s your business screaming that you can’t afford it.

Cut that expense.

If you can execute the plan outlined in Profit First, you’re going to get control of your business finances again. Profit won’t be a fictitious number on paper. It will be real cash in your account.

Plan effectively and execute

Most of us build out goals for the year. We may even think we’re smart and we break them down into quarters and then months then weeks, but few of us do anything besides that.

We don’t even look at those goals as we get to the end of the year.

Despite this ineffective strategy, we persist in setting yearly goals because that’s what everyone else does in January.

Forget big lofty goals. You need to map out the actions you want.

Where in a yearly plan you’d say, “I’ll earn an extra $50k this year,” skip that in favor of, “Talk to 3 new leads a week.”

With three new leads a week coming in, you can’t help but land more work. Once you’re landing that work, you’ll earn more.

Focus on the habits that will hit the goals.

It’s easy to say that, but if you want to be able to get to the habits, you need to take control of your time.

Stop checking your email when you start the day. Start the day with the most important task you have for the day. You should know what it is because you decided before you left the office yesterday.

There is no big inbox to dig through, you sit down and do the work.

Stop starting your week without a plan and just seeing what happens. Start planning out the next week on Friday. Put the major tasks for the week down on each day. Plan out when you have meetings and make sure you don’t add a bunch of tasks on meeting days.

Stop jamming the whole day full of things to do. Leave space for the inevitable tasks that come up.

When you have space to deal with them, you’ll feel more in control of your day.

Follow up, follow up

The final action you need to take if you want to turn your freelance dream into reality is to follow up with prospects and old clients.

Most freelancers do half-hearted follow ups. As long as they remember about the prospect they follow up. Once it’s out of mind, the prospect is off in the ether waiting for someone else to get in touch with them.

Past clients also fall into this black hole. You do a project and then say goodbye to them.

A few years later something triggers a memory, so you check out their site only to find that it’s changed a bunch and they never even asked you.

Instead of relying on your memory, build a follow up process.

Follow up with prospects weekly for a month. If they don’t reply, send them an email that says you’ll stop following up so much because they aren’t interested.

Almost every time, that final email will get them to reply and at least tell you when they think they’ll be ready. Sometimes your prospect will be ready to go right now and sometimes it will be a few weeks still. If it’s some time in the future, set a task to follow up with them.

If they’ve decided not to do anything right now, still follow up with them every quarter. I’ve done this with prospects for two years. That two years of follow up yielded a $50k project because I was persistent.

Would you send eight emails for $50k?

For past clients, reach out every quarter. Make sure they’re still happy with the work. Ask how their kids are doing, or what’s up with their favorite sports team.

The goal is to stay relatively fresh in their mind so that when they have new work, they think of you and only you.

Your initial dream of freedom and financial stability doesn’t have to be a dream. It can be a reality. To turn this dream into reality, you need to take control of your finances, your time, and your follow up process.

If you can do these three things, your business will start to match that dream you had.

Comment below to chat more about turning those dreams into a reality.

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About Curtis McHale

Curtis is a business coach and speaker. He helps businesses build effective processes for vetting ideal clients and building the business they dreamed of.

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Comments

  1. This is such a helpful article! Thank you so much. I’ve been full-time freelancing (graphic design) since January, but I’m having a hard time growing my business to the point where I’m living “the dream” you mentioned. I’ve got the financial part mostly down (I’ve always been pretty good in that area), but the other two need some work. These are all really helpful tips that I can’t wait to utilize!

  2. Great article.
    I am all about planning for finances. Budget, budge, budget. You have to account for any expense you have.

    My biggest expense is taxes I have an account that 25% of all my income goes into that account. It is more than enough to cover my taxes which is fine with me. I pay my quarterly payments from that account. Then in April when all the taxes are done and the final tax check gets sent in I have a nice profit or if I have a large expense like needing a new computer that can get used.

    I also account for things like vacation (well I call it vacation but it is really rarely used for that). When I have a great week (anything over my minimum budget) I put a percentage of my money into my vacation account. This gets saved for the times when my weeks are slow. This way I don’t have to worry so much when I have slow times.

    I like to use excel with everything I need listed out, I plug in my weekly income and everything gets figured for me. It takes the guessing out and takes away the temptation of I’ll save that money next week.

    Thanks for the great article.

  3. How do I get 105% of my income to split up?

  4. Profit (5%)
    Operating Expenses (25%)
    Owner’s Pay (60%)
    Taxes (15%)
    Income

    Total: 105%

    Can you explain why when we end up with a 105% instead of 100?

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