How you can make $11K in extra income with tiny “tweaks” to your creative business

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One of my favorite business books of all time comes from Chris Guillebeau and it’s titled The $100 Startup*.

The book is packed full of great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here’s one that really resonated with me and can help you make way more money with not much more effort.

It’s the principle of “tweaking.”

“Tweaking your way to the bank.”

Let me start by quoting Chris:

“The not-so-secret to improving income in an existing business is through tweaks: small changes that create a big impact.” -Chris Guillebeau, The $100 Startup, pg. 187

He goes on to explain that, when running a business, a tiny adjustment in price or practice can amount to a ton of extra money (or in our case, clients, projects, etc) in the long run.

An extra $11,000+ each year

Assume for just a minute, for example, that you currently charge $20/hour for design work. (I don’t necessarily recommend that rate, by the way. For some of you, that’s really high. For some, it’s really low. And for others, you would rather die than charge by the hour.)

Now, let’s assume you work 20 hours each week at $20/hour.

20 hours * $20 * 52 weeks in a year = $20,800 each year.

Not bad for working part time.

TWEAK 1: Now, let’s make a small tweak; one that your clients probably won’t even batt an eye at. Let’s raise your rate by one dollar.

20 hours * $21 *52 weeks in a year = $21,840 each year.

That’s an extra $1,000+ this year just from this one small tweak! You just gave yourself an almost 5% raise – great by anyone’s standards.

TWEAK 2: Let’s stay at your extra dollar per hour rate and have you work just 1 more hour every week this year.

21 hours * $21 *52 weeks in a year = $22,932

Another extra $1,000+ in the bank!

TWEAK 3: Ok, now it’s time to get serious. What if you charged your client $25 per hour and worked 25 hours in a week?

25 hours * $25 * 52 weeks = $32,500 in a year…working slightly more than part time!

That’s an extra 11,000+ in one year just by making some small mathematical tweaks!

Seems like it’s worth experimenting to me.

My secret to making money as a freelance designer

Now you can start to see why my secret to making steady money as a freelance designer is diversification.

That’s my “tweak.”

I “tweak” my business by trying out a new forms of passive income which ultimately generate more income without the “per hour” factor we talked about above.

More tweaks

So what are some other “tweaks” that can help you grow your design business fast? Here’s ten of them off the top of my head.

1. Tweak your online portfolio. Some projects are going to be better at converting site vistors to clients. Showcase those projects and leave the other ones alone. Use site tracking software to see which projects convert your site visitors into clients and then tweak until you have the perfect mix.

2. Tweak your business card. Here’s a fun idea: try designing 2 different business cards. Put your office (or mobile) number on one of them and put your Google Voice number on the other. Keep track of which cards convert better and then tweak your business by switching to the more successful card.

3. Tweak your contact page. If you’re having a hard time getting potential clients to fill out your form online, maybe it’s time to make some tweaks. Try reducing the number of fields (or increasing them to offer more detail), growing the font size, and testing different usability options. When the form starts converting well, stop tweaking (only for a while).

4. Tweak your rates. We talked about this one above. Play around with your rates (whether you charge by project or by the hour) until you hit the optimum salary for your work.

5. Tweak your elevator pitch. Not seeing potential clients’ eyes light up when you tell them what you do and how you can help them? Maybe you need to tweak your elevator pitch. For tips on a better one, read this and then read this.

6. Tweak your business name. If clients scratch their proverbial head each time you tell them how to spell your business name, maybe you need a little tweak. Remember the movie That Thing You Do with the one hit wonder band The Oneders? In the end, dropping the strange spelling (albeit arguably more clever) was the best choice. Don’t sacrifice business for cleverness when naming your business. (Read April’s post on naming her design business for more on that.)

What other tweaks can you add to the list? I’d love to hear how you’ve tweaked your way to the bank (0r plan to).

PS: This post was originally published in 2012. I’ve updated it with some helpful new information here. Thanks for reading.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

  • Brandon Halliburton

    I found this to be very helpful. I have thought about charging hourly, but how would I explain that to my clients. I charge per project. I have wondered how I would talk to clients about charging hourly. For those who charge hourly, how do you reassure your clients that you will not overcharge them? I guess, I don’t want to overcharge. Yet, at the same time, I don’t want to undercharge people.

    • DesignFacet

      Only charge hourly for additional revisions outside of the given quote. I do not disclose my hourly rate to my client. I give each project an overall price, if they require additional features, then I quote for that too. If they want to continue with revisions, lets say I give them 2 hours of revisions and they pass that, then I tell them how much each additional hour would cost them. As of yet I had not done that.

  • Hugi

    Great article, definitely makes sense and a great way of testing your effectiveness.

  • April Greer


    Such helpful stuff here – thanks for sharing!!! I’d like to share my tip for tweaking:

    Change only one thing at a time. Then you know which tweak was effective, rather than guessing. And realize that different tweaks work better with different clients – you cannot please all of the people all of the time!

    Okay, that’s two tips, but I think they’re both worth mentioning.

    I tend to tweak my wording a lot on LinkedIn, etc. And I have designed multiple business cards with slightly different information so that I can promote different aspects of my business. This is the first round of them, so I look forward to seeing which business card seems to bring in the most clients.

    • Preston D Lee

      Excellent additional advice, April. It’s always good to have constants so that you know which variables work the best!

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  • Michael Pingree

    One of the biggest lessons I learned, and it took years to learn it, was that you shouldn’t forget about looking for ways to cut expenses as well. I have found it very profitable to review my expenses once a year.

    For example:

    Saved $200 a year changing my phone service
    Saved $400 a year after having my insurance agent review my business policy
    Saved $500+ a year eliminating online services I no longer really needed.

    Combining both revenue increase and expense decreasing methods is a simple way to make your bottom line grow.

    • April

      Hi Michael,

      Just wanted to say thanks for the comment about trimming the fat – I’ve worked very hard at not adding on extra services or subscriptions that I don’t really need, but I think I’ll take a look at the things I’m already paying for and see if there’s room for improvement.

      Personally, when I got laid off we did the same thing and started saving over $300 per year.

    • Preston D Lee

      That’s an awesome addition! Some designers get careless when they start making more money and forget to be frugal. This is a great reminder of how much money you can save (ie: make) each year just by cutting down on expenses.

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  • Tony

    If you live in the U.S., there’s no say $20, $30, or even $40 an hour is enough to live on – especially after taxes. Professional designers who are good at what they do should be charging $60-$120 per hour. Let’s not undervalue ourselves.

    • Preston D Lee

      Clearly you missed this little sentence here: “(I don’t necessarily recommend that rate, by the way. For some of you, that’s really high. For some, it’s really low. And for others, you would rather die than charge by the hour.)”.

      I never said $20 was a good rate. You’ve missed the point of the post. The purpose of this post is to illustrate the power of small tweaks. You know?

    • Kim

      What works as a per hour rate depends a lot more on where you live and how you live than the actual rate. There are plenty of places in the U.S. where $20 an hour before taxes gives you the necessities of life and a good amount of extras, and plenty where $75 an hour will have you next to poverty. Undervaluing is one thing, but pricing to match our egos is another. I live in Los Angeles, and do fine on just under $19 an hour (before taxes) while working on starting my own graphics business. It’s all in what you do with it.

  • Andrea

    Some really interesting and even better, specific tips here. Thank you as I am just about to do a website overhaul and can see areas in which I can clearly improve. Cheers.

  • Madis

    Started with my first page or portfolio at the beginning of 2011. I didn’t have a logo and desired name for my page. So the page was just to exhibit the stuff I did and had done. And it also got a little bit messy. Almost 2 years later I needed a change – a name, a logo, a slogan. But it took me a lot of time to figure out what I wanted. I suggest everybody not to rush with that. My first page or portfolio helped me to learn from my previous mistakes. Thankfully my first page gave me inspiration to turn new clean sheet. All that brainstorming got me exactly the right vision and the right result.

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  • Kathy Porter

    Thanks for another great post! I especially wanted to thank you for posting those links to past articles on Elevator Speeches. The one-two-three points list was extremely helpful.

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