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The freelancer's plateau (and how to overcome it)

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In the career of every freelance designer comes a plateau; a moment when you simply can’t make any more money because you don’t have any more time to give to your business.

This has always been the inherent problem with freelance designing: no matter how hard you work, there are only 24 hours in a day. Once you max out your hours, you can’t make more money without raising your rates.

If you haven’t hit this plateau yet, you will. And it’s a hard hurdle to get over. But today, I’m here to help.

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I present to you, three solid solutions to overcoming the freelancer’s plateau. Let me know what you think of these three solutions by leaving a comment.

First, give up the “per hour” rate you’ve been holding onto

The first step (and least bold of all the options) is to give up the “per hour” rate that you charge your clients. As long as you charge by the hour, you’ll never be able to make more money without increasing your rates (which is always awkward).

But if you decide to start charging by the project, you get paid better the more proficient you get. If you used to complete a logo design in a week and now you complete it in 3 days, but get paid the same amount of money, you’ve dramatically increased your salary.

Charging by the hour is the most common reason any freelancer plateau’s in his career.

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Second, find means of passive income

Another way to overcome the plateau of freelancing is to find a way to make money even when you’re not working. Ideas range from the obvious like blogging, affiliate sales or selling designs in a marketplace.

More creatively, you could sell “how-to” guides to your previous clients or find other ways to contribute value to the industry you’re already working in.

Passive income can be a great way to make more money without overloading yourself with more work.

Third, partner with other designers

When your workload gets too big, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. This often results in missing deadlines, doing a poor job, or turning away clients altogether – non of which are good for business.

So instead of losing control of your business when things get crazy, why not partner with other designers to get the work done.

Take time to find a designer who you trust and whose work you admire. Chances are, they also have times of heavy traffic and times of light traffic. If you can coordinate timing and payment, partnering with other designers can be a business lifesaver.

How do you overcome freelance plateau?

I’d love to hear what you think. Have you ever come to a point in your freelance career where the workload is heavy and payment doesn’t seem to increase? How did you solve it? Join the discussion by leaving a comment on this post.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

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  1. Charging by the project is the best advice I ever took when I first started freelancing. And I just recently partnered with another designer who has strengths that I don’t. So far it’s worked out well and I’ve accepted projects that I would have struggled through otherwise. Great advice!

  2. Thanks for these practical advice Preston! Freelancing has always it’s tough moments and so it will surely be a help to learn some knowledge on delegating or partnering to someone that would compliment your skills.

    And yes I’ve witness successful designers who were able to not only venture on web designing but also had the interest of going in for blogging as a business. It’s true that you can earn from it but it will always be a challenging process to work on. However, of it is someone’s interest and he’s more than willing to learn then that would absolutely be great. Being able to generate some passive income would later the be realized, in time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Fiona Verdouw says:

    When I first began freelancing, I spent 18 months building my clientele while working to an hourly rate. As a small experiment, I upped the rate by half again without telling my existing clients. I just kept on giving them cost estimates for each new project at the new rate. NOBODY noticed. Or, if they did, nobody commented. I certainly didn’t lose anyone, and work carried on as it had been. It was a lesson in gauging how competitive my rates were (perhaps I was too cheap?). I also think that once you’ve formed good working relationships with people, they are more than happy to pay a little extra – provided the quality of your work and service stays exceptional!

    • @Fiona Verdouw,
      That’s a very interesting story, Fiona! I think it happens to a lot of designers that way too! They think they’ll lose business by charging more, when in reality, people are willing to pay for quality work.

      Thanks for sharing your story. If you don’t mind my asking, how much did you increase your rates by? Percentage-wise, I mean. 10% increase, 15% increase, more?

      Thanks again for sharing!

      • Fiona Verdouw says:

        @Preston D Lee, My rate increase went up by 50 percent. Looks pretty steep on paper, but I think by the time I had been up and running for a year or so, I had my systems all smoothed out and was working more efficiently. This meant I was spending less time on projects, but was, of course, not about to start charging less!

  4. This really hit home for me. This is the stage I am at and I thought the girl the photo was me for a second. LOL. My fiance has taken photos of me similar to that with my cell phone. It has become quite common for me to fall asleep at my desk.


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