6 steps to your first $60,000 in freelancer revenue

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When freelancing, especially if you found yourself as an accidental business owner, you may feel obligated to accept any work that comes your way. While that might make sense in the short term, a more forward-thinking approach is necessary to build freelancer revenue. Let’s dive into that idea.

What brings us to freelancing?

Various drivers bring us into the world of freelancing. Sometimes it’s a choice based upon circumstances and other times it is to control your career path. Regardless of the reason, you have the power to turn your revenue projection into a source of peace instead of stress.

In fact, according to Hosting Tribunal, the median developer salary is $62,277. That’s not the average either, bloated by top-level salaries. This is an achievable income. Do you believe it? Are you ready to increase your freelancer revenue?

Six steps to your first $60,000 in freelancer revenue

Let’s get into the steps required to earn your first $60,000 in freelancer revenue. These  look easy and they are with this caveat: you have to believe in yourself, do the work to promote, and have those uncomfortable conversations. I know, cold email feels wrong, but this is how business is done.

  1. Find a niche you enjoy
  2. Develop a website for your business
  3. Build up your portfolio with at least 10 examples of work you’ve done in the past
  4. Make sure to keep all of your work on hand, so that potential clients can see it
  5. Create an effective and catchy email signature to use when sending emails
  6. Send out 3 to 5 emails every day, following up with each person who doesn’t respond after 2 days

1. Find a niche you enjoy

You’ve heard the saying, “the riches are in the niches.” It’s true. The more you work within one industry, the more tribal knowledge you’ll pick up. Meaning, you’ll know the industry’s pain points and how creating a WordPress website solves them. You’ll know exactly what type of hosting that industry needs, what plugins work, and likely have a library of content.

This isn’t being a factory worker; it’s being efficient with your work time.

So, why not find a niche that you enjoy? You should be able to whistle while you work. Finding a niche you enjoy is about being tapped into your emotions while you build.

How do you know what you enjoy? (The answer isn’t the largest contract.) It means that if you enjoy helping roofing contractors build their business through a quality website, then choose that niche. If you enjoy working with plastic surgeons, then choose that niche. “Small business owners” isn’t a niche; it’s a general category.

How do I find a niche I enjoy?

Look back through your website builds of the past. Get out a paper notebook or open up Sublime Text. It doesn’t matter how you do this exercise. The point is a bit of self-discovery.

List the last ten projects you worked on.

Which one made you smile the most? Write that down. If you loved working on the Retina-quality photography website, that might be your top niche in terms of the enjoyable factor.

Of the last ten projects you worked on, are there any similar industries? How do recollecting those projects make you feel? Maybe you worked on three dental office websites. You feel okay about them since the dentists trusted you and they didn’t take a whole lot of time. That’s a possible niche.

How do I find a niche that pays well?

This question requires you to open up Google Sheets or Excel. You’ll be creating a shortlist of the last ten projects you worked on. If you’ve already compiled this list, then the work is half done.

Each row will be a project. Here is the list of columns:

  • Client
  • Industry
  • Emotion
  • Total Contract
  • Hours Worked
  • Gross Hourly
  • Expenses
  • Net Profit
  • Net Hourly

Add formulas to make your job easier. This basic job costing should help you sort your sheet by several factors including industry, emotion, and net profit.

Ideally, this exercise will help you see which projects you’d like to continue working on in the future.

Color-coding happy with green or orange or yellow may help. Frustrating jobs should be red. Also, in accounting red is a loss, and green is profit.

In this example, you’re the happiest working within the art niche. The pay isn’t bad but it’s not as high as the roofing website. So let’s single out just the “happy” clients.

You enjoy the art niche, work about 25 hours total for these two sites (you may get faster) and your net hourly is $90. Can you build a website for yourself that targets this niche and build up this clientele? Of course, you can.

Within a few hours — depending upon how organized you are — you’ll be able to see which niche you enjoy the most. You can still do the “OK” work, but your website will not speak to that industry because it isn’t your goal.

2. Develop a website for your business

There just is not an excuse for professional freelancers who build websites to neglect their own websites. Though this saying often is thrown around casually by freelancers, if you expect to be taken seriously by your clients, peers, or future employer, you must develop a website for your freelancing business.

If you’re concerned about writing optimized copy that speaks to your audience, pair with a copywriter. There are so many qualified people who write marketing copy. Look at your niche’s websites. What are they missing?

That should inform the copy on your own website.

If your chosen niche is art, maybe these clients overly rely upon Instagram and DMs for sales. They’ll need an ecommerce solution for art sales, event promotions, and email marketing. You can build that site easily.

3. Build up your portfolio with at least 10 examples of work you’ve done in the past

You’ve made it through the first two steps to gaining $60,000 in revenue. Congrats. That first step is a lot like therapy, and I’m proud of you. Now, build up your portfolio. This can be a challenge for a few reasons. But let’s start with what your portfolio should include.

  • Client Name
  • Client Location
  • Screenshot/GIF/Video of Website Before
  • Screenshot/GIF/Video of Website After

Simply listing the client’s name with a link to their website isn’t enough. It could actually be damaging to you if the client tinkered and messed up your build. Sadly, it happens.

Bonus points if you write a short (300-word) case study for each of these sites. A quick case study should answer the following questions:

  • Who is the business?
  • What was their website/marketing solution before?
  • What was the problem?
  • How did they find you?
  • What was the solution?
  • What are the results?

More bonus points if you include a client review in each case study. You can always record before and after videos to publish on YouTube that are linked to each case study. Don’t forget to narrate that screencast because captions are indexed by Google.

Oh, and use up the 5,000 character limit in those YouTube descriptions.

Now, if you don’t have ten website projects in your chosen niche, that’s okay. Feature the projects you completed in that industry on your portfolio. Then add in the websites from other industries like the salon and roofing contractor. As you gain more website clients in the arts, replace those old case studies in your portfolio.

Easy peasy! And those case studies also build up your website’s blog! (SEO FTW.)

4. Make sure to keep all of your work on hand, so that potential clients can see it

Step four of creating your first $60,000 in freelancer revenue is keeping all of your work on hand. You never know when you’ll see a potential client and they’ll want to view your output. I’m sure you’re picturing an architect with his drawings and architectural models making his way through downtown Manhattan on job interviews.

Fortunately for us, we work in digital.

With that said, it’s not a bad idea to keep a few print brochures in your backpack. As I said, you never know when someone will ask. You can also print business cards with a QR code that goes straight to the portfolio on your website.

Why do you need print? You’ll be going to Chamber of Commerce mixers, business network meetings, and WordPress Meetups, of course. Your ideal customer is unlikely to be as tech-savvy as you — or they may prefer tactile objects. (Remember you chose artists as a niche.)

But don’t stop at the outreach, allow the person to contact you at the bottom of each blog post and section of your portfolio. Some portfolios even include chatbots that go directly to Slack! How’s that for efficiency?

5. Create an effective and catchy email signature to use when sending emails

Email signatures are so 2005. I know. But earning that first $60,000 in freelancer revenue means positioning yourself as a professional. You may even want to position yourself as a consultant or agency.

A little bit of HTML and your email signature should be that attention to detail that lands you the next website build. You can even save some time and use Hubspot’s email signature generator.

Then copy and paste that right into Mail or Gmail. Easy.

Also, there’s no need to overly tweak this process. I know how easy it is to go down an HTML rabbit hole. The point is to pay attention to the small details that distinguish yourself as a freelancer.

An effective email signature will include:

  • Full Name
  • Title
  • Pronoun Preference
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • Website URL
  • Photo
  • Social Links

That was easy!

6. Send out 3 to 5 emails every day, following up with each person who doesn’t respond after 2 days

Step six to earning your first $60k in freelancer revenue is the most challenging on our souls. Many freelancers don’t send out cold or warm emails because it feels like we’re begging for work. It’s that mindset that has to change entirely. What we’re doing by sending these emails to contacts is letting them know that we offer a valuable service.

What contacts do I email?

That’s probably the question you’re asking yourself right now. That’s a legit concern. If you’re a member of your local Chamber of Commerce, business networking group, or any of the local Meetups, then you have plenty of contacts to email.

I know it feels like work, and that’s because it is.

With cold or warm email outreach, it’s a numbers game. For every 10 emails you send out, one customer is $500 in your pocket for a quick website that takes less than three hours to build.

If you’re worried about having the right CRM before you start, don’t. Pen and paper work great. So does Google Sheets. If someone responds to your email, mark that resolution in sheets. If they don’t respond in two days, email them with a different subject line. What you need to do is try. This does several things to enhance your freelancing revenue.

When you email prospects, you inevitably refine your pitch, offering, and present it more concisely. You’ll also start believing in the value of your web development service. Reading and typing these words is powerful for your confidence which indirectly helps your sales.

How much time do I need to spend emailing people?

After you have the list of 20 names you’re working on for the next week, it takes moments to send three emails. Streamline this process with a templated email. By writing a templated email that you can customize and copy/paste, you’ll save time and be able to knock out these emails every afternoon.

What takes extra time is the research needed to help sell your web freelancing solution.

If the client doesn’t have a website, but relies upon Instagram and is happy, maybe talk about people leaving that social platform and how that could affect that business’ outreach.

Why not join a community of freelancers?

You can easily earn your first $60,000 in revenue as a web freelancer. There are resources to help freelancers like you do the work you love without competing with your peers.

Focus on building with heart, believe in networking and professional growth while rejecting the race for the bottom. If you’re freelancing to raise your income, maybe this is the right step for you. Why not join a professional freelance marketplace?

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Mike Demo
Mike "Demo" Demopoulos is a lover of open source first, specific tools later. Because of this, he speaks at Ignite! Conferences, Meetups, WordCamps, Joomla! Events, and more. As a helpful person, he gladly contributes to Open Source projects in any capacity necessary. Aligned with his mission to empower WordPress experts, Mike is now the Expert Community Development Lead at Codeable.