50+ freelancer tips from WordCamp Miami 2019

Real-world advice on the business of building websites

WordCamp Miami has built a stellar reputation over the last decade. It’s brought together WordPress users, developers, and business owners from around the world. The speakers, all volunteers, are excellent, and the attendee experience is great.

This year was no exception, even with a pivot to a smaller, community-focused event.

2019’s schedule was particularly compelling for the freelancer crowd — the same group of web designers and developers that we support through GoDaddy Pro.

With that in mind, I camped out in the business sessions through the entire weekend, sharing a flurry of takeaways through Twitter over three full days of WordCamp goodness.

Before we get into the lessons learned, I want to give a special thanks to all the speakers whose advice and stories made it into this post: Adam SoucieAllie Nimmons, Anthony Miyazaki, Chris Lema, Chris Wiegman, Colin Dowling, Gayle Williams, Jennifer Bourn, Jessi Gurr, Joe Casabona, Karim Marucchi, Kimberly Lipari, Michelle Schulp, Nathan Ingram, Pat Ramsey, and Roberto Remedios. Thank you all!

Freelancer tips from WordCamp Miami 2019

What follows are my consolidated notes, sorted into five sections:

Here we go.

Making sales & growing your revenue

“You don’t wait until your car is out of gas to get more.” – Joe Casabona

Have several streams of income. There are tons of opportunities out there: Affiliate marketing. Selling digital goods. Creating an online course. Starting a podcast. Writing and selling eBooks. Offering coaching or consulting services. You can even look at other skills you have, unrelated to the web, to start a different sort of business. You can do this on your own, or by partnering up with others.

Build your recurring revenue as fast as possible. Create recurring services and sell them like a subscription product. These new services give you something else to sell, and that’s where you’re going to make your margin. Think like a car dealership: the money is in the maintenance.

[ Related: Recurring revenue model for web designers & developers ]

Keep subscriptions going by reminding your clients of the value you’re providing. “Every month, send a reminder of how you delivered value over the last 30 days.”

Use the science of persuasion to your advantage. Offer something valuable, like educational resources, in exchange for attention. Use that attention to build your credibility and show that you know your stuff. Use social proof (testimonials & reviews) to bolster your credibility. Get your foot in the door by asking for small things, like an email address in exchange for an email course. When potential clients finally inquire about a project, don’t be too flexible — remind them that you have limited availability. You’re an expert in high demand.

Make a choice between more money or more clients. Want more money? Raise your prices. “Nobody paying you $100/hr won’t pay you $120/hr.” Want more clients? Commit to the process of growth. SEO, content marketing, lead gen, and business development all take time. You can’t rush it.

Don’t be afraid of raising your prices. Most of the fear of raising your prices is in your head, not in your customers’ head. Shut that voice down. Focus on what your client is trying to do. Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions. Clarify everything.

Reposition yourself as a partner instead of a vendor. Once you have an established business, start being consultative. See if your clients are open to new ideas. Sell them on what’s possible and what’s next – not just the labor you can provide.

Leads don’t matter. It’s leads that become legitimate, valuable conversations that matter. Those are the real business opportunity. How many conversations with potential clients are you having? Of those, how many convert to paying jobs?

Get more leads by asking for referrals. “The number one blocker is that you don’t let people know.” You need to ask. Remind your client what you did for them and ask if they know anyone else who could use your work.

[ Related: 16 tips to earn client referrals and create raving fans ]

Incentivize referrals from your existing clients, but keep an eye on the costs. Referrals aren’t a growth strategy if they’re detrimental to your bottom line. If you do get a referral from a client, be gracious and thankful.

Look beyond your existing clients for referrals. Partner with someone who offers complementary services and send referrals to each other. It’s the easiest way to drive up price and lead gen is to look at indirect channels.

Managing your clients

“All clients want to know they landed an expert.” – Allie Nimmons

Blog about your work. Sharing your knowledge demonstrates your expertise. Don’t worry about giving solutions away — if someone wants to take the DIY approach, they’re not going to hire you. And if they do realize how tough the work is, and they want your help, have a clear call-to-action (CTA) on every post/page so they can get in touch with you.

Create a standard set of questions to screen your potential clients. Turn that questionnaire into an intake form on your site. It sets expectations for your potential clients, and it gives you an idea of what to include in a quote/estimate.

Client relationships begin before your client is even a client. You set the expectations early on through your website and marketing. But if your process and doesn’t live up to those expectations, you’re in trouble. Pay attention to the details at every step: Your estimate/proposal; the site build; the site launch; and the post-launch follow-up.

Frequent client communications = clarity, and you can automate some of it. Experiment with tools like email autoresponders to handle systematic, routine communications. Depending on the tools you use, you can integrate some of this into CRM (customer relationship management) software. Speaking of which…

There’s no excuse to not have a CRM. Even if it’s an Excel spreadsheet, it’s better than having nothing. You need to track everything and have it in front of you, or you’ll miss the opportunities. You’ll forget old conversations unless you record them. Tracking data in a CRM (including revenues and cost of each client) also helps you determine who your top clients are. Leading to…

Invest in your top clients. Make the relationship personal. Visit their office, catch up at events, invite them out. Give them an amazing experience above and beyond just the work you do.

Display your knowledge without being arrogant. Speak to your client at their technical level, not yours. You’re their guide, their expert, their trusted advisor. Don’t bombard them with jargon.

Project a positive image and energy. Bad energy spreads, and it brings down the energy of the people around you. This also applies to your social media activity. Separate your professional and personal. Don’t vent at customer service from your professional social media profiles.

Don’t sign non-competes. “Non-competes are a death knell.” Nondisclosures are fine, but non-competes are a deal killer. Don’t let one client be your only client.

If you take on several clients in similar industries, let them all know. Be transparent. Then put them in their own lanes. Draw the lines between the work you do for each client. Doing consulting work? Don’t give competing clients the same strategy.

Put guardrails on the client relationship. Recognize the patterns where it starts to spiral out of control. Put your finger on it and call it out: “You are expecting too much from us.” Not working? Break up. End the relationship. You should never be afraid of a client.

[ Related: How to manage client expectations and set clear boundaries ]

Bad clients are never worth the hassle. Fixing a bad client is outside your scope of work. It’s great to serve every client, but it’s no good to be a doormat. Don’t focus on your client work over your own well-being. Hero syndrome is co-dependency, and there are clients that will suck the life out of you if you let them.

Protect yourself from bad client blowups. Have an ironclad, professionally-reviewed contract. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Give clients a simple way to drop your services. Making them jump through hoops = frustrating/difficult cancellations = they’ll tell others about their terrible experience.

Managing your projects

“A project is a temporary endeavor with a defined beginning, a defined scope of work, and a defined end.” – Jessi Gurr

You always need to ask about the budget. What’s your client willing to spend to solve the problem? Lay out a set of good/better/best options. Good = 80-85% of the budget. Backstop. Better = The one you want them to buy. 110% of the budget. Best = Shoot for the moon, 2x the budget.

There are times where you’re doing work for hire, and times where you’re a consultant. Work for hire? You do the work they tell you to. Consulting? You tell them what they need to do.

Your proposals should include all deliverable details. How many pages on a site? How do you define a page? Number of words? Contact forms? How many fields? Conditional logic? Features? Products? How many? Variable pricing? How many options? Details. Details. Details.

[ Related: How to write proposals that win clients ]

Develop your systems and processes. Get tasks and techniques out of your head. Write them down — document everything and create checklists. Use these to create a consistent experience with every client and every project.

Explain your process to your clients. Have a clear on boarding experience. Kick-Off meetings. Discuss and settle on a communication process that all parties can stick with.

Identify milestones and set a schedule. What are the major project milestones? In what order do you need to complete tasks? When are items due by both parties?

Keep the lines of communication clear. Who is the primary contact for your client? Record all communications. Send follow-up emails after discussions and meetings. Make sure different people aren’t promising different things. Address red flags as soon as you see them.

As a freelancer, you’re also a project manager. Your role: Ensuring you complete projects on time, within cost, and within scope. Then when you talk with your client about the project, you must take a management role. Essential skills: Problem solving; motivation; leadership; communication; negotiation; customer service.

You’ll have to take on several roles throughout a project. These include acting as an accountant and answering questions about costs. Or being a sales agent and up-selling on services. Or being a hiring manager and outsourcing to contractors. Or being a purchasing manager and buying software licenses. (You get the idea.)

Keep revisiting the original goal of a project. Why is a requested feature/ask necessary? Are there communication delays causing deadline delays? Will the project launch on time?

Keep track of project scope changes. Scope changes affect cost and timing. Make a change order form and get clients to sign off on all changes. Don’t be afraid to up-sell or offer lower-cost alternatives if the requests warrant it.

Keep track of everything you do. This isn’t only for billable work — it’s for knowing how much time you spend on certain tasks. If you don’t have that data, you don’t know where your time is going. “If you’re not tracking time, you’re not doing business – you’re doing work.”

Follow up. Learn and improve. Ask questions after the project wraps. “How was the process? What can we improve? What could we have done better?” Ask for a review. Discuss the upcoming phase. Offer something as a next step.

Managing your client websites

“If you’re gathering information from site users, you have something to hide.” – Chris Wiegman

What user data do you have? Where is it stored? How are you protecting it? Website generate a lot of user data: Web analytics. Forms. Emails. Mailing lists. Server logs. Usernames. Passwords. Orders. Payment info. Physical addresses. 3rd party data.

Remember: User data doesn’t belong to you or to your clients. It’s the property of your clients’ users. So, don’t collect data that you don’t need, and delete the data when you no longer need it. And give users the means to delete or access their own data.

Protect site data with encryption. “[Encryption] ensures [data] can’t be intercepted, modified, or tampered with.” Protect it in transit (sending/receiving on your site) and where it’s stored. Easy first steps? Enable SSL and protect stored data.

[ Related: GoDaddy’s Managed SSL Service ]

Effective encryption relies your consistent use. Encryption doesn’t stop malware, or hacking, and it doesn’t protect your systems. The upside? You don’t need to encrypt the data you don’t have. So only collect what you need.

The new Gutenberg editor gives non-technical users more code-free control over their websites. Find plugins that offer blocks you can use throughout your client’s site. Keep using those same blocks. Create a system of using those same blocks in different ways to build the site. Show your client how to use those blocks.

Building a blog for your client? Organize their content to align with the things they sell. End each post with a call to action – give site visitors an offer that takes them a step closer to buying something.

Managing an online store? Optimize the product pages. Four points: Drop anxiety with reviews. Raise trust with product images and video. Reduce the perceived risk with customer Q&As. Embrace personalization with product options & variations.

Managing your personal well-being

“Do what you do best. Find trusty partners for the rest.” – Nathan Ingram

You don’t need to be an expert in everything. Figure out what you’re good at. Connect with other professionals who have complementary skills. There are a lot of things you could do, but that doesn’t mean you should do it all.

Ask for help. Acknowledge the things you can’t do. Grow by asking questions. Talk to people further along the journey. Ask others about how they handled the same challenges.

Your world is chaos. So is everyone else’s. We’re all facing the same challenges, even if we take them on in our own way. We all have to figure out how to live in the chaos.

You’re not alone. Even if you’re an independent, full-time freelancer, you’re part of a global community. Find others in your position to connect with and learn from.

Don’t sell more than what you can deliver. Try using a production calendar, assigning weeks of the month to certain tasks. Flooding a sales pipeline isn’t a great thing — you need to manage the volume of work coming in.

Give yourself a day free from clients. Take your time to focus on your own business and work without interruption.

Create margin for what matters in life. Enjoy the downtime when it comes. Don’t let the stress of not being busy keep you from enjoying the breaks between busy and quiet periods. Have a hobby. Take some time off.

Create a routine. Tackle the things that will make the most impact first. Every Monday do one thing. Every Friday do another thing. Make it boring. Make it easy. Make it sustainable. Run through the checklist. Empower yourself to do it without the panic. See through the anxiety.

[ Related: Work-life balance tips to boost your productivity ]

Make healthy habits easier than bad habits. Embrace simple rules. A couple to try: “Eating the rainbow” (eat lots of vegetables of different colors). “Carry healthy snacks” (so that you don’t fall prey to convenient junk food). + Find opportunities to squeeze in some small exercises.

Keep track of how you treat your body. We keep detailed logs of how we spend our time so that we can bill our clients each month. We should do the same for what we eat and how often we exercise. Likewise, as we set time aside for routine tasks, we should set time aside for routine wellness. So, find an activity you enjoy, then go into it with full intention.

Invest in personal development. Give back to yourself. Take more vacation time. Also: Put profit first. “Take the profit off the top.” Figure out the operational costs to make it work. Don’t make the leftovers your only profit.

You’re building a business that builds websites

What we covered over three days was a very, very brief glance into the world of freelancing. And this is where we find that chasm of a divide between aspiration and reality.

The reality is that knowing how to build websites isn’t enough. When you start freelancing, you’re building a business that builds websites. It’s a big, meaty layer of complexities and considerations dropped on top of your client work.

I made a go at full-time freelancing six or seven years ago. It didn’t end well. But it was a fantastic learning experience. And one of the things I learned is that you should think of your business as a machine.

Your business is a system that you run your clients through. Part of that system includes your tech stack: a reliable set of tools to help create an efficient routine.

Now here’s the fun bit: We’re building that tech stack for you. It’s called GoDaddy Pro. It’s a collection of tools and resources to help you save time on building and managing websites. That’s time you can spend on other important tasks, like… y’know… taking care of your freelancing business.

Interested? Join GoDaddy Pro for free.