01. Get paid faster
Cash flow is king when you're freelance, and just a single late payment from a client can cause huge repercussions for small businesses. So getting paid on time is crucial - and that involves being organised and invoicing promptly and politely. The golden rules for invoicing are to always stipulate payment terms upfront, setting out how many days you expect to be paid within, and any further expenses that are due. You should also warn your clients about interest on late payments, and always, always, always invoice as soon as the work is signed off. Any delay your end gives late paying clients an excuse.
- Find the best creative invoicing tools here.
Having multiple paying side-ventures is the trick here, with lots of little income streams helping make one larger pot. Sure, your regular design work might bring in the bread and butter. But by capitalising on your design skills outside of the paying client world means you can you can avoid putting all of your income eggs in one basket. For example, you could create some WordPress Themes and sell them; or design some icons and PSD templates. Stock sites are always willing to take vector graphics and photography, though their rates are woeful compared to what they once were.
03. Go Limited
In the UK at least, recent law changes mean that the most tax efficient set-up for any freelancer is as a Limited company. This works really well for freelancers, as it means you can subcontract at agencies as well as billing for direct work from clients. It also means you avoid working through umbrella agencies which will take a percentage fee from your day rate, as well as PAYE and tax. If you're serious about your freelance career, either a Limited company or Limited Liability Partnership is the best means of making better profits.
04. Job boards
Let's be honest, they hold a dark and depressing reputation in some quarters, but creative jobs boards can often offer up a diamond design project from the small jobs rough. Elance, oDesk, Krop and a multitude of other networks have done much to improve and sustain creative jobs boards and the freelance marketplace. Yet standards like Google and Craigslist can be surprisingly fertile grounds. They're certainly less competitive, and while rates might be lower there's hundreds of small jobs available for designers willing to take them on.
What about generating additional revenue through sharing your expertise? Local colleges and evening classes are a great place to start - especially if you feel comfortable teaching a complete course and not just a specific skill. Think six-part evening classes in web design rather than a one-off Maya compositing workshop. There's a burgeoning industry in how-to YouTube channels too, with some enjoying more than 100,000 subscribers. And don't forget sites like CreativeBloq who'll pay for expert writing, tutorials and insight.
06. Hire an accountant
One way to make more money at the end of your financial year is to save it. Getting your financial dealings in order takes investment - but it is always worth it - because a good accountant will amaze you with their ability to identify your revenue patterns and claim back tax paid on legitimate business earnings. Depending upon how you've set up (as a sole trading freelancer or studio business), your accountant will not only help you get your earnings in order, but also suggest ways on which the business can grow in the next financial year.
07. Work in markets with better rates
That doesn't just mean financial markets either. Yes, China, Russia, Brazil and India are growth nations with staggering commercial opportunities, but the likelihood is work will be hard to find, dealing with remote clients in new cultures can be difficult, and tax implications might not make billing as straightforward as it should be. New markets can also mean growth areas within the industry too - for example mobile app design or info graphic work. The key is to remain on top of what areas of design are in demand; and identify how you can supply that demand.
Look at the most profitable areas of design, such as 3D animation, motion graphics and mobile UX design. There's a skills shortage in many of these areas which has driven day rates up. If you can train yourself - or invest in professional training - you can capitalise on this sellers' market. Remember though, it's always best to advertise your core skillsets for professional client work, but that doesn't mean you can't set up a separate company for any further areas you might want to work in even if you're not claiming expert proficiency.
Words: Tom Dennis