I started my freelance business during an economic downturn. Have I mentioned that before? That as I was working to build my client base, find my stride, market myself, and figure out the ins and outs of running my business, people were panicking about the state of the economy.
I was reminded of that this past week, when a new client who is the throes of starting his business shook his head at his own audacity. Starting a business during covid, when the economy is struggling, when leaving a stable job feels scarier than ever.
And those concerns are valid, but here’s the other side of that coin: Businesses need freelancers, perhaps now even more than usual. Every time a company doesn’t have budget to hire a full-time employee but still needs some help, that’s an opportunity for a freelancer, a small business, an upstart solopreneur. At least, that was my experience.
If you’re reading this because you’re thinking about going freelance, I hope that feels encouraging to you. Building a business almost always comes with a lot of hard work, uncertainty, and nerves, but an economic downturn isn’t necessarily a more difficult backdrop for your beginning than a steady economy.
But enough philosophy. Here are the details of how I made money, got new clients, and got my work done in Q4 2020:
How I made money in Q4 2020
As a content strategist and copywriter, I do a variety of things – from interviewing stakeholders to develop strategic recommendations to writing blog posts, white papers, and SEO-focused microsites. So, what did I get up to this quarter? A little strategy and a lot of content marketing. Specifically:
:: Auditing existing content to identify gaps, opportunities, and needed improvements
:: Writing blog posts (both long- and short-form) on tech topics for non-technical audiences
:: Optimizing websites for SEO
:: Ghostwriting snarky marketing articles
:: Writing short PDF handouts
:: Crafting sales-focused landing pages
:: Analyzing data, outlining, and writing infographics
Sales & marketing in Q4 2020
I did a bit more than usual on the sales front this quarter. I’ve been renegotiating my contract with my largest client, so I wanted to make sure I had a very full pipeline of new projects, not only to fill out the upcoming gaps in my schedule but also so that if I couldn’t work things out with Big Client, I’d have more opportunities lined up. Mostly, my strategy this quarter has been to reconnect with old contacts, be more active on LinkedIn, and clear more time in my schedule for intro calls with agencies and businesses.
New business: how I got new clients in Q4 2020
Luckily, my biggest client and I were able to come to an agreement on my contract for the next six months and, as I write this, I’m just waiting for the final contract to sign. So unless something falls apart at the last moment, I’ll be (very happily) continuing to work with them for at least the next two quarters. My other long-term client and I are also happily trekking along.
I still expect to have some open time in my schedule, so I also signed one new client for a landing page project over the holidays and got onboarded (signing NDAs, setting up contract terms) with two agencies who I hope to start working with in the new year. One of these new clients was a direct referral from a former client. Another was a direct referral from a colleague who doesn’t do tech projects (and thus sends them my way fairly often). And the third was a complicated dance of multiple referrals: a colleague tagged me in a LinkedIn post that was serendipitously looking for someone with almost exactly my background and skillset and then the author of the LinkedIn post referred me another colleague who was hiring for the position.
The bottom line? As usual, the vast majority of my business comes to me by referral.
My location-independent freelance schedule
At the start of Q4, my big client was able to secure more budget and I let them reserve the rest of my available time for the year, which means my schedule was busier than usual. I probably averaged 30 – 35 hours per week, mostly focusing my work time on Monday – Thursday.
As a reminder: My goal is not to work full-time. For several years, I tried to keep my schedule around 20 – 25 hours per week. This year, I’ve tipped the scale upward a bit, but I try not to commit myself to more than four days per week.
Location independence: where I worked
As you may already know, I’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2012. I typically live in one place for anywhere from one to four months, working from holiday rentals and coffee shops and occasionally co-working spaces.
Obviously, 2020 changed all that. Travel has been limited (if available at all) this year and we’ve been careful about when and where we move around, especially as numbers here in Europe have been spiking since the fall.
We still have our visas in Estonia, so we’re legally allowed to stay in Europe through late February, and we’ve applied for new visas in Switzerland, with the hope of staying at least a year (and the additional hope that covid vaccines will be available to use before summer so that I can move around more freely and start writing more extensively about Switzerland again). While we wait for our final visa decision in Switzerland, we’ve been given permission to stay here , so we’re currently holed up in the Bern Canton, working with a view of the Alps.
Need some content, strategy, or web help?
I’m still booking new clients for 2021. If you need someone like me, please reach out.
I’m particularly great at:
:: Writing content about technical topics for a a non-technical audience
:: Inbound marketing/content marketing
:: Developing writing guidelines for your team
:: Organizing navigation and site content
:: Coming up with headlines, taglines, and brand campaigns
:: Optimizing content for SEO
:: Managing blogs
Tech businesses I’ve worked with include Dell, BestVPN, ComplyData (oil and gas compliance software), miiCloud (face recognition software), Atlassian, Amplitude, and Lytics Customer Data Platform. Agency clients have included Atlas Advertising, Fractl (the infographic masters), and Catalyst Marketing.
If you’d like to chat about what I can do for your business, drop me a line.
Are you a freelancer or business owner? Tell us about your quarter. Feel free to drop any questions you might have in the comments.
Is there something you wish I’d cover in these quarterly reports? Please let me know. I want them to be as useful as possible, so if you have a suggestion, drop it in the comments or reach out to me on Facebook anytime.