What I learned from my most profitable months as a freelancer 💰

In June 2020, I smashed my targets. Here's how I did it and what I learned.

If you have been subscribed to my newsletter for a while, you’ll know I am no stranger to talking about money.

I even shared my FY19/20 earnings back in May - my first year as a freelancer. I also wrote a separate piece about knowing your worth and how I was in the process of increasing my prices in-line with industry-standard after chronically underselling and overworking myself for the last year.

This week I am looking back on June, July and August 2020 - my most profitable months ever, and trying to understand what the hell happened and how I can make sure it keeps happening for the foreseeable.

In fact, I already hit my FY19/20 total turnover just four months into 20/21 - so here are some things I did that I am pretty sure contributed towards this success.

I increased my prices with existing clients

This was a tough one but long overdue. I approached all of my retainer clients and explained that I was increasing my prices, I gave them three options:

  1. Pay the new rate for the same number of hours (increase their budget)

  2. Pay the rate for fewer hours to match the old budget

  3. Walk away

If you are a freelancer or have ever had to have these kinds of conversations, you’ll know how daunting they are. I was terrified that my clients would turn their backs on me and I’d be left up shit creek without a paddle. However, nobody took option 3.

A few took option 1 and the others took option 2. The benefit of both options is clear - 1. More money, 2. More time. So, where option 2 was preferable, I was able to earn the same amount as I had done before and gain more time to sell to other clients.

It was win-win.

I stopped overservicing clients

Ok, so I don’t clock-watch but I do use Toggl to monitor the time I am spending on client work.

Previously, I would turn a blind eye to overservicing and I found myself answering emails and phone calls out of hours more and more. This not only affected my productivity but also my mental health - so I’ve now put a stop to that.

I set clear boundaries with clients where things had started to blur, even to the point that I am accessible on a certain day/time each week if they want to call. By being clear about what I do and when, I have been able to better prioritise my time and feel happier as a result.

I started outsourcing

Back in Feb ‘19 when I first went freelance, the thought of outsourcing anything at all filled me with dread.

I spent days learning new disciplines and tools so I would never have to rely on anyone. However, this year I took a step back and asked myself: what do you really enjoy doing? And what do you not like but clients still want?

For example, there is still a significant client appetite for social media management and PR, but I just don’t like doing it.

So, instead of chugging along with it anyway - I started outsourcing those elements to other trusted freelancers. That way, I also save time spent doing the things I don’t enjoy, and I can invest it back into the things I love - that’s the reason I am freelance, after all.

I launched a second stream of income

While I was amongst the lucky few who were not adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, I did feel it was time to firmly establish a second stream of income that would take me through any difficult times ahead.

I launched a LinkedIn Toolkit via Patreon, which is a monthly subscription service for small businesses looking to make the most out of LinkedIn and generate inbound leads. I was already doing a lot of pro-bono LinkedIn training, so I decided it was time to establish this as a wing of my business and not just a time-zap.

I started using Notion

There is probably a whole newsletter to write about my love affair with Notion, the productivity and note-taking tool that I use as a basis for my business.

I have spent several months curating the perfect workspace, which incorporates some personal goals with professional tasks, client management and systemising processes. I did a very short tour of my Notion workspace over on Twitter, but it’s changed even since then so I expect a longer tour will come soon.

What I love about Notion is that, unlike Asana or Trello, you are not restricted to one type of ‘board’. All of your information is stored in databases that can be viewed as lists, tables, kanban boards, calendars and galleries. You can even link your databases together so show which tasks are attached to which client within your CRM. Honestly, it’s changed my life and I can see why it’s often referred to as a ‘second brain’ *chef’s kiss*

This newsletter is at the risk of becoming extremely long, so I will finish this section here.

I am interested to hear how other freelancers have navigated the pandemic and whether they have seen clients drop-off or an increase in demand? And are you in a position to increase prices or set boundaries right now? While I do think I have been extremely lucky given the circumstances, but I also believe that the above count as contributing factors towards the growth of Content By The Sea over recent months!

🎧 I am still listening to the Hamilton soundtrack non-stop. This has not changed since last week and I expect it won’t for next, either.

📺 I watched the entire of Selling Sunset in two days last week and it was exactly what I needed. My brain was in the mood for low-maintenance TV and this was just that. I won’t explain the blurb as I am sure you’ve seen it by now, but I must add that the marketer in me is very curious about whether we’ll see a steep upturn in the purchase of black wedding dresses following Christine’s winter wonderland wedding.

📚 I have nearly finished The Way Of Kings - the first in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and the book I’ve been reading all month. I haven’t been as glued to reading as I usually am as work has been so busy that all I could manage to do on an evening was watch meditate on whether I am a Mary, Chrishell or, god forbid, a Davina.

✍ I’ve been watching a lot of Marie Poulin’s videos about Notion and I also attended a fantastic webinar by newsletter queens Anna Codrea-Rado and Sian Meades-Williams about how to grow and monetise your newsletter. I have lots of work to do behind the scenes but I am sure you will start to see some changes at Conversations By The Sea very soon as I implement their advice and keep growing this outlet for my thoughts.

That’s all from me. Come chat to me over on Twitter and I’ll be back in your inbox next week talking about something else within the realms of freelancing and mental health.


Ellen x

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

19 August - Don’t optimise your life, just live it 🏃‍♀️💨

12 August: The 💩 parts of freelancing that nobody ever talks about

5 August: Do what makes you happy, even if you're 💩 at it...

29 July - How to know when it’s time to quit 🚫

22 July - You’ve got a friend in me 🤠👩‍🚀

15 July - The hardest part of writing is writing 🖊

8 July - The dangers of the side hustle

1 July - I timed my working life for a month 📅

24 June - Hi, I'm Ellen and I'm a productivity addict ✅