Paul Jarvis, a web designer, podcaster, and author of "Company of One", provides illuminating insights on how to streamline your freelance business processes, with an in-depth explanation of why it's crucial to do so.
When web creators start freelancing, they’re often more concerned with the technical aspects of the job, such as how to create an effective menu or implement the latest CSS tricks. However, it’s just as essential to understand key business processes and how to handle them efficiently.
To help our audience with this, we created a webinar with Paul Jarvis, a web designer, podcaster, and author of “Company of One.” In it, he explains why it’s important to streamline your freelance business processes and how to do so.
In this post, we’ll summarize Paul’s main points and share some insights from our Q&A session with him. Let’s get to it!
How to Streamline Your Freelance Business Processes (5 Key Tips)
While it’s important that you have solid skills relevant to the freelance services you’re offering, it’s also necessary to become familiar with business best practices. This means taking care to have systems and processes in place that boost your efficiency and free up time for other crucial tasks.
1. Develop the Right Project Processes
Paul explains that setting systems in place for processes such as onboarding and exit strategies is not a waste of your time. Although they may seem mundane, defining standard procedures — and continually iterating on them if they’re not working — frees you up to spend more time being creative.
Your clients may not have hired web developers before. Having a replicable system in place means you can walk them through how you do things so they know what to expect.
This means neither you nor your clients need to think about what’s next in a project because you both know what the established process is. An added benefit is that explaining to potential clients that you have existing practices can make you look more professional.
To that end, consider making a list of all the steps required to complete a project for a new client. For each, come up with a checklist or guide that states how you will tackle each procedure, then reference this document throughout your work.
2. Automate Your Onboarding Process
Onboarding is important for vetting potential clients. You want to determine early on whether or not you’re a good fit for each other. Having a system for this task means you don’t have to spend time typing out the same questions for every client.
Automating his onboarding process freed up as much as 90 percent of Paul’s time. It begins on his website, where potential clients can click on a button to indicate they’re interested in his services.
This triggers a MailChimp automation that sends the lead a PDF containing details about the kinds of projects Paul does, starting prices, a portfolio, and testimonials. At the end, there’s a link to a project planner created with Typeform.
Here, the lead can fill in details about their project. This includes their budget, their timeframe for completing the work, and so on. Finally, there’s a link to Paul’s Calendly, which enables the client to schedule a call with him. This process also helps to offset any lags due to varying time zones.
There are a variety of ways you could replicate this process using your preferred contact form plugin and email platform. However, make sure that you provide a way for leads to reach you directly if they need to.
At any point in his onboarding process, clients can email Paul to ask questions. This isn’t a matter of handing them off to a robot. It’s simply a case of automating tasks he didn’t need to have a direct hand in.
3. Receive and Incorporate Client Feedback
Paul believes it’s in freelancers’ best interests that they receive quality feedback throughout the development process, as this can move a project along more smoothly. He has a PDF he sends to his clients to facilitate this process and make sure he collects the information he needs.
That said, it’s important to teach your clients how to give descriptive — rather than prescriptive — feedback. Descriptive feedback is honest and specific. It’s also goal-oriented and ties back to the target audience, rather than the client’s personal tastes.
When it comes to receiving revision requests, make sure to state a limit in your contract for how many rounds there can be. Paul also notes that explaining why you made certain decisions can help clients understand the benefits of features they might otherwise wish to have changed.
An easy way to make sure you receive timely feedback is to schedule regular check-ins with clients. This way, you know when to reach out and ask for input and don’t end up scrambling to address a long list of revisions at the end of the project.
4. Set Up a Process for Generating Sales
When Paul first started, he assumed that past clients would contact him when they needed more work. However, this was never the case. Instead, he found that he would usually have to be the one to reach out. When he did so, it often resulted in new projects.
During slow periods, Paul sends emails to past clients he liked working for and asks how their business is going, if the site he built for them is performing as expected, and if there’s anything he can help with. By doing this, he is always able to fill up his schedule with smaller projects and updates.
A related matter here involves raising your rates. As you might expect, Paul has a formula for this. If he’s booked three months in advance for more than three months in a row, he raises his rates by 15 to 20 percent.
He then sends emails to his current clients and explains that he is planning to raise his rates. However, if they book work with him in the next week, he’ll honor his current prices. By doing this, he’s often able to keep his calendar full three months out.
You can try out these systems for yourself or develop your own. The important thing is to make sure you’re always looking ahead so that you aren’t suddenly without work. The easiest solution is to schedule regular follow-ups with former clients and assessments of your prices.
5. Know When to Deviate from Your System
Generally speaking, sticking to your standard procedures will maximize your efficiency and improve your freelance business practices. However, it’s sometimes necessary to allow your intuition to overrule your established processes.
For example, during Paul’s first call with a new client, he uses a scorecard to measure them in various areas. This process helps him determine how well they trust his skills, how much value they place on his work, whether or not their project will help him grow his skills, and more.
Although the total score might be excellent, if Paul feels like the client might be difficult to work with, he goes with his gut. He says that over the 20 plus years he’s been developing, his intuition has always been on the mark.
Q&A: Insight from Paul Jarvis on Streamlining Freelance Business Processes
Here are a few of the questions our viewers asked Paul:
Q: What are some tips you can use to stand out from the competition?
The first thing is to be impeccable when it comes to keeping your word. This means delivering on time and within budget. You also want to make sure never to overpromise. Being able to meet deadlines requires you to account for unexpected setbacks, down to your cat needing to see the vet.
A second tip is to focus on your client’s business rather than the technical aspects of your job. Consider how you can make hiring you an investment for them instead of an expense.
Q: How do you price yourself so you get enough work but don’t price yourself out of the market?
Understanding how your business works and your own needs is really important. You’ll have to figure out what your break-even point is so that you can aim above it. When you’re starting out, you want to begin close to a set bottom-line and start to increase from there.
Paul also mentions that if you’re always busy, you’re not priced high enough. Raising your rates makes it look like you’re in demand and a more attractive hiring prospect.
Q: Aside from word-of-mouth marketing, what would you suggest is the best way to attract potential clients?
Focus on a niche. There’s a rule of thumb that says that if a niche is big enough to have a conference, it’s big enough for you to find work in forever. You should also consider creating content for the kind of clients you want to attract.
After Paul had been freelancing for a while, he realized that web designers were often creating content for other designers. However, that audience wasn’t going to generate them any revenue.
Instead, Paul set out to publish articles and podcasts geared towards the people who might want to hire him. This included content on topics such as how to get the most out of a web design project, how to hire the right designer and more.
This not only established him as an expert but provided a way for leads to find him organically through Google searches.
Create a More Effective Freelance Workflow
You now know the importance of streamlining your freelance business processes and some actionable ways to do so. For more from Paul, you can subscribe to his newsletter, Sunday Dispatches, or follow his Twitter account.
Our discussion with Paul in this webinar was enlightening. We’ve seen that setting up processes for handling important aspects of your freelance business can open up time for creative endeavors. However, it’s also important to know when to let intuition overrule your set practices.
Do you have any questions about streamlining your business processes? Let us know in the comments section below!