How to Run a 6-Figure Freelance Business in 20 Hours a Week

Keep a profitable side-hustle venture, guard against burnout and continue to generate revenue. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own. Two years ago, I took my thriving freelance-writing business down to 20 hours a week of work, as I noticed that I had fallen into the trap of “More […]

Keep a profitable side-hustle venture, guard against burnout and continue to generate revenue.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Two years ago, I took my thriving freelance-writing business down to 20 hours a week of work, as I noticed that I had fallen into the trap of “More hours means more output, right?” At that point I had been writing full-time as a freelancer for six solid years and was growing tired of the grind. Since then, I’ve been able to run my freelance business as a part-time venture while still maintaining consistent high revenue.

Instead of seeing more output, I saw more of all the wrong kinds of things: fatigue, eye strain and overwhelm. It clued me in that something had to change, and it all started with the clock.

Freelancing is a very flexible kind of business ownership that allows the creative or technical specialist at the helm to scale up or down as needed. While there are plenty of people choosing to freelance full-time, there’s another growing group of freelancers who start their company as a side hustle and are happy to stay there. Count me among them.

Whether it’s obligations inside the house like homeschooling or caring for elderly parents or a job outside the home that offers its own form of fulfillment, you can purposefully keep your side hustle as a part-time effort while still reaping many of the rewards in terms of money.

For others, there’s very little productivity jump in going from 20 to 30 or 40 hours per week. Entrepreneurs are more mindful than ever of the devastating impacts of burnout, so plenty are looking for ways to protect themselves from themselves. While owning your own business is exciting and requires a lot of effort, especially at the beginning stages, it can also start taking over your personal life if you’re not careful. Here are some tips to start cutting back without ruining your revenue.

Related: 4 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Working as a Freelance Writer

Start Small With a Rule

Going from 40 hours to 20 hours a week felt impossible at first. I started by forcing myself to leave my freelancing home office by 2:00 p.m. every single day. It took some adjustments, but doing this immediately called my attention to the things that were most important. Client assignments I didn’t look forward to and unnecessary phone calls took the axe first.

You can plan to take off every other Friday if daily reductions feels too much. Build that up to every Friday. For me, I felt better making an effort every single day to be more aware of my time and to build in more beneficial activities like reading a book, going for a walk or cooking an elaborate dinner. Looking forward to these things made it easier for me to close my computer and walk away rather than being drawn back in by the “Well, just one more email check” kind of thinking that keeps you there for hours.

Delete, Delete, Delete to Get Focused

Cutting back your time will require you to think differently about the kinds of things you say yes to. That includes client work. The client work you procrastinate on or cram in as quickly as possible should be a clear red flag that you need to find a way to part with this project or train someone else on your team to do it.

I recommend looking at the EOS system to learn more about what they call “quarterly rocks.” Setting two to three quarterly rocks guides your output for the entire 90 days that follows. As you think about taking on new projects, consider whether any of them really move your rocks forward. Maybe you don’t need to be running a virtual summit, testing a new product idea, writing a book or optimizing your website all at the same time if your most important quarterly rock is boosting freelance client revenue by 15 percent.

This might be hard for the people-pleasers out there, because it means saying no. It means turning down volunteer opportunities or back-burnering projects that you might have the passion but not the time for since choosing quarterly rocks means you have to narrow down.

Focus on Your Most Fulfulling and Profitable Projects

If you want to run a freelance business that earns solid money as a part-time venture, stop offering 20 services. Narrow down to two or three that sell the best and that you enjoy doing. Simplify your packages so that you can build in systems to optimize those offers. Perhaps remove some of the bells and whistles from your packages that don’t really move the needle but require more time, input or effort from you or your subcontractors.

Yes, this means that you might have people who want a customized offer that you might have to turn down the chance to work with, but it means that your now-limited time is spent in the best possible way.

I realized that while I could sell SEO-content writing for blogs and email-newsletter drafting like hotcakes, no one was really buying my website-content packages because my clients were all more advanced and already had a functioning website.

Narrowing down my niche to lawyers also made it easy because I only had to know two kinds of projects and one industry very well. Less learning for me, better results for clients because I was an expert in that field.

Adjust the Client Barriers to Entry

Another tip that helps streamline your part-time freelance business at a high level of revenue is to use minimum packages. All freelancers know that it takes time to get to know a client, their preferences and their audience. So it rarely makes sense to do one small project for them, like a logo, and then never talk to them again. It also doesn’t make much sense to keep a project that’s a retainer paying you a very small amount like $200 a month.

It’s time to increase the barrier to entry. Minimums could look like:

  • The minimum project amount for a one-time project is $500 in services.
  • Presenting packages at three tiers with the smallest one always being your personal business minimum per client.
  • Requiring clients to sign contracts that are slightly longer, such as retainers that go to three or four months rather than month-by-month.

Related: Rate-Setting Tips for Your Freelance-Writing Business

It will not be easy to fire clients that have paid you consistently and been easy to work with. They will likely push back when you decide to eliminate their $200 monthly retainer. Explain that this is a business decision and new company policy to work on projects with a bigger minimum amount. Recommend what boosting their investment could look like or refer them to another freelancer. It’s much harder to keep track of 10 small clients than it is five bigger ones.

If your services have been in demand and you’re close to fully booked or overbooked, it’s time to consider raising your rates. Not every client will necessarily stick around after you boost your rates, but you’ll still be earning more per piece or per hour.

Yes, you can still run a freelance business with consistent income on a part-time level. Many other freelancers choose to do the same. What tips can you implement today to start evaluating your service-based business? 

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