How to be a profitable creative freelancer

Time is always money in the world of creative freelancing. Every bit of your working day should be spent on paid jobs for clients if you want to become profitable and enjoy a healthy bank balance.

But with so many potential distractions, issues or things that could go wrong – it's easy to lose focus and waste time on things or people that stop you from making money. You can easily work silly hours to make up for lost time and risk burning yourself out.

So how do you ensure you're squeezing the most out of a normal work schedule without spending hours and hours at your desk? How can you be profitable when freelancing? Here are our top tips on how to stay focused...

Get your processes right

Efficiency is the key to a profitable business. You have to be efficient to ensure your time is well spent. So get your processes right first and foremost. Sort out your accounts, invoicing and bills by signing up to something like FreeAgent. Or hire an accountant to help you keep on track of your earnings.

Organise your files by clearly labelling everything. Neatly store away all invoices, quotes and proposals in date order. Do everything and anything you can to make your business run as smoothly as possible, so you can spend more of your time making money.

Have a strong profile

When you haven't got time to do your own marketing, make sure your website and online profile is working really hard without you. Create a strong portfolio, establish a good reputation on social media, work hard to achieve first page search engine listings for your chosen keywords.

Ensure you have a solid profile and some work should naturally find its way to you whilst you're busy getting on with your work. Read this article on 60 ways to create a successful website.

Stop doing favours

Friends, family and even clients can all ask for favours once in a while. This is where you must say no and focus your working hours on paid projects. It can seem harsh telling those you care about that you can't help and haven't got time but don't feel guilty about turning them down. Your time is money and you're not a charity.

Cut out distractions

So many hours can be wasted on things that distract us, including everything from Twitter and Facebook to endless phone calls from recruitment agencies or people trying to sell us stuff. Cut out these distractions by pro-actively finding ways to combat them. For instance, if you're on deadline and you need complete concentration – use a virtual phone service like Answer.co.uk where someone else can answer your calls. Or put an 'out of office' on your email system.

Learn to say no

It's tempting to go to a speculative meeting with a prospect client when you know they haven't got the right budget to spend with you, but you really must learn to say no when it comes to time-wasters.

Don't feel guilty managing other people's expectations or turning them away. You're not letting them down, you're just doing what's right for you. Remember, this is business and saying no won't damage your reputation if you do it the right way. Here's a handy article on when and how to say 'no' when freelancing.

Be disciplined with work

Avoid stress by being disciplined with your workload. Find ways to stay organised, efficient and productive, so you make the most of your time each day. By having self-discipline you'll ensure you're working to your optimum output and you'll be ticking those projects off and firing out invoices without any hassle. Read this article on How to effectively manage your workload to help further.

Assess your current client list

Why do the most difficult clients end up being the least profitable? How can those who take up so much of our time end up making us no money at all? It's a common issue for freelancers but some clients are just not worth the hassle.

Find out which ones are holding you back and get rid of them. But walk away in a professional manner so you don't burn any bridges. Here are some tips on how to spot difficult clients and some pointers on how to deal with them.

Be wise about the work you take on

Once you've been established for a while, you'll start to wise up and know which work to embrace and which projects to turn down. Consider those that will earn you the most money in the shortest time possible.

Consider the clients – are they going to be difficult? Do you anticipate there'll be lots of amends, meetings, phone calls, etc? Or is the project quite straightforward? Look at all the information you have available and decide whether a project is profitable and worth your time.

Be ruthless

When you want to make money, you have to be ruthless. This doesn't mean you turn into some evil Bond villain that throws deadly hats at people. This means you chase invoices the day they're due for payment. It means you keep meetings and phone calls short and sweet without being rude. It means you are disciplined with yourself and how you spend your time.

Grow clients organically

Finding and winning clients is incredibly time-consuming and difficult. Keeping them happy is the next big challenge. Turning them into even bigger clients is something that every freelancer should aim to achieve. What do I mean by this? Well, if you won a client to provide copywriting services for their website, why not suggest ongoing support for their blog? Or if you've just designed a logo for someone, why not offer your services elsewhere... like for a new brochure or website?

There are always ways in which you can grow your relationship with clients. You'll be surprised just how many businesses enjoy getting everything from the same supplier.

Always keep a focus on winning new work

Business development should always be a key focus. Every successful freelancer should commit to at least two hours a week on trying to secure new work. Send out an e-mailer to current clients. Work on your own website. Blog about new projects. Look for opportunities to put yourself forward. Introduce yourself to local firms. Read this tips article on 100 inspiring ways to market yourself and you'll have a great head-start.