Increase Your Freelancing Income by Narrowing Your Focus

It seems to make logical sense that the wider you cast your net, the more fish you can catch. Subsequently, this is the approach that many people take in all areas of life — including business. When people start freelancing, for example, it’s common that they’ll try to expand their market as wide and as far as possible — all in the hope of catching more clients.

They offer more services than anyone else. They focus on more traffic sources than anyone else. They try to get more clients than anyone else (no matter what they are paying). Because this ‘more mentality’ makes sense logically, a lot of people stick to it.

Today, however, I want to go against the grain.

Instead of telling you to do as much as you can for as much as you can get, my advice is actually quite simple: increase your income my narrowing your focus.

Allow me to give some examples…

Your Services

Many people have a specific talent that they decide to use to help them make money as a freelancer. Yet, when they make it clear that they are for hire, they stretch the range of services they offer. Logo designers now offer eBook layouts and custom web designs. Programmers now build applications for Facebook, Twitter or whatever comes out of the soil next, and so on.

If you’re an agency, this is probably a good strategy. But, if you’re working solo or you’re in a small team, sometimes it’s better to narrow your offerings. The idea behind this is to become a clear expert at one thing, rather than good at a lot of things. At the time when I started taking on clients, I had skills in SEO, Social Media Marketing and Reputation Management. Yet, it was SEO where I first decided to establish my name and this worked very well for me.

Cindy Krum is another great example of narrowing the focus of the services you offer. She has expertise in SEO and other aspects of Internet Marketing, but it was Mobile Marketing where she decided to focus her efforts. Few other marketers went down this route. Cindy is now seen as a leading expert in the Mobile industry and even managed to land a book deal.

Your Traffic Sources

Just like we tend to offer as many services as we think we can, we also focus on as many traffic / client sources as possible. Initially, I would spend my time blogging, writing guest posts, pitching to random companies and trying to utilise the contacts of my friends. It took me a while to realize, but I eventually noticed I was spreading my actions very thinly in lots of different directions.

Because of this, I really wasn’t getting the type of visitors I wanted.

Instead, I started to focus on growing my blog and my audience. In less than a year I went from 0 subscribers to over 500 and managed to land a large number of clients for doing so.

Similarly, I know lots of freelancers who only focus on one traffic source and live comfortably from that. I know designers who are authorities on a certain forum and programmers who have established their name on freelance marketplaces. Despite their limited client sources, they are getting far more offers than they can handle.

Instead of trying to be everywhere, see if there are client sources where you can really stand out. Can you establish yourself as an authority in a popular forum? Can you become on of the top freelancers in a marketplace like GetACoder or Elance? Can you be the blogger in your industry that clients rave about and fellow professionals follow?

Your Clients

Look at your current client base and ask yourself which clients occupy the most of your time. There’s a good chance that you’ll have a large number of clients that cause no problems and count for the majority of your income. On the other hand, there will probably be a tiny group of clients who account for a small part of your income, but take up most of your time.

Of course, this completely depends on what services you offer and how you handle your work. Instead of fishing for as many possible clients as possible and stretching yourself thinly, try to focus on the clients who appreciate your time and give you the least hassle. It can be hard to let clients go or focus on the ones who make life easier but it’s often the best route to take.

With this route, you’ll have time to find more clients like them and get more done during a normal day. Because of this, it’s likely that your income will increase as well.

Your Time

Using my time effectively used to be something I really struggled with. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t know what to give my attention, I was just giving it to all the wrong things. Before I continue, I have a little task for you all:

Tomorrow, or whenever a ‘normal’ day for you next commences, write down every single thing you do. Whether it is responding to emails, writing blogs posts, performing client work or just spending time on Twitter, write it all down.

Be completely honest with yourself, and don’t be shy to include small items in your log. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but when I first did this, I was amazed at how much time I was spending on non-effective activities. I would read blogs every morning that generally regurgitate the same advice and then I would scan the news from the digg-like site in my niche. After that, I would respond to irrelevant emails and finally get down to some work.

I quickly realized that the majority of my time was not being used productively. I was literally trying to be everywhere and do everything, but keeping busy with things that were not directly affecting my income. After I noticed this, I started each day with my most important tasks (instead of gradually building up to my real work).

I started feeling like I had far more time in the day and was actually using my time effectively.

Wrapping It All Up

As with all advice, there will be some exceptions to the rule. Some people will find that offering more services or wanting more clients motivates them to work harder and get more done. In fact, this is exactly how Cyan from FreelanceSwitch says she operates.

However, I do urge everyone who may be struggling financially or productively to give this idea a try and see how it works out. If you’ve already implemented something similar, I would love to read about your experiences in the comments!

Comments

  1. says

    These are all excellent tips! A year into full time freelancing, I’m finally realizing the importance of narrowing my focus. I’m finally turning down work that does not completely fall within my core range of services, and I’m much happier for it.

    For example, I used to take on work that involved back-end development (I focus primarily on the design itself and front-end development) – I can’t tell you the relief from turning down jobs that would have otherwise had me spend the majority of my time on project management of third party programmers.

    The time issue is one I really need to focus on, though – I spend more time checking out great links that I find from Twitter than I should. But then again… that’s how I found this post, so it’s not always a bad thing, LOL.

  2. says

    I think one of the big “for instances” of spreading yourself too thin is when a freelancers arbitrarily tacks on “social media” as a listed service.

    There are plenty of freelancers that may actually be able to provide this, but I feel like it’s thrown in as extra padding for a services page too often. Simply being a regular Twitter and Facebook user is not qualification enough.

    Keeping a focus also helps within the industry, because you can become specialized rather than simply diluting the pool. Great article!

  3. says

    Since I decided to take action with my blog, I had a good steady reader increase. I even got a few leads. I’m thankful for my subscribers but I think only a small portion of them are really my target market. Right now I’m in the process of redesigning my homepage because it’s screaming I AM A BLOG and I need to tell my market that they’ve come to the right place.

    I’ve already narrowed some of my skills that I believe I can perform well. Really inspirational and timely article for me Glen. Thanks a lot.

  4. says

    Lately I’m discovering that adding more services to pull in more clients (the all-in-one design/development/marketing shop) may not be such a great idea. Some of the work I’m doing now, I’m just not that interested in in and/or not so efficient with it. I’d rather be spending my time doing tasks I really like and having the opportunity to focus my learning on just a few things rather than many things.

    One big time-sink lately is hosting. I’ve been a hosting reseller for about 3 years and usually that involves no effort, but when a problem arises, as it did last week, I’m accountable to 50 clients and that takes up a LOT of time.

    I think I need to take both suggestions to heart. I’ll work on creating a list of the best and worst clients and try to pin down what I like most and least. And I know I’m not as efficient with time management as I could be, so I’ll try the ‘most important tasks first’ approach and see if that gives me better results.

    Thanks for an eye-opening article.

  5. says

    Excellent points! I recently started freelancing but surprisingly have gotten quite a few projects already. The problem is now I have almost too many to handle and will need to be more selective when deciding to take on a new project. Also, I hope to build my clients in the city I am from, Dallas, if I should ever want to create something big.

  6. says

    Hey guys, thanks for the comments!

    @Selene – That is a great example, thanks for sharing. As long as you find my articles, then it isn’t a waste of time ;)

    @Zach – Hahah good example. This used to annoy me as I actually class myself as a social media marketer (and worked for Fortune 100 companies as one) and it kind of diluted what I was offering. I have stopped caring about it now, but that’s a great point.

    @Debbie – You’re welcome, I can definitely relate to your situation

    @Joe – Thanks man :)

  7. says

    I think that narrowing your focus works well when you have become a bit established in your freelancing business. Initially you do have to undertake all sorts of assignments just to get noticed as the competition is too tough and you need projects to start on(and survive). Its only after a period of time that you can judge about your best skills and narrow your focus.

  8. says

    You know, my freelance opportunities just became more focused. Now I just write PHP instead of HTML, CSS, Blogs, etc. Some agencies are just looking for good coders. Thanks for the good post!

  9. says

    Not only did my workload increase when I narrowed my focus, I could charge a higher rate!

    As for initially taking on a diverse range of projects.. I think that has more to do with the start of a career in general, rather than the start of freelancing. If you’re starting out freelancing after 10 years of being an expert at a subject, chances are you will be able to focus on that & the only learning you’ll have to do is about marketing/running a business.

  10. says

    Timely article. I was just re-evaluating how I can be more productive and I definitely fall in the cast a wide net category.

    I’m not completely happy with my client base but it sounds like the solution has to do with me narrowing my focus.

    Thanks for the writeup!

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  28. says

    It’s not always so easy to narrow your focus as a freelance writer, especially for someone like myself who is scrolling up and down Elance all day :/

  29. says

    My developer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP.
    I have always disliked the idea because of the costs.
    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on a number of websites for about a year and am concerned about
    switching to another platform. I have heard good things about blogengine.net.
    Is there a way I can import all my wordpress posts into it?
    Any help would be really appreciated!

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