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…
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?
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.
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!