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Tips for freelancers to cut costs and increase income

Ashley Gainer's Layout avatar

The adage that “time is money” is especially true when you’re a freelancer. After all, you only get paid for the work that you’re actually doing, and time wasted is time (and money) lost.

There are lots of easy things you can do to reduce your freelancing expenses and, in turn, boost your income. Start with these tips from The Layout, a design publication by Flywheel managed WordPress hosting.

When you are your own shop, you’re responsible for everything – your time, your finances, your marketing, and everything else. It’s important to keep a careful eye on your expenses so you can maximize that income you’re working so hard to earn.

There are some easy things you can do to reduce your freelancing expenses and, in turn, boost your income. Generally speaking, they fall into two categories: cutting costs, and using your time better. Let’s discuss!

Cancel ruthlessly (and downgrade the rest)

Take a look at all your monthly expenditures. Are you paying for memberships that you aren’t using? Cancel them. Is there a monthly service that provides something you no longer need? Out it goes.

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You can also think about downgrading. It’s easy to convince yourself that you need the absolute fastest, top-shelf internet speeds. And while that’s certainly nice to have, you can probably downgrade a few notches without losing much in service. If nothing else, it may be worth an experiment to see if pocketing the difference in monthly cost will make the slightly lower load times more palatable (we’re talking fractions of seconds here).

I’ve also been able to contact service providers to work out smaller custom packages when their advertised packages don’t work for me. For example, my current invoicing software’s smallest package offers about four times what I need in my business. When I called to see if they had any unadvertised packages for smaller businesses like mine, they offered me an option that fit my needs perfectly. It never hurts to ask!

Pay less frequently

Many services bill monthly but offer annual billing options that come with price cuts built in. If you’ve got the cash on hand and you want to do some overall cost-cutting, consider switching from monthly service fees to quarterly or annual ones. Things like video hosting and email providers often have monthly and annual packages. Similarly, you can renew domains for multiple years instead of one year at a time.

Look for free alternatives

The idea of Illustrator to come up with custom icons and Photoshop to make jaw-dropping images and InDesign for awesome page layouts could make any designer salivate (especially a boot-strapping designer). But before taking the plunge (or continuing the expensive monthly fees for something you might not need), look for alternatives. Canva is a great free alternative for a lot of image design pieces, and there are free and low-cost icon sets popping up all over the place that might save you not only money, but time.

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Pay off any debts (and get positioned for the future)

You can’t have a post about cutting costs without a section on credit card debt, and with good reason: interest and finance charges will eat away at your profits faster than you might care to admit. If you’ve got any business-related credit card debt, make it your #1 goal to pay it off as fast as you can. The sooner you can get that compound-interest monkey off your back, the more quickly you’ll be able to strengthen your bottom line. If you do nothing else, doing this will make a big difference.

Then, once your debts are paid off, keep socking away a bit more money until you build up a good reserve. I’d recommend at least $1000 for an “emergency fund” to cover surprise expenses like equipment failures, unexpected migration costs, etc. And while you’re in savings mode, start setting aside money to cover major expenses you know are coming up, like next year’s computer upgrade or the tablet you really want. By saving up now, you’re skipping on interest, fees, and finance charges later.

Attend events for free

If there’s a big event coming up and it will cost hundreds of dollars to attend, see if there are ways to get your admission covered. My favorite thing to do is present a session – many conferences waive registration fees for presenters, and you can add public speaking to your resume (which boosts your authority and looks great on your website).

You may also be able to attend an event for free by volunteering to work part of it. Check with the organizers to see if that’s an option.

Looking for some events? These conferences for web designers are sure to be inspiring. Check ’em out!

Don’t pay to work somewhere

While there’s inherent value in renting a coworking space – you get all the benefits of an office without the drawbacks – you may want to rethink your work environment if you’re setting up shop in establishments that pull your wallet open. Things like coffee shops can be a nice place to work, but the tab you rack up by the end of a full workday can eat a hole in your pocket if you aren’t careful.

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If you want to get out of the house, try looking for a community building that offers free wifi. I’ve worked in libraries, on the local college campus, and even in a (community-centric) church.

Use your time better

When you’re trying to cut expenses, it also makes sense to look at how you’re using your time. It could be that your most expensive “expense” is YOU. It seems counter-intuitive, but think about things you do that can be outsourced. You know what your hourly rate is, so take it into account when looking for tasks to pay someone else to do. These can either be things you hate doing and take forever (which drag you down and keep you from your profit-earning activities) or things that someone else can do faster and/or more cheaply than you can. If you can pay someone else $20/hr to upload files and images to WordPress so that you’re freed up to spend those hours on the design work that gets you $100/hr, you’ll come out ahead.

Final thoughts on cutting costs

Many freelancers are boot-strappers, but many of us who’ve had a degree of success — or who are used to working in-house and not having to worry about costs as much — might have blind spots when it comes to expenses. Take a fresh pair of eyes to your monthly and annual expenses, and you’ll have a good sense of where to cut (or where to focus on cost-cutting solutions). And if you get stuck, it never hurts to have a trusted friend or colleague look over the books with you and make suggestions.

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