As a freelance consultant, living project-to-project can be tough. A juicy contract could end early. A prospective client could disappear without a trace. A much-needed payment could be trapped somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of your client’s accounts payable department. Knowing you have a certain baseline of recurring income every month can go a long way toward increasing your peace of mind.
Recurring income can give your freelance business a safety net to tide you over while you’re waiting for that next big client project to land. It helps smooth out the valleys of your billing cycle and lets you plan your time more effectively for your clients.
Sounds great, right? But how do you get recurring income as a freelancer?
Some freelance specialties are more prone to recurring work than others. Wedding photography doesn’t lend itself to repeat business (hopefully) the way that social media management might. But even if your industry is known more for one-off projects than retainer agreements, there are ways to build in recurring income. Try out one of these seven strategies.
1. Become a subcontractor
Subcontracting your services to a content agency, PR firm, advertising company or creative agency is a great way to build up a pipeline of recurring projects. Dazzle them with your professionalism and communicate regularly about your availability, and you’ll quickly become one of their go-to freelancers.
Subcontracting is also a great way to get access to big-ticket clients and projects that you might not be able to land on your own when you’re first starting out.
Even if subcontracting isn’t your primary source of income, it’s nice to have in your back pocket. Ben Matthews owns his own digital marketing agency, Montfort, but still does some work as a freelance contractor for other agencies. This gives him a good mix of freelancing and consulting work to balance his finances.
Ready to start subcontracting? Get our subcontractor agreement template.
If your client has recurring needs, try to set up a retainer agreement. Retainers come in different forms (we’ll discuss a couple others a little further down), but a general purpose retainer is an easy way to start.
Put simply, your client commits to paying you a certain amount each month and you commit to providing a certain number of hours each month. This is a great way for your client to secure your services without having to worry about your availability and for you to avoid the feast and famine cycle.
This is an especially good option if your clients require regular quick turnaround on projects. They can know they’ll have your attention when they need it, and you’ll be able to build the slack into your schedule to accommodate them when they ask.
Remember, though, to clarify your parameters — such as what is considered a reasonable turnaround time and what type of work the retainer entails. Maybe you’re available at a moment’s notice and willing to take on anything, but maybe you’re not. Work with your client to develop a retainer agreement that you’re both happy with.
3. Ongoing management services
Try building in a stream of management services to give yourself some recurring revenue. Think about the types of things related to your main services that your clients often struggle to manage themselves: social media updates, blog comments, PR, marketing strategy, content strategy, project logistics, etc.
Management services are a great upsell to an existing project or as a stand-alone service. And the more you can find a way for your management services to feed into your core services and vice versa, the better. Writer Gina Horkey has built a thriving business working as both a virtual assistant and a business writer, two services she can easily cross-sell to interested clients.
4. Pitch your other services
Are you a talented videographer as well as a product photographer? Do you design infographics as well as websites?
Your clients may not be aware of the other services you offer, and you never know what other projects a client may have on the back burner. Especially when you’re working for a larger company with a lot of different needs.
As soon as you wrap up one project, try pitching your contact about the other services you offer. With luck, they (or someone in a different department) may already be searching for a freelancer who has those skills. If so, they’ll be delighted to learn that their trusted freelancer can help solve another one of their problems.
Learn more with our ultimate guide to client retention.
5. Create information products
A solid recurring income stream doesn’t have to be project or service based. Selling information products is another great way to pad your bottom line every month.
Information products are one of the ways Brennan Dunn, owner of the Double Your Freelancing blog, taps into recurring revenue. Along with creating email courses to draw in potential clients, he also develops educational tools for freelancers.
- Write an ebook
- Record a video course
- Create an email course
- Curate a subscription-based email newsletter
6. Service agreements
Do you get semi-regular calls from clients for the odd support job — like updating their WordPress site or troubleshooting their Google Adwords reports?
Try turning that into recurring income with a service agreement model, where you bill an amount each month in exchange for your help whenever they need it. This offers your clients peace of mind that they’ll always be able to call on you, and monetizes all those random snips of time you spend answering client questions pro bono.
Service agreements work especially well as an add-on to an initial project. Think of it like buying the extended service plan when you purchase electronics.
7. “Pay for access” consulting
Another way to turn your expertise into recurring income is by offering a “pay for access” consulting retainer, where you make yourself available to talk clients through strategy whenever they need. Generally, this model flows out of a completed project, when there’s already trust between you and your client, and they’ve already seen the results you provide.
This model is especially effective if you’re in a rapidly changing industry, and your clients may not have time to keep up with trends.
Looking for consulting gigs? Try these independent consulting job marketplaces.
Taking the hassle out of billing for recurring income
One last note: If you’re setting up a recurring income model with a client, insist that your client set up automated monthly payments. Your invoicing software will probably support sending regular monthly payments. But, even better, ask your client to set up a direct debit payment.
You don’t want to spend time chasing clients for late payments, and they don’t want to miss out on the benefit of your services if their check gets lost in the mail.
Is recurring income part of your freelance business model? Let us know how it works in the comments.
Jessie Kwak author bio
Jessie Kwak is a freelance writer and novelist living in Portland, Oregon. She writes for B2B brands in educational technology, SaaS and related industries. You can learn more about her work at www.jlkwak.com.