Lack of predictable income is the #1 worry among freelancers. Life as a freelancer or independent consultant has its perks. But being independent comes at the price of not getting a regular paycheck. Here are five ways to create worry-free predictable income.
Life is tough. As a freelancer or a small agency, you’re on your own. It’s your job to get out there and bring home tonight’s dinner. That means freedom but also a lot of responsibility. It’s a responsibility that may be welcome at times but at others times plain terrifying.
In a survey by Upwork in 2017, need for “predictable income” was quoted as the main reason why more people didn’t consider freelancing more. Luckily there are ways you can create predictable income. Below are five ideas for a more frequent and regular “ka-ching!”
Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links that earn us a small commission.
Retainers Let You Charge For More Than Just Your Time and Earn Predictable Income
The retainer business model is ages old and has traditionally been popular with lawyers. When someone in a movie says “Call my lawyer!” they’re probably referring to the attorney they have on retainer for such situations.
The basic idea of a retainer is that your client pays you in advance to reserve time or availability for them when they need it. Retainers are usually paid monthly or quarterly. The beauty of a retainer is that by signing up your clients for long retainers, you can count on the retainer fee as predictable income. When you project your earnings for the next year, your retainers are a given. That’s quite a relief in a business where people often lives from paycheck to paycheck.
Many clients love retainers since they provide predictability and make their lives easier. However, you will need to build up client trust first.
Retainers Are Not About Prepaid Time
Many who set up retainers make the mistake of thinking of it as prepaid time. They simply estimate how much time the client will need per month, multiply it by their hourly rate and deduct a “volume discount.”
Retainers can be so much more than that!
While pricing a retainer by the hour might seem logical, it’s an outside-in way of looking at a retainer. For the client, retainers are about predictability. By having a trusted consultant on call, ready to help, they reduce the risk of interruptions and uncertainty. You help prevent headaches and stress. You’re now part of the invaluable grease that keeps their business running.
If you think about this, you realize that the real value your retainer gives the client is peace of mind. You should design and price your retainer accordingly. That’s why I recommend charging a fixed price, remove mentioning of hours but instead specify what kind of work that can be done. If you want to set limits, reduce it to the number of issues or requests you serve. You can also include a fair use clause to avoid being taken advantage of. I also recommend pricing retainers in tiers. That said, retainers aren’t “passive income” and require constant work and attention to the client.
Here are some ways you can use retainers:
Web Design Retainers
- Keeping blogs and websites up to date with security patches.
- Making changes of small to moderate size. I recommend breaking off larger changes into spin-off projects.
- Offering insights and strategic advice.
- Help produce, write and edit content.
- Producing a set number of posts or articles per month.
- Providing editing for a set number of articles (assuming fair use).
- Specialize in writing headlines.
- Writing tweets and Facebook updates.
- Managing and updating the client’s social media accounts.
- Produce posts and updates.
- Coordinate with guest post authors and contributors.
- Help the client create and execute on a marketing strategy.
- Keep an eye on competitors and offer tactical and strategic advice.
Coaching and Mentoring Retainers
- Being available bounce or offer insights on ideas.
- Converse with the client during regular or weekly conference calls.
- Offering feedback and opinion on documents or reports.
Training or Teaching Retainers
- Teaching a language, an instrument or another skill.
- Provide an education plan and send out assignments.
- Meet with the student every week over video call for one-on-one teaching.
To learn more about retainers, check out our in-depth article on retainers, recurring revenue and MRR!
Package and Sell Your Knowledge With Web Courses
Online learning is a fast-growing field. “Edutech” has caught on with entrepreneurs and startups and the number of learning sources is exploding.
The beauty of this development is that not only can anyone learn, almost anyone can be a teacher. Provided you know something you can teach and have the teaching skills, you can create your own course and earn predictable income.
Producing a course is a large investment in time and energy, but not so much in money. The equipment isn’t particularly expensive and comprises of a laptop, a good webcam, a good mic, video capture, and presentation software. Once the course is done and available for purchase, it will generate revenue. Not only that, but it will also help market you to a larger audience as an authority in the field.
I’ve taken many courses online. In my experience, what sets a good course apart from a bad one is the planning. Great online teachers have a teaching strategy and know their students’ needs.
Online courses aren’t fire-and-forget so your predictable income will require some maintenance. You will need to be available to answer questions and course materials will require updating. Expect to spend a few hours every week managing your course catalog. Especially in the field of software and programming where things change fast.
Tips for Creating E-Learning Web Courses
- Plan for low maintenance: If you decide to create a course, I recommend investing your time in teaching something that doesn’t require updating and constant student support.
- Do market research: Make a list of your interests and topics you know a lot about and like talking about. Then estimate the interest using Google Trends and by looking at questions asked at sites like Quora and Reddit. Don’t underestimate the size of the non-English speaking e-learning markets.
- Structure: Create personas for students based on what you’ve found out and conversations with potential learners. Design your course around the questions they have.
- Keep it bite-size: Keep video lectures short and about a single point. Imagine someone taking the course over several weeks while sitting on the bus or metro.
Some of the websites where you can create, upload and sell your courses are Udemy, Lynda and Pluralsight.
Sell Your Ideas and Make a Name for Yourself Through Self-Publishing and Earn Predictable Income
If you enjoy writing, self-publishing might be for you. Thanks to e-books and e-readers, publishing no longer requires a deal with a large book publisher. You can write, edit, market and sell your book from your laptop. Once written, published and marketed, your books will produce predictable income at a steady trickle.
As a result of the improved access to readers and removal of filters such as editors and publisher marketing departments, more voices can be heard. But the same filters also were also guardians of quality. As a result, many self-published titles are of low quality. Why an important factor for success is a commitment to quality.
If you decide to go this route, start by picking up a book or two (or taking an online course) about writing. There’s plenty of knowledge out there about self-publishing. Secondly, if you can afford it, spend money and hire a professional freelance editor.
Writing a book might seem like a daunting prospect if starting from scratch. What many forget is that they probably already have a lot of raw material in the form of blog posts. Before setting out on a new writing project, see what you can do with your existing blog content. Are there themes or topics that can form the backbone of a book?
E-Books Are Not Just About Selling Copies
The purpose of an e-book isn’t necessarily to sell copies. Few writers recover the value of the time spent in sales. Books are however an excellent way to make a name for yourself. Done right, a book can bring not only a predictable income but also more work and be a fantastic source of new business leads.
While writing requires discipline over a long time and considerable planning, it’s work that will help develop your own thinking. When writing about your ideas you need to actively reflect over them and truly understand them.
Writing a book is easier with a good outline along with word count targets to work from. I recommend investing in writing software such as Scrivener which help you write your book based on your outline (Word is terrible for writing books). To avoid heartbreak, I recommend using Dropbox, Apple iCloud or Backblaze to keep your work backed up and safe. Finally, to sell your work you can use Leanpub which has an innovative pricing model which lets you allow readers to set the price.
Earn Commission Fees Through Affiliate Programs
If you already have a blog with a niche of readers, chances are high you can monetize it. A common way to do that is affiliate programs. By referring visitors to sites that sell things to them, you get a commission. The commission fee is usually a percentage of the sales price of products you’ve referred the visitor to and pays out without any involvement on your part, save for the initial linking. It’s an easy form of predictable income.
Be aware that fee structures can be complex and vary in size. My impression is that commissions fees have decreased as sales volumes have gone up. Fees used to be pretty big back in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Amazon’s affiliate program originally paid 15% of the sales price of a book in commission.
The risk with affiliate programs is being seen as “selling out”. To counter that, many bloggers are being totally transparent about their affiliate links. I recommend you do the same, just like I did at the beginning of this post. It’s also wise to research the sites you refer visitors and make sure they’re business you want to be associated with.
Affiliate links can be a great way to capitalize on the traffic your blog generates and turning it into a predictable income. Just litmus test your affiliate programs with “does this help my readers and make the world better?”
Let Your Old Photos Work For You to Generate Predictable Income
Your phone or old backup drive might be a goldmine in disguise. Many take photos as a hobby and never consider that those photos might be of value to others. As a result, many fantastic pictures sit unseen on old dusty hard drives.
Monetizing digital photos is surprisingly simple. You need to create an account with a stock photo site, upload your photos, tag them, register a bank account and then wait for the money to arrive. The work is a one-time effort. From then on it is pure coasting and very a convenient predictable income.
Find the Superhero Photos
The trick is to pick the right pictures. Some photos are the superheroes of stock photo and in massive demand. Check the top lists of stock photo sites and see if you can recognize a pattern. Upload pictures you have taken that have similar themes. Order your collection based on sellability. Start upload the pictures you believe stand the best chance to sell well.
Uploading hundreds of photos will take time. I recommend spreading it out over several months and setting time aside every week to upload a few more. It might be boring work but every picture you upload is a potential source of effort-free revenue. You’ll eventually see the royalties from all those photos being deposited on your bank account at a steady rate. What is that if not a predictable income?
While being a freelancer can be stressful, there are several ways you can create recurring and predictable income. All of them require an initial investment and discipline. But by diversifying and create multiple income streams, you will eventually have more income security than people with a regular job.
What are your recurring and predictable income streams?
Please share in the comments below.