Freelancing
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Apr 15, 2016

4 ways freelance designers can create ongoing revenue

Find out how you can turn completed freelance design projects into sources of recurring revenue.
If you’ve ever done freelance design work, you know that the majority of the work seems to come after the project is complete.

Yup. After. And all too often, that post-launch work gets done ... for free.

Why? I think it’s a mix of things, but it's mostly due to the fact that freelancers don’t create a contract that defines how to handle additional post-launch work.

This is one of the reasons we stress the value of a rock-solid design contract. Because if your design contract doesn’t cover this scenario, what do you do when, a month after launch, a client sends you an email like this:

Subject: URGENT WEBSITE ISSUE

Hi. It looks like the website isn’t working properly on some phones. We made some changes to the text on the homepage and now it looks weird. Seems like an easy fix, can you take a look?

You may have gotten emails like this. The client needs changes made to a site you finished days, weeks, or maybe months earlier that may (and often, may not) be your fault. But without a strong contract to fall back on, it’s hard to say with confidence:

“Sorry, our contractual agreement doesn’t cover any additional changes to the website that were not included in our original project scope. I’m happy to send a new proposal for these changes to happen, and can send our previous contract for reference, if needed.”

More often than not, the client’s more than happy to pay for the additional work, even if on the surface it feels like “an easy fix.”

(Aside: never hesitate to correct assumptions underlying the phrase “easy fix.” If it’s not, the client needs to know that.)

It’s much easier when you don’t have to be the bad guy—and can instead point them to your legally binding contract.

(Note: If you have clients try to pull a “could you do this just for us?”, it’s vital that you stand your ground. It’s a slippery slope to start taking on “easy fixes” for free. Pretty soon you’ll be spending hours a week doing “easy fixes” for free.)

It’s also not fair to your other clients who are willing to pay. Nor is it fair for you to sell your services for free, so unless you did create the issue (by including a bug in your code, for example), stick to your guns.

Don’t. Work. For. Free.

But there’s another important point to take note of:

There’s money to made here.

The opportunities that come after the project ends

Like icebergs, projects often hide below the surface. That’s true for both the amount of work to be done during the project and the opportunities to generate more revenue afterwards.

This always seems to come as a surprise to freelancers I talk to.

“Wait…You’re saying I can make more money after the project is complete?”

Yes. And sometimes a lot more.

Agencies large and small discovered this a long time ago.

Most of my first clients came my way because of my pricing. At first I thought this was my project-based pricing (which was way too low), but learned quickly it was my ongoing pricing that was such a bargain.

Many of my clients got bids from agencies for not only much more money, but also more ongoing maintenance and hosting fees.

Wait—”ongoing maintenance and fees”? What are those?

Well, for an agency, these make perfect sense. Employee salaries, health benefits, office costs, and more mean that an ongoing source of cash flow is crucial for any agency.

Hence, maintenance fees.

What drove me crazy was that this was normal. Companies were agreeing to pay these ongoing costs. (Granted, most clients going to an agency are much larger, and this cash isn’t necessarily burning a hole in their pocket.)

So I borrowed this method for myself, and began to think of ways that I too could provide a continuing service that would warrant ongoing, monthly payments. I wasn’t going to charge as much as these agencies were charging, but even a little would add up as I added more and more clients to my portfolio.

What I learned was that these “small fixes” can become great sources of ongoing revenue. Twenty hours of little fixes every week can impart a lot of piece of mind when it comes to recurring cashflow.

The important thing is to set these up in advance, or offer them as a package post-project. Some examples might include a retainer, hosting services, or ongoing project work.

4 ways to make more money after the project’s done

Opportunity 1: Retainer

A retainer is a great way to build a consistent revenue source while also building a long-term relationship with the client. A retainer is an agreement in which a client will pay you for a set amount of hours per week, month, or year — regardless of whether you end up working at all.

What the client is doing is paying for your guaranteed time. They may not need you all the time, but when they do, you already have a contract in place to immediately step in.

Typically I set this up with a monthly, recurring payment in exchange for which I promise to set aside a certain amount of time each week for the client.

For example, I might set up a 5 hour a week contract, paid monthly. Meaning I’d set aside 5 hours every week just to be available for the client. These hours don’t roll over: i.e., if the client doesn’t need you one week, next week still has a 5-hour cap, not 10. This helps you plan your time, and even take on multiple retainers each week

I know plenty of freelancers who have 10+ retainers at any given time — though that’s hardly standard.

I also strongly recommend setting boundaries on this in your contract. I’ve had clients try to fill these hours with things like picking up office supplies or cleaning the office. (Seriously.)

Opportunity 2: Hosting revenue

In some cases, hosting services can be more valuable to your client than what you pay for them.

For example, hosting a website with Webflow CMS on your Pro plan and adding 3 collaborators would cost you $22 a month. But some clients are more than willing to pay more (sometimes much more) than that for the ability to maintain, manage, update, and take control of their website.

This difference between hosting cost and hosting revenue can add up to a recurring revenue source that grows with each new client. That’s why we built Client Billing, which allows you to set your clients’ monthly charges (including whatever profit margin you want), and charge them directly, instead of wasting time with manual invoices—all right inside Webflow.

Opportunity 3: Set up a payment plan

I’ve only recently seen (and used) this model as a way to generate recurring revenue.

The idea’s simple: Instead of taking your full project fee up-front, work with your client to set up a plan to pay it off over time.

Why this works

Clients don’t always have the funds to pay for the project up-front. So rather than losing the business, I’ve opted for a small down payment, and a schedule for the rest.

The best thing about this model is that it can actually let you raise your rate, while also making it easier for your client to get started.

For example, instead of charging $5,000 for a project, set up a payment plan for $600/mo for 12 months. Now you not only have recurring revenue (which will come in handy during slow months), but you’ve also raised your rate by $2,200—all while making it easier for your client to get the project started.

Opportunity 4: Ongoing projects

Sometimes, creating opportunities isn’t about establishing a contract. It’s about you taking the initiative to remind clients that you’re always available for ongoing work.

Websites are living things. They’re constantly moving, changing, and evolving into something new—or should be, anyway. Whether it’s building a new landing page or strategizing a new marketing campaign, opportunities for new work with old clients abound.

Remember: No one’s better suited to update, revamp, or redesign a website than the designer/developer who created it. In other words: you.

How do you make recurring revenue?

Never forget that, just because a project ends, doesn’t mean that it’s done for good. Find ways to keep it going in a way that doesn’t become a chore, but an ongoing source of opportunity and revenue.

Have you tried any of these methods, or do you have some of your own? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to tweet at me @matvogels, or comment below.

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Mat Vogels

Mat is a web creator and evangelist at Webflow. Follow me at @matvogels.

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