Articles - 18th September 2020

How to boost your freelance revenue with subscriptions

Words by Tal Imagor
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Every freelancer knows that after you’ve finished a project and got paid, no matter how exciting that project was, it’s time to find something new to fill that gap, right? Not necessarily.

Emma Cossey has been a freelancer for over 10 years and founded the Freelance Business Lounge, a monthly subscription for freelancer resources. “I also have coaching clients and a couple of social media clients,” Cossey says, “and at this point, the membership makes up about 30% of my income.”

Diversifying your income is not a new way of thinking. You’ve probably heard this advice before, as a way to help you through months where work dries out. However, with Cossey’s module, which includes a form of subscription service, it’s easier to know how much money you’ll be making each month, to make sure your basic needs are covered. Moreover, you can rescale without working around the clock. “I needed to be smarter with my time,” Cossey explains, “especially after I had my little boy and wasn’t able to do some of the more lucrative training jobs.”

 

Why would people pay for a membership?

To start offering services that require a monthly membership, it requires a shift in the way you think. Instead of trying to solve one problem, such as building a website, creating blog posts, or performing an SEO audit — you need to think of the long term benefits and education you can provide.

“Learn the pain points of your project clients.” Dom O’Neill, the Founder Vlogify advises. “Create subscription products based on solutions to their pain point. Use content to educate your audience of the solutions you have and why it’s better value for them to do business with you on a monthly subscription basis rather than as a one-off.”

O’Neill explains the catalyst for starting his subscription service. “I lost 60% of my income in 2017 when I lost a major contract with a large broadcaster,” he recalls. “At the time, LinkedIn just started to allow posting videos, so I made videos about content, filming and vlogging. The videos were popular and local business people started asking me how they could make videos like mine for themselves. That’s where I had the idea of monthly vlogging / social media strategy coaching.”

 

What are your options?

The key to a successful membership service is to provide ongoing value, and there are several ways you can create that:

1. Library of resources

When working with individual clients, you may create presentations for them, write emails, train their team, etc. These are services that you can offer each client individually, or, if you’ve done this long enough, you can teach a group of clients how to do it themselves with guides and templates.

This is a big part of Cossey’s offer, where freelancers can access “courses, email templates and expert interviews, plus twice-weekly group calls to drop in for. We also have a private Facebook group where virtual co-working sessions and questions often pop up.”

2. Training

“I also offer a more relaxed form of coaching,” Cossey continues, “done through voice notes and text, which acts as accountability and support for my clients.” The training adds an appeal to the resources library, as it creates a relationship with the client. O’Neill’s whole service is built on that relationship. “I’ve worked with clients from Scotland to Australia, the USA to Spain. All remote via Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom,” he shares.

When it comes to lasting value, training is the obvious solution. Most businesses owners, especially startups and SMEs, would rather understand a certain topic (such as marketing or SEO) than just trust someone blindly to do it for them. In addition, training allows for the client to stay up to date with the latest technology developments and always have an expert to turn to when they need one.

3. Newsletter

Don’t be fooled by the number of free newsletters going into your spam inbox, as paid membership newsletters do work, and work well. “My paid subscribers at Kitchen Witch receive access to bonus content,” Jennifer Billock explains. “Four full issues of the newsletter a week instead of just one, the ability to like and comment on posts, and the ability to participate in discussion boards.”

The key, once again, is to create a relationship with your subscribers, a community, and provide them with content they won’t be able to get anywhere else. “This newsletter reminds me I’m filling a hole for my readers, which is always important and makes you feel good to know I’m delivering content someone wants,” says Billock. On top of that good feeling, that also ensures the reader will be coming back for more.

 

When and how to get started?

These three suggestions for subscription services are just the tip of the iceberg. Other services you could offer are ongoing management, on-call consulting, and regular retainer for a set amount of work. Once you’ve decided on the service, it’s a matter of creating a clear proposition. “Try not to worry about what other memberships are offering,” Cossey suggests. “Keep things simple, achievable and accessible to not overwhelm people with information.”

When it comes to landing your first sign-ups, O’Neill recommends to “grow your relationship with your best project-based clients, they are the easiest to convert into subscription clients.” “Don’t expect it to explode into a success straight away,” Cossey adds. “You need to constantly work on it and really listen to your members.”

A final piece of advice from Billock is to “make the leap when you still have income coming in from other sources. Subscription-based products take a long time to become profitable unless you’re somebody famous or you have a massive built-in audience. Promoting it and gaining subscribers is a time-intensive and lengthy process.”

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