As a freelancer, you’re first and foremost a business owner. You may not be a SaaS company trying to scale to 100,000 users, but you are focused on growing your business and developing a healthy pipeline of clients in order to avoid the feast or famine dilemma.

As startup run by a team of freelancers, we thought we might be able to help. Below, we’ve adapted different tactics and strategies used in the lean startup methodology for growing your freelance career quickly and effectively.

1) Be lean

If you’ve worked for a startup or follow them closely, you’re likely familiar with the term burn rate: the rate at which you’re spending cash in the bank. One of the common goals among startups is to maximize output from minimal input, therefore keeping burn rate low. In other words, getting a lot done without spending a lot of money.

This is one of the many reasons startups are increasingly turning to freelancers for help with marketing, growth, community, content and more. They engage expert freelancers on a short- or long-term basis to reach goals, rather than splurging on an in-house generalist who may be doing a job that doesn’t have enough impact.

For a freelancer, this means optimizing to get a job done within budget and time constraints. There are a ton of free and inexpensive tools out there for freelancers to leverage for everything from accounting and client management, to time tracking and social media sharing. You don’t have to spend a lot on tools to automate your workflow.

The same goes for office space. If you’re someone who can’t work from home, there are options such as Breather, LiquidSpace, Share Desk and more with affordable alternative workplace options.

2) Be agile

You might have heard about the Agile Manifesto in relation to software development but have you thought about applying it to your freelance work? Being agile means moving quickly, in short iterations and in a position to change things at any given time. We’ve all seen it happen. A company develops a feature and releases it into the world to only then realize it doesn’t solve a problem their customers face, and as a result, no one uses or purchases it.

That’s why startups are agile. You don’t build out a new, robust feature you think your customers want, then cut the proverbial red ribbon, expecting everyone to go gaga over it. Instead, you talk to your customers about their needs first, develop a lightweight prototype without investing too much time into it, then test it with a focus group or ambassadors. That way, you can make tweaks and changes towards a product or feature your customers will actually use.

Freelancers can approach their work in the same way. After agreeing on a project or campaign with a client, start with an outline or a basic version of what you plan to produce, then share it with them for feedback. Jump on a call and have them walk you through likes and dislikes and share general feedback.

From there, you can iterate on what you’ve already produced and tweak it to match their expectations and goals. This approach will save you a whole lot of wasted time, heartbreak and potentially, a client relationship.

3) Automate your workflow

The beauty of technology is that it makes your life easier. There are so many small tasks that you do every day that take up 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there that could easily be automated into your workflow. This of course depends on what your tasks are, but here are some tools and integrations that can freelance marketers specifically save time:

  • Buffer for easily scheduling social media posts in bulk
  • Mention <> Slack integration (with Zapier) for easily monitoring what people are saying about your clients or for relevant press/PR opportunities
  • Timely/Harvest <> CloudPeeps for time tracking and invoicing clients
  • IFTTT for pretty much any combination of activities you can think of, including schedule recurring Trello cards,  catalogue important emails, and more
  • Peep Lauren Jewell uses IFTTT to pull new posts from a sister site into Pocket for easy vetting. You can also automatically import favored tweets or Facebook posts into Pocket
  • Zapier is great for streamlining tasks by connecting the tools you use every day. Build your client list and kick off your client process by creating a client onboarding questionnaire (using Google Forms or another form tool) with fields for contact details, project details, goals, preferences, etc., then zap the data over to your CRM, email marketing subscriber list, project management platform or billing system.

4) Be data-driven… with the right numbers

Startups are known for being data-driven, meaning that their teams are constantly monitoring how every action they take is directly linked to a result. The result (or metric) being measured is often revenue, but could also be user registrations, user growth, churn, audience growth (social, email), referrals, etc.

The idea here isn’t to measure Twitter followers in order to look legit (that’s a vanity metric), but rather to measure how many people are clicking through to the site from Twitter, signing up for a trial, and eventually converting into a customer. Being data-driven means measuring the Twitter followers that are having an impact on the business. Startups are focused on numbers, but the right numbers that drive their business value.

Let’s be real for a minute here… as a freelance marketer, certain vanity metrics such as Twitter followers matter if a client is hiring you to grow their Twitter presence. That said, what you’ve accomplished for past clients matters a whole lot more.

When presenting yourself for a potential job, lead with metrics and results, but lead with the ones that tell the most impactful and relevant story. How have you impacted the bottom line for clients in the past? What big milestones have you hit that are relevant to the job at hand? Lead with those.

5) Get an advisor

In addition to investors, startups often have advisors who get a small piece of equity (stake) in the company in return for providing advice and guidance on specific topics. They play an important role in supporting the founders, especially if it’s their first company.

While you’re not a company and wouldn’t offer an advisor options – you can find an amazing mentor to act as your freelance career advisor. Look for someone who has successfully built a freelance career in the same or similar field to turn to for advice on things such as business development, client issues, how to set up your business and other legal issues.

You’ll be surprised how willing fellow freelancers are to help. We’ve all been there and know how intimidating it can be to start your own business. It’s incredibly comforting knowing that someone is in your corner. We’ve seen this in the CloudPeeps community. Peeps often help guide each other through issues and ideas because they want to see each other be successful. It’s pretty amazing to watch.

That’s it!

Of course there’s a whole lot more to lean startup methodology, especially when developing products. However, these are the basic principles that will help you build a focused and growing career working with clients you want to work with. Have a question? Leave it in the comment section below.