Discover How To Earn Over $100K As A Freelance Instructional Designer
The perks of freelance are exciting. The freedom of when, where, and how much to work. A variety of projects. Earning money based on skills and the quality of your work. And the pay is much higher, especially for skilled Instructional Designers who don’t have years of experience. But getting up to six figures is still not a simple task. In this article, you’ll find some tips that will point you in the right direction.
Tip #1: Take Many More Standard Projects
If you want to earn more money, you need to work more, right? Well, not exactly. You actually need to land more projects—and this doesn’t necessarily mean working harder.
Usually, Instructional Designers have one “main” project that takes most of their time and 3–4 relatively simple standard projects, like onboarding programs, product training, content updates, or individual pieces. The main project takes months, and side projects can take only a week or two. So, while you can’t take on several main projects to realize greater profit (you’ll burn out), you can increase the number of side projects. These side projects are 90% of the training content your clients need, and they take only 10% of your time when your workflow is streamlined.
Creating such courses with complex Instructional Design tools can be a headache. They’re designed purely for advanced eLearning content and thus have too many features for standard projects—making you spend hours developing something simple, like a welcome course. So, you might want to add some other tools to your arsenal that are built for this task (check out this feature comparison of the most popular ID tools to know better what exactly to look for in new software).
For example, the new iSpring Suite works great for this matter. It has all sorts of templates and lets you create course presets in keeping with clients’ brand identity. You can customize a course player for a particular client once and then simply select it for further projects. It saves you lots of time and energy, so you can take multiple similar projects without overworking and burning out.
This will also make your connection with clients stronger and more stable, as they see how you are able to provide them with both advanced and basic pro-level courses, they’ll have no reason to look for other ID services and will assign all of their projects to you.
Tip #2: Pivot Away From Hourly Pricing
Or don’t. What you need to figure out is which pricing is the most beneficial for you. Hourly pricing is great for beginners, as they work slowly. So, if you’re a novice and want to become an Instructional Designer or take on a project in a new field (and thus will have to spend more time on research, etc.), you can bill by the hour and increase your hourly rates with time.
But, in general, hourly pricing punishes efficiency, and you need to pivot to project pricing for higher profits. For instance, let’s return to the previous tip. With presets and templates, you won’t spend many hours creating courses. And if you’re billing by the hour, it means you won’t get much money either.
Hourly pricing doesn’t reward you for your experience and skills. You complete projects fast because you know how to accelerate your workflow, not because the project is simple. Some other specialists might spend twice as long to do what you accomplish. That’s why you need to charge clients for your skills and experience.
Price a project based on how much time you’ll spend on it and how much time other people would spend on it on average. Also, discuss how many reviews you’re going to allow. If a client approves your storyboard but later, when you present the final project, they ask you to rewrite your script, you should charge for this extra work. This approach will not only help you get greater profits but will also help you build a professional relationship with your clients, in which you both respect each other’s time and effort.
Tip #3: Optimize Your Yearly Expenses
The annual expenses of a freelance Instructional Designer should be around $14,000 (higher or lower depending on where you work from, what software you use, etc.). They include everything from legal costs and tools to insurance and office expenses (which can be a room in your apartment). If you spend more, you might want to analyze your expenses and see if they can be optimized.
Some of the most commonly optimizable expenses are:
These are the tools you need for your job, from Instructional Design software to bookkeeping applications. If they exceed $2000 in total, you might want to see whether they’re worth it. Maybe there’s a cheaper alternative, or you don’t use some application often enough to pay for it on a yearly basis. You can also check for special pricing plans for freelancers—some vendors offer them.
Optional tools help you develop your business. They include cloud storage, a library of ready-made eLearning content, an email marketing tool, a custom email domain to look more professional when communicating with clients, etc. Again, consider how valuable they are for your business and see if you can do without them. For example, some vendors offer a built-in content library and cloud storage, so you might not have to spend extra money on these tools.
The only tax freelancers pay and full-time IDs don’t is a self-employment tax of 7.65% of your income. But you should be careful with other taxes as well because when you’re working full time, the company pays them for you and you might not be aware of them.
This is actually the main reason why taxes got on this list—many people miss them and then they get a quarterly tax, which makes their life much more complicated. They have to pay lots of money to solve their tax issue, but you can avoid this if you just make everything right. Lay 30% of your income aside for quarterly taxes, and go through all legal things with an accountant to make the best working tax plan for your case.
You can also have an attorney draft a contract template for you—this will guarantee you’ll not get in a situation where your client doesn’t pay you a full amount (extra services such as a second round of reviews or extra hours) or at all.
Tip #4: Produce Content That Shows Your Expertise
In other words, go blogging. The Instructional Design market has become very competitive, and this might be only the beginning of a long-term trend. If you want to land high-paying projects, you need to stand out from other candidates. Showing your expertise in blogs, YouTube videos, or podcasts is a great way to do this.
It can also bring you new clients. They might read your posts, like your approach, and offer a project. Above all, high-quality instructional content shows that you’re an industry leader and allows you to set your rates accordingly.
Tip #5: Forget Upwork And Other Freelance Platforms
Upwork—along with Fiverr, Freelancer, and other platforms—is a regular subject of discussion in ID groups. Some people like them, some don’t. But if we’re talking about a six-figure income, having these freelance platforms as your main source of income is not a great approach.
Here are only a few reasons why:
- You often make an offer and never hear back from a client
- You get ghosted
- You work for less than minimum wage
- Clients cut your offer in half after long discussions and pick someone else in the end
- Upwork fees are disastrous: 20% off $500 earnings, 10% off $500-$10,000, and 5% off $10,000+ for each client
But if you’re starting out and really want to use Upwork or you want to land some extra projects there, here’s a tip: add phrases like “curriculum development” or “curriculum writer” to your searches along with “instructional design.” Lots of freelance positions like that don’t specify they’re looking for an ID, so they won’t pop up in your searches.
Tip #6: Turn To Good Old Networking Instead
The biggest gigs that’ll make you six figures aren’t on Upwork. You can land them only through self-promotion or customer referral. So, networking is vital. You build trust, and people go out of their way to support those they trust. If you’re not a fan of networking, remember that few people are—it’s an essential part of your business success, so it needs to be done.
Here are a few ways you can network:
- Join LinkedIn, Reddit, and other social media groups to connect with colleagues and clients
- Go to eLearning conferences like DevLearn, Learning Solutions Conference, Canadian eLearning Conference (yes, some of them are expensive, but they eventually pay off)
- Join volunteer projects to meet like-minded people and build connections with them
Another key element of your six-figure success is interest level—if someone sees how passionate you are about a particular project, they get excited to collaborate with you on future projects. So, try to pick projects you’re really interested in, not only those that pay a lot. Feel free to ask current clients for more work—even if they don’t have projects for you, they might introduce you to someone who does.
It Always Takes Time
Over $100,000 is a really high level, and there’s no magical tip that will get you there right away. You have to work your way up, but hopefully, the tips mentioned in this article will help you go in the right direction from the start and get there faster. So, keep working, develop your skills, perfect your Instructional Design portfolio, and…break a leg!