Setting up your own email

Setting up your own email is easy and makes you look like a professional.

Although there are lots of free email services like Gmail, Windows Live and Yahoo!, setting up a domain name and customised email address is much easier than it sounds and can be done by anyone who has a moderate level of computer literacy. If you can follow instructions, type and use a mouse – you can set up your own email.

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How to choose a niche – balancing fun, talent and profit

Choosing a niche to exploit might feel like a black art rather than a science. Here’s how I do it.

Choosing a niche to exploit might feel like a black art rather than a science. Here’s how I do it.

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Productivity Tips for Freelancers

Your productivity is constantly under threat. There are distractions like email, phone calls, social media, friends and family dropping in (who equate working from home with always being free to drop what you’re doing and go out). How do you stay productive?

Your productivity is constantly under threat. There are distractions like email, phone calls, social media, friends and family dropping in (who equate working from home with always being free to drop what you’re doing and go out). How do you stay productive?

1. Make it clear that work hours are work hours.

Friends and family mean well but they are often your biggest productivity suckers. Tell your friends and family that although you work for yourself that you still work. Although you have more freedom to step out for an extended lunch you still need to plan. Ask friends to call or email before scheduling some socialising so that you can organise your time appropriately.

2. Manage your phones

Random phone calls while you’re in “the zone” are a massive productivity killer. Just because a phone rings there’s no reason to answer it. You have voicemail – use it! Set aside part of your day to review voicemail messages and to answer calls. The tool is a tool that you use to support your business – it’s not your master.

3. Tame your email

Email has simultaneously made it easier for us to communicate and become a noose. It’s common for people to receive hundreds of email per day. So how do you stay on top of your inbox? Start by learning how to create folders and use rules to automatically file messages. For example, I have rules in place that move all press releases out of my inbox into a specific folder. That makes them easier to find later and reduces the clutter. And like your phone, set aside time to deal with email each day – resist the urge to read and deal with each email as it arrives.

4. (Anti)Social Media

Social media can be a a very useful tool but also a vampire that can suck the productivity out of your working day. If you use tools like Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook for research and contacts make sure you quarantine the times you use it and stay task focussed.

5. Breaks, not Broken

When you plan your day out, allow for breaks. Short rest breaks aid productivity by keeping your brain fresh. Systems like the Pomodoro Technique suggest working for 20 minutes and then taking five minutes. Every four of five intervals, take a longer break of 10-15 minutes. There are plenty of programs you can run on your computer that sound an alarm or show an alert at a fixed interview. And don’t forget to take a proper lunch break. I also like a coffee break mid morning and usually head out in the afternoon for the school run.

The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a short description of what you do that can be delivered to a stranger who knows nothing about you or what you do in in the time you share an elevator ride.

A while ago I described my elevator pitch – short description of what I do that can be delivered to a stranger. It assumes that they know nothing about me or what I do and can be shared in the time we share an elevator ride.

The folks over at Freelance Switch have developed a useful guide on creating an elevator pitch that’s worth a look.

They offer several tips but this is the big one in our view.

Once you’ve put something together, practice it. The trick with an elevator pitch is that while it’s planned, it needs to sound spontaneous; not robotic. Practice this by saying your pitch while your in the car or shower, making sure the words are natural and it’s easy to remember.

We’d also suggest trying it out loud in front of a mirror and then running it past a family member or friend who doesn’t understand exactly what you do.

Having a couple of different versions is also handy. I think a long version that lasts about a minute and a one or two sentence “highlights” version work well. For example, my short version says that I am a professional communicator that helps people tell their story. If that piques the listener’s interest (it usually does – who doesn’t like a story teller?) I can go with the longer version.

A solid elevator pitch needs to be memorable without being ridiculous. You want potential customers to remember you for what you do and stand for, not just because you were funny. And make sure you back up the pitch with a business card that tells people what you do and not just who you are. Consider it your paper-based elevator pitch.

Ten basic accounting terms you need to know

Accounting and business, like any discipline has its own language and jargon. Here are ten key terms you need to understand for your business.

Accounting and business, like any discipline have their own language and jargon. If you don’t speak the language it’s hard to communicate with other professionals.

When I started working I came from a science and teaching background so accounting was not my strong suit. I had to work at it by asking questions, talking to the accounting staff and getting them to walk me through reports, volunteering to be on local committees where there was a need to read balance sheets and financial reports and buying second-hand accounting textbooks and reading them.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, take the time to learn a little bit about accounting. You don’t need to enrol at a university and get a degree but you do need to get your head around some basic terms and practices. My local council offers short courses for small business operators so that can be a good place to look as well.

Whichever approach you take, make sure that it’s in your personal development plan. Remember, if you don’t write it down, it won’t happen.

Here are ten key terms you need to understand for your business so that you can work with your financial advisor or accountant.

Accounting is a critical part of your business and all of these are important as they have implications for the day to day operation of your business as well as ensuring that you keep up with your legal obligations. I’ve avoided anything to do with tax as this will vary widely depending on where your business is based. I’ve also left out anything to do with salaries and payroll for the same reason.

Accounting Terms You Need To Know

TermDefinition
DebtorA person or company that owes you money.
RevenueA person or company that you own money to.
RevenueThe amount of money that comes into your business before any expenses are taken out.
Cash-flowThe movement of money in and out of your business. If cash-flow is positive the amount of money coming out of your business exceeds the amount of money going out to cover expenses, salaries and other costs.
Profit/lossThe amount of money remaining once you’ve paid all all your creditors and operating expenses.
AssetSomething tangible that is of value to your business. For example, office furnishings, computers, cars and tools could be assets for your business.
LiabilityAn amount of money that you pay to a creditor.
Capital ExpenseThe purchase of an item of relatively high value that you will keep in the business for an extended period of time. The precise definition of the value and period will vary depending on the nature of the asset and local laws. A typical rule of thumb is that the asset is valued at over $1000 and is kept for three or more years.
Operating ExpenseA recurring expense, like a monthly bill, or an item that falls under the financial value of a capital expense.
Balance SheetA statement that shows the assets, liabilities, and capital that your business holds at a specific point in time that details the balance of income and expenditure over the preceding period.