The Business of Freelancing

The business of freelancing is hard work. I recently presented on this topic to my peers.

This afternoon, I gave a presentation titled “Taking Care of Business – Tools and Tech for Running your Freelance Business” at the annual 2012 Freelance Conference. The crowd was great and asked some incisive questions. Freelancing is a tough gig and I’d never have made a success of it without taking what others shared with me. this was a chance for me to give something to my freelancing comrades.

Once of the challenges of such a talk – I only had 45 minutes including question time – is to cover such a broad topic and do each part justice. I’m hoping to organise a longer version – perhaps a half or full day seminar on the business of freelancing – in the near future. If you’re interested let me know.

However, here’s my slide deck from today. Naturally, it’s not the same when you just look at the slides without the rest of my presentation. I’ve added a couple of extra slides here to add some extra information.

Five Time Management Basics

Development of time management skills is a key to freelance success.

20110508-223655.jpgI’ve been freelancing full-time for almost a year. Prior to that, I was working in an office job and fitting freelancing in around that work. By necessity, my time was tightly managed. However, when I went 100% freelance, my diary was far more flexible. That meant I had to develop a new level of discipline with time management.

Here are the five things I do to manage my time.

1. Workflow management

I’ve been using a self-developed workflow system using a program called Bento on my Mac. The neat thing is the system can be synchronized to my iPad and iPhone easily so I can record ideas, pitches, commissioned work, work in progress and submitted work.

Without this system, I’d lose track of my work as in a typical week I’d have several deadlines on the go at any one time.

2. My whiteboard

I have a small whiteboard (900 x 450mm) on my wall that lists the week’s deadlines, to do items (such as bills and invoices) and other stuff I need to keep track of. It’s a low-tech solution but it works to keep my focussed each day.

3. Set daily goals

Each work day I set targets. The nature of the targets varies depending on where I am in my work cycle. Sometimes it’s to conduct a certain number of interviews or write a number of words or submit a number of stories.

Daily goals are important. By setting small, achievable targets that are linked to deadlines and budgets it makes the somewhat daunting tasks of hitting monthly or annual earning goals mo achievable.

4. Mix it up

I know my personality pretty well and know that I need to vary my work otherwise I lose focus. So, I try not to fill consecutive days with the same work. If I have a full day of writing, I make sure my next day involves something different.

If it’s not practical because of pending deadlines then I try to introduce some diversity by planning work for different clients. If I have a day of writing about consumer tech, I make the next day about enterprise or management. That gets my brain working in different ways.

5. Schedule some fun

In order to get the most out of my work time I always slow for some social time during the work day. If I was in a 9 to 5 office I’d occasionally grab a coffee with a friend or chat in the lunch room. There’s no reason that has to stop just because I’m self-employed.

Each week, I plan to catch up with a couple of friends on the phone and go out for lunch with my wife. While those activities can cut into work time, they actually help me be more productive by keeping my brain fresh.

So, what do you do to get the most from your time?

The 7-step guide to using social media for small business owners

Social media can be an immensely useful tool for small businesses. Here’s our 7-step guide to getting the most from social media for your business.

This guest post is by Phoebe Netto, the Managing Director of Good Business Consulting, a marketing and public relations consultancy for small-to-medium businesses. Phoebe has a background in public relations and marketing, and takes these skills that are often reserved for big businesses with big budgets, and uses them to help good small businesses grow and meet their objectives. Visit www.goodbusiness.net.au (be sure to sign up for the Good Business Consulting newsletter and check out the blog while you’re there) or follow her on Twitter at @Phoebe_Netto

In marketing yourself and your business, you should aim to be at every watering hole where your ideal clients congregate. After all, if people do not know that you exist and what you can offer, how else will they become clients? For many of you, one of those waterholes will include social media.

Social media opens up a whole new audience to you, provides a means to make new connections, and gives you the tools to introduce yourself and your services in a subtle way to your ideal clients.

It allows you to extend the reach of your thought leadership and gives you the opportunity to share examples of your work and testimonials. Social media can also provide you with a constant flow of advice, ideas, and links to resources that are focused on your area of expertise or interest.

Regardless of what social media platform you decide to use, there are universal principles or golden rules that you must adhere to. You will notice that these rules are not much different to society’s rules for social engagement offline.

1.        Do things on purpose

If you are on twitter, know why you are on twitter and let your tweets reflect your purpose. The same rule applies for every social media platform. For example, I help small-to-medium businesses and sole operators grow with marketing and public relations. I need to ensure that the majority of my tweets on twitter are about small business, marketing and public relations. My twitter followers should know what to expect of my twitter content.

One of the mistakes that many small businesses and sole operators make when using social media is that they do not choose the right platform. This results in busy activity rather than productivity. Only focus on social media platforms that are a gathering place for your unique target group.

For example, young pet owners would be more inclined to interact with you on facebook than on LinkedIn. If you are a freelance journalist, twitter would be best as there are countless editors to interact with there and you can share links to examples of your work.

2.        It’s called SOCIAL media for a reason

Always remember that social media is not a foreign land speaking in another language. It is real life with real people, real relationships and real conversations.

This is why many of the same social etiquette principles that we value and operate by in business and in life, also apply to social media.

3.        It is better to give than to receive

In my business there are a couple of principles that lead to successful marketing and public relations. In media relations if you give others (journalists, editors and the publication’s readers) what they want, you will get what you want. For example, if I help a journalist by giving them a great piece of news or a well-written bylined article, I will get what I want which is great coverage for my client.

Similarly, marketing is most successful when it is focused on meeting needs and making life easier and more pleasant for others. When a small business addresses the deepest concerns and desires of both its clients and potential clients, and makes them feel special, they will attract leads and repeat business.

When operating by the following rules, social media can deliver your message to new audiences, provide you with new connections, and act as a platform to share your expertise and thought-leadership:

4.        No yelling in the hallway (or on social media)

Would you ever walk into a room full of strangers and announce, “I can take your business to the next level at half the price”? No? Didn’t think so. So don’t do it on social media.

If you notice that someone on your social media platform asks for a recommendation or complains that they can’t find a good provider of a certain product or service, then sure – feel free to suggest a solution or offer to discuss offline with them. You might even land a nice piece of new business. The point is to be helpful, with brings me to my next point.

5.        Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you

Use social media to share, give value, help others, provide helpful information, collaborate, and create a reason for people to want to know more about you and what you do.

You can give value and at the same time promote your business by sharing links to your blog, provide thought leadership, expertise and helpful advice. This shows that you are passionate about your industry area and gives people a non-confrontational and subtle way to experience your knowledge.

Make sure you also share other people’s blog posts, links to useful website, spread great social media content (such as tweets) from others, and promote other businesses (if worthy of promotion). Remember, it’s not all about you!

6.        You have two ears and only one mouth for a reason

My mother always used to tell me this and she was right (as usual). Social media is not a forum for monologues. Those who do not interact or listen to what others are saying on social media will eventually find themselves very lonely (offline and online).

Worthless tweets and overactive robots cause more harm than good.

Instead interact with others by asking questions, offering advice and responding to other people’s online questions.

7.       All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Show your personality. People do business with people, not companies. So make sure show your personality so people can feel a connection.

Be sincere. You can’t fake relationships – even on social media. Put a smile on the faces of those who follow you.

These principles are also golden rules of social media. Zig Ziglar summarised it by saying, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” When you follow these principles you are well on your way to building important connections with your ideal clients.

Social media is one of the greatest tools available to small-to-medium businesses and sole operators. You can communicate directly with your ideal clients without going through a ‘middle-man’ such as a journalist, advertisement or website.

6 tips for freelancing on the side

Many freelancers have to balance their independent employment witha fulltime job. Here are 6 tips for balancing a full time job with freelancing.

Moonlighting is a way to move from fulltime to freelance

Many freelancers  don’t just wake up one morning and decide to be self-employed. Many, like me,  work in another job, building the contacts, confidence and cash reserves required to step out and go solo. However, doing so can be a little risky if you need to balance a full-time job with your new freelance career.

Here are 6 tips for making the leap from employed to self-employed.

1. Be honest – you’ll get caught anyway

Let’s face it, it’s impossible to do two jobs properly if you have to do one of them in hiding. When I started freelancing I spoke to my boss and we came to an agreement. That way, when my byline started appearing it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Make sure you keep a paper or email trail so that if there’s a change in management you can keep freelancing on the basis of the agreement.

2. Don’t let the universes collide

If you’re going to start working for yourself, register a domain and set up an account with Google Apps or some email provider. That will accomplish two things. It’ll make you look more professional with your new clients (using a Gmail or Hotmail account makes you, in my view, look like an amateur) and ensure that you don’t use your employer’s email system for personal messages.

While you’re at it – get a separate mobile phone account so that you can’t be accused of using the business phone inappropriately. If the budget is tight, you can buy unlocked handsets for less than $50 and then get a pre-paid account so that you can receive calls.

3. Be sneaky

OK – so this might sound a little dodgy but you’re going to have to sneak off from time to time. I suggest making sure you use your full lunch break every day – whether you need it or not. That way, when you need to head out for a meeting or make a non-employer related call being out of the office won’t stand out as much.

4. Keep doing your day job well

All the preparation in the world will come to nothing if you mess up your full-time job. Managing the balance is hard but if you miss on an expected bonus or, worse still, get canned you’ll need to go hungry

5. Manage the transition

If your plan is to leave your fulltime job and go 100% freelance you’ll need to plan. Set some targets so that you know how the transition will work. If you can, try to have enough money in the bank so that you can survive for between three and six months after leaving fulltime employment.

You’ll also need to ramp up your freelance work in the lead up to the transition so that you can hit the ground running on Day 1 of your freelance life. That will mean careful time management so that you manage both jobs.

6. Leave on good terms

You never know what will happen in the future. Make sure that your departure from your fulltime employer is on good terms.

5 tips for getting paid

The thrill of the job is great, but getting paid is what it’s all about

Manage your dollars

The thrill of the first job as a freelancer wears off pretty quickly if you’re not paid. In fact, all of the benefits of self-employment diminish when cashflow is slow or non-existent. Here are 5 tips for getting paid.

1. Don’t work for nothing – no matter what

Giving freebies isn’t a path to financial independence. When you work for free (volunteer, charitable work is the obvious exception), you’re telling the world what the value of your work is. Set a rate, agree woth the client and invoice promptly.

2. Value your work

When you work for a low rate, like the $25 per story things you see on many job boards these days, your resigning yourself to a life of hard labour, frustration and poverty. When you take a job for low pay you’re telling the client that’s what your work is worth.

3. Make sure the client knows you’re getting paid

Even if the client is a friend, make sure that they know you’re not working for free. It’s better to be frank and open about the pay rate and timing than to get into a nasty argument later.

4. Make your invoice crystal clear

How do you expect to be paid if the client can’t work out where to send the money? Make sure that your invoice clearly

  • shows your company name
  • the services you’ve provided and the price
  • all of the legal tax stuff you need to include. In Australian this means having the words “Tax Invoice” printed on the invoice as well as your ABN
  • payment details including bank account details, Paypal address (if you use it), due date and contact details in case there’s a problem

5. Ask and ye shall receive

Surely you don’t expect the money to magically appear in your account on the due date every time. It might not be easy but get used to asking to be paid when the due date passes. That means keeping good records, setting reminders and learning how to be firm but polite.

A bonus tip

If you still find you have a client that refuses to pay either through neglect or because they hope you’ll forget then have an escalation process in mind. Mine is to use my union. They have a debt collection service that I can use for no extra charge or commission.
What are your tips for getting paid in full and on time? Do you use a discounting system or some sort of incentive? Is there some trick you’ve found works for you?