How’s your client mix?

In a superficial way, there are really only two types of clients; good and bad. But the reality is that you need a client mix. If all your clients are the same you might as well have one boss and go back to working for someone else.

In a superficial way, there are really only two types of clients; good and bad. But the reality is that you need a client mix. If all your clients are the same you might as well have one boss and go back to working for someone else.

There are lots of different ways to categorise your client mix. Here’s one way.

Meal tickets

Meal tickets are a critical part of your client mix. They are regular clients you can reasonably rely on to commission work and pay reliably every month.

They may not offer the most exciting or enjoyable work on your ticket but it’s regular, pays your required rate and keeps things ticking over. You have a good relationship with these clients and you rely on each other. These clients are as close to a regular job as you can get.

One thing to watch out for are your local tax rules. In some jurisdictions, if you get too much of your income from a single source then you may be deemed to be an actual employee – the very thing you’re trying to avoid as a freelancer. If you’re in Australia, the ATO provides information for contractors.

Specials and one-offs

There will be times when clients come out of the blue. They commission you for one-off jobs, never to be seen from again. Can also be clients that commission you once, seem like they’ll be good but aren’t worth the hassle as they keep changing the brief, are slow payers or get started on a project only to try and milk you for extra services for no charge.

In other words, they’ll be one-offs either because they only need you once or because they haven’t been great clients.

If a one-off client proves to be a good client then make sure you keep in regular contact. Even though their need might have only been short term, add them to your newsletter list and stay in regular contact. It’s always good to stay in touch as you never know when they’ll need some help again.

Pro-bono

As a general rule you should never work for free. If you don’t value your work why should anyone else. However, when you start out, doing a small number of freebies can be a good way to build a CV, references and portfolio of work. Include clients that pay low rates but are great for your profile.

Also, doing local community work or helping out a preferred charity can be a great way to network as well as providing assistance to someone in need.

Profile Builders

There are some clients that look great on your client list as they are well known, high profile, prestigious or could direct you towards other clients. You should make an effort to pursue some of these as they give your business a great credibility boost. Also, if these clients are large companies they’re likely to have great budgets.

Make a list of profile builders and make a plan to contact them regularly. Do your research and find out where the best contact points into those companies are – and there may be more than one.

With the right client mix you can be assured that you’ll have enough variety in your workload so that you don;t get bored.

Freelance Does Not Equal Employee

As a freelancer, you’re often a price taker rather than maker. But that doesn’t mean you need to sell your soul to the lowest bid.

 

Earlier this week the trade union I’m a member of, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, released it’s recommended rates for freelancers. These aren’t law in the same way as minimum wages laws or award rates are in some jurisdictions. They’re indicative of the rates a freelance journalist ought to charge in order to make a decent living.

For writers, they suggest the following rates.

  • $911.00 per day
  • $607.00 per half day (based on charging 2/3 of the day rate)
  • $227.00 per hour
  • $925.00 for 1000 words or less (and then 93c per word)

The rates are similar for editors, proof-readers and photographers.

The assumption that these rates are based on “what a freelancer would need to charge to earn the same income as a mid-level journalist working on a metropolitan daily newspaper”. The mid-level journalist they have in mind gets paid about $70,000AUD per year. That includes super-annuation but I’ll work on the assumption that freelancers are contributing to their own super-annuation fund.

Let’s break that $70,000 down.

  • There are 365 days in year.
  • Weekends – 104 days
  • Public holidays – 10 days
  • Sick leave – 10 days
  • Annual leave – 20 days

That leaves 221 working days in the year making the mid-level journalist’s day rate $316.74

It’s not looking like the MEAA’s suggested rate of $911 per day is at all reasonable.

The MEAA also includes in their suggested rate “reasonable out-of-pocket expenses” such as travel costs, telephone, car mileage, fax costs (really – people still fax?). Even if I allow $800 per month for those things (that’s based on looking at my own expenses so I’ve added insurance and a few other bits and pieces) that’s only about $40 per working day.

I’ve written before about setting a pay rate. Advice like the MEAA’s rate card is useful but it needs to be tempered with reality. Even allowing that the real cost of a full-time employed is 1.5 times their salary (allowing for on costs such as a computer, etc), the MEAA’s rate suggests an annual salary of just over $200,000.

With all that said, I’m a self-employed contractor because I like being able to work flexible hours, dress in whatever I fee like much of the time, sneak out in the middle of the day for a tennis lesson, lunch or whatever I want. However, I expect those things to come at a price.

The MEAA’s rates aren’t realistic. You’re better off setting your own goals, working hard and enjoying life. If you can’t make it work as an independent freelancer (and it’s not for everyone) then perhaps the safe $70,000 per year job is what you want.

Choosing success

How can you guarantee your business’s success? Perhaps Will Smith, the only movie star in the world, can teach you something.

How do you get enough clients to make a living? If I got a dollar for each time I’m asked that question I wouldn’t need to find any clients. Finding good, regular clients that pay a fair rate on time is the biggest challenge to a successful freelance practice.

But how do you find those meal tickets? It turns out that the only true movie star in the world, Will Smith (at least according to this story by Bill Simmons) has done the leg work for us.

Here’s Smith’s plan:

When Smith was trapped on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air set in the early-’90s, dreaming of starring in movies instead of selling Alfonso Ribiero’s jokes, Smith and his manager, James Lassiter, studied a list of the top-10 grossing films ever. Here’s what Smith told Time Magazine in 2007: “We looked at (the list) and said, O.K., what are the patterns? We realized that 10 out of 10 had special effects. Nine out of 10 had special effects with creatures. Eight out of 10 had special effects with creatures and a love story.

In other words

1. He looked at the market he wanted to succeed in

2. Determined what the common attributes of success were

3. Made sure that he modelled his work to take advantage of the success criteria he’d found through his analysis

How many freelancers, whether they’re photographers, developers, artists, writers or whatever, are that deliberate about their careers?

In my observations there are two types of freelancer: those that are successful and happy and those that wish they were (OK – so I might have ripped that off from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the dad says there are two types of people – Greeks and those that wish they were Greek). If you’re in the latter group, you need to find people in the former group and talk to them.

If there are clients you really want to work for – pursue them. Very few potential clients will say “Yes” to you on a first meeting or contact.

Then, deliver what they want, how they want it, when they want it.

Customer service is the key to repeat business

Customer service is the key to building your business without constantly chasing new clients.

There’s plenty of evidence that proves keeping customers is far cheaper than getting new ones. It makes sense and I’ve found that delivering what my clients want has lead me to being able build my freelance practice without constantly hustling for work.

So, what is good customer service?

20110701-220709.jpgA little while ago, guest contributor David Hague recounted a story of great service he received. Great service was what brought him back to a specific motel and it’s what can bring your clients back to you.

Today, I experienced perhaps the best customer service I’ve ever received.

A couple of weeks ago my new iPad 2 met with an unfortunate combination of concrete and gravity. The screen was shattered and one side had a couple of small indentations. This morning I made an appointment at the local Apple store to see what I could do.

The appointment was fulfilled on time and I was attended to by a guy called Alex. I explained what had happened. He informed me that as the iPad is a sealed unit a repair wouldn’t be possible. However, Apple allow the purchase of a replacement at a reduced price – about half the full retail price. I decided to pay the replacement cost as Alex had a unit in stock and the transaction could be completed straight away.

Alex returned with the replacement iPad and told me that he had decided to waive the replacement cost. My smashed iPad – damaged by carelessness and not any defect that could be attributed to Apple – would be replaced at NO COST.

This has me thinking what I’d be prepared to do for my clients to keep them coming back. Aside from the delivering on time, on spec services what would you do?

My Elevator Pitch – Extended Version

What do I do? It’s a question I’m often asked and had a chance to recently answer

Most business advice guides suggest that you need an “elevator pitch”. This is a short statement that descsribes your job, your business or whatever you are known for in just a couple of minutes. In the online world, this can be the sort of brief description that appears on an “About Me” page or widget but it’s named for the sort of description you can deliver to somene during an elevator ride. It’s short and direct.

Last night I had the privelege of talking about my work as a freelance journalist to students from my daughter’s school as part of their annual career’s fair. I thought I’d share my notes with you so you can get an idea of how I describe my work. It’s a bit longer than an elevator pitch but I was asked to address some specific questions.

What your job involves, what a typical day might be like

  • A typical work day starts at about 9.00 AM. I work from home and have a dedicated home office with all the stuff I need. It’s not part of the house so I can separate work from home (important if you’re self-employed)
  • I have a workflow system so I can track work that I have coming up so that I can prioritise what’s coming up. At any one time I may have up to 20 tasks in the queue. 
  • Depending on the day I might spend the day writing, interviewing people either on phone or in person or putting some time into boring stuff like office admin (accounts, etc)
  • I usually finish working between 5 and 6 but take time out to pick up kids from school or meet with friends to break things up

 Your journey into your career (some take interesting and unusual paths)

  • I got my job sort of by accident – it was never planned
  • A friend was freelancing for APC and was too busy to hit a deadline so I subbed in (I’d been doing some work for free on a couple of websites to build a reputation)
  • Then I started to pitch my own work
  • Made contact with other freelancers and expanded my network 
  • Some of my friends in the business came to the job through traditional university/cadetship paths. That works well and equips you with the skills you need. I had to learn on the job.
  • For the first few years I had a full-time job and freelanced on the side

 What you like about your job, what attracted you to into the area

  • I meet interesting people
  • I write about stuff I’m interested in
  • Because I write about technology I get lots of cool toys to play with
  • I have a lot of freedom
  • I get to travel

 What the challenges are

  • Cash-flow: you don’t always know where your next job is coming from
  • Prioritizing and time management: when you’re on your own schedule you need a lot of self discipline (and that takes time and practice)
  • Loneliness; although that might depend on your personality type
  • In some niches, pay rates are falling (the global economy is a huge factor) 

The types of skills/personal attributes you think are important for you to be effective in your role

  • You have to like writing. There’s no point doing a job where you’re not going to enjoy the main activity
  • Motivation and self-confidence: if you can’t sell yourself you’ll starve
  • Organization so that you don’t miss tasks or deadline
  • As a freelancer, if you can’t solve your editor’s problem then you’re not doing your job

Any advice you would give to someone considering this career

  • It’s not for everyone.
  • It can take a while to establish your reputation 
  • Listen to all that stuff your english teacher tells you about grammar, construction, spelling and language
  • Read a lot so you expand your vocabulary

 Career opportunities available

  •  Lots but go in your eyes open