What’s it take to create success?

Success as an entrepreneur doesn’t come from messing around and hoping for the best. It comes from finding a niche or market need and serving it. Not by wondering what the world is going to give you.

Success as an entrepreneur doesn’t come from messing around and hoping for the best. It comes from finding a niche or market need and serving it. Not by wondering what the world is going to give you.

A recent article at My Small Business tells us that success can come from not wasting time and get on with it. When you’re self-employed or run your own business you can’t rely on other people to deliver success to you on a silver platter. Sure, it might be possible to sub-contract or outsource work (like this clever fellow who outsourced his own job to China) or even delegate it to your staff. But you still need to actually get the work done.

Some of the tips in the article at My Small Business are what I’d called “Captain Obvious”. Things like, don’t mess around with social media and look for places you can add, rather than take, value aren’t exactly rocket science.

When it comes to being a success as a freelancer I’d suggest the following things.

Find niches that add value and offer commercial opportunities. Remember, it’s all about targeting niches that offer benefits for both you and potential clients. If your definition of success doesn’t include making some money then you’re not a business.

Be purposeful in your actions. Don’t randomly flit around from one task to the next. Make a list of jobs to do, prioritise them, do them and revise the list and re-prioritise regularly. If you like to manage your to do list electronically, there are lots of tips here. But remember that success comes from setting goals, setting targets and adjusting your trajectory so that you keep heading towards you goals.

Communicate but don’t ramble. Social media has, in my view, made us into a race of babblers (me included!). We post status updates about just about everything and anything. While that might be OK in your personal life, it doesn’t pay to do the same professionally. By all means, have Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn and other social media for your business. But only post things of value for that channel.

Be generous – give more than you take. Whether it’s through social media, talking with colleagues and even frenemies – be generous in your advice. That doesn’t mean working for free but building professional networks will lead to business growth over time. I’d suggest that maintaining good working relationships with other freelancers has delivered many thousands of dollars to my business.

Technology for Freelancers

Choosing the best technology for a freelance business is about more than picking an accounting package. Every part of the freelance business needs the right tools.

Every few months I’m asked to present of the best technology for freelancers. As I cut my teeth as a journalist writing about technology, there are times when my peers look to me for advice. This week, I present to a group of recently retrenched journalists who are looking at freelancing for the first time in their career.

The temptation with this is to simply focus on a few choice applications, look at some specific hardware and then provide everyone with a laundry list of stuff to buy. Of course, this would be a list of what works for me – not much use to someone with different expertise, experience and access to technology.

My approach is to ensure that freelancers look at each different part of their business and get them to choose the best tools for each part of their business. Running a successful business takes more than choosing an accounts package. It’s about managing a whole bunch of conflicting priorities and managing your time so that everything you need to do moves forward. Sometimes, the worst thing a freelancer can do is work to finish one thing and let other tasks stagnate. For example, if you use your spare time to only pitch stories for current clients, you won;t build your client base with new ones.

The presentation I put together is based on one I gave at a freelancer convention with  few tweaks and updates. If you’re interested, it’s on SlideShare.

Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface for Freelancers

Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface are out and they might prove to be both useful and challenging for freelancers.

Whenever a new operating system, like Windows 8, is announced, there are a bunch of people who jump in early and try the latest and, hopefully, greatest. Often, the changes are smooth but experienced journalist Bill Bennett as found that Windows 8 upgrade fast, not foolproof. It’s woth a short look.

With the release of the Microsoft Surface tablet and other, similar products from other vendors it’s worth understanding that not all the new tablets hitting the market are the same. Windows now comes in two versions; Windows 8 and Windows RT. Trying to work out the difference is tricky as they look the same but under the covers they are quite different. I recently wrote Windows RT vs Windows 8: Which Surface for work? for Business IT (www.bit.com.au) covering some of the differences.

One of the big advantages of the new Microsoft Surface over the iPad is that it includes a proper version of Microsoft Office and an external keyboard that is integrated into the case. There are plenty of alternatives that are iPad-friendly but getting those extras in the box is quite handy.

Should you upgrade to Windows 8?

I’d suggest that if your current computer is working well that there’s no compelling reason to upgrade. When you buy your next computer it will come with Windows 8 (assuming you’re not a Mac user). Until then, I wouldn’t bother.

However, if you picked up a laptop recently that has a touchscreen – many computer makers have been shipping touchscreens on selected models for the last couple of years – then Windows 8 might be useful. If you decide to move up, be prepared for some significant change. David Pogue, from the New York Times, published a Windows 8 Cheat Sheet and summary of what to expect.

Microsoft Surface, iPad or Android tablet?

This is an interesting question. I like my Nexus 7 tablet as an eBook reader, email reader and calendar. I don’t use it for writing more than the occasional email or note as the 7-inch screen is great for reading but doesn’t work for me for input. I believe that that the new iPad mini will be similar.

Larger tablets, with screens between 9-inches and 10-inches are much better for data input as the onscreen keyboards are more finger-friendly.

Functionally, all three platforms are very similar. Many of the differences between the three are cosmetic but I like the way Android and Windows 8 make your data more visible than the iPad.

Windows 8 or Windows RT?

Microsoft has released two new, different operating systems. The confusion comes from them both looking the same.It’s not unlike car makers who release similar looking models but one is two-wheel drive and the other is four-wheel drive.

Windows RT will only come pre-installed on tablets like the Microsoft Surface. You can’t buy it in a store and install it to your existing computer.

Windows 8 can be purchased from a store, in a box, and you can install it to your own computer. There’s a regular version and Pro version.

Lifehacker Australia has a useful guide to all the different versions of Windows 8 that’s worth a look.

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.

Link post – freelancing advice

There’s great advice for freelancers in lots of places. Here are a few of the favourite posts I’ve found in my reading this week.

One of the things I’ve not been very good at in the year since I started this blog has been linking to all of the great advice I’ve picked up through reading from a wide variety of experts. So, every week or so, I’ll be posting links to some the articles I’ve found most valuable.

Proofreading – An Essential Skill for ALL Freelancers (Freelance Switch): Whether you are a freelance web designer, writer or international mountain guide, you are likely to have a website, twitter account, LinkedIn profile and blog – and so you should. Without these tools, most of us would be lost.

Best and Worst Freelancing Advice of 2011 (The Savvy Freelancer): The bottom line is, you can find a lot of guidance for freelancing out there. What’s critical is your ability to sift through all the information that is available, and make a judgement call on which advice is good, and which is bad.

Investing in Your Writing Business (Get Paid to Write Online): Any business needs an investment, and a writing business is no exception.

What A Victorian Novelist Can Tell Modern Writers About Adapting To The Internet (The WM Freelance Writers Connection): What can a Victorian novelist tell modern American writers about adapting to the shift from the older print media and New York-centered publishing industry to the Wild West of writing for the internet — blogs, content mills, ebooks, self-publishing and social media?

8 Metrics Every Freelancer Should Measure at the End of the Year (FreelanceFolder): One of the best things you can do for your business – whether you’re a solo shop or a multi-national concern, is to stop at the end of the year and take a look at how things went.