Building up your profile

When you’re building your freelance practice, it’s important to find opportunities to get people to know you. A great way is to engage your local community.

When you’re building your freelance practice, it’s important to find opportunities to get people to know you. You could turn to advertising in freelance directories or the like but a great way is to engage your local community.

On the weekend, I spoke at a local Mac user group called AUSOM. As someone who writes about technology, I often talk at user groups and community events. This serves two purposes.

1. It’s a great way to support local organizations in a meaningful way.
2. It’s a low cost way to increase your profile.

From a business point of view, increasing your local profile can be useful as potential clients are likely to be close by.

Your direct skills and those that you’ve collected in addition are all valuable assets. There are photography groups, writing workshops, computer users, schools, churches – lots of places looking for quality speakers.

Seek some groups out. Go to a meeting or two and offer your services as a speaker.

Three steps to avoiding the freelancing trap

Freelancing? Not rich yet? Want to know why?

One of the traps of freelancing – really it’s going into small business by another name – is “the books”. No, this isn’t a lesson on book-keeping or reading balance sheets or even a master class on the dreaded BAS [Business Activity Statement], but instead a small piece on a common freelancing trap.

We know we need to make a profit. That’s what pays the rent or mortgage, buys food, takes care of insurance, rates, electricity bills etc. And of course profit is equivalent to sales minus costs. And therein lies the trap.

We all know how much we “sell”, that’s the easy bit. Costs are a different thing again. Who truly knows what their monthly costs are? Go on – be honest.

Step 1 – Catalog Your Expenses

Excerpt from one of the sheets of my spreadsheet

The only way to find out is to get a receipt for everything you buy and catalogue it. Even better, to get a more accurate average, do it for three months. And I do mean everything – as well as the obvious mortgage/rent, fuel, weekly grocery shop, include all those little things you normally wouldn’t consider such as the daily and weekend newspaper, your lunch from the sandwich bar, that Friday night beer at the pub, entry fee to the zoo with the kids.

Everything.

Don’t cheat at this either. Even throw your credit card payments in there for example and any money you set aside for holidays etc. These should also be entered in step 2 (below) that is later creating a meaningful budget from these numbers.

I use a purpose built Excel spreadsheet I made to catalogue this stuff, work out budgets, variances and summarise them all into monthly running totals. If you want a copy, let me know at david@auscamonline.com.

At the end of the first month you’ll be very surprised at how much you are spending. This is a good thing as it will allow you to create a realistic budget and find ways of cutting costs. Which means of course that the profit gets bigger! And that is the end game.

2 – Cut Unnecessary Costs

Cutting costs can be as simple as making a sandwich rather than buying one, using the bus or train on occasion rather than taking the car to appointments, making sure all unnecessary electrical appliances are off and not just on standby, making your own home brew (which is bloody good fun and a huge cost saver over packaged beer), washing the dog yourself as against a weekly hydrobath and so on.

3 – The Reading List

There a number of very good books I have read recently on these sorts of topics I can heartily recommend. I bought them through the Kindle bookshop via Amazon, but they are available in paperback too (although I do recommend the Kindle option!) [Affiliate Links]

The eagle-eyed among you will notice a common thread here (mostly). All except Alan Sugar are members of the Dragon’s Den team from the BBC TV show. They are all self-made multi-millionaires (as is Alan Sugar) and tell it as it is.

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This is a guest post by David Hague, editor of AusCam Online. You can follow David on Twitter  – he’s @vbthedog

Business plans, setting goals and getting things done

Setting a business plan sounds smart. Perhaps it’s not.

When you’re planning to make the change to being your own boss it’s tempting to spend a lot of time working out how to make the shift without actually making the shift. There’s a name for that – paralysis by analysis. I thought long and hard about making the change last year. I was coming off a 10 year stint at the same company and really needed to find something new to do. After close to 20 years working for other people I figured that I could either try going solo or die wondering.

A post at Freelance Folder talks about how freelancers don’t need Business Plans. I’ve never seen a business plan that bore any resemblance to reality. It’s typically a mix between guesswork and telling someone (usually a bank manager) what they want to hear. I prefer a different approach.

1. Set some financial goals

I suggest that you need to set three different types of goals; a break even goal (what you need to survive), a comfort goal (what you need to have some fun) and the BHAG – a big hairy audacious goal. This is the one that lets you take an overseas holiday with the family or buy a nice car or indulge in some other luxury item.

Set the goals and write them somewhere you can see them. I have them on my whiteboard.

2. Work out how much you need to earn per day to hit the financial goal

If you need to earn $104,000 per year to reach a goal you might think that’s $2000 per week or $400 per day. You’d be wrong. In Australia, full time employees are entitled to 10 paid sick days per year and four weeks of annual leave. So, instead of having 52 weeks to make your money, you have 46.

That means you need $2260 per week or $450 per day.

3. Try not to start out with no money or clients

This is the tough one. If you’ve been working full-time, there’s not much chance that you’ll have  full client roster that can pay all your bills on day one. That means you’ll either need a partner who can cover the bills or some money in the bank. While you might not be able to plan what will happen to your business in the first few months, you should at least plan to be able to eat.

4. Don’t blindly accept every job that comes your way

This is one of the tough ones. It might be tempting to accept every job that comes your way no matter how much it pays. Remember your daily earning goals and work to them. If a $200 job comes in and it’s going to take three days – you’ll want to consider whether it really worth accepting. By accepting low value jobs you’ll establish yourself as a low value product. However, if the $200 job comes in and you can do it in a couple of hours then that might be a good option.

Remember – while your clients will measure your value in words or images, you need to charge yourself out by your time.

How do you plan? Let me know in your comments.

Bookstore closures to impact freelancers

Major bookstores Angus and Robertson and Borders, owned by REDgroup, are heading into receivership. There is significant impact not just to customers but the many freelance operators who write books and shoot images that are sold through these outlets. Although this offers challenges, there are great opportunities for freelancers as well.

While REDgroup accounted for about 20% of the Australian book market, as they added new stores, the independent bookstore business suffered. About 20% of this market closed as well, So, over a short time, the number of bookstores in Australia has collapsed by close to 40%.

An article by Richard Flanagan for the Fairfax papers summarises so of the problem:

In Australia, where 20,000 sales is a bestseller, the maths on 4 per cent [royalty] of an average UK-US price of $14 is sobering – $11,200 for two or three years’ work. That is, if you get published.

So, the economics of writing an publishing a book in Australia has always difficult. No one I know has managed to get rich writing and publishing books in Australia. But the collapse of REDgroup and the closure of so many independent stores has reduced the number of outlets for selling those books.

Freelancers need to review their business model. If you’re writing a book with the expectation of making real money then you need either re-evaluate your goal or re-evaluate your business model.

In case you’d missed it – the Interent is here to stay and there’s a huge opportunity. Self-publishing is now easier than ever and good operators that have learned about marketing and search engine optimisation have been able to publish their own books through Amazon, Apple and even the humble PDF.

There’s little doubt that the fall of REDgroup and independent booksellers will cause significant pain. However, this also represents an opportunity for enterprising freelancers.

What will you do about it?

Google Analytics on the iPad

Following on from my recent look at The iPad Blogging Toolkit, I’ve been getting my head around the whole SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, thing. Put simply, the application of good SEO techniques can help you get your blog further up the page ranking system of search engines. That means that when people search for something, your blog or website is more likely to come up near the top of the results.

One way to measure how your site is performing is to use the software that most web hosting companies provide. However, a more popular way of measuring how much traffic your site is attracting and, more importantly, how it’s finding you, is to use something like Google Analytics. In order for Analytics to work you need to run some specific code on all the pages you wish to measure. If, like me, you’re not interested into delving into your blog’s source code, there are WordPress plug-ins that do the legwork for you.

If you’re an iPad user, one of the hassles is that not all of the nice graphs show up on the screen. That realization meant that I needed to take a trip to the App Store. A quick search for “Google Analytics” revealed several different applications that would bring the data from Google Analytics.

Like many people I started with a free option – an app simply called Analytics. The App Store reviews seemed reasonable and the price was right.

What Analytics delivers is the same experience you’d have on a computer running a proper web browser. Graphs, tables and other visual elements appear with Analytics just as they would on a regular computer. Depending on the performance of your Internet connection, the app can feel a little slow but it wasn’t bad enough to make us want to spend money for another application.

The main stats I’m interested in are number of visitors, where they are coming from and what search terms are attracting them. Armed with those bits of data I can tweak the posts I create (using BlogPress) so that I can make sure I write content that my readers are most interested in and draws the most traffic through search engines.

This is the start of a journey for me. being able to find tools that work when I’m not at my desk is super important. Analytics is, for now, one of the tools that enables me to write relevant content that attracts visitors.