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.

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.

What was your cheekiest pitch?

Pitching for work can be tricky. But sometimes an unconventional approach can be successful.

Cheeky MonkeyA few years ago, I decided that there was a magazine I really wanted to write for. It was a combination of the subject matter and the prestige of the masthead that drew me. However, it was clear that the editorial team was fairly stable.

After a few months of reading the magazine I noticed that one of the regular contributors was not delivering at the same quality as he had previously. In depth topics lacked analysis and seemed to filled with padding rather than the quality I was used to.

I looked up the editor’s contact details and sent an email stating that I was a freelance writer looking for new opportunities and that I felt that the column I was reading was dropping in quality. The editor responded to my email saying he’d keep me in and. I thanked him.

About a month later the editor contacted me and offered me a three month trial writing the column in question. That was six years ago and I’ve written for every issue of that title ever since.

So – what’s been your cheekiest pitch?

The 5 worst things about freelancing

Freelancing sounds like fun but there a times when it’s no picnic. Here are our 5 worst things about being a freelancer.

After yesterday’s The 5 best things about freelancing I thought some balance was in order. So here are the 5 worst things about freelancing.

1. The constant pimping

Most freelancers need to continually sell themselves in order to get more work. That can mean time spent at “networking opportunities” (what the rest of the world calls drinks or socialising), cold calling potential clients and looking for new places to sell your business. Some folks don’t mind it but for many it’s a real drag.

2. Chasing money

THE thing I hate most about freelancing is that you need to often chase clients for payment. I recently had an invoice out with a client that took nine months to be paid. That meant lots of phone calls, countless emails and, eventually, the involvement of a debt collector. It’s not always that bad but staying on top of outstanding debtors is a serious energy sapper.

3. Administration

When you work in someone else’s business they look after all the stuff that you need in order to keep a business ticking over. Things like monthly or quarterly tax paperwork, invoicing, banking, payroll, filing – all those little tasks that end up sapping your time and energy.

4. Loneliness

For many freelancers, the ability to work from home is countered by loneliness and missing people to bounce ideas off. I’m fortunate that I have a client at the moment that needs me in the office for part of the week but when I was at home all the time, I missed the human contact.

5. The need for self-discipline

I am not, by nature, a very self-disciplined person. When I’m working at home I can find lots of reasons to not work. There’s always a dishwasher to unload, a coffee to make, a snack to eat or some errand to run. At least with this one, you can work at it and create good work habits so that you get the most from your work time.

What are the things you don’t like about freelancing? How do you work around or overcome them? Let me know in the comments.