Learning from Henry Ford

Sometimes clients ask for things that we know are wrong or not suitable. Or they can’t see the bigger picture and miss the potential benefit of something. And one of the best sources of wisdom about delivering what your customers wants is the great Herny Ford. Here are five Henry Ford quotes and what freelancers can learn from them.

1. If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

This one is often used as justification for NOT listening to clients and deciding what’s best for them without consultation. This wasn’t really what Ford meant.

Henry Ford keenly understood his customers. He may not have run focus groups and engaged market research consultants but he paid attention to them.

Freelancers need to do the same.Look at the market, listen to all your clients and help guide them to what they need – particularly when what they need isn’t what they want.

2. Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.

Never show up for a meeting or make a client call without being ready. Enough said.

3. Competition is the keen cutting edge of business, always shaving away at costs.

The other day guest poster David Hague argued that cost containment is crucial for freelancers. Freelancers of all persuasions are under increasing competition. So, as the number of freelancers increases, the pool of potential work has to be spread wider. So, one way to ensure that we don’t run out of money when times are tight is to not overspend when times are good.

4. If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.

When your client is frustrated with you (and it will happen one day) a good thing to do is listen to yourself. And then imagine what it would be like to be your own client.

Are you speaking clearly? Are you using technical jargon when it’s not needed? Do you sound grumpy or short?

5. You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.

Steve Jobs once said that “real artists ship”. In other words, your reputation will be built on results, not plans. Deliver what your clients want on time EVERY time. If you’re not sure how long a job will take, allow extra time.

Always under-promise and over-deliver – but keep it reasonable.

Who are your business role models? What are your favourite business quotes?


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.

The 5 best things about freelancing

Freelancing is great. Here are 5 of the best things about freelancing.

One of the questions I get asked the most about freelancing is “Why?”.

Here are the 5 reasons I freelance.

1. Work/Life Balance

Truth be told – this is biggest reason I gave up the nine-to-five life. Being able to take my kids to school, pick them up, have lunch with my wife, sleep in occasionally… being able to do these things and still make a living is, for me, the best thing about freelancing.

2. A great boss

I don’t just mean me. Sure, I might be self-employed but being able to work for a wide variety of clients means that I’m able to expand my professional network in a way that working for a single company just can’t match.

3. Variety is the spice of life

In any given month I’ll deal with at least four different clients, talk to tens of people and write about several different topics. I’ve got a short attention span but being able to have such a diverse workload keeps me well and truly interested.

4. Being able to choose my work

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to build a decent freelance practice with a solid client base. That means that I can be a little choosey when it comes to who I work for. I get to work for people I like. If I get a client I find hard to work with I just don’t pitch to them any more.

5. Time management

One thing all freelancers need is to have good time management skills. Without them, a few minutes of procrastination can easily become a lost morning, a lost day and more. However, not being tied to a clock-watching corporate culture (and all the companies I’ve worked for were clockwatchers whether they say it or not) means I can work on a task for as long as it takes. If I hit my week’s deadlines by Wednesday then the rest of the week is easy.

So – why do you freelance? What’s the best part of it for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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?

If you don’t value your work nobody else will

I was just reading an article at the Society of Professional Journalist offering some advice on freelancing for newspapers. Some of the tips, like “Read the newspaper” and “Know the value of deadlines” are pertinent and important. However, one tip got my attention:

Expect the pay to be small, if at all

Here’s the full tip

Typical pay ranges between $25 and $50 per story, with three-digit sums possible for feature pieces after a freelancer has a body of work under the newspaper’s masthead. Sometimes, however, newspapers will propose first-time assignments without compensation but dangle a contract if they are impressed with the results. Keep in mind that assignments may not be frequent or fulsome enough to constitute steady income.

One a few occasions I’ve pitched stories and columns to newspapers. Of the three newspapers I’ve pitched stories to, two have offered me fair payment for the work. The third liked my pitch. Their offer – I could put the URL of my blog in my byline.

I thought about that offer for about three seconds and then dismissed it. Why? Because if I don’t place any value on my work then why would anyone else? Sure, a link to my blog would be useful publicity but I can’t eat publicity. I need to be paid in order to pay bills, get food and provide for my family. I’m certain that the publisher would have sold more than enough ads to pay me fairly for my work.

I can appreciate that the SPJ is trying to provide realistic advice but getting paid $25 for a story isn’t good advice. It’s compliance with exploitation. A short 500 word story might take a few hours to research and write. At $25 – the hourly rate is lower than an unskilled worker would expect.

Would you accept work at this pay-rate? Do you agree with me that it’s poor advice to tell new writers to expect their work to be so poorly valued? Let me know if the comments.