As you market and promote your freelance business, you’ll find you have more and business coming your way. That’s great, but it can also become a problem. There are only twenty-four hours in a day and it can be challenging to get all the work done and still find some time for a life and maybe even some sleep. Odds are, you’ll need to work a few evenings and weekends to get everything handled in a timely manner. But, working evenings and weekends gets old pretty fast.
There are a few ways to combat this. You can refuse some projects. You can tell your prospect that you can’t start their project until sometime in the future. But, both of those options can leave a bad taste in your prospect’s mouth and create some ill will. A better option is to outsource the work, under your tight supervision, to subcontractors. You probably so this already for tasks you aren’t trained to do. What I’m talking about is subbing out things you are trained to do.
As your business grows, subcontractors can not only help you get the work done, but also become an additional revenue stream through markups. Ideally, you seek out subcontractor whose rate is lower than yours and mark up their rate to your rate. Or, for ones that charge by the project, add a percentage to their fees when you bill your client.
Subcontractors usually present no additional cost and no salary expenses. They work from their office, using their equipment. Subcontractors also give you the ability to tap in the skills of a variety of people and there’s usually no heavy commitment beyond the project they’re working on.
On the downside, since they work on their schedule, things may not get done when you’d like them. A big drawback to hiring a subcontractor is the IRS. They may not see the arrangement as subcontracting and consider the subcontractor and employee. If that happens, you could find yourself liable for taxes from the point the person started working for you.
Teaming up with a few subcontractors as project partners can enable you to increase your service offerings beyond Website design. By finding the right people you may be able to offer:
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing and management
- Graphic design for print, branding and identity development, advertising, etc.
- IT support
- Application and software development
Doing so will help you position your freelance business as more of a full service shop, able to tackle a variety of client needs.
When asked about subcontracting, Michael J. Hultquist, owner of Quist Interactive, Inc., said, “We’ve done some subcontracting, but not much. We do work with a writer, but she also contracts out to us for programming, SEO, and PPC. That’s a good thing about contracting and being a contractor. You can team up with others and do many jobs together you might not be able to do on your own.”
Likewise, Kate McGinley, owner of Pittsburgh-based , Ltd, noted, “If I have a lot of requests all come in at once, I will ask clients if they feel comfortable with using a sub-contractor. I always introduce the client and the subcontractor over lunch, and if they are comfortable with each other, we proceed.” She added, “These are people I have met in the past through freelance Meetups, and I am familiar with the quality of their work. I ask for daily reports and if they’re not meeting deadlines/quality standards, I quickly pull them off of the project.”
Marc Amos, owner of Boston Web Studios in Beverly, MA, also taps into subcontractors often. “Sometimes there’s a task within a larger project that’s either over my head or a better fit for one of the few people I sub-contract out to,” said Amos. He added, “Or perhaps the timing isn’t perfect based on my schedule, so I’ll reach out to one of a few people I know.
We just chat by phone/email/IM and I tell them what’s needed. If they’re up for it, I usually give them fifty percent of their fee up front. I rarely do contracts with subs, because I use friends who I’ve known for years.”
You might elect to hire subcontractors and keep your business more or less a freelance one. Or, as you grow and work becomes stable and predictable, you may consider hiring an employee or two. You might start off with a clone of yourself or hire someone who works in a different discipline than your. For example, if you’re a front end designer, hiring a programmer might make a lot of sense. Or, it might make sense to hire someone to do the things you don’t like. Sales comes to mind. Or it might be an administrative assistant or bookkeeper.
Employees work for you on your schedule and can free you up to focus on revenue producing tasks. Plus, having an employee or two can make your business appear more stable and credible in your prospects’ and clients’ eyes. But, hiring for that reason alone is probably a bad idea. You need to ensure you have the revenue to keep up with payroll.
If you have the work coming in and the money to keep up with payroll and its associated expenses, hiring someone to help out can do more than just help out. They can provide collaboration. Truth be told, freelancing can be isolating and lonely. There’s nobody else to gather around the water cooler and discuss the projects onboard. An employee can add valuable insights and someone to bounce ideas off of and get feedback.
When you become the boss, however, things change. You’re no longer a freelancer. You have employees who will need to be managed. The anxiety that come with meeting payroll can be daunting and you may find yourself working more on sales that actually designing or writing code. It’s a common problem. As you grow, you find yourself wearing more hats and some may not fit as well as other, yet they must be worn. In addition, you need to address the additional cost of benefits, workers compensation insurance, taxes, office space and equipment.
Is it worth it? Maybe. It depends on your goals and you’re intestinal fortitude. It’s not easy having employees. You become responsible for these people’s livelihood and that can put the pressure on. But, if you have good organizational and managerial skills and the money to pull it off, it can be highly rewarding.
In addition, a small firm can attract larger, more profitable clients and more interesting projects. As an “official” small business you will likely have a more predicable schedule and not have clients calling after hours or over the weekend. Naturally, with employees comes the ability to handle more work and that increase revenues. That can result in more personal income for you. More than likely, as a firm you’ll incorporate the business and be positioned to take advantage of better tax positioning. In a few years, you can look back and say, “Look at what I built!”
Delegation and Managing People
Designers are notorious for being control freaks. It’s almost a part of the job description. As such, many aren’t very good at delegation. But it’s a skill you must master if you’re to have employees. If not, there’s little sense in having them. Do the following thoughts come up a bit too often in your mind:
- I’ll do a better job myself.
- If I let someone else do it, it’ll get screwed up and I’ll need to redo it.
- I can do it faster.
- Everybody else has enough to deal with.
If so, you’re going to have a hard time letting go and let others do various tasks. Plus, trying to do it all yourself is destined to end in burnout.
If you believe you found the right employee with the right skills, let them do their job. It’s why you hired them. Try not to micromanage them. Keep and eye on things and step in if things aren’t going the way they should. Delegation is about learning to let go and trust others. If you find you need help, consider attending a Dale Carnegie training course. They offer a variety of employee engagement and management training courses. They have locations throughout the world and are tops in their field for sales and management training. For more information, visit www.dalecarnegie.com.
Encourage your employees to think for themselves and become problem-solvers. Keep your door open for help and advice when needed. Be available to offer up suggestions and direction, but don’t take things over and do them for the employee. Remember to reward a job well done. It can be a simple thank you and acknowledgement or perhaps take the employee to lunch or even give them a year-end or project-end bonus.
Hold weekly staff meetings when you have more than one employee. Use these to ensure everybody’s up to speed on current projects. Solicit feedback from your employees and instill a team feeling. Have a system in place to share status reports, project briefs and team up for proposal development.
Having a freelance business for a while and wearing all those hats will help to position you as a better boss than someone who never freelanced. You’ve had to do the design work, but also the bookkeeping, sales, marketing, taking out the trash and making the coffee. As such, you’re probably more sensitive to what your employees need to do and put up with than the person who found some venture capital and jumped in with both feet. At the end of the day, being a boss means treating employees like you would like to be treated.
Planning for Growth
Just what does it mean to grow a business? For some, it means moving into an outside office and hiring some employees. For others, it means maximize the business’ profit potential. Still others define it as moving away from taking on whatever comes through the door and focusing on the type of projects they enjoy.
In his book, T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity, David Parrish writes, “In most organizations, as people are promoted they tend to become more removed from the original job that attracted them in the first place and this applies to teachers, salespeople, nurses and others. It’s the same for creative entrepreneurs, who often tell me that as their business grows they have less time for creative endeavor directly and spend more time on administration and managing other people. Perhaps that’s one reason why many business people do not aim for business growth in terms of employing lots of people but want to build lifestyle businesses instead. Most people set up in business because they want to create a job for themselves working in the business, but it’s essential for an entrepreneur who wants to grow their enterprise to focus on working on the business. The captain of a ship needs to navigate from the bridge, not work in the engine room. If you want to build a business that you can eventually sell, you must construct it so that eventually you are not involved at all. It’s important to be clear about your aims and objectives.”
Growth can just happen, but it’s much better to have plan. If you’ve taken the time write a business plan, you’re ahead of the game. You can amend your existing plan with new service offering and financial projections. You may need to start from scratch with a new plan, but if you wrote one for your freelance business, writing another one will be significantly easier.
Using your experience as a one-person shop you’ll have a better understanding of your market, market potentials and opportunities. This will enable you to hone your marketing message and outlets. While freelancing, you found those marketing tools that work for you. Now you can focus on those and maximize their effectiveness and return.
You’ll also have gained an understanding of the importance of cash flow for a small business and have developed ways to better manage your money and leverage resources. Having some history behind you will make your financial projections much more accurate. All this knowledge should be incorporated within a new business plan.
As a growing small business, give careful thought to your goals and objectives. What new strategies can you implement to reach them with regard to your service offerings, employees, sales, and marketing, and client service?
Since growth requires more of everything, you must plan for how you’re going to finance growth. It’s always best to finance growth yourself. Consider putting away a certain percentage of each check that comes in. Designate it as a growth fund. Ideally, you should have at minimum three to four months worth of working capital set aside. Six months is better. A year is great. This money will help you meet your payroll when the slow times arrive. It will also be used for extra equipment and other needed items as you grow.
At all costs, avoid the temptation to finance growth with credit cards. It’s done a lot and it’s the most expensive way to finance your business. Seek out SBA guaranteed loans and microloans, small business loans, lines of credit. If you incorporate, you can raise growth capital with the sale of stock. Other options are angel investors or taking on a partner.
Keep a close eye on your cash and be frugal as you grow your business. A basic business tenet is to spend money only on things that will make you money. Even the largest businesses need to watch their cash and be careful with expenditures. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, was worth around twenty-five billion dollars. Yet, he drove his pick up truck to and from work every day.
I’ve been off Twitter for a while. Things … life and work happen. I wrote a couple of books and a boat load of articles during my hiatus, but that’s not what I want to write about in this post. I was just poking around HootSuite and came across a tweet and link to a great post by James Chartrand. She (Yes, she’s a she) has a great blog titled, Men With Pens.
Her post was titled, 3 Success-Killer Mistakes to Avoid this Year. In it, James reminded me of how much many, not all but many, freelancers pretty much suck at managing money. Sad, yes. True … you bet. She brought up – Getting smart about your money, getting smart about your actions and getting decisive about your goals. The post comes complete with recommended reading. Nice.
James’ first point – Getting smart about managing your money – is so true for many freelancer. She referenced a book, The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed: The Only Personal Finance System for People with Not-So-Regular Jobs by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan. It’s an excellent book and one I’ve referenced in a few of my tomes.
Get it. Know it. Live it. I mean, come on … for a thirteen-buck investment on Amazon, you might just change your life, your business and your stress level.
Beyond that, Denise and Joe (ladies first) are nice people who are genuinely concerned with helping freelancers be successful and minimize their financial stress levels.
From the Amazon description, here’s what you can learn, if you put your mind … and wallet … to it:
The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed describes a completely new, comprehensive system for earning, spending, saving, and surviving as an independent worker. From interviews with financial experts to anecdotes from real-life freelancers, plus handy charts and graphs to help you visualize key concepts, you’ll learn about topics including:
- Managing Cash Flow When the Cash Isn’t Flowing Your Way
- Getting Real About What You’re Really Earning
- Tools for Getting Out of Debt and Into Financial Security
- Saving Consistently When You Earn Irregularly
- What To Do When a Client’s Check Doesn’t Come In
- Health Savings Accounts and How To Use Them
- Planning for Retirement, Taxes and Dreams—All On Your Own
Sound good? It is.
And, no, I don’t get paid for writing stuff like this. I just really like, and was impressed with Denise and Joe. We met at a conference a few years ago where the three of spoke. We had a hoot of a time. Get the book and you’ll have a hoot of a time when you take their advice and get your financial house in order. I know I did.
For many Web, graphic designers and writers, “sales” is a four-letter word. Okay, it’s five, but you get the idea. It gives them the heebie-jeebies and they often feel as though they need to take a shower after a sales encounter. That’s if the encounter ever takes place. Designers and writers are notorious for avoiding sales like the plague. It conjures up visions of the stereotypical, checkered jacket with plaid pants, cigar-smoking used car salesman.
Nonetheless, sales is a necessary function, just like designing, writing, marketing, money management, operations and such. A wise sage once said, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.” The quote is attributed to several business leaders including Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, Peter Drucker and Arthur “Red” Motley, former publisher of Parade Magazine. Who said it doesn’t matter that much. They are wise and very true words. Without sales, at some level, there isn’t a project. Without a project, a freelancer is like soup without the sandwich.
Plus, many think of sales as the front-end, pitch it, get the gig and close the deal thing. It’s the job of some suit and hardly a task for a highly talented creative. But, the reality is that selling takes place all through the project. You’ve got to sell your design solution or copy to a boss or at least an AE, if you work at a firm. You’ve certainly got to sell your solution to the client. You might find you also need to sell it to client’s associates, team or … gasp! … their significant other.
Removing the Fear Factor
For many creative types I’ve met over the years, fear was probably the biggest stumbling block when it came to sales. They felt intimidated by their client or boss. They feared saying or doing the wrong thing or making a bad impression and losing the project … and the prospect. The list goes on and on.
So, let’s lose the fear.
Here’s an eye-opener. You’ve been selling all your life, but you probably just didn’t realize it. Consider this. When you were a wee little thing and just had to have a certain toy for your birthday, convincing mom and dad to buy it was a sales job. Or, how about the last time you talked your significant other into going out for Chinese rather than Italian? Yup. Sales. For that matter, convincing your significant other that you were a better choice than the other guy or gal was also selling. So, relax in the idea that you have the skills and experience. You just might have to modify some thinking.
Sales boils down to nothing more than a conversation. It’s a dialogue between you and a prospect where you learn about their business, their goals, their challenges and discuss how what you do can solve the prospect’s problem-at-hand. That’s not so scary, is it?
The problem lies in how one approaches sales. As a matter of fact, let’s not even think of it as sales. A better idea is to think of it as simply helping your prospect buy. Convincing a prospect to buy something they neither need nor want is a waste of their time and yours. That’s where the qualifying process comes in. Qualifying is determining if a prospect needs your services, whether they can pay for them and if they are a good fit for your freelance business.
Once you have a qualified prospect who’s a perfect fit for you, it’s important to begin to build a relationship with them. That relationship should be authentic. It goes a long way toward building trust. It shouldn’t be a hard sell, trying to convince them of this and that. That’s a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot not too far down the road.
Building Relationships and Solving Problems
If you’ve had anything to do with sales, you likely know there are several sales models out there. What I’ve been writing about so far is usually called traditional sales. That’s were you convince the client to buy your stuff. It’s the hard sell. Think the stereotypical shady used car salesperson (although most are on on the up and up). It’s also fairly ineffective for the type of work we do.
A better type of sales process (and it is a process) is called consultative selling. It goes by other names, with slight differences, such as relationship selling, solution selling and the likes. Whatever you want to call it, it centers on a simple idea – providing a sensible, useful solution to a client’s problem and becoming a valued resource for them along the way.
Sales starts with correctly identifying the right people to engage. They start out as suspects. This ominous moniker just means they broadly fit your criteria and might be someone who will buy from you. If you have targeted a niche (and you should), every company within it might be suspects. Or, you may have some other qualifying criteria to narrow down the group such as company size, revenue, number of employees or location.
Once you’ve identified your suspects, the next step is to qualify them as viable prospects for your sales efforts. This is crucial and where many freelancers fall short, being overly excited about the possibility of a new client and project. Prospects are the short list that meet various requirements for you to do business with them. Some qualifying questions are:
- Do they buy what you’re selling?
- Can they pay for it?
- Is there a reasonable budget for the project?
- Does the timeline work with your current workload?
- Is there potential for repeat/continuing work?
- Is your contact the final decision-maker?
- Is there a good personality fit?
- Do things feel right in your gut?
- Gut feelings are often correct
Taking on whomever rings the phone or jingles the inbox is a bad idea. When you correctly qualify a prospect as being a good fit, you’ll spend a lot less time writing proposals and estimates that are off-target and unlikely to win the business.
To our plaid-clad peddler, everybody’s a prospect and they believe if they talk enough they’ll close more sales. They use a manipulative and adversarial form of sales where the salesperson talks down to the prospect trying to create a need where one may not exist. Always remember – People may love to buy, but they hate to be sold.
Consultative sales is the opposite. It’s a client-centered sales method that focuses on true needs. It tends to listen more than it talks, builds trust and creates understanding. It’s adaptable to the prospect’s specific needs and helps to position you as a partner rather than a vendor.
Consultative selling was born as a result of market changes. As competition increased, along with prospects having better access to information, a shift from product/service-centered selling to prospect-centered selling became necessary. In consultative selling, the salesperson learns about prospect’s needs long before talking product or service. Products, services and knowledge are then transformed into a tailored solution based on the prospect’s authentic needs. Needs are identified through a combination of research, preparation and asking questions.
The process begins with research to gain insight into the prospect’s business environment. This is usually expanded with a series of personal meetings, or even emails, where probing, open-ended questions are asked. Open-ended questions are the kind that can’t be answered with a simple, “yes” or “no.” From the information gathered, a solution is developed and usually presented in the form of a proposal. Also, as you build the relationship, you provide helpful information, resources and such to demonstrate your expertise and also your value. You might consider solving some small problem for the prospect, as well. For example, perhaps you solved a similar problem for another client. You can adapt that solution for the new prospect and be the hero.
When done correctly, the consultative sales model doesn’t feel like sales at all. It’s building a relationship and learning about the prospect. When proposal time rolls around, the one who practices consultative selling will be much better positioned than competitors who didn’t take the time to really learn about and truly understand the prospect, their business and challenges.
Have you ever noticed how the older one gets, the faster the years seem to blow by? It’s one of those time-relativity things. When you’re five, a year represents 1/5 of your life. When you’re 50, it represents 1/50. Each year, our perception of time compresses, so the years roll by, seemingly faster and faster, until the next thing you know, AARP is filling up your mailbox with membership invitations and you find yourself considering which Medicare plan is best. Now then, isn’t that a cheerful proposition?
But this post isn’t about our ever increasing race toward oblivion. It’s about planning. This year went by with head-spinning speed and the new year is upon us. Now is the time to close out 2014 and start to set things up for 2015, if you haven’t done so already. If you play your cards right, you can schedule your work for the next several months or more.
To do that, you’ll need to get chummy with your clients for more than holiday get-togethers and toasting the New Year. Consider contacting your best clients – the ones you want to clone – and inviting them to lunch, on you of course. It’s a nice way to say, “Thanks!,” for sending you all that work during the year. But, it’s also a way to glean a lot of useful information.
During your lunch, ask your client how you did during the previous months. Scary? Maybe. But, it’s something you need to know. Are they pleased as punch? Were there some things you could have done better? This exercise will aid you in providing a better client experience in the future.
But, this breaking of bread shouldn’t be all about you. It should be mostly about your client. Once you have a handle on how you’re doing, ask them what their plans are for the upcoming year. Will they be presenting at any trade shows? Are their new products or services to be launched? Are they expanding into new locations? What are their goals and how can you help them attain them?
For example, during your conversation, your client tells you they’re planning to go to trade shows in June and October to support the launch of a new product they plan to roll out in May. You’ve just been presented with an opportunity to pitch a lot of work. Odds are they’ll need a product logo, some literature along with design and copywriting to fill it up, website updates and, perhaps, a new trade show display. If you manage things correctly, you can schedule several projects for the first half of the new year, all for the price of a nice lunch. Read: Don’t take them to Micky D’s.
Do this with several clients and you can see how your calendar and job roster can fill up pretty quick. Plus (and it’s a big plus), you’ll avoid the crunch of rush gigs, which are often the result of poor planning.
The thing is, your client will likely hit the ground running in January. The holidays are over and it’s time to get back to work. They know they have a product to launch in May, but other, more immediate things, take precedent. Next thing they know, it’s April and the product launch has become a scrambled rush.
You can avoid this scenario simply by addressing their future needs now. And, you’re client will thank you for it. Taking some time now to plan the coming months will help them do a better job with a lot less anxiety. You’ll avoid that nasty feast or famine syndrome, too, knowing that you’ve got projects scheduled months in advance.
Now, isn’t that a nice way to start the new year?
My latest book, Freelance Business Bootcamp: How to Launch, Earn and Grow Into A Well-Paid Freelancer, co-authored with freelance writing maven, Carol Tice, is now available! The e-book is based on the 4-week bootcamp Carol and I presented in March, 2014. The book offers up all the information and material from that $200 bootcamp in a more than affordable pdf format. It’s just $9.99 for 131 pages of practical information for both new and veteran freelancers. Plus, it comes with an associated workbook to help you put it all into action. It’s not a wimpy workbook, either. It’s 30-pages of very useful exercises to help you get your freelance business running smooth, staying legal and making money.
Here’s a taste of what you’ll learn:
- How to start your freelance business … the right way
- Planning your business
- Keeping your business legal
- How to avoid scams and, frankly, how not to get … er … screwed
- Contract basics, what to look for and what all that legalese means to you
- Negotiation tips for getting top rates (and you can do it)
- Usage rights and why it’s important to keep as many as you can
- Managing clients and projects
- How to deal with difficult clients
- And much, much more!
Get your copy of the e-book and workbook today! You and your freelance business will be glad you did.
Way back in the early 1990s, this wondrous thing known as the World Wide Web entered the scene. For many graphic designers and writers, this new form of communication, where communication tends to mean, “Hey! Let’s use it to sell stuff,” offered an intriguing, albeit mystifying medium to explore.
Then came the notion of cross-compatibility. Bummer.
Continue reading Thoughts on the Web and typography in the digital age
Freelance Web Designer Essentials is a compilation of business forms, calculators and spreadsheets for every freelance Web Designer. It’s also great for print-based graphic designers and writers.
Freelance Web Designer Essentials contains the needed tools to aid Web Designers in running a smooth business and also managing client projects. It will also save designers a load of time developing their own forms and spreadsheets or searching endlessly online. Continue reading Freelance Web Designer Essentials
People buy from people, not companies. Plus, given the choice, people usually buy from people they like. Add to that, the fact that people aren’t very interested in product or service features. They’re interested in what benefits those features will bring to them.
You may have come across the idiom, Don’t sell the steak. Sell the sizzle, or one of its various forms. It’s a pillar of sales, whether selling face-to-face or by the written word. Here’s a history lesson about the saying’s origins, courtesy of World Wide Words: Continue reading How To Win Buyers And Influence Sales
Do you know your position? I’m not talking about yoga or tantric sex. Which, I might add, is pretty much what’s returned if you happen to do a Google image search for “position.” I’m not talking your job title or where you happen to be at this moment, either. I’m talking about your market position. Just like you have a brand, whether you like it or not, you also have a market position. Also like a brand, it may be yours, but you don’t own it. It lives in the minds of your prospects, clients, suppliers and other audiences. It’s how they perceive your business.
When people come in contact with your business, most make a decision as to where you fit into the scheme of things. For example, they may see you and your business as a potential high value partner or as a somewhat disposable low value worker bee.
Perhaps it’s me, but I don’t relish the idea of leaving my market position up to others. You shouldn’t, either. Continue reading Winning Tactics For Positioning Your Business
Here’s a scenario that may strike a familiar chord for freelancers and small businesses. You come up with a brilliant idea that’s sure to bring in droves of new business. So, you have a stunning postcard or landing page whipped up with your irresistible offer. Oh, what the heck. Have both created. You don’t want to miss out on all those prospects with bulging wallets weighing them down. It’s your humanitarian responsibility to lighten their load. You’re chomping at the bit as time closes in. Your offer will be ready to go out and skyrocket your sales into the Stratosphere. Woo hoo! Then you wait. And wait. And you wait some more. Something has gone horribly wrong with the Universe. Or, at least with the phone company. Maybe your Net connection is down. That must be it. You check the phone and there is, in fact, a dialtone. You can get onto Google, so, apparently, your Internet connection is doing fine. Better than you, anyway. What could have possibly gone wrong? Continue reading A Simple Way Freelancers & Small Businesses Can Attract More Clients